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 years.
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.
Last spring 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 PATIENCE."
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 for heaven.
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 selfish deadlines.
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.
Instead of 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).
When discouragement tries to rob you of joy and hope, open your mouth and turn up the volume.
Back in the old days, if you saw a guy talking to himself while he walked down the street you assumed (1) he had just walked out of a bar, (2) he was slightly on the loony side or (3) he had misplaced some money and was retracing his steps—like when absent-minded Uncle Billy lost his cash deposit in It's a Wonderful Life.
Today lots of people talk to themselves and we know they're not drunk, crazy or confused. They are wired to their phones, either with ear buds, headsets or Bluetooth devices. (What do you call more than one Bluetooth? Blueteeth?) What's weird is when you go into a men's restroom in an airport and guys are standing around talking to themselves—and closing business deals—with the sound of toilets flushing in the background. Welcome to the wireless generation!
Recently I had a prophetic experience that clearly portrayed the condition of the church in America. My husband and I take evening walks that sometimes bring us through affluent neighborhoods. We enjoy viewing luxury homes with their beautiful waterfalls and fountains. Sometimes I venture to curiously peer into the backyards of these homes, finding exquisite pools, sports courts, fireplaces, and landscaping that reminds me of a Thomas Kincaid painting.
As we were enjoying our walk one evening, my husband suddenly blurted out, "Snake!" After jumping in the opposite direction, I saw a three-foot-long rattlesnake about a foot away from where we had been walking.
Having been raised on a farm in Georgia, I am familiar with the behavior of snakes, especially poisonous vipers. Snakes react to ground vibration, so I was mystified about why the snake was not hissing or coiling to strike us. To our surprise, the snake ignored us and slowly slithered in the opposite direction. He seemed to be right "at home" in the landscape of the neighborhood.
"Who gives this woman to be wed to this man?"Even though I was expecting this question, hearing it asked by the minister (who is my other son-in-law, Evan) caused a bit of pause. Keep in mind that other than writing a bunch of checks, this was my only real part in the ceremony. I was being asked to give my daughter to the man standing beside Evan. Not to go on a date. Not for a weeklong vacation. But forever!
This beautiful bride-to-be, standing beside me and holding my hand was my daughter.
When she was born I cut the umbilical cord. My wife and I stood beside her hospital bed a
1 year of age as she fought an unexplainable blood infection. I taught her to ride a bike. To swim. To drive a car (hence much of my gray hair). Much of the money I have made in my life somehow poured through her hands.
It's time to check your posture: Are your hands in the air? True worship requires surrender.
Christians used to talk a lot about surrender. They called it the consecrated life, and they sang about it in hymns such as "I Surrender All," "Have Thine Own Way" or "Wherever He Leads, I'll Go." These songs fueled the missionary movements of the past.
Last week, Rep. Artur Davis (D) lost his primary bid for governor of Alabama in a crushing defeat. His opponent, Ron Sparks, won by 25 points in a contest which some believe shows that the race-based politics of the south have not changed. This conclusion has been postulated because traditional, non-elected black political stakeholders seem to have temporarily derailed the career of one of the Democratic Party's fastest rising black stars.
Before the emergence of President Barack Obama on the national presidential scene, lots of Democrats felt that Davis would eventually become the nation's first black president - especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). His credentials were incredible. In fact he was a classmate of President Obama at Harvard Law. He was incredibly articulate and what he lacked in charismatic speeches, he made up for in strategic thinking and networking ability.
We live in a time of shaking all over the world in both the natural and the spiritual realms. But we, as people of God, do not need to fear. In the midst of the shakings, God wants His people to have perspective, peace and purpose. The first of these—perspective, or vision—is a message God has continued to put on my heart. God made it real to me through a dream.
In the dream, I was a child in the middle of a large crowd. Noise and confusion were all around me, and because I was so small, I could not see what was happening. But then the Father lifted me up on His shoulders. He lifted me to a higher vantage point, from which I could see what was occurring all around me. I could see from my Father's perspective.
This is the perspective God wants us to have. He wants to transform us into a people with vision—a people with prophetic insight for the days we live in, prophetic understanding of what He is doing around us and prophetic wisdom to know how to lead others to the unshakable foundation of Christ.