Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.

THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

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Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT

 

 

BAKER MAYFIELD’S IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

 

hi-res-02a69cff4047e59f556c0d6d2d282ac0_crop_northIf you have known me for any length of time at all, you know that I am a huge Oklahoma Sooner football fan, and this year especially, an even bigger Baker Mayfield fan. I just love watching that kid play football. He plays with so much joy and enthusiasm…it’s contagious. I even like that he plays with moxie, swagger, and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. And talent! He has a serious arm. Can we just go ahead and start working on a new statue for OU’s Heisman Plaza?

So I was listening to an interview he was doing recently and something he said really resonated with me. He said he just believes in himself. And the way he said it was not arrogant or narcissistic. He was just stating a fact. He believes in himself. He just doesn’t accept “no.” He has audacity.

When people told him he was too small to be a quarterback (and he was!), he just kept on throwing bullets. When he showed up for football practice as a Lake Travis freshman, he was only 5”2” and barely 100 pounds. But he had an arm and he had a belief in himself. Even after leading his team to a state championship as a senior, he still got little respect. He wasn’t what the big colleges would consider Division 1 quarterback material. No scholarship? No problem. I’ll just walk on. Win the starting position, but still no scholarship? I’ll walk on somewhere else. Maybe 14-year old Baker Mayfield dreamed of winning a Heisman, but I imagine no one else could see it within his reach at that time. In psychology we call that self-efficacy, and it’s a healthy quality to possess.

Psychologist Albert Bandura has spent much of his career researching how people are able to shape their own futures through human agency, the belief in their own capabilities to produce desired effects by their actions. It is the understanding that I have some degree of control in obtaining a desired outcome and preventing an undesired one.

People with self-efficacy are quick to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and they find ways to get around obstacles. Baker Mayfield had a big obstacle to get around at Oklahoma. Starting quarterback Trevor Knight had led the Sooners in an “impossible” victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl just a few weeks before Mayfield made his decision to come to Oklahoma. People thought he was crazy. He would have no chance to start. But he just refused to listen to the naysayers, to accept the impossibility of his dream.

Self-efficacy is not the same thing as self-esteem. My sense of self worth is different and independent of my abilities. For example, I can’t dance. I’d love to be able to, but I look like an ironing board with feet on the dance floor. No rhythm. But the fact that I can’t dance does not change my value as a person.

One of the problems I see in my psychology practice is the ways in which people relinquish control over their lives. And they do this without realizing it. I hear it all the time. “I can’t be okay unless Person X does Thing Y.” She needs to apologize. He must stop drinking. They must like and accept me. Maybe all these things should happen, but the reality is they might not. We have no control over the actions of others. We only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. Waiting for someone else to take some action in order for us to be happy is giving away our power. It is putting our happiness and well being squarely in the hands of someone else.

Then there are some people who have no sense of self-efficacy. “I could never do that.” Maybe someone has told them that or maybe someone has always done things for them. It’s learned helplessness. But just because you have never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.

For me, as a Christian, my sense of self-efficacy begins with my faith in Jesus. That sounds contradictory on its face. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-reliance. I’m totally reliant on Jesus Christ, but I believe He will equip me to do what He calls me to do. When I am walking by faith I am not weighed down by personal doubt and by the “what ifs.” Yes, Jesus still performs miracles, He still delivers. But more often He commands me to take up my mat and walk. And being able to take up my mat and walk is a miracle in itself. The same grace that saved me equips and enables me. So maybe a better term for Believers is spiritual efficacy, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).

So as I’m writing about Baker Mayfield, I’m remembering another guy who was too small and too young to kill a giant. He didn’t command a lot of respect. But he believed in his ability. He had been training for this day his entire young life. And most importantly he believed in his God. You know how the story goes. Against all odds, David killed the giant with just a slingshot and a stone.

How big are your giants? Maybe God has been preparing you for just this moment. You can do this! How big is your God? With Him, nothing is impossible.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:27.

 

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5.