The Lord Can Change the Trajectory of Your Life: Billy Graham and the Supernatural Activity of God

Billy-Graham1Over the course of my days, my life has intersected again and again with the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham and ministries to which he was connected and/or had founded.

In 1982, my marriage was falling apart and I was falling apart. Friends, who’d been praying for me for some time, invited me to attend the Graham crusade at Nickerson Field in Boston and, on Pentecost Sunday, I went forward with thousands of others to accept Jesus as my Savior. I invited my husband, Gene, to attend the next night and he went forward as well, welcoming Christ into his life. Jesus saved our marriage and turned our lives completely around. In the days that followed, when I sensed a call to the professional ministry, I never considered studying anywhere but Gordon-Conwell: Billy Graham was one of the founders of what would become my alma mater and he was chairman of the school’s board during my years there. His signature is on my Master of Divinity diploma from that school.

ham-mainnew
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

As a student, I was given the opportunity to train in and engage in evangelism through one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) phone centers that was activated each time a crusade aired. Some years later, when I was serving as a visiting professor in evangelism and practical ministry at Gordon-Conwell, I made participation in the BGEA phone ministry a requirement in my courses.

While at GCTS, I was also one of the first students invited to participate in the Arrow Leadership Program which was founded by Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, Leighton Ford. The latter had a desire to help those who were emerging as new communicators of the Gospel. Dr. Ford had created Arrow as a means through which strategic investments might be made in the character, calling, and competency of young leaders. The organization continues to make those investments today.

Around the same time, I was invited to serve as a delegate to Lausanne II (in Manila, the Philippines). This international congress was one in a series of events called by the Lausanne Movement to foster cooperation among evangelical leaders. That movement was founded by Billy Graham, and it was in Manila that I developed a greater understanding of the realities of the global Church.

Two years later, the Graham Association created a profile of my life and ministry for airing during one of its crusade telecasts. As this came in the early years of my work for the Lord, I was stunned to learn that my profile would be the second in a series that began with Major League Baseball player Dave Dravecky. Rev. Graham’s message for the program in which my profile appeared, was entitled, “Who Is Jesus?” I can still hear the voice of Cliff Barrows introducing my segment. And, of course, George Beverly Shea’s comforting bass-baritone filled and lifted the hearts of those in the stadium seats at the Meadowlands in New Jersey along with the hearts of those listening from their seats at home.

The list of life intersections with Billy Graham and the organizations he founded continued on in the years that followed. I was asked to contribute chapters to the Billy Graham Christian Workers’ Handbook and worked with the BGEA to create a film for use in the telephone training centers. I was invited to serve on the Ministerial Advisory Council to the President at Gordon-Conwell and was interviewed for the school’s Contact Magazine. I was one of about a half dozen graduates, serving in churches, who were selected to speak to the GCTS Board of Directors about what additional training I would suggest the seminary should offer. I also collaborated with three GCTS professors on a book that was honored as a Christianity Today Book of the Year. Billy Graham founded the magazine CT in 1956 and its panel continues to select the top books each year in about a dozen categories, ranging from apologetics to Biblical studies, fiction to history and biography.

Decision-Covers-11-2016-1As I have often said elsewhere, I am deeply indebted to Billy Graham. He and the organizations he founded set the trajectory for my life in ministry. This man of integrity, humility, generosity and faithfulness was used of the Lord in the transformations of millions of individuals around the world, including my own. And now, even following his passing, I continue to be blessed by “America’s Pastor” and the BGEA. I have just received a request from Decision Magazine, a publication founded by the Rev. Graham, that I tell the story of how I came to faith in Christ at the Graham Crusade in Boston and how that decision has impacted my life to this day. What I find particularly astonishing is that no single human being has orchestrated these connections over the years. Everything points to the supernatural activity of God.

I pray that anyone reading this might be led to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior by offering a prayer that follows that was often shared by Pastor Graham. Those who know Jesus, might also take this opportunity to rededicate themselves–through this prayer–to the Lord’s service.

In Reverend Graham’s last message in the 2013 video-recorded My Hope America, he shared his heart for our nation today:

“Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I’ve wept as I’ve gone from city to city and I’ve seen how far people have wandered from God. I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross. Not the cross that hangs on the wall or around someone’s neck, but the real cross of Christ…With all my heart I want to leave you with the truth, that He loves you, and is willing to forgive you of all your sins. Sin is a disease of the human heart…There is no other way of salvation except through the cross of Christ.”

