A Thousand Pounds of Wool

shrek the sheep

Recently a funny little story about a sheep named Shrek passed across my Facebook feed.  It occurred many years ago, so perhaps this is something you have heard before, but for me it was new.

According to the story a small sheep in New Zealand spent his life hiding from those who came to offer the annual shave.  Each year as the farmers passed through for the annual shave Shrek would hide in a cave until all humans left.  In doing so, he was able to remain undetected and avoid the shave.  This avoidance method was effect, and over the course of 6 years Shrek never once experienced the feeling of the shears removing his wool.

After 6 years Shrek was discovered and the gig was up.  When all was said and done, this small sheep, weighing in at roughly 20 pounds had a fleece coat weighing in at more than 60 pounds.  Enough wool to make 20 large men’s suits.

When one looks at a picture of him it is hard to believe that the poor thing could even walk while carrying such a heavy burden.  The load looks so great, and the beast beneath so small.  His plight would be the equivalent of me carrying 600 pounds on my back, all day long, every day, for years.

His fear of those who shaved him was the thing that caused his greatest and heaviest burden.

A cute story about a funny looking sheep.

How often, though, does this story apply to more than just a silly farm animal?

Last month I released a blog post regarding a hidden portion of my past.  Over the course of the many years I, like Shrek, had hidden from those who were meant to help me ease my burden.  Of course, I understand that when I placed my faith in Christ, ALL of my sins were forgiven, but by holding back and refusing to talk I put myself in a position where my burden continued to grow, and in order to avoid my fear of sharing I committed other sins increasing the speed of growth of the weight on my back.

I felt like a man with 600 pounds on his back, every day.

I would like to say that like the sheep, when I made my post I was immediately shaved and my burden is gone.  That would be a dream story.  I still have much to work through.  It is lighter though, and getting lighter by the day.  The Lord is faithful, and I have been blessed by this process, though each step along the way has been petrifying.

One of the things that caught me off guard after my post was published, though, is that I am not alone.

So many are carrying around similar weights because of fear they have in opening themselves up to fellow Christians.  Some carry weight because of past sins, such as abortions are adultery.  Others carry weight because of struggles with things such as pornography or drinking.  Others for deceit.  The list goes on and on.  Many do not have big sins to deal with, but still struggle with daily issues that they cannot talk about.

As people have shared with me, I have been shocked by the weight that we carry on our shoulders.

I now know that we as a church are not like the scenario where there are hundreds of closely shaved sheep, and one Shrek lurking in a cave with a heavy burden.  Instead there are many, many who can barely move due to the weight.

It is no wonder that we as a church are losing our effectiveness.  The weight many bear is simply too much to do anything else.  It is not shocking that so many fall into sin, when they are afraid to open up and talk about the temptations they are facing.

How many divorces could be prevented by couples opening up about their problems in small group long before divorce is on the table?  How much pornography could be avoided if people felt safe to open up about the temptation and falls?  How many suicides could be stopped if we were able to open up to each other and share our burdens?  If we as a church could not only share the weight, but also help each other to remove it perhaps the landscape around us would be quite different.

How much more effective would we be if so many were not walking around as Christian versions of Marge Simpson with a hundreds of pounds of hair on our heads?

Perhaps it is timer for the church to be authentic.  To open up about fears and struggles with those trusted brothers and sisters in Christ around us.  To stop worrying about reputations and instead focus on healing.

Yesterday morning my front yard looked great (well, at least ok) and from the outside my house looked well.  My sewer main though had collapsed causing water to back up in the house.  In order to fix the issue we had to rip up the bushes in the front yard, dig a massive hole, crush and kill half of my grass and completely change the way my house looks from the road.  Someone without knowledge might think we were just destroying our home value.

In the process of what looked like destruction, though, a foundational problem was addressed.  It might take years for our yard to recover and look well again, but when it does it will look well while sitting over a fixed issue.  The external might not look as nice, but the internal is finally as it was meant to be.

