As the world celebrates Jesus’ birth, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
faces the threat of execution.
Those of us in the West who are blessed with religious freedom think of
Christmas as a cheery occasion. But how would you like to spend the holiday in
a dark prison cell in Iran—where inmates without any legal protection are
sometimes rounded up at night and hanged in secret mass executions?
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been in the Lakan
prison, near the city of Rasht, Iran, since October 2009. He was arrested after
he complained to authorities that the local school was forcibly teaching Islam
to his two sons, Daniel, 9 and Yoel, 7. (The Iranian constitution supposedly
guarantees religious freedom.) The charges against the pastor, who leads a
400-member congregation in Rasht, were later changed: He was accused of
apostasy and evangelism. read more
I wonder if more people would believe in Jesus if
His birth had been a trending topic on Twitter.
Matthew and Luke are the only Gospel writers who
wrote about Jesus’ birth, and we aren’t sure who provided them with firsthand
reports. Jesus’ mother was among the earliest Christian disciples, so we assume
she shared her story with them. All details were passed down orally, without
the aid of technology. There were no radios, televisions, tape recorders,
iPads, walkie-talkies, cameras, cellphones or fax machines in first century
Israel. The only form of “instant messaging” required a guy to run from one
king to another over a period of days.
I wonder: What if the key players in the Christmas
story had access to wireless devices? Pardon my literary license as I imagine
the script: read more
virgin birth contradicts the laws of science. But our faith rests on the
miracle of the Incarnation.
My wife and I have four girls, and I was in the hospital
room for each birth. There was a normal amount of blood, but no serious
complications. Our oldest took forever to be born. Our second was in such a
hurry that we thought she might end up on the floor of a hospital hallway. Our
third tied her umbilical cord in knots in the womb. And our youngest calmly
slipped out as if to say: “OK, I’m born. What’s next?”
I had very little to do in the delivery room. My wife
was the hero. She sweated, strained, pushed and gasped for hours. I stroked her
arm a few times—and ate some doughnuts.
“The concept of a woman giving birth to a baby without
a man’s involvement is ludicrous to unbelievers. It contradicts all the laws of
biology.” read more
The devil is busy trying to abort God’s promises.
Hang on and keep believing.
Here’s a trivia question: Which building project
took the longest to complete?·
A. The construction of the Pentagon. B. The carving of Mount Rushmore. C. The digging of the Panama Canal. D. The building of the Empire State Building. E. The carving and assembling of the Statue of Liberty.
The answer is C. It took 31 years to dig the Panama
Canal, mainly because that superhuman task was started and stopped several
times due to floods, mudslides, unexpected costs (the total bill for the United
States was $375 million in 1914) and a horrific death toll (20,000 French
workers and 6,000 Americans died on the job site.) The moral of that story:
Expect delays when you cut a 50-mile-long canal to connect two oceans. read more
I said to God, “Here am I, send me,” a real adventure began.
More than 12 years ago I found myself at a
church altar in Orlando, Fla. God had been dealing with me about leaving my
comfort zone. I had a great job with nice benefits, yet I felt spiritually
unfulfilled. I knew there was an amazing adventure in front of me, but I had
placed serious limitations on my obedience.
As I buried my head in the carpet in that
church, I realized God was requiring unconditional surrender. He wanted me to
wave a white flag. I knew what I had to say, but it was difficult to form the
words. Finally I coughed them up. I said the same thing the prophet Isaiah
prayed long ago: Here I am, send me!
(see Is. 6:8.) read more
Jesus just wasn’t into
titles. We shouldn’t be either.
I am often asked if I have a
title, and my answer doesn’t satisfy some people. I travel a lot, so I don’t
consider myself a pastor. All kinds of labels have been pinned on me: Reverend,
prophet, apostle … even bishop. Once I was introduced to a church as “Dr.
Grady” and I almost crawled under my seat. I only have a college degree. There
are no letters after my name.
I tell people: “You can call
me Lee. Or if you want to sound formal, you can say, ‘Brother Grady.’” read more
healing evangelists have fallen from grace. This humble giant, at age
88, is finishing well.
I heard T.L. Osborn preach when I was a college student, and at
the time I thought, That guy looks pretty good for an old man.
That was 31 years ago. I sat down with this spiritual giant for an
hour in his office in Tulsa, Okla., two weeks ago, and I thought, I
hope I can keep up this guy’s pace when I’m his age.
