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.
An earthquake rattles Washington, D.C., and a fierce
storm ravages the East Coast. Is God speaking to us?
a doomsday prophet, and I don’t believe every hurricane, earthquake or drought
is God’s judgment. But I did pause to ponder the significance of the freakish 5.8-magnitude quake that jolted the East Coast last week.
The White House was evacuated, the Washington Monument was
closed indefinitely because of cracks, and the National
Cathedral’s central tower was seriously damaged.
Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell is a
prophetic reminder that we can’t compromise the gospel.
California pastor Francis Chan is
one of my heroes, partly because he has given most of his book
royalites—reportedly $2 million—to charity. Another reason I admire him: He’s
written a new book about hell at a time when many Christians are questioning
the idea of eternal punishment. The guy has some chutzpah.
His new book Erasing Hell
(David C. Cook) is a direct response to Love Wins, the controversial
book by celebrity pastor Rob Bell of Michigan. While Bell’s book flirts with
universalism and suggests that a loving God would never send anyone to hell,
Chan’s message is blunt and biblical—yet without a hint of self-righteousness.
God has something sobering to say to us through the
death of this popular preacher.
Tims’ story had a great beginning. As a young man he met Jesus and was saved
from a life of crime and drugs. He and his wife, Riva, moved from Baltimore to
Orlando, Fla., in 1996 to launch a church that aimed to restore families and pull
teens out of trouble. New Destiny Christian Center grew fast, mostly because of
Tims’ passionate preaching. He was soon a regular on Christian television.
things unraveled in 2009 when Tims was caught carrying on a yearlong affair
with a stripper he met in France. He admitted to an “indiscretion” and got a
few weeks of counseling, but he didn’t take serious time off for
rehabilitation. Riva divorced him for his infidelity. The billboards that once
featured photos of the happy couple were changed. By 2011 the roadside ads
featured a shot of Tims by himself, with this slogan: “A Family Church Meeting
I learned some important lessons about courage last
weekend while I was dangling in midair.
am not a daredevil. I have never bungie-jumped off a cliff, parachuted out of
an airplane or spent any time in a shark cage. But when my friend Michael Cole
from Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI) asked me
to speak at a leadership retreat in Ohio—and he informed me that we would be
participating in a high ropes course on Saturday afternoon—I said to myself, Bring
on the challenge! I thought it would be fun!
Two elderly missionaries inspired me this week to
value character so I can finish well.
You’ve probably never heard of Hobert and
Marguerite Howard. They didn’t write best-selling books. They aren’t rich. They
don’t preach on television or pastor a megachurch. Fame was the farthest thing
from their minds when they both surrendered their lives to serve God on the
In 1951 this Pentecostal couple boarded a
steamship and sailed for 50 days to India, where they built orphanages, schools
and churches and trained Christian leaders. This week the Howards officially
retired, and I had the privilege of attending a special reception to honor them
for 60 years of service.
Many young adults today are abandoning biblical
faith or mixing it with other religions. How should we respond?
Since the Wild Goose
Festival was held in North Carolina’s mountains, you might be tempted to think
it was a typical bluegrass festival. Think again. The organizers of this event,
which attracted 1,500 people in late June, say their quasi-Christian conference
“is going to grow into the largest, best run, most dynamic religious happening
in the U.S.”
If a slick-haired TV
evangelist had made such a pompous statement we would have rolled our eyes and
laughed the guy off the stage. But the founder of Wild Goose, a peace activist
from Northern Ireland named Gareth Higgins, is convinced his movement will
capture the hearts of young Americans who are questioning their evangelical
faith and exploring other options.
If you or someone you know is battling sexual
temptation, take these five steps toward GRACE.
This week my wife and I
ministered to a group of 115 Russian teenagers at a youth camp in Virginia.
Part of our job was to separate the guys and the girls and facilitate honest
(and sometimes awkward) discussions about sex, dating and guy/girl
relationships. They put their anonymous questions in a black box (“How do I
know if she’s the one for me?” or “Is it OK to use condoms?”), and we answered
while the kids giggled nervously.
I spoke to the guys on the
first night about what I call the Porn Monster, using the description of the
adulterous woman in Proverbs 7 as my text. In this passage the writer recounts
the sad story of a vulnerable young man who wanders into the wrong part of town
where a harlot seduces him. The story concludes with these haunting words: “Do
not let your heart turn aside to her ways … for many are the victims she has
cast down” (Prov. 7:25-26).
