Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham: We’ve Lost a Giant

Facebook blew up last Wednesday. 

Every media source and the whole world (it seemed) was reporting and commenting on the news that Billy Graham had died at age ninety-nine.  We all knew it was coming soon.  We’d been thinking that for the last decade at least.  Finally, his Lord made the call and home he went.

He has had my admiration since I was a boy.  They say that he proclaimed the message of salvation in Christ in person to over 200 million people!  That doesn’t include all of us who watched his telecasts through the decades.  Suffice it to say no preacher reached as many since Jesus uttered the Great Commission to “Go into all the world” with His Good News. 

Memories are etched in my mind of him on our black and white console in the 1960’s, coming in primetime network television, pre-empting whatever was usually on.  With a Bible in one hand and extending the other, he urged men, women and young people to receive Christ at the end of his sermons.  Always. That’s because he was an “evangelist” – from the Greek it means someone who proclaims the “evangel”, the Good News of Christ. 

I’ve seen videos of the invitations he gave to “come forward”.  In some cases, people didn’t walk, they ran to trust Christ, so compelling was his message.  And as a preacher myself, I learned from Mr. Graham that the offer of salvation God has given isn’t complicated.  There are no hoops one must jump through. He loved to quote Jesus’ words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

And so, in over 60 years of preaching they came by the hundreds of thousands – no, probably the number is in the millions – to simply receive God’s gift they heard about from a simple preacher with a simple message.  I’ve read the last few days many of those who responded at Billy Graham “crusades”.  Many are my friends.  Their lives were changed at that moment, not by Billy Graham (and he would be quick to point that out), but by their new-found relationship with almighty God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

He was known as the “pastor” to every American president since Harry Truman.  All of them sought him out, asking for his insights, wisdom and mostly his prayers.  And he, without partisan, obliged them all.  I have to wonder, had it not been for his influence in the White House, what might be the condition of our nation today. 

Interestingly, as a boy he preferred baseball to religion.  I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth.  But at age 15 something radical happened in his life.  “But finally, I was persuaded by a friend [to go to a meeting]…and the spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night. One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, ‘Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction.”  And as a result, generations came to hear and respond to that same invitation through this North Carolina farm boy.

We never met, although I did hear him preach once in person in Atlanta over twenty years ago.  Yet, I know he would be embarrassed if the focus of this column was on him, because he never lived that way.  He would say to me, “Rick, point them, like I did to Jesus.” 

We’ve lost a giant, both in American culture and in the Christian world.  But the hope is that those of us who knew his Savior will see him one day.  The message he preached will continue to change lives.  I know, as a Gospel preacher that I stand on the shoulders of Billy Graham, and am thankful to have lived in a generation he impacted.

Monday, February 19, 2018

School Shootings: A Revolution is Needed

Once again last week, we were stunned with the heartbreaking news that a deranged mind entered a school and slaughtered seventeen, mostly students.  It’s as though you could hear our collective gasp across the land. 

No one would disagree that it has become an all too often tragedy.  Finding solutions, that’s where we disagree.  I’d like to suggest several reasons for the increasing evil that has sadly become part of our fabric as a nation.  And, you’ll notice all are interwoven.

Growing up in the late 1950’s and ‘60’s, I vividly recall a very different America.  As we worked in those days to correct the wrongs it seems we also worked, covertly as it may have been, to feverishly dismantle the rights.

First, we have ostracized God from having any place in our country.  When the courts ruled in the 1960’s that sanctioned prayer could no longer be allowed in our public schools, a chain-reaction started, going beyond simple prayer, that has grown continually until today.  The outcome has become a disdain by the courts and by governments that has moved a nation that at one time was “God-fearing” to fearing anything that mentions the Divine. 

Without a sense that, as our Declaration of Independence said so famously, we are endowed certain rights by our Creator, we have no moral base.  Morals had to start somewhere.  As a theist, I would contend that they began with God who created us in His own image, instilling in us a sense of right and wrong.  Remove Him from the equation and morals become relative. So, if it feels good, do it.

The next step in our downward spiral was to declare, by the “sexual revolution” of the ‘60s that marriage and family were no longer hip, thus tearing down the very basic building block of society. In fact, government, in its efforts to eradicate poverty, gave financial incentives to avoid marriage. 

The result of the breakdown of the family has been the rapid rise of fatherless children.  When the sperm donors no longer are held accountable to be fathers, teaching, loving, and providing stability in the home, the results, especially on boys are horrific.  I’m told that a common thread that runs through so many who have killed in our public schools is the lack of a father.  And if not a father, at least a strong male father-figure.  Who else can teach a boy how to control himself?  Thank God for moms, especially single moms who are trying to do their very best.  But, boys need dads.  By the way, so do girls. 

