Christian Character

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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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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10 Biggest Mistakes Christians Make on the Mission Field

One of the greatest joys in my life is ministering in foreign countries. Since I surrendered to a call to missions 15 years ago, I’ve visited 29 nations and developed relationships with dozens of pastors and leaders who now consider me their friend and brother. Missions is at the heart of our Christian faith, and I believe every church should be actively engaged in both foreign and local missions so we can advance the gospel of Jesus in our generation.

But just like everything else in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to engage in mission work. I’ve learned from my own mistakes—and I’ve also seen some sad examples of short-term missions gone awry. If you are considering a short-term or long-term mission trip, avoid these pitfalls:

1. Acting like a spoiled American. If you are traveling to a developing country, here is Rule No. 1: Prepare for delays, cold showers, big bugs and scorpions, power outages, unusual toilets, crazy traffic and strange food. Make a decision before you leave that you won’t let one complaint come out of your mouth. Be flexible and gracious. Focus on the positive, soak in the beauty of the country and come home with a renewed gratitude for your blessings at home.

2. Talking down to people. You are not going overseas to teach poor, ignorant foreigners what you know. If that’s your attitude, do everyone a favor and stay home! You are going to serve. Most of what I know about ministry I learned from humble people I met in other countries. Whether you are teaching, preaching, building orphanages or feeding the poor, get under the people and wash their feet. And expect to learn powerful lessons from the people you are visiting.

3. Building relationships based on money. People in poor countries tend to think all Americans are rich, and they will be tempted to look to us instead of God to provide. Don’t wave money around, don’t flaunt expensive watches or jewelry, and don’t hand out cash to everyone you meet. Let your new friends know you want a real friendship with them that does not hinge on finances.

4. Making demands. I know prosperity preachers who expect royal treatment when they go to foreign countries. One man told his host he needed a hotel that costs $1,000 a night—in a nation where most people live in cramped, Soviet-style apartments. The apostle Paul modeled a different approach, and he was willing to live among people at their level (see 1 Thess. 2:9-10). If Jesus was willing to enter this world in a filthy manger, we should be willing to set aside our expensive tastes.

5. Breaking promises. When you connect deeply with a local pastor or congregation overseas, you will fall in love with them and you will want to do everything possible to help them. But don’t promise things you can’t deliver. Always remind them, and yourself, that we must pray for His provision and wait on Him to answer. And if you do enter into a partnership, always honor the promises you made.

6. Taking team members who are not committed to Jesus. I know of a zealous young woman who went on a mission trip to Africa with her church and ended up sleeping with a guy from that country. How does that happen? Anyone who goes with you on a trip needs a background check and a pastor’s recommendation. Mission trips should never be viewed as opportunities for “religious tourism” by immature people who crave a globetrotting adventure. The behavior of your team members should honor Christ.

7. Working with people overseas without thoroughly investigating them. I get requests almost weekly from foreign pastors who want me to visit their church, support their programs or do evangelistic crusades in their villages. In Pakistan, some unscrupulous Christians troll the Internet looking for churches that will send them money. Some people posing as pastors talk naïve Americans into wiring funds for a trip—and then they vanish. If you are going to do mission work, you will need the gift of discernment. Don’t get bamboozled by a con artist posing as “beloved brother Najib.”

8. Using a “hit and run” approach to missions. When I visit a country I almost always end up going back because I build relationships with ministries. This week I’m on my fourth visit to Barranquilla, Colombia, where I am helping to develop a women’s shelter. Mission work should be a long-term partnership. If your church is planning to start a mission program, don’t just scatter your seed here and there. Prayerfully invest in a few places and let the Holy Spirit connect you with those people for a lifetime.

9. Misrepresenting your work. We laugh about the preacher who was “evangelastically speaking” about the crowds he attracted in Uganda. But exaggeration is lying. There is nothing more obnoxious than a Christian who inflates statistics to draw attention or raise funds. If you build your ministry on half-truths you will have cracks in your foundation. Be honest, be accountable and tell the truth.

