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.”
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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.
My 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.
Bruce’s 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.
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 really bad.
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.
An earthquake rattles Washington, D.C., and a fierce storm ravages the East Coast. Is God speaking to us?
I’m not 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.
Does anybody else find that slightly spooky?
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.
God has something sobering to say to us through the death of this popular preacher.
Zachery 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.
But 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.”
I learned some important lessons about courage last weekend while I was dangling in midair.
I 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!
I was wrong.
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 mission field.
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.
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.
If you or someone you know is battling sexual temptation, take these five steps toward GRACE.
This week my wife and I ministered to a group of 115 Russian teenagers at a youth camp in Virginia. Part of our job was to separate the guys and the girls and facilitate honest (and sometimes awkward) discussions about sex, dating and guy/girl relationships. They put their anonymous questions in a black box (“How do I know if she’s the one for me?” or “Is it OK to use condoms?”), and we answered while the kids giggled nervously.
I spoke to the guys on the first night about what I call the Porn Monster, using the description of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7 as my text. In this passage the writer recounts the sad story of a vulnerable young man who wanders into the wrong part of town where a harlot seduces him. The story concludes with these haunting words: “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways … for many are the victims she has cast down” (Prov. 7:25-26).
Her “not guilty” verdict made a lot of people mad. But before we vent any more anger we may need an attitude check.
Where were you on July 5 when the Casey Anthony verdict was released? Just before the 2:15 p.m. announcement, I was in a restaurant in Orlando with my family—and our waitress was so anxious to hear the outcome of the trial that she brought up the topic after we ordered our lunch. Not since the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial have Americans invested so much emotional energy in a courtroom drama.
Because I live near Orlando where the trial was held, I’ve grown weary of the never-ending local news coverage, which included stories on how much Casey was allowed to spend on toiletries every week at the Orange County jail and how long out-of-town visitors waited in line to get tickets to the trial. I remember when 2-year-old Caylee Anthony went missing in 2008. I remember when her decomposed remains were found six months later in some woods near her home. I listened to the blur of reports about duct tape, the suspicious odor in the trunk of the car, the chloroform, and her mother’s partying habits.
A few years ago a minister in my city went through a divorce, and the messy details of the settlement between the pastor and his wife were reported in our newspaper. But when the divorce was finalized there was no public statement. The man’s wife disappeared from the stage, her photo vanished from the church website and nothing further was said. Zip. Nada. No comment.
The message: It’s none of your business what happened between the pastor and his wife. He’s the anointed messenger of God. Just follow him.
So you pray for something for years and then you wake up one day, breathe a big sigh and say to yourself: This is crazy. Nothing is happening. God must not be listening.
Congratulations. If this has been your experience you are not alone. You’ve been enrolled in the School of Persevering Prayer, and it’s not a one-semester class. It’s a lifelong journey designed to stretch your faith, develop your character, purify your motives, test your patience and increase your capacity to know and experience God’s amazing love.
In a nation known for communist oppression, intimidation and religious legalism, the Holy Spirit is sending a fresh wind of freedom.
Pentecost is a national holiday in Romania, and I celebrated it last Monday with members of Bucharest Christian Center, a growing congregation in the Romanian capital. The church was founded by my friend Ioan Ceuta, 54, a brave Christian leader who has served as president of the Assemblies of God since 1996. Like so many Romanian pastors who lived through the communist era, Ceuta has walked through fire and emerged stronger in his faith.
Ministry was not easy for Ceuta and his wife, Emilia, during the dark days of Nicolae Ceau?escu, the Romanian dictator who ruled with an iron fist and built one of the world’s largest buildings (second only to the Pentagon). Covert government informants strictly monitored all pastors during Ceau?escu’s era. The construction of church buildings was forbidden, frequency of meetings was limited, and Bibles were blacklisted as “mystical literature.”
The passion for revival I saw in eastern Europe this week rivaled what I have seen in Africa or Asia.
Europe is often described as post-Christian, and some people have already given up on the continent. We’ve heard discouraging statistics about mosques replacing churches in England. We know about dismal numbers of churchgoers in Germany and France. Some people assume that the region that gave us the Protestant Reformation is now a spiritual wasteland.
But that’s not what I found in Hungary this past week. On Sunday I preached to a congregation that meets in what used to be a communist hall in the Budapest suburb of Szigetszentmiklos. The Free Christian Church, a lively Pentecostal group pastored by Josef and Lila Gere, was celebrating its 20th anniversary—and the mayor of the town showed up for the service along with the local minister of religious affairs.
A Canadian couple’s decision to raise a “genderless” child has perplexed me.
I was scratching my head last week after hearing about the couple from Toronto, Canada, who announced they were going to raise a “genderless” child. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, parents of two boys named Jazz and Kio, had a third child named Storm on New Year’s Day. Witterick announced to her family last month that she intends to keep the child’s gender a secret and let him/her figure it out on his own.
So far mom and dad have not granted interviews, but the mother said in a letter to the Edmonton Journal, published May 30, that letting Storm determine his/her gender was “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.”
Last week in Singapore I saw the future of Christianity—and it has a definite Chinese flavor.
Last week during a trip to Singapore I enjoyed all the tastes and smells of China—chili crab, salted milk crab, prawns, ban mian (flat noodles), bak chang (rice dumplings), lychee fruits, chicken feet (not my favorite!) and several varieties of fish. But the flavor I savored most was found in the worship times at Cornerstone Community Church.
I'm usually quick to speak my mind. But in the case of Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins, I've withheld comment until now because (1) I don't think Christians should judge books before reading them; (2) the theological issues addressed require careful analysis; and (3) I have many young friends who are fans of Bell's books, and they may write me off if I don't treat him fairly.
So I'll begin with a compliment. Bell is a masterful writer whose prose is poetic. As pastor of the 7,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, Bell has gained a following because of his casual style, his ultra-cool Nooma videos and the previous books he's released with Christian publisher Zondervan (especially Velvet Elvis).
I spent the past week in Guyana, a South American nation where the people are friendly, the food is spicy and churches are growing at a healthy pace. But Christians there face a serious challenge because of the sad legacy of Jim Jones, the American cult leader who ordered his followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid at their compound in Jonestown in 1978. The mass suicide, which killed 909 people (including Jones), went down in history as the world's worst example of religion gone wrong.
"Even today, the Jim Jones tragedy poses a problem of credibility for us," one pastor in the city of Corriverton told me last week.