My son Chandler and I traveled to Africa in 2006, and we had to sleep one night under a mosquito net. That’s because the possibility of malaria is still real in the remote area of Malawi where we visited.
Malaria was a problem in the U.S. until around the time I was born. A concerted effort was made to wipe it out. The same can be done in Africa, where it killed nearly 600,000 people in 2010—mostly children. The thing is, we can save a life with a $6 sleeping net that is treated to kill the malaria-bearing mosquitoes.
Once as I sat on a 737 getting ready to leave the gate at the airport, my window seat looked directly down at the luggage loading area. A large tractor had pulled the string of carts up to a long conveyor belt that ran into the belly of the plane. A worker (I will call him “Larry the luggage guy”) stood with a scanner in his hand. As his “helper luggage guy” placed each piece of luggage on the belt that was slowly moving into the plane, “Larry” electronically scanned the tag that had been placed on the suitcase at check-in.
Wow, I thought. What a great way to keep track of our bags. A bag is placed on the belt, scanned and moves up the conveyor. Next bag … scanned … up the conveyor. Bag after bag. Someone had actually created a marvelous system to prevent “lost” luggage (the airlines will always tell you it is not lost; they just do not know exactly where it is).
Suddenly, someone else standing at another vehicle hollered for “Larry.” He was laughing about something. Larry laid his scanner down and walked over to Mr. Comedian. “Helper” guy seemed to not even notice. He just continued to dutifully place the bags on the belt that was still moving into the plane. Bag after bag was moving up the conveyer belt, but NOT being scanned.
Trayvon Martin was killed less than 3 miles from our offices in Lake Mary, Fla., which abuts Sanford. I’ve been in meetings the last two days with local pastors and held a major press conference on Friday covered by all the major media.
Thankfully, pastors in this city are beginning to work together. And I believe the news conference gave opportunity for some of the pastors in Sanford to talk about love and forgiveness and reconciliation. I even met yesterday with the special prosecutor Angela Corey, who said they are wanting justice for Trayvon and due process for the man who admitted shooting him, George Zimmerman.
On Thursday I hosted a meeting of 75 pastors, most of them local. My friends Bishop Harry Jackson and Dr. Raleigh Washington were in town for other things and we brought them into the meeting. They both spoke of healing and restoration. They both wanted to see where the tragedy happened, so I drove them over to The Retreat at Twin Lakes, where the shooting occurred. It’s less than half a mile from where my 24-year-old son lives in a similar gated townhouse community in a newer part of Sanford.
Just like Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, the time is coming when God’s New Testament mouthpieces will confront modern day merchandisers. The true will defy the false. The holy will challenge the unholy. Until that day, spirits of divination, with a little help from the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, are working overtime to woo God’s true prophets to the side of err.
Some merchandising prophets, with their miracle water, prophetic soap and prosperity oil, are catching naive Christians hook, line and sinker. Other gospel gainsayers are profiting with urgent announcements that God will heal the first five people who run up to the altar with $100 bill in hand.
But perhaps the most dangerous merchandisers are those who use their gift to tap into divination. These prophets announce what the believer wants to hear in order to sow a false seed of faith in his heart and reap an improper financial reward, inappropriately earned position or wrongly received recognition. No matter the merchandiser’s brand of deceit, it is a practice that stinks in the nostrils of God.
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.
As we mourn Trayvon Martin’s death, we should remember another black teenager killed just four years ago.
On March 2, 2008, high school senior Jamiel Shaw was gunned down in Los Angeles. According to police, Shaw was walking home when two men he had never met jumped out of a car and one shot him. A talented football player, Shaw had scholarship offers from Stanford University and Rutgers. The man who shot him was Petro Espinoza, an illegal immigrant and member of a gang with a history of extensive violence against African-Americans. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Espinoza had been released from jail 28 hours before the shooting, after serving time for an earlier [violent] offense.”
Why did the nation not mourn Jamiel the way we are mourning Trayvon? Was it because the media knew immediately that Shaw’s killers were Latino, not white?
For the past 48 years of ministry I’ve been in love with the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Some of you are familiar with the old saying, “If you have too much of the Word you will dry up. Too much of the Spirit and you will blow up, but if you have the Spirit and the Word, you will grow up.”
