It happened around Valentine’s Day, when loving couples are supposed to be choosing gifts for one another. Instead, many were reading—and sharing—Lee Grady’s Fire in My Bones column entitled “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry.” It went massively viral, shared nearly 2 million times on charismamag.com alone.
The question is, why?
As mentioned, Lee wrote the column the week of Valentine’s Day, so the timing may have had something to do with it. However, he had no idea 2 million people would read it and that nearly 1.5 million would share it.
I’ve known Lee for more than 30 years. I know he has a solid marriage. I know he mentors a lot of young men and that the subject of marriage often comes up. He’s definitely got God’s wisdom on the matter. But was it just his wisdom that caused the rush to share it far and wide?
At first my staff thought it had been picked up by secular sites in order to make fun of Christians. When it had been shared “only” 300,000 times, one of the editors emailed me and said, “I’m 90 percent sure it’s a secular site driving this, given the few comments on our own site. It’s been difficult to track the real source because it’s on FB.”
Now we’re not so sure. The comments on the site are almost all from Christians. It’s as if there is a deep desire from Christians who are so disappointed in people due to addictions, divorce, compromised standards and so forth that they resonate with a father figure like Lee telling women things their dad or pastor should have told them.
Why else would it be shared so many times on Facebook? People making fun don’t really share items at that level. If you missed the article, you can read it here.
Lee confirmed most reactions came from Facebook when I asked him about the reaction. “No secular outfits contacted me, but many Christian groups did,” he said. “Also, I got tons of private messages, mostly from women wanting advice because they had married some of the men I warned women not to marry!”
Lee got a lot of requests after the first article came out, and a week later, he wrote “8 Women Christian Men Should Never Marry.” That article also went viral, but at a lower velocity—only 230,000 shares.
So it’s your turn. Chime in. Tell us what you think. Did you learn anything? Is Lee wrong? Or maybe you can answer the question I tried to answer here: Why did an article on the type of men Christian women shouldn’t marry go viral with 2 million shares?.
I first met Steve Hill in the mid-1980s when he was raising money as an Assemblies of God missionary to Argentina. I have clear recollection because we cried in my office, talking about his passion for souls.
Today I’m tempted to weep for him after learning he died on Sunday after a long bout with cancer.
Actually, it’s a miracle he lived this long with the aggressive cancer he had. In the meantime, his life was a miracle, and he even had time to write a book called Spiritual Avalanche.
That book grew out of a dream about how ski patrol will trigger an avalanche when there’s danger of one happening naturally, killing unsuspecting skiers.
Steve called me one Saturday to tell me about the dream. He was so concerned with how the church is happily “playing church” while a cultural and spiritual avalanche is threatening to kill many spiritually. He was so passionate, he cried in the phone.
I urged him to write a blog post warning the church of the danger of the message of hypergrace, which he thought was a spiritual cop-out to cover sinful compromise.
The overwhelming response to that article led to Steve to write book by the same title. He wrote that book in spite of the excruciating pain of his cancer. We rushed it out a year ago.
Over the years, Steve and I became friends. I deeply respected his life of integrity and his deep commitment to winning souls. In heaven, there will be thousands of people there as a result of his witness and his short life.
He’s the evangelist who, on Fathers Day in 1995, preached at a little-known Assembly of God church in Pensacola, Fla., that started a revival. People would stand in line for hours just to get a seat. I attended many times, and we covered the Brownsville Revival extensively in Charisma. I once did an interview with him that aired on TBN, which you can see here.
Others will eulogize Steve better than I. My purpose is to tell you I’ve watched his life for three decades, admire the work he did and mourn his early demise. I don’t understand why the miracle healing we prayed for didn’t extend his life even more.
This is more personal to me since, in the past six weeks, I went through my own bout with cancer. Mine was caught early, and I haven’t made it public until now. I’ll write about my testimony after I’ve had time to process my own miracle better.
For now, I mourn the loss of my friend. Yet I rejoice for his life and thank God for the impact for eternity he made. I pray God will raise up many other Steve Hills to fill the enormous void his death leaves for us in the Spirit-filled church.
Steve Strang is the founder and publisher of Charisma. Follow him on Twitter at @sstrang or Facebook (stephenestrang).
You might think that, after all these years, I’d know more about leadership than I do. But, when I attended Dr. Mark Rutland’s National Institute on Christian Leadership a couple of years ago, I found it very beneficial in developing my own leadership skills.
Not only is Dr. Rutland a great storyteller and very entertaining, but he also helped me to connect the dots in a way that helped me to solve some huge issues I faced in our organization. The course works at a high level—so much so that for those who choose to continue their education toward a seminary degree, it counts for the first of three years of that degree. It’s been so well received that it’s been expanded to include duplicate courses in Dallas and Atlanta.
