Last week 91 guys gathered for a three-day retreat. It reminded me that real Christianity has nothing to do with superficial religion.
For at least three years I've wanted to gather a group of friends for a time of encouragement and personal ministry. I couldn't afford to host a fancy event, and I didn't think these guys wanted a big hoopla with expensive hotels and high-priced speakers.
So we went with a simple format that involved a donated church facility (thank you, Pastor Donna), a totally informal dress code (jeans and T-shirts), home-cooked meals (we met in North Carolina, the barbeque capital of the South) and cheap rooms, courtesy of the local Hampton Inn. What surprised me was that 91 guys from 20 states and four foreign countries showed up for three days of worship, small group interaction and inspiring messages from 32 of the guys (everyone kept their comments brief to allow time for fellowship).
Sin began in a garden. Thousands of years later, Jesus Christ stood in another garden and announced His ultimate victory.
The Easter story has many amazing scenes: Jesus' last Passover meal with His disciples, His arrest and brutal scourging, His crucifixion between two criminals, and the dramatic darkness that fell on Jerusalem at the moment of His death. But my favorite part of the story is when Mary Magdalene peered inside Jesus' tomb on that resurrection morning. John 20:11-12 describes it this way:
"But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying" (NASB).
We are about to experience a new move of His Spirit. As we welcome it, let's protect the church from abuse and misuse of His gifts.
During the past few months I have prayed for many people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It has reminded me of the mid-1970s, when Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists were discovering the power of the Spirit in small prayer groups, renegade Bible studies and gatherings in hotel ballrooms.
Back then people seemed especially hungry for a deeper experience with God. Hollywood actor Pat Boone wrote a book called A New Song to testify how he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett led thousands into the experience after he was dismissed from his staid, traditional church in California because he admitted speaking in tongues. And Presbyterian novelist Catherine Marshall wrote Something More to describe her encounter with the Baptizer.
We can't reach the younger generation with yesterday's stale religion. It's time to unclog our wells.
Last week I spoke to a group of ministry leaders associated with a particular Pentecostal denomination in South Carolina. Many of these men and women are hungry for a fresh move of God, but they are also aware that they aren't effectively reaching people for Christ. Most of their small congregations are getting grayer by the day.
I told these folks they have only two options: Change or die.
Too often the American church has tried to put the Third Person of the Trinity in a box.
Hundreds of years before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church on the day of Pentecost, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, newly anointed as a priest, got a free preview of how God would send the Holy Spirit to empower His people. The preview came in the form of a Technicolor vision that included a stormy wind, a cloud that glowed with fire, flashes of lightning and strange, four-faced cherubim that were empowered by God's divine energy.
Ezekiel wrote of these heavenly creatures: "In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning" (Ezekiel 1:13-14, NASB).
Christians were shocked last week after learning that Benny and Suzanne Hinn are divorcing. Do ministers owe us an explanation for their failures?
Judging by the calls and e-mails I received last week, charismatic Christians were confused and dismayed when the Los Angeles Times broke the news that healing evangelist Benny Hinn and his wife, Suzanne, are getting divorced. The comments I heard were mostly sympathetic: "I am so grieved." "This is a wake-up call." "This is heartbreaking." "I'm praying for the Hinns."
And a few people were angry: "What is happening?" "Here we go again." "This is why the secular world looks at us and laughs!"
If you find yourself in an anxious season of difficult transition, take comfort from the life of Isaac.
If you had told me seven years ago that I would resign my comfortable magazine job in 2010 and make a shift toward public ministry, I would have asked if you were smoking an illegal plant. I liked my paycheck and my benefits. And in 2004 I was trying to figure out how I would put four kids through college when I had no extra money in the bank.
Fast forward to 2010, to the middle of the Great Recession. They say the economy is showing signs of improvement, but I don't see this in Florida, where the foreclosure rate is still one of the nation's highest. Yet right in the middle of these uncertain economic times, while the unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent, I sensed God telling me to make a career change.
Why did an innocent statement about protecting unborn life unleash a national uproar? Today's feminist groups need a reality check.
