How one brave Nigerian is risking his life to win militants and terrorists to Christ.
Kelechi Okengwu has taught me to face my fears.
This 32-year-old Nigerian evangelist will probably never star in a movie or be featured on the evening news. But he has been a younger role model for me since I met him seven years ago.
Converted to Christ at 21, Kelechi has spent the past decade reaching dangerous militants who are spreading violence on Nigeria's university campuses. Through his Gospel Mania Project, the young preacher shares his faith with leaders of The Black Axe, Brotherhood of the Black Brigade, The Big Eye, The Pyrates, the Buccaneers and The Mafia—clandestine groups that mix African occultism with drugs and violence to spread fear and political instability throughout the country. read more
For three years I’ve wanted to gather a group of friends for a time of encouragement and personal ministry. I couldn’t afford to host a fancy event, and I didn’t think these guys wanted a big hoopla with expensive hotels and high-priced speakers.
So we went with a simple format that involved a donated church facility, totally informal dress code, sub sandwiches, North Carolina barbecue and cheap rooms at a Hampton Inn. What surprised me was that 91 men from 20 states and four foreign countries showed up for three days of worship, small-group interaction and inspiring messages from 32 of the guys. (Don’t worry, they kept their comments brief.)
What happened in that small window of time amazed me. Weary pastors met new friends. Younger guys bonded with new mentors. Men opened their hearts about their deepest struggles. And best of all, God showed up and spoke to many of the guys about their insecurities and fears.
On the second day a panel of six young men shared about their need for godly role models. Some admitted that they have dysfunctional relationships with their dads. Others said they found it difficult to connect with spiritual fathers.
One man, Charles, said that in his church, young men were never allowed to develop real friendships with pastors or leaders. They were expected to be “armor bearers” who acted like personal valets—by shining the pastor’s shoes, carrying his water bottle and escorting him to the pulpit.
The young men who came to our Bold Venture discipleship weekend were crying out for authentic relationships. They aren’t going to receive the mentoring or the spiritual nurture they need by carrying a preacher’s Bible or by serving as his bodyguard. True discipleship only happens in a loving, relational context.
This was the apostle Paul’s method of discipleship. Though he did speak in church meetings, his ministry wasn’t focused on events, sermons or a flashy delivery style. And it certainly wasn’t about high-pressure offerings, pulpit showmanship or grand entrances. There was nothing fake or phony about New Testament Christianity.
Paul told the Thessalonians that he was “well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8, NASB). He knew ministry was all about investing in people. He did not live for applause, silk suits or swooning crowds.
The reason he could endure beatings, shipwrecks, betrayal, riots, hunger and imprisonment is that he loved the men and women on his ministry team. Everything he did was about pouring the life of Jesus into Timothy, Silvanus, Mark, Phoebe, Priscilla, Euodia and all the other New Testament heroes who called Paul a spiritual father.
How would Paul react if he were alive to see the warped version of “ministry” we’ve created? I imagine he would tear his robe and call us all back to raw humility.
Robert, a Ugandan pastor, wrote me a week after our retreat to share with me his plan for discipling men. He said: “Next week I will meet about 24 guys to deposit what I experienced. We are going to do life together, laugh, cry, be vulnerable and open with each other. This is not an African thing, but I know it is the way to go.”
Like Robert, I don’t want an armor bearer, a bodyguard or an entourage. But I do want to spend the rest of my life mentoring and empowering young people. It was Paul’s style. And it’s the Jesus way.
Discipleship is a simple concept—too simple for some of us who have become addicted to the fancy bells and whistles of American religion. But if you listen carefully, amid the noise of the crowd, you’ll hear the Holy Spirit calling us back to New Testament basics.
J. Lee Gradywas editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him online at themordecaiproject.com. His new book, The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale, was released in April. read more
An Iranian evangelist says a spiritual awakening of
unprecedented magnitude is occurring behind the scenes in a nation known for
Most Americans have put Iran on a blacklist. We're concerned about Shiite militants who spread terrorism around the world, we don't trust Iran's nuclear weapons plans and we can't stomach Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's human rights record or his maniac ways.
But my friend
Lazarus Yeghnazar, an Iranian evangelist based in England, hopes you will
develop some compassion for this part of the world. Most of us associate the
Bible with Israel, but did you know that Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and
Habakkuk all walked on Persian land that is now called Iran? In fact, the tombs
of Esther, Daniel, Habakkuk, Cyrus and Darius are in Iran. read more
Sunday, May 23. Here are four reasons we should celebrate the Spirit's
wondered why we tend to ignore the historic events of Acts 2. We celebrate
Christmas for weeks, and we pack as many people as possible into our churches
on Easter Sunday. But
in our smug evangelical subculture, Pentecost is just an add-on, if it's
noticed at all. We can take it or leave it.
pastors will make no mention of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost Sunday, May 23. read more
Many people today feel overwhelmed by negative
circumstances. But you can be sure the Lord has an amazing plan to carry you
Long ago God promised He would send the Messiah
through the lineage of King David. Yet there was a time in Judah's history when
the royal seed was almost snuffed out.