The first of the three sessions of NICL is being hosted in our Charisma Media headquarters on Feb. 3-5. There is still time to register. The course helped me immensely and many others who have also become raging fans.
There are few more savvy about the concept of leadership than Dr. Rutland. After serving as senior pastor at Calvary Assembly Church in Winter Park, Fla., he took over as president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., and brought success to an institution that was struggling financially. He also served as the third president of Oral Roberts University from 2009 to 2013.
So I was delighted when I came across this blog on leadership by Dr. Rutland in which he mentions the NICL, an organization he founded. You will be blessed when you read it and even more blessed if you sign up for the four NICL sessions on leadership.
Decision Making: From Referee to CEO
Dr. Mark Rutland
One way of stating the leader/manager’s job description is actually “senior decision maker.” I think that among the biggest and most disconcerting of all the surprises that I had in moving, lo these many years ago, into the senior executive role was the constant barrage of decisions that demanded an answer:
What do you want to do about … ? When should we … ? How do you want … ?
Volley after volley of questions, small and consequential, lobbed into my lap like mortars, became at times excruciatingly oppressive. This was not entirely new to me. I had first experienced some of the challenges of decision making as a leader in sports, first as a player, then as a coach and finally, and most illuminating of all, as a referee.
I learned some great lessons in that arena. First, there is rapid analysis and high-speed decision-making. When you crouch down in that huddle and those other guys look to you to call a play, getting lots of feedback and taking time for research is not an option. Just call something. Make the best decision you can and go for it. That was my job as a quarterback then. Few if any plays were sent in from the bench in those days and the exotic hand signals so widely employed nowadays had not yet become the fashion. It was largely on the quarterback. I was often the youngest and smallest guy in the huddle. I had to think quickly. What is the situation? What is the best thing to do? Call the play and run it. In many ways that experience was a great advantage in later situations of leadership.
As a basketball referee, that instant analysis-response mechanism came in handy. Watch what is happening, decide what to call and blow the whistle. It’s simple, hard, fast and very public. The stands were filled with kibitzers all certain they could see better from the bleachers than you could right down on the court. And, half of them were angry at you all the time. Again, it’s great preparation for later leadership.
As I moved from referee to executive, I discovered some of those very skills, though sometimes still useful, were just as often counterproductive. I found I needed to approach decision making as a CEO with a somewhat different mindset. Here are few of the tools I found useful as an executive decision maker.
1. Training my staff to discern which decisions can appropriately be made at their level without my stamp on it. This is a bit of a dance and the process may not always be smooth. I do know this. The executive who wants an effective executive staff has to have a pretty high tolerance for some mistakes in the learning process. After a mix up, you teach. Look, I don’t need you to buy a surplus aircraft carrier without my approval. Then again, hey, I don’t want you to call me about paper clips. PLEASE! Just buy them. Some objective benchmarks will help, such as dollar thresholds, PO’s, etc., but hiring people with good judgment and empowering them to make decisions is even more important.
2. Learning to ask questions. You do not have to be the smartest guy on your leadership team. In fact, if you are, you probably haven’t hired “up” as you should have. On the other hand you have to know how to ask, whom to ask, and when to ask. Get the right people in the room. Keep pressing for a better understanding. What else do I need to know? Who has a different view on this? Is there something I’m not thinking of? These are valuable questions and ones that the true servant-leader can ask without embarrassment. The arrogant and insecure leader, terrified that anyone in the room might see that he doesn’t know everything, will discover too late that they knew it all along.
3. Taking responsibility. When it comes right to the moment of the decision, as the kids say, “Ok, you de man” (or woman as the case may be). Information gathered, team analysis made, questions asked—all that—still at the end somebody calls the play. That’s you, the executive decision-maker. Approach the moment with some humility. Tell your team that if you’re wrong you will admit it and take the blame. If you are right you will pass praise along to them. It’s ok for you to be wrong occasionally. Everybody knows you’re not infallible. They mostly want to know you know that. They also want to know you will be loyal to them and share the spotlight when the applause starts.
4. Cultivating a thick hide. This is the place where my years as a referee helped the most. There is no decision, absolutely no decision that will be universally endorsed by all your various constituencies. If you cannot stand the harsh criticism of uninformed armchair quarterbacks, stay out of executive leadership. As a referee I had to make instant decisions while being watched by huge, angry crowds and stand by them while mockery and derision rained down from the stands. You will never come to the place where none of it ever hurts. You can cultivate a hide thick enough to endure most of it with a sense of humor.
