Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

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God’s warning and provision in the face of temptation

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation[c] has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[d] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[e] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

1 Corinthians 10 is an interesting passage in considering how the Old Testament relates to us today. It is pretty drastically direct, actually. Of course there are important differences. The baptism of God’s people of old was through the Red Sea, their God-given escape from the Egyptians through that miracle. Our baptism is by water accompanying our faith in Jesus, or in infant baptism, anticipating such faith. They also ate the same spiritual food and drink, probably meaning all of them at that time, but maybe including us to some extent, since Christ is said to have been with them. But God was not pleased with most of them because of their sin. And they suffered the consequences of that sin.

And then our passage quoted above: We are not above this possibility, even though we live in a different time, and we could say the time of grace as opposed to law. But while the law was given during that time, grace most certainly was with God’s people as well. And it’s not like we live without boundary lines set, if I read the New Testament correctly, even considering Paul’s letters alone.

The crux of the matter is that we need to not only take sin seriously, but refuse to think we’re above giving into whatever temptation may come our way. Of course God could block every such occasion, but chooses not to. We would have to be removed from the world, or lose our respect from God as being moral agents at least as it seems required at this present time, for that to be the case.

But the promise seems to be that God won’t let it become unbearable, but will provide the way of escape for us, that we might be able to endure such. This suggests to me that escape is an important, even critical way of dealing with temptation, if we are to avoid falling into the sin that would ensnare us. We look to God, to God’s faithfulness, and while doing so, find our escape from that the allure of that temptation. And not just once, but the rest of our lives.

Nothing fancy here, but clear enough I think. And critical for us. As we remain in the word and press on together in the grace and truth that is ours in Jesus.

prayer for Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the bad days

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:10-20

There are good days and pretty good days, not bad, and then there are the bad days, hopefully not too many. Actually the passage quoted above may well be referring to the time in which we live, simply because we face the onslaught of the enemy. I know there are plenty of believers in Christ nowadays who chalk up the notion of the devil and demons to simply evil in general. When you consider everything, there’s something going on which defies an easy dismissal or explanation. Which is why in a world which denies truth, the word evil is still used, pointing, I think to something more beyond the relativism so prevalent. And to our personal lives, some days there seems to be an uncanny sense of an ongoing struggle and darkness at work, which casts a shadow on all that is good, so that we have trouble seeing the good. The Apostle Paul (click the link above) had no difficulty describing precisely what he believed is going on.

Scripture is rich with many places in which the person of faith is struggling, and all but left for dead in their mind, even with a sense of being abandoned by God. See especially the psalms to find plenty of that, and elsewhere.

As we’ve said before, and it is worth repeating, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. To know the problem, and what one faces is half the battle. The rest of it is to take up what God gives us in Christ and the gospel, and learn to stand in the midst of it all. Interpreting the spiritual warfare passage linked above as something for this present evil time when evil is so prevalent and active in the world is probably the best explanation, or sense of the passage. The thought the NIV gets across, that there may especially be a day that is evil, is also appropriate. But even with the NIV rendering, we are told to always be ready, so that everyday we are learning to live in the mighty strength of God, taking up the armor of God in and through Christ and the gospel.

Every day has a certain struggle to it, but bad days do come. And they go. And in the midst of it all, we need to remember the resources provided for us. And approach it as those who not only can face evil, but resist it. Knowing in the end it will someday be done away with forever. In the meantime we can be prepared for the day of evil in and through Jesus.

God’s accessment of our work (of our lives)

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3

It isn’t easy to pin down exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying in this passage (see entire passage by clicking 1 Corinthians 3), since this seems to apply directly to the leaders the Corinthian church were idolizing, and perhaps their own misguided assessment of them. Which theoretically could be carried over into their own lives. After all, we become like or somehow emulate the gods we look to, or hopefully the God we look to in and through Christ. But part of our sin is to place idols in our hearts.

Christ is the foundation of the good news and the life we have and live, even live out. So that what we build on Christ in our work and teaching must be appropriate to Christ. We might truly look to Christ, but mix this or that or something else with Christ which is not of him, stuff that eventually won’t stand, in the words of the text here, will not endure the test of the fire.