He then offered a simple, yet powerful prayer, along with a final reminder that if we are willing to come to Christ, Jesus has the power to change our lives and future forever. “Today,” he said, “I’m asking you to put your trust in Jesus.” Then he lifted these words:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins, I repent of my sins, I invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

If you lifted this prayer, from your heart and with all sincerity, know that your life will be different from this day forward for you will now walk with Jesus. He can change your life as He changed mine, as He changed Gene’s.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Go Play By Yourself: Friendships, Shutdowns and Quark

26903935_441118922969808_3940601116744742916_nType “mean-spirited memes” into your search line and nearly a million “results” will appear. I reached a point yesterday when I had just had enough of all of the gotchas, gibes and jabs being thrown across the political spectrum. So I added my comment to a string under a friend’s post of Trump’s misstatement that “…in a number of states the laws allow for a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.” The remarks were made during an address for the March for Life’s 45th rally. The President clearly meant to say “torn,” not “born,” intending for his statement to decry late-term abortions, as he did elsewhere in his address when he voiced support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Now granted, I could have chosen a more mean-spirited meme to address, but I’d just had my fill and wanted to engage in a meaningful conversation. I could easily have chosen a “safer space” than the Facebook page of a hard-left leaning friend, but then I would have missed the robust back and forth that followed.

I was a professor for much of my career and I am a believer that we learn best when we come up against that which challenges us; we learn when we have to wrestle with an issue. I have friends across the entire political spectrum and my feed is filled to the brim most days with nasty memes. My friend’s “calling someone out on a misstatement” may have been one of the least offensive of the bunch, but it provided a starting point for asking a series of questions starting with this: what value is there in mean-spirited memes? Now I appreciate satire and satire has certainly been employed, throughout history, to bring change. But when does satire (the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues) cross a line? Do mean-spirited memes move give and take conversations forward or are they shutdowners? Are they just easy grenade-like toss-ats or can they be effective in bringing change? And…can folks–on opposite ends of the spectrum–engage in debate without resorting to name calling (which is how, as you’ll see, the following conversation devolved and then evolved)?

I launched in to the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page by noting that mean-spirited memes do nothing but make those who create them and those who share them look petty and mean. And I asked in relation to the meme at hand, “would you want such memes to be created recounting every misstatement of yours?”

Here’s where the conversation went from there. I’ve done some condensing, but have remained true to the gist.

“Petty and Mean are Donald’s middle names,”one woman opined. “If he would actually think before he speaks, there would be far fewer opportunities for such memes.”

My response: “So incivility should be the response to perceived incivility? I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

“No,”she answered. “Reminding people of what he truly is like is not incivility. He should not be allowed to just gloss over his disorganized and at times nonsensical sentences. His lack of presidential qualities is embarrassing.”

A man chimed in with this: “He flubbed up some words and was made fun of, but the words he meant to speak are even more asinine than his mistaken quote…#1 it is a huge lie, there are NO states that allow abortions that late in a pregnancy unless there is a severe threat of death for the mother giving birth and that is an extremely rare and understandable condition. #2. The problem isn’t that he flubbed some words, the problem is that this idiot just spews out whatever he wants to say whether it is true or not….. So he got teased for making a silly mistake, but the truth is he should be vilified and reviled for trying to spread false and dangerous propaganda about a subject he knows absolutely nothing about…. Please Donna, stop defending this turd, it only makes you look bad.”

My response: “Memes like this and your response do nothing but shut down conversations with those who hold opposing opinions. You’re using the same tactics you say you revile in Trump. I wasn’t defending Trump; I was commenting on the faulty approach of the meme. Could you see MLK posting this? I think I commented on this meme and others today because I’m tired of these mean-spirited slams being posted across the political spectrum. These Molotov cocktails do nothing but inflame. I appreciate satire. I just wish folks would talk to each other instead of ranting at each other.”

My friend then popped in: “Well I’m certainly not MLK, and never pretended to be. Lol I’m with [the previous male responder] on this. Personally, I am a Roe vs Wade supporter and believe it’s no ones [sic] business but a woman and her physician as to how her medical decisions are made.”

The woman, who had initially responded wrote, “Pro-life means supporting health care, early childhood interventions, education, etc. Pro-birth or pro-fetus is something else entirely.”

To which I responded, “You know nothing about me. I’m pro-life in every way that can be understood, and my entire history would bear that out.” My friend, who was a student of mine many years ago, said she knew that to be true.