I'm not sure what the folks at Planned Parenthood expected football star Tim Tebow to do in his long-awaited Super Bowl ad on Sunday night. Condemn women to hell if they've had abortions? Show photos of aborted fetuses? Wave a gun at abortionists?
Tebow is a big guy, but both of his ads were polite and harmless—maybe even too safe. And the 22-year-old Heisman Trophy winner appeared in the 30-second ads with his mother, for crying out loud. She was even holding his baby picture!
How a Pennsylvania pastor led a four-man team into the quake zone in Port-au-Prince to save a handful of orphans.
Psalm 27 was posted on the orphanage wall.
At the Rescue Children Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a small sign was hanging on one of the building's concrete walls on Jan. 12, the day the city was leveled by a devastating earthquake. It was a verse from Psalm 27, written in English and Creole: "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me."
Those words have rich meaning today, not only to the 11 children in that orphanage who survived the quake but to Randy Landis, a charismatic pastor from Allentown, Pa., who helped lead a dangerous search-and-rescue mission when he learned about the calamity. He knew the children had survived the quake, but when phones went dead he had no idea if they had food, water or protection from falling debris. So Landis and a small team of men from Lifechurch of Allentown sprang into action.
Oral Roberts was not a sophisticated guy. Men of faith rarely are. He was born in poverty, and his early years in ministry were not glamorous. One Pentecostal Holiness preacher who was alive in the 1930s says he remembers when Oral and Evelyn Roberts tied everything they owned to the back of their car and moved from Georgia to Oklahoma. They modeled the kind of pioneering faith that requires sacrifice and humility.
It’s intriguing that Oral Roberts died just as we were about to enter a new decade. His death on December 15 represents the passing of an era. The pioneers of the charismatic movement are leaving us. And it causes me to wonder, with some concern, whether we are equipped with the kind of faith we need in this hour.
Roberts was the quintessential faith preacher. But during his lifetime, “faith preacher” took on a negative connotation because of various scandals and excesses in the faith movement. I loved much of the early faith teaching, but I was turned off when some of the flashier pulpiteers began to focus so much on financial prosperity that they became materialistic and manipulative when taking offerings.
Also, I didn’t buy the so-called “name it and claim it” philosophy because I don’t believe I should reduce my relationship with God to a formula. And I was also grieved when proponents of the faith message started suggesting that we can’t admit when we’re sick. That is not faith; that’s denial.
Like Kenneth Hagin Sr., Roberts was a faith preacher who also was troubled by the way the faith movement morphed into something else during the 1980s and 1990s. I’m sure he longed for the days when faith was more about conversions and healings and less about private jets and Rolex watches.
Today’s generation is weary of hype. We crave genuine faith. Paul told Timothy: “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5, NASB, emphasis added). That word “sincere” is translated “unfeigned” in the King James Version. It means real, pure and undisguised. It’s not pretend. And it’s not mixed with carnality.
Some of what we called faith in the past was mixed with greed and selfishness. One slick prosperity preacher encourages his followers to wear a T-shirt that says: “I WANT MY STUFF.” That immature attitude is a sick substitute for biblical faith. Real faith is focused on the kingdom of God, not ourselves. It grows steadily inside us as we hear the promises of God’s Word and then build our lives on spiritual reality—while embracing godly character.
I want to be a man of faith, yet too often doubts and anxieties plague me. So when 2010 began I started studying the life of Abraham. I’ve been reading and re-reading passages in Genesis, Romans, Hebrews and Galatians that describe the journey of the man we call “the father of our faith.” Abraham proved that if we want to please God we must believe Him—even when the promises seem impossible.
Oral Roberts used to tell his listeners: “Expect a miracle!” I believe that’s still sound advice for us today. I know Roberts was not perfect, and he had some regrets about his ministry. Yet he pioneered Christian broadcasting in the 1950s, built a successful university and challenged the church to believe in divine healing. That inspires me to pray big prayers and reach for big goals.
I encourage you to write down every promise God has given you from Scripture. Whatever challenge you face, grab hold of His specific word to you. Meditate on it and declare it. Let your faith grow stronger as you spend intimate time in prayer and worship.
