The “Scandal-Free“ Life of “America’s Pastor”


Yesterday, America’s leaders honored “America’s Pastor” Billy Graham by receiving his body to lay in respect and honor in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

This bi-partisan action has only been accorded to honor private citizens three other times: The others were two police heroes, following 9/11, and civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.

The late morning ceremony was relatively brief. From the time the hearse arrived at the back Capitol steps until the closing benediction was less than one hour. In between, the benediction was given by the House of Representatives Chaplain and meaningful remarks were made by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and President Donald Trump before these three each paced a display of flowers at the casket bier. The familiar Graham Crusade song “Just As I Am” was played and sung by Christian musician Michael W. Smith and the benediction was given by the Senate Chaplain.

Everything which was done, said, and sung was warm, reflective, and respectful.  But, it was keywords in the benediction that was most meaningful to me.  Senate Chaplain Barry Black thanked God for “the gift of your servant, William Franklin Graham, Jr.  We are grateful for his scandal-free life of integrity, characterized by conduct that was above reproach.” (Emphasis mine)

In his 100th year, with over sixty years of consistent evangelistic ministry with 419 evangelistic outreaches, 210-million people reached face to face and over 2-million professions of faith, “Mr. Graham” and his team had lived out a mutual covenant of integrity, sexual purity, honesty, and humility.  These biblical principles kept this man of God and his ministry free from scandals and, instead, empowered them each to live “life of integrity, characterized by conduct that was above reproach.”

In 1948, Graham and his founding team members, including Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson, were conducting a series of meetings near Modesto, California. Although he was just 29 years old at the time, he had been a full-time evangelist for several years, ministering as part of the popular Youth for Christ organization.

But, as opportunities for independent campaigns were developing, including the future/historic one in downtown Los Angeles, he and his team wanted to avoid the public and private problems and scandals that plagued other evangelists.

Graham asked his team members to pray and then write down the issues they thought they would face, and how they should deal with them. Cliff Barrows recalls that the next morning they all met and compared notes.  Each man had written Continue reading

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Until Then…Carry On!

ABC Television Network is taking criticism for one of the hosts of the daytime talk show “The View” suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence’s practice of praying to God is like a “mental illness.”  His “talking to Jesus” and then hearing Jesus talk to him is foreign to the host and funny to her audience.

Of course, Jesus said, “ My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27

Just this week, President Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russ Vought, was finally approved by the Senate Budget Committee and will get a full vote by the Senate next week.  Despite the fact that there is to be no “religious test” for government service, Vought was targeted by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in his confirmation hearings last June for his Christian faith, suggesting he held Islamophobic views and declaring that he was “really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”

This kind of mocking of Christians and the Christian faith has become common in our society.  These stalwarts of “tolerance” would never make a similar criticism of Islam or its adherents, but Christianity has become “fair game.” It is part of the rather mild but alarming affliction of Jesus-followers of our day in the Christianized West.

More severe and even deadly persecution comes from Islamic terrorists in other parts of the world. ISIS soldiers and other radicalized Islamist have lined up and shot Christians “in the name of Allah,” in Muslim dominated countries in Africa and Asia.

Just last week the online news source Jihad Watch had this shocking headline: “Nigeria: Muslims wipe out 15 villages in the mass slaughter of Christians, the government does nothing.”

With Islamic terrorist groups like Boko Haram still on the prowl in northern Nigeria and with systemic governmental corruption, Islamic (Fulani) tribesmen are “defending Islam” by raping and killing villagers, unabated.

Even in civilized Europe, an 85-year-old priest was brutally murdered by Islamists during mass in his church in France, less than two years ago.  Similar deaths have occurred among Christian Copts in Egypt.

Waiting for Christ’s Return

In Paul’s first epistle to the persecuted Thessalonians, he urged the believers to confidently endure affliction and faithfully wait for the return of God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, from heaven (1:10). He explained that before the ultimate “wrath to come” Christ will return to resurrect the godly dead and rapture (catch away) the living believers and all will be forever united with our Lord.

This was to be shared as comfort to the bereaved (4:17,18) and joy to his expectant subjects  (5:9-11), even amid suffering and affliction (1:6-10).

This “waiting” has been described  by St. Peter (1 Pet. 3:20) as “the divine longsuffering” and likened to the pre-diluvian days of Noah, “while the ark was being prepared.” Noah’s family of only “eight souls” endured the mockings and afflictions of a “corrupt” world that was “filled with violence” or lawlessness.

Jesus said that in the last days Continue reading

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Love and Devotion

Yesterday was the convergence of two special observances, one secular (Valentine’s Day) and one religious (Ash Wednesday).

