When moving from
point A to point B, we sometimes feel trapped in between. Trust God to guide
you to your destination.
A few months ago
I passed through the tiny community of Between, Ga. With a population of only
148, the place is not much to write home about. (And besides, it doesn't even
have its own zip code). The town got its name because it's halfway between
Atlanta and Athens, Ga. But as I passed the local convenience store I couldn't
help but imagine the strange reactions I'd get if I lived there.
I have been a pastor for many years, and in my opinion, the hardest fact in the world to believe is that God really loves us. It is harder to believe that than to believe that there is a God or that Jesus died on the cross or even that He rose from the dead.
It's not difficult to believe that God will take care of you or that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" (Rom. 8:28, NIV), though we may not believe that they are for our good at the time. We can be detached from life sufficiently to look back and say yes. It all worked out.
It's hard to remember a time when people were more angry. A civilized person ought to be, first of all, civil. Yet today there is no discourse, no respect for another's opinion, no reasoning together for the common good. I am concerned, especially for the church.
One may argue: "Our society is decaying. We should be mad." Yes, but we can be angry yet still not sin (Eph 4:26).
Our souls should be vexed at the darkening cloud of demonic infestation in our culture. Especially when children are caused to stumble, or the weak are exploited, or because the advance of evil ultimately means more people will die without Christ.
So, if we are angry, it does not necessarily mean we have sinned. It can simply mean we care.
My concern is, however, that unless this anger regenerates into something more redemptive—more Christlike—we will not see our world renewed. Indeed, anger that does not awaken in us redemptive action ultimately degrades into bitterness and unbelief.
Hell advances into our world on many levels, but I want to discuss only two primary areas.
The first is a brazen, widespread and alarming manifestation. For example, a corrupt law is passed or gang violence breaks out or a beloved public figure is scandalized. It makes the news, and people are talking about it. The shock waves caused by this demonic intrusion smash against our hearts—we're disappointed, offended, stunned and often outraged.
While we're in this state of mind, hell launches the second area of attack. No newscast features this next stage of warfare. On this front, the devil does not come flaunting himself openly. He comes quietly. In seething whispers he stirs the pot of our discontent until it boils. Ultimately, where once the heart of the Christian was full of faith and love, now bitterness, hatred and malice churn.
So, though we must fight the culture wars of our times, we must also preserve our capacity to love if we want to actually win our war. We must remember we are not fighting "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world" (Eph. 6:12, KJV).
Sadly, I have heard many people say recently that they've lost their vision for America. What they actually lost wasn't their vision. It was their love. For love believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).
This month a
small group of Hispanic and Anglo Christians traveled from Florida to Arizona
to pray for immigration reform.
Christians are arguing about Arizona's strict immigration law, charismatic
pastor Nebby Gomez decided to do something about it. He and his wife, Dee,
traveled from Florida to Arizona in early July with three members of their
church to address what they believe are the spiritual roots of the crisis.
They prayed on
the lawn of Arizona's capitol in Phoenix, where lawmakers passed the
controversial SB1070 bill in April of this year amid national protests. Gomez
and his friends also prayed on the site of Arizona's oldest Spanish mission
near Tucson and on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border in Nogales.
Editor's Note: In the message that follows, Robert Ricciardelli gives a prophetic explanation for the shaking that currently is occurring worldwide and clarifies what God is doing in the church during this period of widespread uncertainty. He notes that we are in a "swift season of change" and describes what our personal response should be to this season. Robert is a prophetic minister, an entrepreneur and the founder of Converging Zone Network, a social-networking site developed to spread the kingdom of God on a global level through the exchange of products, services, training and ideas.
Can a nation be born in a day? You are that nation, you are that people, you are My people. Beyond America and nationalism, and in all nations, is a people called by My name. The shaking felt around the world is My doing.
Many of you have asked: "Lord, where are You in all this? Have we not prayed? Where are You in my challenges? Where are You in my problems?"
I say, "I am in them, around them and have caused many of them."
My brother is a captain with Delta and currently he flies to Amsterdam several times a month. On the map, the route from Detroit to Amsterdam is a straight line. So to me, logically he should be able to get in the airplane, take off, set his heading and just drink coffee until he gets there.
