Living the Christian life is a journey toward maturity in Christ. That’s why Jesus gave His Church a handful of equipping gifts. But the practical aspect of being trained as a skilled servant that moves in rhythm with Christian brothers and sisters, (and husbands, wives, daughters and sons) is not always a textbook experience.
Let’s get real for a moment. Silly putty doesn’t sharpen iron. Plastic doesn’t sharpen iron. Not even sandpaper sharpens iron, although at times you may feel like a fellow believer is aggressively rubbing your soul with sandpaper. No, Solomon in his wisdom tells us that it takes iron to sharpen iron. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17 NASB). That implies pressure, abrasion, pressure, abrasion, pressure, abrasion, and so on until the knife is sharp.
You may be saying, “I don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Consider the alternative. Any five-star chef, or even a first-year fry cook, will testify to the fact that a knife is useless if it is not sharp. A sharp knife can cut a vine ripe tomato into thin slices suitable for gourmet salads. A dull knife, on the other hand, will simply crush the tomato and ruin your recipe.
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.
For nearly 10 years, I've been meeting three times a year with 10 business and ministry leaders in a small closed group we call “CEO.” We gave it that name because you must be a CEO to be invited. It's for accountability and for what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron.” I can't tell you how valuable it is to discuss important issues I'm dealing with both in business and my personal life with men I know care about me, who have come to understand me and will keep everything in total confidence.
It was my small group experience that gave birth to the idea to start the Ministry21 Network—a relational network to bring together like-minded pastors and leaders to develop their own leadership skills, connect them with others, provide needed coaching, continuing education and wonderful resources. So far, we've had several hundred join; most are raving fans and tell me how some aspect of what they've learned has changed their lives.
Next week, I'm combining the two for a special networking meeting at our headquarters at 600 Rinehart Road in Lake Mary, Fla. I decided to reach out to the 35,000 who have signed up for my blog to see if you'd like to attend on June 16-17.
One morning my husband, Art, and I were on our way to work. He was driving me to the school where I taught, and I was holding a gift from him in my lap—a pot of my favorite flowers, mums that look like daisies.
If you are reading these words, then you’ve probably already chosen this day whom you will serve. But could it be possible that there are yet things you need to put away in order to truly worship the Lord in spirit and in truth and love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind? I submit to you that it is possible, and for many of us even probable.
Today, the Lord is calling you to the Valley of Shechem.
Until recently, I hadn’t spent much time studying the rich biblical history of the Valley of Shechem, the place where Abraham first built an altar to the Lord on his migration out of an idolatrous land. I had never done an intense analysis of this valley between mounts Ebal and Gerizim, where Jacob built his well and Jesus would later tell a woman there everything she ever did (John 4).
No, I didn’t know too much about this significant valley. But it only took three words from the Lord to pique my curiosity. He said to me, “Valley of Shechem.” Those three words set me off on a prophetic investigation for what the Lord is saying to the church in this hour. I studied the geographical and historical significance of Shechem, but it is the spiritual significance on which the Lord shined a bright light.
Don’t look back: Three words that together make up what I believe is a timely prophetic utterance for the body of Christ in this hour. Let me write them again: Don’t look back.
Many are carrying hurts and wounds from the past. We don’t shake them off and come up higher because we keep looking back to the people and circumstances that crushed our hearts. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to use the injustice to propel us to places of greater authority in the kingdom like Joseph did, we rehearse our past in our own minds like a scratched CD.
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, news stories about Randy White and Eddie Long had special meaning to me because there is a Matthew 18 story, which I have not revealed until now, where it says to go to your brother privately.
Bishop Eddie Long announced last week that he settled with four young men who accused him of having homosexual relations. Long had said he was innocent and would fight the allegations, but he settled for an undisclosed amount so "his ministry could go on." You can read more here.
The other news item was former Pastor Randy White who was picked up on driving under the influence in Tampa, Fla. You can read a secular report with the sad details. Suffice it to say, at one time, Randy was one of the brightest young pastors whose vision to reach Tampa with innovative ministries brought him a lot of accolades from civic and religious leaders. We once featured him and his ex-wife, Paula, on the cover of Ministry Today. It's so sad because, for reasons we'll never know, White let all that influence and potential go down the drain.