10. Focusing on numbers. There is huge pressure in missionary work to prove our effectiveness by counting heads. But God’s kingdom is not about crowds—it is about making disciples (see Matt. 28:19-20). Some of my most powerful moments on the mission field were in small meetings where God changed a few lives forever—and then those people changed more lives. I’m not impressed when someone says 5,000 people prayed to receive Jesus. I want to know if those converts were followed-up and plugged into churches for discipleship.

I hope you will become more passionate about taking the message of Christ to the world. But as you pack your bags for your mission trip, leave your unneeded “baggage” at home and go with a humble, teachable heart.

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Breaking Free from the Spirit of Inferiority

I grew up in the South, where football is a religion. Every boy I knew dreamed of becoming a star quarterback. When my relatives gathered for meals, the conversation usually revolved around whether Auburn would beat Alabama this year.

I felt like sliding under my chair during those moments. I was not a football player—and there was no chance of me becoming one. I didn’t have big enough biceps to throw a 50-yard pass, and I didn’t have the frame to tackle a 200-pound guy. I felt like a total wimp. I assumed that when God handed out physical talents, I was stuck at the back of the line.

Thankfully my lack of athletic skills didn’t cripple me entirely. I had other abilities, like writing—and I ended up being the editor of my high school yearbook. But a cloud of inferiority followed me everywhere. No matter how successful I was in other areas, I branded myself a failure because I didn’t measure up as an athlete.

It was only though the power of the Holy Spirit that I eventually overcame this painful sense of disqualification. But now I meet people every day who are slaves of inferiority. Some feel intellectually challenged; some struggle with a physical disability; others are terrified of speaking publicly because they are insecure about their appearance or weight. Others were bullied or abused, and the cruel words they heard on a playground or at the dinner table were stamped into their brains with a hot iron.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to describe your positive qualities? Are you haunted by labels that were pinned on you by parents, siblings, teachers or classmates? Were you ever called “stupid,” “fatso,” “dunce,” “dork,” “lazy,” “slut,” “queer” or the N-word? Words are like knives, and they can leave permanent scars. If inferiority is hindering you in your relationship with God and others, consider taking this journey toward healing:

1. Let God change your self-image. The Bible is full of stories of insecure people who ended up doing heroic things. God loves to use “powerless” people “to shame those who are powerful” (1 Cor. 1:27, NLT). Sarah was barren, yet God called her a mother of nations. Moses was a stutterer, yet God called him to confront Pharaoh. David was an embarrassment to his father before he became a king. If you feel inferior, you are in good company!

2. Bury the lies you’ve believed. False beliefs will not collapse without a fight. You must identify the lies you believe about yourself, and then renounce them. This is not something you can do alone; you must be willing to talk about your inferiority with a counselor, a pastor or trusted friends.

When I was in my 20s, I asked two friends to pray with me because I felt so inferior. This deep insecurity made me shy and fearful, but I wanted to be confident so that I could grow spiritually and discover my calling. That prayer meeting put me on a path toward full-time ministry that has taken me to 30 nations! I would have stayed in my prison of insecurity if those men had not helped me see that God had something important for me to do with my life.

3. Confess your new identity. Gideon felt like a weakling when the angel of the Lord came to him and announced: “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior!” (Judges 6:12). At that point, Gideon was looking around and wondering, Who is this guy talking to? He did not believe he was a warrior! Yet God redefined Gideon’s identity and eventually changed his name to Jerubbaal, which means (my paraphrase) “The devil is in trouble.”

But it is not enough to simply believe in your heart that you are God’s chosen instrument. You must boldly proclaim who you are now. Joel 3:10 declares: “Let the weak say, ‘I am a mighty man.'” You must say it! If you were told you are a failure, say: “I am more than a conqueror.” If you were told that you are fat and ugly, say: “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is for me” (Song 7:10). And keep saying it until you believe it!

