Monday, January 17, 2011

Recovering the Lost Gift of True Friendship

J. Lee Grady

Last week one of my best friends, Chris Maxwell, organized a two-day prayer gathering for me in north Georgia, where he serves as the pastor of a Christian college. Chris had listened to me whine for months about how confused I was about my future. He took it upon himself to contact a group of my friends, and they agreed to take time off work to pray with me about some important decisions.

Chris not only gathered nine men for this prayer retreat, but he also solicited counsel from other friends who couldn't attend, and from my wife. When I sat down in that living room on the first night, they put me under a microscope and proceeded to meddle in all my business. It was 48 hours of probing questions, wise counsel, sober warnings, gushing encouragement, brotherly affection and in-your-face honesty.

Uncomfortable? Definitely. Embarrassing? At times. Humbling? Totally. But the pain was worth what I gained in the end.

One of the main things I gained was a renewed understanding of how important true friendship is. In this day of unprecedented social isolation (when many pastors admit they have no one to talk to) and in this season of tragic moral failure (when church leaders wait too late before they expose their weaknesses to anyone) I have learned that we cannot survive long without godly relationships. Here are three qualities we must reclaim:

1. True friendship requires sacrifice. I was blown away that nine guys from four states would take time out of their busy schedules to pray for me. One guy drove all the way from Pennsylvania; two others drove more than seven hours. When we were finished, several of the guys expressed amazement that Chris went to so much trouble. "Lee is so blessed to have a friend like you," one of them said.

Real friends do extravagant things to show their love. They don't just do what is expected—they go the second mile. Real friendship always cuts against the grain of selfishness. Jesus told his closest friends: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NASB). A few hours after He said that, He was arrested, beaten and nailed to a cross.

2. True friendship requires transparency. Jonathan and David are models of friendship because they didn't allow their positions, titles or ambitions to separate them. Even though Jonathan was Saul's son, and the rightful heir to the throne, he recognized the call of God on his friend David and set aside his own agenda.

The Bible says in 1 Samuel 18:3-4: "Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt." Jonathan wasn't going through an airport security check; he took off his outer garment and weapons because these things represented his future status as a warrior king. He was signifying to David: "I'm putting you first." The same humility is required of us if we want genuine friendships.

At one point during our prayer retreat last week, the guys took turns sharing their most serious prayer concerns. Before we went around the circle we pledged not to divulge anyone's secrets. Then, with full confidence that no one was going to condemn anyone, we took our body armor off, let our force fields down and spilled our guts.

It wasn't long before the tears began to flow. I don't know if you've ever seen a group of grown men crying—but I can tell you it is one of the most beautiful sights on earth. One guy unashamedly offered a box of Kleenex to those who couldn't keep their emotions under control. We weren't worried about looking weak. We knew the Father was pleased that a group of guys had discovered that true manhood is about vulnerability, not about acting tough.

3. True friendship requires prayer. Ever since I became friends with Chris Maxwell in the late 1990s he has prayed for me faithfully. Often I get a simple text message from him that says: "PRAYING FOR YOU." It reminds me of the heart of the apostle Paul, who wrote to his spiritual son Timothy: "I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day" (2 Tim. 1:3).

It might be safe to say that our love for our friends and family can be measured by our prayers for them. True friends pray for each other. The prophet Samuel even wrote: "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23).

Few of us would make an appointment with a friend for coffee and then nonchalantly forget to show up. But how many of us have told a friend, "I'll pray for you," and then forgotten to breathe one word of prayer for him or her? I've recently gone back to using a written list to help me remember my friends' prayer needs, and to record answers.

My life was changed last week because some friends cared enough about me to get in my face, hold my feet to the fire and offer biblical encouragement and counsel. If you don't have friends like that in your life, I pray you will find them soon. And more importantly, I pray you will be that kind of a friend to someone else.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma and author of the new book The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale. Follow him on Twitter at leegrady.

We Need Another Jesus Movement

J. Lee Grady

In today’s hip, sophisticated churches, we often forget to preach about Jesus. Let’s get back to basics.

I became a serious Christian at the tail end of the Jesus movement. I was too young to remember the hippie beads, tie-dyed shirts and “Jesus Is Groovy” slogans, but the songs were still popular when I was in college (from musicians such as Andrae Crouch, Love Song and Barry McGuire), as were the movies (especially The Cross and the Switchblade.)

The Jesus movement was like a spiritual tsunami that washed over hundreds of thousands of young people in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and brought them into a personal relationship with Christ. Some of these kids had been drug addicts and social misfits; most were just average Joes and Janes who discovered that Jesus is a lot more exciting than traditional churches had led them to believe.