Perhaps you need a better job, an open door for ministry or a spiritual turnaround in your church. Or you may be asking God to restore a broken relationship or bring a prodigal child back to Him. Don’t let the ravenous birds of doubt and discouragement steal your promise.
You can expect a miracle. Let a holy anticipation arise in your heart. We are crossing over into a significant new era of spiritual renewal. A land of promise awaits us—and we can claim it if we will simply believe.
Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady
We've faked the power of Pentecost long enough. Let's set aside the imitations and reclaim the real deal.
Shortly after Elijah was carried to heaven in his fiery chariot, a group of young prophets asked Elisha to go with them to build new living quarters near the Jordan River. While one of the young men was cutting down a tree, the blade of his axe fell in the water and sank into the murky depths of the riverbed (see 2 Kings 6:1-7).
The construction project came to an abrupt stop. This was before the days of flashlights and sonar devices. These guys were in trouble.
When the earthquake struck last week, a brave American woman found supernatural strength to praise the Lord—and to help deliver two babies.
My friend Linda Graham believes in miracles, but her faith was stretched beyond her wildest imagination last week when she arrived in Haiti with three other women from Durham, N. C. They were on a routine mission to deliver blankets, clothing and medical supplies to an orphanage in the town of Carrefour.
They had no idea they were walking right into one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.
There's too much awkward silence when it comes to old and young. It's time to start a conversation.
One of my core passions is training younger Christians. Whether I'm doing an online Bible study with a friend overseas or taking a couple of guys with me on a mission trip, relational discipleship has become a priority now that I'm older. Young leaders need more than stuffy talking heads who just preach at them from acrylic pulpits; they want approachable mothers and fathers who will share a meal, listen, ask questions and invite co-equal participation.
Shyju Matthew is a young leader I met last year in India. Based in Bangalore, he serves on the staff at Bethel Assembly of God Church. He's only 24, but Shyju conducts evangelistic events around the globe. He has exceptional maturity and spiritual anointing. Yet he recognizes his need for input from the older generation. In fact, he seeks it out.
The late Oral Roberts used to say, "Expect a miracle." That's good advice as we enter this new season.
When Pentecostal healing evangelist Oral Roberts died a few weeks ago I was shocked that some Christians pounced on his legacy so quickly. They didn't even wait a few days for friends and family members to mourn. While Billy Graham—a true Christian gentleman—was offering kind remarks about Roberts, the heresy hunters were denouncing him as a charlatan.
Besides being incredibly rude, these harsh judgments were unfair. While I am sure Roberts made plenty of mistakes in his six decades of ministry, I'm grateful that he dared to believe God for the impossible. He pioneered the use of television to reach millions for Christ in the 1960s. He built a successful Christian university. And, in spite of the naysayers, he challenged a doubting church to believe in divine healing.
I despise airplane turbulence. Even though I enjoy high-speed roller coasters, there is something about hurling through stormy skies in a commercial jetliner at 37,000 feet that turns my knuckles white. This is why I always ask for a window seat. Whenever we hit rough air and the seat belt sign flashes on, I feel safer if I can look outside.
But that didn’t help me recently when I was flying into Canada. I was not aware that rough weather was raging below and that parts of Vancouver were flooding. All I knew was that our journey though Canadian airspace reminded me of Doctor Doom’s Fearfall—a theme-park ride I’ve enjoyed many times with my daughters.
That ride lasts only a few seconds, and it is firmly bolted to the ground. The turbulence over British Columbia lasted half an hour.
It was 11 p.m., and I couldn’t see anything outside my window except horizontal rain. I kept reminding myself that the pilot was using radar and other high-tech instruments to avoid crashing into the side of a mountain. But my knuckles did not believe this. I clutched the armrest, prayed and—for a few seconds—wondered how my wife would plan my funeral.
Of course the plane did not break apart in mid-air. When we descended below the cloud cover and the lights of the city became visible, all my color returned. I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving when I heard the familiar sound of wheels touching the runway.
You may not share my fear of turbulence, but all of us have walked though scary times in life when we couldn’t see the path in front of us. Many people I know are going through such times right now because of the economic downturn. Some are facing job loss, financial hardships, foreclosures or unusual spiritual challenges.