What wasn’t known until now is that in the late 1990s, I called Randy and asked to meet with him privately to share a concern. We both drove to the small Disney town of Celebration, Fla., about halfway between where we each lived. Over lunch I told him I was concerned that his success seemed to be promoting pride and he should be careful lest he fall. He thanked me for caring enough to come to him. He responded humbly and said he'd take the warning. I felt I had done what God wanted me to do and forgot about it.
When I was about 10 years old, I fell into a hornets’ nest. The hornets got caught in my clothing. The more I fought, the more they stung me. Later I counted about 20 stings. It was a painful few days, but I survived. Every now and then, I see someone caught up in a flurry of painful but meaningless activity. I am reminded of my childhood experience and often use the age-old expression, “They fell into a hornets’ nest.” Most Americans agree that President Obama fell into a Middle Eastern hornets’ nest during the last few months. Despite the toppling of totalitarian states and the possibility of the establishment of new democracy, it is difficult to see a realistic end to the terrorism, bloodshed, and warfare in this important region of the world.
The death of Osama Bin Laden marked a symbolic end to America’s war on terrorism. National jubilation is the only way to describe our corporate feeling about the demise of this “arch enemy” of everything Americans stand for. Perhaps this euphoric victory led the administration’s foreign policy strategists into a subtle state of hubris. This false feeling of power may have convinced them that they could actually advance the peace process by imposing the US will on the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.
The entire nation is aware that on Thursday May 19, the president declared Middle Eastern peace talks could only progress if Israel would agree to return to their 1967 boundaries. After a veritable maelstrom of rebuttals, the president's international policy team realized the error of their ways. Therefore, the next Sunday morning (5-22-11) the president retracted his peace talk ultimatum. He even went so far as to claim that he was misquoted. His clarification speech occurred at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual meeting in Washington, DC. Despite the public acquiescence of former Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president seemed to create even more controversy. As I walked through the more than 11,000 pro-Israel advocates, I heard everything from motherly articulation of forgiveness to numerous people declaring they would never vote for President Obama again.
I sat in the small coffee shop reading the morning paper. My attention was immediately drawn to a headline that caught my eye. A well-known former public figure with clout had just come out with his book—one proclaiming the news that there was no sovereign God. The review presented it, without even questioning such a belief, as if it were indeed the truth and that this man of great reputation had all the answers on whether or not there was a sovereign God.
I enjoyed attending the 19th annual Expolit trade show in Miami, Fla., last weekend. Miami is a world of its own—or, as the joke goes, one of the few places in the United States where a passport is required. Miami is certainly one of the most international cities in the country and is perfect for distributors from around Latin America. It makes sense, then, that the premier trade show for the Spanish Christian book and music industry is held there.
Luis Fernández, an industry veteran of more than 20 years, described Expolit to Dr. Don Colbert, our bestselling health author who spoke at Expolit, as “partly like NRB [National Religious Broadcasters], partly like the International Christian Retail Show and part bazaar.” I know that to be true because I’ve been attending Expolit for 18 years. I’ve seen the growth of the Spanish publishing market, and I have come to appreciate Expolits’s cultural aspects: the trade show closing for afternoon siesta, then staying open until midnight; the crowded aisles in the exhibit hall; or the music blasting from nearly every booth, each one louder than the one next door. I especially enjoy drinking sweet Cuban coffee!
Don’t look back: Three words that together make up what I believe is a timely prophetic utterance for the Body of Christ in this hour. Let me write them again: Don’t look back.
Many are carrying hurts and wounds from the past. We don’t shake them off and come up higher because we keep looking back to the people and circumstances that crushed our hearts. Instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to use the injustice to propel us to places of greater authority in the kingdom like Joseph did, we rehearse our past in our own minds like a scratched CD. Out of the abundance of the bitterness and resentment in our hearts, our mouth speaks poison that defiles us. And we remain less-than-effective in proclaiming the kingdom of God because we won’t bury the dead and say farewell to the past. The good news is, Jesus is our past, present and future healer.
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.
As one looks across the face of the earth today, it doesn't take a large amount of spiritual discernment to see that things are shaking as has been prophesied over the past few years. Many voices, including mine, have spoken over what is known as the Rim of Fire nations, or the Pacific Rim. These are approximately 40 nations that ring the Pacific with some sort of volcanic activity.
The tragedy in Japan brings this prophetic shaking starkly to the forefront of the news. Many are asking the question, "What is taking place?"