Though I’m sure one could pick apart that saying, it does nevertheless contain some great wisdom, insight and common sense. Some churches that major on the Spirit have become overly intoxicated and plain weird, while those majoring on the Word have a tendency to become dead, pharisaical and proud.
When questioned by His disciples as to when the end would come, Jesus warned them that first there would be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and pestilence, etc. He also spoke about an increase of supernatural activity by saying that there would be many false prophets that would mislead many. He went on to say; “False christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
Some years ago I was counseling a teenager who had been raised from infancy by his grandparents. The boy’s father had been killed in an automobile accident, and subsequently his mother disappeared. The grandparents had been doing all they could for him at great expense to themselves. It is difficult for anyone to raise a teenager, and people in their 60s and 70s ought not to have to go through it a second time around.
For several years he rewarded them with unfathomable rebellion, anger and sin until he made his grandparents miserable. I told him, “They did not have to take you in. You could have gone to an orphanage. You could have been a ward of the court. They got up with you in the middle of the night. They changed your diapers and fed you and clothed you. They raised you at great sacrifice to themselves. Nobody would have blamed them if they had said, “We just can’t handle it at our age.”
He replied bitterly, “Do you think this is the first time I’ve ever thought of all that? I know what they’ve done. What am I supposed to do, spend the rest of my life saying ‘thank you’?”
Today is Maundy Thursday on the liturgical calendar—the day Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples before He went to the cross.
Today, to commemorate Holy Week, we had a short worship service in our office with my staff. I invited several staff, who also serve as pastors, to take part in serving, and we took communion together. We also prayed for the volatile situation in our community following the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, which has created uproar in our country.
Next week, I'll write more about this situation, which has really hit home for me. The reason: the tragic killing took place 2.9 miles from our offices in Lake Mary, Fla., which abuts Sanford, Fla. As a result we have decided to focus our June issue on The Church's Response to Racism. Today I attended a meeting with black and white ministers in our city. Tomorrow I'm attending a prayer service on Good Friday. Some very interesting things came out, from a spiritual point of view, which I'll comment on later.
As I was preparing a sermon for Palm Sunday, I was struck to the core by John 12. Jesus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Bible says a great multitude took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13).
Yet only a few verses later many no longer believed.
What happened? What shifted? What caused this multitude to go from celebrating Jesus and acknowledging Him as King of Israel to turning their back on Him and days later calling for His crucifixion? Simply put, He told them the truth—and they couldn’t handle the truth. You might say they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved (2 Thess. 2:10).
But let me ask you a serious question: Are you a lover of the truth? Are you a true follower of Christ? Really?
It’s OK to tone down certain charismatic manifestations to make church visitors feel welcome.
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.
Disturbed. That’s how I’ve felt for the past few weeks in light of the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin.
I’ve been a resident of the Sanford, Fla., area for the past six years, a business-man-turned pastor. This week I received a word from the Lord about the current events in my city that was as clear as any word I’ve received in the past 20 years. I knew that receiving such a clear, strong and direct prophetic word was significant and I felt compelled to share it with the world.
I heard during prayer the voice of the Lord say this: “If the church, civil and business leaders do not take preventative spiritual action on the current events, we will be left responding to physical violence in the streets of our cities.”
Some time ago, I had an experience at church that I will never forget.
During the Sunday morning service, the pastor asked each member of the congregation to make a list of his sins on a sheet of paper, as the Holy Spirit led. After a time of reflection and prayer, each person walked up to the front of the church and nailed his folded piece of paper, which represented his sins, onto a large wooden cross.
When it was my turn, I laid my folded “list of sins” onto the end of the crossbar and struck the nail with the hammer that had been provided. The sound of the hammer connecting with the nail was deafening—not to my ears, but to my spirit. The realization that, in effect, my own hand had driven the nails into our Savior’s flesh was overwhelming.
In that moment I was struck with the reality that because Jesus knew I would be in this world at this particular time and would not be able to live a sinless life, He—the One who spoke the world into being—had chosen to lay down His life for me so that I could have everlasting fellowship with Him. I already knew this, of course; I have been a Christian for many years. But the act of virtually nailing Him to the cross with my own hand made His sacrifice more real than before.