But when I shared my logic with him, he laughed at me (something he spends way too much time doing). When I asked him what was funny, he said: "Things simply don't work that way. I spend most of my time making course corrections."
No true message from God will flow through a person who is smug and self-confident. If you want to speak for Him, prepare to die!
I did it again. This past Sunday I stood in a pulpit, looked out over a congregation of mostly strangers, cleared the lump in my throat and preached a message that the Lord had laid on my heart from the Bible.
Thousands of men and women speak publicly like this every week. It's what preachers do. No big deal.
God wants you to know His
purpose for your life. My entire life changed when I discovered this one truth:
The destiny of my life is hinged upon understanding God's eternal
purpose, which He unveiled to man through His sacrificial love.
I was not
aware of this powerful truth, despite the fact that I had finished my graduate
studies in theology, including rewriting the 500 cardinal doctrines of the
church for my thesis. Through my studies, I had learned how to investigate the
great truths of the Bible and thought I knew something about almost every
doctrine. I prided myself on my attempts to be an exegetical theologian,
pastoring and carefully teaching the Word in Bible colleges for 17
We are living in a strange season! This is a season of extraordinary, spectacular, unexpected events. Even the prophetic insight offered by leaders spans a wide range of interpretations and applications. And, interestingly enough, most of the insight is accurate but very diverse. Really strange!
When you picture a magnificent flying bird, it is usually not a chicken that comes to mind. I've never seen a chicken portrayed in flight-many eagles, but no chickens. We quote the Scripture from Isaiah 40:31 that talks about being borne up on the wings of eagles or with wings like eagles. There is a difference, however, between being on His wings and being under His wings.
This promise in Psalm 91 is not elaborating on the flying wing but on the sheltering wing. One indicates strength and accomplishment, while the other denotes protection and familiarity. When you imagine the warmth of a nest and the security of being under the wings of the nurturing love of a mother hen with chicks, it paints a vivid picture of the sheltering wing of God's protection that the psalmist refers to in this passage.
Make room for the
Holy Spirit's bulldozers. He wants to give you an extreme makeover.
during a visit to Charlotte, N.C. I stopped by the Billy Graham Library to take
a tour of the evangelist's boyhood home and to see his ministry's offices. In a
shaded grove on the same property I stumbled upon the grave of his wife, Ruth
Bell Graham. Her tombstone bore an unusual inscription: "END OF CONSTRUCTION. THANK YOU FOR YOUR
Mrs. Graham (who
died in 2007) apparently saw these words on a highway sign, and she told
friends that she wanted them on her grave marker. Apparently the message from
the road construction crew reminded her of God's patient care in preparing her
The Lord longs for His glory to cover the earth like the waters cover the sea (see Hab. 2:14). The sea of the Gulf of Mexico is now filled with a gunk that represents uncapped resources that are now coming onto our shores. What has opened up is a spewing power that the enemy is accelerating with pressure—a well that can't be capped by natural means. This has become a supernatural situation. Instead of [our being able to bring] forth the resources of the earth in an efficient way for the benefit of mankind, we are seeing these resources not only out of control but also unrefined and poisonous to the ecology.
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.
Two popular charismatic speakers stood on a stage a few years ago and tried to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. One guy pretended to throw an imaginary “fireball” at his friend, who promptly fell on the floor as if he’d been zapped by divine power. Then, feeling equally playful, the guy on the floor stood to his feet and threw the “fireball” back at his friend—who fell down after the blob of God hit him.
Everybody had a hilarious time at this outrageous party. There was just one problem. The Holy Spirit is not a blob, a fireball or any other form of cosmic energy that can be thrown, maneuvered, controlled or manipulated.
This scenario happened in a charismatic church—a place where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is presumably honored and understood. It’s sad that many of us who wear the charismatic label have forgotten what the Scriptures teach about the third person of the Trinity. We need to step back, regroup and reconsider what the Bible says about who the Holy Spirit is and how He works:
1. He is the Spirit of the Lord. He is not a force (as in Star Wars), a magical power or an “it.” The Holy Spirit is God, and we should revere Him as God.
