Freedom

Freedom. What a great word! It means: “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; exemption from external control; the power to determine action without restraint; independence”. We celebrate our national freedom on July the 4th. It is a day to commemorate our freedom from Britain’s tyranny.

Those who signed that brazen and unlawful document knew they were putting their lives on the line. They knew that from that day forward there would be a target on their backs. They knew they were putting their families at risk. But they believed in the idea of freedom and were willing to pay the price.

We have experienced a loss of freedom during COVID. As Americans we have never faced such restrictions and I doubt we will ever agree to such restrictions again. We are an independent lot, we Americans. And our sense of independence has been a good thing as we fought tyranny across the globe. We sent men into battle to fight Natzism, Fascism, Communism, Anti-semitism, and Socialism. We asked nothing in return. God has blessed us for that.

We fought for freedom and believed all men deserve to be free.

No. We didn’t do it perfectly. But we are the only nation that fought each other to the bitter end that all men, black and white, might be free. People line up on our shore to come to this nation so that they might be free to follow their own American Dream. Just look at the Southern border – people want to come to America to be free. Unfortunately, the Southern border is a humanitarian crisis the likes we have never seen before.

But my point is, people want to be free. And evil wants people bound up. There is evil afoot in this world. There always has been.

Human beings will never be truly free politically, socially, mentally, emotionally until they find true freedom in Christ Jesus. He said, “The truth will set you free.” Then He said He was “the Way the Truth and the Life.” True freedom is found in a personal relationship with God through Jesus.

You cannot be truly free apart from Him.

The Last Time I Heard My Father’s Voice

Father’s Day is Sunday! A day to celebrate all the fathers in our lives. Maybe yours was not so good. Maybe even cruel. Neglectful. Abusive. Absent. 

Maybe Father’s Day is something you want to skip over.

Please remember you have a perfect Heavenly Father who adores you. Loves you unconditionally. He thinks you are wonderful. When you mess up He doesn’t hold it against you or berate you. He forgives you freely when you ask for His forgiveness. 

Several years ago, on Father’s Day, I called my father’s home. I dreaded it because I knew it would be a slow, labored process – if he could even hear me – or understand who I was. But I was eager to have him know I loved him and eager to hear his voice.

His kindly caregiver, Grady, answered the phone.  He told me my father was resting quietly but he would wake him. I said no, I’d call back in thirty minutes when he was due for his medications. 

When I called back, Grady again answered and said he would put Daddy’s headphones on him – a device that my father wears attached to a small microphone which enables him to hear better. Grady asked if I could hear him and I assured him I could. I heard him tell Daddy that “Your daughter is on the phone – Ruth is calling”. There was no response. It was quiet. 

Grady kept saying, “Mr. Graham, can you hear? Your daughter is on the phone.” Nothing. I kept asking, “Daddy, can you hear me?” No response. My heart was sad.  He couldn’t hear me or understand. 

Then out of the silence in a strong voice I heard, “I love you.” then all was quiet again. Tears filled my eyes. There was a lump in my throat. I croaked out an “I love you, happy Father’s Day.” I could tell Grady was choked up too. We said a quick goodbye. 

I cried.

What a sweet gift to hear his voice so strong. Reassuring. A treasured memory.

Fortunately, when we call on God He can hear us even before we speak. He knows our thoughts. But he longs to hear our voice calling on Him. He hears and He answers. We don’t need fancy equipment for Him to hear. We don’t need special words. We don’t need to have our theology all lined up correctly.  We don’t need to repeat ourselves or speak loudly. He hears us.

He longs to hear our voice.

Wish Him a Happy Father’s Day! He’ll be happy to hear from you.

Ruth Graham To Lead Study For Mississippi Seminary Inmates

JACKSON, MS (May 17) – Ruth Graham, the daughter of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, has agreed to lead a new seminary program for the Mississippi Department of Corrections.  MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain announced an agreement with Ms. Graham to start a 14-week program at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility starting May 18, 2021.  The program will be funded by private donors.