After I left an institution where we enjoyed no small success, a mid-level employee was promoted by my successor. He was quoted in the newspaper as saying something to the effect of, “It’s nice to be on team that makes decisions together. Rutland didn’t ask; he just made the decisions on his own.” That really hurt, at first. Then I realized, that’s how it felt to him. I did ask, of course. I just didn’t ask him. I had a very effective executive team that made quality decisions together for years. He just was not a part of it. Oh, well, you gotta laugh. What would be the use in defending against such an accusation? None.
For a much more exhaustive treatment of decision making, including risk analysis, the problem of over-securing, and many other aspects of this challenging executive discipline, please consider joining me for the National Institute of Christian Leadership in 2014. For information and to register please visitTheNICL.com.
Here you will find a wealth of information on all of our venues in 2014, everything pertaining to costs, scholarship opportunities and dates. You can also call Daniel Prince at 407.333.7106 with any and all questions. Don’t miss your chance to register today.
New Year’s Day is a good time to do something most of us never do—set some goals. Most of the time we call them “New Year’s Resolutions” and we abandon them within a few weeks. Yet I believe God wants us to do more than that. We must determine God’s purpose for our life and for this New Year.
I’ve done this for nearly four decades by setting long-range and short-range goals. Maybe you can learn from my experience in writing goals and letting God use that to set priorities and to accomplish more than you would without them.
Most people spend more time planning their annual vacations than they do planning their lives. My observation is that even most believers drift along in life with no clear direction. It’s been documented that the people who actually write down and work on the goals they set are the most successful in life. I believe they are usually the happiest too, because they have a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Myles Munroe believes that God wants us to become people who have plans. He believes that plans are documented imagination. If we can document an imagination, we’ve developed a plan for action.
“If you are having real problems in your life, you probably don’t have a piece of paper on which you have documented your plans for the next five years,” he says. “You’re just living from day to day in the absence of a concrete, documented plan. You’ve been dealing with the same issues and habits and struggles for years. You slide forward a little only to slide backward again. Whenever things get hard, you start reminiscing about ‘the good old days’ and fall back into habits you had conquered. Progress requires a plan of action. Ideas must be put down if they are to influence the way you live.”
It’s important to know how to set goals.
Are your goals written down? Do other people know about them? Does your spouse? Do your friends?
Begin with general goals. I set written goals every week. In the “notes” portion of my iPhone, I have goals for the year—spiritual, family, physical, professional.
Break your general goals down into specific daily tasks. Mine are written in my iPhone so that I have them with me wherever I go. Each month I make the general goals specific and break them down to daily tasks. I probably only finish 80 percent of them because as I complete them, I set more.
The times I get away from fulfilling my goals are the times when I drift. Goals give me a sense of direction, boundaries and priorities.
Set some life goals. I like to talk with people about theirs. One of my favorite ways to relax is to get a bite to eat with a friend and ask them about their goals. I might ask how much money they want to make in five years, or what career path they want to take. I’ll ask what they want people to say in their obituary.
Most people have an opinion about these things, but few actually have a plan.
Establish a personal mission statement. Many people go through a difficult mid-life period, which may rob them of goals or make them feel as if what they have achieved is ephemeral. Patrick Morley, author ofThe Man in the Mirror, says that midlife is like a lake.
“Early in our lives we run swift like a river, but shallow. As we put years behind us, though, we deepen. Then one day, we enter the opened jaws of midlife,” Morley says. “Where once we felt direction and velocity, suddenly we find ourselves swirling about, sometimes aimlessly, or so it seems. Each of us, like individual droplets of water, will take a different path through this part of the journey. For some of us it will only be a slowdown. Others will feel forgotten and abandoned by the father of the river. Some, unable to see where the waters converge and on again grow strong, will despair.”
Morley’s crisis started at 36. He says that it can occur well into your mid-50s. (Remember, in our diverse culture there is no singular mid-life experience anymore). “You come to a point that you feel somehow imbalanced—like something is missing,” he says, “like it’s not enough. All the years of pressure deadlines have taken a toll. You have discovered a vacuum in your soul for meaning, beauty, and quiet.”
He recommends writing a life mission statement that includes four elements:
1. A life purpose: Why you exist
2. A calling: What you do
3. A vision or mental picture of what you want to happen
4. A mission: How you will go about it
Morley takes us full cycle through the birth of one vision, the implementing of that vision, the setting of goals to attain it, the commitment to a personal mission statement and on to the birth of a new vision that is greater than the first.
