Lee Grady

The Secret of Becoming a Prophetic Preacher

Ever since God called me to preach, I’ve battled with deep insecurity about my delivery style. I can’t electrify a crowd like T.D. Jakes, pack an arena like Reinhard Bonnke or get audiences to turn sermons into trending topics on Twitter like Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick. Those guys hit home runs when they preach. I get base hits—or strikes.

For years I felt like the reluctant Moses, who complained to God by saying, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent” (Ex. 4:10). For years the Lord kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, urging me to surrender my fears so that I would take the microphone willingly. Once He told me: “I didn’t call you to be T.D. Jakes. I called you to be you.”

On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in? Finally I asked an older pastor if he had ever struggled with disappointment in his pulpit performance. He smiled and told me: “Son, I feel that way every Monday of my life.”

I’m learning an uncomfortable secret about preaching: Those who dare to allow God to speak through them will always squirm in holy agony. Preaching the gospel is both a glorious and a horrifying responsibility. When we speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and impart the very truths of Christ, we get so dangerously close to Him that our pride is challenged.

This truth is revealed in the story of Jericho. God told Joshua to organize a march around the walled city for seven days. The ark of the covenant was to go first, accompanied by seven priests blowing trumpets. On the last day, the walls of Jericho fell flat after the people shouted.

We charismatics have spiritualized this story in some comical ways. Some of us thought that blowing shofars during every church service would grow our churches. (In many cases those churches got smaller because the shofar blowing was so weird!) Others assumed we should march around the church every week or stage all-night shout-a-thons.

I have nothing against shouting, marching or shofars, but please don’t miss the main point of this story: It is powerful prophetic preaching that brings downs the walls of spiritual resistance. God’s Word must be proclaimed. Notice these points about the Jericho story:

1. The trumpets were rams’ horns. God uses the weak things of this world to confound the strong. The apostle Paul called the preaching of the gospel “foolishness” (see 1 Cor. 1:18). While it is OK to improve your speaking abilities, don’t become so polished that you become an orator with nothing to say. Don’t try to be sophisticated. You are just a ram’s horn.

Some American preachers today wow their crowds with dramatic stories, film clips, trendy graphics and motivational hype. It sounds good initially. But sometimes, after the applause, we realize it was just a bunch of ear candy. What we need in today’s pulpits is less scripted sparkle and more messy, raw, honest, tear-stained pleas from broken men and women who are aflame with the Holy Spirit. Rams’ horns came from animals that had been sacrificed. Only consecrated preachers who have died to self can preach a message that will bring down a spiritual wall.

2. The trumpets were blown for seven days. We love sermons that become overnight YouTube sensations—the kind of messages that get everyone waving handkerchiefs and dancing in the aisles. But the kingdom of God is not built on one-night stands. When Paul the apostle preached, the results were not always immediate … or positive. Sometimes there were riots—and jail time.

What God is looking for is not one big sensational sermon but a lifetime of faithful preaching. He wants consistency, not fireworks. It’s great when we have the exciting, handkerchief-waving moments, but we must realize that God’s Spirit is also moving on quiet days when no one shouts “Amen!” and all you hear in the audience is cell phones ringing and babies crying.

3. The trumpets were blown by unnamed men. The Bible doesn’t tell us who blew the trumpets in Joshua 6. We know these guys played an important role, but their names never appear in lights. They trudged through the dry desert around Jericho for seven monotonous days, blowing their horns until their throats were dry and their lips were sore. And in the end, when the walls of the city finally collapsed, Scripture says Joshua’s fame increased—not theirs (see Josh. 6:27).

Today we need preachers who are willing to faithfully speak God’s Word with no hope of fame or fortune. If you truly want all the credit to go to Jesus, you won’t worry about your performance or your applause. Just do your job. Preach the Word and the walls will eventually fall.

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Why I Defend Women Preachers

My friend Abby Olufeyemi is one of my favorite pastors. She’s a Nigerian living in England, so her British/African accent makes her sermons all the more fascinating to listen to. Besides her obvious anointing as a preacher, she’s also a model of Christian integrity. She’s been tested through serious trials—including the loss of her husband, Alfred, who died in a plane crash—so she leads with grace and compassion.

Thankfully, Abby finds support from her denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the largest indigenous church network in Nigeria, and one of the fastest-growing Pentecostal groups in the world. But when I tell people that I work alongside women pastors I get puzzled looks. Many Christians who love God and the Bible believe women are not allowed to serve in pastoral roles.

This is especially obvious whenever Charisma publishes an article on the topic. Three weeks ago, my column, “Six Gender Myths in the Church,” sparked a firestorm of protest. But I don’t argue with people in online forums because (1) I respect anyone’s right to his opinions, and (2) I can’t spend all my time answering critics when there are souls to be reached for Christ—and so many women who want to reach them.

