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.
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.” read more
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. read more
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. read more
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. read more
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.
anybody else find that slightly spooky? read more
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. read more
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
Family Needs.” read more
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. read more
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. read more