I then wrote: “I was not defending Trump in posting my comment. Yes, Trump made a horrendous blunder. He often says ridiculous things. Again, I’m just tired of people today talking at each other rather than talking to each other. People–again, from across the political spectrum–throw up memes like this and refuse to listen to one another. The responses that have followed my initial post [ha-ha emojis among them] prove my point. Many of them are hate-filled and derisive and those responding have no idea who I am or what I think. They’ve leapt to conclusions because I didn’t fall in lock step to celebrate this meme. I don’t celebrate ANY mean-spirited memes no matter who posts them.”

A newcomer, who I’d estimate to be a twenty-something, put ha-ha emojis on all my comments and then wrote [I’m sharing her comments unedited]: “we don’t care what you celebrate or don’t ‘My initial posts prove my point…’ No one really cares about your points either This is Facebook and you’re wasting your time I sorta half read through what you said, but after the grammatical errors I stopped You’re the world Police of Facebook, right ? Here to condemn us all for being mean when really you’re probably the biggest bully here Know what I do to a bully? I tell them to fuck off I barely know [my friend who’d shared the meme] and she has nothing to do with how I think Go play by yourself”

Quite coincidentally, my friend noted that “our FB pages are our private playgrounds, where we can vent, share, educate or just laugh at what tickles us.” Private playgrounds, it seems, where people recreate and re-create publicly, and new arrivals are often bullied and kicked to the curb as just so much refuse needing disposal.

Well, I then said: “Thank you to those who engaged respectfully with me on here. I wish we could have had a conversation around my initial comment on whether mean-spirited memes have any value. I wasn’t looking to discuss Trump’s words or pro-life/pro-choice issues and, if you look back at my comments, I hope you’ll see I did my best to respond to each person with respect, honesty and caring concern.”

My friend concluded this portion of the conversation with these words [shared unedited]: “this is a very emotionally charged issue, I do get what you’re saying about memes, but I disagree that this meme falls into that spectrum and if it does so what, this really is FB and that’s all. I have no problem with how you feel about this, that is your right. But it is also Elizabeth’s right to feel the way she does, she has her experiences as you have yours. She is one of the loveliest woman I’ve eveh had the pleasure to know. Donna you knew exactly how my friends would respond, we’ve been thru this before. I lean pretty far left and I’m not a Christian so our friends are and will be very different. I must say you win this one as it appears Lizzie has left my page. Thanks. SMH”

And I said, “As I’m not welcome here, I will bow out as well.” Matthew 10:14 had come to mind, wherein we’re told that, if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, you can leave and shake the dust off your feet. So, I unfriended my friend and shook the dust. But, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” the twenty-something replied, “I haven’t left your page  I barely respond to people like Donna but I felt like putting someone in their place today People are so afraid to look within and search for meaning and the in between I saw a great shirt on a hiker yesterday and it said, ‘Make America Deep Again.’ Think about it”

Yes, indeed, let’s think about it.

After I posted this entry, a friend wrote to tell me that he’d attended a lecture last week by a visiting scholar, Armin Shimerman, from USC, noting that “he [Shimerman] teaches on Shakespeare and that was what his lecture was centered on. But more specifically, he spoke on why we don’t understand Shakespeare today. He posits that we, as a culture, have trouble understanding any literature predating the 1800s. The reason for that: we no longer teach Rhetoric., the basis of all the writings before that time. If we understood the rhetoric behind all the things Shakespeare wrote, we could understand the story better. He pointed to Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. The logic behind statements, the believability of the person making the statements, and the passion, or emotion being played on. I walked away from the lecture with my eyes a little glazed over, but I gained much insight. To understand the use of rhetoric, you can become much more persuasive in your life, and to not understand what is being done, you can become much more vulnerable. This comes to my mind as I view many rants and tirades on FB. There is little logos in any meme, but the image used can evoke some sense of pathos. The heavy emphasis is generally on the pathos, the trigger points and the words used. I too wish for more thoughtful discussions and always appreciate your essays. BTW don’t let the fact that Armin was also the actor that played Quark on DS9 detract from his pathos.”

My response: “I recognized the name, Armin Shimerman; I’m a Trekkie after all, though perhaps not on your exalted level! Thank you for sharing his and your wise words. I appreciate your wisdom and your caring concern. I have been reflecting on this whole experience, taking it as a case study in how I might better engage with those who are so quick to take offense and so unwilling to listen. I think my initial post must have been seen as an attack, but that was certainly not my intention. It seems often that, if you don’t fall lockstep into agreeing with whatever camp is onto whatever meme, folks will move to shut you down, refusing to enter into any kind of constructive debate. Not one person engaged with me on the topic of my initial post, the whole point for my posting. They went all over the map, down all kinds of rabbit holes and insulted me. Then they united to force me to shut down. Sound familiar? Perhaps I should have given more thought to how I would be heard and whether it was worth entering into this particular fray.

