Years ago my wife, Jeri, and I were driving on the interstate when we were overcome by a white cloud of windblown snow. "I can't see a thing!" I shouted. We were experiencing a complete whiteout. I lost all sense of direction. I couldn't see the road or other cars. Everything had vanished, replaced by this strange, mystical blizzard of white. The only thing I knew to do was to slow down and pray that I was still on the road.
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
In making this statement, I believe author and former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning hit the nail squarely on the head.
Whether by commission or omission, the church has allowed godlessness to permeate our society. We have allowed our “nation under God” to bury the Presence of God under a mountain of misinterpreted laws and legal catchphrases.
When you read the Scriptures, passion for God oozes out. Moses sought God every day. Job followed Him through the most devastating circumstances. Esther relied on Him at the risk of her own life. David chased after God, and his passion bleeds through the Psalms. The prophets craved hearing the voice of the Almighty, and the apostles joyfully followed Him to the grave.
These men and women were great leaders, yet modern influencers often overlook this trait. Too many build up their heads without minding their hearts. They read books on better business practices and attend marketing conferences, but spiritual development is often ignored. According to our research, only 11 percent of Christian leaders say “passion for God” is the leadership trait that best describes them. And yet, my experiences with Christian leaders who are most successful today tell me that spiritual ardor is integral, rather than accessory, to leading well.
Easter is often the most difficult week of the year for pastors.
Not only do we have the stress of our congregation, but weird things seem to happen during that week. Family stress goes up, financial stresses skyrocket … and our time schedule is rigid because of the many activities. And then it is over.
Are you ready for a rest? It might be easy to go through the routine—do the post mortem on Easter week and then focus on what is next without taking time to let your body and soul catch up.
Instead, this week, let’s take control of the calendar and focus on silence. Silence is the spiritual discipline most often avoided in today’s society. We “need” noise to propel us forward. If we aren’t listening to news, watching a TV show or letting music calm us, we talk to ourselves … or anyone else who will listen.
A decade ago I went through the darkest time of my adult life that threatened my marriage and my leadership. It was a classic case of leader burnout. For me, it was an eclipse of the sun.
The problem was that I lost touch with my own core connection on the inside. My deep love for my God and my wife became compromised. I became an angry, dark soul at home. I made bad choices and barely held serious depression at bay. In public, I hid my loneliness and torment. At home I didn’t.
Can you imagine a time when key apostolic leaders—both in the church and marketplace—would come together to exert strong influence over cities, communities and nations, with or without the cooperation or partnership of local church pastors and congregations? A time when the local church would almost be irrelevant when it comes to societal transformation because leaders would form their own ecclesia that would be mobile and not nuclear in nature? A time in which the local church would be relegated merely to shepherding our families, pastoral counseling, and Sunday school for our children?
There is a growing tendency in the body of Christ among practitioners in kingdom societal transformation to bypass the local church in order for the reformation of society to take place. This is due to the frustration of many marketplace leaders with the slow pace, bureaucracy, myopic local view and lack of high-level leadership found in many of this nation’s congregations.
I will forever remember as though we were standing there now, as you read these words.
The place: The walking bridge connecting the student parking lot to the bustling campus of Oral Roberts University, where the grandiose buildings and space age architecture were a daily reminder to the thousands of us students of Dr. Oral Roberts' charge to “Make no small plans here.”
The time: 25 years ago.
The experience: A life-changing encounter that would set the course for my spiritual future in ways I would never have imagined when I woke up almost late for class that beautiful spring morning in Tulsa.
With a mere six weeks remaining before graduation, and with a dream in my heart far bigger than myself, I was ready to go from this incredible place of preparation to be used by God to fulfill the Great Commission and reach our world for Christ.
Jack Hayford, founding pastor at The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, Calif. and the founder and chancellor of The King’s College and Seminary, is known for his keen insights on living for Jesus Christ. His seminar at The Cove, "A New Time and Place" will be streamed free of charge Friday at 7:15 p.m. on The Cove's website.
How do you define Christian character? Hayford: The thing that makes the difference in Christian character is that we are answering to God foremost. Christian character is character lived out in the reverence for and respect for God, as opposed to simply honoring man. The “fear of God” is the biblical terminology for it. The fear of God is the starting place, but what it boils down to is the willingness to die to our own agendas, to die to our own conveniences.
Genuine Christian character involves sacrifice, and that is something that the culture will not require of us. That is something that only faith will bring us to. We are called to be servants—not just honest people, but servants. Jesus cast it in the most severe terms. He said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10, NIV).