As God’s children, we never have any reason to fear. If we stay close to Him, that will always be true, no matter our circumstances. Our Father is good. Our Father is loving. Our Father is more than we could ever expect. His goodness extends into all areas of life—including the battles we find ourselves in.
When we are attacked, some of us prepare for the long haul. We build fortresses and walls and settle down for a decade-long siege. We do not realize and perhaps aren’t open to the possibility that there is goodness even here, in the midst of hardship.
Are you building walls of religion or towers of prayer? Your answer could denote the difference between a woe-filled fate and a fulfilled destiny.
Prophets obsessed by the fear of man or unholy desires will not fulfill God’s ultimate plan. We must be careful, then, not to prophesy according to the party line in order to establish and preserve popularity in ministry circuits. If we fall into this trap we find ourselves in danger of perverting the gift of God by building walls of religion.
True prophets are not always the most popular five-fold ministry gift on the block because they are bold enough to release a word of the Lord that deals with sin or that warns the local church of potentially unpleasant circumstances coming down the proverbial pike. In order to properly carry this mantle, genuine prophets must build towers of prayer.
Think Reinhard Bonnke and his ministry are all about the numbers? You better believe it—and here’s why that’s a good thing.
I was a young journalist attending an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1984 when I saw fliers all over town for a German evangelist named Reinhard Bonnke, who was holding huge crusades throughout Kenya. Knowing Germany wasn’t exactly a hotbed of evangelism, I was curious. African friends told me about this man’s passion to see all of Africa saved. Soon we were covering his ministry in Charisma. One of our first stories was about his massive revival tent that held up to 34,000 people. In 1985, a storm destroyed the tent in South Africa—but in the end, it didn’t seem to matter since it couldn’t have contained the hundreds of thousands who showed up.
I first met Bonnke in Brazil in 1989 when he was there for his daughter’s wedding. My wife and I had flown down to attend a Charles and Frances Hunter crusade in Rio de Janeiro, and we stayed at the same hotel as Bonnke. A friendship developed that continues today. Little did I know he would one day move his international headquarters to Orlando, Fla., which allows us to interact several times a year—most recently when he wanted to introduce me last fall to his successor, Daniel Kolenda. I actually knew Daniel’s family and visited his dad’s church in Port Charlotte, Fla., when Daniel was a little boy. In Charisma’s March issue we covered the incredible story about how after some unsuccessful attempts to find a successor, God supernaturally told Bonnke that the anointed must be appointed.
When I recently began inviting leaders to serve as guest editors for Ministry Today, I never dreamed someone of Bonnke’s worldwide stature would agree. But when we mentioned to him our vision to devote an entire issue to the topic of evangelism—and just how important it is for the church—he jumped at the chance. Bonnke served as guest editor for the May/June 2011 issue of Ministry Today. His successor, Daniel Kolenda, was the co-editor. Bonnke can explain better than I how Kolenda is transitioning to fill his huge shoes.
This isn’t just an opportunity to take over a large ministry, but also to win millions to Christ. When discussing people and souls, that word—millions—boggles most of our minds. Yet I believe it. I’ve observed how conservative Bonnke’s ministry is on reporting numbers. Sadly, many evangelists have exaggerated so much that evangelistically speaking has entered our everyday language to mean “exaggeration.”
L to R: Reinhard Bonnke, Anni Bonnke, Joy Strang, Steve Strang, Frances Hunter and Charles Hunter
But I’ve seen the multitudes with my own eyes. In 2000, I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, to attend one of Bonnke’s massive rallies. One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life was being there the night he ministered the baptism of the Holy Spirit to a crowd estimated at 1.6 million. For at least 20 minutes, waves of power rolled over that crowd as seemingly everyone spoke in tongues at the top of their voices.
On another night, I walked the crowd with one of his staff. I saw how they marked off areas on the ground, actually counted people in the squares and multiplied by the number of squares. I determined their numbers were believable. And during the day I saw firsthand the Fire Conference for 20,000 pastors and how they distributed the decision cards that had been filled out. African leaders told me how Bonnke’s crusades built the local church and how churches cooperated as a result.
It's estimated Bonnke has been instrumental in bringing 60 million souls to Christ and we believe that number is at least close. (Only God knows the exact number.) But the point is not entirely the number. Bonnke uses the number—as do we—not to brag but to give a frame of reference of the absolute enormity of this ministry and to give glory to God.
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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).