If you have an underlying issue in your life, or past, perhaps it is time to dig up your front yard.  It will be hard, and ugly, and painful, but only by doing so can you began to heal.  Only by doing so can you work the way you were designed to work.

Let us not worry so much about the white washed exterior, and begin to deal with what lies within.  Stop hiding in the cave and go meet the shears.

Proverbs 27:17 teaches, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of his friend”.  It must be said that iron cannot sharpen by way of proximity.  Two pieces of iron laying close together will remain dull regardless of how long they sit there.  In order to sharpen they must come in contact with each other.  They must rub up against each other.  Too often we as Christians simply live life in proximity to one another, but because of our fear of authenticity we never allow ourselves to rub against another, and as such, we are not sharpened.

Perhaps of all of the possible solutions being talked about in regards to fixing the church in America, the one that we need most, is to simply be authentic.

What are your thoughts?

J.W. Willard

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Book Review: If God is Good

If God is Good

About a month ago I received a free copy of the book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn under the condition that I posted my review of this book on my blog.  Other than the free book I was not paid, and I was not asked to give any specific review.  I was to be honest regarding my thoughts.  This is my review.

A couple of years ago I found myself sitting on a front porch in Gladstone, Mo. sharing the Gospel with a widower.  This man pointed to the window of a bedroom right next to us and explained that he had spent years watching is wife die a slow, painful death from cancer in that very room.  He told me of the tremendous pain that she had suffered without relief for years, and of her slow painful death of suffocation as the cancer spread to her lungs and took away her ability to breath.  Through tears he told me that he could never believe in a God that would allow that.

Sadly, this story is just one of many that I could share.  I talk to people all of the time who see the evil in the world around them, or even the evil in themselves as they think upon past sins such as abortion.  They wonder how a perfect and holy God could allow such evil, and they reject Him because of it.  In evangelism, this theme is constant, and my heart breaks for people who struggle with this.

As I read through the pages of If God is Good, I began to start thinking that this book would be a great tool in order to equip the evangelist with Biblical answers to these tough conversations.  Inside the pages of this book Randy Alcorn offers in depth Biblical answers to the questions surrounding evil and suffering in the world.  He explains the nature and origins of evil.  He shows the reader the purposes of evil and how God uses it for His glory.  He explains evil in light of the sovereignty of God, and so, so, so much more.  This book is truly a complete resource for the average Christian on the subject of evil and suffering.

I highly recommend this book for all Christians.  Evil and suffering are something that so many struggle with, and we are called to reach out and share the Gospel with these people.  We will be unable to do so without having read, solid answers in regards to the subject, and this book helps equip the believer with those answers.  It also must be said, that we too may personally experience evil and suffering, and having a theological understanding will help strengthen our faith in God as we go through these times, and see it in the world.

This book should be on every Christians shelf.

J. W. Willard

Translation Tuesday – Luke 1:19

Luke 1 19

Unknown to almost all Christians, the word evangelize is used 55 times in the New Testament.  This truth is hidden from most Christians not due to lack of reading Scripture, as some might guess, but due to a burying of the word through the translation process.  In fact, until recently there was not a single modern translation that included this word.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible has begun the task of bringing this word back into our translations, though the use of this word 6 times, but that still leaves 49 buried instances of the word.

Each Tuesday we are looking at verses that include the Greek word evangelize.  Today we look at Luke 1:19.

Once again, I cannot say thank you enough to Dr. Thomas Johnston for opening my eyes to this truth.  Although I plan to scratch the surface each week in regards to this translation issue, his depth of research and knowledge in this area is staggering.  Without his pointing out this to me, I would be blind to this truth.  His books of notes on evangelism is a must for any pastoral library.

Luke 1:19

And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. (NKJV)

Of the many passages we will look at, this is one that I feel the removal of the word evangelize does not hinder the understanding.  Evangelism is the speaking of glad tidings (good news).  In many translations that is exactly what is being described.  The meaning has not been changed.

