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I’d rather invest in a few emerging leaders than preach to crowds of thousands. Here’s why.
Once when I was traveling in India a pastor made a tempting proposal. “If you come to our city, we will stage a big evangelistic campaign and invite thousands,” he said. “You can preach to all of them.” This man assumed I would be intrigued. After all, I could take photos of the big crowds and use them to brag later about how many people made decisions for Christ.
I didn’t accept the offer. Instead I gave the man a second option. “Let me spend three days with a small group of pastors,” I said. “Let me encourage them, and then they can go out and preach at the big meetings. They will do a much better job than I could.”
Pentecost’s power is more than wind, fire and supernatural hoopla. Without love it is just noise.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “Pentecostal”?
A. · · A woman with a beehive hairdo, support hose, Granny shoes and no makeup?
B. · · Someone rolling on the floor while speaking in tongues uncontrollably?
C. · · A slick-haired televangelist in a white suit who begs for donations?
D. · · A sour-faced Christian who looks like he just sucked all the juice out of a lemon?
E.···· A sincere Christian who passionately loves God and people and believes in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit?
I wish we all could answer E., but we Pentecostals have an image problem. I’m not ashamed of the word itself, but I don’t use it as a label because the bad stereotypes (A., B., C. and D.) have just about ruined it for the rest of us. Many people associate Pentecostals with dry legalism, fanaticism, charlatanism and downright hatefulness.
In the days leading up to the Global Day of Prayer, let’s bombard heaven on behalf of the United States.
Twelve years ago a South African businessman, Graham Power, felt God nudge him to organize a prayer gathering in the city of Cape Town. About 45,000 Christians responded to the call by jamming into a rugby stadium in March 2001 to intercede for their nation.
That was the beginning of the Global Day of Prayer, an event that will likely involve millions of Christians in 220 nations on Pentecost Sunday, May 27. This year organizers are encouraging people to extend their prayers for 10 days prior to the event, beginning on May 17. They are also urging pastors to fuel the prayer with sermons about the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s power.
Reclaiming the process of discipleship will require a total overhaul of how we do church.
I get funny looks from some charismatic Christians when I tell them I believe God is calling us back to radical discipleship. Those in the over-50 crowd—people who lived through the charismatic movement of the 1970s—are likely to have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the dreaded “D word.”
That’s because the so-called Discipleship Movement (also known as the Shepherding Movement) turned a vital biblical principle into a weapon and abused people with it. Churches that embraced the warped doctrines of shepherding required believers to get permission from their pastors before they bought cars, got pregnant or moved to a new city. Immature leaders became dictators, church members became their loyal minions, and the Holy Spirit’s fire was snuffed out because of a pervasive spirit of control.
The Lord wants to unleash a gushing river of new wine into the church today, but we must leave some things behind.
A woman from Orlando, Fla., was in the news last month because she decided to retire from driving her 1964 Mercury Comet. Rachel Veitch, who is 93, bought the car new for $3,300 when gasoline cost 29 cents a gallon. Today the light yellow car, which Veitch calls “Chariot,” has 567,000 miles on it.
That’s great news for Veitch—who will probably get $44,000 for the antique car because she took such good care of it. But whoever buys it will either store it in a fancy garage or display it at an auto show. There are not too many miles left on this relic of the past.
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.