In 1973 we then, under the mantra of freedom, were told by the SCOTUS that human life was no longer precious.  With any logic, one can follow the path opened by making the taking of innocent life legal.  With every abortion (and there have been millions) our national conscience has been hardened, little by little to the value of all human life.  Today countless boys and young men spend hours each day killing in video games.  And the result is a de-sensitivity to murder and mayhem.  If we see it over and over, the shock value increasingly decreases.

Lastly, the failure of “the church” to stand firm both for their long-held beliefs and against moral decay in society.  I put “the church” in quotation marks only to be inclusive of all organized religions. In fact, “the church” has often been its own worst enemy.  As the mainline denominations have surrendered to the waves of political correctness they’ve become less and less a source of moral correctness in the world.  Before religion points its fingers at the irreligious, it first needs to look in the mirror at its own failures to make a difference and speak with a loud, if necessary prophetic voice.

The bottom line is that our schools are no longer safe as they once were, and the primary cause is the breakdown of society.  The media and politicians will try to enact change on a purely legal, political level.  But laws cannot change hearts.  Only a return to God can make a difference because that would be revolutionary.  And a moral, spiritual revolution is what is needed, and is our only hope. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Cure for My Jealousy

Yesterday I posted about a brief tinge of jealousy I experienced while spending an evening going through my friend Amanda's high school yearbooks.  We graduated from the same school one year apart.  And I only attended there my senior year.

Although I missed the experience of building relationships while attending the same high school over 4 years, don't feel sorry for me!  I wouldn't exchange my high school years (well, maybe some of 9th grade) for anything.  And the relationships I built then are still with me. 

And where did I build those relationships if not at school?  At church! 

For a relatively brief time (21 months total) I was enormously blessed to be part of a church youth group that not only changed my life, but still remains close today.  Our friendships are special and have lasted over four decades.  And we don't wait every ten years to have a reunion.  Usually every two or three years we'll gather together.

Last month Gail and I hosted a reunion of this group at our place on the Outer Banks.  Some stayed for a week.  Most were able to stay 2 or 3 days.  Some had not seen one another since the 70's!  And some had never met.  They came from as far as California.  Not all could make it, but all who could were glad they did! It was a fabulous time.

So, yes, I wonder what it would have been like to have gone to the same school for four years.  In reality, I truly only got to know a handful of my fellow graduates, and am in touch now with only one.  Yet I don't feel at all deprived.  My California church friends are as special to me as special can be.  And there's no empty spaces in my heart.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Notes from the Sabbatical (1)

It's been way too long since my last post.

Since October 1 I've been on a 3 month Sabbatical, a time of leave my church graciously gives me every seven years.  Some might remember my last one in 2010 and the blog "40 Days in a Toyota" as Gail and traversed the vastness of these United States.

Here's what's taken place thus far in this Sabbatical.
1. I realized I had to get away from home to get any real "rest".  There are too many projects there.  In fact, I bought a new chain saw that I've yet to use.  And I know when I get home it will be the annual ritual of bringing down the Christmas decor from the attic...which really needs to be emptied.

2. Two days of fire training in Petersburg, VA.  I was fortunate to hear iconic fire chief Alan Brunacini speak at this conference.  Look him up.  Quite the visionary and leader in the fire service. He died a week later.

3. The annual Federation of Fire Chaplains conference took me to Oklahoma City for a week.  There I took training to be a certified instructor for the Federation, a two day class on a subject I can't even pronounce (theodicy), then the three days of training at the conference.

4. From OK City I flew to Colorado Springs and met Gail at the airport.  With a rental car, we traveled west to Florissant, nestled in the historic Ute Pass.  An old friend from high school days in Alexandria, Amanda and her husband Dave live on a hill top in the Florissant Valley with incredible views of the Rockies, including nearby Pikes Peak.  They have a one room cabin on their property,  complete with kitchen and bath, where we are staying.  It is just what we both needed.  We are indebted to this wonderful couple and their dog Earl.

5. While here in CO I have been working on two writing projects that are way overdue.  You know how you start things but never finish?  One is now finished and I'm praying for a publisher.  It tells the story of Nags Head Church and how God allowed us to replant a church that was all but done.  The second is a devotional book for teams, especially church staffs taken from Jesus' actions in the Gospel of Mark.  It's about how He led without speaking.  Maybe I can finish that one before January.

