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Month: February 2018

Billy Graham: Here am I, Send me.

Finally Home! Billy has been longing to depart this tent of a body for years–ever since his beloved wife Ruth died. And this morning, the Lord has “promoted him to glory” (as they used to say in the Salvation Army). He’s finally home.

I never met Billy.  So, I shouldn’t call him by his first name.  But don’t we all kinda feel like we can? He was a prince of a man, but humble and down home. I think he wouldn’t mind “Billy” from a stranger like me. Yet, not a total stranger – I’ve long been thankful for God’s work in and through him. On this day of his freedom, here are some reflections:

(1) Fire

I heard him preach in Ottawa in 1998 at the Crusade there. He was already showing signs of age. They used a lift to get him on the platform, so he wouldn’t have to navigate the stairs. He was not on the platform for the entire service. He only came near to the time for him to speak. And yet, when he preached, he had power. Conviction. Energy. Fire. Love. Hope. Urgency. And the Spirit of Christ. He was not an old man then. He was simply the vessel of God’s Gospel.  “We hold this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power comes from God, and not from us.” People have said the same thing all through his ministry: when he preaches there is fire.

(2) Marathon

When I read his autobiography, Just As I Am, I was taken with the chapter “Marathon in Manhattan” about the 16 weeks they spent in NYC in the late 50s: Every night at Madison Square Garden, most nights an extra time on the street for the folks who couldn’t get it. They hadn’t planned to go 16 weeks; but folks just kept coming. What impressed me was this: several on the planning team thought they should “quit while they are ahead”–that is, end the crusade after 3 or 4 or 6 weeks and the crowds are still strong. But, Billy and several others thought they should keep going, even if they fail or the crowds dwindle: better to look dumb but get the gospel out, than look like a success and limit God’s grace. So they kept going, night after night, preaching and singing, inviting thousands to surrender to Christ, the only healer! And, when they ended after 16 weeks with a rally at Yankee Stadium, what a joy it was.

They continued to step out in faith, and God continued to build the bridge under them! A marathon in Manhattan… an example to us all.

[Note: When I was about 20, I found a postcard in our family’s home – a postcard from the YMCA in Times Square. Written by my dad to his girlfriend (who became his wife!), telling of how he and a buddy jumped in their car and drove to NYC from Montreal to hear Billy. I still have that postcard – what a link to God’s work through Billy, and God’s work in my own history.]

(3) Partnership and Purity

Though his name is on the door of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, that’s only for marketing purposes! He believed in and lived “team” as long as I’ve known anything about him.  Who could think of Billy without also thinking of Cliff Barrows and Bev Shea? Where would Billy have been without the Wilson Brothers (Grady and TW) leading, helping, administrating behind the scenes. Billy was smart enough to see that God works through teams, and he lived into it. Early on in their ministry and growth, Billy and his team met in Modesto, CA, to make sure they didn’t go off the rails by sin. They developed (and then held to) the Modesto Manifesto for ministry with integrity: Never alone with a woman, never handle donations, never over-inflate publicity (and ‘responses’), and always work with the local church (because that’s where God is working in each locale).

(4) Kingdom, not Empire

Billy was a preacher, but more than that: he was a strategist.

  • He deployed evangelists by the dozens and hundreds through the BGEA.
  • He helped to found Christianity Today–for decades the premier magazine for the evangelical movement.
  • He helped to found Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (my alma mater) to bring world-class theologians together to train generations of pastors/evangelists, and to bring it to New England, which needed this lighthouse in the late 60s.
  • He gathered thousands of evangelists and church planters and pastors and theologians to Lausanne Switzerland in 1974 that together they might better understand the biblical mission, and coordinate their efforts so that the world might hear of Christ. That spawned the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, a group that has hosted 2 further congresses (Manilla in 1989 and Cape Town in 2010), along with countless smaller gatherings. Billy didn’t control it with an iron first, but helped steer that snowball down the mountain, as God added the increase!
  • In the 1980s, when his brother-in-law and VP of the BGEA, Leighton Ford, sensed the call to invest in the younger generation of leaders, Billy blessed him and helped to start that ministry of mentoring/leadership development.

