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Trayvon Martin was not a criminal because he was black and wearing a hoodie. And I’m not a racist because I’m white.
We will have to wait months to find out how jurors in Florida will rule in the Trayvon Martin case. Did his accused assailant, George Zimmerman, act in self-defense when he shot the unarmed boy? Or did Zimmerman kill Martin because he just assumed any young black man walking through a gated neighborhood wearing a hoodie is a dangerous criminal?
Trayvon’s case should cause all of us to check our hearts. We’ve all been guilty of making unfair judgments. Many of us stereotype people unconsciously.
Technology has connected us superficially. But the Holy Spirit can knit us together supernaturally.
Two weeks ago I attended a men’s retreat in Georgia with some of my closest friends. Chris, Eddie, Rick, Michael, Ray, Robert, Medad, Quentin and James were in the audience with 120 other guys. We spent 2 1/2 days together—worshipping, attending teaching sessions, praying in small groups and eating our meals together. Nobody wanted to go home. It felt like heaven because we enjoyed being together so much.
I love it when the Holy Spirit moves in a church service. But I also know there’s a fine line between charismatic and charismaniac. Too often, those of us who love spiritual gifts get carried away—and before too long things get strange. What is supernatural turns weird, and what is prophetic becomes pathetic.
This is not a new problem. Two chapters of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are devoted to this dilemma. Even in the first century, people misused charismatic gifts to get attention. The abuse of speaking in tongues created pandemonium, and the lack of order invited an apostolic rebuke.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, we’d be better off to keep our heads cool and our words peaceable.
I live eight miles from the gated subdivision where Trayvon Martin died on Feb. 26. A few weeks ago that section of Sanford, Fla., was as peaceful as the palms that sway in our humid breezes. But since the black teenager’s unexplained death, an unsettling pall of anger and suspicion hangs in the air.
The specter of American racism has returned. And the world is watching us argue about it.
I’m dreaming of a day when U.S. immigration policy reflects the values of the Bible.
Earlier this year when I was preaching in California, a woman came to the church altar and asked me for prayer. She spoke with a thick Spanish accent. Her tears had already streaked her mascara, and she was trembling. In between her sobs she told me that her husband, who is not a U.S. citizen, had been deported to Mexico—leaving her and their four children behind.
This woman is a U.S. citizen, but her husband had been standing in line for 10 years to get his papers. As is often the case with Mexicans, bureaucracy offered him no compassion. Now a family is split up. The land of the free and the home of the brave slammed its doors on a Christian brother.
The testimony of a former drug dealer from Ohio reminded me this week of the priority of evangelism.
Shannon McNeal: A total transformation
When my new friend Shannon McNeal was just a little boy, his older brothers put him in a washing machine, turned on the water and sat on the lid to trap him inside. Another time they taped him in a cardboard box and threw it down a flight of stairs to see if he would survive. And once they put him in the kitchen oven, turned it on and blocked the door with a chair while he screamed.
Shannon’s mom wasn’t around to stop the brutality. A single mother, she worked long hours at a Ford automobile plant in Lorain, Ohio, near Cleveland. Her husband had walked out on the family when Shannon was 2, leaving the three fatherless boys to fend for themselves.
You might have to make a strategic move in order to fulfill God’s plan for your life.
During a recent conference in Georgia my friend Barbara Wentroble taught an insightful message from the book of Ruth. She pointed out that Ruth, a hopeless young gentile widow, never would have inherited God’s blessings if she had stayed in the forsaken land of Moab. She had to leave her home and travel to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Once Ruth was repositioned, she discovered God’s salvation and favor—and she ended up in the lineage of the Messiah.
The Bible is full of stories of people who had to move from one place to another to align with God’s plans. Abram and Sarai left their relatives in Ur; Moses had to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt; Nehemiah had to travel from Persia to Jerusalem. In the New Testament, Peter had to go to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea; Paul had to sail to Rome; and God had to scatter the disciples (see Acts 8:1) so they would fulfill the Great Commission.
God is calling His daughters to swallow their fears and step into a new level of faith and authority.