2. He is our regenerator. Jesus told Nicodemus that we are born again by the Holy Spirit (see John 3:5). True conversion is the most supernatural thing we will ever experience. When a person puts his faith in Christ for salvation, it is the Spirit who opens the heart and imparts divine life. He then indwells us—and He gives us the confidence that we are now children of God.
3. He is our empowerer. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit we are “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NASB). The Spirit who already indwells us fills us to the point of overflowing. Jesus said the Holy Spirit’s power would flow out of us like “rivers of living water” from our innermost being (John 7:38). This overflow releases supernatural boldness as well as the anointing for various gifts of the Spirit including prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing.
4. He is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit has access to all the wisdom and knowledge of God. When we abide in Him, He leads us continually into truth—causing us to grow and mature spiritually. He is our “teacher” (see 1 John 2:27), and those who depend on Him will walk in discernment and avoid deception and pride.
5. He is our counselor. Also translated advocate, comforter or helper, the actual Greek word, parakletos, means “one called alongside to help.” It implies that the Spirit comes to our legal defense when we are accused or troubled; it also means He is a close friend who offers encouragement, consolation and direction when we face any difficulty.
6. He is our intercessor. This is one of the greatest miracles of grace. The Spirit who lives inside us “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit prays the perfect will of God. No matter what kind of dark difficulty we face, the Spirit travails for us until we emerge safely through the test.
7. He is our refiner. The Spirit took the form of a dove at Christ’s baptism, but He is often portrayed in Scripture as a fire. He purifies us of bad attitudes, wrong motives, unhealthy addictions and selfish agendas. If we cooperate with Him, rather than quenching or grieving Him, the Spirit will purge the dross from our lives so we can reflect the character of Jesus.
Let’s rediscover the Holy Spirit. He is so much more than we ever imagined—more than a doctrine, a concept or a glowing blob of energy. I guarantee your spiritual life will go to a whole new level if you simply pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” and ask for more of Him.
J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years. He now serves as contributing editor while devoting more time to ministry. You can find him on the Web at themordecaiproject.com. His latest book is The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale (Chosen Books).
This past week Rev. Jeremiah Wright emerged again from the ashes of obscurity to the spotlight. Like the mythical phoenix rising again from the fires of death, Wright is still politically alive after becoming a symbol of racism and division for mainstream America. His actions mirror his friend, Louis Farrakhan, who has recently attempted to malign Jews worldwide. The question I would like to answer here is, "How can such vehement hate mongers like Wright and Farrakhan survive so long in a land that longs so much for racial and religious equality?" Let's explore the answer as we look at the current status of Rev. Wright. How did he arise again?
Wright recently taught a weeklong course at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). The school is a 150-year old institution affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC). As many may not remember, Rev. Wright's former church (Trinity United Church of Christ) is the largest church in the UCC denomination. This denomination supports Rev. Wright's assessment of America's moral condition and motivations. CTS represents institutions that have continued to embrace the famed Chicago minister long after he dropped off the national radar.
"What in the world is that?" exclaimed my husband, Terry,
making a quick path out to the front porch.
We had just moved into a
summer rental house across the street from a sleepy park. But from the sounds of
it, the park was not so sleepy! The gazebo was filled with band members and a
rather buxom woman was at the microphone. She was belting out patriotic songs in
a high soprano voice.
Do you trust
God's timing? The path to spiritual maturity requires us to surrender our
When Mary and
Martha sent news to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was about to die, Jesus
didn't respond the way his friends expected. He actually snubbed their request.
The Bible says when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, "He then stayed two days
longer in the place where He was" (John 11:6, NASB).
For Mary and
Martha, those were two very long days.
Many people are asking in this season, "What is God up to?" We seem to be living in a period of great silence. Believers are searching in vain for something God is doing powerfully in the body of Christ and trying to no avail to hear marching orders from Him for the church.
Do not mistake God's silence for inactivity!
Here is the prophetic word God recently spoke to me when I asked that question:
"This is a season of net-mending in the body of Christ."
I've reflected on this statement the last few days, and I am convinced it is a word that must be shared. God is moving mightily on the earth! But at the present time, His efforts are largely focused on mending His nets.