“Every week, Ruth Graham will lead three of our prison seminary programs about how to forgive,” said Commissioner Cain. “In her acclaimed book, Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself, she talks about having an absent parent and about what it means to forgive and move on.”  Ruth Graham’s beloved father Billy Graham traveled the world with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for over 50 years, leaving his family for weeks at a time.

“When I visited Angola Prison in Louisiana,” said Ms. Graham, “I had an experience with a death row inmate story that made me realize I needed to understand more about forgiveness in my own life. My father was often gone when I was growing up and though I adored him, my little girl’s heart read his absences as abandonment. That resulted in a deep sense of insecurity and many bad choices in my life. Once I discovered my ‘core’ issue, I was able to forgive myself, my father and even feelings that God had let me down. Now I live in the freedom of forgiveness and I want to share it.”

Ruth Graham will teach 27 women seminary students at CMCF via Zoom while simultaneously broadcasting to seminary students at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

“Forgiveness is the only real path to growth,” said Ms. Graham.  “If you hold on to bitterness and anger, it is impossible to be happy.”

The 14-week Graham program is being underwritten by Calvin Sutphin, founder of Catalyst Ministries of West Virginia.

“At no time in world history has forgiveness been needed more,” said Sutphin.  “Commissioner Cain is spot on about the key to true rehabilitation in prisons is Moral Rehabilitation.  And it’s not just prisoners either.  All of us need to soul-search with regularity.”

MDOC seminary students will train with Ms. Graham over the summer term and will then lead satellite groups within prisons on the study of forgiveness. 

“You want a reduced crime rate in the streets?” asked Commissioner Cain. “Start with prisons.  To quote the Apostle Paul, we really do war not against flesh and blood but against principalities.  At the heart of drugs, alcohol and failed relationships is unforgiveness.”

Gems of Motherhood and the Miracle of Forgiveness

Ruth recently spent some time with Sharon Kon with Gems of Motherhood. Listen to their conversation about the Miracle Of Forgiveness here:

https://gems-of-motherhood.captivate.fm/listen

Progressive Christianity

Just like everything else, progressive-ism has come to Christianity.

Let me give you some bullet points about what they teach:

The Bible is not the authoritative Word of God
There is no such thing as Original Sin – man is basically good
Adam and Eve are an allegory
There are no miracles such as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection
Evolution is science
Jesus was not divine and is not to be worshipped
Christ is a universal energy that was present at the Big Bang
Christ is good energy working through all things
Jesus came to show us a better way – to love, not save us from our sins
Jesus isn’t the only way
Jesus’ atonement was cosmic child abuse
God is an abuser and blood-thirsty
The blood atonement is rejected
Love is greater than justice
Since God is love He can overlook sin
Hell is here on earth
They emphasize personal belief: feelings over facts
Essential doctrines can be redefined
Historic terms are redefined
The historic terms are redefined
The Gospel shifts from sin to social justice
The focus is on us not God.

Some of that I fear to even type. It is blasphemous. I do not believe any of it. It grieves me that so many people are buying into this. They are making God in their own image.

But that is what is taking over our churches our young people. How do we, as Christ-followers counter that?

By living a life of compassion and authenticity. Walk the walk.

It’s Easter time. What a glorious truth is the Resurrection of Jesus. Defeating sin and death. Though Him we have new life and the hope of the resurrection and a home in Heaven. It will be glorious.

The “progressives” can’t alter the fact of His bodily resurrection and the joy of new birth in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What Did Jesus Look Like?

What does Jesus look like? To be honest, we don’t know.

Humanly, He was of Middle Easter descent so probably had an olive-toned skin. He was Jewish and probably had dark hair and dark eyes. I doubt He was very tall. So, humanly He looked sort of average. The Bible says, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Wow! That’s not what we would expect of the Son of God, is it.

Shouldn’t he be tall, strong and handsome with a commanding presence? A Tom Selleck look-alike. That’s not how the Bible talks of him. He Himself said he was “meek and lowly.”

