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Some customers began boycotting Starbucks when they learned that a white employee called Philadelphia police after telling the two men they couldn’t use the restroom without buying anything. (Getty Images/JohnFScott)

Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores this week so its baristas could undergo four hours of racial sensitivity training. The company took the drastic action to counteract negative publicity it got last month when two black men were handcuffed and arrested simply because they sat in a Starbucks store in Philadelphia without ordering any coffee.

The ugly incident on April 12 triggered angry reactions. Some customers began boycotting Starbucks when they learned that a white employee called Philadelphia police after telling the two men they couldn’t use the restroom without buying anything. CEO Kevin Johnson then went on an “apology tour” and announced he would give his 175,000 employees a racial sensitivity seminar, but some people viewed the training as a publicity stunt designed to protect Starbucks—which makes $14 billion a year in profit—from a customer backlash.

I’ll admit I don’t have high hopes that a four-hour seminar will end racism in America. Yet when I learned about Starbucks’ plan, my first thought was: Maybe we need to close our churches for a day and do the same thing. Because racism is alive and well in American congregations—and we need to face it.

If I were going to offer racial sensitivity training to a church, I would include the following steps:

  1. Teach more about the Holy Spirit. Whenever the Holy Spirit shows up, racial barriers fall. The first Pentecost was a multicultural miracle; no one can be called a Pentecostal if he doesn’t embrace racial and ethnic diversity. Many churches limit the work of the Holy Spirit’s gifts and manifestations. Is it any surprise that churches that quench the Spirit are racially segregated? If you want racial diversity in your church, encourage people to be filled with the Spirit. He will tear down the walls that divide us!
  1. Address racism from the pulpit. Jesus boldly confronted racism, especially the Pharisees’ snobbish attitude toward Samaritans. Jewish leaders hated Jesus because He showed compassion to everyone, regardless of ethnicity. And the apostle Paul’s decision to take the gospel to Gentiles offended Jewish people who didn’t believe God cared about anyone but them. The gospel is not the gospel if it doesn’t call people to repent of racial pride!
  1. Lead the way in apologizing for past injustice. In my city of LaGrange, Georgia, a black man named Austin Callaway was cruelly lynched by a white mob in 1940—and the murder was covered up. But 77 years later, our chief of police, who is white, organized a public apology service at a local church. Pastors, community leaders and descendants of Callaway joined hearts to heal an old wound. If your community has been divided by racial injustice, public repentance can bring transformation.
  1. Model diversity from the church platform. I’ve talked to many white pastors who say they want racial diversity in their churches. Yet when I look at their stages, I only see white. At the church I attend, New Community Church in LaGrange, our pastor, Lamar Hardwick, is black; one associate pastor is a white man and another associate is a white woman. The music team rotates each week and is a perfect blend of white and black; even the greeter team at the front door of the church is mixed. It’s no surprise that our congregation is about 70 percent black and 30 percent white.
  1. Train leaders from all racial groups. For years, I’ve met African-Americans who attended churches led by white pastors; yet it’s rare to find white congregants in churches led by black pastors. Why is that? Many white Christians hold an unspoken belief that they could never submit to a black leader. That’s silly, especially when you consider that black leaders helped lead the early church. In Antioch, for example, Paul served alongside two black men, “Simeon who was called Niger” and “Lucius of Cyrene” (Acts 13:1). Simeon’s nickname literally means “the black guy”!

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Billy Graham (BGEA)

Evangelist Billy Graham lived 99 years, wrote 30 books, met with 12 sitting American presidents and preached the gospel to millions. But when he is buried this Friday, March 2, in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, he will be remembered not only as a world-changing hero of faith but as a humble preacher whose personal integrity set the gold standard for every minister in this country.

Why was this man so respected? How was he able to keep his ministry free from scandal for more than 75 years?

In 1948, when Graham was just 30 years old, he and his small ministry team met for Bible study and prayer at a tiny motel in Modesto, California. The other men in that meeting including assistant evangelist Grady Wilson, singer George Beverly Shea and song leader Cliff Barrows. Graham challenged them to pray about what codes of behavior they needed to adopt in order to keep the ministry clean.

The results of that meeting were profoundly prophetic. The men outlined what would become “the Modesto Manifesto”—a list of core ministry values that became the guiding principles of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The BGEA was founded two years later, in 1950, just one year after media coverage of Graham’s eight-week gospel campaign in Los Angeles made him a household word.

