I have watched many people give their tribute to “America’s Pastor”, Billy Graham. Tears have welled up in my eyes as I have heard TV News Show hosts tell about how their lives have been affected by Dr. Graham. Some even used their celebrity to preach the Gospel. On TV.
This is my tribute.
During my Junior Year(?) at UNC-Chapel Hill, several student ministries began to meet together to plan for Billy Graham to come deliver a “lecture series” in Carmichael Auditorium (where basketball games were played back in the day). It was during that time that I witnessed a secret key of the success of Dr. Graham’s ministry.
Leighton Ford was Billy Graham’s brother-in-law and was involved in Billy’s ministry. Leighton’s son Sandy (Graham’s nephew) had been a student at UNC-CH. Sandy underwent surgery for a rare heart disease in November, 1981 and died soon after his surgery. He had just turned 21. I heard that Sandy had been involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which probably laid the foundation for the rest of this story.
My timing may be off, but as I remember it, about two years later, a former roommate of mine was asked to spearhead the lecture series. He coordinating with student leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I was involved with “Crusade” throughout college, though not the particular event. But even as an outsider to the event, I saw a glimpse of behind-the-scenes picture that few others in America have ever seen, or known of.
This “secret”, “behind-the-scenes” “key to the success of Billy Graham’s ministry was very simple. At the conclusion of each lecture, an altar call would be given and students would begin making their way down to the area in front of the platform. The first students who began to “walk the aisle” were not going down to the floor-level of the auditorium to be saved. Instead, these were the students who were already Believers and had been trained on how to lead another student to Christ. They were the students who would help new converts to complete the information on the “contact cards” and turn them in to other event-coordinated students. Then the magic happened.
Dr. Graham insisted that every student who made a decision and filled out the contact information on the card be contacted in person by a another student who had been trained in follow-up. Within 24 hours. Every day of the event. There were thousands of students in Carmichael Auditorium each night.
This “secret” wasn’t the crowds that made decisions. The secret was that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was about making disciples, not counting decisions. The key isn’t getting someone to pray a prayer, walk an aisle, or be baptized. The key was that the decisions being made weren’t the end of the ministry; they were the beginning of the ministry. The goal was to plug these decision-makers into the ministries sponsoring the event so that the new converts would become disciples.
I have heard that the follow-up plan used on our campus was the same that was used wherever Billy Graham preached.
For this, among other things, I thank God for the Biblical wisdom of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Dare I say it?
It isn’t a “Gun Problem”.
Really, it’s not.
Prove it? Sure! Genesis 4:8 – Cain didn’t kill Able with a gun. We don’t know how he did it; we just know he did it. He did it before guns were invented. And he did it long before the founding of the NRA.
It isn’t a “Mental Health Problem”.
Really, it’s not.
Yes, mental illness is a real thing. Mental illness can be mild, or it can be very ugly. And yes, we need to be concerned about those who are not mentally healthy. But not all mentally unhealthy people have psychotic tendencies. And not all killers are mentally ill.
It isn’t a “Public Schools Problem”.
Really, it’s not. Neither is it a “Video Games Problem” or a “TV Violence Problem”.
It’s a Spiritual Problem; it’s a Heart Problem.
At the very deep root level, it really is!
And we will continue to see violent outbursts and murder unless/until hearts — not laws — are changed.
And lest someone say that this Bible passage was written only to Israel and Judah and America: yes, I agree. But there is a practical application to any and all whom God calls “My people”. He invites us to pray. And He promises to answer.
So let’s pray.
It’s times like this — when we turn our calendars to a new year — that many of us think about making changes in our lives. Some people join a gym. Some people sign up for weight management. Many make New Year’s Resolutions that are broken as quickly as they were made.
But what if you wanted real change — change that was more real than changing what you eat and how much you weigh? God’s Word is that kind of change agent! Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living and effectual, and is sharper than a two-edged sword, able to divide to the deepest parts of us … even to our desires and motivations.
This year our church is embarking on reading through one of two Bible Reading Plans. One Reading Plan will take us through the New Testament by reading one chapter a day, five days a week. It’ll take about five minutes each day.
The other Bible Reading Plan will take us through the entire Bible, reading about three to four chapters a day, six days a week, and will take about a half-hour each day.
Why not join us in reading through the Bible in 2018? It just may change your life! Let me know if you’re going to join with us. I’d love to encourage you along the way!
My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!
If you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.
In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.
Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.
Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.
A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.
Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!
Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!
Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.
Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?
These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.
At the end of this month, our church members will complete a plan for reading through the New Testament. We will also finish out the year having learned twelve Bible passages. Some of our members have never attempted these tasks, and fewer have succeeded. I have tried and failed many times in my 36 years of growing as a Christian. But more times than not, when I have used a Bible reading plan, I have completed my goals.
How about you? Have you ever tried to read through the Bible? How about just the New Testament? It’s very straightforward. To read through the entire Bible, you’ll need to read five chapters each day, counting a few “off” days each month, just in case you fall behind and need to catch up. To read through the New Testament, you will only have to read one chapter per day, five days per week. And it will only take about five minutes a day! Surely that’s an attainable goal for anyone! Even if you are a very slow reader, there are smartphone apps (see below) and websites that will read the Bible for you – out loud. Most of us spend more than five minutes each day driving or taking care of personal needs. That’s more than five minutes a day that can be redeemed for your walk with God.
Now, I’m not saying that you only need to spend five minutes a day working on your walk with God. Imagine only spending five minutes a day with your spouse or children; that’s hardly enough time to deepen that relationship. But if you need a shot of adrenaline to boost your walk with God, spending about five minutes in His Word might just fit the bill.
So why should you read through the Bible or the New Testament?
I think the more appropriate question is, “Why should you read any part of the Bible?”
It comes down to the nature of the Bible itself. If the Bible is a written record of God’s actions and His desires for His people, why would we not want (and need!) to read, study, and memorize it?
Someone wisely said that the most controversial — and the most radical — verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1 which tells us that God created everything out of nothing. Why would anyone say this statement is controversial and radical? Because if God created it, He owns it. He knows what’s best for it. He sets the rules over how it should run. And He has requirements for how people (also, whom He created) should live.
If you think the Bible is just a bunch of dos and don’ts, you haven’t read much of the Bible!
Sure, there are lots of dos and don’ts, but they are made in the context of a relationship between God and His people. And the purpose of those dos and don’ts is to show us that we can’t live up to God’s standards! The purpose of all those dos and don’ts is to draw us to the gracious and merciful forgiveness of God and the gracious power to please God!
The Word of God is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword with the surgical precision of a laser, cutting to the depths of who we are and it’s able to even reveal our deepest desires. (Hebrews 4:12)
God intends for us to grow in our relationship with Him (1Peter 3:18). Do you want to grow? If you do, then you must spend time in God’s Word, letting it wash over you, letting it cut into the depths of your soul, and letting it mold you and shape you to look more like Jesus.
But please don’t approach reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible like you used to do when your parents told you, “Eat your vegetables, because they’re good for you.” Yes, reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible is good for you, but as you spend time reading, studying, and memorizing parts of the Bible, you’ll find that God’s Word is more desirable than gold – than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb. In addition, we can be warned by what we read, and in keeping God’s Word, there is an abundant reward. (Psalm 19:10–11)
So I started this blog post talking about the importance of having a plan to help you read through the Bible, or the New Testament. How about some tools? I’m glad you asked!
At the end of last year, I wrote a small book (you may download it here) that I gave to our church members in hopes of encouraging them to read and memorize the Bible together in 2017. Although there are many Bible Reading plans available, the plan I recommended is one that I have personally used in the past. The 5x5x5 New Testament Reading Plan comes from Discipleship Journal. If you’re interested in reading through both the Old and New Testaments, I highly recommend George Guthrie’s Reading God’s Story: One Year Chronological Bible Reading Plan. I think the greatest feature of Guthrie’s plan is that it assigns the readings in a roughly chronological format. For example, when you’re reading about King David, the readings will include Psalms that David wrote. Print one of these plans and start on January 1, 2018.
Or…. Use the Bible App. The Bible App is fantastic in that it tracks your daily readings and lets you choose from any number of translations of the Bible. It offers lots of reading plans to choose from, including the Discipleship Journal’s New Testament plan and Guthrie’s Chronological plan. To get to these plans, just sign up for a free account at Bible.com, then choose the 5x5x5 plan or the Chronological plan.
Not only can the Bible App present you with the readings for that day, the Bible App will even read it aloud for you! You connect with friends and encourage each other to stay up-to-date. You can connect your social media accounts and post Bible verses on Facebook and Twitter.
On a side note, the Bible App is one of the most popular Apps (as I type this, the Bible App has been downloaded almost 300 million … yes, 300 MILLION times!) and it’s available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, on the web … well, you get the idea! If you have a computer, smartphone, tablet or similar device, the Bible App can help you accomplish your goals of reading the Bible.
I mentioned that the Bible App offers many Bible translations. If you have a favorite translation, why not try something different this year? If you’re used to reading from the King James Version, New American Standard, or English Standard Version, try something new in 2018 like the New Living Translation or The Message for your Bible reading; you may be surprised at what you see that you’ve never seen before!
So how about it? Will you accept the challenge of reading through the Entire Bible or the New Testament in 2018? If so, please let me know, so I can pray for you. If you’re a pastor and you’re encouraging your people to read through the Bible or the New Testament, I’d love to hear about that, too!