Thank You Dr. Graham! (1918-2018)

I knew that this day would come…sooner or later. For the past few years in fact, with failing health I have often wondered if Billy Graham would live to see his next birthday. Truth be told, I was cheering him on to see his centenary. So I must admit this morning that I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the death of Billy Graham In his 100th year. Though he did not know me personally I feel like I have known him like a friend…from all the biographies I have read as well as his own autobiography “Just as I Am” In fact, my closest in proximity to him was once when I visited his office in Montreat, North Carolina with my wife. We were privileged to see one of his personal places of Bible study. I remember that moment in fact as a ruddy youth pastor, I was looking around as if I was taking in my first glimpse of heaven. Our hosts even graciously offered me the chance to “sit in Billy Graham’s chair” but I respectfully declined simply because seeing his place of study was all I needed at the time. He would never want the tribute that I am writing right now. But I want to write down for my own journal today…that I am just so thankful for this man of God. He was a great pastor. Some have referred to him as “America’s Pastor”. When I was considering seminary and pastoral training one of the prompts that God used to stir my heart toward pastoring was the story of Billy Graham. To see and to know that a man can be faithful to the things that matter most. When so many pastors fail and struggle, he remained faithful…faithful to his ministry, faithful to his family, faithful to his wife and finally, and most importantly, faithful to His Lord.

LESSONS  I HAVE LEARNED FROM MY READING OF THIS GREAT MAN OF GOD…
In every biography one reads, if read with eyes and heart wide open…there should always be lessons…lessons on life, explicit lessons and implicit lectures…lessons that matter to the soul. Here are five simple but profound lessons I have learned from the life of Dr. Billy Graham.

1. INTEGRITY MATTERS…a life that truly pleases the Lord…is a life of integrity. What one believes in his heart coincides with conduct which aligns with behaviour. The name Billy Graham inevitably reminds us of integrity. Billy Graham took definitive steps to ensure that his was a life that did not compromise morally. He did what he could to make sure that his life was above reproach morally, financially, ethically. His life was one of incredible honesty. Leadership at any level cannot begin to function well unless the leader has integrity.

2. FAMILY MATTERS…our first responsibility, our primary ministry…is to our family. The home of Billy Graham was a home of love. It was the place where Billy and Ruth Graham raised children and welcomed grandchildren. Rev. Graham yearned to be with his dear late wife Ruth. Apparently to those who visited him in these past few years,  he would say: “I can’t wait to see her in heaven.” Today, this very moment, he has that joy. Thank you, sir, for reminding us of the priority of family. If one cannot lead the home well how can he truly lead others well.

3. LEADING WELL MATTERS…Pastors and ministry leaders of all stripes and backgrounds have looked to Billy Graham and his Leadership Secrets…one of the foremost lessons for me has always been… “Listen to critics, but don’t dwell on them.” As a pastor, I know that I have critics. I also know at times that I can be pretty thin-skinned, so it is an area in which I constantly struggle. Once someone counselled me to “toughen up my skin” in order to do ministry. Mr. Graham was once asked how, in a lifetime of international ministry and scrutiny, did he deal with the constant stream of criticisms. He smiled and simply said, “I ignored most of them.” While he never implied that he was blameless, he knew that dwelling on criticisms would distract and harm his ministry. So he simply moved on. Hear it, take a moment to think about it and then move on. Do not dwell.

4. HUMILITY MATTERS…Humility is one of the greatest virtues of leaders. Billy Graham sat with presidents and kings and he gave to them Biblical counsel. He preached to literally millions of people all around the world. Volumes have been written about his life and ministry. Some have referred to him as “the world’s most influential person of the second half of the twentieth century.” But all who knew him personally knew him to be one of the most humble men they had ever known. Here is a man who has led millions to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and yet Billy Graham never thought too highly of himself. What an incredible example he was. Knowing the grace of God to me, knowing that I don’t deserve any part of it, yet God in His grace gives it.Remember God also spoke through a donkey.”

