Billy Graham and Gun Violence

I never met the Reverend Billy Graham and I never heard him preach in person, but I know the message Billy Graham was about – The message that Jesus Christ forgives sin. And for all the controversy in the Church with some of the positions and decisions Billy Graham made in his life and ministry, his message was one that is both greatly needed in the conversation of our day, and one that will not be tolerated.

He Preached Sin

The influential voices of our day are not preachers, because faithful preachers of the Word of God preach sin, and to preach sin in our culture is to preach “intolerance”. To be for the Bible is to be against what God despises, and our culture does not accept such a message. God does not despise people made in His image; He does despise the evil of sin that every man, woman and child was born infected by. Billy Graham would not point merely to external factors as the greatest problem, but the virus of sin in the hearts of every man. He would not rely merely on laws, protests, and politicians to solve the problems of our day, he would herald the only answer for sin – A Savior, Jesus Christ!

He Preached Christ

Though Billy Graham had a place of immense influence with politicians and presidents, he came as an ambassador of a greater leader. His message was not swayed by the wind of cultural acceptability or political correctness, his message came from the Author of Salvation, the Creator of the Universe. Today, town halls and marches to discuss problems and create man-made solutions abound, but hearing from God empties rooms and draws nothing but critique. Religion is considered personal, and Jesus considered a figure of an old-school America (or backwoods America). To preach Christ, as preachers and people, is to choose a path of being marginalized. Never again will America allow a Billy Graham a seat at the table or a position of such influence, because never again will America listen to the voice of God or champion the miracle of salvation accomplished by Jesus.

He Preached Compassion

Though Billy Graham was known as a “fiery preacher”, he exuded the love and compassion of Christ. Conservative, Bible-believing Christians all-to-often just try to talk louder to make their case or win their argument. When Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and saw that the people were confused and hurting, like sheep without a shepherd, He was filled with compassion. It’s a rare word these days, because it means keeping your mouth shut (being slow to speak), putting others before yourself (quick to listen), and not accepting raging rhetoric and emotional outbursts as appropriate behavior (slow to anger). It sees not a moment to be won, but people who need to be cared for, with the greatest care someone can give being the love of Christ through the hands of His people. The answer will never be in laws, protests, town-halls, hashtags, pundits on FOX or CNN, metal-detectors, stricter background checks, better mental health care, active-shooter training, yelling parents or pictures of grieving kids … it will only always be through the compassion of a Savior who left heaven, took on human flesh, paid the ultimate price for our sin, rose from the grave, commissioned a church to make disciples, is seated at the throne of God, is sovereign over the planet He created, and will return to judge the living and the dead.

But God … 

Though from my vantage point of a local church pastor in a small community looking at the national conversation of important people and powerful politicians it all seems headed in the wrong direction … We are never without hope! Great Awakenings have dotted the history of our country; awakenings of people to their greatest need of forgiveness of sin through the power of a Savior. Awakenings brought about not by the plans of men, or programs of governments, but by the breath of God. Unless the Lord builds the house, the people labor in vain; and unless the Spirit moves there is no power. So we pray … and seek the face of God for His gracious help in our time of need. And we preach … and declare the timeless truths of the God of all Creation. Knowing that men’s hearts are the problem, Christ’s death is the answer, and only the Spirit of God can make the change!

Please please please pray with me for this move of God in our day!

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What The Prosperity Gospel and Moralistic Legalism Have In Common

Perhaps one of the hardest truths of the Gospel for man to embrace is the cold hard truth that you bring nothing to the table. God is completely independent, self-sufficient, and sovereign above all. Man is dead, heart of stone, desperately without hope of self-improvement. But oh how the human heart is prone to perform, and wired toward the age old axiom of ’cause and effect’. If I do this, then the following will occur … But it is a counter-gospel axiom in the spiritual life. You can go to church everyday of your life, and new life isn’t guaranteed to occur. You can give money, serve on boards, and teach Sunday School, and a healthy marriage is not achieved. You can read your Daily Bread, say your family prayers, and serve at the local shelter, but that won’t prevent rebellion in the hearts of your kids. God is not obliged to service the desired “effect” of your effort-filled “cause”. And sadly this can take all kinds of forms, even ones that seem like polar opposites. Allow me to explain …

Moralistic Legalism

This vein of man-centered religion says, “don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do … and God will bless your life.” Ok, they might put it a little differently than that, but that is the essential message. Work hard at doing the right things, and avoiding the wrong things is what honors God. A life of holiness, purity, and integrity is what makes God smile, and therefore makes God open his hand to you. It’s no surprise then that the emphasis of this teaching is on imperatives. Do this! Resist this! Flee that! The promise of the Christian life is hidden behind moral imperatives, religious prohibitions, and political conservatism. Sounds a lot like the apostle Paul’s exposing of this in Colossians 2:20-23 – “…do you submit to regulations ‘Do not handle, do not touch, do not taste’ … These indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism, and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”. Nope … moralistic, fundamentalistic, man-made, crusty, stop-doing-that, sort of “gospel” doesn’t honor God nor bring Him glory. So it’s no surprise then to think that in rejecting this and in claiming “authority” is where real power is to be found. Consider next …

Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospel

Yep, they are indeed twin sisters. The name-it-and-claim-it version of man-centered religion says, “You have been given all authority, speak into your deliverance, boldly claim what is yours out of Satan’s hand”. So, obviously I’m a little less familiar with the exact language they put into our mouths, but this is essentially their message. Instead of work hard at holiness to get God’s pleasure, it is asserting your authority over creation, declaring atoms in the body relocated for healing. It is prayers prayed like mantras over someone afflicted with suffering. It is techniques for controlling the Holy Spirit, or activities that demonstrate external evidences of spiritual activity. They have exchanged the imperative commands for the indicative promises, and now use them as leverage to get God to work for them. And the promise of the Christian life is hidden behind spiritual shenanigans, empowered man, and the guise of freedom. All the while it is beholden to the master teacher who has determined what buttons to push, or action to perform this month or at this service, always having to come up with something new to keep it fresh (or to keep the loyal enslaved). And this sounds quite a bit like Paul exhorting Timothy in 1 Timothy 6 to avoid those who have been ensnared by the love of money, power, and possessions and “have the appearance of godliness, but deny its real power (2 Timothy 3:5)”. Nope, name-it-and-claim-it, wacky, man-made, weaselly, just speak it, sort of “gospel” doesn’t honor God nor bring him glory. And it’s shockingly scary how similar these two version of “Christianity” really are. They both are about our performing … Do this and God will act, don’t do this and God is pleased. They both focus on you doing (or not doing) something. So, what then is the answer?

Christ Crucified

Yeah, yeah, I know … both of these say that they believe this, and I’m sure to some extent they do. The problem is they just don’t rest in it. It is not about what man does or doesn’t do, it is always about what God has done, continues to do, and will do. God the Father is not manipulated to act according to our holy living, nor is He swayed by our bold declarations … He has acted on our behalf through Christ, and He freely blesses His children with exactly what they need to be sanctified and delighted in, whether that be riches or suffering. He does not withhold when His children “blow it”, and He does not pour forth grace only when we “claim it”. He is infinitely pleased with His Son and the redeeming work He accomplished for those who believe. Nothing we do, good or bad, sinful or righteous, religious or secular, can get us more of Him or prevent His work over us. When we are ‘In Christ’ God is pleased with us … Period! And He is free to act completely apart from us for us! And that is the glory of the Gospel … and it is most definitely for our joy! Which is why Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Rest in that my friend … and that alone!

In love with a God who acts,
Pastor Mark

On Being a Local Church Pastor in the Church

So, I was blessed last night as we gathered across many denomination lines 1,200 strong to declare the trustworthiness of the Word of God together through music, prayer, and the reading of Scripture as we asked God to do a work of reformation and revival through NE Ohio (www.unityinneohio.com).  I’ve always prayed about getting to be a part of a community where local church pastors actually want to serve together for the building of the Kingdom, and God is answering my prayers.  Let me give you my “Behind the Scenes” and “From the Audience” perspective.

From the Audience perspective – The Word was the hero of the night!  16 pastors reading, reciting, quoting passages of Scripture that walked us through the progressive revelation of “The Word” climaxing in John 1:14, and culminating in Matthew 28:18-20.  The elder statesman pastor who has prayed for churches to come together for years bringing the final passage and declaring that if we are to Take the Word, we must Trust the Word.  Amen!  Pastors who preach weekly to their congregations to simply let the Word do the preaching tonight (do you know how hard it is to have a pastor not comment on a passage of Scripture?).  Musicians from multiple churches using their gifts not to show-off, but direct us to the throne of grace.  Ushers, greeters, servers not directing people to church material or collecting money for their budget, but directing people to pray for Revival in NE OH and contribute money to a move of God bigger than all of us in the days ahead.  It was not a bunch of talk about Unity in the Church, it WAS the Church practicing Unity and lovin’ it!  Thank you Church.

Behind the Scenes perspective – We gathered as pastors beforehand to go through the evening and pray and guess what, it was actually like we enjoyed being with each other 🙂  I love having pastors in the area who I delight in calling my friends.  We acknowledged that we had led our local churches in our unique ways/styles/liturgies in the morning and then were gathering to worship together as one in the evening, pretty cool!  Men talked about being nervous having worked to memorize their passage of Scripture and wanting to deliver it with passion and authenticity.  Men laughed and joked, like giddy schoolgirls, about how fun it was to be a part of this evening.  No one talked of differences on the “B-issues”, no one complained of not having a place of prominence, no one cared what size their local church was, and no one had a personal agenda … just God’s agenda that “they would be ONE” (John 17:11).   Leaders submitting to one another, preachers yielding to the Word, shepherds wanting to walk with the Great Shepherd … AMEN!

Could it be that God is beginning to gather the Church to be the Church in NE OH, to pour out a work of the Spirit upon this dry and needy land?  Could it be that humility will lead the way with pastors, so prone to arrogance, laying down their pride?  Could it be that the Word will be exalted above men’s ideas and “feel good” seeker-isms?  Could it be that the Church will Trust the Word, Love the Gospel, and the World will sit up, take notice, and be transformed?  Please God, this is our prayer!

For the Church,

Pastor Mark