“A new vision must spring up from a foundation of gratitude for what God has already done to use us and make us useful,” Morley says. “The motivation cannot merely be wanderlust; not more for the sake of more. Rather, one chapter has closed and another beckons to be opened. A vision is a goal—a big one. Visions are not the work of today or tomorrow or even next month. Rather, a vision has a longer term.”
He reminds us that visions rarely turn out exactly as planned. The apostle Paul had the vision of going to Jerusalem and then to Rome. He didn’t consider that he would make those visits as a prisoner, but that’s how it came about. Often, God must delay the fulfilling of a vision or desire until He has prepared us to be people who can handle it with grace and humility. It is not God’s nature to give us greater visions and accomplishments if they work to our destruction. Instead, God allows us to be hammered into the shape of a vessel that can gracefully contain the vision.
What God-inspired goals do you have for your life? Are you a scientist or doctor who can set a goal of finding a cure for a disease? Are you an entrepreneur who can pledge to give several million dollars to a credible missions organization? Are you a board member or pastor who can start a program for the poor in your city, or network churches to meet the need?
What would do you if there were no boundaries on your imagination or budget?
If you haven’t had big goals and dreams before now, I pray you will learn to set goals for 2014 and give them deadlines. Keep in mind that when you stand before the Lord, He will hold you accountable for the talents, resources and dreams He bestowed upon you. You stand to lose nothing by going for God’s highest plan for you. On the day when He says to you, “Well done, you good and faithful servant,” you will know that you attempted and accomplished much for your Savior.
Please leave your comments. Do you agree with me? Did I motivate you to set some goals? What is a goal you achieved because you wrote it down? What are the biggest things you hope to accomplish in 2014?.
Christmas is a time for memories. I always enjoy looking back over the December issues of Charismaand re-reading all of my Christmas-related columns.
Some had to do with Christmas customs; others were about the culture wars to take Christout of Christmas. Some years, I showed pictures of my staff or my young family and shared my own Christmas memories.
Every couple of years, starting in 1984, I’d urge readers—much as I am now—to do what my wife, Joy, and I have done for years: give a tithe of what we spend at Christmas to the poor.
This was etched in my mind as a child when one Christmas my parents asked my brother, sister and me to pick a gift from the many we’d received and give it to a family in our church that didn’t have much. I don’t remember the details, but I think the father was out of work. In fact, I can’t recall what I gave—but I do remember going to their house to give them our gifts and how happy they seemed.
Christmas is about giving. It’s when God gave His Son. And didn’t the tradition of gift-giving originate with the magi, who brought gifts to the Christ child?
Yet Christmas has become an orgy of consumer spending. Many retailers make most of their annual profit at Christmas time. Even as believers, we tend to get caught up in the world’s values of buying gifts. Usually our purchases are for loved ones who already probably have much more than they need.
The antidote, I believe, is to be proactive, to consciously give to the poor and to encourage others to do the same. When I first urged Charisma readers in 1984, and in many December issues since then, to give to worthwhile ministries at Christmas, it was because I believe that in giving to “the least of these My brethren,” as Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, you’re giving to Christ Himself.
A practical suggestion on how to do this is to give a tithe of what you spend on others. For instance, if you spend $1,000 at Christmas on gifts, determine you’ll give $100. My family does this. Over the years we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it through Christian Life Missions, our nonprofit partner. If every reader of Charisma gave only $5, it would total more than $1 million this year.
There are many ministries or needs you can give to. It doesn’t matter so much whom you give to but that you give and do it as unto the Lord. We believe it will make all the difference in the way you celebrate Christ’s birth this year.
From all of us at Charisma, a very merry and blessed Christmas to everyone and a happy New Year!
Paul Crouch Sr. passed away last Saturday, about the time my plane was taking off from Paris. By the time I landed in the U.S., my cell phone was full of text messages from friends asking if I’d heard the news.
I knew Paul was pretty sick. I had tried to visit him a couple of years ago when I was in Los Angeles, but a member of his family said he didn’t feel good and didn’t want me to see him so sick. Then he rallied and was much better for a couple of years. Recently he was put back in the hospital. And when the Los Angeles Times called me a month ago to be interviewed for his obituary, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I heard the news he’d passed away.
Because I’d known Crouch for so many years, I was able to explain to the Times reporter (who didn’t seem to know much about him) how he had a humble upbringing, not a lot of education regarding broadcasting and not much money. Yet he had a vision to grow TBN, and he was one of the most tenacious men I’ve ever met.
I told her stories of traveling with Paul to visit Enlace—TBN’s Spanish network in Costa Rica—and then flying to meet with the Nicaraguan president to negotiate opening a station for TBN in that war-torn country. I told the reporter of the time I once had to negotiate with Paul. It was so intense that I ended up with a headache and remembered thinking I had just negotiated with the very best.