Churches, too, are finding it hard to navigate change. More people than ever are in a season of transition because old business models don’t work, and ministry paradigms are shifting. Some of us find ourselves digging our fingernails into the armrest while the plane is bouncing all over the stormy sky. And when we look out the window we see nothing but darkness.
I have found comfort in the words David penned after he escaped from Saul’s pursuits. He wrote in Psalm 18:4-6: “The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. ... In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help came into His ears” (NASB).
In describing God’s just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue, David borrowed vivid imagery from the day when God opened the Red Sea to deliver His children from Egypt. “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice. ...Then the channels of water appeared, and the foundations of the world were laid bare. ...He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. ... He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me” (vv. 13-19).
David’s transition wasn’t easy. In the most difficult moment he noted that God had “made darkness His hiding place” (v. 11). We must remember that darkness is not a sign that God has abandoned us. It became stormy just before the Red Sea split open. Yet God was working behind the scenes, even when the clouds were black and the wind was violent.
If you are in the midst of a transition, hold tightly to His promise as you enter this new year of 2010. You can trust Him. Better things are still to come. In yet a little while He will intervene.
Don’t focus on your job crisis, the bad economic news, your lack of options or the bumpiness of the ride. Call upon the Lord. When His lightning flashes, He will split the obstacles in front of you and make a dry roadbed in the midst of the sea. He can make a way where there is no way.
Ask the Lord to transport you. Eventually you will hear the sound of wheels touching down on the wet runway. You are helpless to make this transition on your own, but your Deliverer will safely carry you from your present crisis into a broad place of future fruitfulness.
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady.
The last 10 years weren't just about terrorism and recession. Amid the storm clouds, God was working in profound ways.
We didn't know what to call it—was it the '00s?—yet we've just passed through quite a decade. We had natural disasters (the 2004 Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in 2005), financial meltdowns (bank failures and 10 percent unemployment) and global conflict (9/11 and the war on terror). It brought doom and gloom on one hand and technological breakthroughs on the other. What a ride it has been.
How has God been working during this tumultuous season? Here's my list of seven megatrends that marked these last 10 years:
1. Third-World Christianity kept growing. There are now about 600 million Christians in Africa. Protestant Christianity grew 600 percent in Vietnam in the last decade. In China, where a 50,000-member megachurch was raided in Shanxi province a few weeks ago, there are now an estimated 130 million churchgoers.
The poll results are counted. Charisma readers chimed in on their favorite and least favorite holiday songs.
Long before the advent of iTunes and political correctness, Christmas music was about, well ... Christmas. People actually sat around fireplaces or gathered in churches and sang carols that made overt references to the birth of Jesus.
Nowadays, however, some radio stations play holiday music 24 hours a day that rarely mentions the reason for the season. We hear lyrics about snow and winter weather (even though Christmas is hot in most parts of the world), overcoats, shopping, sleighs, Santa Claus, reindeer, toys, holly, elves, bells and chipmunks.
I could sense heaven's ecstatic joy last weekend when I visited a multiethnic church in Montgomery, Ala.—birthplace of the civil rights movement.
There were two very separate worlds in Montgomery, Ala., when I lived there as a child. I lived in the white world, on the east side of town in the Dalraida area. Everybody at Dalraida Baptist Church was white. All the kids at Dalraida Elementary School were white. The only black people I saw in my neighborhood on Green Forest Drive were the maids who arrived each day to clean houses.
I was oblivious to what was happening in Montgomery in 1964 when I started school. No one told me about Martin Luther King Jr., who fueled the civil rights movement from his pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church downtown. I didn't know about the bus boycotts, the lunch-counter sit-ins or the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that killed four black girls.
I gave away my second daughter last weekend, and it wasn't any easier this time around.
I've never met George Banks. That would be impossible, since he is the fictional dad played by Steve Martin in the 1991 film Father of the Bride. But I feel I know George because I've watched this sappy comedy so many times. I watched it again last week just before my second daughter's wedding.
I guess the film provides a mild form of therapy. It helps me deal with my loss. Despite what they all say ("You're not losing a daughter! You're gaining a son!") I started to feel an uncomfortable lump in my throat at least 72 hours before the ceremony.