A Fitting End

“I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right” (Billy Graham).

I read today where Billy Graham will be buried in a simple pinewood casket made by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. I find that very fitting for a man who saw himself as a humble Southern Baptist preacher blessed to be able to present the Gospel to so many over a long and faithful life.

I think Billy Graham himself would say that it’s only his mortal shell that’s being put six feet deep in the ground. He is face to face with Jesus, hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He is reunited with his wife Ruth. He is home.

I think he’s finding out how true those words he spoke so long ago are. If you’ve read the last page of the Bible, then you know that it’s truly going to be all right.

In case you haven’t gotten to the end of the Bible, spoiler alert– here’s how it ends.

“The Spirit and the Bride: Come.

And let everyone who hears these words say, ‘Come.’

And let those who thirst come.
All who desire to drink, let them take and drink freely from the water of life” (Revelation 22:17, The Voice).

I believe Billy Graham would want his funeral to be one more opportunity for people to be able to respond to a Gospel invitation. He would want his death to result in more people coming to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Maybe you can be one of those who will join Billy Graham in heaven.

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/salvation-through-christ-a-matter-of-faith.html

 

 

Thank You, Billy Graham

“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me'” (Billy Graham).

It felt like a blow directly to my heart when I saw where Billy Graham had passed away this morning at 99 years of age. He had been such an icon and presence in my formative years. I guess part of me thought he’d be like George Beverly Shea and live to at least 100.

But I believe God decided it was time to welcome his servant home.

I’m sure right now that millions of blog posts and Facebook posts and other social media outlets are heaping praise on Rev. Graham right about now. I’m also just as sure that Billy himself would have deflected such praise, saying that he was a sinner saved by grace and used by God in spite of himself. He would point to Jesus as the real hero of the faith.

He started his ministry 80 years ago, faithfully preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ as found in the Word of God. He never wavered and never faltered morally. He wasn’t perfect and would himself admit to many failings, but he persevered in presenting the gospel of the Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Right now, he’s free from every ache and pain. He’s free from the symptoms of Parkinson’s. He’s reunited with Ruth and all of his other friends and fellow Crusade co-workers.

Best of all, he’s seeing for the first time face to face the Jesus he preached about all those many years. He’s hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thank you, Billy Graham. There are millions and millions of people (including me) who echo the words of the old song and say, “Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am so glad you gave” (Ray Boltz).

A New Year’s Day Prayer for 2018

I’m sharing this prayer from one of my heroes, Billy Graham, at 12:51 am on January 1, 2018. Happy new year!

“Our Father and our God, as we stand at the beginning of this new year we confess our need of Your presence and Your guidance as we face the future.

We each have our hopes and expectations for the year that is ahead of us—but You alone know what it holds for us, and only You can give us the strength and the wisdom we will need to meet its challenges. So help us to humbly put our hands into Your hand, and to trust You and to seek Your will for our lives during this coming year.

In the midst of life’s uncertainties in the days ahead, assure us of the certainty of Your unchanging love.

In the midst of life’s inevitable disappointments and heartaches, help us to turn to You for the stability and comfort we will need.

In the midst of life’s temptations and the pull of our stubborn self-will, help us not to lose our way but to have the courage to do what is right in Your sight, regardless of the cost.

And in the midst of our daily preoccupations and pursuits, open our eyes to the sorrows and injustices of our hurting world, and help us to respond with compassion and sacrifice to those who are friendless and in need. May our constant prayer be that of the ancient Psalmist: ‘Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end’ (Psalm 119:33).

We pray for our nation and its leaders during these difficult times, and for all those who are seeking to bring peace and justice to our dangerous and troubled world. We pray especially for Your protection on all those who serve in our armed forces, and we thank You for their commitment to defend our freedoms, even at the cost of their own lives. Be with their families also, and assure them of Your love and concern for them.

Bring our divided nation together, and give us a greater vision of what You would have us to be. Your Word reminds us that ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord’ (Psalm 33:12).

As we look back over this past year we thank You for Your goodness to us—far beyond what we have deserved. May we never presume on Your past goodness or forget all Your mercies to us, but may they instead lead us to repentance, and to a new commitment to make You the foundation and center of our lives this year.

And so, our Father, we thank You for the promise and hope of this new year, and we look forward to it with expectancy and faith. This I ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, who by His death and resurrection has given us hope both for this world and the world to come.

Amen” (Billy Graham).

Happy 99th Birthday, Billy!

“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith” (Billy Graham).

I can think of no better example of a legacy of character and faith than Billy Graham. His whole life has been devoted to the spread of the Gospel. His motto might as well be “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease,” because he has always deferred the credit to his fellow workers, and especially to Jesus.

I believe there are thousands of people going to heaven because of Billy Graham. I also believe that one day he will hear the words from his Lord and Savior, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I’d love nothing more than to see him live to be 100, but I imagine he’s ready for heaven, to be reunited with Ruth, to meet again with family members gone before him, but best of all, to finally see Jesus face to face.