But being with Abby in London made me realize that many Americans oppose women leaders because they just haven’t seen very many examples. At the risk of sounding simplistic I will list the reasons why I believe we need more women on the front lines of ministry today:

1. The Bible endorses women in leadership. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy seems to limit women’s roles in leadership (see 1 Tim. 2:12). Yet Paul also gushed with praise for the women who served with him as co-laborers—women such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Priscilla, who helped lay foundations in the early church (see 1 Cor. 16:19). In Phil. 4:2-3, Paul expresses solidarity with two women leaders, Euodia and Syntyche. And he refers to other women who obviously led churches, such as Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and Nympha (Col. 4:15), and he does not try to silence or restrict them.

Traditionalists who insist on barring women from leadership positions always refer to 1 Tim. 2:12 as an ironclad rule—yet they ignore the women who served with Paul. The obvious question is: Why did Paul tell Timothy to clamp down on the women in Ephesus when he allowed Priscilla to teach? The most sensible interpretation is that the Ephesian women were teaching heresy. They had no business teaching the Bible or leading the church, yet Paul encouraged faithful women.

2. Churches need women’s gifts and perspectives. God created both male and female, and His nature is revealed through both genders (see Gen. 1:26-28). This is why the biblical definition of a family is a father and a mother. If a child needs both parents to learn the ways of God (see Prov. 1:8-9), then surely we need instruction from both men and women in the church. If only men are allowed to function in leadership or teaching roles, the church itself will be male-dominant—and this can lead to issues of control, abuse or sexual sin (the problem of child abuse in the Catholic Church is just one obvious example).

3. We can’t address women’s problems without empowering women to address them. In the 1800s women were not allowed to go to medical school. Some men believed the female brain was smaller than a male’s (!), and that women had no business being doctors. What happened when women entered the medical profession? Suddenly there were breakthroughs in medical care, including improvements in gynecology and obstetrics. Women began addressing problems that had been ignored by a male-dominated medical establishment.

Take a look at the world today and you will see millions of girls and women suffering because of sex trafficking, forced child marriage, gang rape, genital mutilation, domestic violence, eating disorders, depression and denial of education. What might happen if we opened the doors wider to empower women in their spiritual gifts? Do women hold a key to solving these problems? I believe we could see social change on an unimaginable scale if we remove gender limitations in ministry.

4. Women leaders don’t hinder men, they help them. Many Christian men I know seem to fear women’s influence. Some gripe about the “feminization” of the church, and they threaten to ban flowers from altars to make the sanctuary look more like a man cave. That’s goofy. My Bible says God made flowers as well as antlers and rawhide. He also created women, and He made them to do more than bake cookies and nurse babies. He gave women intelligence, discernment, prophetic insight, gifts of mercy and compassion, leadership abilities and spiritual authority.

When I listen to Abby Olufeyemi preach, or when I see how she shepherds her growing congregation, I receive truth from the Holy Ghost and learn valuable lessons about leadership. She doesn’t threaten me; she encourages me. Strong men are not intimidated by gifted women. And strong, gifted women who have Christian character would never try to compete with men or undermine them.

We are all called to be partners and co-heirs in God’s kingdom. Let’s grow up and embrace biblical equality.

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God Can Heal Your Wounded Manhood

I’d never heard a sermon on Deuteronomy 23:1 until last month, when my Puerto Rican friend Luis Roig had the courage to read the text out loud to a group of men in Florida. When he did, one guy gasped and fell on the floor. Several others laughed nervously, and we all drew our knees together and groaned.

The Holman translation says it this way: “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.”

Ouch! 

Please pardon the graphic language, but older translations just aren’t clear. The King James Version says, “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” That’s putting it mildly!

Most of us dismiss or ignore this odd passage, either because the subject matter is embarrassing or because the law seems unfair. After all, if a man’s private parts are damaged in an accident, why should he be considered an outcast?

But this verse is relevant to us today because we face a masculinity crisis. In our fatherless culture, many guys struggle with their identity as men, and as a result they feel alienated from God. Meanwhile the church offers little to help men find true healing. Our idea of men’s ministry is to provide food, sports or entertainment while we dance around men’s deepest problems without actually addressing them.

Yet everywhere I go today, I find men who suffer from crushed masculinity. They have been kicked in the groin, spiritually speaking. Their actual anatomy may be intact, but because of poor fathering, lack of affirmation, bullying, family rejection, inferiority or some form of abuse, their manhood did not develop properly. They are men on the outside, but inside they are wounded boys who are afraid to tell anyone how they feel.