4. Stop comparing yourself with others. At the core of sinful human nature is the desire to have what isn’t ours. That’s why one of the commandments God gave Moses was “Do not covet” (Ex. 20:17). We live in a culture that celebrates perfect beauty, athleticism, celebrity and wealth—and our media constantly reminds us of what we don’t have by bombarding us with images (actually they are idolsof “perfect” people. Don’t let those idols control you!

The media doesn’t set the standard for us—God does. Instead of focusing on what you aren’t, celebrate who God made you to be. If I had spent my life lamenting the fact that I couldn’t make the football team, I would have never discovered the other talents God gave me.

5. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. You can never overcome mental strongholds of worthlessness and inferiority in your own strength. It is the Holy Spirit who changes us. Just as He convicts us of sin and purifies our motives, He also strips away the lies we have believed about ourselves and heals us from the words and experiences that crippled us. Ask Him to fill you so full that those lies can’t hang around any longer.

If inferiority has gripped your soul, you can say this prayer now: “Lord, You are more powerful than any label that has ever been put on me. I renounce the lies that I have believed about myself. I am not weak; I am strong in You. I am not stupid; I have Your wisdom. I am not worthless; You died on the cross to redeem me. Thank You that because I am in Christ, I am a new creation. I am not bound by my old identity—I have a new identity in Jesus. Help me to see myself the way You see me—as Your beloved child and as a powerful, anointed, gifted disciple. Amen.

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How to Guard Your Heart from Bitterness

Recently a friend of mine hurt me deeply. I felt betrayed and disrespected. I tried to pretend the insult was no big deal, but inside I was seething. I can always tell when resentment has invaded my life because I start obsessing about the pain. When I went to bed that evening, I literally felt sore. All I could think about was retaliation.

But just before falling asleep I mouthed a prayer. I meant what I said, even though my feelings begged me to retract the words. I prayed: “Lord, help me to forgive _____.” Then, during the night I dreamed that I was enjoying a friendly conversation with this person. When I woke up, it felt as if we had really been talking!

It was a miracle. I realized the dream was God’s way of softening my heart and taking out the offense. The Lord gave me the grace to forgive.

Perhaps you’ve been insulted, overlooked, stabbed in the back or mistreated—and now bitterness is poisoning your soul. Don’t let it spread any further. You can nip your offense in the bud by following these guidelines:

1. Don’t nurse your grudge. It feels good to our flesh when we replay an offense in our minds and then fantasize about hurting the other person. But if you star in and direct this dramatic movie in your head, you are going to be making sequels for months and years until bitterness makes you sick. Pull the plug on the whole production now.

2. Let go of all revenge. C.S. Lewis said: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” No matter how a person offends you, be humble enough to recognize that you’ve probably done the same thing to someone else before. Quit sharpening your knives. You will be tempted to think about hurting the person, but remember that those knives are hurting you worse than anyone else.

3. Don’t spread your bitterness. Sometimes you may need to vent to a close friend about what happened, but this isn’t so you can ruin the reputation of the person who hurt you. If you share your pain with someone because you need advice, don’t seek sympathy or go to those who have animosity toward the person who hurt you. That’s like mixing toxic chemicals! Instead, go to mentors or friends who are mature enough to tell you the truth. You may feel mistreated, but the speck in your brother’s eye may actually be a log in yours. A true friend will tell you that you are overreacting or being unreasonable.

4. Pray for good things to happen to the person who hurt you. Jesus urged His disciples to love and pray for their persecutors (Matt. 5:44). That’s a foreign concept in this age when we unfriend people on Facebook just because they forgot to invite us to a party. Calm down, let go of your petty outrage and ask God to bless the person who offended you. Forgiving prayer will feel like a warm salve applied to your wound.

5. Reach out and expect to repair the relationship. Jesus places a high priority on reconciliation. He wants us to get along. If you are praying and you remember that someone has something against you, Jesus said, “First be reconciled to your brother” (Matt. 5:24). On the flip side, He said if someone has sinned against you, “go and reprove him” (Matt. 18:15).