I read somewhere that meekness is power under control. And lowliness is defined as humble. Not exactly how we might describe as the Son of the Most High God. And later in the Bible He is described in vivid detail as a victorious warrior reigning over the new heavens and new earth.

But before the warrior was the lamb. Meek and lowly. John the Baptist said He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The lamb was slaughtered in the most brutal of ways by sinful men – me amongst them. My sin nailed Him to the Cross. My sin. Your sin.

Why did He put up with it? He had the ability to call twelve legions of angels to come to His aid. But He didn’t. Why? Because He loved us.

So, back to my question: What did Jesus look like? His eyes were full of love. And they were expressive, expressing joy and humor.

His ears were attentive – they heard what was beneath the words.

His mouth was full of wisdom. His tongue spoke truth and with authority.

His hands were calloused from his work as a carpenter. There was dirt under His fingernails.

He could stoop low enough to speak to a woman thrown at His feet. He could stand tall enough to confront her accusers and they backed down.

His shoulders were strong enough to carry the cross beam of His cross after being brutally beaten. But He fell along the way it was carried by a Simon of Cyrene – probably a black man whose son Rufus, was mentioned by Paul in his letter to Romans as “a choice man in the Lord”. So even when physically weak, there was something about Him that cause Simon to go back home and tell his son about the condemned man he met.

His feet were calloused from walking so many miles.

His legs were well toned from the walking and standing to teach.

Jesus was a human like you and me. But yet without sin. A sinless being Who chose to come to earth to live among us because He wanted to redeem us from our sin. Rescue you and me.

What does Jesus look like? Love. Pure love. Not passive but active. Seeking the lost to bring them home.

When Giants Fall – Ravi Zacharias

It is with great grief we hear of Ravi Zacharias’ sins. Another giant has fallen. As we grieve our many-leveled loss, let us come to grips with the fact that our sins are just as grievous to a Holy God.

The truth Ravi taught is still the truth. We can be thankful that we have his wisdom in his writings and videos.

And let us please pray for his family. I cannot imagine the pain and questions. And let us pray for the Church, that we respond in a healthy way.

By the way, the article in the New York Times written by Ruth Graham was NOT me. There is another writer with my name who does not share my world view.

I posted this blog a while ago, but it bears repeating:

My house is surrounded by huge oak trees. I am not good at estimating sizes but most of them are about 6 to 8 feet in diameter and rise to a lofty height of 100+ feet. These are magnificent giants. I enjoy their shade and watching the squirrels romp along their long, sturdy branches. They are messy trees in the fall as they drop millions of acorns not to mention leaves. In the spring their stringy pollen clogs gutters, drain pipes and it is tracked into the house where I try to keep a futile effort to keep it out. In the summer the squirrels begin to build their drays and drop leaves and branches. Each morning I arise to find a new crop in my yard. And it’s sort of fun to see how they travel from one yard to the next making a mess on different lawns – “The case of the traveling squirrels”. They have a whole neighborhood going in on my street! Anyone who lives under oak trees can identify.

This summer we had a violent thunderstorm one night and lightening struck hard. I knew it had hit close but didn’t think much about it. The next morning I was up early to fix my coffee and noticed one of my trees had split bark. I looked twice thinking, “I don’t think that tree looked that way yesterday.” When I went into my yard a little bit later to weed my flower beds there was shredded bark everywhere. Even on my roof! Still, sort of clueless, I picked up the large chunks of bark to throw out. As I got closer to the tree I could see that the bark had been skinned away – not off – just away from the trunk. It was a huge gash that went all the way down the tree. Then it began to dawn on me that the tree had been hit by a powerful bolt of lightening.

But I was hopeful. Since it hadn’t been girdled I thought perhaps it would survive. I hate to see big trees being cut down or dying. The tree expert came out and informed me that when lightening strikes a tree the sap boils and causes the bark to explode outward. Sadly, he said that a tree that size rarely survives. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the topmost leaves were withering, turning brown and falling. It would have to be cut down – and that will be quite a project!