Over the years I’ve identified several categories of crushed manhood:

1. Insecurity. Many guys become selfish, driven performers, out to prove their manhood through competition. Because they didn’t get healthy encouragement at home, they become self-absorbed and crave the spotlight. They can appear extremely successful, but inside they are afraid of failure. They find it hard to build healthy friendships, and their wives usually feel used and ignored. In the end, these guys end up in divorce, scandal, prison or worse.

2. Indecisiveness. Some men just don’t have the ability to make decisions. They may have never had a father to encourage them or a role model to learn from. As a result they flounder in their careers, struggle financially, fear the future and feel spineless. Many of these men find Christ, but they live in painful isolation and get trapped in addictions because they lack self-control.

3. Domination. Some men—especially if they were abused physically or even sexually as boys—believe the only way to prove their manhood is to wield power. Violent anger seethes below the surface. If they marry, their wives suffer the brunt of their dysfunction. These men are tormented by secrets, but they cannot take their armor off long enough to admit their problems to anyone.

4. Promiscuity. Sex is a selfish contest for many guys. They try to bed as many women as possible to prove they are “real men.” Ironically, it is their lack of manhood that drives them to hurt themselves and others. Some men who were abused sexually as boys seek to have sex with as many women as possible to prove they are not gay.

5. Homosexuality. It’s not popular today to suggest that homosexuality is sinful. So what if I rephrase the question and ask: “Is it healthy?” Many men today struggle with their core identity as men, and often it is not their fault. They may have never had a father to affirm them, or their father may have withheld affection. Others have gender confusion because of abuse. In many cases, guys experience same-sex attraction because they crave the healthy male attention they should have received from a dad. And they mistakenly think that sex with another man will restore the manhood they crave.

When my friend Luis read from Deuteronomy 23:1, he also shared his painful story: how he had been abused as a child, how he wrestled with his fears and lusts, and how his abuse pushed him to become violent in his marriage. Thankfully, Luis found more than a Band-Aid for his problems when he came to faith. Jesus delivered him from his anger, healed his emotional wounds and began restoring his manhood.

This healing is found in Jesus. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus pours His oil and wine on our wounds. Like the father of the prodigal son, He throws His arms around us and tells us He’s glad we belong to Him. The unconditional love of Jesus, which is both gentle and powerfully strong, is the perfect remedy for the fragmented masculine soul.

This supernatural healing is available to men today, but we cannot offer what we have not experienced ourselves. We must be willing to trade in our superficial “God bless you, brother!” back-slapping and get real. Men have been painfully emasculated, and they need surgery. Let’s quit denying the problem. It is time for a wave of healing to touch the wounded men all around us.

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The Dark Side of Submission

During a past ministry trip to Hungary, I heard a painfully familiar story. Through a translator, a tearful young woman living near Budapest explained that her Christian husband was angrily demanding her absolute submission. This included, among other things, that she clean their house according to his strict standards and that she engage in sexual acts with him that made her feel uncomfortable and dirty.

This lady was not demanding her rights or trying to be disrespectful. She was a godly, humble woman who obviously wanted to please the Lord. But she had been beaten to a pulp emotionally, and she was receiving little help from her pastor—who was either unwilling or unprepared to confront wife abuse.

I’ve heard so many sickening versions of this scenario. In Kenya, several women told me their AIDS-infected husbands often raped them—and then their pastors told them they must submit to this treatment. In some parts of India, even some pastors believe it is acceptable to beat their wives if they argue with them or show any form of disrespect. And in some conservative churches in the United States, women are told that obedience to God is measured by their wifely submission—even if their husbands are addicted to alcohol or pornography or if they are involved in adulterous affairs.

This distortion of biblical teaching has plunged countless Christian women into depression and emotional trauma. I’m not sure which is worse: the harsh words they hear from their husbands or the perverse way the Bible is wielded as a leather belt to justify domestic abuse. Here are three truths we must uncover in order to solve this problem:

1. Marriage is not a hierarchy. Traditionalists assume that a Christian marriage is defined as a dominant husband who makes all family decisions while the wife graciously obeys without input. Yet Scripture actually portrays marriage as a loving partnership and refers to the wife as a “fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB). And the apostle Paul taught that in the realm of sexuality, husbands and wives share equal authority over each other’s bodies (1 Cor. 7:4). In other words, submission in this most intimate part of a marriage covenant is mutual, and this same mutuality is the key to any happy marriage; it fosters respect, communication and an enduring bond.

2. Headship is not a license to control. Traditionalists also cite Ephesians 5:23 to remind wives that their husbands are their “heads”—and they believe this term requires some type of dictatorial control in marriage. Yet the Greek word used in this passage, kephale, does not have anything to do with heavy-handed authority, and it cannot be used to enforce male domination. Neither does it imply male superiority. The word can either mean “source” (as in the source of a river) or “one who leads into battle” (as a protector).