This is also a message delivered directly from the mouth of an angelic being, which is something that none of us are, or can relate to.  No matter what word is used it would be clear that the message was coming from a being, and in a method that we cannot replicate.

The question would have to be asked, though, is anything gained by translating this another way than evangelize?

The book of Luke alone uses the Word evangelize 10 different times.  Of these encounters two are by angels, one is John the Baptist, six are from Jesus, and one speaks of the disciples.  A consistent translation of the word evangelize would show the readers the continuity between the messengers of God, the work of Christ and us as disciples.  We would see that we are to be obedient just as Gabriel was.  We are to speak in the same bold manner as the one who “stands in the presence of God”.

Although the meaning is not lost in the removal of the word evangelize in Luke 1:19, our understanding is richer with it there.

Yours in Christ,

J. W. Willard

Coming out of the Closet

“and be sure your sin will find you out.”

More than once this verse has run through my mind over the years.

I have been fairly open with my past struggles with sin, and my testimony includes many dark moments that I know God can use, but if I am honest I wish weren’t there.

  • I sometimes fear that the many drugs I took when I was younger will catch up with me and I will lose time with grandchildren or great grandchildren because of it.
  • I think of people I pushed away from the Lord because of my blasphemy and debating against Christianity, and I pray that the Lord has opened their eyes over the years to the truth.
  • I feel remorse for shop owners that I stole from, and people whose property I damaged.
  • I feel guilt for the way I treated my parents and teachers and for the gifts of God that I wasted over the years.

I know, I was not a very good guy, and I praise the Lord that He saw fit to save a sinner such as I.  That He could look past the above sins and countless others and still love me never ceases to amaze me.

With all of my openness in my testimony there is still a darkness that clouds my past that I have hidden from everyone. One sin so great and embarrassing that I have tried to pretend it wasn’t there.  A section of my past that I even kept hidden from my wife for 14 years.  A past sin that I fear could end my career while it is still getting started.  A sin that I live in fear knowing it could find me out.

Although I have no desire to share this sin, or go through the pain of people finding out about this, I fear that I do not have a choice in the matter.  Fear of being found out has caused me to not speak out against others who commit this same sin.  My fear of ruining my reputation has been greater than my boldness for Christ, and that is a sin I can no longer bear.

I also believe in the sovereignty of God.  I know that what I have done in my past can be used by Him to help others who are in the same boat.  I have talked with drug users and used my testimony as a witness to them.  I have shared my journey with atheists in order to show how I came to know the Lord.  I have used my past to show people that God can love you despite all you have done.  There have been times, though, when I could have spoken but out of fear kept my mouth shut.  Times where the testimony God has given could have been used, but I was silent.  After today, no more.

I also believe that we have come to a point in history where the people that the church will be reaching will come in damaged in a way that the church is not ready to deal with.  We are going to see people saved who have pasts that few in the church can relate to.  People who will be afraid of what the church might say.  Afraid of whether or not they will be welcomed.  Afraid to even share where they have come from.  People like me.

Perhaps God can use me during this time in church history.  In order to do so, I have to get past my fear of the possible reaction and lay everything on the line.  I have to be willing to allow Christ, and not fear, to reign in my life.  My love for Him and His church must be greater than my love for myself or my friends.

So…

For 2 years (during my junior and senior year in high school) I was involved in an active, ongoing, homosexual relationship.

Even at the time I would never have gone as far as calling myself homosexual, but if forced to give an answer I probably would have labeled myself as bisexual.

I was a young, stupid, unsaved guy out looking for a good time and willing to have one in whatever form it came in.  I paid no attention to dangers.  Basic rules meant little to me.  I could have cared less about morals, and I didn’t believe that God even existed.  At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing, (although the modern push for acceptance of this lifestyle had not yet started so no mention was ever made to anyone by me or my partner).

Looking back on this time of my life through the lens of salvation, I know the things I did were horribly wrong.  I know this was a lifestyle that was against the wishes of God, and it is something that I will have to live with.