5. JESUS IS REALLY…ALL THAT MATTERS… Mr. Graham preached about Jesus for most of his life. The message of the gospel was at the very heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when it is all said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.

These lessons are a small example of what Billy Graham has contributed to the millions and millions of lives he has impacted throughout his ministry. For Billy Graham…IT WAS ALL ABOUT JESUS. And as I sit here and reflect on his life and ministry, I know I will never come close to becoming the man that he was. Yet I can still learn from him…as he followed after Jesus, so I can learn to follow after Jesus too. And you can learn too.

We can learn to love our family and others with a greater love. We can learn to have a greater humility, understanding that we are nothing without Christ. We can learn that the simple things in life are those that really matter. And we can learn that this life is not about us. It’s all about Jesus. That was the life of Billy Graham. It was all about Jesus. That is the type of life I desire to have.

If I had the chance today I would say to Billy Graham: “Thank you, Mr. Graham. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your faithfulness to your family and the task of ministry. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your humility. Thank you for being who God made you to be!

Advertisements

A Notable Life…

So, I was leafing through an end of year issue of a current magazine and as always, at this time of year, there is the usual listing of notable global influencers…people known for their personal contributions in life…be it good or bad… athletes, politicians, entertainers…who have died in the year previous, and then the article briefly marks their notable achievements and contributions.

At the risk of sounding morbid…I must confess that I do enjoy reading these articles. They serve in many ways as “at a glimpse” obituaries reminding me of the contributions each life has made. I was struck this year (2017) primarily because of the number of people who I remember from my growing up years as well…“superstars”!! Back in the day (1970’s-80’s for me) they seemed “bigger than life” they even seemed indomitable…maybe even immortal…(of course that only would be to a young impressionable mind…at the time…)

Yet, only as time can truly reveal…is the quality of each life and the contribution made. Here’s a few you may (or may not) remember: Continue reading

God…I Really Need Your Power!

January 3, 1996 I officially began as a pastor. I remember the first day…with my job description  on the desk in front of me…I remember thinking…“How on earth am I going to do this? I won’t last a week!…How can anyone live up to this job description? It’s too big…it’s impossible…I’m only one guy!” Maybe you have asked similar questions:

  • “How can I live for God faithfully in 2018?”
  • “How can I tell others about Jesus?”
  • “How can I live a life of triumph and victory over sin in 2018?”
  • “I am one breath away from failure. How can I serve Him in 2018?”
  • “I feel inadequate like a failure. I am not up to the task.”

Hey! when you think about it…living for Jesus really is a gargantuan task! (Yes that’s a real word!) It is impossible! Yet more than ever, the world…needs you and I to live for Jesus!  They need the church to be the Church…they need believers to be genuinely living out their faith. To be FAITHFUL…REACHING…WATCHFUL…LOVING…SERVING…CARING.

In Zechariah 4, God gave a young Jewish prophet named Zechariah a vision of a lamp stand. You may ask: Why a lamp stand? That’s a good question. For the Jewish people, lamp stands…were a symbol of God’s presence with them…and a symbol that they were to be a light in the dark world.  As a nation, they had just endured 70 years of captivity in a foreign land. Now they were back in their beloved city that had been decimated and they were restoring the city and their beloved place of worship, the Temple.  One of the important items in the inner sanctum of the Temple was a lamp stand that the high priests would  ensure there was plenty of oil for lamps to burn though the day and the night.  But they hadn’t built the temple to completion yet. In fact, the workers  had even stopped building at one point because of discouragement and other obstacles..

Rebuilding the Temple so they could be a light to the world was a gargantuan task! So God spoke to Zechariah and told him to tell the governor Zerubabbel (yes that was his real name) that he did not have what it takes to rebuild the temple. Imagine being told “Hey buddy…you do not have what it takes to build and complete this project.”  This is what God actually said: “So he answered and said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) In other words, “Hey Zerubabbel! You don’t have the power…but I do! You can’t build the temple on your might and power!  You need Me…the power of the Holy Spirit to build it.” A powerful lesson that Zerubabbel had to learn.