Because the movement was pioneered by untrained leaders it sometimes resulted in abuse. But despite its flaws, it gave rise to a new musical genre (contemporary Christian) and new denominations (Calvary Chapel, Vineyard). It also fueled organizations such as Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ and made it a powerhouse of evangelism for the next decade and beyond.

Lately I find myself waxing nostalgic for those days—not because I want to return to the awkward fashions and hairstyles of 1972, but because I miss the spiritual simplicity of that era. The Jesus movement was primarily focused on—surprise!—Jesus. Theology was not complicated, pastors weren’t trying to be hip or sophisticated or tech-savvy; and we hadn’t yet created a Christian subculture with its own celebrities and political power bases.

Today, we just don’t preach enough about Jesus. This is certainly true in many charismatic churches, where we’ve become experts on everything but basic Christian theology 101. In my travels this past year I’ve been horrified to learn that many Spirit-filled believers have given up the discipline of reading their Bibles even semi-regularly. They prefer a steady diet of culturally relevant, fast-paced, techno-theology that is a poor substitute for discipleship.

Many charismatics have developed the attitude that a simple focus on Christ isn’t enough. We’d rather go to a “prophetic encounter” to hear what Obama’s chances are in 2012, or experience some exotic spiritual manifestation (gold dust, gems falling out of the ceiling), or ask Rev. Flash-in-the-Pan to pray for us for the sixteenth time so we can receive yet another “special anointing” that we will probably never use.

In the midst of all this charismatic gobbledygook, where is Jesus? Am I the only one out there who is weary of this distraction?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve decided to get back to the basics of the faith. That’s why I am reading What Jesus Is All About?, a classic book written more than 50 years ago by Henrietta Mears, a Bible teacher who helped mentor both Billy Graham and Bill Bright in the 1940s.

Mears explains in her book how each of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—give us a unique, four-dimensional portrait of the Savior. According to Mears:

Matthew was written to Jews to tell of a Promised Savior who is also a King—and it uses the word “kingdom” 55 times.

Mark was written to Gentiles to tell of a Powerful Savior—and it reports more miracles than any other gospel.

Luke was written by a Gentile to tell of a Perfect Savior—and it has the most references to Jesus’ humanity.

John was written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” to tell of a Personal Savior—and it has the most references to Jesus’ divine nature.

The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible knew we needed more than a one-, two- or three-dimensional look at Jesus. The Spirit gave us a four-dimensional view so that we could gaze at Him from all sides and become captivated by His magnificence—His supreme kingship, His compassionate mercy, His supernatural power, His perfect justice, His amazing humility and His love for sinners like you and me.

There’s so much more to Jesus than we realize. And there is so much more to say about Him than we are telling our generation. That’s why I’m spending most of my study time in the four gospels for the next few months. I want a fresh revelation of Jesus!

Perhaps another Jesus movement will be unleashed in our country when we discard our distractions and focus on Him again.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The War for the Soul of the Millennial Generation

J Lee Grady

I know the battle I faced as a teenager. Today’s younger generation faces something more challenging.

It wasn’t easy for a guy to find pornography when I was a teenager. I remember giving into the temptation to buy a Hustler magazine when I was in high school. Inside the drug store I paced back and forth near the magazine rack for at least half an hour. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. I finally walked to the front of the store, put the magazine face down on the counter and avoided eye contact with the clerk as I forked over the cash.

I grew bolder in my sin when I graduated from high school. When I turned 18, I went to downtown Atlanta to visit an “adult bookstore” (a strange label, really, since the men who frequented these seedy establishments did not act like mature adults). In 1976, anyone who wanted to see hard-core porn had to visit these awful places with garish signs and painted-over windows.

As I pulled into the tiny parking lot off of Ponce de Leon Avenue, the heart palpitations returned. I rushed inside the shop with my head down so no one would see me on the street. Then, when I saw the graphic images on the magazines that lined the wall, I almost fainted from a combination of adrenaline, fear, nausea and guilt. I bought a thin magazine that didn’t cost much and literally ran out of that place.

As I was leaving I caught a glimpse of a bumper sticker I had put on my car a few months earlier, in response to some decisions I had made in a Baptist youth meeting. It said: “THE DIFFERENCE IN ME IS JESUS.” Suddenly I felt even sicker to my stomach. I was already convicted of my sexual sin; now I realized I was a hypocrite. All I wanted to do was get out of there. Before the night was over, the magazine I bought was in the trash and I felt miserable.