We are those nets. We are connected to one another through strategic, covenant relationships. During the last few seasons in the body of Christ, we have been in both great battles and great revivals. The stress of these events has damaged and broken the nets in many places. When you look around at the church today, you can see evidence of the stress: broken lives, broken marriages, broken friendships, broken ministries, broken churches, broken relationships and broken people.
I believe that before the next great move of God, the Lord is going to repair those nets!
Consider how fishing nets are constructed. Each square in the net is connected above, beside and beneath. In the old days, small knots were tied at each connection point. The net was only as strong as its weakest connection. This is why we must allow God to test and strengthen key relationships in this hour.
One of the main points in the prophetic word the Lord gave my wife, Nicki, for 2009 was, "Strengthen key relationships." During the past two years, God has been strengthening key relationships in our lives so we can form a stronger net to contain the great catch of souls that is coming into the kingdom of God.
Specifically, there are five things that this prophetic word means to you and me.
1. Make sure you allow God to strengthen your family ties during this season.
God wants to strengthen marriages and the bond between parents and children. Also, make sure that you remain in good standing with extended family members as much as possible—especially those in the body of Christ. Make time for each other and deliberately plan family events at which old connections can be renewed.
2. Make sure you are aligned under proper authority.
Don't be caught without a connection to the portion of the net above you. Submit yourselves to spiritual leaders you can trust—those who will truly look out for your souls. Make sure you are in relationships with leaders who walk in humility but also have great power, vision and purpose.
3. Surround yourself with people who are covenant-keepers.
Now is the time to make sure your friends are people who can make and keep their promises. Set yourself in the midst of committed friends. You need people of great love and integrity who can walk with you so that when the trials of life come, your relationships are not ripped apart by false accusation, jealousy, competition, offense, gossip, bitterness, and so on.
4. Beware of the spirit of offense.
Satan will try to come after your "net connections." He probably already has! Don't let yourself get offended with your spiritual leaders. Don't allow small issues to fester and become infected through bitterness and unforgiveness. Beware of the enemy's devices that will bring division and offense between you and others in the church. This is all part of his ploy to further weaken the nets that God wants to strengthen.
5. Do not get bored or impatient in this season and check out of the army of God.
As God is silently mending His nets for the next great catch, you must not allow yourself to get bored and stray from your assignment. Don't let yourself wander off into something new unless God is specifically directing it. Presumptions about the will of God will get you into trouble. The enemy will try to lure you into some other activity if you let your mind get sidetracked and don't stay focused on your last marching orders.
About the author: Mark Pfeifer is the founder and senior pastor of Open Door Christian Fellowship in Chillicothe, Ohio, a church he planted in 1991. He is also the lead apostle of the Soma Family of Ministries, a position he has held since 2003. He has founded and oversees several schools that are now a part of the Wagner Leadership Institute, for which he is a regional chancellor. Mark has authored several books, including his most recent, Change Agents. To order a copy of this book, click here. For more information about his ministry, go to markandnicki.com.
denying or downplaying this misunderstood spiritual gift, we should have the
courage to embrace it.
Last week after I
taught a class on the Holy Spirit at a ministry school in Pennsylvania, a
22-year-old guy from Maryland asked if I could pray with him. He had heard me
share how I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at age 18, and he wanted the same
experience. He was especially intrigued by the idea of speaking in tongues—something
he had never done even though he was comfortable around other classmates who
had this spiritual gift.
This young man,
Eric, understood that he already had the Holy Spirit. (We can't be born again
without the Spirit entering our hearts and quickening Christ's life in us.) But
he knew that Jesus offers us more—that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a
second experience in which the fullness of God's divine power saturates us and
anoints us for supernatural ministry.
Ringing in my ears are the words of multiple prophets who are saying, "Get ready, the world is going to change fast, and so is the church." Some share the message from a more positive standpoint, others from a less positive one. The first kind causes me to anticipate what is coming; the second makes me nervous.
I don't always like to think about what the future holds from a natural standpoint, particularly when it's not pleasant and I can't change it. But I know one thing: Whatever happens, God's purpose for His people is the same—to reflect His glory. As we do, Habakkuk's prophecy will be fulfilled and "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14, NKJV).