This makes me wonder about everything I do, about my life. Does that adhere with and to Christ? What about my attitudes along the way? Love and truth must be paramount. We all fail, or don’t completely measure up to the stature of Christ, to be sure. But together we should be growing up into that likenesss to and maturity in him. Not in any human leader, except that we follow them (as Paul wrote) as they follow Christ.

This isn’t easy, to say the least. But in the hardest parts, our character is revealed, and with those hard parts comes opportunity. In the meantime we need to repent where needed, and grow together no less into the image of the Lord through whom we live.

a tribute to my wife, Debra (with some thoughts on marriage)

30 years ago today, I married my best friend and lover, Debra, “Honey Sweets.” We’ve been through it now for thirty years, through good times and bad in the sense of difficulties. I believe I couldn’t have married a better woman. Deb is as consistent as day and night, the four seasons. She is a woman of a complete child-like faith as a daughter who is deeply loved and cared for by her heavenly Father. And her faith has helped me in more ways than one to change and grow. One example: she is a person who simply does not worry at all; I am one who over the years have struggled with anxiety and fear. I have come a long ways in no small part through Deb’s example, while I would acknowledge it’s an ongoing issue for me.

My wife is simply the one I feel at home with; hopefully we are a blessing to each other. There is no doubt that marriage in significant part is for our growth in holiness. It is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church and of the relationship of God to his people. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant in which each spouse is committed to the other in their commitment to the Lord. Short accounts and growth in love, in righteousness and truth over the long haul need to be staples in any growing marriage. I so much look forward to what lies ahead: hopefully at least another thirty years to keep after this, and just to be together. Frankly at the beginning I was not well enough aware of this, and more than that had issues to work through.

All married couples at least surely for the most part need special input at times. Just another reason why the church needs to be an intrical part of our identity and practice. We can’t make it, or at least do well on our own, no matter how we think we’re doing. And a big part of the church’s role is to help us live well as followers of Christ in all of our relationships, marriage certainly a big part of that. We need more of a witness of marriages which get off the ground well and keep on growing as a witness, and marriages which have overcome something of brokenness, but can show the way to forgiveness, change, growth and joy. The world needs to see both.

Deb and I are in this together; we are mutually submitting to each other as we both seek to submit ourselves to Christ. We also are keeping short accounts. Sometimes we need some sharp points to challenge us to change. But everything needs to be tempered with grace. Truth yes, but never apart from grace. We all need patient, forgiving love in all relationships and particularly in the marriage relationship in which we are exposed in all of our weakness and shortcomings, along with the good gifts from God brought into the relationship.

I wish this post was all about Deb. It is more about our marriage and marriage in general. We will enjoy this day in celebration of 30 years of marriage. Looking forward to at least another 30 more in which we hopefully can shine the light of God’s love and grace in and through Jesus and the gospel for others to see and be encouraged by for their own lives. As we seek to show others the light in the Lord together.

no avoidance of philosophy

Not many of us read philosophers and philosophical writings (such as from Aristotle, etc.). And we may imagine that we avoid philosophy altogether. But there is no avoidance of philosophy whatsoever. Philosophy simply stated is the study or consideration of life itself, what life is all about, why we are here. Whether it is one who is steeped in naturalism and what is called scientism, or someone caught up in studying philosophers and their systems of thought along with their worldview, such as from Aristotle or Plato, or someone closer to our time. That is what could be called philosophy proper. But actually we are all philosophers in the sense that we all have adopted and settled into some notion of what life is all about, even if we may not be able to express that well. Good questions could help us get to the bottom of that, even if we might find there’s not much there. Even agnosticism, the idea that we simply don’t know and perhaps can’t know is itself a philosophical view.  This, by the way is ordinarily something not static, but dynamic and ever changing, even if only in the sense of being refined over time.

Whatever my philosophy is, I hope it is steeped in solid Christian theology. I believe that Christ and Christ crucified is the wisdom of God, in opposition to the wisdom of this world. Scripture, and Paul specifically warns against worldly philosophy. It is potent and powerful and pulls people into its ultimately lifeless embrace. And away from Christ. To be in Christ and to be informed and formed in that is to begin to realize the true meaning and end of philosophy, indeed of life itself. There may be subsets of that to help us through the intricacies of the complexity and wonder of life. But the root of all truth is somehow found in Christ. Deriving its origin and meaning from him. Colossians is not a bad book to start in seeking to understand something of this philosophy.