According to the National Retail Federation, American consumers will have spent nearly $19.6 billion on this year’s secular observance of Valentine’s Day, for candy, greeting cards, expensive dates, and a lot more.

While Valentine’s Day was named for a third-century Roman martyr, its secular focus has even reduced the Catholic church’s emphasis on the day as a liturgical feast day. However, Ash Wednesday and the religious season of Lent have rich meaning to many Christians.

As one not raised in this tradition and trained in non-liturgical, evangelical, and Pentecostal environments, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent was never much on my religious radar.

As a youth, some of my friends might say they had given up this or that (usually a certain food, beverage or activity) “for Lent.” They really never explained that Lent is a 40 day period preceding our observance of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, on Easter Sunday. It is intended as a religious observance of fasting and abstinence, during these pre-Easter weeks.

In the past, I may have held a certain smugness, realizing this religious holy day and its practiced deprivations are not mentioned in the Bible. But, I’ve come to consider that as a structured reminder of the many biblical events which occurred in the weeks just before Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, it may serve to help reflect on His determined pathway to Calvary. I’m open to learning from the observance of Lent. How about you?

For instance, the observance may help even devoted disciples to think anew about what Jesus’ death means for us today and in the future. As we contemplate afresh Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection, we can rejoice, in anticipation of the place which He is preparing for His people (John 14:2-3), who have sincerely repented of their sins and received His promise of eternal life (John 3:16-17).

Lent can prepare us to celebrate more fully our complete salvation. We have been saved from the guilt of our sins, in the past. We are being saved from the power of sin, in the present. And, we will be saved from the very presence of sin, in heaven’s eternal future. Therefore, Lent can help us better appreciate our complete salvation and also serve a threefold gospel purpose.

First, the application of the ashes can…  Continue reading

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“Leaked Memos” from the Middle East

In the context of current American politics, the short New Testament epistles of 2nd and 3rd John could almost be seen as “leaked memos” to the early Christian church.  Consider these comparisons found in  3rd John:

  • The short epistle was like a “classified memo” written by an unnamed author, who commended certain church leaders but bluntly criticized another.
  • Its brief 14 verses never indicate they were to be read to or by anyone other than the single-named
  • Certain verses have been “cherry picked” and appropriated out of context by some modern-day teachers to underscore their own theological agendas.

One modern-day teacher seems to ignore hermeneutical principles of biblical interpretation when he quotes from the King James Version and mistakenly states:

“God says, ‘Beloved I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth’ (3 John 2). This is God’s ‘big wish’ for us—His children—that we may prosper and be in health, even as our souls prosper!”

Another instructor in “Supernatural Abundance” claims this 3 John 2 passage promises “without a shadow of doubt…financial prosperity as a blessing from God for every believer.”

These teachers ignore and misapply the simple, gracious greeting by the unnamed author to a single individual, named Gaius, who the author says he truly loved. To this “beloved” one, the memo’s writer wishes good health and general wellbeing, as was a common practice and greeting in written communication.

The Greek word used here for “health” is hugianio (Strong’s #5198), which is a root word for “hygiene” and “hygienic,” and means to be sound in body and in good health. It is used metaphorically elsewhere in the epistles to relate to sound doctrine and soundness in the faith.

Pastor Jack Hayford says verse 2 was a model of intercession giving us “a warrant for praying for the physical, the material, and the spiritual well-being of others.” But, it is not a universal promise of God for the wealth and health of all believers and at all times.

The modern prosperity teachers may find financial promises elsewhere in scripture, but it has to be read into this passage and context rather than read out of it. Rather than claiming “God wants all His children to prosper,” the writer of 3 John is here simply praying for the temporal prosperity and physical health of his beloved friend, Gaius.

In verses 5-8, Gaius was commended for his generosity and hospitality to itinerant gospel workers. In this way, he showed his love for the mission of the Church, beyond his own local setting. He received these traveling missionaries and sent them “along on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (v. 6).  His partnership with these ministers enabled them to avoid any appearance of impropriety or unworthy motives.

To twist the loving affirmation of “the Elder,” who was writing this short “memo” to his friend Gaius, to become an unbalanced, selfish quest for personal prosperity and perpetual health is unbecoming to any maturing believer and student of the word of God.

Even the Apostle Paul said “…I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. 12 I know both how to face humble circumstances and how to have abundance. Everywhere and in all things I have learned the secret, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:11-13 Modern English Version (MEV)

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…see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven…

I recently spent a few days visiting some of my extended family members, one of whom has a form of dementia and is in a special facility where they can better care for her.  In her current condition, she sometimes doesn’t recognize family members or even remember what she or they have said—just moments before.