In both cases Jesus commanded us to confront. And confrontation is never easy. We’d rather just avoid each other. We’d rather “bury our hatchets,” pretending that our nasty attitude is gone just because it’s well-hidden under our Sunday morning smiles. But true forgiveness is not burying a hatchet while we still hate a person inwardly; forgiveness requires us to surrender the hatchet to Jesus.

6. Ask for God’s forgiving love to fill your heart. One of my favorite preachers, Corrie ten Boom, struggled to forgive the Nazis who beat her in the Ravensbrück prison camp. After the Germans surrendered, she met a former Nazi guard in the street, and he told her he had become a Christian. He reached out his hand and asked her for forgiveness. She couldn’t look at him.

But then Corrie remembered Romans 5:5, which says, “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” She realized that when we don’t have the capacity to forgive, God gives us the love. Jesus changed Corrie’s heart.

Corrie added: “God’s love is stronger than my hatred and unforgiveness. That same moment I was free. I could say, ‘Brother, give me your hand,’ and I shook hands with him, and it was as if I could feel God’s love streaming through my arms.”

Jesus didn’t promise a life without offenses. Hurt happens. But He provided the way to keep resentment from ruining our lives. As we enter this new year, make a conscious decision that you will embrace a life of miraculous forgiveness.

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6 Wrong Ways to Leave a Church

My friend “Stewart” (not his real name) is one of the friendliest pastors I know—and his wife is also an exemplary leader. But a few years ago, they began getting emails from an anonymous church member. The messages were severely critical and laced with threats. Then a small package arrived at the church. It was filled with a white powder.

Stewart called the police to be on the safe side—and the powder turned out to be yeast. The pastor and his wife learned firsthand that the ominous messages and the package came from a former member who was upset. The person’s odd behavior proved that some Christians don’t act like Christians when they decide to leave a church.

Many of my pastor friends have similar stories of people who leave churches in dramatic and inappropriate ways. They all recognize that this is one of the most serious occupational hazards of ministry. Pastors are going to feel rejected when people leave, even when God is leading those people to make an exit. But if you are directed by the Holy Spirit to leave a church, please do it the right way.

1. Don’t leave mad. If you are leaving because you are angry at the pastor or another member, you are proving your immaturity. Offense is never a reason to leave a church. Jesus told us to go to the person who offends us (Matt. 18:15). And Proverbs 19:11 says: “The discretion of a man defers his anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” If you break a relationship every time you are offended, you will never grow up. Even if you are called to leave a church, you should never hold a grudge. Have the courage to face your offense and disarm it.

2. Don’t leave and make threats. Some people get so angry, they want to hurt the church when they leave. They want the pastor to suffer. One man told a pastor I know that he hoped the church would go bankrupt after he stopped tithing to it. (Instead, God sent other people whose donations more than covered the lost income!) Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves.” Even if the pastor or church members are doing inappropriate things, it is not your job to punish them.

3. Don’t leave secretly. When I was a boy, my mother taught me to say: “I enjoyed my meal. May I be excused?” when I finished eating. I was not allowed to leave the table without this announcement. A similar rule applies to leaving a church. It’s rude to walk out with no explanation. Your pastor deserves to know why. You can write a letter, but it’s better to say it in person—and to include some words of thanks for the way the church has helped you in the past.

4. Don’t leave and talk about it on social media. Proverbs 6:19 says God hates the one who “sows discord among brethren.” Those are strong words! Some people actually think they are doing God’s work by badmouthing a pastor, but they are digging a ditch that they will soon fall into. Keep your judgments to yourself. Posting the details of your rant on Facebook only shows how petty and self-centered you are.

5. Don’t leave and try to take others with you. If God is calling you to switch churches, that’s fine. God will bless your transition if you do it in a healthy way. But if you try to stage a massive walkout, you are undermining God’s authority. Don’t allow the enemy to use you as an agent of division.

6. Don’t leave and stay away from church altogether. I have often heard people say they feel God is leading them to leave a church to go elsewhere. But then I find out, after three years, that “elsewhere” really meant “nowhere.” They quit church altogether! This is usually a sign of either deep disappointment or an unresolved conflict. You should never, ever give up on church. It is God’s family. No Christian should live in isolation.