Anyone who knew him well knew he was a shrewd businessman and was able to juggle many things at the same time. Running a huge, multimillion-dollar broadcasting empire required him to handle an awful lot of details. For example, when TBN made an ad buy in one of our magazines, I knew it had to meet with his approval.
The Times didn’t tell any of my anecdotes. Instead they quoted me only on this: “He has created an enormous platform for many ministries to do what he says is very important to him—that is, to spread the gospel not only in this country but around the world.”
I truly believe that.
I said much the same thing to one of the local television news channels that asked to interview me since they couldn’t get anyone from TBN or the Holy Land Experience to give a comment. (The Holy Land Experience is in Orlando, where I live, and TBN owns a station here.) I told them the same thing—that Paul Crouch was a visionary and that he was determined to build TBN and to spread the gospel.
Over the years, I related to Paul in many ways. I interviewed him for an article in Charisma 25 years ago. He interviewed me on the Praise the Lord program several times.
For three years, we had a program on TBN called Charisma Now. While I mostly interacted with his wife, Jan, who headed up all programming, I had a lot of dealings with Paul. (Doing a TV program was an interesting experience, and ours was one of their top 10 programs, measured by response. But since we are not a nonprofit ministry that collects donations, and since TBN doesn’t let you sell anything on the air—they say the program becomes an infomercial, which they don’t allow—in the end we couldn’t find a financial model that worked for us. Plus, I had to realize that journalism was my calling, not broadcasting on TBN.)
Over the years, I’ve become a friend to his two sons, Paul Jr. and Matt. Each is brilliant in his own way. And their mother, Jan, as controversial as she may be, is brilliant in her own way. This is a unique family with a unique calling that has left an imprint on Christianity not only in this nation but around the world.
Like me, the Crouches grew up in the Assemblies of God. Like me, they started with very little and had to believe God to see the vision become a reality. But the comparison stops there. I can’t compare my vision to Paul’s. If I do, mine’s small and his was huge. Even though I have my detractors, I’m not nearly as controversial. Maybe that’s because I’ve spent most of my career reporting mostly to the church on what God is doing rather than sharing those things on camera to the entire world.
I believe you can measure a man by the size of his vision. If that is so, then Paul Crouch is one of the giants of our generation. Sure, he had detractors. He made mistakes. But knowing him all those years, I believe he was sincere—and had he not been such a stubborn German (as he used to like to call himself), then TBN would have died in the early days.
I thank God for Paul Crouch and his life and the legacy he leaves. I believe he was welcomed into heaven by the Lord saying to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In spite of the problems we face in our nation regarding the economy, religious liberty and increasing godlessness, we still have much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, a wonderful wife, good health and a wonderful year of growth and influence through books such as The Harbinger. I know you’ll take time, as I do, to thank God for His many blessings.
It’s also a good time to be reminded of how many problems there were in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln told the country it should put aside a day to thank God for His blessings. Enjoy reading his own words in his proclamation dated Oct. 3, 1863:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
“In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
“Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”
My sixth trip to Israel, which ended Monday, proved to be the most enjoyable I’ve had. It was full of surprises as I toured with Perry Stone from Dan on the Lebanese border in the north to the Dead Sea in the south.
If you read my previous Strang Report, you know I flew in early to meet with Christian and Jewish leaders. Prior to leaving, the agreement with Iran was announced—which greatly upset the Israelis. I interviewed Perry Stone on the prophetic significance of that news, which you can read here.
It was a wonderful tour with many new experiences as I traveled with my wife, Joy, and Tessie DeVore, the executive vice president of our book group, and her husband, David. Since I had been to Israel five other times and already had seen many sites, I thought I knew what to expect. But with every day came new experiences and many surprises.
I hosted a small tour to Israel back in the 1980s. It was mostly a tour of Catholic churches and Israeli museums. I also spent a lot of time on that trip in the Hadassah hospital since one of the ladies on my tour broke her leg! By contrast, my trip this year was about places in the Bible that have been excavated or are much as they were when the Bible was written—instead of covered with Byzantine-era churches.
It’s almost humorous that in some places, two churches will claim to be the real site of a biblical event—as is the case about the place in Nazareth where the angel appeared to Mary.
I don’t have space to give a detailed account of every stop. We made five or six stops every day for seven days! Although I did try to post something on Facebook at every stop (you can “like” me onfacebook.com/stephenestrang). Here’s what I enjoyed most:
I was fascinated seeing the ruins of Ancient Greek-Roman culture at places like Banias, where there was a temple to the half-man, half-goat Greek god Pan (where we get the words panic andpandemonium) at what the Bible calls Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?”