But one thing seems to come back to her, at least in short sections, and that is music—especially songs of her faith and childhood.  One song-segment she and her husband sing many times during each visit is about heaven. She will sing the short segment and then pump her arm and verbally affirm “Yes!”

Perhaps you remember it from your childhood or gospel services: “My home is in Heaven, just awaiting for me and when I get there how happy I’ll be…YES!”

The word HEAVEN is used in scripture to convey several distinct concepts:

First, heaven is used in Genesis to describe the expanse over the earth, which contained the stars of our galaxy and planetary systems, as seen from Earth.  The closest star to Earth is our sun, the energy from which drives our atmosphere and affects our changing climates and weather.

Beyond the heavenly skies, which we can see, is “outer space.” This is roughly considered beginning at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above the earth and might be referred to as “the second heaven.”

The Milky Way, the galaxy containing our solar system, has hundreds of billions of stars, according to NASA. And, recently, astrophysicists have—for the first time—identified objects and planets in galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. They estimate these “extragalactic planets” to be 3.8 billion light-years away. Each light year equals 6 trillion miles!

No wonder King David said:

 When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You have established,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
and the son of man that You attend to him?

Psalm 8:3-4 (MEV)

Finally, the Apostle Paul implied that he had some kind of supernatural experience where he was caught up into Continue reading

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The Elusive Pursuit of Peace

The Elusive Pursuit of Peace

Earlier this week, we honored the memory and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, the Christian pastor and non-violent civil rights leader, who was murdered in Memphis, TN five decades ago.

Later this week, Vice President Pence will meet with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, as he travels to the “Cradle of Christianity” in the elusive pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

Fifty years ago, many Arab countries surrounding tiny Israel joined to attack the hated “Zionists,” with the expressed goal of destroying the nascent Jewish State by throwing the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. However, even after the humiliating defeat of the Arab forces in that “six-day war” and a later peace accord secretly worked out in Oslo, Norway with Palestinian representatives of the terrorist group the Palestinian Liberation Organization, little peace has prevailed.

A contemporary observer of those troubled times, Dr. King said,

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

Today, Israel has signed peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt and has a growing dialog with Saudi security and economic officials, particularly over the mutual concerns with the threatening actions of neighboring Iran. These relationships are always tempered by the anti-Semitic rhetoric, hatred, and violence ginned up by Islamic imams and extremists.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 in Oslo, Norway, Dr. King acknowledged his “… profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence WITHOUT resorting to violence and oppression.”

The Apostle Paul explained to the Ephesians that Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles (including Arabs) by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us.  Through His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He united Jews and Gentiles as though we were one person and did away with our human hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God, and now all of us can become part of the Father’s family by the same Spirit. (Ephesians 14-18)

Let us pray that these truths ultimately prevail in the “Cradle of Christianity” and in every nation, tribe and tongue.

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Learning the Grace of Giving in 2018

Welcome to the future! No matter whether you and I were as generous as we may have wanted to be last year, it is now a new year and God still loves a “cheerful giver” ( 2 Cor. 9:7)!

In this new year of 2018, God wants me and you to learn how to be even more generous in our stewardship of His blessings! Failure to do so robs God of the opportunity to bless us (Malachi 3:8-10)!

Jesus summarized God’s plan for our financial future when he said, “Freely you have received, freely give”(Matt. 10:8). This promise of divine reciprocity and reward is intended to teach His children the joy of unselfish generosity.

“God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16) and He teaches us to “Give, and it will be given to you: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will men give unto you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you.” (Luke 6:38 MEV)

In the Old Testament, God’s people paid tithes and gave offerings. The first mention of tithing was in Genesis 14 when Abraham gave “a tenth part of all” to Melchizedek, the King of Salem, who used it in a priestly act of worship. In the Hebrews recounting (Chapter 7), the priestly tribe of Levi is said to receive tithes because of his genealogy through Abraham, whose submission to the spiritual superiority of Melchizedek, “priest of the Most High God” (7:1), preceded the giving of the Law.

This Levite tithe has been described as a religious taxation to support the theocracy and was said to belong to the Lord (Lev. 27:30-33). Followers paid their tithes to the Lord by faith, believing He would reward them, heal them, and protect them. Leviticus 12 and 14 speak of additional tithes which were used for the benefit of the covenant society and social justice.

Further, Jesus affirmed tithing in the New Testament, not as a law or legalistic obligation, but as Continue reading

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