Here are the four key components of the Modesto Manifesto, along with notes that Cliff Barrows jotted down in their meeting:

  1. Honesty: “It was resolved that all communications to media and to the church would not be inflated or exaggerated. The size of crowds and the number of inquirers would not be embellished for the sake of making BGEA look better.”
  1. Integrity: “It was resolved that financial matters would be submitted to a board of directors for review and facilitation of expenditures. Every local crusade would maintain a policy of ‘open books’ and publish a record of where and how monies were spent.”
  1. Purity: “It was resolved that members of the team would pay close attention to avoiding temptation—never being alone with another woman, remaining accountable to one another, etc. A practice of keeping wives informed of their activities on the road and helping them feel a part of any and all crusades they undertook would be encouraged.”
  1. Humility: “It was resolved that members of the team were never to speak badly of another Christian minister, regardless of his denominational affiliation or differing theological views and practices. The mission of evangelism includes strengthening the body of Christ as well as building it!”

Graham has always been a spiritual hero to me for this reason. Early in his ministry—in fact, before he ever became famous—he realized that his ministry was a stewardship from God and that he could not run it any way he wanted. He had to manage it according to clear biblical principles.

Graham never forgot his humble roots, and he never let popularity change him into an egotistical monster.

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Will we bring reconciliation? Or will

People are screaming at each other a lot these days. The most recent example is a viral video, seen by millions of people since last week, of a woman who went ballistic because a service dog was sitting near her in a Delaware restaurant.

The dog in question belonged to a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. But that didn’t stop the woman from unleashing a three-minute, profanity-laced tirade. I’m sure all the diners at Kathy’s Crab House lost their appetite that evening.

“It is disgusting to have an animal in a public restaurant … I think it’s gross!” the woman screams. (This is a family-friendly publication, so I can’t print much more of what she said.)

It seems everybody is furious today. We’ve created a culture of outrage. People are offended, and if you aren’t offended by what offends them, they are offended by your lack of offense.

We are addicts. We crave a daily fix of rage. We rant on Facebook and Twitter because we need a regular dose of vitriol to fuel our habit. Then we turn on a newscast to watch agitated political commentators throw more gasoline on the flames.

The rage burns on both sides of our political divide. White supremacists march with tiki torches to spread hate. Black Lives Matter activists loot stores and smash windows. Former NFL fans burn football jerseys on barbecue grills. Campus lectures require police protection because leftists have threatened right-wing speakers. Madonna drops expletives and threatens to blow up the White House because she’s so mad President Trump won the election.

Then last week, President Trump used an unprintable and demeaning phrase to describe athletes who are protesting police brutality. That was beneath the dignity of a president. I agree we should respect our flag and our national anthem, but you can’t demand that respect by using a misogynistic expletive.

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7 Types of Christians God Can’t Use

God can't use armchair Christians.
God can’t use armchair Christians. (iStock photo )

About 17 years ago I prayed a very dangerous prayer while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8 (MEV): “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would mess me up good in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21 (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord, and He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42, MEV).

2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the Accuser, so if you are accusing others you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.

3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today are worried about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?

4. Carnally-minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Unmarried Christians are living together, some pastors are experimenting with adultery and some denominations have voted to sanction homosexual relationships. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on this trendy bandwagon does not mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

5. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for any victim of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s Plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with its God-ordained leadership.

6. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.

7. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 90-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st century stress we lost the meaning of discipleship.

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10 Spiritual Lessons I Learned at the Gym

Growing muscle takes a great deal of hard work.
Growing muscle takes a great deal of hard work. (iStock photo )

Six months ago I started a serious fitness plan. I had gained weight, and I was watching guys my age pack on pounds. Because I have some big dreams that will take several more years to achieve, I need to stay healthy and able to travel. So I talked to some friends about their workout routines, joined a gym and changed my eating habits.

The hard work is paying off. I’ve not only lost weight and gained muscle but I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons in the process. God speaks to me even while I do planks, sit-ups and bench presses! Here are ten lessons I’ve learned that will help you get fit both physically and spiritually:

1. Your DIET makes all the difference. If you don’t eat right, no exercise routine will benefit you. Some people talk themselves into believing if they run on a treadmill for 30 minutes they can binge on ice cream, Big Macs or bags of Doritos. Good luck with that! If you want to lose weight and add muscle you must cut the empty carbs and eat more protein and power foods.

The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians because they wanted spiritual “milk” instead of “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). You will not grow spiritually until you wean yourself off of spiritual fluff and start eating the meat of the Word. Bible study is hard work, but when you dig deep you will grasp revelation from the Holy Spirit.

2. Develop a PLAN for growth—and follow it. If you approach exercise haphazardly, the results will be minimal. The same is true about discipleship. Some Christians are tossed around by every wind of doctrine or every wave of trendy teaching because they have no goal. But the apostle Paul was focused. He said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Your goal should be to know Jesus and to make Him known to others. Don’t get distracted.