The recently discovered ruins of Beit She’an, created by Alexander the Great, reminded me of what I saw in Pompeii, Italy. Our guide told us homosexuality flourished with other pagan behavior in Jesus’ day alongside Orthodox Judaism. I had never seen the parallel in Jesus’ day and the early church in how they existed side by side with gross paganism as similar to the new secular paganism we see in our own society that is often at odds with the biblical standards we value.
I enjoyed walking the extensive tunnels along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. These weren’t open when I first came in 1979 with Jamie Buckingham. Back then, however, we were allowed to go in some digs on the south end of the temple that had just begun. To go back last week and see what’s been done since then was astounding to me.
The tunnel that was dug many feet deep at Megiddo through solid rock to a spring to save the city during a siege was unbelievable engineering for ancient times. I enjoyed walking through them, even though it was exhausting exercise. And to think this is the prophesied site of the Battle of Armageddon!
I didn’t expect to be so impressed with the digs at Tel Dan that show the oldest city gates in the world. Certainly Abraham stopped here on his way from Haran, north of there, to the Promised Land. It was near here that God made His covenant with Abraham. It’s also the headwaters of the Jordan. In fact, the name Jordan means “out of Dan.” And since we were also at Beer Sheva in the Judean Desert, it gave new meaning to the biblical phrase “from Dan to Beer Sheva,” describing the extent of the country, like we might say “from Maine to California.” Many such expressions come alive when you visit the land of the Bible.
The new digs at Migdal, the home of Mary Magdalene on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, were only begun in 2009. Archeologists found a first-century synagogue where undoubtedly Jesus taught very close to Nazareth, where He was born, and Capernaum, His home as an adult. They also found a first-century carving of a menorah—one of only four found in Israel, our guide told us. And they found mikvas, the ritual baths the Jews used, which was the pattern for our baptismal tanks we use in churches today.
The newly discovered Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed the blind man by putting mud on his eyes and telling him to wash in the pool, was discovered by accident only 10 years ago. Another place had been assumed to be the Pool of Siloam until then. It meant a lot to me to visit there, since our health book imprint for Charisma House is called Siloam.
I enjoyed the re-enactments of life in biblical times, especially at Genesis Land near Beer Sheva, where Abraham lived. In a desert setting in what is called the West Bank, there are big tents set up somewhat like the time of Abraham, and an actor playing Abraham describes what life was like while we sat in the cool of the tent and ate dates and apricots. I even had my first camel ride back to the bus!
Later, in the modern city of Nazareth, the YMCA has recreated Nazareth village to represent what it was like in the day of Jesus. This makes it easy to visualize life back then—watching a woman spin wool into yarn, seeing a man making wooden utensils like Joseph must have done. We also learned about agriculture and animal husbandry in the time of Christ. A man playing a shepherd even called a flock of sheep with an odd clucking sound, and the sheep came running! I had never seen a shepherd caring for sheep up close.
My first trip to Israel in 1979 was to the Sinai Peninsula to climb Mount Sinai with Jamie Buckingham. We lived in the desert for nine nights without even the convenience of outhouses! That helped me understand what life is like for the Bedouins who still live in the area. We also swam in the waterfalls at En Gedi, just off the Dead Sea!
In the process of that trip with Jamie, I didn’t experience what most tourists or pilgrims experience. Three other trips have been to attend conferences. So this time, it was important to me to experience things I had never experienced. One example is swimming in the Dead Sea, which was a weird experience, due to it being impossible to sink in it. On a more spiritual note, I decided to be baptized in the Jordan River. I feel my baptism at age 8 is still valid, and I avoided being baptized when I was at the Jordan before. But this time, I understood it was simply a reaffirmation of my following Christ in baptism.
What else can I say? I left out visiting the Mount of Olives and the Upper Room, the Jezreel Valley, Jericho, the oldest city on earth or Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem. Or did I mention the 2,000 year old boat preserved in mud in the Sea of Galilee and now preserved and on display? We visited kibbutzim, where strategic battles were fought for Israel’s independence and where the output for agriculture is astounding. We saw dairy cows that give much more milk than cows anywhere else in the world. One of the reasons is the Israelis found the cows give more milk if they listen to classical music!
Listening to Perry Stone teach was a highlight too. He did nearly 20 telecasts on location. Each was different, and the insights were incredible. Each one seemed better than the one before. When it comes to understanding Bible prophecy, insights from the Bible or interesting customs of the day that help us understand what the Bible means, Perry is without equal. Be sure to check out his website to see when these telecasts are airing on Manna-Fest in the next year.
