Archive for February, 2018

In Memoriam: Billy Graham (1918-2018)

Billy Graham was 99 when he entered his rest with Jesus last Wednesday.  The man who was a pastor to presidents and plebeians alike leaves a legacy that is difficult to overestimate.  Reverend Graham accomplished many things over his long ministry.  He founded what has become the practically official periodical of evangelical Christianity, Christianity TodayHe served as the president of Youth for Christ and headed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  He steadfastly, but also humbly, confessed a traditional, broadly orthodox Christianity, defending such doctrines as justification by faith, the sufficiency of Christ as the world’s singular Savior, the reality of heaven and hell, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  He declared these doctrines at a time when many churches, especially in the mid-twentieth-century, were drifting into modernism and began to deny these, along with many other, core tenets.  But Reverend Graham will perhaps be most remembered for his moving crusades, where he preached the gospel to stadiums chocked full of eager listeners and curious onlookers.  His association estimates that he preached the gospel to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries over the course of his ministry.

I remember attending one of Billy Graham’s crusades as a child.  His passion for the gospel was infectious as his preaching resonated sonorously through the stadium in which I was sitting.  At the end of the evening, as he always did, he invited people to trust in Christ and come forward to receive prayer.  Thousands walked down to the stage that night as strains of “Just As I Am” wafted across the hall.  To say the least, it was a moving experience.

Whenever I remember my experience at this Billy Graham crusade, I am reminded of a conversation that Jesus has with Martha shortly after her brother Lazarus has died of a devastating illness.  Martha, understandably, is distraught and politely registers her disappointment that Jesus was not around before her brother died to lend some help and, perhaps, a miraculous healing to him.  “Lord,” Martha complains, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).  Jesus, who never intended to heal Lazarus of the sickness that ailed him, but instead to raise Lazarus from the death that overtook him, responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).  These words are some of the most famous in Scripture not only because they describe what Jesus would do for Lazarus, but because they reveal who Jesus is for everyone.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  What is less famous, however, is the question that Jesus asks Martha next: “Do you believe this” (John 11:26)?

This simple question was the question behind every Billy Graham crusade.  After Reverend Graham would proclaim Christ and His death for sinners, after he would declare that Christ’s resurrection can mean your resurrection, and after he would explain how Christ can bear your burdens and carry your cares, he would ask, “Do you believe this?”

When Jesus asks this question of Martha, she responds, “Yes, Lord” (John 11:27).  When Reverend Graham asked it of millions, they responded with a “yes” as well.

As one who is part of the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith, I have, over the years, heard many in my tradition criticize Reverend Graham for the way in which he often spoke of faith in terms of a “decision.”  His ministry even publishes a magazine titled DecisionIt is certainly true that Scripture does not speak of faith as a decision of the will, but as a gift from God.  The apostle Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  Unfortunately, some in my tradition have become so concerned about the possibility of implying that faith is somehow an act of the will that they refuse to invite people to faith at all.  They forget to ask Jesus’ question: “Do you believe this?”

It is in this precious question of Christ that we can best come to understand and appreciate Reverend Graham’s legacy.  He was never afraid to ask this question.  And neither should we.  Sometimes, a simple invitation, because it is a reflection of Jesus’ invitation, bears the fruit of faith.  This is why this question is the question our world needs.  When was the last time you asked it?

Even without a sermon, a choir, and a stadium, when you ask this question, someone might just answer, “Yes.”  And all of heaven will rejoice (Luke 15:7) – including, with what I would guess might be an especially bright smile, Billy Graham.

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February 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Parkland Innocents

It happened again, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Near the close of the school day last Wednesday, a gunman opened fire in the high school’s freshman hall, killing 17 and wounding another 14.

The scenes that unfolded in Parkland have become achingly familiar. There were law enforcement officials swarming the campus.  There were kids filing out with their hands on their heads.  There were paramedics, rushing to stabilize the wounded and, awfully, to confirm the dead.

Besides the horror of the shooting itself, there is the added tragedy that the sheer volume of these kinds of events has, in some ways, deadened their effect on our collective psyche.  And yet, long after the SWAT teams and paramedics leave, long after the news crews move on to the next story, and long after the national attention fades, for the students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the pain and terror of this shooting will remain.  Days like these may be forgotten by those who watch them on the news, but they will not be forgotten by those who live through them in real time.

Sadly, these types of tragedies have also become occasions for hot takes filled with political rancor, with those who offer their “thoughts and prayers” being labeled as disingenuous by some while those who argue for a debate on gun control being accused as opportunistic by others.  Fights erupt on social media while comfort and aid to victims often get overlooked.

As Christians, we are called to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).  It is incumbent upon us, then, to care about and, if opportunities arise, to care for those who are affected.  While many in our culture are fighting predictably, we should be thinking critically about what events like these say about and mean for our culture so that we can offer a hopeful voice on behalf of the innocents who have had their lives unjustly extinguished.

According to the liturgical tradition of the Church, this past Wednesday was both Ash Wednesday and the Feast Day of Saint Valentine.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, when the Church focuses on Christ’s death and resurrection for us and for our salvation.  Saint Valentine was a third-century bishop in Rome who was beheaded for his faith, tradition has it, on February 14, 269.

The death of Saint Valentine reminds us that, all too often, innocents can unjustly lose their lives at the hands of evil perpetrators, as did the innocents in Parkland.  The season of Lent promises us, however, that even when innocents are killed, their lives are not ultimately lost.  For Lent points us to a moment when an innocent – The Innocent – was unjustly killed on a cross by evil perpetrators.  But in this instance, the evil perpetrators didn’t win.  The Innocent did when He conquered their cross.  And this Innocent promises life by faith in Him to the many innocents who have lost their lives since – be that by beating, by beheading, by blade, or by bullet.

A gunman took the lives of 17 students this past Wednesday.  But Jesus has plans to bring their lives back.

A rifleman, it turns out, is no match for a resurrection.

February 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wall Street’s Wild Week

Are we in a bull or a bear market?  It’s hard to tell.

Last week was a roller coaster ride for Wall Street, to put it mildly.  The Dow Jones opened the week down over 1,100 points on Monday for the single largest one-day drop by raw points, though certainly not by overall percentage.  This freefall followed another precipitous drop the previous Friday of over 650 points.  On Tuesday, the Dow rebounded by 568 points.  But this was followed by another mammoth drop of over 1,000 points on Thursday.

Though the financial ride over these past several days has been bumpy, most economists believe the fundamentals of our economy remain strong.  This has not stopped investors from being jittery, however.  These kinds of swings are simply too disorienting not to have an effect on investor confidence.

After a financially tense week like this one, it is worth it for those of us who are Christians to remind ourselves of what a proper perspective on money looks like.

On the one hand, we are called, as Christians, to be stewards of money.  This means we can earn money, save money, invest money, and, of course, share money!  As people who steward money, financial news should be of interest to us.  Having at least a passing awareness of what is happening in the stock market, the commodities market, the derivatives market, the futures market, and the many other types of financial markets can help us steward whatever resources God has given us as best as we possibly can.

On the other hand, we are also called, as Christians, not to put our hope in money.   For when we put our hope in money, we don’t just manage it wisely; we look to it for our security, our identity, and our future.  When we put our hope in money, all it takes is a slide in the stock market for our hope to be shattered and our joy to be sapped.  When we put our hope in money, we are putting our hope in something that is volatile instead of in Someone who is solid.

To steward money means we think about the future of our money.  To hope in money means we think about our money as the future.  But as this latest stock market roller coaster ride has reminded us, hope that is placed in money is no real hope at all.  Money can be earned and lost.  Investments can rise and fall.  Financial futures can soar and sag.  Hope that is placed in money will always be a hope that eventually falters.  This is why hope does not belong in money.  Hope belongs in Jesus.  After all, the return on His investment is far better than the return on our investments of a few dividends.  The return on His investment of blood is our salvation.

Try finding that payout anywhere else.

You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
(1 Peter 1:18-19)

February 12, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Advocating for Life

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Over these past few weeks, lots of big news has been breaking regarding the abortion industry.  Perhaps most notably, it was announced a week ago that Cecile Richards, who is the president of Planned Parenthood, has decided to step down from her position.  Mrs. Richards’ time at the helm of Planned Parenthood has been marked by scandal, as a series of exposés were published accusing her organization of trafficking fetal parts, and by a total of some 3.5 million abortions.

Also in the news, new research has been published in the controversial Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which claims to shed light on the emotional pain that many women experience after going through an abortion.  If the study’s findings are even close to accurate, they are shocking:

13% reported having visited a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor prior to the first pregnancy resulting in an abortion, compared to 67.5% who sought such professional services after their first abortion. Only 6.6% of respondents reported using prescription drugs for psychological health prior to the first pregnancy that ended in abortion, compared with 51% who reported prescription drug use after the first abortion.

Abortion, this study asserts, has deep, lasting, and adverse effects on women’s emotional health.

Digging deeper into the study, some of the individual responses given by women to researchers concerning how their abortions affected them are nothing short of heartbreaking.  When asked, “What are the most significant positives, if any, that have come from your decision to abort?” one woman responded:

None, there are no positives.  My life is no better, it is much worse.  I carry the pain of a child lost forever.  Although I know I am forgiven and have worked through the guilt and shame, the heart-wrenching pain is still there.  I would rather have been a single mother of two and have my baby here to love and dote on than the pain of empty arms.

Another woman explained:

My child is dead and by my own choice.  I spent years of anger, shame, and grief.  It damaged my relationship with my husband, my children, and my God.  For 30 years I did not speak of it to anyone but my husband.  My grief overwhelmed him and left him powerless and ashamed.  For years I cried every Sunday in church, experienced dark depressions, thoughts of suicide, and flashes of anger.

Clearly, the abortions these women endured were devastating to their emotional health.

Along with this research, there is also a proposed bill that addresses the care of babies who are born alive in failed abortion attempts.  Representative Marsha Blackburn has introduced the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which requires doctors, if a baby is born alive during an attempted abortion, to provide the same level of care for that child that would be offered to any child born at the same gestational age and to immediately admit that child to a hospital for further care.  The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.  It now awaits consideration in the Senate.

In all this news, opponents of abortion, among which I count myself, have much on which to reflect.  A successful and, I should add, gigantic March for Life in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago demonstrates that the advocates for babies in the womb are both many and organized.  Through academic investigation, state and federal legislation, mass demonstration, and, of course, one-on-one conversation, the cause of life marches forward.  It marches forward for the babies who have yet to be born, and it marches forward for the women who have been emotionally scarred by their decisions to terminate their pregnancies.  Babies in the womb deserve our protection and advocacy.  Women who are hurting because of a decision to abort deserve our sympathy and support.  The devastation abortion leaves – both in the lives of mothers and the deaths of children – must be revealed for what it is.

As a Christian, I am a firm believer that life is stubborn.  It wants to triumph, even over death.  This the promise of Easter.  And this is what leads to hope for a world without abortion.

February 5, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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