It will leave a huge gap in my skyline. The shade it provided for my yard will vanish. The breeze in its’ branches will cease. The playground for the squirrels will go. It makes me sad and I wish somehow I could save it.

In all of this I have thought a lot about giants falling.

In the past few years we have seen giants fall very publicly and in very ugly ways. Politicians. Preachers. Actors. People we respected. It is painful. It makes us cynical. Too often we feed on the titillating details. We buy the gossip magazines. We think, “If they did that, then maybe I am not so bad after all”. In a perverse way we feel better about ourselves. How many of us stop to pray for them, their families and those affected by their fall?

I would hope that at some point we would examine our own lives. I would not like to have my deepest failings and sins paraded out on the evening news. Where are we, where am I, vulnerable to lightening strikes? In ethics? Morality? Finances? Addictions? Anger? Our leaders stood tall because we put them in that place. We like to put people on pedestals. We look up to them. Yet fail to recognize that they are just humans – like you and me. We stood in the shadow of their leadership. True and righteous leadership is found in God alone. We felt stronger because they appeared strong. Our strength comes from God alone. We listened to their wisdom forgetting that true wisdom is embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Sadly we have hewn out cisterns that leak. Don’t hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13) And we are surprised when they fail. They, we, all need grace and forgiveness. The good news is that God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He redeems and wastes nothing – even our faults and failures.

This giant tree fell. But it doesn’t mark destruction alone. It marks a new beginning. Knowing God does not waste anything I began to think about the positive side. The shade may go but a new vista shows as mountains become visible. More sunlight will shine on my yard which will be good for my flower beds. The breeze in the tree tops may cease but the lumber will be used to build new homes. The play ground for the squirrels will go but the squirrels will find another tree to build their drays. God has already provided for them. And just think there will be fewer leaves to rake this fall!

It will be fun to discover what grows. There will be more sky and space. I’ll have more sunshine in my back yard. And I love sunshine!

So it is when giants fall. It is a time for a new beginning as God gets rid of the dead wood in lives. Sometimes His pruning is hard – lightening strikes – we feel stripped, exposed, angry, hurt, humiliated, ashamed but His purposes are always for our good. New areas for service and growth show themselves. God’s light will shine in ways not possible before because the giant blocked the light. Look at the change in Charles Colson after he fell.

When giants fall it is a time for forgiveness, grace, humility and self-examination.  The scriptures say in Galatians 6:1-2, “…even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ”.  And again in II Corinthians 2:5, “But if any has caused sorrow…sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”

Chariots and Christmas Peace

What does a chariot have to do with Christmas? Chariots are not part of the Christmas story. They usually have to do with transportation or war back in biblical times.

I think we all have been bogged down by the events of our national election – or at least I have. I have prayed. I have fasted. I have repented. I have stewed. I have churned. No peace there. The peace of Christmas seemed to mock me.

One evening when I was in knots the Lord graciously reminded me of Psalm 20:7, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord our God.”

My focus had been on “horses and chariots” – no wonder there was no peace. I had to readjust my focus. I had to turn my focus on to the great name of The Lord God – Jehovah. His name is mighty. It is powerful. He is in charge. He is still on the throne. He has a plan and it is good.

Mary and Joseph’s world was one of turmoil – to say the least. But they trusted God. Think about it. Mary is 9 months pregnant needing rest and the comforts of home. But the ruler of the day decided to take a census which meant they had to travel back to their home of origin – by donkey. And the roads – paths really – were teeming with others trying to get home.

They didn’t know what the future held. They lived in an uncertain world. They had each other and they had Jehovah God. They didn’t trust in horses or chariots – they didn’t have any. They had God alone.

And that was enough! Is it enough for you? For me? This Christmas, let’s put our future in the hands of the Almighty God who loves us desperately and has a plan that is good.

Billy Graham’s Prayer for the Nation ’69

My father, Billy Graham, prayed this prayer at Richard Nixon’s inauguration. Sometimes when we don’t know how to pray it’s good to look to others who do know how. We are at a critical juncture in our nation. We need to pray.

