A prayerful minister says her country is passing through
a “spiritual birth canal”
My Egyptian friend Nadia*, who was raised in a Christian
family in Cairo, has been glued to Twitter, television and various blogs since
violent demonstrations erupted in her country two weeks ago. But she is also
praying—and asking the Christian community in the United States to join her.
the church in Egypt, it feels like we are going through a spiritual birth
canal,” Nadia told me in an interview this week.
If you want to avoid becoming
an old wineskin, make sure to keep these five hindrances out of your life.
I got some funny looks 11 years ago when
I told people that I planned to be ordained in a mainline Pentecostal
denomination. Most of my friends were supportive when I explained that I made
this decision because I was looking for accountability and spiritual mentors.
But critics told me I was aligning myself with “an old wineskin.” In their
opinion, any church group that is more than 30 years old has outlived its
usefulness and become a religious fossil.
I chose to reject the fossil
argument—mainly because (1) I know God has the power to renew His people no
matter how old their group is, and (2) even young organizations can become
religious and ineffective, regardless of how trendy and culturally relevant
they pretend to be.
Normally my yard does not crunch when I walk in it. So I got curious in November when I started hearing a distinctive crunching sound everywhere I went. I discovered that the oaks in Florida were producing an abundant crop of acorns—up to four times the normal amount, in fact. Acorns were everywhere—covering sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, filling gutters, and rolling around inside the chassis of my car.
I promptly christened 2010 the Year of the Acorn and began investigating why the trees were dropping so many of the hard, brown seeds. Were squirrels sending a distress signal? Could we use the acorns for food? (I imagined acorn-encrusted tilapia and acorn frappuccinos.) Or was this a sign of global warming?
University of Florida students who meet Doug Crescimanno
will be entertained—and they might meet Jesus, too.
My friend Doug Crescimanno is my favorite amateur comedian. If you hang out with
him for half an hour you feel as if you’ve been on the set of Saturday Night
Live. (He’s at least as funny as Bill Hader or Fred Armisen.) But this
25-year-old University of Florida (UF) graduate, who lives in an apartment near
the huge campus in Gainesville, Fla., is also passionately in love with
Jesus—and he has given his life to sharing the gospel with students.
need God. They are hurt, broken, deceived, depressed and dying. We have the
only solution. We can be used to give people life … and life abundantly!” --Doug
earned a degree in advertising from UF, but he’s not pursuing a career in his
field because he’s too busy evangelizing the campus. He sets up a table on the
Reitz Union plaza four days a week and posts a sign that says “BIBLE TRIVIA!” He loads the table with Blow Pops and Jolly Ranchers and
then invites students to play his game. The script goes like this:
Jesus wears a name that says, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Don’t
mislabel His true identity.
I don’t have a tattoo, and I’m
not planning to get any at this point in my life. However I’ve met many young
Christians who have bought into the tattoo craze. I’ve seen hearts, crosses and
Scriptures (English, Greek and Hebrew) on wrists, ankles, arms and necks. When
I meet a young guy who has “JESUS DIED FOR ME” inscribed on his back, I don’t criticize his
Regardless of what you think
about tattoos, you can’t ignore Revelation 19. I preached from this passage
earlier this month when I spoke at a college in Georgia. I reminded the
students that one of Jesus’ many names is written on His body. John said:
“And I saw heaven opened, and
behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True … He is
clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. …
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF
LORDS.’” (v. 11,13,16).
I know the battle I faced as
a teenager. Today’s younger generation faces something more challenging.
It wasn’t easy for a guy to find
pornography when I was a teenager. I remember giving into the temptation to buy
a Hustler magazine when I was in high
school. Inside the drug store I paced back and forth near the magazine rack for
at least half an hour. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. I finally
walked to the front of the store, put the magazine face down on the counter and
avoided eye contact with the clerk as I forked over the cash.
I grew bolder in my sin when I graduated
from high school. When I turned 18, I went to downtown Atlanta to visit an
“adult bookstore” (a strange label, really, since the men who frequented these
seedy establishments did not act like mature adults). In 1976, anyone who
wanted to see hard-core porn had to visit these awful places with garish signs
and painted-over windows.
Jesus clearly described the heart attitudes that please
Him. Make the Beatitudes your goal in 2011.