Neither original definition of this word gives room for abuse. Headship, in its essence, is not about who’s the boss. Rather, it refers to the Genesis account of Eve being taken from Adam’s side. The husband is the “source” of the wife because she originated from him, and she is intimately connected to him in a mystical union that is unlike any other human relationship.

3. Men who abuse their wives are out of fellowship with God. First Peter 3:7 is clear: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so your prayers will not be hindered.” Wife abuse is no trivial sin. Any man who berates his wife, treats her as inferior or engages in abusive behavior (including hitting, kicking, raping, cursing at or threatening punishment) will jeopardize his fellowship with the Lord. He will feel frustrated and convicted until he repents.

(And in the same way, I believe pastors who silently support abusive husbands by refusing to confront the behavior—or by telling women to submit to the pain—participate in this sin and could find their own prayers hindered.)

Truly Christian marriages, according to the apostle Paul, involve a tender, servant-hearted and unselfish husband who (1) loves his wife “just as Christ also loved the church”; (2) loves her as his own body; and (3) loves her as himself (see Eph. 5:25, 28 and 33). He stands alongside his wife in faithfulness, and she joyfully respects her husband because he can be trusted. And the two become one.

If we are to uphold this golden standard, we must confront abuse, shelter its victims and provide the tough love and counseling necessary to heal troubled relationships. And we have no business telling women to stay in marriages that actually could put them or their children in danger.

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Can Single Guys and Girls Just Be Friends?

Recently I was rejoicing with one of my single friends, Roman, because he believes he’s found the girl he wants to marry. Naturally I’m excited for him and I hope I can attend his wedding. I want all my single friends to find mates.

But I’m also disturbed because I know many singles that would like to be married yet have very few close friends of the opposite sex. Something is built into our Christian culture that discourages normal guy/girl friendships. It’s as if we’re afraid they will hop in bed if they actually talk for an hour and share their hopes, dreams or struggles.

Meanwhile, we pressure guys and girls to marry if they become friends. (“Oooh, Gina, we saw you with Brad yesterday. Is something going on between you two?”) Why can’t Gina and Brad just encourage each other in their journey with God without turning their relationship into a big deal? Is it possible for Christian guys and girls to build healthy friendships without assuming they are headed to the church altar?

I believe it is absolutely possible. Here are six keys to developing these relationships:

1. View your friends as family. Paul told Timothy he should treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters (see 1 Tim. 5:2). The same rule applies to girls: You should view your male Christian friends as brothers. Having this pure-hearted attitude makes real friendship possible. If a guy views his female friend as a sister he won’t be lusting after her body; instead, his instinct will be to encourage her. If a girl views her male friend as a brother she will care about him and pray for him without expecting him to have sexual feelings for her.

2. Avoid “pair pressure.” In many churches today there’s a nagging pressure to find “the one” so you can take yourself off the market. If you are carrying this burden, every friendship with a person of the opposite sex can be a drain. “Is she the one?” “Does he like me?” “How should I dress?” These concerns morph into worries that suck all the fun out of life. Trust God with your desire for a mate. If you don’t relax you will come across as desperate—and that’s a big turn-off. Stop trying to make something happen and just enjoy getting to know a new friend. Remember Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

3. Say goodbye to awkward. Before we married, my wife and I both dreaded the dating scene. Calling someone you barely know and asking them to dinner or a movie is scary—and it’s the reason a lot of Christian guys are still single at 35. Meanwhile Christian girls have been told to wait for the guy to make the first move, so they are conditioned to wait for “the call.” You can say goodbye to all this awkwardness by organizing group gatherings: Meet several friends for coffee, invite them to a cookout or throw a party. Then just enjoy each other’s company. And girls: Feel free to initiate the invitation!

4. Rediscover the art of conversation. In today’s media-soaked culture we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other. Many guys feel socially clumsy, so they become immersed in video games and become emotional hermits. They need friends—including female friends—to help them crawl out of their shells. Meanwhile both guys and girls are so addicted to their phones that they don’t know how to talk for an hour without checking for text messages. If you want to be a good friend, learn to focus on the person you’re talking to!

5. Don’t allow a hint of seduction. The message we get from media today is that it’s all about sex. But as a Christian you don’t have to bow to that idol. You can have a meaningful friendship with a person of the opposite sex without ending up in bed together. But if you plan to keep it pure, you will have to put up some obvious boundaries. Use common sense. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Don’t touch each other inappropriately. And don’t spend the night at each other’s apartments in the name of “friendship.” If you are true friends you will respect each other enough to avoid a sexual mistake that you will regret later.

6. Keep your friendships Christ-focused. Hebrews 3:13a says: “But encourage one another day after day.” This verse applies to single men and women, too. We need each others’ encouragement, and God wants the single members of the church to be involved in each others’ lives. Your phone calls, notes and honest counsel may be what propels your friend into their life purpose; your kindness and prayers may be what gets them through a difficult crisis. Keep Jesus at the center of your friendships and don’t miss out on the blessing those friends can be to you.

