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.

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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).

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

According to the US Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. A report by Open Doors USA identified 2016 as the “worst year yet” (in the 25 years of its monitoring) for Christian persecution. Each month (an average of) 322 Christians die for their faith; 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed; 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians, including beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages. The most dangerous place for Christians is North Korea followed by Somalia and Afghanistan. Pakistan rose to No. 4 but had the overall highest level of violence. Sudan was fifth, followed by Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Please pray for those who are being persecuted for the faith, not only on these days especially set aside for remembrance, but each day of the year.

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What Will Prayer Do For You?

1-thessalonians-5-16-18Beware in your prayer, above everything, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things, above all that we ask or think…expect great things.–Andrew Murray

Are you in sorrow? Prayer can make your affliction sweet and strengthening. Are you in gladness? Prayer can add to your joy a celestial perfume. Are you in extreme danger from outward or inward enemies? Prayer can set at your right hand an angel whose touch could shatter a millstone into smaller dust than the flour it grinds, and whose glance could lay an army low. What will prayer do for you? I answer: All that God can do for you.–Frederic William Farrar

Until the Sound of a Mighty Rain…

“Ask for a confirming sign from the Lord your God. You can even ask for something miraculous”–Isaiah 7:11 (NIV)

Ahab went out to meet Elijah. The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, “So it’s you, old troublemaker!”

“It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. Here’s what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there.”

So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.

Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”

Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.

Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”

All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”

Elijah told the Baal prophets, “Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you’re the majority. Then pray to your god, but don’t light the fire.”

So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, “O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.

This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.

Then Elijah told the people, “Enough of that—it’s my turn. Gather around.” And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.

When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”

Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.

All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”

Elijah said to Ahab, “Up on your feet! Eat and drink—celebrate! Rain is on the way; I hear it coming.”

Ahab did it: got up and ate and drank. Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bowed deeply in prayer, his face between his knees. Then he said to his young servant, “On your feet now! Look toward the sea.”

He went, looked, and reported back, “I don’t see a thing.”

“Keep looking,” said Elijah, “seven times if necessary.”

And sure enough, the seventh time he said, “Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea.”

“Quickly then, on your way. Tell Ahab, ‘Saddle up and get down from the mountain before the rain stops you.’”

Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. And God strengthened Elijah mightily. Pulling up his robe and tying it around his waist, Elijah ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.”–1 Kings 18:16b-39, 41-46 (The Message)

Make thy petition deep, O heart of mine,

Thy God can do much more

Than thou canst ask;

Launch out on the Divine,

Draw from His love-filled store.

Trust Him with everything;

Begin today,

And find the joy that comes

When Jesus has His way!—Selected

We must keep on praying and waiting upon the Lord, until the sound of a mighty rain is heard. There is no reason why we should not ask for large things; and without doubt we shall get large things if we ask in faith, and have the courage to wait with patient perseverance upon Him, meantime doing those things which lie within our power to do.

We cannot create the wind or set it in motion, but we can set our sails to catch it when it comes; we cannot make the electricity, but we can stretch the wire along upon which it is to run and do its work; we cannot, in a word, control the Spirit, but we can so place ourselves before the Lord, and so do the things He has bidden us do, that we will come under the influence and power of His mighty breath.Selected

“Cannot the same wonders be done now as of old? Where is the God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him.”

“The greatest saints who ever lived…are on a level which is quite within our reach. The same forces of the spiritual world which were at their command, and the exertion of which made them such spiritual heroes, are open to us also. If we had the same faith, the same hope, the same love which they exhibited, we would achieve marvels as great as those which they achieved. A word of prayer in our mouths would be as potent to call down the gracious dews and melting fires of God’s Spirit, as it was in Elijah’s mouth to call down literal rain and fire, if we could only speak the word with that full assurance of faith wherewith he said it.”—Edward Meyrick Goulburn, Dean of Norwich

From today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: DFG Hailson

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.

Hold Us Up Against Our Sins

Father in Heaven! Hold not our sins up against us but hold us up against our sins so that the thought of You when it wakens in our soul, and each time it wakens, should not remind us of what we have committed but of what You did forgive, not of how we went astray but of how You did save us.—Søren Kierkegaard

Excerpt from The Prayers of Kierkegaard.

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard (1806-1882), in the public domain.

 

Holding Up the Life of Another Before God

From Douglas Steere’s book, Prayer and Worship, comes this excerpt on intercessory prayer:

When we hold up the life of another before God, when we expose it to God’s love, when we pray for its release from drowsiness, for the quickening of its inner health, for the power to throw off a destructive habit, for the restoration of its free and vital relationship with its fellows, for its strength to resist temptation, for its courage to continue against sharp opposition—only then do we sense what it means to share in God’s work, in his concern; only then do the walls that separate us from others come down…”Prayer is incipient action,” and these clues are the lines along which the molten freedom of the person in prayer is to be cast. “Mind the Light,” reads an inscription on a sundial. Come under holy obedience.

Here is the unformed side of life’s relationships—the letters to be written, the friends to be visited, the journey to be undertaken, the suffering to be met by food, or nursing care, or fellowship. Here is the social wrong to be resisted, the piece of interpretive work to be undertaken, the command to “rebuild my churches,” the article to be written, the wrong to be forgiven, the grudge to be dropped, the relationship to be set right, the willingness to serve God in the interior court by clear honest thinking, and the refusal to turn out shoddy work.

Yet we need more than the intimations. We need spiritual staying power to carry them out…Holy obedience to the insights, to the concerns that come, that persist, and that are in accord with God’s way of love is not only the active side of prayer, but is the only adequate preparation for future prayer.