Now think about the lesson we need to learn…we simply do not have what it takes to defeat Satan. The Bible teaches Satan is our very real enemy…he is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone for lunch…he is a deceiver and liar, possessing enough power to destroy us render our mission impossible.  We simply can’t defeat him.

Martin Luther the great reformer wrote a hymn that spells this out clearly: “…For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe…his craft and power are great…and armed with cruel hate…on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide…our striving would be losing…were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing…”

Think about it this way…there are three ways that we can live the Christian life:

  1. We can trust our own strengths, wisdom, abilities and talents…and go it alone.
  2. We can borrow the ways and the resources of the world…and do it their way.
  3. Or we can completely trust and fully depend on the power of God to live for Him.

If left to ourselves, we’d be decimated by Satan…our strength is no match for his, even the collective strength and wisdom of the world…it’s not our power we need…it’s God’s power…it is not by might, nor by power, but by the empowering Holy Spirit.

God has promised to His disciples power for living. In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Pastor Tony Evans said of this power: “This power of the Holy Spirit creates a powerful people who have His powerful presence carrying out His powerful program…weak men who fled from Christ, spiritual weak-kneed wimps who ran when the going got tough, received power from the Holy Spirit when they received power, they preached and thousands were saved.” That’s the power we want…That’s the power we need!

A little later in the book of Acts the Jewish authorities are trying to shut up the apostles but they were amazed at their courage…even after they were beaten and ordered to stop preaching, the apostles still went out and preached some more! Where did they get this power? From the Holy Spirit…God’s power alone! The Holy Spirit empowered the early Christians to work miracles as they proclaimed the Gospel…He gave power to the preaching of the early church so that when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the Word boldly and with great power!

In the same way, we too…have been given the task of being a light to a very dark world…and building God’s kingdom as we go…being FAITHFUL, REACHING, WATCHFUL, CARING, LOVING, and SERVING …the ministry and mission of the church is downright humanly impossible…we cannot do it on our own strengths and abilities…but as the Holy Spirit empowers us, we will receive more than enough power to accomplish the work He wants us to do! This is the only way we can do His mission!

“…‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

Until next time. Keep looking up!

 

I Need a Counsellor!

There I said it!  I need a Counsellor! But forget the Dr Phil’s or the Oprah Winfrey’s! I need Someone who really truly knows me and really knows what is best. I need a Counsellor who fully and completely understands where I have been, and the experiences that have shaped me, the people I have encountered, the mess that I have experienced and to see how all of that combined has shaped me for what I truly am today.  I also need a Counsellor who will know what is ahead of me so He can shape me and direct me where I need to go and to do what I need to do. I need this Counsellor because the world that I live in is really complex and complicated…and the world around me is screaming for hope. There are times when I feel like I am at the end of my rope. I need someone who will understand me.

One of the beautiful Old Testament names foretold about Jesus is that of “Wonderful Counsellor”. Jesus would hold that title. He would be that Wonderful Counsellor to anyone and everyone who would look to Him in faith.

So what is it that make Jesus the “Wonderful Counsellor”?
First off…Jesus is…is the Very Wisdom of God 

1 Corinthians 1:24 “Christ [is]…the wisdom of God…” and Colossians 2:3 [In Him]…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…”  Isaiah 28:29 The Lord of Hosts is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance.”  

The perfect source for wisdom…is the Source of all wisdom…Jesus Himself! He is far more qualified than any human counsellor to speak into my life than any other so-called professional in the world. He knows all about human nature, He created me. He knows me. So why would we even bother going anywhere else until I have first of all come to Him.