This week I’m ministering at Trinity Christian Centre, one of Singapore’s largest churches. It is led today by Dominic Yeo, but for 30 years it was pastored by Naomi Dowdy, a brave American missionary who grew the church from about 250 believers in 1976 to more than 4,000 members in 2005. The Pentecostal congregation has grown even larger since then, when Dowdy set Yeo into his pastoral role so she could do more traveling ministry.
Dowdy is a friend and a spiritual mother in my life. I’ve ministered with her in Malaysia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Ukraine and other countries. I’ve gleaned from her leadership skills, benefited from her counsel and been inspired by her zeal for missions. I view her as one of the planet’s best examples of a female church leader. When I consider her amazing legacy I’m grieved that we don’t have more women like her.
How hot is your spiritual passion when it’s 40 degrees below zero outside?
Because I grew up in Georgia’s sweltering humidity and I now live in Florida’s year-round sunshine, I am not fond of cold weather. I’d rather go barefoot in the sand than trudge through snow in heavy boots. To me, it’s “cold” when I have to wear anything heavier than a T-shirt and shorts, or if I have to cover the Sago palm in my front yard with a plastic sheet on a chilly Florida evening.
But because I told God a long time ago I would go wherever He sends me, I ended up in the Canadian city of Saskatoon two weeks ago. It was minus 40 degrees F on my first night there. Snow was piled everywhere, and the Saskatchewan River was frozen solid, yet my hosts told me this was a “mild” winter. Locals, who start their cars 10 minutes before going anywhere to warm their engines, joke that there are four seasons in Saskatchewan: “Almost winter,” “winter,” “still winter” and “road construction.”
The pop diva’s death should remind us of an uncomfortable reality: People in church take drugs.
Anyone who has listened to Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Love the Lord”—or who saw her perform with CeCe Winans and Shirley Caesar at the 1996 Grammy Awards—knows she had an incomparable voice best suited for gospel music. But Whitney chose a broader path: When the doors opened for her to make a pop album in the 1980s, it became the all-time best-selling debut album by a female artist. She became America’s diva.
But all her worldly success didn’t help her overcome her personal demons. Her stormy marriage was marred by domestic violence. She admitted in the 1990s that she took cocaine every day. She tried rehab three times over the course of eight years. Her voice was so damaged by her drug habit that people walked out of her comeback concert in London in 2010. She became a pathetic shell of her former self.
Why did people applaud Bishop Long’s bizarre “coronation” in Atlanta?
Question of the week: What should you do when a megachurch pastor is accused of serious financial and/or sexual misconduct?
A. Ask the pastor to step down so he or she can receive ministry, and then conduct a thorough investigation.
B. Flatly deny all allegations and wait until the storm blows over.
C. Use church funds to pay off the people who made the sex abuse accusations.
D. Ask a guest preacher to call the pastor to the stage, wrap him in a 312-year-old Torah scroll and ask an “expert” in Old Testament language to declare him a “king” so he can be exonerated of all wrongdoing.
Do you want the real power of the Holy Spirit? Then don’t pretend by pushing people to the floor when you pray.
I love it when the Holy Spirit shows up in church gatherings. Whenever sinners are converted, backsliders repent, bodies are healed or self-centered believers are broken by God, we see evidence of the Spirit’s work. But I don’t appreciate it when people fabricate spiritual manifestations to prove God is using them.
A few years ago a popular charismatic preacher spoke at a meeting I attended at a church in Orlando, Fla. After his message he asked all ordained ministers to run to the platform so he could lay hands on them. Immediately this man’s team of beefy bodyguards began grabbing people, dragging them onto the stage and holding them in place until the evangelist could pray for everyone.
After spending last week in the city of Masindi, Uganda, I traveled to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to address a women’s conference. After my first session a woman named Florence grabbed me and began to tell her painful story.
She had given birth to five girls during her marriage. But when her girls were small, her husband decided to leave Florence because she had not produced a son. He blamed her (I guess he didn’t know a man’s sperm determines the gender of a child) and he said she had shamed him by having only girls. He sold the family house, evicted his wife and daughters and gave them no money for food or school fees. Then he married again and started a new family. He got two boys and another daughter out of the deal.