3. To grow muscle you must RESIST. When I lift a 30-pound dumbbell or do push-ups, I am using weights or my own body weight to create resistance. The tension caused by the resistance, called hypertrophy, causes muscle fibers to expand. The “burn” you feel after exercise is evidence that your muscle is growing. The same is true in the spirit. If you resist temptation, you will grow spiritually even though it may hurt. But if you give into temptation, you will stay spiritually flabby and weak.

4. CORE exercises are vital! The best fitness instructors will tell you’ll never be truly fit if you don’t pay attention to your abdominal muscles. You may hate planks or crunches, but a healthy core is the foundation of a good physique. The same is true for you spiritually. The core of a Christian is his or her prayer life. Neglect prayer and you will lose your power. The secret of the apostle Paul’s spiritual life was 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”

5. You will never make progress if you aren’t CONSISTENT. Because I travel a lot, I cannot always go to a gym. So I found a fitness routine that I can use no matter where I am. All I need is a floor, a chair and some rubber exercise cords and I can work out for an hour using body weight alone. But having this plan is useless if I don’t do it four times a week. The more consistent I am, the more results I will see. Don’t be a quitter. He who endures to the end will be saved!

6. VARY your exercise routine. Our body is like a computer, and it can get used to a routine if we do the same exercises week after week. Trainers recommend that you “surprise” your body by mixing up exercises. You should do the same in your spiritual training. Don’t get in a religious rut. Sing a “new song” to the Lord. Be open to the new things He wants to teach you.

7. You’ll make more progress if you have a COACH. When I decided to start my routine, I asked a friend from South Africa named Jabin to devise a plan for me. Jabin is an athlete who knows a lot more about fitness than I do. He not only made a plan but he showed me how to do each exercise.

A lot of Christians are trying to become disciples on their own, without a mentor. Jesus showed us the model of discipleship; He invested in His followers and then commissioned them to train others. You will grow spiritually if you have someone to help you.

8. TWO are better than one. I don’t always get to exercise with a gym partner, but when I do I find that I have a better workout with better results. I push harder when someone is there to encourage me. The same is true in your walk with God. So many of us try to live the Christian life alone, yet Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Every David needs a Jonathan to reach his full potential. Having a friend to “spot” you is a sure way to grow as a disciple.

9. Fitness requires REST. One of the first things my friend Jabin taught me about weightlifting was the importance of resting in between reps. Muscles will not grow if you push them incessantly without breaks. Rest is a spiritual principle that was programmed into our world when God rested on the seventh day. Some people think they can get ahead by working 24/7, but work without rest only leads to burnout. In your spiritual life, take the needed time to relax, unwind, play and reflect on God’s goodness.

10. God can use FAILURE to help you grow. I have another fitness coach, a pastor named Mark, who encouraged me to use the principle of “failure” in my weight lifting. He taught me that on my last set of each exercise, I should keep lifting until I can’t go any more. “Lifting to failure” increases blood flow to the muscle and boosts muscle growth. It will also make you sweat!

The old gym slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is also a spiritual truth.

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miss-america-contestant-miss-new-york
Miss America winner Nina Davuluri. (reuters-lucas jackson)

Some people got upset when Nina Davuluri won the Miss America crown. What’s the problem?

I’ve never been a fan of beauty contests because (1) it’s sexist to “rate” women based on their measurements; (2) average women don’t feel comfortable parading in front of a TV audience wearing bikinis; and (3) I fail to see how a small panel of judges can determine true beauty for all of us.

But I will leave that topic for another day. My bigger concern is that many Americans reacted in disgust when Nina Davuluri, the 24-year-old Indian-American contestant from New York, won the Miss America crown on Sept. 15 in Atlantic City. She got a $50,000 scholarship, which she plans to use to go to medical school—following in the footsteps of her father, who moved to the U.S. in 1981 to become an obstetrician.

It sounds like the American Dream. But racist comments were hurled in Davuluri’s direction on Twitter and other social media sites after her win. Haters accused her of being an al-Qaida terrorist, a Muslim and an Arab. Some said she is “not American enough.” One person tweeted, “Even Miss America has been outsourced to India.”

How pathetic. While Davuluri’s proud grandmother was watching the pageant from her home in Vijaywada, India, this ambitious young woman was being skewered by racists—in a country that should know better. Our nation was formed by immigrants (mine came from Ireland), but we are still schizophrenic about whether to put the welcome mat in front of the door.

If the Statue of Liberty could move, she’d be bowing her head in shame.

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