When I was 19 years old I met Kristin and over the course of 2 years (and many influences) the Lord drew me to Himself, and in November of 2001 I placed my faith in Him.  The shame I felt for my past sin was so great that I vowed to never speak of it, to anyone, and for 13 years I did just that.

The problem is that I never felt comfortable with this approach.  Does it bring glory to God to hide the work that he has done in making one new?  Is it not sin to have a testimony and refuse to use it?  Is it ok to hold secrets from your bride?  Is it right to sit in silence while the church struggles with their approach to a quickly growing segment of our culture?  The hard answer that I have recently come to for each of these questions is, no.

A little under a year ago I opened myself up to Kristin and shared my full past with her.  To say she was shocked would perhaps be the greatest understatement ever.  What wife ever expects to hear this after so many years of marriage?  The love and grace that she showed me blew me away.  All of my fears of rejection turned out to be unfounded, and if anything our relationship is closer now than even before.

Since I ‘came out’ to my wife, though, I have been troubled about what my next step should be (if anything).  I have listened in silence to many Christians, and their struggles with homosexual people, and reaching out to them.  I have seen the anger, and hostility towards a group of people that the church needs to reach out to because of their desperate need for the Gospel.  I have watched as the church at large continues to harm their witness because of their reaction to the homosexual community.  And I have prayed about what my role should be.

Because of this year of turmoil and prayer I have decided that I cannot remain silent about my past.  How can I reach out to the community and ask people to confess sins that I myself am afraid to admit.  How can I tell them that the church is warm and welcoming when I treat it as if it isn’t?  How can I be a witness for Christ and share my testimony with unbelievers when I refuse to share my testimony?

There are many days that I wish my past wasn’t what it is, but I know God had a plan for my life even during that time.  Today, I offer my life as a living sacrifice, because that is my reasonable service.  I refuse to be ruled by fear or my own selfish desires.

Even though I wish these events never occurred, I have learned through this that His Grace is greater still.  The blood of Christ can cleanse the darkest sin.  I can’t imagine a scenario where I could have strayed further from God, than what I lived out in high school.  Yet, Christ welcomed me with open arms when I came running to Him.  His love is amazing.  There is no sin that can keep us from being able to reach out to Christ, and no sin that would cause Him to not want us to reach for Him.  He accepts us as we are, broken and all.

I don’t know what the churches reaction is going to be to this knowledge of my past.  In my mind I see it not going well.  I fear a loss of friends, and possibly a damaged career.  That was my same fear when I opened up to Kristin, and yet it turned out to be unfounded.  I pray this is the same.  I pray people can see past my dark past, and see the man that God is making me into, even today.

I pray God can use my testimony to encourage and reach out to others with similar pasts.  Perhaps God can even use me, and people like me, to prepare the church for the tidal wave of similar stories I believe will be coming into the church in the near future.

The onslaught of propaganda for same sex relations in the culture today is overwhelming, and many young people are being deceived by it.  We will soon find many hurting, and looking for a place to turn.  The church of Christ needs to be ready to openly minister to them with love.

Over the coming weeks and months I plan to explore many of the issues surrounding the modern gay movement, and will be posting those here.  I will still keep this blog focused on evangelism, and outreach, and I feel this issue is one that must be addressed in order to effectively reach out into our current culture.

Thank you for your patience with this long post.

As well as I can, I want to be available to field questions and concerns.  Post them below, or send them to me privately and I will respond as best as I can.

Yours in Christ,

J. W. Willard

Evangelism as the Key to the Spiritual Disciplines

One of my favorite books, and a book that has greatly impacted my life is Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  This book opened my eyes to the ways in which God uses the things that we do to make us more Christ like.  It encouraged me to practice these things, and through them I have been changed, and continue to be changed.

Don Whitney hits the nail on the head when he informs readers that God has commanded Christians in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”.  We are to be constantly growing in our relationship and understanding of God, and that takes discipline.  It is an ongoing process through which “we can place ourselves in the path of God’s grace and seek Him”.

Dallas Willard, along with having an amazing name, also wrote on the topic of spiritual disciplines.  His central premise of his classic book on the subject is that “we can become like Christ by doing one thing-by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.”  So it is by doing what Christ did, that we become more like Him.

Both of these books are great on the subject, and I by no means wish to say otherwise.  If you have not read them, you should.  You should also pick up N.T. Wright’s After you Believe.  These three books will change the way you live your life, and you will be forever blessed should you follow their wisdom.

There is one issue that I would like to address shortly today.  Something that God has shown me over the years of my disciplines.

If one were to follow the teaching of these books, their disciplines would look something like the chart below.

Disciplines

As the Christian interacts with each discipline he/she is changed, and shaped, and molded by it.  The interaction with the discipline works to make the Christian more Christ-like.  Each of these works in isolation with each other, and each is of equal value.   Don Whitney’s book is laid out in a format that even encourages this type of understanding.  Each discipline is assigned a chapter, and is giving equal value.  The only exception to this is the idea of Bible intake.  According to Don Whitney taking in God’s Word takes priority over everything else.  Everything else is on equal footing.

Most Christians live their lives with this understanding, though they may not understand that they do.

Over my life I have learned that there is another way to look at the disciples.  In fact, I believe that there is one discipline that is a key to opening the full potential of all others.  That is the key of evangelism.  My rough chart below gives a picture of this idea.

Disciplines 2 (2)

I believe that evangelism is the key to opening the full potential of all of the other disciplines.  I believe that it is through a Great Commission lens that we can open the fullness of what God offers us.  As Dallas Willard stated we become Christ like by “following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself”.  So why did Christ come?  What was his overall style of life?  The Son of Man cam to seek and save that which was lost.  Or, as Christ Himself said in Luke 4:43, “I must evangelize”.

If we truly want to model our lives’ after Christ our primary focus must be to seek and save that which is lost.

Here is where it gets good.

All of the disciplines mentioned above are worthy of our time (to a certain degree) along with many more.  We should each be disciplined and growing.  That is what God has commanded us to do.  If we do each of these, and leave out evangelism though we are doing them for self-serving reasons.  We are focused on ourselves.

If we evangelize our disciplines become tools to shape us so that we can better be used by Christ for His mission on Earth, which is to bring sinners to Himself.

When I evangelize I read my Bible differently, I pray differently, I worship differently, I learn differently, I fast differently.  I do this differently because I do them from a position of being inside God’s will.  I am taking in Scripture with passion knowing that what I read and learn may be used by God to draw someone to Himself.  I pray with passion because I pray for real, lost people and can see their faces and know their names.  I worship differently because I have seen God at work in hopeless situations.  I learn differently so that I can be used by God.

Everything is changed by the practice of the evangelism.

All of the other disciplines fall into place.

Don Whitney teaches that evangelism is often a skipped practice because we are frightened by “the seriousness of evangelism”.  I agree whole heartedly.  When we evangelize we are taking part in the most serious thing imaginable.  We are offering life to the dead.

That seriousness works as a fuel that burns deep and bright.  It forces us to our knees and drives us to the Word of God.  I challenge you to practice the discipline of evangelism knowing that it will change everything about you, bringing you more in line with Christ.

J. W. Willard

 

Translation Tuesday – Matthew 11:5

In 2009 I began my seminary studies, and have been richly blessed by them.  I have studied deeper than I had ever before, and have looked into subjects that I may never have looked to under my own direction.  This period of my life has been priceless.

One truth has stood out amongst the rest during this time that completely shocked me, and has impacted how I look at Scripture.  While sitting under the teaching of Dr. Thomas Johnston I learned that the word evangelize was used in the original Greek of the New Testament 55 times.  As I opened by New King James (or most other translations) I found that it was not used a single time.  The word has been buried by translators for one reason or another.

With this knowledge many of these texts take on new meaning and I believe if widely known they would significantly impact the way the church operates.

Beginning today I am going to post a verse each Tuesday for the next 55 weeks showing the word evangelize where it has been used in Scripture.

Today our text is Matthew 11:5

“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel evangelized to them.”

At first glance this may seem to be a minor change, but its implications are quite massive in the modern church.  In the NKJV and most other modern translations the word used here is “preached”, in the HCSV the poor are “told the good news”.  One need only ask the question “Who preaches in the church today?” to see that the modern reader will not see this verse as an evangelistic verse, but instead as a pastoral verse.

When a congregation sees the pastor preaching and the community hearing the gospel they believe that the church is currently doing what Matthew 11:5 points to.  With the original word evangelize being used it becomes clear the task is much greater than the preacher.  The Gospel must be sent out.  People must evangelize.

This week, work to apply Matthew 11:5 to your life.  Look to have people have the Gospel evangelized to them, and allow yourself to be the tool.

J. W. Willard

Why bother with door to door evangelism?

Front_Door-Before

Every Tuesday night a small, but faithful, group meets at my church and heads into the surrounding neighborhoods to knock on doors, and share the Gospel message with anyone who is willing to listen.  We are strategic as to where we go and have a systematic plan to share the Gospel with the entire city of Gladstone.  If someone is not home, or does not have time to talk, we leave a Gospel tract behind.

This small group, from a church of over 1,000 usually numbers around 5 people.

Over the years I have worked with several other churches and their door to door teams and have found a similar turnout.  Churches of hundreds will send out just a handful of people.  In fact, I went to work with one church recently and found myself as the only person.

This type of outreach has obviously fallen out of vogue, and there seems to be little evidence that the church has any plans of picking back up on aggressive intentional evangelism.

So… why do we bother?

Why go where you are not welcome, on behalf of people who don’t care if you go?  Why put yourself in position to be considered crazy by both the saved and the unsaved?  Why put so much effort into a ministry that sometimes appears to bear little fruit?

The answer may not be what you think?

Of course, I could easily say that we are called to so and end the answer.  There is no question that we are to evangelize, and anyone trying to make an argument otherwise does not put much stock into Scripture.  It would be right to simply copy and paste the Great Commission and call it a day, but that wouldn’t be a full answer.  In fact, that wouldn’t even be a good answer.

I have been told countless times that door to door evangelism is not the only way to evangelize.  That evangelism doesn’t just happen on Tuesday night, and I 100% agree with this statement.  Evangelism should be far greater than a single day of the week outreach.  Evangelism should be a day in day out lifestyle for the believer.  Everything we do should have the Gospel as a backdrop.

The idea that evangelism is bigger than a weekly door to door visit, though, is why I think door to door is vital in church ministry, and all Christians should be involved.  It is this weekly commitment that makes the rest of the lifestyle come into place.

Before we explore that idea let’s look at this concept in a different arena of life.  Health.

When most people decide that they want to live a healthy lifestyle they either join a gym or signup for some sort of class at the gym.  The few who don’t will mark on their calendars time that they plan to work out.  If they have a weekly Zumba class (for example) most will understand that this once a week class does not a healthy lifestyle make.  They must do more than work out once a week in order to be healthy.  This once a week class is vital though.  Because of this one class, the rest of the time works around that priority.  Food choices are made differently because of that once a week class.  Other exercise is done because of that class.  People may even park their cars further from the store door because of that class.  In short, that 1 hour class helps to keep the focus through the entire week.  That one hour out of 168 during the week has a drastic impact on who the person is.

Door to door evangelism works in much the same way.  Through the weekly commitment to be in intentional evangelism the person is changed throughout the entire week.  Evangelism becomes easier, and almost second nature.  It becomes what the person is all about.

That one hour commitment changes the prayer life, the devotional life, the worship life and the evangelistic life of the person who commits to doing it.  The entire person, and their priorities, begins to move more in line with God’s will and His commandment in the Great Commission.