Pastor Alex Clattenburg has been a good friend for nearly 40 years. I got an email about a great Good Friday service he is having next week at Church in the Son in Orlando, Fla. I wish I could attend but I’ll be out of state. We close our offices every year on Good Friday. I always try to attend a service and it’s hard to find a Spirit-filled church that has one. What a pity. It’s part of our culture which comes out of the revivalist tradition of the sawdust trail. It’s as if anything liturgical is something we should avoid.
I had a good friend in the Episcopal Church that talked about how they had things all week long. I had to ask what Maundy Thursday was! We didn’t celebrate it in the Assemblies of God. But it’s the night before Good Friday. Okay, maybe we don’t need to go for the bells and smells of some churches. But sometimes we are so casual about special days, we go too far the other way. On Good Friday I like to take communion and to think about the sacrifice the Lord made on the cross. I encourage you to think about that sacrifice.
It’s easy to despise the day of small beginnings. Small beginnings often come with hard work and little help. Small beginnings usually offer tall resistance and modest encouragement. Small beginnings typically see limited budgets and abundant setbacks. Nevertheless, whatever God has called you to do, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zech. 4:10, NLT).
I remember when God planted a seed in my heart to pray for the nations. I had a large multicolored map on my wall and I was in awe of the massive opportunities for prophetic intercession. Suddenly, the Lord illuminated a tiny speck of an island on this map, one of the smallest islands in the Caribbean. This was my prayer assignment. I was somewhat disappointed. I wanted to storm the heavens of pivotal nations in the earth, but the Lord gave me a small beginning.
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.
Supernatural means “super-natural.” As C.S. Lewis pointed out, almost all of the miracles of Jesus were simply the speeding up of a natural process. There was never any wine that did not start out as water and go through a process—Jesus just sped up that process. There was never anyone healed that God did not heal through the “natural” processes He placed in us, but through Jesus and His workers He sped this up.
Words of knowledge, which is receiving information through the Spirit about someone, is like touching one little cell of the mind of Christ. When Jesus looks at something, He knows all that there is to know about that person. When we look at someone in the Spirit, He can give us just a tiny fraction of that information and it seems spectacular to us. If we are given a name, birthday or other details, we’re astounded, as the person usually is too. Even so, this is not to wow people but to help them.
When we receive a bit of supernatural knowledge like this, if we will not get too excited and keep inquiring of the Lord, He will often give us more. Sometimes He’ll also give us a “word of wisdom,” so that we know how to use this knowledge to help that person. Again, it’s not just about getting the word of knowledge, but about helping the person, church or other entity.
I often am asked questions by the media on choices the government makes about our society. It is an anomaly to me to see the drift in government to control in micro-detail certain aspects of our society, and yet determine to be hands-off on other key issues. Recently the American public was given an edict that affects many religious nonprofit organizations.
The debate over the new Health and Human Services regulations, which require all employers to pay 100 percent of the cost of contraception including abortion-inducing chemicals, has been rightly cast as an intrusion on religious liberty. Opponents of such regulations are no more advocating a ban on contraceptives than vegetarian restaurants are advocating a ban on meat. They are simply saying that companies shouldn’t have to pay for services to which they object for moral reasons.
But black Americans in particular would be wise to pay close attention, since the age old contraception battle has special historical significance to them. For more than a century, “reproductive services” have been special code words for the constant, silent effort of the powerful to control black breeding. And this control has often come in the form of a “helping hand.”
Every Sunday we have an early Morning Prayer meeting at church. We pray from a Psalm for 30 minutes (without asking for anything—a time purely for praise), then we prayer walk the sanctuary for 15 minutes, and finally meet back together to intercede for the services and ministry of the day.
Since we started this intimate time in 2007, we have never ceased to be amazed at how the Holy Spirit always meets with us. We never leave without a feeling that we have been in the sweet presence of Jesus.
One week, however, was a bit of a challenge. The prayer room is just off of the platform, and the praise team has practice at the same time that we are praying. That has never been an issue. In fact, the muffled music often adds a “worship” dimension to our time.