There were also humorous moments. We had a lot of fun joking around with the tour guides and the others on the trip. That’s part of the experience of visiting the Holy Land! And they had fun when, in Bethlehem, our host presented me with a special white goat meat no one else would eat. I enjoyed it and then realized at home we call it “Rocky Mountain oysters.” Another time they presented me with veal tongue. Not bad tasting.
I’m going home feeling full, and it’s more than all the food they fed us. I feel I understand the land of the Bible. I felt my times of prayer and Bible study last week were significant. And I came away feeling more of a connection with the Israelis, whom I so admire.
But don’t take my word for it. Decide to visit Israel. The touring company tried to persuade me to try taking another tour after the disastrous experience I had in the 1980s. Stayed tuned. Maybe I will someday.
Prophetic minister Perry Stone, in Israel for an upcoming telecast when Iran struck a historic deal Sunday with six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program, sees prophetic significance in the deal with potential negative impact on the United States.
“My concern is that when America pressures Israel in a negative manner, within 24 hours our weather pattern becomes dangerous, which biblically can be a sign of God’s disfavor,” Stone says. “This has been traced back for years. That’s the thing that we have to be concerned about—our own future as a nation, or our favor with God as a nation, by not supporting people of the covenant.”
However, the evangelist says this situation “could be extremely serious for Israel within the next six months to a year, especially by the fact that everyone [in the Middle East] in intelligence knows that Iran wants nuclear weapons, and once they get them, the whole game changes in the Middle East.”
When asked how the weekend’s agreement fits into end-times prophecy from a biblical point of view, Stone said, “In Ezekiel, the war of Gog and Magog, Persia is involved in that war. I’ve read it very carefully, and it looks as though there’s a pre-war that happens. God turns the Persians back and later puts a hook in their jaw and brings them down on the mountains of Israel.
“In my personal opinion, there are going to be two conflicts—one between the Persians and the Israelis at some point, militarily, whether there’s an air strike of some kind or something similar; and somewhere down the road, there will be retaliation among the Persians with the coalition of Islamic nations mentioned in Ezekiel that will try to come against Israel. But according to the prophet, Israel will win that battle. That’s how I’m looking at this.”
Stone had been in Israel a week when the agreement was announced last weekend. He says the Israelis he talked to are “extremely upset” with the Obama administration.
“They are very upset with President Obama,” he says, “and they are coming out and saying that if you let this go and let the Iranians be unrestrained in their nuclear program, the United States in the future will pay with a nuclear attack on American soil by Islamic radicals. They are publicly coming out and saying this: ‘Don’t blame us when this happens.’”
Stone, director of one of America’s fastest-growing ministries, Voice of Evangelism, says he is not predicting an attack on U.S. soil, only that it could happen with a future Iranian regime using nuclear weapons.
Stone says it is difficult to say what he thinks Obama should have done but notes, “When it comes to the nuclear threat, there has to be a total removing of Iran’s developing and enriching centrifuges, or there has to be an attack on those facilities to set them back for at least several years. The problem is that the regime that is in power will use their weapons against the Saudis, against the Gulf States or against Israel in the very near future.”
But Stone adds that he is not afraid of Israel’s ability to defend itself.
“Suddenly,” he continues, “everyone around them will want a nuclear weapon to defend themselves from the nuclear weapon of their enemies. You’ll have the whole Middle East being nuclear, and that’s the most dangerous thing imaginable.”
The six-month deal includes “substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon,” President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised address.
The agreement, which came after days of marathon talks, “addresses Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, what to do about its existing enriched uranium stockpiles, the number and potential of its centrifuges and Tehran’s ‘ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium using the Arak reactor,’ according to a statement released by the White House,” CNN has reported.
In addition, Iran agreed to provide “increased transparency and intrusive monitoring of its nuclear program,” the White House statement says.
“What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement; it’s a historic mistake,” he told reporters Monday. “It’s not made the world a safer place. Like the agreement with North Korea in 2005, this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.”
Charisma Assistant Editor Gina Meeks contributed to this report.
JERUSALEM, Israel—My sixth trip to Israel makes me realize more than ever the importance of Bible-believing Christians standing with Israel.
Nearly all my adult life, I’ve supported Israel by raising money to help the Jewish people, sponsoring events that foster support for Israel with other leaders such as John Hagee or encouraging people to travel to Israel, as my wife and I are doing this week with our friend and author Perry Stone.
I flew to Israel early, before the tour, to network with key leaders in a whirlwind couple of days of nonstop meetings that will provide story ideas for our print magazines or online. As soon as I have time to digest all I saw and learned, I will write articles about the interesting people I met.