There are many other examples. He simply didn’t care to “run a huge organization”, but he loved to be a spark-plug for ministry endeavors. He didn’t want an empire; he wanted to build the Kingdom. Thanks be to God.

 

(5) Legacy

About 10 years ago, I was talking to some kids in our youth group. And, I mentioned “Billy Graham” as an example of what God can do through someone devoted to the Lord. Blank stares… uncertain looks… “who?” from the kids. Wow. A man who was such a public and positive force in the last half of the 20th century was barely known to Christian kids from a strong church in 2010. Scripture says: “as for man his days are like grass.” Billy wasn’t even gone, and yet he was gone. I can tell you what isn’t gone: the millions of people who came to Christ through his ministry, and the tens of millions of people who met Christ through his associates and all the others he encouraged, deployed, resourced, and opened doors for.

What also isn’t gone is the Christ-centered influence he brought to the 50 years of his public life–that’s intangible and unmeasurable, but just as real. He stood with Christ, for Christ, in a Christ-like way for a given time in history.

As one Christian Leader said years ago, “God may bury the workman, but the work marches on.” We remember and rejoice in Billy’s life and release. But the work marches on. Who will carry the flag? Who will take up the banner? Who will step into the fray? Who will die to self for the sake of the lost, the sake of the kingdom, the sake of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Here am I, Send me.

That’s all Billy ever said to God: Here am I, Send me.

May we echo that from our hearts.

What else is older than the universe?

Scripture is packed with gems if you are willing to take the time to dig them out. It’s chock full of amazing insights into the nature of our lives and reality. I came across a nugget the other morning with some high school seniors. We meet for “Bojangles and Bible Study” each week and are moving through Proverbs. (I figure every guy–high school age and in their 40s–needs more Proverbs!)

Question: Aside from God, what’s older than the universe?

Proverbs 3:19-20 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.”

God used wisdom as the agent to create the world (See also Proverbs 8:22-31 & Genesis 1, where God creates through Words, which are wisdom that is spoken). Wisdom, understanding & knowledge predate the cosmos.

I often look around at the stars and sunsets, the fields and rivers (and remember the mountains and oceans) and think, “these are so real, so sure, so true, so present.” And, they can seem more real than the life of the mind, than the realm of concepts or thought.

But, Proverbs 3:19-20 say that God’s thoughts and ways for life are more real, or at least are earlier in the scope of reality. The world is real, but God’s ways of thinking are “realer”.

Wisdom is more trustworthy than 13.7billion light years of space and stars. God’s wisdom (and, when you think about it, all wisdom–in order to be wisdom–must cohere with how God thinks! Otherwise it’s foolishness) is the bedrock of reality.

I tell my sons all the time to think through the difference between what humans discover and what we invent. Did we discover or invent the laws of aerodynamics? How about jet engines – discovered or invented? One way you tell the difference is this: are they the same for everyone and in all places? The laws of aerodynamics are the same: thrust + lift always equals flight (if you have enough of both). We discover aerodynamics, but we invent jet engines: you can 20 different types of jets, not to mention propellors and rotors and all that stuff.

God’s wisdom is aerodynamics. Thermodynamics. Gravity. How about this: have we discovered or invented economic laws? Supply and demand always seems to be true; doesn’t seem to be a construct to me. Market principles seem to be a discovery in that they are not only true in one country or era, but have universal application. On the other hand, the stock market is an invention – you could do it 10 different ways (or not do it at all).

How about marriage? Is that invented or discovered? I don’t think there’s a doubt in Scripture that it’s discovered (or “revealed” to use the theological term). God implanted it as the normal, regular way to order families and society. We didn’t invent it; and thus we can’t change it without going against the implanted make-up of the world.

Our lives of wisdom… are we wise if we ignore gravity or aerodynamics? Not at all. Human wisdom means that we align ourselves with God’s wisdom. God’s revealed knowledge and understanding become our play-book for living. Run your own plays at your peril. Interesting.

Before nature, there’s thought. Before the cosmos there’s the mind of the Creator. Before the Wild there’s wisdom. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth. This makes me want to discover as much as I can about the way God created the world, and his character, purposes and ways. And, his calling to me now that he has sent Christ – the Word of God, the Wisdom of God – to rescue us from this fallen world, decomposing and become increasingly foolish the longer it refuses to acknowledge its Wise Creator!