6. Our three weeks in Colorado end Wednesday.  We've been able to see old friends, Homer and Mildred Wagoner and Pat Grob (from my youth days in CA), and lots of sights, both natural and man made, such as the Air Force Academy.  I could live here.  Other than the dryness that turns your nose into a blod clot machine, it's a great, laid back place.  And no, I haven't been Rocky Mountain high, other than the drive up Pike's Peak, which was a one and done experience.

7. Had a bit of a bout of jealousy yesterday.  I'm not the jealous type.  But, Amanda allowed me to peruse her high school yearbooks.  We went to the same church in our youth, and graduated from the same high school.  But because of Dad's career I only went to Mt. Vernon High (Alexandria, VA) my senior year.  She, however went to schools with the same kids from jr. high through graduation, and had all the year books.

So, I went through them, looking at my class as they grew from 7th graders through the 11th grade.  Amanda graduated a year before me, so that's where it stopped for the class of '73.  But I have my senior yearbook at home.  And going through those years with kids I barely knew it hit me that because I went to three high schools in four years, I missed out on what must have been a fun experience growing up with the same kids.  I never really got into the school scene my senior year. You know, new kid on the block, senioritis, etc.  Lots of things I wished I could have experienced, but didn't have the opportunity.  Hence a bit of jealousy for those who spent 6 years of secondary school together.

But, I'm grateful for the experiences I did have in those five different schools from 6th grade to graduation.  The friends I made along the way helped me become me.  And I wouldn't trade it.  But sometimes I just wonder what it would have been like.

More sight-seeing today.  Then I'll be mid-way through this season of rest and work.  Looking forward to the last chapter of my pastoral ministry and to a new chapter ahead of whatever God has for me.  Maybe some more traveling.  Maybe some high school reunions.  You know, I could go to three 50 year reunions in 2023.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ears to hear

I'm reminded (too frequently, it seems) that not everyone who listens to the teaching of God's Word (at least my teaching) gets it.  Either by words or actions, I'm often baffled by behavior or sentiment that is clearly contradicted in Scripture.

Jesus uttered these words on several occasions as He taught His disciples. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear", implying that hearing alone doesn't translate into comprehension.  I expect that from new disciples.  But I'm ever frustrated by mature believers who miss it.

Then again, I'm sure the Lord has some similar frustrations with me.

"Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Freed From Racism

A former student of mine now writes for an online magazine.  Days before the atrocities of domestic terrorism and racism she published this fine piece from her own experience. 

Well written, Tammy!  I give you an A+.

Click on the link below to read it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Understand the "Why"

One of the lessons I've learned as a leader of God's people is this: If the vision isn't constantly and consistently shared you can't expect people to "get it".  By that, I mean that no one just automatically grasps the "why" - the rhyme and the reason of what's behind "doing church" they way we do.

If they don't "get it" I can't, as a leader really get upset with them for not being involved in ministry and mission.  That is, unless they just refuse.  Then I wonder a lot of things.

At our church we have set the bar high when it comes to partners (members) being active (meaning consistent) participants in the multitude of ministries (service to our church) and missions (service to the world outside of our church).  Behind that high bar are the clear teachings of Scripture about the giftedness and devotion taught by Christ and the Apostles.  It really is inescapable!

This morning a letter arrived addressed to me.  No return address.  No signature.  Typically anonymous letters are critical in nature, and as such find their way into the circular file.  But this was very different, and illustrates so well why Nags Head Church puts a premium on what we do as a church.


This is why we:
  • Stress that every partner find a ministry.  What's expressed in the letter is a reflection on everyone who serves on Sundays, from the parking lot team helping everyone find a spot (we're often at capacity) to the First Impressions team making everyone welcome, to the Cowabunga Cove (our kids ministry) check-in staff and our Hospitality Team with their smiles and fresh coffee, our greeters, tech team, Milepost 13 Band...everyone.
  • Believe that everyone in attendance has a need that only God and His Word can meet. At NHC we preach and teach the Bible.  No pop psychology.  No decaf treatment of the Scriptures.  We understand that candy-coated and watered down Gospel is no Gospel at all.  And with each song chosen and sermon prepared our hope is for life-change.
  • Try to provide a well-organized and distraction-free worship environment.  Nothing that happens on Sunday is put into action without the realization that God is not the author of confusion.  So, our band is tight.  Our tech team's goal is to make the visuals clear and on time with the song or the sermon.  Our sound guys want the balance to be right.  The service "flows".  We discourage young children from being in an adult oriented worship gathering.  They're cute, but often a distraction for those around them who are trying to participate and listen to God. (Which is why our kids ministry from nursery through 5th grade is the best around!)  Our ushers work so hard to find seating in an often filled auditorium, and ask you to please fill in the empty seats!  
 It's what we do and why we do it so lives are changed and God gets the glory.