Second, Jesus…Offers His WisdomHe offers us His Counsel, His Word, His wisdom…

James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach…”

Life is complicated, relationships are tenuous, each situation is beyond understanding.  But Jesus offers His wisdom to us, and He give it to us liberally.

Third, Jesus…Completely Understands your struggles…When going through a difficult time, have you ever had someone say, “I understand what you are going through…”?  It seems so empty to hear and also to say…unless of course they have truly been through the exact situation. Otherwise, how can they possibly understand our problems. Every situations is so complex, so different from each other. It doesn’t matter what your struggle is…Jesus gets it… He understands it. He can perfectly and completely relate to you. 

Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus, wisdom incarnate, completely understands…He knows exactly what you are going through. When you come to Him in need of counsel He fully knows your situation. He knows your heart and mind. He knows where you have been, where you are and where you are going. 

Fourthly, Jesus Lovingly CARES For You…Because He loves you…He has your best interests at heart.

1 Peter 5:7 “God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to Him.”

Some counsellors only care as long as you can pay the bill. Not Jesus! He cares about you as a person. He cares about your character, your spiritual growth and your emotional welfare. He cares about the pain you suffer. He considers you of great value and worth. Matthew 6:26 Jesus said:

Look at the birds of the sky: they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

He thinks so much of you that He sent His Son to die for you…to rescue you from your pain and suffering…to give you new hope, new life and salvation. God lovingly cares for YOU!

He cares so much that He will help you with your problems. He will help you deal with them. That’s why He is called Wonderful Counsellor. He’s not going to leave us to fend for ourselves. You have probably heard it said, “God helps those who help themselves.” The truth of the matter is when you have reached the bottom…”God helps those who can’t help themselves.” When you see no way out…God steps in…if you call on Him.

Matthew 11:28Come to Me, all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That’s a promise! He will not turn His back on us…nor abandon us. God cares for us! Make an appointment with the Wonderful Counsellor today. In fact, make regular appointments to sit down with Him. Open your heart up to Him. Tell Him what is going on in your life. Believe me…there is no heartache that He can not mend. There is no problem He can not solve…because He is the Wonderful Counsellor! Then…follow His instruction.

How Can I Have Real Peace in this Real World? (Part 1)

iu-2Real peace is really evasive. In a world that is full of turmoil and turbulence, many are searching for true peace of mind, that “tranquility of heart and soul” that poets and song writers pen so eloquently about. You must admit that the world in which we live is not a good source for peace. You just cant find peace in this world. So we have to look elsewhere to where real peace is found.  God alone, as the Maker, Creator, and Sustainer of all things is the only true Giver of real peace! So what does God say about finding “real peace in the real world“? To His disciples who were experiencing the absence of peace in the form of panic and bewilderment about Him leaving them Jesus promised them:  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27 

So the first step to finding real peace in the real world is to have a real relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” Romans 5:1

Romans 5:1 helps us to know that we can have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Son who paid the price for our peace with God…He purchased our peace when He died on the Cross for our sins…He brought us peace with God…we were once enemies of God. And as enemies there can be no peace…because it is a broken relationship and as in all broken relationships there is no peace of mind, there is only turmoil. Ask any spouse of a broken marriage or anyone who has ever experienced a broken relationship of any kind there is no peace of mind. Your heart weighs heavy with the hurt and anger or sadness. But here is the Great News!  Now, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross…having paid the penalty for our sin…we can now have real peace with God!  That means our relationship with God has been restored to what it should be.  Reader…you can have peace with God just by simply trusting Jesus and what He did for you and repenting from your sin. That means simply admitting you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and that Jesus Christ is your Saviour who took your penalty for your sin.

