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.
The popular author’s controversial book Love Wins celebrates God's love but drifts dangerously into Universalism.
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).
Here are three reasons why Harold Camping's end-times prediction should be ignored.
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.
Some people cheered when the world’s most hated terrorist was killed. But I don’t think God was happy about his death.
Like many other Americans who stayed up late to hear the news about Osama bin Laden on Sunday night, I had one eye on my television and the other on my laptop. I was waiting for President Obama to make his statement about the demise of the world’s most infamous terrorist, but the White House was moving as slow as Vermont syrup in December. When Obama finally stood in front of his teleprompter, many of us had already finished the story—by tweeting, texting and posting entries on Facebook.
These days we don’t just sit and watch TV. We are involved in the story, and sometimes we know the news before Wolf Blitzer does. Empowered by our lightning-fast digital media, we are the commentators now. Yet as I read some of the verbal shots fired into the Twitterverse by this new army of armchair journalists (“May Osama rot in hell!” for example, or “I’m glad he’s fish food now”), I had to ask myself: Is it right for Christians to rejoice over the death of a criminal—even one who masterminded a plot so evil as the 9/11 attacks?
A small congregation in Puerto Rico reminded me that we can’t build the New Testament church without supernatural love.
Last week I preached for several days at Casa del Padre, a small but growing church near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The congregation meets in a rented facility with tile floors and folding chairs. They don’t have a worship leader yet, so a CD player provides accompaniment for the singing. The pastor, a gentle guy named Luis, keeps a second job to pay his family’s bills. Up until a few weeks ago, the church’s office was in his garage.
Casa del Padre is not a fancy place. But the church’s lack of sophistication is overshadowed by an amazing level of love. When I ministered on Sunday morning, the meeting began at 10:30 a.m. yet I didn’t leave the building until 5 p.m.—not because I preached too long but because nobody wanted to go home.
Peter’s three denials could have marked the end of his ministry. But the power of Christ’s forgiveness led to three great victories.
The Easter story is full of gloom. Agonizing prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hostile mobs demanding execution. Betrayal and beatings. A crown of thorns and a bloody cross.
But one of the saddest parts of the story, to me, is what happened to Peter the night Jesus was arrested. Peter was tired, stressed to the breaking point and fearful of the crowd. When the high priest’s servant girl accused him of being a disciple of Jesus, he denied it. When she repeated her accusation to some bystanders, he denied it again. When others questioned him, the Bible says Peter “began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about!’” (Mark 14:71, NASB)
Let’s reclaim the simple, profound purpose of prophecy—and reject all sensational substitutes.
When I was a college student, a visiting minister regularly came to preach at our campus meetings. At the end of his messages he would often point at someone in the room, smile and say something like, “You in the blue shirt, I believe the Lord has a word of encouragement for you.” Then he would prophesy.
This freaked me out! How could this man know what God was saying to someone else? What if he was wrong? I loved the gift of prophecy because I had benefitted from it myself. But I remember telling the Lord back in those days that I would never, ever stand in front of a group and prophesy to an individual like that. Way too scary!
Before you whine, complain or throw a pity party, remember that God can bring something good out of something bad.
I’m usually adventurous when it comes to foreign food. But I was leery when I learned about a tropical fruit called durian during a trip to Indonesia. Three things made me highly suspicious of this strange delicacy, which is sold in large quantities on the streets of Jakarta.
First of all, durian looks absolutely deadly. Each of the large, round fruits is covered with massive thorns that stick out four inches or more. I’m sure if you threw one of these things at somebody from a second-story window the victim would die instantly.
God is looking for spiritual lions who will exhibit boldness, compassion and true holiness.
While millions of men were watching last weekend’s NCAA basketball contest (congratulations to Virginia Commonwealth), I was in a three-day conference in Concord, N.C., with 180 men from eight nations. We called it Bold Venture, and it was an opportunity for American guys to be exposed to the courageous faith of men from the developing world.
We ate together (North Carolina barbeque!), worshiped God passionately (thanks to three worship teams, including a group of guys from a Christian college in Georgia) and had our rear ends kicked by some humble, battle-scarred ministers from Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia and India.
Matt Roberts, a young preacher I met last week, has built a congregation of 950 in the middle of Mormon country.
U.S. News & World Report recently released its list of “Top Careers,” an outline of professions that are expected to be popular in 2011. I was not surprised to find all kinds of medical jobs on the list—from registered nurse to athletic trainer to massage therapist—but I didn’t expect to see “clergy.” U.S. News revealed that the Labor Department expects the number of religious leaders to climb by 13 percent over the next decade.
One reason that number will grow is that brave men (and some women) are stepping out in faith to plant churches in an increasingly unchurched America. I met one of these courageous souls last week. His name is Matt Roberts; he’s only 32; and he moved to Ogden, Utah, six years ago to start an evangelical church in the heart of Mormon territory.
I refuse to be a Christian pessimist. Here are three reasons why I can face the future with hope.
Terrorist bombings. Middle East turmoil. $3.95 gas. Killer floods. Moral breakdown. Fragile economies.
No wonder Charlie Sheen is going crazy!
Seriously, there’s a lot of bad news out there. Negative headlines make people fearful, agitated, addicted or even sick. But from what I’ve read in my Bible, Christians should not freak out every time a gloomy cloud settles over us. We, of all people on earth, should be full of hope.
A few days ago a friend asked me what I thought about a prophecy from a well-known Christian leader. This man has predicted a financial collapse in the United States by sometime next year. Other Christians have foreseen terrorist attacks, assassinations, bread lines and even the total breakdown of society. My friend asked me: “What are you hearing from the Lord about the future?”
When someone dies right after you shake his hand, you realize how close we all are to eternity.