The shutting down of others, clearly seen in this exchange, provides a picture–in microcosm–of what’s happening across our society.

My friend, in a conversation that reopened a bit later on Facebook, told me she didn’t mean to make me feel unwelcome. But, I reminded her that she had sided with the one who had treated me reprehensibly. I was not made to feel welcome. I was castigated for speaking, and that–I said–should frighten her because the shutting down of free speech, the inability to engage in civil discourse in the public square (or on a friend’s Facebook page) should be opposed with everything we’ve got.

But, then…

The entire tone of the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page shifted when another individual stepped in to tell me that she respected my thoughts and considered them valid. She went on to say: “I respect your statement and your question. I think sometimes what appears to be mean-spirited is an expression of legitimate frustration. I have to say that I don’t like name-calling and have had problems hearing this on both sides. I really can’t appreciate the terms “Libtard” and ” Rethuglicans” and so on…I don’t like the Trump referred to as “Cheeto” nor Hillary as “Killary” and when I reflect on this… – I think it just seems so juvenile. Like kids in the playground spewing names at each other. As an educator, I find myself encouraging little children to be more constructive and they are quite receptive when the ideas are presented in ways that make sense to them. Name-calling gets us nowhere I believe. But, legit expressions of frustration are in a different category and come closer to what you’ve suggested about parody. We can learn from each other when engaging in discussions about recent events such as this blunder. I AM frustrated that a leader could be so inept as to not catch such a gross error – it is curious if nothing else. I stick to my former observations regarding why he did not catch himself. I think the discussion is good and the original post is not without merit.”

My friend then added, “I do agree with what you are saying Donna; there are so many memes I do not share for this very reason. In saying that, there are some I share because of the creativity of the creator, some because they are actually funny, some because they trigger my pathos, and some because I’m simply in a mood. Like I said, my fb is my playground, and much of what I post is not there for any serious debate. Fb, for me, is a tool to keep up with people who are far away or a toy to find unusual things and share with my like-minded peeps. It is open for the public so anyone can comment and speak their mind. If I find something truly offensive I delete it. And no I do not believe people who have completely opposing beliefs can debate without becoming emotionally involved, which is why I do not debate the things I post.”

I said, “I would never suggest we not become emotionally involved…it’s how those emotions are shared. It can be an enormous challenge to debate, to address the other with respect, and to come away as friends, even when we continue to have opposing beliefs.”

My friend added, “I do agree with that. For me it’s just about letting people be who they are. Sometimes that frustrates me, or angers me, but in the end, I get over it as I realize I probably trigger stuff in others. But for me at this age, I’ve experienced enough to know my beliefs will not be swayed by debate. As I know others are shaped by their experiences and I will not try to change their minds. There will always be, and must be opposing forces in all things, the yin yang of it all. So, as we swing on the pendulum from one side to another, I choose to enjoy myself where ever it’s swinging at the moment.”

I should note that, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” she didn’t mind my sharing, on this site, the exchange that had been playing out there. And, odd as it may seem, I’m grateful that I entered into the conversation with words that might have been taken as offensive because I learned I shouldn’t do that in any future go-rounds. And, you know? I must admit that the creator of the born-torn meme was actually quite clever. A clear opening had been provided; it was easy to take direct aim and it would have been hard to miss the target. Mistaking born for torn? At the March for Life?! That was a beaut of a blunder; the President left himself wide open.

In the end, my friend and I came to a greater understanding and greater appreciation of each other, and I actually gained a new Facebook friend: the woman who entered in at the tail end, the one who acknowledged I had some good points, the one who shared her own views respectfully and thoughtfully.

Now, I have one last bit to share…

Coincidental to my entering into this exchange on Facebook, was my viewing of a CBS Sunday Morning segment that centered on the shutting down of free speech on college campuses. The professor in me perked up and zeroed in. I hope you’ll take the time to visit the link here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-war-of-words-on-college-campuses/

In the program, an altercation at Middlebury College in March, 2016 was recalled that was sparked by the appearance of Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. He’d been invited to the Vermont college to discuss his Coming Apart, a book that explores the growing divide between rich and poor white Americans. When he got up to speak, however, chanting and yelling students shouted him down.

The individual who had invited the author expected Murray would be controversial because of another book he had written, The Bell Curve. In that volume, Murray had suggested that race may play a part in determining intelligence, asserting that blacks do less well than white on IQ tests. CBS reporter Rita Braver interviewed one student who was looking forward to pressing him on these ideas, and Allison Stanger, a respected political science professor who had been selected to moderate the event because of her liberal credentials, was also eager to debate. When she and Murray were drowned out and shut down by the protests, Stanger lamented the missed educational opportunity.

Braver noted that Murray’s presence at Middlebury eventually resulted in violence. “When Professor Stanger was escorting Murray out, they were attacked by a mob that included outside activists, and she was left with a concussion and whiplash.”

Stanger was clearly saddened by all of this. She had reviewed The Bell Curve and had prepared tough questions that she never got to ask in front of an audience that was listening. She told Braver: “It was this real group-think mob mentality where people weren’t reading and thinking for themselves, but rather relying on other people to tell them what to think.”

Murray and Stanger were essentially told–or, rather, forced–to “go play by themselves,” and this brought me back to the suggestion that Facebook pages can be seen by some as private playgrounds where new arrivals can be bullied and kicked to the curb when they don’t fall into lockstep line. Shutting down. Shutting down. But…it doesn’t have to be this way. We can shake the dust, put our shoes back on, and start in again with respect for one another and a renewed determination to listen and learn.

 

A Time for Everything and a Season for Every Purpose

new_year_01[Originally posted in 2013.]

“There is a time for everything and a season for every purpose under heaven.”

Time. From time to time. For the time-being. Time-honored, timeless, timely, time-sharing, time-worn. Time heals all wounds. Time wounds all heels. Time is always a circus packing up and moving away. Living is entirely too time-consuming. Time and tide wait for no man. Time immemorial. Time expired. On time. In time. Time-out. Time, what a concept and how fascinated by it and fixated on it we are!

We try to make time, spend time, and cheat time but time marches on.

My little pocket paperback dictionary has a thirty-line definition under the word “time.” But, in all those words offered in explanation, there is no real definition of time for there is no attempt to define time outside of time — time as a created sphere within which God’s plan of redemption is actualized. Time from an eternal perspective. Time from God’s point of view. Does any human being really know what time is in this sense? And as the song goes, does anybody really know what time it is?

And yet, if you’ve come upon this entry at the start of a new year, much of the world is upon the time when folks reflect upon the time – the year – that is past and look forward to the time – the year – that is to come. A new year of promise and challenge. What will we make of it?

How are you now spending your time? It’s an enlightening exercise to consider what percentage of your days are used up in sleeping, working, watching TV, eating, traveling, lounging about, dressing, being ill, engaging in determinedly spiritual pursuits . . . Each one of us probably has a unique way of looking at time. For someone coping with a debilitating illness, each minute may pass like an hour. And another, nearing the end of his life, may feel as though he has too much time on his hands. He’s had enough of time. For another healthy, often over-committed individual who’s always rarin’ to go, each hour may pass like a minute – there never seems to be enough time.

Life comes to us in seasons, in spans, in stretches, in seconds and in spells. Life comes to us in moments, months and millennia. We may be at a juncture, in an interval and everything can change in an instant. Isaac Watts reminds us in the great hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, that: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.” He also reminds us that God has been our help in ages past and is our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

To live within real reality, to embrace the seasons of our lives, we need to understand time. We must begin to see time from God’s perspective if only on our very elementary level.

The author of our passage from Ecclesiastes offers us, in the verses before us, a majestic ode to time and he concludes with a way of dealing with and in time. He tells us that every human activity has its own appointed time but that time also creates a problem. If human beings were merely creatures within a limited span of time, they would not concern themselves with the further dimensions of eternity. But it is God who has placed “eternity in our hearts,” while keeping us from the full knowledge of what will be in the future.

Made for eternity but limited just now to time, that is our predicament and the suggestions for dealing with this enigma are the focus of this entry.

In Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1 through 15, we read:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account. (NIV)

In chapter 12, verses 13 and 14, the author concludes:

Now all has been heard;
 here is the conclusion of the matter:
 Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (NIV)

So, again, does anybody really know what time it is? Does any human being really have a grasp on the nature of time?

