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.