It happened during the oppressive reign of Queen
Athaliah, a selfish woman who was so power-hungry that she killed her own
grandchildren in an attempt to secure her position. The Bible says in 2 Kings
"When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her
son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring. But Jehosheba,
the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah
and stole him from among the king's sons who were being put to death, and
placed him and his nurse in the bedroom. So they hid from Athaliah, and he was
not put to death. So he was hidden with her in the house of the Lord six years,
while Athaliah was reigning in the land (NASB)." read more
Many Christians who defend biblical morality can sound
hateful when it comes to immigration policy. What happened to loving our
A few years ago I
attended my oldest daughter's college graduation ceremony in north Georgia. The
school had invited a respected state legislator to address the students—a woman
known for her conservative Christian values. I enjoyed some of her remarks,
until she suddenly veered onto the subject of immigration policy.
launched into a blistering tirade against illegal immigrants and blamed them
for bringing danger, drugs and disease into the United States. An icy chill
went through the audience and students began to fidget nervously with their
graduation caps. I was embarrassed. read more
In February I spoke to a group of ministry leaders associated with a particular denomination in South Carolina. They are hungry for a fresh move of God, but they are also aware that they aren’t effectively reaching people for Christ. Most of their small congregations are getting grayer by the day. I told these folks they have only two options: Change or die.
Using a story from the life of Isaac, I reminded them that we should never build our ministries with only one generation in mind. God identifies Himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ex. 3:6, NASB). He wants His work to advance from one generation to the next. And this requires us to be open to change.
After Abraham’s death, Isaac journeyed to the land of Gerar during a famine. Genesis 26:18 says, “Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father ... for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham.”
God wants to open spiritual wells of blessing, but He doesn’t want to limit that blessing to one generation. Our enemy loves to stuff our wells with all kinds of garbage—religiosity, tradition, legalism and denominational politics. We must keep our wells unclogged.
Isaac renovated his father’s wells so they could be a blessing to his generation. In the same manner, we must be willing to remodel our ministries so the younger generation will want the drink we offer. I’m not talking about changing our core message or compromising on the altar of cultural fads. But we won’t effectively reach the Isaac generation with a stale, outdated presentation.
We need an extreme makeover. Here are just a few areas where you may need renovation, remodeling and unclogging:
1. Genuine, authentic spirituality.We overdosed on hype during the charismatic-Pentecostal movement. We celebrated preachers who wore shiny suits and helmet hair. We felt it was OK to push people to the floor during altar-ministry times. But young people today are nauseated by fakery and pretense. We don’t have to act weird to be supernatural.
2. Music styles.If we want to reach young people then we must update our playlists. We can’t be selfish and build our church services around the music of 1972. And remember: It is possible to update the great hymns of the church with new instrumentation without losing those classics.
3. Dress codes.Young people feel out of place when everyone looks like they are at a funeral. Many young guys today can’t afford to buy a dark suit, and young women don’t want to be forced to wear a feathered hat, white gloves or a skirt that covers their ankles. Nothing will clog up your well faster than yesterday’s religious garb.
4. Team leadership.The one-man show was the norm in churches in 1980. That system didn’t work and wasn’t biblical. Young people today want interaction and connection. In the New Testament, Paul had a multigenerational, multiethnic team that included men and women (see Rom. 16:1-16). So should we.
5. Relational discipleship.In the past season, Christians tended to be spectators who built their spiritual lives around big events. But young people don’t want to learn from a guy who arrives at the church in a limousine, sits on a throne on the stage, preaches from a pedestal and then disappears. They want a real relationship with a real spiritual father (or mother) who is willing to spend time with them.
6. Technology.You would never go to a foreign country to serve as a missionary without learning its language. Yet today many churches try to reach the younger generation without mastering digital media. God wants to use all new forms of communication to spread His truth.
Don’t get stuck in an old place. The Holy Ghost offers the best Drano for your clogged wells. Open up your life to the new things God is doing in this exciting hour.
J. Lee Gradywas editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him online at themordecaiproject.com. His book, The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale, was released in April. read more
We charismatics celebrate the Holy Spirit, yet our
theology of the Spirit is often off balance.
Two popular charismatic speakers stood on a stage two years ago
and decided they should demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. One guy
pretended to throw an imaginary "fireball" at his friend, who promptly fell
over as if he had been zapped by the divine power. Then, feeling equally
playful, the guy on the floor stood to his feet and threw the "fireball" back
at his friend—who fell after the "blob" of God hit him.
Everybody laughed and had a hilarious time at this outrageous
party. There was just one problem. The Holy Spirit is not a blob, a fireball or
any other form of divine energy that can be thrown, manipulated, maneuvered or
incredibly sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have
the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity."