Last Saturday, in between two sessions at a ministers conference in Virginia, I noticed an older black man sitting near me. Everyone else in the hotel lobby was chatting and drinking coffee, but this man was sitting alone—and he seemed troubled. It was time to go to the next workshop, so I walked over to the guy, said hello, shook his hand and added, “God bless you, sir.”
No big deal—just a casual gesture. Or so I thought.
A minute later there was a commotion in the lobby, and I heard someone say that a man had collapsed. Paramedics arrived within minutes. People were praying. My friend Dayton, the host of the conference, asked everyone to clear the area so the emergency workers could do their job.
What the Holy Spirit did in the former Soviet Union in 1989 will happen again in Islamic nations.
I’m old enough to remember when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Freedom protesters danced in the streets in Eastern Europe and Communist regimes fell like dominoes. A huge door of evangelistic opportunity opened in a region where Christians had suffered unimaginable persecution.
The fall of the Soviet empire caught most Christians by surprise. Even though many believers on both sides of the Iron Curtain had been praying for a spiritual breakthrough, few expected the entire region to open so suddenly. Many American Christians remained suspicious—especially those who had warned that Yury Andropov was the Antichrist. (Oops! Wrong again. He died after being in office for only 15 months.)
We would honor God if we applied these principles to our praise.
I consider myself open-minded about worship. My tastes in music are eclectic, so I love everything from Hillsong choruses and black gospel anthems to classic hymns and Spanish worship artists Marco Barrientos and Jesús Romero. My playlist even includes Native American, Nigerian and Iranian worship.
I love any music that stirs my soul and points me to heaven, so worshipping the Lord with other believers is one of my favorite pastimes. But there are a few things I’d like to say to worship leaders. Please don’t take these comments as criticism but as encouragement from a brother who has “seen it all” when it comes to the Sunday morning drill.
A prayerful minister says her country is passing through a “spiritual birth canal”
My Egyptian friend Nadia*, who was raised in a Christian family in Cairo, has been glued to Twitter, television and various blogs since violent demonstrations erupted in her country two weeks ago. But she is also praying—and asking the Christian community in the United States to join her.
“For the church in Egypt, it feels like we are going through a spiritual birth canal,” Nadia told me in an interview this week.
If you want to avoid becoming an old wineskin, make sure to keep these five hindrances out of your life.
I got some funny looks 11 years ago when I told people that I planned to be ordained in a mainline Pentecostal denomination. Most of my friends were supportive when I explained that I made this decision because I was looking for accountability and spiritual mentors. But critics told me I was aligning myself with “an old wineskin.” In their opinion, any church group that is more than 30 years old has outlived its usefulness and become a religious fossil.
I chose to reject the fossil argument—mainly because (1) I know God has the power to renew His people no matter how old their group is, and (2) even young organizations can become religious and ineffective, regardless of how trendy and culturally relevant they pretend to be.
Normally my yard does not crunch when I walk in it. So I got curious in November when I started hearing a distinctive crunching sound everywhere I went. I discovered that the oaks in Florida were producing an abundant crop of acorns—up to four times the normal amount, in fact. Acorns were everywhere—covering sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, filling gutters, and rolling around inside the chassis of my car.
I promptly christened 2010 the Year of the Acorn and began investigating why the trees were dropping so many of the hard, brown seeds. Were squirrels sending a distress signal? Could we use the acorns for food? (I imagined acorn-encrusted tilapia and acorn frappuccinos.) Or was this a sign of global warming?
University of Florida students who meet Doug Crescimanno will be entertained—and they might meet Jesus, too.
My friend Doug Crescimanno is my favorite amateur comedian. If you hang out with him for half an hour you feel as if you’ve been on the set of Saturday Night Live. (He’s at least as funny as Bill Hader or Fred Armisen.) But this 25-year-old University of Florida (UF) graduate, who lives in an apartment near the huge campus in Gainesville, Fla., is also passionately in love with Jesus—and he has given his life to sharing the gospel with students.
“People need God. They are hurt, broken, deceived, depressed and dying. We have the only solution. We can be used to give people life … and life abundantly!” --Doug Crescimanno
Doug earned a degree in advertising from UF, but he’s not pursuing a career in his field because he’s too busy evangelizing the campus. He sets up a table on the Reitz Union plaza four days a week and posts a sign that says “BIBLE TRIVIA!” He loads the table with Blow Pops and Jolly Ranchers and then invites students to play his game. The script goes like this:
Jesus wears a name that says, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Don’t mislabel His true identity.
I don’t have a tattoo, and I’m not planning to get any at this point in my life. However I’ve met many young Christians who have bought into the tattoo craze. I’ve seen hearts, crosses and Scriptures (English, Greek and Hebrew) on wrists, ankles, arms and necks. When I meet a young guy who has “JESUS DIED FOR ME” inscribed on his back, I don’t criticize his fashion sense.
Regardless of what you think about tattoos, you can’t ignore Revelation 19. I preached from this passage earlier this month when I spoke at a college in Georgia. I reminded the students that one of Jesus’ many names is written on His body. John said:
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True … He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. … And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’” (v. 11,13,16).
I know the battle I faced as a teenager. Today’s younger generation faces something more challenging.
It wasn’t easy for a guy to find pornography when I was a teenager. I remember giving into the temptation to buy a Hustler magazine when I was in high school. Inside the drug store I paced back and forth near the magazine rack for at least half an hour. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. I finally walked to the front of the store, put the magazine face down on the counter and avoided eye contact with the clerk as I forked over the cash.
I grew bolder in my sin when I graduated from high school. When I turned 18, I went to downtown Atlanta to visit an “adult bookstore” (a strange label, really, since the men who frequented these seedy establishments did not act like mature adults). In 1976, anyone who wanted to see hard-core porn had to visit these awful places with garish signs and painted-over windows.