This is not a time for gloom and doom. The church can shine its brightest in a dark hour.
When my friend Ferrell Hardison moved to the town of Princeton, N.C., in 1990, he began pastoring a Pentecostal church with 70 people. Founded in 1918, it was a tired, aging congregation with a tiny budget. Ferrell was the 25th pastor to lead the church, and some of his predecessors had stayed only a year or two. Not exactly a young pastor’s dream job!
Today, the church has a new name—The Bridge—and it has grown to 1,250 in weekly attendance. Last fall the vibrant congregation broke ground on a new worship center, and they’ve planted a satellite congregation in the town of Goldsboro, N.C., that already has 300 members. A large percentage of the church’s $2.6 million annual budget is marked for outreach, and Ferrell estimates that at least 3,000 people have come to Christ through their ministry in recent years.
Right before Christmas my wife and I took our youngest daughter out to dinner to celebrate her grades from her third semester in college. When we got home I sent out a tweet about the dinner, and mentioned the name of the restaurant. (Hint: It’s a popular national chain that serves Italian food—and it has the best bread sticks in the world.)
I didn’t think anything about the tweet. I was just sharing personal news about Charlotte’s accomplishments. But the next morning I got a private message from the restaurant, thanking me for the “advertising” and informing me that they were sending me a $100 gift card.
In 2012, Jesus is calling us to re-enroll in the school of discipleship.
Besides being the Year of the Dragon in China, 2012 is full of global observances. World Peace Day was Jan. 1, World Rabies Day is Sept. 22 and the World Day for Laboratory Animals (huh?) is April 24. There is also Global Hand-washing Day (Oct. 15), Star Wars Day (May 4), International Cat Day (March 1), and—for all Johnny Depp fans—International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19).
I don’t know who comes up with these odd celebrations, but I’d like to add one more. Can we declare 2012 the Year of Discipleship?
As I have prayed about the coming year, I’ve sensed three clear directives.
Some people are terrified of 2012. They worry because the Mayans of ancient Mexico mysteriously ended their 5,126-year-old calendar on Dec. 21, 2012—as if they expected the world to end that day. This silly hypothesis became the basis for several New Age books and a goofy disaster movie, 2012, in which actor John Cusack avoids meteors and earthquakes just in time to get his family aboard the modern version of Noah’s ark (built in China!) before the rest of the world is destroyed by a tsunami.
I’m not afraid of 12/21/12 because (1) Ancient Mayans never actually said the world would end in 2012—and even if they did, they didn’t have an inside track to God; (2) Doomsday predictions have never been accurate; and (3) Jesus holds the future in his hands. As long as I’m in relationship with Him, it doesn’t matter what happens on earth. I’m secure.
As the world celebrates Jesus’ birth, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces the threat of execution.
Those of us in the West who are blessed with religious freedom think of Christmas as a cheery occasion. But how would you like to spend the holiday in a dark prison cell in Iran—where inmates without any legal protection are sometimes rounded up at night and hanged in secret mass executions?
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been in the Lakan prison, near the city of Rasht, Iran, since October 2009. He was arrested after he complained to authorities that the local school was forcibly teaching Islam to his two sons, Daniel, 9 and Yoel, 7. (The Iranian constitution supposedly guarantees religious freedom.) The charges against the pastor, who leads a 400-member congregation in Rasht, were later changed: He was accused of apostasy and evangelism.
I wonder if more people would believe in Jesus if His birth had been a trending topic on Twitter.
Matthew and Luke are the only Gospel writers who wrote about Jesus’ birth, and we aren’t sure who provided them with firsthand reports. Jesus’ mother was among the earliest Christian disciples, so we assume she shared her story with them. All details were passed down orally, without the aid of technology. There were no radios, televisions, tape recorders, iPads, walkie-talkies, cameras, cellphones or fax machines in first century Israel. The only form of “instant messaging” required a guy to run from one king to another over a period of days.
I wonder: What if the key players in the Christmas story had access to wireless devices? Pardon my literary license as I imagine the script: