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Blog / Miscellaneous

Painting or Palette? Thoughts on Suicide and the Meaning of Life

June 11, 2018
Anthony_Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, popular chef, author, and television personality


NASHVILLE
—A few years ago, when my youngest son Jonathan was in high school, I came home and found him painting in our garage. As usual, he was covered in paint, as were several large canvases.

I noticed a smaller one that looked like an abstract painting. The colors and shapes were kind of cool, but really random. This was not like Jonathan’s other work (which usually featured seascapes, cityscapes, flowers, or musical instruments). Curious, but trying to be encouraging, I said: “This is an interesting one. What is this supposed to be?”

Jonathan laughed: “Dad, that’s not a painting. That’s my palette. That’s where I mix paint colors.”

It’s interesting how similar, yet radically different, paintings and palettes are.

In this case, both were made from the same substance (wood and canvas), and both were covered in oil paint. However, one was destined for an art gallery and the other was destined for the trash. One would be purchased and displayed in someone’s home for many years, and the other would be kept in the garage for a few weeks until a new palette was needed.

One was a result of an artist’s creative intention. The other was an accident—a random combination of drips and smears of paint.

Every human being in every time and every place has grappled with some form of this question: Is my life the result of divine creative intention, or am I an accident? Did a transcendent being will my existence? Or did I simply come into being by a series of exceptionally unlikely chemical and evolutionary processes?

Am I a human being made in the image of God, full of dignity, meaning, and purpose? Or am I simply an accidental collection of atoms and cells with no more objective value and purpose than an ant, a tree, or even a rock?

Am I a painting or a palette?

Is my life beautiful, meaningful, and valuable, or does it just appear to be so?

Questions like these loom large in our culture—especially on days when we hear the tragic news of yet another celebrity suicide. Last week, it was Kate Spade, the fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, television star, and Filipino food connoisseur. Rising suicide rates not only afflict the rich and famous, but also everyday people who live and work among us. Every year, more than 800,000 take their lives around the world.

Why are so many people willing to take their own lives?

The factors behind every suicide are always complex and difficult to untangle, but could it be that many people in our culture have come to believe that their lives are more like a palette than a painting? Could it be that we have begun to see our beauty, meaning, and value as subjective and ephemeral rather than objective and eternal?

If, in the grand scheme of things, our lives are as accidental and purposeless as Jonathan’s palettes, then what does it matter, someone might think, if I take my life?

If we see our lives as a palette, then suicide is only tragic in a small, subjective sense. It is tragic for those who valued the person—friends, family, etc. But, with this thinking, it is not tragic in any cosmic, objective sense. However, if we believe that every human life is God’s masterpiece, then suicide is tragic in both the subjective and the objective sense. Friends and family are grieved, yes. But even more, God, the one who made each one of us, is grieved.

If our lives are God’s paintings, then no one takes greater pleasure in us than the one who made us. It doesn’t matter if we think we’ve ruined our lives; it doesn’t matter if those around us don’t see our value; it doesn’t matter if we struggle to find purpose and meaning. The God who made us loves us and has a great purpose for each one of us.

If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please don’t struggle alone—talk to your pastor, pray with a friend, seek professional help. And finally, remember that you are created in God’s image for His purpose, and no matter what you have done or what has been done to you, He loves you.

Blog / Church

The Pain of Prophetic Preaching

May 7, 2018

Unique
NASHVILLE—
Because I live in two nations, I get to be part of two local churches, one in Manila and one in Nashville. For obvious reasons, Victory Manila is 99% Filipino. For reasons that are not as obvious, Bethel is approximately 55% black (African American and African immigrants), 35% white, and 10% other (Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern). This means that I am an ethnic minority in both of my home churches. This also means that there are worship styles, communication styles, and hairstyles that I simply do not understand (and probably never will).

In the past year, I have had multiple conversations with black and white members of my Nashville church. Sometimes, my black friends feel like certain topics are not addressed enough, while some of my white friends feel like those same topics are addressed too much. In a multiethnic church, it seems that when certain sensitive topics are addressed, no one is fully satisfied. This is what I call “the pain of prophetic preaching.” And this pain is not unique to my multiethnic home church in Nashville.

If you have an honest conversation with multiethnic church members in London, Johannesburg, or Singapore, while the specific details might be different, the sentiments will probably be the same. Some want certain topics to be hit harder and more often from the pulpit, while others prefer those same topics to be discussed privately or not at all.

O the pain of prophetic preaching. What’s a preacher to do? If anyone ever lived with the pain of prophetic preaching it was Jeremiah.

He was born a priest, but before he was born, God decided he would be a prophet (See Jeremiah 1:1-10). I bet there were many times Jeremiah wished he could have lived the relatively uncomplicated and uncontroversial life of a priest.

But no, God called him to be a prophet, and that meant he had to preach uncomfortable topics like idolatry, adultery, immigration (sojourners), religious pluralism, colonialism, racism, the shedding of innocent blood, orphan care, government corruption, and poverty, to name a few. It is common today for people to think that faithful obedience to God results in prosperity and popularity. Not so for Jeremiah. His faithful obedience resulted in unjust incarceration more than once. It also led to brutal beatings and death threats. Because Jeremiah was faithful to his prophetic call, he was neither popular nor prosperous. He was hated and despised by the very people he served.

After a season of preaching prophetic sermons that no one except God wanted him to preach, Jeremiah let out a brutally honest and desperate prayer (aka a prophetic complaint). “Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me” (Jeremiah 15:10).

You know it’s bad when a preacher brings his mother into a conversation with God!

Notice that Jeremiah described himself as a man of strife and contention to the whole land. That’s pretty bleak, but it gets worse. He notes that, unlike a banker, he neither lends or borrows, yet all of them curse me. I doubt that every single person actually cursed him, but on some days, it seems that way when God calls you to be a prophetic preacher. Jeremiah discovered that being a faithful prophetic preacher can sometimes destroy relationships and increase stress.

How did God respond to Jeremiah’s complaint, and how might He respond to ours? God responded with a rhetorical question: “Have I not set you free for their good?” (Jeremiah 15:11)

God’s response contains two important reminders for everyone whose calling causes them to be unpopular. First, the call of God sets us free from the concerns and temporal value systems of the prevailing culture. Second, the call of God is for the good of others, not necessarily for our immediate good.

While most preachers reading this blog will not experience Jeremiah’s level of persecution, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that even modern prophetic preachers should expect some level of opposition because “the prophetic act, now as always, is decidedly upstream and against the grain.” (If you’d like to read more on this, check out Brueggmann’s book, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word) That “decidedly upstream and against the grain” phrase sure explains the difficulty of preaching certain topics. But faithfulness to the call demands that we preach them anyway.

Question: Does faithfulness to God’s calling always guarantee immediate earthly blessings?

Answer: No, but it always honors God and always produces eternal rewards.

Therefore, I suggest that preachers boldly and wisely preach whatever God says to preach, especially if it is “decidedly upstream” and against the prevailing cultural current.

Blog / Leadership

Whoever Strikes First

April 16, 2018

Asphalt-Mountain
LONDON—
Deborah and I are in London this week for our annual Every Nation International Apostolic Team (IAT) meeting and Every Nation’s Build Conference for Europe. Every year, our regional team leaders from every region of the world gather together to fellowship, pray, and plan for what God has in store for our movement of churches and campus ministries.

Whenever I gather with this group of leaders, I am encouraged about the future, and I am reminded of our humble beginnings. Though we have a team full of world-class leaders, most of us would freely admit that we didn’t become leaders because we were the best and the brightest among our peers. Most of us have stories like Joab.

When David was capturing the stronghold of Zion, he needed someone to lead the charge, so he made this offer to his army: “‘Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.’ And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief” (1 Chronicles 11:6). (Sounds a little like David’s own leadership story from 1 Samuel 17.)

David needed a leader—someone who would do something, someone who would take action. He didn’t need a thought leader, a vision architect, or a chief experience officer. He didn’t need a town hall meeting, a focus group, or an advisory board. He didn’t need a coach, a consultant, or a counselor.  He needed a leader.

Leaders lead. Leaders go first. Leaders take action.

Some people, especially founders, are in top leadership positions not because they are the smartest or the best or the most qualified, but simply because they did something when something needed to be done. They are leading teams now because they were the FIRST on the team—before there was a team. That’s my leadership story.

For over three decades, I have had the privilege of leading an amazing team that leads a great church in Manila. I am not the best preacher on that team. I am not the best strategic planner. I have never been the most spiritual, and I am not the most educated. I am not the best theologian. I am definitely not the best pastor.  I ended up in the “senior leader” seat because Deborah and I were crazy enough to leave, to go, to stay, and to not quit. And that’s why I got the leadership position and title.

It is good for leaders, especially founder leaders and senior leaders, to remind ourselves that we are not in our positions because we are the smartest, most spiritual, or best leaders, but because we got there first. The realization of this fact should make it easier to step aside and decrease so that next-generation leaders can take increasingly more significant leadership roles.

When I admit that I am not the best preacher or the best leader on the team, I am acknowledging that this organization is not being led by the best most skilled person. That means that it will probably survive being led by another leader and generation that is also not the best. But when I assume that I am the best leader, best preacher, best pastor, best theologian, best Christian, then I will have a more difficult time turning it over to someone whom I perceive as less than the best.

David didn’t ask for the most qualified leader. He just asked for a leader, a man of action. So he got Joab, a brilliant yet deeply flawed leader.

If you are in a leadership position, don’t mistakenly interpret that as meaning you are better or more spiritual than those you lead. Stay humble. Stay dependent on God. And, when it is time, let go of the position so another leader who will also probably not be the absolute best leader or most spiritual person can have an opportunity to make some of the same leadership mistakes you got to make.

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Should the Church be More Inclusive or Exclusive?

April 4, 2018

Narrow-Path

NASHVILLE—One of the biggest challenges that Christians face today is reconciling the seemingly exclusive claims of Jesus with the postmodern cultural value of inclusivity.

Whether you are at a Starbucks or a law firm, a university campus or a preschool, inclusivity is what everyone seems to be striving for. It’s written in value statements. It’s expressed in public memos (sometimes after an employee Twitter gaff). And perhaps most importantly, it’s simply assumed to be an inherent good by most people in society.

Some churches have joined the movement, pushing for a more inclusive Christianity that is open to all. One church website put it this way: “Everybody’s in, baby…If you have breath, then you belong.”

In one sense, I hope that every church can embrace this kind of relational openness and inclusivity to outsiders, especially towards people in the LGBTQ and Muslim communities who have unofficially been excluded from evangelical churches.

However, many churches that embrace this language of inclusivity are not only advocating for relational inclusivity but also doctrinal inclusivity. This is where we, as Christians, must jump off the inclusivity train.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see a model of intentional relational inclusivity and of radical doctrinal exclusivity.

For example, in John 4, Jesus scandalized his disciples when he engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation. Samaritans were the ultimate outsiders (even enemies) in Jewish society. Just in case later readers might miss this, John writes parenthetically, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). Not only was this woman a Samaritan, but she was a serial adulteress who had had five husbands and, as a result, was an outcast even in her own village.

These realities did not deter Jesus from welcoming this woman into conversation and inviting her to become a “true worshipper” of God (John 4:23).

However, Jesus’ remarkable relational inclusivity (which surprised both the woman and the disciples) was accompanied by clear doctrinal exclusivity. First, Jesus intentionally raises the issue of the woman’s sexual promiscuity by asking her about her husband(s). Her sex life mattered to Jesus not because it inherently disqualified her from a relationship with God, but because it had become a counterfeit god in her life—making it impossible for her to know and worship the true God.

While many proponents of “inclusive” Christianity want to take sex and sexuality off the table in conversations about faith and repentance, Jesus does the exact opposite and puts it front and center—not because sexual sin is more problematic than other kinds of sin but because sexual idolatry blinds us from the true object of worship.

After this, the woman asked Jesus a loaded question about worship: Does it matter where I worship? Jews worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem, but Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim (John 4:20). Again, here the doctrinally inclusive Christian might have responded, “It doesn’t matter where, how, or who you worship as long as you are sincerely worshipping somewhere, somehow, and something.” But that is not how Jesus answered.

The disciples might have expected that Jesus would reorient this woman’s worship toward Jerusalem and the temple, but that’s not what he did either. Instead, he reoriented her worship to himself. Jesus told her that the Messiah, the one that both the Jews and the Samaritans had been waiting for to show them the way to the Father, had come. And he told her, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26).

Jesus’ radical doctrinal exclusivity is echoed in a sermon of Peter’s in Acts 4 where he says, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you… And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (John 4:11–12).

Not only was this message preached to Jews and Samaritans, but Paul preached a similar message to Greeks in Corinth, saying, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

The call to discipleship is a call for everyone—Jew or Samaritan, man or woman, black or white, American or Iranian, rich or poor, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, religious or secular—to abandon all other gods and to worship the one true God revealed in the person of Jesus.

Blog / Miscellaneous

The Necessity of the Cross

March 27, 2018

Garden of Gethsamene

NASHVILLE — For almost a month, I have been blogging about the importance of preaching (and singing) the cross. But as we begin Holy Week, I want to take a closer look at the importance of the cross itself.

When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, just a few hours before He would be arrested, tortured, and executed, He prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Knowing what was coming, Jesus, in His humanity, was searching for an alternative to the cross. But He concluded His prayer, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

Why didn’t God the Father find another way? Why was it necessary for God the Son to go to the cross?

A common modern objection to the cross goes like this: Why couldn’t a good and loving God find it in His heart to simply forgive (and forget)? Why did He require the death of His sinless son as a substitute for sinful humanity?

At first glance, the question seems to put God (and Christianity) on the defensive. We expect our children to forgive and forget. Why can’t we expect the same of God? Why does this (seemingly) “bloodthirsty” God work the redemption of humanity through such inhumane means? Why does a just God will such a cosmic injustice—the death of Jesus by crucifixion? Why was the cross necessary?

The answer to these objections hinges on the question of God’s justice in relation to human injustice.

The question “Why can’t God just forgive and forget?” can only be asked by someone of great privilege who has never experienced the depth of human injustice.

A few years ago, a college student from Stanford was accused (and eventually convicted) of sexual assault and the attempted rape of an intoxicated female who was found unconscious next to a dumpster. During court proceedings, the defendant’s father made an appeal to the judge to not deal too harshly with his son. In a letter, he wrote that prison time was “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action…”

The father of the perpetrator wanted soft justice—even a passing-over of justice. He was basically asking the judge: “Why can’t we just forgive and forget?”

Can you imagine the victim of this brutal injustice hearing these words in court? Can you imagine what her father and mother thought? They were not content just to forgive and forget. Something terribly wrong had been done to this young girl and they wanted justice.

In a letter to the judge, in which she directly addressed her assailant, the victim wrote: “You should have never done this to me… But here we are. The damage is done, no one can undo it. And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on.”

This letter poignantly illustrates the necessity of the cross. God, because He is just, cannot simply forgive and forget. His solution to the sin and injustice of the world will not, and cannot, ignore the cries for justice from people who have been oppressed and abused, like that young girl. God, by His very nature, must make things right and righteousness requires justice.

But there is more.

God is not only seeking to restore the victim; He is seeking to redeem the victimizer. He is not only on the side of the oppressed; He is actively seeking to bring the oppressor over to the side of righteousness. This is good news because we are all victims and victimizers, oppressed and oppressors, plaintiffs and defendants.

Here we find the beauty and glory of the cross.

The cross was necessary “so that he might be just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26). For on the cross, God in Jesus secured justice for every victim of injustice, and at the same time, He bore the punishment for every perpetrator of injustice. On the cross, Jesus identified with the unjust suffering of the oppressed, and at the same time, He experienced the just punishment due to oppressors.

Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

To borrow (and adjust) the words of the letter quoted above, from the cross, Jesus makes this appeal to each one of us: “You should have never done this to me…But here we are. The damage is done, and only I can undo it. And now you have a choice: You can be in denial, or we can face it head-on. I accept the pain; I accept the punishment; and we move on.”

Blog / Church

Singing the Cross

March 20, 2018

HymnalMANILA — A few days ago, I retweeted this quote from theologian and New Testament scholar Gordon Fee: “Show me a church’s music, and I’ll show you their theology.”

The sobering implication is this: your church’s theology will more closely mirror the music you sing than the sermons you preach.

This quote is both a critique and an encouragement for pastors. It’s a critique because Fee knows that many evangelical (especially charismatic) churches sing worship songs that have shallow (and occasionally heretical) theology. But it’s also an encouragement—an encouragement for pastors to see the entire worship service (both the singing and the preaching) as an opportunity to teach theology to the congregation.

Why is congregational singing such an effective mode of teaching theology? Because, unlike sermons, worship songs are sung over and over and over again. Therefore, though you can say a lot more in a thirty-minute sermon than you can in a three-minute song, a three-minute song—sung over and over again for many years—can have a much greater impact on the theology and spiritual development of someone in the pew.

Ideally, our preaching and singing should reinforce one another.

A few months ago, Paul Barker preached a short message on Revelation 19 at a training for Every Nation staff in Nashville. Describing John’s apocalyptic vision of heaven, Paul pointed out that Jesus was “clothed in a robe dipped in blood” (19:13). He contrasted this with the description of Jesus’ bride (the church) coming to meet Him. They were dressed in white robes, “with fine linen, white and pure” (19:14). This image, of course, points to the work of the cross; in particular, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. John was making the point that because Jesus’ garments are red (stained with His blood), our robes are white.

Justin Gray, the director of Every Nation Music, was captivated by this image and what it implied about Jesus’ work on the cross. This idea was eventually turned into a song that Every Nation Music recently released. Paul preached this powerful message to a few dozen people in Nashville, but because of the song, this truth will be sung by tens of thousands of people all over the world—hopefully, for many years to come.

My encouragement to pastors is this: as you make greater efforts to preach the cross in your churches this Easter season, make sure you also are singing the cross.

Here are my top ten favorite Every Nation Music songs that focus on the cross:

Red and White (Charts)
Savior on the Cross (Charts)
Find Rest (Charts)
All of You (Charts)
Beautiful Love (Charts)
Ruler of Nations (Charts)
Rise Heart (Charts)
Forever Found 
Oh the Blood
Oh What A Savior (Charts)

Blog / Church

How to Preach the Cross

March 14, 2018

 

PewsMANILA—Last week, I wrote about the importance of preaching the cross. We must continually emphasize the cross because it is something that most people (religious or secular) don’t want to hear—and it’s something that most preachers (evangelical or otherwise) don’t really want to preach.

So how do we preach the cross? Where should we begin?

My advice is to go deep into one crucial idea, text, or metaphor. So often when we preach, we try to say everything, and we end up with a sermon that is wide yet shallow. Piling on Bible verses and metaphors results in weak and ineffective preaching. Instead of going wide (and shallow), I’d recommend going deep (and narrow)  when you preach the cross.

I’d recommend choosing one (maybe two) of the following approaches for a sermon:

1. Preach the cross from the Gospels. I might take this one step further and recommend preaching the story of the crucifixion from just one of the gospel writers in any given sermon. Each writer has a particular theological emphasis in their account of Jesus’ life and death. It is worth unpacking each retelling of the crucifixion through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

2. Preach the cross from the Writings of Paul. Preaching the cross from Paul’s letters gives us the opportunity to go deeper into some of the ideas about the cross only implicitly referenced by the gospel writers. Unlike the gospel writers, who convey their theologies of the cross primarily through narrative, Paul gives us a more explicit discussion of the meaning and implications of it. Again, different letters (whether Romans, 1 Corinthians, or Galatians) offer different emphases that are worth treating on their own.

3. Preach the cross from the Old Testament. The best way to do this is to follow the lead of Paul or the gospel writers who make explicit references to the Old Testament as they explain the significance of Jesus’ death. Sometimes it’s enough just to alert your listeners to the Old Testament reference they’re making, but sometimes it’s worth preaching an entire sermon from an Old Testament text (like Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53) that points to the cross and helps us understand its significance in a new way.

4. Preach the cross from a recurring biblical theme or motif. Though I typically like to ground my sermons in a particular text, sometimes it is valuable to ground the sermon in a particular theme which we can trace and unpack through several texts and stories. The key here is to focus narrowly on one theme—like blood sacrifice (see Hebrews 9:22), ransom (see Matthew 20:28), or substitution (Leviticus 16). Obviously, these themes are all related, but they are worth unpacking on their own. Each idea has profound implications for our understanding of the cross.

As we make the cross central to our preaching, we will be reminded that the cross is central to the Scriptures (from start to finish). And as we study and preach the Word with the cross in mind, we will remind our listeners (and ourselves) that the cross is central to the call to discipleship.

Blog / Church / Miscellaneous

Preaching the Cross

March 7, 2018

Cross-for-BlogMANILA—When I was growing up, my family did not go to church every Sunday, but we never missed Christmas Eve or Easter.

This image of the “Christmas-and Easter-only” churchgoer is always in the back of my mind when I prepare to preach in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. If someone only went to church twice a year, what sermon would I want them to hear? How could I sum up the essence of the gospel in thirty minutes? What message would make the biggest impact? What words might make all the difference?

In these situations, we often imagine that “relevance” is crucial. How can I preach something that will make sense to everyone in the audience, especially the non-religious who usually don’t go to church? How can I make sure that I don’t unnecessarily offend any non-Christian hearing my sermon?

While it is important to seriously consider your audience when preaching, my advice this Easter is to preach what is undeniably the most offensive sermon you will ever preach. My advice is to scandalize your listeners—both the religious and non-religious.

My advice is to preach the cross.

In 1 Corinthians 1:21-22, Paul reminds us that “…it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles…”

In this text, Paul identifies with every preacher as they negotiate the expectations of different audiences. The Jews (or regular attendees) wanted signs. They wanted to hear inspirational preaching about miracles and healing and provision. But they didn’t want to hear about the cross. To hear a message about a suffering, crucified God was not inspirational–it was a “stumbling block.”

The Greeks (or non-religious) wanted wisdom. They wanted to hear sophisticated arguments and eloquent public speaking (which Paul could do). They wanted someone to convince them, or at least entertain them. But they didn’t want to hear about the cross. To hear a message about a suffering, crucified God was not interesting; it was “foolishness.”

So if Paul knew that neither of his imagined audiences would want to hear the message of the cross, then why did he insist “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”? (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Why did Paul insist on preaching a message that neither the religious nor the irreligious wanted to hear?

Because though “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul did not preach Christ crucified because it was popular—he preached the cross because it was powerful. He did not preach to please his listeners—he preached to please his Master. He did not expect most people to respond with enthusiasm—he expected a few to respond with repentance.

If you find it difficult to preach the cross this Easter season, so did Paul. It will never be easy to preach the cross. Even in the lifetime of the apostles, the message of the cross was something that preachers wanted to skip over or minimize.

If your main goal with your Easter sermon is to retain your biggest crowd of 2018, then don’t preach the cross.

If your main goal with your Easter sermon is to impress the non-Christians in the audience with your pop-culture references and casual delivery, then don’t preach the cross.

If your main goal with your Easter sermon is to provide inspiration and motivation for your regular attendees, then don’t preach the cross.

But if your main goal is for people to experience the power of God, then preach Christ crucified, and watch what He does by His Spirit.

Blog / Leadership

Four Lessons From the Life of Billy Graham

February 22, 2018

Billy GrahamMANILA—Earlier today, Billy Graham, perhaps the most influential religious figure of the twentieth century, died in his home in North Carolina at the age of ninety-nine.

Right now, religious and political leaders all over the world are mourning his death and reflecting on his remarkable life. Much can be said about a man who, over six decades of ministry, preached the gospel in person to more than 100 million people in 185 nations.

Here are four things that for me summarize the legacy of Billy Graham:

1. INTEGRITY. In an era when TV preachers and traveling evangelists were synonymous with scandal, Billy Graham set a standard of integrity. That standard is one that leaders and pastors in my generation all attempt to follow. Wisely recognizing that sexual immorality, greed, and pride were the downfall of many of his fellow preachers, Graham and his staff developed the “Modesto Manifesto” to keep him and his staff above reproach. Young leaders, if you want to see what it looks like to live “above reproach,” study the life and habits of Billy Graham.

2. RECONCILIATION. Born in 1918 in the Jim Crow south, Billy Graham grew up in a world where white and black did not mix. They did not go to the same schools, did not live in the same neighborhoods, did not eat in the same restaurants, and did not worship in the same churches. And yet, early in his ministry in the 1940s and 50s, Graham refused to hold segregated revival meetings—even when preaching in the deep south. Once Graham literally took down a rope that marked off the white section from the black section in a tent meeting. Graham was criticized by white segregationist (Christians!) for being too radical and criticized by black civil rights activist for being too moderate. But it is clear that the message of reconciliation had taken deep root in the heart of this young (and soon-to-be-influential) preacher from North Carolina. In 1993, Graham wrote this about racism:

Racism is a sin precisely because it keeps us from obeying God’s command to love our neighbor, and because it has its roots in pride and arrogance. Christians who harbor racism in their attitudes or actions are not following their Lord at this point, for Christ came to bring reconciliation—reconciliation between us and God, and reconciliation between each other. He came to accept us as we are, whoever we are, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

3. INSTITUTIONS. Though Graham is best known for his evangelistic preaching, in the annals of history, Graham’s greatest influence may be the institutions he left behind. Youth for Christ, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Christianity Today are all vital institutions that Graham helped found and will carry on his work well beyond his lifetime. He was also extremely influential in bringing together Christian leaders and organizations around the world to plan and strategize for the cause of world evangelism. Having participated in working groups organized by the Lausanne Movement (another Graham legacy), I am so thankful that Billy Graham established institutions like these to carry on the work of world mission and evangelism.

4. GOSPEL PROCLAMATION. Though I’ve been preaching for almost four decades, I am always amazed to see how God uses the preached word to accomplish His purposes. Billy Graham’s preaching has been heard by over 100 million people—over 2 billion if we include television and radio! I can only imagine the scene in heaven right now. How long will it take for Graham to meet all the millions of people who were saved through his preaching? I cannot imagine a greater reward than meeting all those people, seeing all those faces, and hearing all their stories.

Well, there is one thing greater. It is what Graham longed for all his life and pleaded with others to pursue. Today, Billy Graham is with Jesus. Today, he sees the face of the Man he called others to follow, and he hears the voice of the One who called him to preach—saying to him “well done, good and faithful servant.”