So notice what Paul says in Philippians 4:1

“Therefore my beloved and longed for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.” Philippians 4:1

What does it mean to “stand fast” in Christ?
Once we have been forgiven of our sin and we have a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus then we can stand in Him.  To “stand fast” was actually a military term that was common in Paul’s first century day that really described the Roman military…who were known for “standing fast” against their enemy…they were immoveable, unshakeable. So to “stand fast in the Lord”  means that the believer is to stay grounded in Jesus Christ…to trust Him completely and not to wander or look elsewhere for an object of trust and hope…but to trust Christ Jesus completely! Keep to His Word! His Word is the necessary tool for having peace in this world. If we do not have His Word, the Bible we will not have peace in this world, we will continue panicking and searching for peace. When we have had the right tools all along!

On May 7, 1915, the R.M.S Lusitania, a British ocean liner, was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. The ship sank in a matter of minutes, killing 1198 of the 1959 passengers aboard. In her book,  “Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy”, Diana Preston recorded the observations of one of the passengers, a bookseller, named Charles Lauriat:
As the ship was sinking and as Lauriat looked around to see who needed life jackets, he noticed that among the crowds now pouring on deck nearly everyone who passed by him that was wearing a life jacket had it on incorrectly. In his panic, one man had thrust one arm through an armhole and his head through the other. Others rushed past wearing them upside down. No one had read the “neat little signs” around the ship telling people how to put them on. Lauriat tried to help, but some thought he was trying to take their life jackets from them and fled in terror.
Preston continues: “Dead and drowning people were ‘dotting the sea like seagulls.’ Many bodies were floating upside down because people had put their life jackets on the wrong way up… so that their heads were pushed under the water.” (Diana Preston, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, Berkley Trade, 2002, pp. 206, 246; http://www.PreachingToday.com)

Likewise, it could be that we as believers…we have the life jacket but we haven’t read the instructions…and the Lord is there waiting for us to turn to Him but we don’t and we wonder why we are drowning. We try to save ourselves, we try to do things our way and we wonder why we don’t have peace. Believer, know this one application…Real peace begins when we have a real relationship with God through Jesus and when we depend on His Word alone.When we stand fast in Him, not in ourself we will have real peace in a  real world.

 

The Silencing of Parents (a comment on Ontario Bill #89)

Do you and I as parents have the freedom to teach our children what is right and what is wrong? If my son wanted to dress like a girl and I told him that he should really dress like a boy, according to the Ontario Liberal government I would be impinging on the rights of my son and he would be considered “a child in need” and they would then have the right to remove my son from his home out from under my care and teaching.

Just this past week in our Ontario Legislature, Queen’s Park, the Ontario Liberal government under the leadership of Kathleen Wynne has pushed through a radical bill known as Bill 89. A bill that was written apparently for the protection of children but is also threatening parents who believe their children should be taught otherwise.

As a pastor and a father, I have written letters to our local Member of Provincial Parliament as well as to the committee overseeing the passage of the Bill, but unfortunately my MPP simply answered with a letter from his party focussing on other legitimate needs for the bill and not even addressing my concerns.  I did hear back from a few members of the oversight committee who also shared my concerns {I also understand that there were over 40 amendments recommended to the Liberal government to change the Bill in order to protect parents and the Liberal government turned them all down.}

This Bill 89 is very concerning for the following reasons: First of all, Bill 89 expands the definition of what actually is a “child in need”. Granted there are children who are in need of protection from abusive environments.  But when a parent in good faith, and in loving care is teaching their children the traditional roles of sexuality, roles that actually naturally make sense, they can also fall into the category of “unsafe“. There is definitely something wrong here. Over the past few years the Ontario Liberal government, under Kathleen Wynne has been pushing a confused gender ideology onto the Child services of Ontario…and now Bill 89 threatens any parent who teaches their children otherwise.

So now what do I do? I, as a parent of three children, who does not ascribe or believe in the homosexual ideology and gender theory of the Liberal government. It is simply not in accordance with my religious beliefs. It doesn’t line up with the authority of the Bible. So, should one of my children happen to express to me their interest in “identifying with homosexuality” I would, in good faith, and loving concern for their growth and development would teach them what I believe. And the Liberal government is seeking to silence that parental role and responsibility of teaching my own children what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Thereby, this Liberal government is actually removing parental rights and responsibilities.