It’s been calculated that if you could put the entire history of humankind in a fifty-year span, this is how it would read:

For the first 45 years, nothing all that significant happened. Five years ago, humans began to have some form of primitive writing and communication. Two years ago, Christianity came into being. Five months ago, the printing press was invented. Twenty days ago, Ben Franklin made the connection between lightning and electricity. Nineteen days ago, the telephone was invented. Eighteen days ago, the airplane appeared. Ten days ago, radio. Five days ago, television. Five minutes ago: jet airplanes.

We hear quite often that time seems to be speeding up. More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote a very influential book entitled Future Shock.

Toffler argued that society was undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a super-industrial society. The accelerated rate of technological and social advances was leaving people disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”: they were “future shocked.” He coined a new phrase for the problem: folks, he said, were on “information overload.”

Today, you can pick up a magazine most any day and you’ll find some article on time management, sleep disorders related to stress, or products you can use to de-stress and relax. A few years ago, I typed into the search line, “no time, stress” and came up with 8,900,000 items. I did that again just now and came up with 63,500,000! Among those entries, I found everything from books to consultants to relaxation sayings to an e-zine article entitled, “How to Get Stress Relief by Constantly Pleasing Other People.”

It seems we’re running, running, running but where to and what from? What are we doing with our time?

The author of Ecclesiastes, who may well have been King Solomon, son of David, writing around 900 B.C., considered the same questions.

His book starts with the words “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” What good is all the work, he wonders. There is nothing new under the sun, no remembrance of men of old.

And this guy had done everything, seen everything. He’d studied. He’d acquired. He’d amassed. He’d taken on great projects, built houses, cultivated vineyards, planted gardens, set out parks and constructed reservoirs. He’d denied himself nothing. But, all of it, all of his activity had left him empty. He saw all of it as meaningless, a chasing after the wind, because he knew he couldn’t take any of it with him and he couldn’t make any more time.

In the 2011 release, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, a future is envisioned wherein time is literally money, and aging stops at 25. In this scenario, the only way to stay alive is to earn, steal, or inherit more time. The plot plays on a craving many seem to share. Art Historian Bernard Berenson, who lived 94 years — from 1865 to 1959 — once said, “I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all of their wasted hours.”

But even if we could earn, steal, borrow or inherit more hours, it would make no difference, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, because our fates would still be the same. The fate of the fool will overtake the wise as well. Like the fool, the wise man too must die.

And so, he despairs: what is the point of it all? Why bother?

Finally he hits upon it: only those activities undertaken for the sake of God are truly worthwhile. For “to the one who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness but to the sinner, He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth just to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” Thus writes Solomon.

If there is no purpose, no meaning to existence beyond the limited span of an individual’s years, he decides, all the effort is for naught.

But, when one sees the hand of God at work in ordaining the times and seasons, when one sees an everlastingness and a reason for and value in every season, everything one does takes on a new dimension.

Each one is born. Each one will die. In between, God has ordained that certain things will happen according to His plan. There will be times of planting and harvest, times of destruction and times of healing. There will be times of sorrow, times of joy, times of searching, times of moving ahead, times of yielding. There will be times for keeping and times for throwing away, times for silence, times for speaking up. There will be love and hate, war and peace.

Why? Why go through all of these things? So that we will learn to fear God, to obey Him, so that we will learn through our labors to turn to the Lord, to seek Him, to seek our purpose in serving Him. He has placed eternity in our hearts. Deep within, we know there is more beyond the few years of existence we are given on this plane. We can’t fathom what God has done from beginning to end. We don’t have to fathom what He’s done. We need only to ensure that our eternity is safe, that we have accepted His provision of salvation, and that – while we have time — we are living as we should, keeping in mind that some of the greatest challenges we face are mercies meant to develop our characters.

If we begin to look at our lives from an eternal perspective, we will be able to take greater pleasure in all that comes to us – the times of trial as well as the times of ease. We will be able to have peace in all circumstances because we know the Lord means us well and uses all things to benefit those who love Him. He is working in all time, outside of time and at all times. And He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Consider, for a moment, what endures and what does not endure for it is in the everlasting that we should invest.

The Bible tells us that riches do not endure (Proverbs 27:24). Youth, though so many of us try so desperately to hold onto it, does not endure.

In 1Corinthians 13, we’re told that what does endure is faith, hope and love. John, chapter 6, assures us that spiritual food, which the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – gives us, endures. What else endures? Truthful lips (Pr. 12:19), God’s righteousness (Ps. 112:9 and 2Cor.9:9) and all of our labor done for the sake of the Lord (1Cor. 15). Matthew, chapter 6, assures us that treasures, laid up in heaven, endure. And where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. We too will endure.