As he took the podium at Liberty University Convocation on Monday, Franklin Graham urged students to drop their excuses and take up metaphorical nets to become “fishers of men,” just as Christ called His disciples to be.
“There are always excuses, there are lots of excuses, but (God) wants obedience,” Graham said. “When you obey, and when you follow Him, and when you serve Him, and give Him your life, if you do that you will never, never come to regret it, I promise you that.”
Graham, the fourth of five children of evangelist Billy Graham, is president and CEO of both Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He preaches all over the world and has authored several books including his autobiography “Rebel with a Cause.”
As a little boy raised in the church, I was often confused by the words of certain songs. For instance, whenever the song “Bringing in the Sheaves” was sung, I thought we were singing about bringing in the “sheeps.” I always wondered where we would get these “sheeps” and why we wanted to bring them in anyway. Spiritual themes, whether spoken or sung, can easily confuse the simple mind of a child; and while I learned quite early that “sheeps” is not even a word, the topic of God’s will continued to be a point of confusion for a long time.
I remember another song we used to sing, usually after a missionary had told depressing stories about the hardships and toils of the mission field: “Jesus, use me / Oh, Lord, don’t refuse me / Surely there’s a work that I must do / And even though it’s humble, help my will to crumble / Though the cost be great, I’ll work for You.”
As wonderful as those words are in and of themselves, there was something about the combination of the lyrics, the music and the context that made me afraid of God’s will for my life. I thought He must have something simply dreadful for me to do. I just knew He was going to send me deep into the jungle where I would live in a mud hut, survive on a diet of grubs and wind up being eaten by cannibals.
I am troubled by the black church's lack of response to the down-low epidemic.
There is no doubt in my mind that it's God's will for homosexuals to be set free from same-sex attraction. I preach Jesus and His saving power, and I know complete healing is possible. But as an African-American pastor, I am deeply troubled by the black church's lack of response to an epidemic called the "down-low," a term used to describe men involved in closet homosexuality, but who pretend to be heterosexual.
In fact, one of the biggest obstacles to reaching gay men with the gospel is the prevalence of "down-low" activity among leaders.
In an online article titled "God, Gays and the Black Church," gay author Herndon L. Davis addresses the issue:
A letter received by American-Iranian Pastor Saeed Abedini, carried out from Iran's notorious Evin Prison, tells of beatings and interrogations, around-the-clock bright lights and ongoing lies designed to create hope—in order to crush it. The remarkable letter also reveals a depth of faith and compassion that could only be granted by God.
Abedini, a U.S. minister, has been imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran for his faith since Iranian authorities removed him from a bus in September while he was visiting his homeland.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, recently received the letter from her husband through family members who were able to visit him in prison. Naghmeh passed the letter on to Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood, with the encouragement to share the letter with everyone.
Remember some of the great bands of the 60’s and 70’s? Three Dog Night, Led Zepplin, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Rare Earth, and even the Monkees? What songs do you remember? Probably, songs they recorded during that specific period.
Then think about the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Elton John, or Dylan, and what do you remember? Chances are, you remember something much more recent. That’s because most of the great bands of the 60’s and 70’s got stuck. They couldn’t break out of the era of their initial success. Sure they continue to play, but while they used to pack any arena in America, today you’ll probably find them performing at State Fairs or Indian Casinos.
On the other hand, in spite of their age, the Stones, McCartney, Elton John, and a handful of others are still booking world tours in massive arenas, and have a new generation of fans. Why?
How overwhelmed Peter must have felt looking into the faces of 3,000 new converts in Jerusalem. I’m sure he must have thought: They’ve chosen to follow Christ, but will they follow me into the mature faith necessary to carry our church forward? As Christian leaders, we know it takes effective leadership to move people from their salvation decision into mature discipleship. We also know maturity empowers blessing in their lives and enables them to bless others.
Recently my friend told me a comical story about his son’s youth football game. The score was tied 6-6 in the second half. As the opposing quarterback faded back to pass, the boys rushed in and tackled him. They immediately started celebrating, but they failed to realize that the ball had been fumbled. The other team ran it in for a touchdown and won the game. My friend said with a smile, “Our boys made half a great play.”
As a pastor I get pretty excited when people choose to accept Christ. Then I’m reminded that we’re only halfway there. I still have the formidable task of maturing them so they can fulfill their potential.
