Despite a “solid Christian” upbringing—raised in Hong Kong by Southern Baptist missionaries—I don’t remember ever being taught specifically about the Holy Spirit during my youth. Not one sermon or Bible study devoted to who He is, what He does, why we need Him ... nothing.
Like the kid on the playground picked for teams only because he was the coolest kid’s little brother, the Holy Spirit became a tagalong idea to my understanding of God. I doubt those raising me spiritually intended to shun the Holy Spirit so badly. Sure, He was always trumpeted as the divine inspirer of Scripture. And He was a staple on Sunday school flannelgraphs as the “dove from above” who accompanied Jesus.
But there was no talk of the Holy Spirit being an actual person like Jesus or the Father. Other than acknowledging by rote the Spirit’s fruit, there wasn’t a connection to how He regularly operated in us to produce such fruit. Certainly passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (listing the Spirit’s gifts) weren’t discussed. After all, our mission board, though not cessassionist on paper, sent home any appointees found speaking in tongues or publicly confessing to such “extreme” gifts of the Spirit. read more
Almost 1,000 years ago, a rabbi in Germany wrote a poem amid what was probably the threat of mass execution for his entire Jewish community. Fast-forward hundreds of years and a portion of that poem wound up scribbled on the walls of an insane asylum. read more
These days I’m questioning my faith. It’s something I should’ve done a long time ago. But before you assume I’m another crazy charismatic jumping ship on solid biblical theology, hear me out.
I once wrote a book for a Christian apologist wanting to help believers refute the typical arguments lobbied against our faith. I wasn’t the best candidate to explain why we believe what we believe; I had no theological schooling, was far from being a Bible scholar and could barely argue my way out of a paper bag. But I was exactly the kind of person he was trying to help. read more
It happens every year for most American families. We swear this Christmas will be different from the others, that we’ll spend less on gifts and truly celebrate Jesus rather than join in the commercialized bingefest. But by the morning of Dec. 25, our living room once again turns into a sea of presents. read more
Like it or not, the American Idol syndrome is alive and well in most Western churches today. We see it in the modern worship arena, with many young Christians believing that becoming a worship leader is the next best thing to being a rock star. read more
Two years ago this month the American church was fracturing. Fueled by unprecedented media frenzy, the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain had exposed a splintering Body full of bickering Christian leaders, many of whom spoke as if delivering a word straight from heaven.
Standing in the crossfire were countless conflicted believers who found it difficult to cut through the pulpit politics and loaded prophecies and actually hear God’s opinion. Most of us could agree that yes, God is concerned with more than just the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage; but how were we to reconcile that with a single vote? read more
“Savor this time, because the next thing you know, he’ll be all grown up.” I can’t count the number of times older parents have offered my wife and me this advice for raising our two little boys. We heard it so often when our oldest, Brayden, was an infant that the conversations became laughably predictable.
A total stranger (usually a grandmother, dragging her reluctant husband) would walk by our table at a restaurant, peer into Brayden’s car seat, ooh and aah over him, and, after asking how old he was, present her well-worn pearl of wisdom. As Brayden grew older, the interaction differed slightly—he’d initiate a game of peekaboo with a couple sitting across the room, or a grandpa would stop to ask him about his toy—but the advice was always the same: Savor this time. read more
Considering he had died the previous week, I’ll admit that talking with my father was a bit strange. But there he was, conversing with me in a dream that to this day seems far more than that.
Daddy appeared too real, his words too precise and prophetic, and our surroundings too divine for just another night vision that I could later blame on pizza, false hope or even my still-raw grief of losing him to a sudden heart attack. Upon waking, I was convinced I’d just experienced a touch from heaven.
Still, over the next few weeks I wrestled with the reality of my encounter, fully aware that Scripture rarely puts interaction with the deceased in a positive light. The Old Testament presents no fewer than six specific warnings against consulting the dead (see Deut. 18:10-13), while the New Testament clearly speaks of the Holy Spirit as the lone source of truth amid the spirits and demonic forces that dwell in this world.
I didn’t consult with a medium and had no intention of connecting with anything associated with the afterlife. But did this somehow legitimize my experience, or had I “defiled” myself by talking to a dead man—albeit subconsciously (Lev. 19:31)? What was I to make of my all-too-vivid encounter with my dad? Had my visit with him truly given me a glimpse of heaven?
I don’t have definitive answers for these or other related questions. Like millions of others who have had similar encounters with deceased loved ones, I struggle with the fact that my experience doesn’t fit nicely into a neat little theological box within my faith grid.
That seems to be a common theme when it comes to dealing with heaven and hell. Questions abound, while experience both complicates and confirms. How can something so universally accepted as the afterlife remain so misunderstood?
For that reason, this issue of Charisma combines questions and personal experience to give you a deeper sense of what heaven and hell are like. The Bible is explicit on some things regarding the afterlife. Bible teachers Perry Stone (p. 36) and Bill Wiese (p. 44) point this out as they use Scripture to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about heaven and hell.