Obviously there are times when we must leave a church. It happens because of job transfers, family issues, ministry preferences, driving distance and many other reasons. And some churches have unresolved problems that make them unhealthy—and God does not necessarily require us to stay there. The Holy Spirit is the one who directs us to the right congregation.

Good pastors know they cannot hold onto people in a possessive way. Healthy churches remind people that the exit door is unlocked, and that members are free to go as the Holy Spirit leads. Deuteronomy 28:6 says: “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” Pastors should bless people who leave—but members should leave in a respectful way that invites that blessing.

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6 Qualities of a True Covenant Friend

The Bible says Christians should experience deep connections with each other because we share the same indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, the Greek word for fellowship, as used in Acts 2:42, is koinonia, which implies intimate communion and selfless sharing.

Yet as I travel and meet Christians all over the country, I find that the church today is actually a very lonely place. Many people have experienced a total relationship shutdown. Some have walked through painful church splits, others have been betrayed by friends they trusted, and still others have closed their hearts entirely to avoid being hurt. As a result, koinonia becomes a fancy theological word for something they will never experience.

It’s as if we forgot how to have true friends. I’ve even met pastors who’ve told me they just can’t risk building friendships. So they live in isolation. They bear their own burdens. They get no encouragement. Some end up in depression. Something is wrong with this picture!

Recently the Holy Spirit drew me to study the friendship that developed between David and Jonathan during David’s early years. It is clear from the biblical record that God put Jonathan in David’s life at a crucial time in his journey to the throne. And if it were not for Jonathan’s covenant relationship with his friend, David would never have been able to overcome the obstacles he faced during the reign of King Saul.

The same is true for all of us. You will never achieve your maximum spiritual potential without the help of those key relationships God places around you. Yet in order to benefit from these friendships you must open your heart and take the risk of being a friend.

How can you move from being isolated to developing close friendships? Proverbs 18:24 says: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (NKJV). You can’t wait for a friend to reach out to you. Take the first step and be willing to break the stalemate. British preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Any man can selfishly desire to have a Jonathan; but he is on the right track who desires to find out a David to whom he can be a Jonathan.”

Here are six qualities I see in Jonathan that challenge me to be a better friend:

1. Jonathan nurtured a spiritual bond. After David killed Goliath and moved to Saul’s palace, the Bible says “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). This is the work of the Holy Spirit. All Christians should experience a sense of family connection, but there are certain friends you will feel deeply connected to because God is putting you in each other’s lives for a reason. Don’t resist this process. Let God knit you to people.

2. Jonathan showed sacrificial love. Jonathan loved David so much that he risked his life to help him fulfill his mission. Jonathan even dodged Saul’s spear in his effort to help his friend. He lived in the spirit of Jesus’ words about friendship: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The world says we should only care about our own success. But the best way to become more like Jesus is to help someone else succeed!

3. Jonathan always offered encouragement. When David was fleeing from Saul in the wilderness, Jonathan traveled to Horesh to cheer up his friend (1 Sam. 23:16). There were times in David’s life when he had to encourage himself, but in this case Jonathan was God’s instrument. We need each other! If you allow the Holy Spirit to speak life and hope through you, your words can propel your friends into their destiny.

4. Jonathan offered his friend protection. When Jonathan realized his father was plotting to kill David, he not only warned him of danger but he concocted a plan to deliver his friend (1 Sam. 19:1-4). Friends don’t let friends get massacred in spiritual warfare. If you see a friend making a foolish mistake, or if you sense the enemy is targeting him, God can use you to avert a disaster. Speak the truth in love.

5. Jonathan kept his friend’s pain confidential. David confided in his friend Jonathan, and in some cases he poured out his heart in frustration. At one point he said to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my iniquity?” (1 Sam. 20:1). When I’m going through a difficult trial, I sometimes just need to vent. And I have loyal friends who let me process my pain … and they don’t run and tell others else about my weakness. This is true friendship.