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Hollywood and the Culture of Sexual Abuse

In late 2017 we learned that something really ugly lies underneath Hollywood’s sparkling glamour. Harvey Weinstein, the billionaire mogul responsible for movies including Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The King’s Speech, was fired from his job and expelled from the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after dozens of women accused him of rape or sexual harassment.

The women making the charges include actresses Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and Angelina Jolie. And The New York Times, which broke the story, said Weinstein paid off other women after they threatened legal action.

The whole ugly mess also showed us that film industry insiders knew of Weinstein’s behavior, yet they swept it under the infamous Hollywood red carpet. The scandal has revealed a sordid corporate culture in which women are expected to give sexual favors in exchange for career advancement.

This is not the Hollywood blockbuster that film executives were hoping for. But it might get worse, especially since more women are talking openly about the reality of sexual harassment in the movie industry. Actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrera now have admitted they were harassed or molested at one point in their lives.

This week, actress Alyssa Milano asked women to tweet #MeToo if they had been molested, raped or harassed. Since last Sunday, the #MeToo hashtag has been used more than 1 million times on Twitter. And more than 5 million people around the world have engaged in the “Me too” conversation on Facebook.

There are also many Christians who can tweet #MeToo. Followers of Jesus are not immune to this problem. And there have been times when both women and men have been sexually abused or harassed by church leaders. Rather than pointing a judgmental finger at Hollywood, we should use this scandal to start a needed conversation at church about gender and justice.

Here are a few of the points we should cover:

  1. We must stop avoiding the topic of sexual abuse. What we avoid from the pulpit will thrive in darkness. Unless we talk about this uncomfortable topic, victims will suffer in silence in our pews. It might help if local congregations launched their own “Me too” campaigns. Christians need to feel free to admit that sexual abuse happened to them, and churches should offer the counseling and healing needed. And let’s remember that sexual abuse doesn’t happen just to women.
  1. We should create a culture of mutual respect. The apostle Paul told Timothy that he should treat older women “as mothers” and younger women “as sisters, in all purity” (see 1 Tim. 5:2). And he wrote those words at a time when women were viewed as property.

The gospel goes against cultural norms. Today, women should feel safer in church than anywhere else. Yet I have known of male preachers who used sexist, derogatory language in their sermons. I have also known of “Spirit-filled” ministers who groped women in counseling sessions or used their spiritual authority to seduce girls. All churches should provide the training and accountability needed to become abuse-free zones.

  1. We must stop blaming victims when sexual harassment happens. Men have been blaming women for the world’s problems ever since Eve listened to the serpent. When a Christian woman is raped or abused, the conversation often turns to how she was dressed. I’ve even heard believers blame a woman who was abused by accusing her of having a “seducing spirit.” That is hyper-spiritual hogwash.

Let’s make it perfectly clear: Abusers, not victims, are guilty of abuse. I don’t care if a woman is wearing a skimpy tank top or hot pants—a man does not have to exert his power over her just because her skin is showing. He can walk away. Just as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife, men can control their actions.

It’s sad that many Christian women won’t come forward to talk about their rape or molestation experience because they know a tribunal of Pharisees will point a bony finger at them. I also know a man who was criticized for not fighting back when he admitted to being sexually molested by another man. Why do we kick people when they are down? We need a crash course in godly compassion.

  1. We must launch a revolution in Christian men’s ministry. In many evangelical churches today, men’s ministry often focuses on how to be strong husbands, fathers and leaders. That is commendable, but in our effort to restore “godly manhood” we focus too much on power and not enough on humility. We don’t realize that one of the reasons Christian women suffer so much is that their husbands or boyfriends are so focused on wielding male power that they become brash, domineering, insensitive and even abusive.

Pornography has taught men for decades to look at women as inferior objects to be used and abused. Our corporate culture has taught us that women can be manipulated, seduced and played to our advantage. Locker rooms have taught us to be sexist and vulgar. No wonder we have an epidemic of abuse and sexual harassment.

But we don’t have to be like the world. When a man comes to Christ, he should renounce the culture of exploitation and learn how to respect women and treat them as equals. If we men will take a long look in the mirror, we might see Harvey Weinstein looking back at us. Let’s get honest and repent. Let’s get all sexual abuse and harassment out of the church now.

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Jesus and the Scandal of Sexual Harassment

Allegations of sexual harassment pile higher every day in Washington. In late 2017, Senator Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota, resigned after being accused of groping women, while Michigan congressman John Conyers stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee because he paid $27,000 to a woman who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

And then there’s Roy Moore, the feisty Alabama judge who has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a woman when she was underage. When combined with the serious accusations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Anthony Weiner fiasco, the Bill Cosby trial and the sexual harassment scandals affecting companies such as Uber, the impact is beyond embarrassing. We’ve been hit by a tsunami of shame.