I’m not a big fan of religious greeting cards, especially
the schmaltzy, pastel-colored variety that feature flowers and rainbows along
with an obligatory Bible verse. The verse often comes from Jesus’ opening words
in the Sermon on the Mount. We call this passage in Matthew 5 the Beatitudes.
These are weighty, gutsy, penetrating words—but they are
neutered when we treat them like sappy poetry. The Beatitudes are not
platitudes. Jesus was not tiptoeing through the tulips and mouthing pleasant
phrases so they could decorate crocheted pillows or stained-glass windows.
Back in November when autumn leaves were their brightest orange, I met with a group of young men on the campus of a small liberal arts college in New Hampshire. While these students were eating bagels and drinking coffee I began our Bible study by asking each guy to share his name, his major and how long he’d been a Christian.
When it was time for a young man named Cody to share, he said innocently: “I haven’t given my life to Christ yet, but I’d like to.” So before our meeting was finished we led Cody in a sinner’s prayer, gave him a Bible and got him started on the road to discipleship by asking him to read the Gospel of Mark.
is working all around us today. Don’t let negative headlines
distract you from the real story.
2010 was a year of
shaking. It began with a magnitude 7 earthquake in Haiti, followed by
an 8.8 quake in Chile, followed by the eruption of the Iceland
volcano that sent tons of ash into the skies over Europe and shut
down air travel faster than you could say Eyjafjallajokull.
While the ground shook, economies in Europe teetered. As floods
displaced 13 million people in Pakistan, Americans worried that we
might drown in federal debt.
There were plenty of negative
headlines—which explains why one of the biggest movies of the year
(Inception) was about a guy who escaped reality by dreaming.
We had the BP oil spill, the WikiLeaks scandal, double-digit
unemployment, and angry debates about Obamacare, illegal immigrants
and full-body scanners. There were a few bright spots, especially in
October when 33 Chilean miners climbed out of a dark shaft and donned
T-shirts that read, “GRACIAS, SENOR!”
Please don’t let the holidays get so cluttered that you
miss the point of the celebration.
Christmas is usually cluttered. We’re overbooked with
parties, concerts, football games and shopping trips while our houses are
jammed with decorations, out-of-town guests and way too much food. Then on
Christmas morning, after the presents have been opened, we sweep up the
crumpled giftwrap, tinsel, ribbons, bows, pine needles and boxes that are
scattered everywhere. As much as I love the joy of this season (eggnog is my
weakness), I struggle to make sure I don’t lose the profound simplicity of
Christmas amid the sensory overload.
This year I decided to pay closer attention to the names
of Jesus used in the Christmas story. These names are like wrapped gifts—you
have to open them carefully to savor their meaning. You might want to share
these names with your loved ones at your Christmas dinner, or take a break from
the stress of the holidays to look up these Scriptures and ponder them
carefully. Remember: Jesus is God’s present to us. Have you fully unwrapped
this amazing gift?
It’s bad enough that rabid secularists hate Christmas.
It’s downright tragic that some Christian purists judge others for celebrating
weeks ago when I wrote about how God worked in the lives of people in the biblical
Christmas story, several readers jumped in to remind me that the modern
celebration of Christmas is a pagan holiday that is luring unsuspecting,
gift-giving revelers into hell itself. One person who identified himself as
“Albert” wrote in our online forum that he “isn’t comfortable celebrating
Christmas” because of its demonic origins.
probably know there are many Christians who boycott Christmas for various
reasons—some factual and some quite debatable. These people insist:
The holiday has become too commercialized and promotes greed. (I would agree.)
During my sixth visit to Guatemala this week the Lord reminded me
that He promises to bring results when we minister His Word.
Sunday I enjoyed lunch in an open courtyard at a modest home in El Rosario, Guatemala, a town I have visited six times
since 2002. My friend Adolfo had invited me to eat with his family after the
morning service at Iglesia de Nueva Vision, a
Pentecostal congregation. Nothing thrills me more during my missionary trips to
El Rosario than spending time with members of this church in their homes.
we were eating a meal of chicken, rice and Coca-Cola, I noticed some green,
volleyball-sized fruit hanging from a nearby tree. I had never seen such large
fruit before, so I asked my friend Luis (in my broken Spanish) what they were.