Osborn, who is 88, was born 29 years before the first commercial
airliner took flight. Yet he and his immediate family have preached
in 90 nations, and he took a trip to India last January. He is
remarkably agile (he is strict about a healthy diet), his intellect
is still sharp (he spoke fluent French and Spanish to international
guests when I was with him) and he is as spiritually intense as ever. read more
honor of Reformation Day, here are some complaints I’m nailing on the
Long before there was an Occupy Wall Street,
Martin Luther staged the most important protest in history. He was upset
because Roman Catholic officials were promising people forgiveness or early
escape from purgatory in exchange for money. So on October 31, 1517, Luther
nailed a long list of complaints on the door of a church in Wittenberg,
Luther’s famous 95 theses were translated
from Latin into German and spread abroad. Like a medieval Jeremiah, Luther
dared to ask questions that had never been asked, and he challenged a pope who
was supposedly infallible. Through this brave monk, the Holy Spirit sparked the
Protestant Reformation and restored the doctrine of grace to a church that had
become corrupt, religious, dysfunctional, political and spiritually dead. read more
Visiting ministers can be a great blessing to any
church. But if you don’t do your homework, you could be inviting disaster.
A friend of mine recently told me
that the leaders of a ministry invited a prominent American preacher to speak
at a conference. During discussions about the engagement, the preacher’s
handlers explained two of the terms of his visit: (1) he was always to be
addressed as “apostle” by anyone who spoke to him; and (2) he was to be ushered
out of the auditorium and into a green room immediately after he delivered his
sermon, to guarantee that he would not have to fraternize with the audience. He
needed his privacy.
If I had been on the other end of
the telephone conversation that day, I would have offered this reply: “Please
tell Apostle Arrogance that since he is so concerned about being bothered by
the little people, never mind. Just don’t come. We don’t need the disease he is
spreading in the body of Christ. God bless you.” Click. read more
The prophet Habakkuk knew the secret: When
circumstances look bad, we should hit the “rejoice” button and turn up the
I have never been into country music. Nothing against Loretta Lynn,
Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson, or any of their fans, but I just don’t like
twangy songs—especially the sentimental ones that drip with sadness about
divorce, alcoholic husbands, wife abuse and rural poverty. Here are some of the
worst examples of these heartbreaking tunes:
“I’m Drinkin’ Christmas Dinner (All Alone This
“How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
“I Bought the Shoes (That Just Walked Out on
“This White Circle on My Finger (Means We’re
“If You Won’t Leave Me (I’ll Find Someone Who Will)”
“Thank God and Greyhound (She’s Gone)”
“When You Wrapped My Lunch in a Roadmap, I
Knew You Meant Goodbye”
“If you are in a difficult place today, I invite you to
cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the
door and raise the roof with some Shigionoth praise.”
I know it can be strangely therapeutic to listen to
someone sing about their problems when you have the blues. But even Elvis
Presley could tell you that sad music will not pull anybody out of depression.
You need to change the channel.
Centuries ago, the prophet Habakkuk composed what sounds like a syrupy
country ballad. The entire third chapter of the book that bears his name is a
song. Part of it says:
Though the fig tree should not blossom / And there be no fruit on the vines / Though the yield of the olive should fail /
And the fields produce no food / Though the flock should be cut off from the fold / And there be no cattle in the stalls / Yet I will exult in the Lord / I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Those first lines sound awfully sad—so much so that
you expect to hear the words accompanied by a steel guitar and crooning
background vocals. But the Bible gives clear instruction about the
instrumentation of this song, and it is not a melancholy dirge. The musical
notation at the beginning of chapter 3 says, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet,
according to Shigionoth.”
There is some debate over the exact meaning of this
musical term, but scholars translate the Hebrew as “a highly emotional poetic
form.” Shigionoth is not slow, whiny or sad, and Habakkuk 3 is not a
cry-in-your-beer ballad. Shigionoth is a high form of praise—wild,
rhythmic and exuberant. It is praise with pumped-up volume and no limits; it is
worship punctuated with exclamation marks!
Before I had my own life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit, I
sometimes heard people criticizing Pentecostals for being “too emotional.” The
assumption was that if somebody laughed, cried, shouted, swayed, jumped,
danced, waved his hands in the air or acted remotely undignified in a worship
service, he was theologically off base and maybe even mentally unstable.
Then I discovered the power of praise, and learned
that King David (who literally wrote the book on exuberant worship) believed in
getting “highly emotional” when he was with God. Not only did he sing, shout,
clap and dance to rhythm—he was accused of being a religious fanatic. Habakkuk
apparently understood this same musical principle. He knew there are times in
our lives when we need to go overboard in our praise.
Habakkuk 3 has specific application for all of us
today as we pass through a difficult season of national crisis, economic
uncertainty and spiritual challenge. We are in a day of distress, and we will
be tempted to sing the blues if we focus on barren fig trees, empty fields,
lost jobs and shrinking family budgets.
Habakkuk instructs us to shift the mood by creating
a noisy soundtrack of praise. This prophet refused to let the failures of the
present dictate his future. He was not in denial of the facts, but he saw
clearly that God was above his circumstances. He broke out of depression with a
loud declaration. He chose to Shigionoth instead of sulk. He sang with
deep emotion: “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my
If you are in a difficult place
today, I invite you to cancel your pity party. Stop singing sad songs about how
bad it is. Instead, go in your secret place, shut the door and raise the roof
with some Shigionoth praise.