The rug has been pulled back, and now we see the disgusting truth—American women have been mistreated, abused, coerced, disrespected, catcalled and harassed in offices, boardrooms, courtrooms, gyms, film studios and the chambers of the U.S. Senate.

At this point it’s comforting to remember that Jesus Christ had a perfect track record regarding women. Though He lived in a patriarchal culture that viewed women as property, He always respected and elevated them—and He never once did anything inappropriate with a woman, ever, during His time on this earth.

While professing believers in Jesus are not always perfect in this regard, let’s remember how Jesus treated women and make Him our example:

Jesus protected women from harassment. Women in ancient Israel could be accused of adultery even if they were simply caught alone with a man. When the Pharisees brought one accused woman to Jesus, they said they had caught her “in the very act” of adultery (John 8:4), even though they conveniently forgot to bring the man she was with. Jesus refused to condemn her, and no stones were thrown. Jesus doesn’t tip the scales of justice to protect the powerful; He defends the vulnerable.

Jesus looked beyond a woman’s sexuality and restored her dignity. When a prostitute heard that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house, she came there and poured anointing oil on His feet. The Pharisee was shocked that Jesus let her touch Him, but Jesus looked past her sin to see her need for forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus never undressed a woman with His eyes, yet in total purity He could look inside her and see her heart’s yearning.

Jesus gave marginalized women a voice. Jewish rabbis in ancient Israel didn’t have female followers. Yet Jesus called several women to travel with Him, and they became some of his most loyal disciples (see Luke 8:1-3). Mary Magdalene, in fact, had the privilege of announcing His resurrection to Jesus’ male followers.

Jesus restored the equal value of women.When Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, He welcomed Mary to kneel at His feet and take the posture of a disciple—even though women traditionally were not allowed in such settings. When He told Martha that Mary had “chosen the good part” at His feet (Luke 10:42b), He issued an invitation—calling all women to find their identity in Him.

Jesus defended women from discrimination. Jesus went out of His way to speak to the Samaritan woman in John 4. She had been divorced by five husbands—perhaps because she was barren or because of her behavior. Yet Jesus canceled every mark on her record and used her to convince an entire village to believe in Him. In one day, He turned an outcast into a heroine.

Jesus redefined the worth of a girl. Girls were considered inferior in ancient Israel, yet when the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus died, Jesus raised her to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-42; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). That miracle reminds us that God doesn’t devalue girls or ignore their problems.

Jesus acknowledged the contributions of women. When a poor widow put two coins worth very little in the collection box, Jesus shined His spotlight on her and told the Pharisees that her gift was bigger than theirs because of her poverty (see Luke 21:1-4). This would have been the verbal equivalent of cold water in the face to the proud Jewish leaders, who considered themselves superior to women. Yet Jesus is not afraid to confront heartless macho pride.

Jesus never used demeaning language with women. When Jesus healed a crippled woman in the synagogue, He called her to the front of the congregation (a definite taboo in those days) and then referred to her as “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), an endearing term that no rabbi would have used for a female. Jesus changed the vocabulary. He didn’t engage in demeaning locker-room talk about women—He esteemed them and gave them spiritual dignity.

Today, even men who occupy the highest offices in the land have proven to be sexual predators. It’s obvious we need a new role model when it comes to how to treat women. I nominate Jesus.

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6 Lies the Devil Uses to Condemn You

I have a friend who is a gifted worship leader, a loving husband and an affectionate father. He’s funny, smart, passionate about his faith and wholeheartedly committed to his church. People who know him say he’s a model Christian.

But underneath this joyful exterior is a lot of pain. He struggles with depression, and then he condemns himself because Christians are supposed be happy. When emotional heaviness drags him to a low point, he knows how to put on his convincing “church face.” Nobody knows the dark thoughts that torment him.

My friend is not unique in this struggle. Countless Christians I know engage in a daily battle with the enemy of their souls. And Satan is relentless in his attacks. He is described in Scripture as “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). He wags his bony finger of condemnation and tries to deny us access to the Lord’s love and mercy.

You will never find victory in the Christian life if you don’t expose, confront and renounce Satan’s groundless accusations. If the devil has been replaying his lies in your head, you must hit the “EJECT” button now! The spirit of condemnation always makes these outrageous statements listed below:

1. Jesus can’t use you if you have a weakness. The devil is always ready to remind you that you are fat, unattractive, prone to depression or addiction, sexually broken, traumatized or fearful. But guess what? The people God used in the Bible were far from perfect. Every Christian has flaws. God made us weak so we would find our strength in Him. If you were perfect, you wouldn’t need a Savior.