I echo the words of so many others whose lives have been touched by his faithful ministry and his servant’s heart when I say simply, “Thank you, Billy Graham.”

 

Easter Sunday 2015

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“It is good for us to remember that this stone was rolled away from the entrance, not to permit Christ to come out but to enable the disciples to go in!” (Peter Marshall)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you'” (Billy Graham).

“But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross” (Bono).

For me, Easter is a bit harder to prepare for than Christmas. You don’t have nearly the commercialism of the season constantly reminding you that the day is coming. Also, Easter isn’t on a fixed day every year like Christmas.

Most of all, Easter isn’t quite the feel-good story that Christmas is. You don’t have the cute little infant being cradled by loving Mary as a doting Joseph watches on. You have the gory spectacle of the cross and the death of an innocent Man to deal with.

But you need both, I think. You can’t have the Greatest Story Ever Told without both the virgin birth and the death and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin Mary, then He’s not qualified to die for anyone’s sins but His own. If He isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still stuck in our sins and just as hopeless as before.

So I love both seasons. More than that, I love how Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for what it all means.

This year, Easter means that no life is wasted. It means that every life matters and every single person ever born matters to God. It means that your and my identity doesn’t come from honor rolls or bank accounts or resumes, but from Calvary. At the core, who I am is the Beloved of God, who proved that He thought I was worth dying for on that cross.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are only 263 days left until Christmas.

 

 

Words of Wisdom

Today, I learned something new. That applies to just about every day that I’ve been alive, since there is so much out there yet to learn (or in my case, to learn and to forget and to re-learn).

Matthew Page preached today instead of Aaron Bryant at The Church at Avenue South and that’s where I picked up this new knowledge. Although, I’d like it not to be just something else that I know intellectually, but something that profoundly affects how I live toward others from here on out.

Mr. Page said that not all of us will be accomplished preachers or evangelists. Not all of us will draw crowds Billy Graham-style or present a compelling defense of the faith a la C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell.

But all of us can learn to love well. All of us can show the same love for those around us that Jesus showed us. In fact, that’s the most compelling argument for the faith.

People can argue all day long over the finer points of theology and politics, but no one can ever argue over the evidence of a changed life. No one can ever refute a testimony that’s not only spoken out loud but lived out loud as well.

Most of all, people can never deny those who love the unlovable, who go against human nature to forgive and release instead of harboring resentment and seeking revenge.

Those who were drawn into the early Church pointed to that kind of love as the reason. “See how they love one another,” they said of the early believers. They might have added, “See how they love those around them,” to the Christians who risked their own lives to care for lepers, who left the familiarity and comforts of home to take this new gospel around the world.

That’s my prayer both for me and for you: to love others as well as Jesus has loved us. I know it’s not possible unless it’s Jesus doing the loving both in us and through us. Even then, we will still get in the way most of the time. But I’m convinced that if the world saw a fraction of that agape love lived out and not just talked about, it would make a big difference.

 

Leave It to Mr. Lewis

CS Lewis-1

Tonight in my Life Group, we were discussing how to explain to a nonbeliever why a Christian would want to be obedient to Jesus. Ok, that’s simplifying it a bit. It was a 30 minute discussion.

Basically, the question was this: if we’re truly free in Christ, why do we still feel compelled to do what He tells us to do instead of what we want to do. In all the discussion, I had a lightbulb moment. Why not google C. S. Lewis and find out what he had to say on the subject of obedience? After all, he was a smaht man (said in my best Forrest Gump voice).

Here’s what I found:

[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” 

Yep. There’s a reason why I’ve liked this guy all these years. It turns out he said some fairly astute things during his time. Who knew?

For real, if I had to pick the most influential believers of the 20th century, I’d start with Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis. If for nothing more than those Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis deserves the honor. But he wrote so many classics. I’d go so far as to say that I don’t know of a book of his that I don’t consider a classic.

What was my point? I think it was obedience. To me, obedience is not a “have to” but a “get to”. It’s not like we’re burdened with all these heavy burdens and restrictions and commandments that strangle and restrict. No. Love fulfills the law. These burdens of Jesus are light and a joy to bear. And the obedience is the fruit of a life spent close to Jesus.

Just as you and I become most like the people we spend the most time with, so believers become more like Jesus when they spend time with Him and end up doing what He did and living like He lived. They end up looking and sounding and acting just like Jesus. That to me is obedience.

 

A Good Weekend

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As I stepped into my car to head home from a Sunday School class party, I could hear the hypnotic drone of cicadas and felt 10-years old again and ready for the next big adventure. That’s what life really is. At least for those who have their eyes open to appreciate the mystery and wonder in each gift God unwraps daily called life.

I still fondly remember running through the streets of downtown Nashville with my friend Katie to catch the next act at Live on the Green, Michael Franti. It was a moment I never imagined happening, yet if you were to ask what my all-time favorite moment was, this one would be climbing the charts. And no Gatorade ever tasted better than the ones from the Exxon convenience store on the way home.