This scenario happened in a charismatic church—a
place where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presumably honored and
understood. It's incredibly sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label
have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity.
At the risk of sounding way too elementary, I'd like to offer this basic
layman's guide to pneumatology—the study of the Holy Spirit and how He works:
1. He is the Spirit of the Lord. He is not a force (as in Star Wars), a magical
power or an "it." The Holy Spirit is God, and we should revere Him as God. The
concept of the Trinity doesn't make sense to the human mind. Yet Scripture
reveals God as a triune being. As theologian Norman Geisler writes: "God is one
what (nature) with three whos (persons). This is a mystery but
not a contradiction."
2. He is our Regenerator. Jesus told Nicodemus that we are born again by the Holy Spirit
(John 3:5). True conversion is the most supernatural thing we will ever
experience! When a person puts his faith in Christ for salvation, it is the
Spirit who opens the heart and quickens divine life. He then indwells us. While
this is an invisible process, it is no less miraculous. When we are converted
our hearts cry out, "Abba! Father" because the Holy Spirit is "the
Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15); He gives us confidence that we are now
children of God.
3. He is our Empowerer. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit we are "clothed with
power from on high" (Luke 24:49, NASB). The Spirit who already indwells us fills us
to the point of overflowing. Jesus said the Holy Spirit's power would flow out
of us like "rivers of living water" from our innermost being (John 7:38). This
overflow releases supernatural boldness (Acts 4:31) as well as the anointing
for various gifts of the Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and
4. He is the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit has access to all the wisdom and knowledge of
God. When we abide in Him, He leads us continually into truth—causing us to
grow and mature spiritually. He wants to fill us with the treasures of heavenly
revelation. We can fully trust Him because He never does anything to violate
the Word of God. As our teacher (1 John 2:27), He knows the difference between
truth and error, and those who depend on Him will walk in discernment and avoid
deception, pride and carnality.
5. He is our Counselor. This word is also translated "Advocate," "Comforter" or "Helper."
The Greek word, parakletos, means "one called alongside to help." It
implies that the Spirit comes to our legal defense when we are accused or
troubled; it also means He is a close friend who offers encouragement,
consolation and direction when we face any difficulty. He is truly a friend who
"sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).
6. He is our Intercessor. This is probably one of the greatest miracles of grace. The
Spirit who lives inside of us "intercedes for us with groanings too deep for
words" (Rom. 8:26). Even when we don't know how to pray, the Spirit prays the
perfect will of God. No matter what kind of dark difficulty we face, the Spirit
travails for us until we emerge on the other side.
7. He is our Unifier. Like the master conductor of an orchestra, the Holy Spirit pulls
together each individual Christian—with all of our diverse gifts—and causes us
to flow in synchronization as one body. The Spirit distributes His gifts to
individuals (1 Cor. 12:11) and He brings about the "fellowship of the Spirit"
(2 Cor. 13:14)—a supernatural, loving harmony among believers that overcomes
jealousy, envy, strife and bitterness.
8. He is our Refiner. The Spirit took the form of a dove at Christ's baptism, but He is
often portrayed in Scripture as a fire. He is the "refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2-3)
who purifies us of selfishness, pride and wrong motives. The Holy Spirit is
indeed the fire of blazing holiness, and He can be both grieved (Eph. 4:30) and
quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) when we disobey His promptings.
As we prepare to celebrate the day of Pentecost in less than a
month (it's on May 23), let's meditate on all aspects of the Spirit's work in
our lives—and invite Him to fill us in a fresh way.
After spending some time last week with Bob Hartman, founder of Petra, my hat is off to a true musical pioneer.
Last week while I
was preaching at Cumberland Worship Center, a charismatic congregation in
Crossville, Tenn., the pastor invited a musician to the stage to play during
the offering. I didn't think anything about this performance at first, until a
friend reminded me that the unassuming guy with the gray beard was Bob Hartman,
founder of the Christian rock group Petra.
At the Empowered 21 Conference last week in Tulsa,
thousands of people celebrated the renewal of a movement.
a time when many Christian conferences are suffering from sluggish attendance,
at least 10,000 people jammed into the Mabee Center on the Oral Roberts
University (ORU) campus last week to honor the pioneers of the Pentecostal
movement and to pass the torch of Holy Spirit renewal on to the younger
Empowered 21 event, nicknamed E21, was a bold attempt to bring every stream of
the charismatic and Pentecostal movements together under one huge roof. When I
arrived on Wednesday night for a welcome dinner, I met leaders from the Assemblies
of God, Church of God in Christ, Foursquare Church, Pentecostal Holiness,
Church of God of Prophecy, Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) and even the United
Pentecostal Church International—plus directors of such varied ministries as
Teen Mania, Every Home for Christ, International House of Prayer and Convoy of
Hope. We even had Matteo Calisi, an Italian man who gives leadership to
thousands of charismatic Catholics. read more