6. Jonathan harbored no jealousy. At one point in David’s journey, Jonathan realized his friend would one day be king of Israel. This was actually Jonathan’s inheritance, since he was Saul’s son, but he acknowledged that God had chosen David instead. So he gave David his royal robe, his armor and his weapons (see 1 Sam. 18:3-4). This is a beautiful picture of how we are to prefer and honor each other. Jealousy destroys friendship. If we have God’s love in our hearts, we will want our friends to surpass us.

If you’ve been hurt in previous relationships, break out of your isolation and ask God to heal your heart. Then choose to be a Jonathan to someone else.

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8 Reasons Why Watching Porn Is Just Plain Stupid

I have prayed for countless men who admit they struggle with porn. After we prayed together they got a level of victory over the habit, but some came back to me asking for more practical steps to freedom—because porn is assaulting us from all sides today.

My response: You must be ruthless. Paul told the Corinthians: “I discipline my body and make it my slave” (1 Cor. 9:27, NASB). You must ask God for the power to control your urges, and run every time you feel tempted. You should also consider that it’s really dumb to look at porn, for the following reasons:

1. Porn is a huge waste of time. A 2008 study of graduate students found that 48 percent of young adult males look at porn weekly, and some view it daily. The statistics for women aren’t as high, but numbers are rising. The problem is that the more porn you look at, the more you need—and porn addicts spend hours (and sometimes lots of money) looking for bigger thrills. You’d be a lot healthier if you spent that time exercising, studying or hanging out with friends. Or praying!

2. Porn imbeds images in your memory. Philippians 4:8 says: “Whatever is pure … dwell on these things.” A Christian who indulges in porn is filing thousands of unholy images in his or her brain. Those images will emerge during a conversation, during sleep or even during worship at church! Why would you want those movies showing in your brain every day?

3. Porn changes your view of sex and other people. Porn addicts begin to view people as body parts. And married men who are addicts often try to force their wives to engage in degrading acts they’ve seen in films or photos. I’ve counseled guys who find it difficult to enjoy married sex because it’s not as satisfying as the porn they consumed for years before marriage. Psychologists have proven that teenage boys who watch a lot of porn become much more sexually aggressive and assume girls want to be treated roughly.

4. Porn harms your sex life. Secular counselors have released countless studies proving that the human brain is “rewired” (in other words, damaged) by watching porn. The chemical dopamine is released when we feel sexual stimulation, but a porn addict needs higher and higher levels of this to be stimulated. He will search for more hard-core porn to satisfy the urge—and in some cases will experience erectile dysfunction because he can’t satisfy the need for a thrill.

5. Porn grieves the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (MEV). When you grieve someone he gets quiet. When a Christian makes sinful choices, the Lord does not condemn us but He will withdraw the sense of His presence so we become desperate for Him again. A mature Christian learns to avoid anything that offends the Holy Spirit.

6. Porn brings condemnation and shame. Many Christians go through life feeling spiritually defeated because guilt weighs them down. Romans 8:6 tells us: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (NASB). If you focus your attention on porn, you will live in a depressing spiritual rut. Get up, repent, receive forgiveness and learn to overcome your habit by trusting in His indwelling power. To find total healing you should admit your struggle to someone else (see James 5:16). Transparency brings freedom.

7. Porn is filthy. The Covenant Eyes ministry has reported that 66 percent of porn performers have herpes, and 7 percent have HIV. Porn is full of disease. It’s gross. James 1:21 says: “So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives” (NLT). The Greek word for “filth” (rhyparia) can mean “obscenity” or “moral defilement.” The next time you are tempted to look at a porn site, imagine yourself standing in a latrine, up to your neck in human waste. Don’t soak your soul in filth!

8. Porn will pull you into worse sexual sin. Never downplay the power of temptation. You may think you can “manage” your sin, but the truth is that porn is a beast. It is stronger than you are. It is a cruel taskmaster that will take control and make you do things you regret. I have counseled men who admitted to me that porn was their first step toward adultery.

