Do you want the
real power of the Holy Spirit? Then don’t pretend by pushing people to the
floor when you pray.
I love it when the Holy Spirit shows up in church
gatherings. Whenever sinners are converted, backsliders repent, bodies are
healed or self-centered believers are broken by God, we see evidence of the
Spirit’s work. But I don’t appreciate it when people fabricate spiritual
manifestations to prove God is using them.
A few years ago a popular charismatic preacher
spoke at a meeting I attended at a church in Orlando, Fla. After his message he
asked all ordained ministers to run to the platform so he could lay hands on
them. Immediately this man’s team of beefy bodyguards began grabbing people,
dragging them onto the stage and holding them in place until the evangelist
could pray for everyone.
is time for the church in Africa—and throughout the world—to
address abuse and injustice against women and girls.
After spending last week in the city of Masindi, Uganda, I
traveled to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to address a women’s
conference. After my first session a woman named Florence grabbed me
and began to tell her painful story.
She had given birth to five girls during her marriage. But when
her girls were small, her husband decided to leave Florence because
she had not produced a son. He blamed her (I guess he didn’t know a
man’s sperm determines the gender of a child) and he said she had
shamed him by having only girls. He sold the family house, evicted
his wife and daughters and gave them no money for food or school
fees. Then he married again and started a new family. He got two boys
and another daughter out of the deal.
This is not a time for gloom and
doom. The church can shine its brightest in a dark hour.
When my friend Ferrell Hardison
moved to the town of Princeton, N.C., in 1990, he began pastoring a Pentecostal
church with 70 people. Founded in 1918, it was a tired, aging congregation with
a tiny budget. Ferrell was the 25th pastor to lead the church, and some of his predecessors had stayed
only a year or two. Not exactly a young pastor’s dream job!
the church has a new name—The Bridge—and it has grown to 1,250 in weekly
attendance. Last fall the vibrant congregation broke ground on a new worship
center, and they’ve planted a satellite congregation in the town of Goldsboro,
N.C., that already has 300 members. A large percentage of the church’s $2.6
million annual budget is marked for outreach, and Ferrell estimates that at
least 3,000 people have come to Christ through their ministry in recent years.
When I stepped into 2012, God
challenged me to pray big—and to expect the unexpected.
Right before Christmas my wife and I took our youngest daughter out to
dinner to celebrate her grades from her third semester in college. When we got
home I sent out a tweet about the dinner, and mentioned the name of the
restaurant. (Hint: It’s a popular national chain that serves Italian food—and
it has the best bread sticks in the world.)
I didn’t think anything about the tweet. I was just sharing personal
news about Charlotte’s accomplishments. But the next morning I got a private
message from the restaurant, thanking me for the “advertising” and informing me
that they were sending me a $100 gift card.
In 2012, Jesus is calling us to re-enroll in
the school of discipleship.
Besides being the Year of the Dragon in
China, 2012 is full of global observances. World Peace Day was Jan. 1, World
Rabies Day is Sept. 22 and the World Day for Laboratory Animals (huh?) is
April 24. There is also Global Hand-washing Day (Oct. 15), Star Wars Day (May
4), International Cat Day (March 1), and—for all Johnny Depp fans—International
Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).
I don’t know who comes up
with these odd celebrations, but I’d like to add one more. Can we declare 2012
the Year of Discipleship?
As I have prayed about the coming year, I’ve sensed three clear
Some people are terrified of 2012. They worry
because the Mayans of ancient Mexico mysteriously ended their 5,126-year-old
calendar on Dec. 21, 2012—as if they expected the world to end that day. This
silly hypothesis became the basis for several New Age books and a goofy
disaster movie, 2012, in which actor John Cusack avoids meteors and
earthquakes just in time to get his family aboard the modern version of Noah’s
ark (built in China!) before the rest of the world is destroyed by a tsunami.
I’m not afraid of 12/21/12 because (1) Ancient
Mayans never actually said the world would end in 2012—and even if they did,
they didn’t have an inside track to God; (2) Doomsday predictions have never
been accurate; and (3) Jesus holds the future in his hands. As long as I’m in
relationship with Him, it doesn’t matter what happens on earth. I’m secure.
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.
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
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
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.
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.)
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many people struggle to believe God loves them
because of a dysfunctional mom or dad.
This past weekend I spoke to some students at a
college in New Hampshire. Knowing that many young people today come from broken
homes (more than 1 million children today are the victims of divorce), I felt I
needed to talk to them about the fatherly heart of God. I wasn’t surprised when
several people’s eyes got misty as soon as I mentioned the word “father.”
This Sunday is Pastor Appreciation Day. Here are six
specific ways to pray for your spiritual leaders.
Often when I speak to a group of
aspiring ministers, I greet them by saying: “Welcome to the war.” I also remind
them that when they signed up to join the front lines of spiritual battle, a
bright red target was painted on their backs. Ministry can be wonderfully
rewarding, but let’s not kid anybody: Most of the time it’s a thankless job
full of headaches, disappointments, conflicts, loneliness, frustration, petty
complaints and tight budgets.
And while we might assume all
pastors lead megachurches and drive new cars, keep in mind that the average
church in this country has 75 members and the average pastor makes less than
$34,000 a year—and may work an extra
job to feed his or her family. The statistics are alarming: 90 percent of pastors work
more than 50 hours a week; 70 percent say they don't have any close friends;
and 45 percent say they've had to take a leave of absence from ministry because
of depression or burnout.
Pennsylvania pastor Bruce
Ladebu pays up to $500 each to free children from cruel exploitation.
friend Bruce Ladebu is a pastor, but he has never been comfortable behind a
desk or a pulpit. A former adventurer who has explored Arctic islands and
tracked timberwolves in the Canadian Rockies, he prefers to take his faith
outside the American comfort zone. That’s why he ended up in Central Asia two
weeks ago on a daring 12-day mission to rescue chidren from slavery.
work is not for the squeamish. He has watched 4-year-old children work 14
hours straight in 120 degree heat in crude brick factories or fabric mills.
Some of the children are chained to looms and forced by their owners to urinate
in pots so they won’t run away. On his most recent trip Bruce met a boy who had
been burned with acid by his owners. The child had developed an infection and
was given no medical care.
Jesus called us into friendship, not just with Him
but also with His followers.
I don’t like goodbyes, especially
on the mission field, because sometimes I get emotional. Last week it was
I had spent six days with a
church in Tarapoto, Peru, and I invested a lot of time and energy encouraging
the people—especially some young adults who are emerging leaders. When it was
almost time for me to go through the security checkpoint at the airport, about
18 of these men and women burst through the lobby doors and gathered around me
and my translator, Diego.