There is nothing wrong with lifestyle evangelism.  In fact, that is exactly what we need to be doing.  In order to do this effectively, though, we must return to the days where aggressive, intentional evangelism is promoted widely in the church.  We must get people working in a strategic way together in order to get the Gospel out into the community.

Only then will the members of the church lifestyles change in a way that makes lifestyle evangelism possible.  If there is not an intentional plan of evangelism, it will not happen.  If we are not sharing the Gospel as a strategic group, then the odds of sharing it over the fence or with our friends decreases.

Why do we do door to door?  Because just like one goes to a gym to focus on their lifestyle goals, we to want to focus ours.  I want God’s Commission to be my heart, and in order to do so I must make sure that I am focused on that.  Door to door keeps the focus.

Of course, while doing so when run into people who may never have heard the Gospel otherwise.  We bring a message of life to those who are perishing.

When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone?  Put it on your calendar today.  If your church does not have a door to door team, it is time to start one.  If you do not know how I would love to help you begin one.  If your church has one, it is time to join in.

J. W. Willard

A Poem by CT Studd

I recently came across a poem by famous missionary CT Studd that I thought was worth sharing

Only One Life
By C.T. Studd
 
Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
 
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

Billy Graham, Death, and a Changing Culture

pbilly-graham

Today marks Billy Graham’s 96th birthday.  It is a day where we as a community of faith can celebrate the work that God has done through the hands of one man.  It is a day where we can look to a hero of faith and follow him as he followed Christ.  It is a day where we can hear, and celebrate testimonies of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are a part of the same eternal kingdom because of the preaching of this man.  It is a joyful day.

At the same time it is a day to reflect on the brevity of human life.  On the fact that we all must face death.  On the fact that at 96 Billy Graham is reaching the end of his earthly life.  We look to a hero for many of us and see an old, frail man in failing health.  Someday in the not so distant future we will hear the news that Billy Graham has passed from this earth.  It will be a day of tears and a day of joy.  Bill Graham spoke of this day often;

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

There is another important thought to consider today as we are reminded of the aging of Billy Graham.  It is a question of succession.  Where is the evangelist that will take his place?  Billy Graham comes from a long line of very popular mass evangelists.  Starting with men such as Charles Finney and Elder Jacob Knapp, to men such as D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Mordeaci Ham, and Billy Graham, the mass evangelist has held a place in our culture for a couple hundred years.  Men who were popular not just in the Christian community, but in the community at large.  Men who were listened to by both saved and unsaved individuals.

These great evangelists were able to reach out in a variety messages and speak the Gospel into homes where no Christian lived.  Because of this fact, many came to faith that may have heard the message in no other way.  They were by no means perfect, but the culture turned to them and God used them greatly.

Where is the next man who can do the same?

As of now, he doesn’t exist.  Evangelists still work throughout the land, and the office of the evangelist as a leader in the church is just as relevant as it was when the apostle Paul penned the words of Ephesians 4:11, but the face of the culture has changed.  The community has hardened itself to the words of God, and therefor they have also turned away from any teacher who brings a message from God.  A man such as Billy Graham would no longer be received in the same way.

Billy Graham was a man, placed by God, to be used during a specific season of life in America.  That season has passed.

No longer will mass evangelists be able to get the Gospel message into homes, and lives.  Yet the Great Commission remains.  The message Billy Graham gave his life to preaching, must still go forth.  The messengers now must look different.

What does this mean for the church?

To put it bluntly, the task falls to each Christian.  We are all called to evangelize and get the Gospel message into the world.  We are all called to lead others to Christ.  At one point a single man could come to Kansas City and preach to 40,000 different people 4 days in a row.  Today few would come.  In order to reach those 160,000 people we must go find them where they are.  We must knock on doors and engage them in the streets.  We must take the Gospel message to the highways and byways of the city.  The task is on us.

Of course, it has always resided on the shoulders of the local church, but God used men such as Billy Graham to accomplish His purpose.  Now is the time for Him to use you and me.  We must be faithful to get the message into the world.  We must obey the Great Commission.