2. You should give up if you constantly struggle with sin. Many Christian men I know feel spiritually disqualified because they haven’t totally overcome their addiction to porn. They feel bad for being tempted, and then if they stumble, they feel defeated for weeks. This can lead to discouragement and despair—and then they lose all hope of overcoming the habit. The secret to victory is not sweating and straining to resist; instead we must meditate on the love of God and allow His Spirit to rise up inside of us to override sin’s power. If you are struggling, do not give up! The Spirit will help you!

3. God’s promises are for other people, not you. Do you feel God’s goodness always bypasses you? You may have an orphan spirit. Many Christians don’t believe the heavenly Father loves and accepts them. They may have been rejected by their parents, or lacked parental affirmation. Life’s pain can block our ability to see God as He is. But if you have given your life to Christ, the Father has adopted you, He delights in you, and He has given you full inheritance rights. His promises are yours to claim!

4. God is always mad at you. Many believers base their relationship with God on performance. If they read their Bibles and pray every day, they feel they are on God’s “good side”; if they miss their morning devotions they assume He is upset. The devil loves this legalistic mindset because it prevents us from experiencing God’s grace. You must come to understand that the Father does not love you for what you do; He loves you because you are His child. He is slow to anger and full of lovingkindness. When you allow this truth to soak your soul, you will enjoy true intimacy with Jesus.

5. Your past mistakes disqualified you. I met a Christian man recently who loves God with all His heart, yet he sits in the back of his church every week feeling inferior because he committed adultery 35 years ago. His wife forgave him, and he repented for his sin, but he assumes he wears a scarlet letter around his neck and that he has been banished to a spiritual wasteland. That’s a lie! If you have repented for your sin, God has forgiven and forgotten it! Nothing can separate you from God’s love—not abortion, divorce, sexual sin or any other unspeakable mistake you regret.

6. You have committed the unpardonable sin. I’ve counseled several troubled Christians who read Matthew 12:31-32 and decided that they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and therefore could not be saved. This is a ridiculous notion, because a person who committed the unpardonable sin mentioned in this passage wouldn’t care if they had blasphemed. If you are worried that you did this, then you haven’t! Your heart is turned toward God and you want to please Him. That alone is evidence of His grace working in you.

Romans 8:1 is one of the most liberating verses in the Bible. It declares: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This promise is for you! Jesus took your punishment and removed all guilt from your record. And His blood is more powerful than any lie Satan can throw at you.

You are now qualified. Your past is irrelevant. You don’t have to work to win God’s love. When the Father looks at you, He doesn’t see your past sins or present struggles; He sees a robe of righteousness. Renounce the devil’s lies and believe God’s promise. He loves you with an indescribable, unfathomable, unconditional love.

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How to Leave an Unhealthy Church

Recently I shared some practical guidelines on how to leave a church gracefully. I wrote this because I hear so many stories about people storming out of churches because their feelings got hurt. But an astute reader also pointed out that my guidelines really don’t apply when the church or its pastor have become abusive.

“Teresa” wrote that in her city, a popular leader of a megachurch was exposed for engaging in secret immoral behavior that affected countless members of his congregation for many years. “Thousands of people have been abused, broken, manipulated and controlled by [the pastor],” she wrote. “He has literally destroyed hundreds of families over the decades.”

So how do you leave a church that is spiritually abusive? What if the pastor or other leaders are guilty of sexual misconduct, unethical or illegal financial activities or controlling behavior? The rules for leaving are different.

1. Get outside advice. Before you plan your exit, make sure you are looking at the situation rationally. Talk to two or three people who are not members of this church or ministry. You might even want to set up a meeting with another pastor from your city. Explain your concerns. They will help you see if you are overreacting, or if you really have a case.

2. Gather the facts. Never base your concerns on rumors or unfounded allegations. Can this improper behavior be documented? Is there a paper trail? Paul said in 1 Timothy 5:19: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” If there has been wrongdoing, there will be evidence. (If you find concrete evidence that something illegal is going on, such as extortion or child abuse, you should contact the police.)

3. Confront the issue. This will not be easy if the leader in question uses threats, manipulation or anger to run over people. I normally advise that meetings be in person, but don’t meet alone if the leader in question is a manipulator. Take people with you so that you can’t be bullied. It’s also best to put your concerns in writing and take the letter with you.

4. Make a clean break. If you know that the pastor or other church leaders are guilty of behavior that disqualifies ministers, and there are no signs of repentance, you don’t have to stick around. God gave you two feet, and you can use them to walk out. Some people feel guilty for leaving an abusive church, but you must renounce feelings of false guilt or displaced loyalty. God will help you start a new life. Don’t let anyone (especially extended family members) manipulate you into staying.