 

Nick Foles and REALLY winning

I’m a Patriots fan.  Lived in Boston 4 years, and… well… what can you say?  But I love what’s coming out of the Philadelphia Championship. These guys are using the platform God has given them to proclaim their followership of Christ.

Check out what Bruce Ashford writes about Nick Foles’ post-game declaration. Read below or click here to see it on FoxNews.com.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles gives America a game plan for life (Bruce Ashford)

In Super Bowl LII, backup quarterback Nick Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to a 41-33 win over the New England Patriots, outdueling Tom Brady and earning recognition as Most Valuable Player. During the game, Foles—not Brady—earned the highest passer rating in NFL postseason history and completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception as he delivered the Eagles franchise its first championship.

As if that weren’t enough, he caught a touchdown pass thrown by tight end Trey Burton during a specially designed play in which Foles had lined up as an H-back before slipping unnoticed into the end zone for the score. Foles became the first player in NFL history to throw and catch a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.

All of this from a backup quarterback who had been ready to retire from football just two years ago.

But the most amazing thing about Foles’ night may have been his post-game interviews. In the immediate moments after the game, surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras, this unheralded and until-recently-backup quarterback had the world’s attention.

And in that moment—as he stood front and center on the international stage—he decided to draw attention to God instead of himself, articulating a “game plan for life” to anybody who would listen.

Standing for the interview, Foles could have told us that he had always believed in himself. He could have used the moment to hot dog or take a few shots at the NFL teams who had rejected him or underestimated his abilities.

He could have told us those things, but he didn’t.

Holding his toddler daughter Lily, he opened the interview by saying “All glory to God”before going on to give credit to his coaching staff and teammates and to acknowledge his wife and family.

To give “glory” to God is to honor God as the source of all good things, including his creation of a world that would have the excitement and pleasure provided by sports such as football.

Eagles fans know that Foles was not posturing. He describes himself on Twitter as a “believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, and brother.” In a pre-game interview, he said that he wants to be a pastor someday and is taking online seminary courses even now. In the same interview, he demonstrated sincerity and humility by saying that he had failed spiritually or morally many times in the past and wanted to help young people not to fall into the same temptations.

Foles’ teammates vouch for his spiritual leadership. A number of them pointed out that he leads Bible study and prayer sessions with the team. Special teams ace Kamu Grugier-Hill even pointed out that Foles memorizes Scripture and uses his knowledge of the Bible to encourage and lead his teammates.

By giving glory to God during the season and especially during the post-game interview, Nick Foles teaches every American a couple of things about football and life.

First, football is more than a mere game. Like other cultural activities, it is an opportunity for athletes to please God by utilizing the talent he’s given them. Football should bring out the best in an athlete, as they compete in the game of football, which is different than every other sport in its combination of goals, rules, obstacles, and options.

Second, football is less than a god. That’s right. We should be careful not to elevate football to the status of a deity in our lives. The Bible teaches that humans often elevate some aspect of God’s creation—sex, money, power, and even sports—to a status of ultimacy that God alone deserves.

And when football is deified, the outcome is obnoxious and even harmful. Some athletes become strutting and preening narcissists, taking every opportunity to perform some type of ego-driven, self-congratulatory ritual. Others feel free to break the rules and ruin the game by taking illegal substances to enhance their natural abilities.

But athletes are not alone in this. Some coaches are tempted to cheat by stealing game plans from opposing teams, by encouraging players to injure their opponents, or by otherwise deflating or altering the game illegally. Commentators and fans often give themselves permissions to ridicule and degrade opposing athletes and coaches on social media, or to do the same to their own teams’ coaches and athletes when their team doesn’t live up to expectations.

So, football is more than a game and less than a god. It is, as Foles put it so well, an opportunity to glorify God.

And for that reason, we should take a moment to tweet out a “thank you” to Nick Foles for reminding us the most important “play” in any American’s gamebook: to glorify God in everything we do.  [Bruce Ashford is Provost and Dean of Faculty at SEBTS]

Editor’s Note: Did you notice Foles wants to serve as a pastor after football? …Maybe he wants to church plant through a dynamite church in Kinston!!

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