Here is the cool part.

The same Holy Spirit that brought power to the messages of Billy Graham and fruit of salvation to his listeners resides in us.  The truth that he preached is the same truth that we preach.  The same power of God is available to us.

In 2004 Billy Graham preached for 4 days in Kansas City to 155,000 people.  During this crusade 16,265 decisions were made (salvation, rededication, response to vocational ministry etc.).  Imagine if we as a church took the Gospel message out to 155,000 people in our city.  Imagine the blessing from God.  Imagine the response.

This is what we as a church are called to do.  No longer can the task fall to one man.  The culture will no longer allow it.  The job is for us to do.  It is time to put our hands to the plow and get on with the task.

On Billy Graham’s 96th birthday we have a lot to consider.  Billy Graham perhaps gives us a gift better than we could give him.  The example of a well lived life in faithful obedience to the Great Commission.  It is time we followed that example.

David, Goliath, and Evangelism

David-Vs-Goliath

Every believer knows the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). The Philistinian giant stood before the army of Israel boldly defying the people of God.  He was a menacing figure who stood more than 9 feet tall and was built like an NFL Defensive Lineman.  His impressive armor was made of beautiful material and weighted as much as 700 pounds.  There is no doubt that he was an impressive sight to behold.  It is true that he lived up to the Hebrew meaning of his name, Splendor.  At his appearance the Bible teaches that the soldiers of Israel were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (17:11)

Enter David. A nobody.  A nothing.  A small boy who had no business on the battlefield.  He was not trained in the art of soldiering.  He was not equipped for battle.  Yet he had incredible faith in God.  He knew that he was of God and that because of that he would prevail.  While soldiers cowered and lost bladder control, a young boy stepped forward to kill the giant.

When David boldly stepped forward in faith one might expect others to do the same. Isn’t that how it works in the movies?  The faith and boldness in one brings out the best in others. That is not what happened, though.  He stepped forward alone, while trained soldiers ran in the opposite direction and cowered in corners (17:24).  David would have been justified for having second thoughts when no others joined him, but he continued forward.

Moving into battle alone was no big deal because his faith in God was strong. He was not alone but had the infinite God of the universe with him.

Is this not the same battle that we find ourselves fighting in regards to evangelism? The Israelites knew that they had been commanded to fight the Philistines and that the Lord was with them, assuring victory in battle (Exodus 23:31) and yet they feared the army of the Philistines.  They had been commanded by God, and yet they delayed obedience out of fear.  We too have been commanded to go into battle with the promise that God is with us assuring victory.  In Matthew 28:19-20 we have a very similar command and promise given.  We are to go into all the world and make disciples and God will be with us even to the end of the age.

Like the Israelites we know what we have been commanded. Like the Israelites few would question that we must obey, but like the Israelites many have delayed obedience out of fear in one way or another.  We are at war, and God has promised us victory, and yet we cower because of the giant that stands before us.

Satan paces before us calling out for us to battle him, and he holds in his hand all that we fear. His weapons are fear, and embarrassment, and lack of knowledge, our time and any other thing that runs through our minds that keeps us from faithfully following God’s command.  He is a giant, and we are nothing.  We don’t stand a chance against him.  He mocks our God, and we let him.

David is our example.

In the face of an unbeatable giant David stood knowing that God promised him victory. He stood and boldly proclaimed, “Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

Friends, the battle for the souls of men is the LORD’s battle and we have been called into it. We are the soldiers that he has commanded to go into the land and accomplish His will.  We are to be obedient.  Like David, we must boldly step forward and know that God is with us even to the end of the age.

Even if we, like David, step forward and find ourselves alone, we move forward into battle. If no other soul joins in the battle for men’s souls know that God has commanded you to proceed alone.

Goliath was not killed by a stone and a sling. He was dead long before that.  He was killed by one boy’s faith in God and His promises.  The command has been given, and the orders are clear.  Whether alone, or with an army we are to “Go therefore…”

J.W. Willard