Mr. Coteau (Liberal Minister of Children & Youth Services) recently stated:  “I would consider that a form of abuse, when a child identifies one way [LGBT+] and a caregiver is saying no, you need to do this differently,” and “If it’s abuse, and if it’s within the definition, a child can be removed from that environment and placed into protection where the abuse stops.”  So now, because I do not adhere to the homosexual ideology, and I teach my children differently…I am now considered “a child abuser“?  Something desperately has been confused.

Bill 89 also states that parents (and Children’s Aid Services etc) must bring up the child in accordance with the child’s creed. This is essentially diminishing the role of parents.  Someone needs to inform the Liberal government that it is actually the role of parents to teach the creeds and the religious beliefs. It is not the role of a school teacher, judge or the MPP or Premier. It is the parents role and responsibility! That is the way that God designed the family. What right does this government think they have to remove that right and responsibility from parents?

Should my wife and I ever consider fostering children or adopting children, which is a great need today, and if I were to teach that child a traditional belief in male and female roles, this government would seek to stop that from happening based upon this Bill 89 because judges will have to base their decisions on “what is the best interest of the child.”

This Bill #89 needs to be clarified before it is ratified. It needs to have some form of inclusion whereby parents of faith and other religious practices that do not ascribe to the homosexual agenda have their rights protected too…and that parents, as the God given and God designed family authority have the freedom to teach according to their own personal creed and faith practices.

To Give All For What I Believe…

William Hunter was only 19 years of age when he died. He didn’t die of natural causes like sickness and disease. No. William Hunter was burned to death March 27, 1555.  Prior to his death, his job as a silk weaver in the city of London, England was taken from him.

Hunter lived in a  time when the protestant reformation was bearing significant fruit. Queen Mary of Tudor had assumed the throne and had given the edicts that Roman Catholicism was the state religion and everyone who did not submit was to be put to death.

Both the Church and the local government tried to threaten him and even bribed him.  In fact, one civil dignitary offered to make him a “Freeman of the City of London” and even give him £40 and an offer of land…if he would simply renounce his blasphemous beliefs.

What did William Hunter believe that was so dangerous to the Church and State? First, he refused to attend Catholic mass. Even though there had been a standing order that the entire city of London was to attend.  Not only his lack of church attendance but he loved to read the Bible. He was in Brentwood Chapel one day and he was caught reading the Bible. He also rejected the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation which is the belief that when you eat of the bread during communion it actually turns into the actual body of Christ and the wine taken at communion turns into the actual blood of Christ. So of course, Hunter knew that the Bible did not teach this so he rejected it, choosing instead to believe and stand for the truth and reliability of God’s Word and the freedom to read it.

William Hunter is considered to be the first Essex martyr of the reign of Mary Tudor. This Queen Mary is known to have had over 280 men burned at the stake for protesting against Roman Catholic teaching.

The site of William Hunter’s death is now known as the Brentwood School, and on the site of his death there is a plaque with the following inscription: “WILLIAM HUNTER. MARTYR. Committed to the Flames March 26th MDLV. Christian Reader, learn from his example to value the privilege of an open Bible. And be careful to maintain it.”

What can we learn from this? We can apply a number of lessons. First of all, it is imperative that believers contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.(Jude 3) It can sometimes be misunderstood that only vocational ministers are the ones to contend…agonize for the faith. But it must be noted that Jude was writing to everyday believers. Secondly, we can take courage, because Jesus Himself has said that “In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And finally a third application is the quote itself taken from Hunter’s memorial plaque.  “Christian Reader, learn from his example to value the privilege of an open Bible and be careful to maintain it.” Value the Bible for what it is…it is God’s Holy Word for us, it is all He wants us to know for life and godliness is contained therein. Read it…love it…share it!