The gift of tongues is still very much in evidence today. It is not meant to replace normal Christian responsibilities or minimize the importance of the Bible, but it will enhance all the good things of God already in your life. Here are six great reasons for seeking and using this gift:
1. Personal evidence.The Holy Spirit uses tongues as a miraculous, abiding sign. Miracle languages confirm the inner presence of the Spirit by using the body member most dependent on volitional, human intelligence--the tongue (see Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 19:6; James 3:8).
2. Praise declaration. Tongues initiates a prophetic gush of inspired worship and causes the heart to soar in adoration and worship unattainable by human means, creating "the fruit of the lips" (see Is. 57:19; Heb. 13:15; John 4:23-24; Phil. 3:3).
People never get a second chance at a first impression. Neither do churches.
My family recently visited a church (no, it wasn’t your church), and we were able to get in and out undetected. Had it not been for our toddler’s need for childcare, we could have avoided human contact altogether. Needless to say, we didn’t feel very welcome.
Nearly everything about a Sunday morning worship service communicates something to first-time visitors. From the church bulletins to the parking lot layout, churches demonstrate how much—or how little—they care about people. Here are some things I learned from my last church visit.
This prayer from Billy Graham, written for "The Saturday Evening Post" in 2008, is just as relevant this year. Get in agreement with the beloved evangelist.
Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.
We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.
Why churches, not business or government, are best suited to help the needy
In today’s culture it’s easy to think that the only way to solve the overwhelming challenges we face is either through innovative business or big government. Yet the reality is that the church, despite its faults, is still God’s chosen instrument of blessing and has been for 2,000 years.
When senior pastor Rick Warren began rethinking Saddleback Church’s missions strategy, which led to the PEACE Plan, he realized the body of Christ has several advantages over the efforts of business and government to help those in need. He saw that:
1. The church provides the largest participation.More than 2 billion people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. That’s one-third of the world’s population! In the U.S., about 100 million people went to church last weekend. That’s more than all who will attend sporting events this year in the U.S.
2. The church provides the widest distribution. The church is everywhere. You could visit villages all around the world that don’t have a school, clinic, hospital, fire department, post office or business. But they have a church. We are more widely spread—or distributed—than any business franchise in the world.
Consider this: The Red Cross noted that 90 percent of the meals it served to victims of Hurricane Katrina were cooked by Southern Baptist churches. Many churches were able to act faster than government agencies or the Red Cross.
3. The church provides the fastest expansion.Did you know that 60,000 new people a day come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? That means thousands of new churches will be started throughout the world today—and tomorrow and the next day.
Why is fast expansion important? One reason is, if a problem is growing rapidly, then a solution is needed that will grow even faster. For instance, HIV/AIDS is growing incredibly fast worldwide. Yet the church is outgrowing the disease, so more and more believers can help minister to the victims.
4. The church provides the highest motivation. Why do any of us do what we do in ministry? Not to make money or a name for ourselves. We do it out of love. Jesus stated it as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart ... and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, NKJV). We wouldn’t do the hard work required to tackle these global giants if it were for money or fame. It just wouldn’t be worth it. We’d quit before we finished.
5. The church provides the strongest authorization. God authorized us to take on global giants such as spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy. So the outcome is guaranteed to be successful.
When you know God authorized you to do something, you don’t worry about failure because God doesn’t sponsor flops. If God says we’re going to do it, then it’s going to happen. In fact, God will give us His power to complete the task. This is God’s way: ordinary people empowered by His Spirit.
6. The church provides the simplest administration.The way the church is organized, it networks faster and with less bureaucracy than most governmental agencies or even well-meaning charities. The old wineskin of “command and control” won’t work well in the 21st century. The organization of the future is the “network.” And there’s no better worldwide network than the church, where every member is a minister empowered by God.
Consider it this way: Tens of millions of Christians in millions of small groups within churches around the world can take on the global giants with no other authority than Jesus Christ’s. We have God’s permission and God’s command to do it. There is no need to seek permission from anyone else.
It is a great privilege to be called, as we are, to lead our local churches. Like mine, your church is a vital part of the greatest force on earth—the church; God’s chosen instrument of blessing for every nation and people. God has given us an awesome responsibility, but He wouldn’t have placed us where we are if He didn’t believe we could handle the task.
Tom Holladay is associate senior pastor at Saddleback Church, where he has served for almost 21 years, and assists senior pastor Rick Warren in teaching Purpose Driven church conferences to Christian leaders worldwide. He is the author of The Relationship Principles of Jesus (Zondervan) and has a daily podcast, “Drivetime Devotions,” at drivetimedevotions.com.