“not guilty” verdict made a lot of people mad. But before we vent any more
anger we may need an attitude check.
were you on July 5 when the Casey Anthony verdict was released? Just before the
2:15 p.m. announcement, I was in a restaurant in Orlando with my family—and our
waitress was so anxious to hear the outcome of the trial that she brought up
the topic after we ordered our lunch. Not since the 1995
O.J. Simpson trial have Americans invested so much emotional energy in a
I live near Orlando where the trial was held, I’ve grown weary of the
never-ending local news coverage, which included stories on how much Casey was
allowed to spend on toiletries every week at the Orange County jail and how
long out-of-town visitors waited in line to get tickets to the trial. I
remember when 2-year-old Caylee Anthony went missing in 2008. I remember when
her decomposed remains were found six months later in some woods near her home. I
listened to the blur of reports about duct tape, the suspicious odor in the
trunk of the car, the chloroform, and her mother’s partying habits.
The church has had enough
spin, denial and closed-door settlements. Leaders must demonstrate humility and
A few years ago a minister
in my city went through a divorce, and the messy details of the settlement
between the pastor and his wife were reported in our newspaper. But when the
divorce was finalized there was no public statement. The man’s wife disappeared
from the stage, her photo vanished from the church website and nothing further
was said. Zip. Nada. No comment.
The message: It’s none of your business what happened
between the pastor and his wife. He’s the anointed messenger of God. Just
Don’t lose hope. God has
promised to answer when we persevere.
So you pray for something
for years and then you wake up one day, breathe a big sigh and say to yourself:
This is crazy. Nothing is happening. God
must not be listening.
Congratulations. If this
has been your experience you are not alone. You’ve been enrolled in the School
of Persevering Prayer, and it’s not a one-semester class. It’s a lifelong
journey designed to stretch your faith, develop your character, purify your
motives, test your patience and increase your capacity to know and experience
God’s amazing love.
a nation known for communist oppression, intimidation and religious legalism,
the Holy Spirit is sending a fresh wind of freedom.
is a national holiday in Romania, and I celebrated it last Monday with members
of Bucharest Christian Center, a growing congregation in the Romanian capital.
The church was founded by my friend Ioan Ceuta, 54, a brave Christian leader
who has served as president of the Assemblies of God since 1996. Like so many
Romanian pastors who lived through the communist era, Ceuta has walked through
fire and emerged stronger in his faith.
was not easy for Ceuta and his wife, Emilia, during the dark days of Nicolae
Ceau?escu, the Romanian dictator who
ruled with an iron fist and built one of the world’s largest buildings (second
only to the Pentagon). Covert government informants strictly monitored all
pastors during Ceau?escu’s era. The
construction of church buildings was forbidden, frequency of meetings was
limited, and Bibles were blacklisted as “mystical literature.”
passion for revival I saw in eastern Europe this week rivaled what I have seen
in Africa or Asia.
is often described as post-Christian, and some people have already given up on
the continent. We’ve heard discouraging statistics about mosques replacing
churches in England. We know about dismal numbers of churchgoers in Germany and
France. Some people assume that the region that gave us the Protestant
Reformation is now a spiritual wasteland.
that’s not what I found in Hungary this past week. On Sunday I preached to a
congregation that meets in what used to be a communist hall in the Budapest
suburb of Szigetszentmiklos. The Free Christian Church,
a lively Pentecostal group pastored by Josef and Lila Gere,
was celebrating its 20th anniversary—and the mayor of the town showed up for
the service along with the local minister of religious affairs.
A Canadian couple’s decision to raise a “genderless”
child has perplexed me.
I was scratching my head last week after hearing
about the couple from Toronto, Canada, who announced they were going to raise a
“genderless” child. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, parents
of two boys named Jazz and Kio, had a third child named
Storm on New Year’s Day. Witterick announced to her
family last month that she intends to keep the child’s gender a secret and let
him/her figure it out on his own.
So far mom and dad have not
granted interviews, but the mother said in a letter to the Edmonton Journal,
published May 30, that letting Storm determine his/her gender was “a tribute to
freedom and choice in place of limitation.”
Last week in Singapore I saw the future of
Christianity—and it has a definite Chinese flavor.
Last week during a trip to Singapore I enjoyed all
the tastes and smells of China—chili crab, salted milk crab, prawns, ban
mian (flat noodles), bak chang (rice
dumplings), lychee fruits, chicken feet (not my
favorite!) and several varieties of fish. But the flavor I savored most was
found in the worship times at Cornerstone Community Church.