Yet there’s also a reason people around the world throughout history have been fascinated with stories of heaven and hell. We seem to have an innate sense of wonder when it comes to visualizing what comes after our life on Earth. This month we’ve let Richard Sigmund, Lonnie Honeycutt, Choo Thomas and a few others offer their wondrous descriptions of heaven, based on what they claim were personal visits to God’s abode. Just as real, yet on the other extreme, is the harrowing account of Wiese, whose 23-minute journey to hell has left a permanent impression not only on his soul, but millions of others’ as well.
Given their importance in the scope of life, heaven and hell get a ridiculously small amount of airtime today. And for all the buzz surrounding the afterlife these days, you’d think we might have more understanding of humanity’s end destinations. I hope this issue changes that.
CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ISSUE ...
In 1979, Ron Phillips was called as pastor of Central Baptist Church in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area, where he serves today. An avid knife collector, he once wrote a book on parenting but burned every copy after having children.
As a teenager, former real estate broker Bill Wiese (pictured with wife Annette) was attacked by a 9-foot tiger shark off the Florida coast while surfing. As scary as that sounds, it still pales in comparison to his 23-minute adventure in hell.
Valerie G. Lowe is an award-winning journalist who got her start in media doing a kid’s show on TV in the sixth grade. She’s an identical twin, a fan of CBS’ The Good Wife and enjoys shopping at vintage thrift stores.
After writing this month’s cover story about people’s fascination with heaven, freelance writer Ken Walker is looking forward to a reunion there with his second-oldest stepdaughter, who died of a heart attack in 2005. read more
I like change. I’m one of those “seasons” kind of guys who gets excited about new beginnings. But I also realize I’m in the minority and that, for most people, change is like the crazy aunt whom you’re perfectly OK with seeing only once in a blue moon.
Lately I’ve received a handful of e-mails and calls from readers who apparently don’t adjust well to change when it comes to this magazine. With any major shift you’re bound to have some strong reactions and opinions. And our last issue, which kicked off some major changes with Charisma’s look, feel and tone, has certainly garnered reaction—99 percent of which has been positive.
But the few concerns I’ve heard made me wonder if I needed to clarify at least three things. Jesus told the parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 to go after the one; here’s my attempt to pursue the change-challenged “ones” and clear the air of any misunderstandings about Charisma’s new season.
1) Charisma isn’t abandoning our older readers. Or any readers, for that matter. I still laugh at some of the comments I’ve heard about us “jumping ship on the older generation.” A fresh new design and feel doesn’t mean we’re ignoring our more mature readers, nor does it mean we’re favoring younger ones. If anything, we’re more attune than ever to ideas from readers of all ages. (Many of the changes you see here originated with you!) As our April issue highlighted, it’s critical that both young and old come together today within the Spirit-filled community. I believe Charisma fosters such a convergence on a monthly basis by letting every generation—boomers, busters, millennials, mosaics ... whatever you are—know what the Holy Spirit is doing on a broader scale.
2) Lee Grady isn’t going anywhere. At least not in our magazine. Lee’s become a prominent voice of truth within the church who continually challenges us to a higher level of Christ-likeness. As a contributing editor, he’s still involved with each issue of Charisma, and his Fire in My Bones column will conclude each issue. We know Lee’s words resonate with believers around the world. Aside from that, he’s a cool guy and a good friend to our team. We think we’ll keep him.
3) Charisma isn’t forsaking Christian news. If anything, we’re expanding our coverage and delivering it in more ways (check out p. 56 for what’s on our new mobile app). Fair or not, Charisma has been blasted in the past for reporting on the good, the bad and the ugly. (OK, mainly we’re criticized for the bad and the ugly parts.) Yet when we purposefully don’t cover the latest scandal within the Spirit-filled community, readers tell us they’re frustrated at having to find out about it from other sources. So here’s what we think is a happy median: When possible, we’ll minimize our print coverage of “scandal stories,” opting instead to spend more ink on the positive elements of the Holy Spirit’s work around the world. For those who want the full scoop (including the bad and the ugly), charismamag.com is the place to go, with developing news stories, features and more posted throughout each day.
Our purpose as a magazine isn’t to frustrate our readers but to serve you. So feel free to let me know what you think of these changes. I promise, I won’t treat you like the crazy aunt.
CONTRIBUTING TO THIS ISSUE ...
At 31, David Platt isn’t just one of the youngest megachurch pastors in history. He’s also way smarter than the average bear—the man has five degrees (and counting) and can recite most of the New Testament from memory.
As a freelance writer in Singapore, Karon Ng has contributed articles to magazines, newspapers and e-publications. She devours a book a week (on average) and loves chocolate. Not so much for mushrooms.
Recording artist, worship leader, author and speaker Alvin Slaughter has never missed a Seinfeld episode. His secret passion is to record a CD of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits. You read that right—Barry Manilow.
T.J. Harringtonhas a master’s in political science and is interested in how the spiritual and political connect. He works as a consultant for political candidates and on policy-change initiatives. Thus the blue shirt and red power tie.