5. Get counseling and prayer from a mature Christian. Spiritual manipulation messes with your mind. People I know who were part of an abusive ministry were made to feel guilty for simply asking questions. They were told that God required them to be blindly loyal, and that if they ever left the ministry something terrible would happen to them. If you were under this type of toxic control, you need someone to pray for you—so you can break free from psychological abuse.

6. Find a healthy church. Never let the devil convince you to give up on church just because the one you attended went off track. You need God’s people in your life. Some frustrated saints who have been wounded by unqualified leaders have asked me, “Are there any good churches left?” My answer is always yes! The Great Shepherd always leads us to green pastures where we can be healed and comforted. If you isolate yourself from church, you are wasting your spiritual gifts and ruining your chances of being restored.

7. Help others to heal. In my work with abused women, I’ve seen that those who suffered the most became powerfully effective in helping others after they experienced healing. This can be true for people who were wounded in an unhealthy church. God does not waste our pain! He can use your testimony to help those who are going through similar situations.

Once you leave, it is possible that other members of your church will contact you—and some of them will be honestly seeking the same freedom you have found. You owe it to them to share the story of your exit. If you stay healthy during the process of leaving, God can use you to pull others to safety.

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6 Things That Block the Holy Spirit’s Power

Last weekend while I was preaching at a church in central California, a young man came to the altar to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was eager to go deeper spiritually. Someone prayed for him for a while, but nothing happened.

I walked over to the young man a few minutes later and told him I would pray for him some more after the meeting was dismissed. I’ve learned that sometimes there are blockages that can prevent people from receiving the fullness of the Spirit, so I always try to discern what must be moved out of the way.

In this guy’s case, his heart was in a great deal of pain because his father had abandoned his family. He wanted God to baptize him with the Spirit, but the pain of rejection was like a gaping wound that needed urgent attention. As soon as I began to address this problem, he began sobbing in my arms.

After we prayed about his father issues, and he got the healing he needed, he quickly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A fresh joy filled his heart. And a new heavenly language began pouring out of his mouth. I encouraged him to pray in tongues for a while as he received the Spirit’s anointing.

This next Sunday, May 24, is the official day of Pentecost—when Christians all over the world celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. But Pentecost should also be a very personal experience for you. Have you, or someone you know, struggled to receive this supernatural infilling?

Here are some reasons why there might be a blockage:

1. Doubt or intellectual pride. In the 1960s a journalist named John Sherrill decided to write a book discrediting the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. But after he interviewed countless people about this experience, his doubts were shattered and he was baptized in the Holy Spirit himself. His book, They Speak With Other Tongues, became a Christian classic. Spiritual experiences cannot be figured out with the mind. To receive the Spirit’s infilling you must let go of your intellectual arguments and display childlike faith (see Matt. 18:2-4).

2. Religious tradition. I knew an Episcopal priest who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the 1970s in New York City. He was excited about the new vitality he felt in his faith—and thrilled that his wife had experienced a physical healing. But when he shared his testimony with his bishop, he was told he was crazy! And the bishop referred him to a psychiatrist! Religious people who are locked into “the way we’ve always done it” find it hard to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. You must be willing to break free from tradition.

3. Fear of the supernatural. Some Christians grew up in denominations that taught against the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They were told that Pentecostals are all fanatics who go into trances, speak mindless gibberish and swing from chandeliers. Actually, the first disciples in the New Testament spoke in tongues and experienced miracles—yet their faith was not strange. It should be the norm! People who are afraid of God’s supernatural power will struggle to receive it.

4. Unconfessed sin. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit can be “quenched” as well as “grieved” (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). Because He is so holy, our sinful habits and attitudes can cause Him to withdraw. This is why it’s so important for us to walk in constant communion with God, and to be willing to repent quickly when we know we have sinned. Some people “stuff” their secret sins in the closets of their hearts. If you want to be filled with the Spirit, you must be willing to open those closets and invite the light of God’s holiness into every dark corner of your life.

5. Emotional wounds. Like the young man I prayed for last weekend, some people are just too burdened with emotional baggage to be filled with the Spirit. Some have been abused, others weighted down by anxiety, others grieved or depressed. They need healing first. Like Lazarus on the day he was raised from the dead, they are bound by the grave clothes of the past, and they need to be unwrapped before they can experience God’s full anointing (see John 11:44). Healing is often needed before a person can receive the blessing of Holy Spirit baptism.

6. An unyielded spirit. You cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit if you are full of yourself. Some people are too willful. They have not surrendered their plans, finances, relationships or time to God. They have their lives planned out and they don’t want God interrupting their agendas. Yet God is looking to fill hearts that have been emptied and surrendered. Only the fully yielded can experience the fullness of His power.

If you have not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or if the flow of the Spirit has been blocked in your life, empty your heart today and prepare for your own personal Pentecost.

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