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.

WHITE CHRISTMAS

 

A few years ago I wrote this piece for my book, Seasons. When it snowed yesterday, I started thinking about it. This is an updated version I hope you will enjoy.

Jerry and I have been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies since Thanksgiving. Even though they are cheesy and predictable, we love them. They are so formulaic, we could write a screenplay ourselves. Especially the ending: It snows and they kiss. I love the settings for these movies. Small towns with picturesque Main Streets, and a snow-covered mountain in the background. But my favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is White Christmas. Jerry groans every year when I suggest watching it, so in recent years I have watched it by myself or with my girls. The girls and I can recite most of the lines and sing the songs by heart. In recent years we have all had trouble staying awake past the train scene (“Vermont should be beautiful this time of year!”) This year I stayed awake through the whole thing!

What is it about that movie that speaks to us? I think for me it is a combination of nostalgia and hope. When the movie first came out, I was only a little girl. I was remembering my early childhood Christmases this morning. The one that particularly stands out in my memory was when I was six. It had been a good year financially for my parents (most were not), and I got a Western Flyer bicycle and a Toni doll. My younger sister received a Tiny Tears doll. For some reason fruitcake is tied to this memory, although I’m sure I would not have eaten any at that age.

White Christmas follows the career of two soldiers (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) in the years after World War II. It dawned on that the Christmas in my memory was not too far removed from that war. Since it ended before I was born, the war always seemed like ancient history to me. But to my parents, it had only been a few years. I wonder what it felt like to celebrate Christmas in peace and prosperity after going through such a dangerous and rationed period. They never spoke much about the war, and now I wish I had asked more questions.

I remind myself that we are still fighting wars. All over the world we have troops that are dreaming of a Christmas “just like the ones (they) used to know.” But they are doing their duty, trying to keep peace in a world filled with conflict, trying to keep us safe. And the ones who have returned home may still be battling their own traumatic memories.

Peace on earth. The prophets spoke of it, the angels sang of it. And yet we still have wars and struggles, families are still torn apart. We even have battles within ourselves. This past week I have heard some particularly devastating stories in my office. “Jesus, you were born into such a dark world! Oh, Prince of Peace, where are You,” I cry.

“Where is the Christmas we long for,” I wonder. Then Jesus reminds me that the war is not over. His kingdom on earth has not yet been established. One day soon, He will return and conquer evil for good. Until then, we will still face battles. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow say it best:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
From Christmas Bells1.

White Christmas. What is it about snow? It makes everything beautiful, pristine. It covers even the most blighted landscape, turning it into something pure and new. That’s what Jesus promises to do for us. He takes our ugly, sinful hearts and covers them with the pure snow of His love, transforming them and turning them into something new. He offers us peace with God. May we all experience a truly white Christmas this year.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV).

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.

 

PLANTING THE FLAG

 

 

Wow! You can’t turn on a sports talk show (Yes, I listen to them!), or read the sports page this week without someone weighing in on Baker Mayfield. As everyone probably knows by now, Oklahoma went on the road and delivered a 31-16 win on No. 2 Ohio State’s home turf. NOBODY thought OU could win this one. It was an emotional win, especially after the embarrassing beat down OU received from Ohio State last year. The most crushing moment for the players came after that game when the Ohio state players sang their alma mater on Owen Field in Norman after routing the Sooners 45-24. Last Saturday the karma train came to Columbus and Baker Mayfield was driving.  After helping deliver a signature win for Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield took a victory lap carrying the Sooner flag and planting it in the center of the Ohio state field. Well, you can’t really plant a flag into artificial turf, but the gesture created quite a controversy.

 

Almost everyone has weighed in on this act. Never mind that the country has been dealing with two devastating hurricanes. It was disrespectful and he should apologize (he did). Or, he just plays with emotion and a good-sized chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t need to apologize. That’s what makes him Baker Mayfield.

 

Being a die-hard Sooner fan and one who loves to watch Baker Mayfield play, I didn’t have a problem with it. It was a BIG, exciting win for OU, and Mayfield had a spectacular night. And after all, it IS just football. (I can hardly believe I just wrote those words!) Besides, most of the Ohio State fans had long left the stadium by the end of the game. The apology? No doubt someone older and wiser told him it might be prudent to smooth ruffled feathers. Especially since the two teams might have to play each other again in the playoffs.

 

It seems like a tempest in a teapot to me. But it got me to thinking about flag planting and why we don’t do it more often. What does it mean, to plant a flag? The obvious answer is that the flag represents a victory. I think about the iconic flag that was raised over Iwo Jima, or planting a flag at the summit of a mountain. It also signifies a claim of ownership as when early explorers came to the New World and claimed land for England or Spain. In medieval times, a feudal lord had a flag with his coat of arms. Vassals pledged their loyalty to the lord and swore to fight for him while the lord pledged to protect the vassal. The flag was carried into battle to serve as a rallying point. If a soldier was separated from his fellow soldiers, he could look up and find the flag. And finally, a flag is a symbol of our identity. There are flags to represent countries, cities, faiths, families, and organizations.

 

Sidebar: I’ve thought so much about flags since Saturday I’m beginning to feel like Sheldon Cooper playing Fun With Flags. But I digress.

 

On a serious note, when I think about victory and ownership in my own life, I think of Jesus. In our worship service last Sunday, our pastor kept driving home the point that the battle has already been won. So why don’t we plant the flag? Jesus has won the battle over sin. I can plant the flag on that! The battle has been won over every temptation I will ever face. I need to plant the flag as a reminder to myself. He has defeated death. He is victorious over Satan and every evil of this world. Despots may raise flags but the flag of our Savior is superior. The lyrics of the great hymn Onward Christian Soldiers speak of the royal banners of Christ going before us in battle.  

 

There is a song that has been stuck in my head since Saturday night. It is the song children sing at church. The words go something like this: “Oh there’s a flag flown high o’er the castle of my heart for the king is in residence there.” The flag tells the world, “The king is here.” I hope my flag is raised high for all to see. If it isn’t, the problem is with me. In the UK, Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard is raised over her palace or castle telling the world that she is in residence. Furthermore, I read that the banner of the monarch of England is never at half-mast, because the monarchy continues even after the death of a king.

 

The royal banner of Christ will never be at half-mast. I can plant His flag firmly wherever I am because He is in residence in my heart.