But now I want to give an overview of who I met and what I learned, much of which is important not only for me but for each of us.
1. We must stand with other Christian believers in the land.
I met with Dan Juster, one of the apostolic leaders that is also one of the deepest thinkers in the modern Messianic movement. He helped me understand spiritually what’s going on in the land and how believers need prayer and support.
I then attended the exciting King of Kings congregation in downtown Jerusalem, pastored by my friend Wayne Hilsden. I had time to only attend one service while in Israel. While I would have enjoyed being at a service in Hebrew, I was more comfortable in Wayne’s English service that had the same spirit and style I’m used to in my own church. You can see their worship here.
I also learned firsthand of the opposition and persecution some believers face in Israel. Wayne pointed out an “anti-missionary” standing outside the service to urge young Jewish believers in Yeshua to turn away.
2. We must pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for a spiritual awakening in the land.
King of Kings has prayer 16 hours a day atop a 17-story building. The view over the city was magnificent. What a strategic location! The next day, I visited another 24/7 prayer ministry in a mixed Jewish and Arab area south of the Old City. To avoid attention, this group posts only small signs that say “24/7,” which the initiated know means intercessory prayer is offered there around the clock.
The prayer room is located in the TBN building and has a view of the Dome of the Rock. I didn’t interview anyone there. Instead, I joined the prayers for the peace of Jerusalem for strengthening believers, for nations standing with Israel and for ways to reach the Arab community with the gospel.
It is well known that at one time, the majority of the population in Bethlehem was Christian. According to a 2012 article in Israel Hayom, the municipality says that 40 percent of the 32,000 residents of Bethlehem are Christian. But, unofficial data suggests the percentage is actually lower. While many Arab Christians are nominal Christians whose families have been Christians for generations, there is a small and struggling evangelical Christian Arab community there.
One of the most impressive meetings I had was with a young Arab pastor named Steven Khoury, whose Calvary Church reaches about 400 people a week in the part of Jerusalem around the Mount of Olives. It is the only evangelical church in that area. They have a hard time even finding a place to meet. Members of his church have been killed by radicals, and he has had trouble raising the funds he needs to operate and buy property. I was impressed by this passionate young man, and I plan to write more about his church later.
4. There is a new era of understanding between evangelicals and some Orthodox Jews.
Steven Khoury is a good friend to a young Orthodox rabbi named David Nekrutman, the executive director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. In the biblical town of Efrat, it is the first example I’ve seen of the Orthodox community reaching out to evangelicals. That impressed me as well, and I will also write about it later.
My personal experience with the Orthodox has been no cooperation and often hostility. So I’m encouraged to hear about the breakthroughs between the two groups and to hear that at least at this center, the Orthodox seem to value the support that Christian Zionists give Israel.
5. It’s good to know a networker in a foreign land.
The friend who set up most of my appointments is Anne Ayalon, the wife of Danny Ayalon, who has served as an Israeli ambassador to the United States, in the Knesset and in many other important posts. Anne is a humble woman who has done as much as anyone I know to bridge the evangelical Christian and Jewish communities. Born an American, she converted to Judaism when she got married but describes herself only as a “woman of faith.” She declined to be interviewed because she prefers to be behind the scenes, where she is a connector and influencer.
I had many other wonderful meetings, including one with Chris Mitchell, bureau chief of the CBN Jerusalem bureau, who recently wrote an important new book called Dateline Jerusalem, which he calls an “eyewitness account of prophecies unfolding in the Middle East.” I also met some Israeli intellectuals who teach leadership principles from Bible characters to officers in the Israeli Defense Forces. And I got a very quick tour of the Bible Lands Museum by its director and saw the “Book of Books” display. I plan to go back to spend hours learning more about this wonderful land that gave us the Bible, which is God’s revelation to man.
My meetings have not ended. Later, I’m meeting with leaders of Magen David Adom—the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross which is the first responder in disasters—and with leaders of Operation Lifeshield. Both are charities for which we’ve raised money in the past. I also am meeting the head of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and a local publisher.
As I process what I’ve learned and do more research, I’ll write more. And I’ll tell you about this amazing tour with Perry Stone. My head is spinning after the first day of visiting the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Ascension, the Hill of Ill Counsel, the recently discovered Pool of Siloam, a kibbutz where a pivotal battle was won in the war of 1948, and some archeological digs south of the Temple Mount with actual pavement where Jesus would have walked. I can’t wait until tomorrow. I have six more days before the trip ends!
If you stand with Israel, if you’ve had a life-changing trip to Israel or if you learned anything from this column, leave your comments below.