A few days later, while I was mowing my yard on a hot July day, I began to think about a Bible verse I had heard in church many times. I didn’t know the reference, but I was able to paraphrase it in my mind. It said: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14, NASB).

I had never experienced a vision before, but at that moment I could see a fork in the road in front of me. I knew I was approaching a crossroads. I could either be a committed Christian, or I could choose a life of compromise. God was showing me that I needed to choose the narrow way before I took any more steps in the wrong direction. I was hit by a terrifying sense of the fear of God, but I also recognized this as His protective love. Within a few days I had surrendered my life to the lordship of Christ.

I shared this embarrassing story last week when I spoke to a group of students at a Christian college in north Georgia. I knew many of them were at a spiritual crossroads. I also knew that in today’s cybersex world, they don’t have to go to drug stores or adult bookstores to see porn. The voice that lured me to downtown Atlanta in 1976 has become more brazen and aggressive today, making porn available 24/7—on the Web, TV and even phones.

Young people today—the so-called Millennial Generation—are continually assaulted by temptations that kids didn’t face in the 1970s. The war for a generation is on—and it is intense. Families are in shambles. Many kids are fatherless. Media has entirely rewritten our moral values in a few short years. Casual sex is considered a normal pastime for 14-year-olds. And many teenagers today haven’t been exposed to the gospel, so chances are slim that they might remember a Bible verse from childhood or feel the sting of guilt like I did years ago.

That’s why I’m devoting time this month to prayer for a spiritual awakening to touch the younger generation. The devil has claimed today’s youth, but the same God who averted disaster in my life can do it in theirs. As you thank Jesus for the grace He’s shown you, please ask Him to extend it to the millions of Millennials who are following the crowd down the wrong road.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. For more information about the Awakening America Alliance’s prayer and fasting campaign, being held Jan. 1-21, go to

Are You Too Emotional?

Sheri Rose Shepherd
Charisma Chanel - Women

Have you ever been told that you're too emotional? Have you ever heard people say, "Emotions are unspiritual. You need to ignore your feelings and live by faith"? If they are right and we are supposed to ignore our emotions, then why did God give them to us in the first place?

I would like to assure you that there is nothing wrong with your emotions. Emotions were designed by God for a reason. God designed you to feel because you were created in His image—and God feels! More than 2,000 instances in the Bible refer to the emotions of God.

It seems obvious why a loving God would create positive emotions such as joy, peace, excitement and confidence. But why would unpleasant, negative emotions such as loneliness, grief, rejection, despair, anger and frustration be a part of His creative plan for us?

Emotions, both positive and negative, were created by God to reveal the condition of the human spirit. Negative emotions are a warning sign that something is wrong. Just as physical pain reveals that there is something wrong with our bodies, negative emotions signal that something requires attention in our spirits. They are evidence that damage has been done—whether by us or by someone else—and that we are in pain.

If you are suffering from emotional pain, pay attention to the six "don'ts" of emotional fitness:

1. Don't ignore it! Ignoring the warning signs will not make them go away any more than ignoring a gas gauge that registers "empty" will allow your car to continue to run.

2. Don't excuse it! Many of us make excuses for our emotional pain rather than looking at the problem that's causing it.

3. Don't decorate it! Many times we decorate our pain with pretty houses, pretty clothes and prestigious positions.

4. Don't cover it up! Many of us cover up with accomplishments and excessive activity.

5. Don't pretend it's not there! Many of us have no idea why we're feeling pain because we pretend that everything is OK.

6. Don't postpone dealing with it! If you put off dealing with your warning signs, they will eventually deal with you.

When a warning light comes on in a car, putting a piece of black tape over the light won't fix the car. When a car needs repair, it should be taken to a mechanic, someone who knows how the car works and understands how to fix it. Otherwise, it will eventually break down completely, leaving the driver stranded.

The same is true of our emotional states. If we deny our negative emotions, covering up the warning signals of our spirits, we will slowly die inwardly. God is a God of truth—and only the truth can set us free. We need to go to Him with our pain and allow Him to heal us.

It's time to get real with God. Voice to Him your bitterness, jealousy, envy, hatred and resentment. Invite Him into the dark places where you hide your pain. He promises to be your strength when you're weak. He will be a light in your darkness.

The woman with the issue of blood described in the fifth chapter of the gospel of Mark knew where to turn when she needed healing. "If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I would be healed," she said, referring to Jesus. She was determined to push through any obstacle to get to Him.

Jesus is your answer, too. He knows and understands your pain, and He loves and accepts you in your frail condition. When your little bit of faith lays hold of the power of Jesus, He is able to grant you peace and freedom—and in His time, healing.