We are here – in time – for a reason. Richard Kroner once noted that “history has its beginning in God, it has its center in Christ, and its end in the final consummation of the last judgment.”

God has established time. In that time, we are to live and work and play, to seek some answers, to come to some conclusions. We are born by the grace of God. We are redeemed – our time is redeemed, our eternity is redeemed – by accepting the gift of the new life in Christ. We are then to use our time – leading up to the end times – seeking to please our God. We learn of His will for our lives through scripture, through prayer, through pursuing truth in fellowship with other believers, through service to others, through committing our work – all that we do – to our Lord and Savior, living lives that are pleasing in His sight. Whatever we’re doing, whatever work He has given us to do, we do it all as unto the Lord.

Time is “the arena of humanity’s decision on our way to eternal destiny.” We make choices within the arena of time – every thought, word and deed has repercussions in the eternal moral order.

God has ordained a time and a season for everything. He has set eternity in our hearts so that we will seek Him, use the time well and know peace and satisfaction – a taste of eternity in established time.

When your life comes to an end, what stories will it tell? Will your life reflect God-honoring priorities? Do you need to make adjustments in the way you use your time?

When your life comes to an end, will you have to say, “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2: 11a)? Or will you be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2Timothy 4-7a)?

In the days ahead, I pray you will devote yourself to those pursuits that honor God and minister to your fellow human beings. May the Lord teach you to number your days aright (Psalm 90:12) and remind you that each day is “the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24a). Our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15) and we can “trust in Him at all times . . . for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). God is the God of our days and God is the God of all time whether we are in time or out of time. Remember God is the God of eternity and He has placed that eternity in the hearts of His people.

PRAYER

Great and Eternal God, Your love for us never ends. You remain constant and faithful through all the seasons of our lives – from birth to death, in times of weeping and in times of laughter, in times of mourning and in times of joy, in times of war and in times of peace, in the silence and in the clatter and clutter of busy lives. Lord, you have set eternity in my heart and so I commit my ways to You and pray that Your Holy Spirit will indeed guide me into all truth. May You sanctify me and preserve me.

Lord, as I look toward the days ahead, I pray that you will grant me strength during times of trial and wisdom at all times. Lord, as the cliché goes, today is the first day of the rest of my life so I turn afresh to seeking You, Your wisdom, Your will, Your strength. May I give serious consideration to the ways in which I use the time that you have given to me. Fill me with awe because of the challenges I face but fill me also with confidence because of the power that is mine because I belong to You. May the days ahead find me engaged in those pursuits that honor You and further Your kingdom. Grow me Lord in miraculous ways that I may love You and serve You all my days through Jesus Christ my Lord, I pray. Amen

Celebrating and Giving Thanks for All the “Good Men”

The article to which I’m linking here reminded me, in the midst of all the MeToos, to celebrate and give thanks for all the “good men” who have used their strength to stand between me and those who would have harmed me. Good men who put themselves at great physical risk to protect me or rescue me from danger. Good men who used their influence to open doors of opportunity for me. Good men who have rejected or repented of “locker room talk.” Good men who refrained from taking advantage of me when I was at my most vulnerable. Good men who have apologized to me when they’ve let language loose they were raised to believe should never be spoken in the presence of a lady. Good men who have respected me, provided for me, educated me, encouraged me, loved me, blessed me.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/october/unsettling-truth-behind-metoo-movement-harvey-weinstein.html

 

Books To Feed Your Mind and Spirit

imagesI am often asked for recommendations of devotional materials. Topping my list is Devotional Classics. (I’ve mentioned DC elsewhere on this site but want to reemphasize it and a couple of others today). 

I’ve used this book in my seminary and church-based classes on spiritual formation and development in the disciplines of the faith. I have seen many lives transformed as individuals committed themselves to the work it necessitates. The volume, edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith, uses 52 selections that introduce the reader to the great devotional writers (from Augustine to Thomas a Kempis to Catherine of Genoa to Dietrich Bonhoeffer…). Each excerpt is linked to a biblical passage and is accompanied by probing questions and challenging spiritual exercises. You could focus on a chapter a week through a year and be enormously blessed.

You might also wish to bring alongside this book, two others. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. The first divides the classic disciplines of the Christian faith into three “movements of the Spirit.”

 

“The inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study offer avenues of personal examination and change. The outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service help prepare us to make the world a better place. The corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration bring us nearer to one another and to God.”