Our Father and our God, Thou hast said, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.” We recognize on this historic occasion that we are “a nation under God.” We thank Thee for this torch of faith handed to us by our forefathers. May we never let it be extinguished. Thou alone hast given us our prosperity, our freedom and our power. This faith in God is our heritage and our foundation!

Thou hast warned us in the Scriptures, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society. We confess these pillars are being eroded in an increasingly materialistic and permissive society. The whole world is watching to see if the faith of our fathers will stand the trials and tests of the hour. Too long we have neglected Thy word and ignored Thy laws. Too long we have tried to solve our problems without reference to Thee. Too long we have tried to live by bread alone. We have sown to the wind and are now reaping a whirlwind of crime, division, and rebellion.

And now with the wages of our sins staring us in the face, we remember Thy words, “If my people who are called by my Name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, “Ye must be born again.”

So we pray, O God, as we enter a new era, that we as a nation may experience a moral and spiritual restoration.

Thou hast said, “Promotion comes not from the east nor from the west, but from Thee.” We acknowledge Thy divine help in the selection of our leadership each four years. We recognize, O Lord, that in Thy sovereignty Thou has permitted Richard Nixon to lead us at this momentous hour of our history.

We beseech Thee that he will have Thy divine guidance and power daily. Help him as Thou didst help Thy servants of old. Our Father, we know his burdens and responsibilities will be overwhelming. He will hold in his hands the destiny of more people than any man in history. O God, our new President needs Thee as no man ever needed Thee in leading a people! There will be times when he will be overwhelmed by the problems at home and abroad that have been building up to the breaking point for many years. Protect him from physical danger. And in the lonely moments of decision grant him an uncompromising courage to do what is morally right. Give him a cool head and a warm heart. Give him a compassion for those in physical, moral, and spiritual need. We pray that Thou wilt so guide Richard Nixon in handling the affairs of state that the whole world will marvel and glorify Thee.

O God, we consecrate Richard Milhous Nixon to the Presidency of these United States with the assurance that from this hour on, as he and his family move into the White House, they will have the presence and the power of Thy Son who said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

What we pray for President Nixon we pray for Vice President Agnew and members of the Cabinet. May they be given a wisdom and a courage that is beyond their own. Bless them as a team to lead America to the dawning of a new day with renewed trust in God that will lead to peace, justice, and prosperity.

We pray this humbly in the Name of the Prince of Peace who shed His blood on the Cross that men might have eternal life. Amen

Gladness and Singing

Posted where I can see it regularly is the Bible verse, Psalm 90:14: “Oh satisfy us in the morning with your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” I began to think about that.

Certainly we must be satisfied with His marvelous, endless, boundless lovingkindness. But how many of us gripe and complain? His lovingkindness is on display daily – in the sunshine. We are enjoying October’s bright blue weather! The mountains are putting on their tweed coats from the top down. This is a glorious time of year. I don’t go hungry because of His lovingkindness to me. I am not in ill health because of HIs lovingkindness to me. I have a wonderful family that loves me and surrounds me because of His lovingkindness to me. I could go on…like I said His lovingkindness is boundless.

That verse is from Psalm 90 that begins with, “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” That’s enough to make you satisfied – Shelter, security, safety…

But the next part of the verse caused me to pause. “That we may sing and be glad all our days.” It seems to me that gladness would come before singing. Because when we are glad, happy, we want to sing. But the Psalmist doesn’t put it that way. He wants us to sing before we are glad. Just how do we do that? It’s not easy to do.

But I have noticed that people, I would assume have every reason not to sing, are usually the happiest people. They sing as they wake up. They sing of His goodness and faithfulness to them. While I tend to grumble. They start their day remembering His lovingkindness.

Singing comes first. It tunes the heart. It prepares us to be glad. Not just some days but all our days. Then as we sing, gladness comes. Maybe like the dawn itself…slowly until we burst into song. We cannot help but sing!