How can I forget an impromptu Starbucks session of great conversation and good coffee drinks? I can’t remember two hours flying by that fast. It was yet another in a long line of unexpected treasures and blessings God has showered on me lately.

I remember Friday and Saturday in downtown Franklin, seeing some of my favorite McCreary’s people and savoring yet another beautiful summer night visiting my usual haunts and trekking my familiar path up and down Main Street. I especially recall how quiet it was in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as I sat silent and still and expectant, waiting on a Word from God.

I finally fell asleep at 4:30 this morning after another night of tossing and turning. I think I’ll sleep better tonight. At least I hope I do. But even that time awake gave me time to reflect on all the little gifts that eucharisteo had opened my eyes to see.

I remember something my Sunday School teacher Derek Webster said. He said, “God believes in you even more than you do.”

I have to write that down somewhere. Oh yeah, I guess I just did. But I need it in a place where I can find it and see it every morning, because I know some mornings I’ll wake up and not be as excited to be alive. Those old self-doubts will creep in. The enemy will whisper, “See? Nobody really cares about you. No one would notice if you weren’t around. You don’t make one bit of difference to anybody.”

That’s when this Truth of God comes in. God says differently. To me. To you. To anyone who heard and followed the voice of Jesus. God said you do matter because I made you. Jesus said you matter because I thought you were to die for. You have a gift and a purpose that no one else ever in the history of mankind has ever had. Only you can play the part God wrote for you in the Great Romance He’s written out in history.

You being you makes God smile. You being who God created you is what the world around you needs to see more than any Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. You coming alive to your gifts and talents will be the ripple in the ocean whose effects will last far beyond your own lifetime.

Yep. All that from four days in August.

Set Free VBS- Day One

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I volunteered again for Vacation Bible School at Set Free Church in downtown Nashville. It’s just as much of a leap of faith (or like the above picture, an ascension into the unknown). Inner-city ministry is decidedly out of my comfort zone, but as I’ve learned, you almost never learn anything or grow or experience fullness of joy and peace inside your comfort zone. You must always step out and take risks for those miracles to happen.

That said, I had an amazing night of seeing God at work. To the average cynic, it might seem like a futile task reaching out to inner-city children who to every appearance have no attention span whatsoever and almost no impulse control. But I don’t believe that, or else I wouldn’t have been out there, doing my small part to share the love of Christ with these kids.

IMG_0769I think that deep down all children have the same needs: someone who sees them and cares about them and loves them. They are just like adults in that they won’t care how much you know about the Bible, Jesus, theology, and doctrine until you show them how much you care about them as people and not as statistics.

I’m only one very imperfect person who’s out there trying to love on some kids. I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. But it’s not about my abilities anyhow. It’s about me making myself available to a very perfect God who can take my little bitty offering (think loaves and fishes) and multiply it to satisfy the soul-needs of a multitude. It’s not great faith in God that accomplishes wonders, but faith in a great God. Even if that faith is as small as a mustard seed.

IMG_0733So it’s about planting small seeds of faith in these kids. It’s about taking their posturing and sometimes snarky attitudes and loving them anyway and pointing them to Jesus, who loves little children more than anyone. 

Who knows? Maybe there’s a future Billy Graham or another Mother Teresa amongst these kids? Even if it’s one life that gets changed, that’s enough. As an old Jewish saying goes, if you change one person, you have changed the world. At the very least you have changed that person’s world. And for me that will be more than enough.

 

 

 

The Fat Lady Ain’t Sung Yet Part II

Yeah, I went all Hollywood and did a blog sequel. But I had some additional thoughts about what I wrote last night.

I’m still hearing a lot of gloom and doom talk, a lot of talk about how this nation is headed inevitably down a path that will end with us all being controlled by the man. I’m not sure who the man is, but watch out for him.

It’s not for me to say if we as a nation are done for. That’s really not my place to speculate. I don’t know if we will still be around 500 years from now or will be a footnote in history by then. I do know this.

I am called as a believer to pray for my president. And yes, President Obama is my president, whether or not I voted for him. I owe him the respect of his position, as commanded by Scripture. I don’t have to agree with everything he does, but I do have to respect the office he holds.

I am also called to believe that real change doesn’t come from passing laws or bills. Real change comes from God changing lives, one heart at a time. It comes from when stone hearts get replaced by hearts of flesh and what was dead comes alive and what was lost is now found.  It comes from Jesus.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that God can change a politician’s heart. Stranger things have happened. Anybody remember that guy who wrote most of the New Testament? That guy who was firmly committed to getting rid of Christians before he himself became one? Hint: his name starts with a P and ends with -aul.

As much as it’s ingrained in us to want our side to win, the saner course of action is to not have sides. If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting different results, then we have an insane political system.

The sane answer is to reach across the dividing line and listen to each other. To discuss issues and find common ground.

Most of all, the sane answer is to realize once and for all that the real issues aren’t political, but spiritual. That we are all broken people in need of a Savior.

I love what Billy Graham said. “I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.”