His father-in-law, Minor, immediately hopped up from the table, walked over to
the tree and snapped one of the gigantic fruits from a branch.
There would be no Christmas story without the Holy
We Christians are notorious for limiting the Holy Spirit.
Many churches put Him in the back seat, confine Him in a box of tradition or
ignore Him altogether. Some Christians treat the Third Person of the Trinity as
if he magically materialized in the Book of Acts, like a genie out of a bottle,
and then vanished after the early church was established.
But God is God, not a genie, and the same Holy Spirit who
brooded over the waters at Creation, inspired the Old Testament prophets and
empowered the first disciples at Pentecost is still doing miracles today. It is
also important to recognize that the Holy Spirit was involved in every step of
the Christmas story. This holiday, I’m paying closer attention to the Spirit’s
work in the miracle of the Incarnation.
Aussie missionaries Les and
Sally Freeman have given their lives to reach the neglected Aborigines.
Most Americans fondly remember Steve
Irwin, the Australian wildlife lover and gregarious host of Crocodile Hunter who wrestled
reptiles on camera and then died in 2006 after an attack by a sting ray. He was
the epitome of Aussie spunk. Yet I’ve learned there are Aussie Christians with
the spiritual equivalent of Irwin’s daredevil courage.
A prime example: Les Freeman, a
31-year-old Pentecostal preacher who has been planting churches in Aboriginal
areas of northern Australia for nine years. He doesn’t wrestle crocs, but this
tough guy and his brave wife, Sally, have battled snakes, demonic curses and
environmental hardships to take Christ’s love to a neglected mission field.
In today’s hip, sophisticated
churches, we often forget to preach about Jesus. Let’s get back to basics.
I became a serious Christian at the tail
end of the Jesus movement. I was too young to remember the hippie beads,
tie-dyed shirts and “Jesus Is Groovy” slogans, but the songs were still popular
when I was in college (from musicians such as Andrae Crouch, Love Song and
Barry McGuire), as were the movies (especially The Cross and the Switchblade.)
The Jesus movement was like a spiritual
tsunami that washed over hundreds of thousands of young people in the late
1960s and early ‘70s and brought them into a personal relationship with Christ.
Some of these kids had been drug addicts and social misfits; most were just
average Joes and Janes who discovered that Jesus is a lot more exciting than
traditional churches had led them to believe.
Evangelist Scott Hinkle and
his wife, Nancy, have sold everything to reach one of the most unchurched
regions of the United States.
I’m not a fan of Jersey Shore, the MTV reality show that
features Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and a band of 20-somethings who share a
house near Seaside Heights, N.J. The program glamorizes casual sex, celebrates
alcohol abuse and degrades an entire ethnic community by using the racial
epithets “Guido” and “Guidette” to describe Italian-American guys and girls.
But one thing is for sure: Jersey Shore accurately portrays the
gritty urban region south of New York City. It is one of the most unchurched
areas of the country, and it’s also known as the heroin capital of the United
Charismatic pastor Jim Swilley’s announcement
that he is gay opened the door wider for a subtle delusion. Don’t believe it.
Many people were shell-shocked last week when Atlanta
pastor Jim Swilley stood in front of his congregation, Church
in the Now in Conyers, Ga., and announced that he is gay. The 52-year-old
minister was abruptly removed from his position in the International Communion
of Charismatic Churches—a network in which he served as an overseer. Some of
Swilley’s members left his church, others stayed, and countless others are now
scratching their heads.
We Americans are lost in a
moral fog. Two major Protestant denominations (the Episcopal Church USA and the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) have voted to ordain gay clergy.
Meanwhile, gayness is celebrated in our media, and anyone who refuses to bow to
this idol is painted as intolerant and homophobic.
Paul Anderson, a 66-year-old
charismatic Lutheran, has started a discipleship revolution in Minneapolis.
Paul Anderson doesn’t act his age. I hope
he never does.
A father of the charismatic renewal
movement among Lutherans, the 66-year-old minister could be settling down to
retire. Instead, he’s pioneering a new outreach to young adults in
Minneapolis—and reaching hundreds of 20-somethings who are bored with
“I am proof that you can teach an old dog
new tricks,” Anderson told me last weekend when I interviewed him in his home
in north Minneapolis.