If you are struggling to stay free from porn, tape this article to your computer screen and read it before logging on. You may even want to write the words “DON’T BE STUPID” at the top of this list to remind you that purity is still important in this pornographic world. Get a grip. Use self-control. Don’t let porn destroy your life—or your relationship with God.

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Let’s Trade Our Titles for True Humility

Last week when I was preaching in the nation of Iceland, I befriended three young foreign students from Africa who were visiting our conference near Reykjavik. I noticed these guys were sitting in the back of the auditorium, so I invited them to sit with me up front. They later admitted to me that I was the first preacher they’d ever met who greeted people before a service.

“In my country, most preachers come into the auditorium after the worship, and they don’t speak to anyone,” one of the brothers told me.

When I told these brothers they could call me Lee, they were shocked. They expected me to demand a long-winded ecclesiastical title.

I’m often asked if I have a title, and my answer doesn’t satisfy some people. I don’t consider myself a pastor because I travel so much. All kinds of labels have been pinned on me: reverend, prophet, apostle, even bishop.

Once I was introduced to a church as “Dr. Grady,” and I almost crawled under my seat. I only have a college degree. There are no letters after my name.

Today it seems we’ve developed a title fetish. For a while everyone in charismatic circles was becoming a bishop, and some were installed into this office with rings, robes and funny-looking hats. Then the same guys with the pointy hats started calling themselves apostles. Then the prophets got jealous and started calling themselves apostles too! I knew one lady who, not to be outdone, required people to call her “exalted prophetess.”

Now the latest fad is requiring church folks to address certain people as apostles. As in, “When apostle Holy Moly arrives, please only address him as, ‘apostle,’ and then make sure he is seated in a private room while his two ‘armor bearers,’ wearing dark glasses, guard his door.” I know of one popular preacher who sends his hosts a letter explaining that he must be called “apostle” anytime his name is used from the stage!

Some of these title-seekers have even invented an elaborate theology to go along with their ridiculous rule. They say you can’t receive the true anointing from a man of God if you don’t honor him with his right title.

Sounds so very oooh-oooh spiritual to the naive. But it’s charismatic garbage.

Jesus didn’t play this religious game, especially when he was around the grand poobahs of His day—the long-robed, nose-in-the-air scribes and Pharisees. After accusing them of loving the best seats in the synagogues, He pointed out that they loved to be called “Rabbi” by men (see Matt. 23:7).

Then He warned them: “But do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brothers … For he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:8,12).

People have quibbled over these words for centuries, insisting that pride is what Jesus was rebuking, not titles. I would agree that Jesus was going to the root sin. But He was also asking these guys if they’d be willing to ditch their labels and act like normal people.

When I was in China several years ago, I met some amazing leaders who had planted thousands of congregations. They had also spent a lot of time in jail for their faith, and they’d been beaten with iron rods for preaching the gospel. They were the bravest apostles I’ve ever met.

But when I asked them if they used “apostle” as a title, one guy said: “We believe in those roles in the church. But we prefer to call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister.'”

That settled the issue for me.

If these Chinese giants of the faith—and true apostles—don’t require to be addressed with titles, then Your Worshipful Grand Master Rev. Dr. Bishop Big Deal Jones who claims oversight of maybe four churches shouldn’t wear his ministry role around his neck like a tacky neon name badge.

If people can’t see the anointing on your life through your character, then don’t cheapen the gospel by wearing a title you don’t deserve.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t use reverend, minister or even bishop to identify their roles in the church. One of my mentors is a bishop, and he is one of the most humble men I know. But can we please dispense with the insecurity and the childish “I’m more important than you” appellations and get back to the simplicity of the gospel? Let’s get over ourselves!

Jesus is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace and the Apostle of our Confession. Yet when He came into this world, He laid aside His heavenly glory and took on the lowly name of Jesus. He wore no fancy robes. He demanded no titles. He had no “armor bearers.” He even bore His own cross until He was too weak to drag it to Calvary.

If we want to serve Jesus honorably, we must forsake our need for fame and cast our crowns at His feet.

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