The second book features essays on the contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical and incarnational streams and grounds each in profiles of individuals throughout history whom the author considers exemplars of these traditions. The three books, taken together, provide refreshing nourishment for the mind and spirit.

Two more recommendations for daily devotionals: My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, and Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman. Each begins with a biblical passage and ends with a meditation on that passage. You’ll find that Chambers will poke around your spirit to urge you to greater faithfulness and Cowman will minister to your soul when you hit rough patches.

 

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

“The greatest problems of our time are not technological, for these we handle fairly well. They are not even political or economic, because the difficulties in these areas, glaring as they may be, are largely derivative. The greatest problems are moral and spiritual, and unless we can make some progress in these realms, we may not even survive.”

So writes D. Elton Trueblood in his foreword to Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. This blessed book, written by Richard J. Foster, has been used since its initial printing in 1978, to deepen the interior lives of countless individuals, nurturing them toward more abundant living.

“Superficiality is the curse of our age,” Foster asserts. “The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is…for deep people.”

The classic Disciplines, or central spiritual practices, of the Christian faith allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us. Dividing the Disciplines into three movements of the Spirit, Foster shows how each of these areas contributes to a balanced spiritual life. The inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study offer avenues of personal examination and change. The outward Disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service help prepare us to make the world a better place. The corporate Disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration bring us nearer to one another and to God.

Foster asks us to “picture a long, narrow ridge with a sheer drop-off on either side. The chasm to the right is the way of moral bankruptcy through human strivings for righteousness. Historically this has been called the heresy of moralism. The chasm to the left is moral bankruptcy through the absence of human strivings. This has been called the heresy of antinomianism. On the ridge there is a path, the Disciplines of the spiritual life…[T]he path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is the path of disciplined grace…[and] our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observes, ‘Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.’ Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort.”

If you are feeling spiritually dry, if you have tired of superficiality, if you are hungering for a more abundant life, I recommend you carve out some time to spend with Celebration of Discipline. I have used this book in many classes on spiritual growth and have seen astonishing transformations in those who have devoted themselves to the principles set forth within.

The Fire of Love

Luke 11:33-36

Richard Rolle (1290-1349) writes, in his The Fire of Love, about the spiritual flame that feeds the soul: “I cannot tell you how surprised I was the first time I felt my heart begin to warm. It was real warmth, too, not imaginary, and it felt as if it were actually on fire. I was astonished at the way the heat surged up and how this new sensation brought great and unexpected comfort. I had to keep feeling my breast to make sure there was no physical reason for it.

“But once I realized that it came entirely from within, that this fire of love had no cause, material or sinful, but was the gift of my Maker, I was absolutely delighted, and wanted my love to be even greater. And this longing was all the more urgent because of the delightful effect and the interior sweetness which this spiritual flame fed into my soul. Before the infusion of this comfort, I had never thought that we exiles could possibly have known such warmth, so sweet was the devotion it kindled. It set my soul aglow.”

When I came to faith in Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in Boston, Massachusetts, I felt this flame within me. It was as though I was on fire and all the spiritual detritus within me had been burned away. I felt the embers flash into flame again, when on a Cursillo weekend, I sensed a call to the ministry. This time the fire was accompanied by light that seemed to surround me and encompass me. I entered seminary, and in my first preaching class, my professor, Gwyn Walters, told me he could feel the fire within me when it came through, as a “fire in my belly,” as I expounded on the Word of God.

Like Rolle, I have also moved through times when I felt “spiritually frozen…missing what I had become accustomed to…[feeling] myself barren.” Disappointments and overturnings in my life obtruded into my soul warmth, disturbing and quenching the flame. I was comforted then by Rolle’s assertion, that the flame, once kindled, is “irremovable” because it has taken hold of the heart.

Rolle notes us that no mortal could survive the heat at its peak if it persisted. “We must inevitably wilt before the vastness and sweetness of love so intense and heat so indescribable.” Yet at the same time, we long for more of this “honeyed flame;” we long to be “held in thrall with those who sing their Maker’s praise.”

The soul warmth within me continues to bring comfort and enlightenment and an overpowering sense of the presence and love of the living God. The fire still burns steadily and, often, fans into flame.

Have you experienced the “fire of love” as described in this post? Would you be willing to share your experience with me? I am working on a chapter about soul warmth and spiritual fire and would appreciate your input. Please respond in the comments below or email me at therockery.hailson@gmail.com. Thank you, in advance, for any assistance you are able and willing to provide.