Billy Graham’s Coronation Day

Billy Graham was ready to go. He had been ready for many years. Even though his passing was not a shock—after all, he was 99—just the fact of his death makes the world stop for a moment and consider a man who was faithful to His Savior and who made an enormous impact for Him.

I remember watching Graham crusades on television when I was a teenager. I read a number of his books at that relatively young age. I guess I wasn’t your typical teen.

As time went on, the Lord directed me to many other Christian writers, speakers, and spiritual guides, but I will always be grateful that Graham was the one who first got my attention.

In my book on C. S. Lewis, I mention the one time these two men met. Lewis had this to say afterwards:

I had the pleasure of meeting Billy Graham once. We had dinner together during his visit to Cambridge University in 1955. I thought he was a very modest and a very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed.

The Oxford/Cambridge intellectual having a meeting of the minds and hearts over dinner with a Baptist revivalist. Why did that work? Both believed genuinely in what Lewis called “mere Christianity.” They shared the same Savior and recognized that in each other.

Four years ago, during my sabbatical, I not only researched and wrote a book on Lewis but I began work with a colleague on another book that aims to analyze spiritual advisors to presidents post-WWII. Graham naturally figures prominently, as he was the only Christian leader/pastor who knew each president personally, starting with Eisenhower.

It was a joyful experience going to the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College to research him. Then I did the same at six presidential libraries. Graham’s commitment to offering spiritual counsel to any president who asked, regardless of the label of Republican or Democrat, is a lesson to all of us today.

Our book is still in the works, with a great hope that it may be picked up by a publisher who sees its value. Yesterday, we were interviewed about Graham and the proposed book by a local television news outlet. We were glad for the opportunity to showcase what Graham has meant to so many.

While it may be a cliché among Christians, it is nonetheless true that yesterday was Billy Graham’s Coronation Day. He is now in the presence of the Lord he served for most of those 99 years. May his life inspire the rest of us to be just as faithful.

That Which Comes Out of Our Mouths

But among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity or greed. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or crude joking, which are out of character, but rather thanksgiving. Eph. 5:3-4

Those are instructions to Christians, the called-out ones, the saints (yes, that word is used in the passage). It’s not a suggestion, but a God-given standard for our lives.

The world around us doesn’t care about that standard, of course. We, though, should take it seriously. The problem of obscene, foolish, and crude talk is nothing new; our society didn’t create it. Paul had to admonish Christians in the first century, as we see in the verses above, but he wasn’t the only one:

The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-6, 9-11

Christians are supposed to model godly behavior by abstaining from crudeness. Are we succeeding?

Why am I writing about this? No, it’s not only the controversy over President Trump’s language, but that is a symptom of what we see in the culture at large.

Some may say I’m naive—people have talked like this throughout history. Yes, I know that. The human heart is the same in all ages. Yet there are standards in a society, and American society, influenced as it was by the Christian ethos, put a damper on outward displays of coarseness in speech and actions.

Well, it used to. Now that Christian morality is becoming less of an expectation, we see society unleashing all of its inner demons, not only in how we speak publicly, but in how we act.

Today, though, I want to concentrate on the speaking.

Recently, I was browsing a site that listed one thousand songs of the past century. It was kind of fun looking through the list. I easily recognized songs from my parents’ era, dominated by people like Bing Crosby. When the list entered my own lifetime, I saw all the old familiar titles from the 1960s and early 1970s, the height of my fascination with the latest tunes.

Even though there were some edgier songs starting to pop up in the 1960s, there was nothing openly obscene. As the list continued, and my knowledge of the songs lessened considerably, I was nevertheless struck by the downward slide into pure raunchiness in the titles. Nothing like that would have been allowed back in the 1960s, which was hardly an era of moral purity.

Yet what was unacceptable in the 1960s is now practically mainstream.

I think back on my circle of friends when I was in my teens. While most of them were churchgoing kids, they probably were churched because their parents were. I’m not sure how many were sincere Christians. Yet I don’t recall any of our speech descending into the depths of sexual depravity or any other crudeness. We just didn’t talk that way.

I recall, though, a party I attended at which one girl, outwardly pretty and seemingly nice, launched into a verbal tirade with all the possible obscenities available to her at the time. And then she laughed about it. Frankly, I was shocked. The incongruity of someone so outwardly prim, proper, and nice-looking having that spew forth sickened me. It must have made an impression since I remember it so clearly even now.

You see, that kind of language was heard only in the presence of the “hoods” (a quaint term of the day) who hated being in school and who were already on a path toward dissipation in life. It wasn’t supposed to come from that girl.

Neither is it supposed to come from those who say Jesus Christ is their Lord. Beyond that, our response to crude and obscene language in others should never be excused or rationalized. Take that and apply it as you wish.

We are to be witnesses to the Truth, and our lives, both in speech and in action, should point to Him. There are words in one song that always lead to sober reflection within me whenever I hear them. The song is Find Us Faithful and the lyrics are as follows:

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

When I hear these words, I think of my public testimony. Is it the kind that will inspire my grandchildren? My students? Those who read my blog posts?

When my days are over on this earth, I want to leave a legacy that reminds others of their high calling in Christ. I want them to consider seriously the words that come out of their mouths (and the heart that is the fount of those words) and remember that we are to be the mouth, hands, and feet of Christ to others.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom. 12:1-2

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 4)

CSL FoundationHere’s the final excerpt from my paper (which I presented yesterday) at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Lewis argues for standing on absolute truth in our interactions with the society around us. He also notes that we are to be faithful regardless of whether we are ultimately successful in our efforts to keep a society from self-destruction.

Lewis’s prescription for direct political involvement was the practical side of his approach, but it wasn’t pure pragmatism. All attempts to influence the public square had to be based on God’s absolute moral requirements.

In response to the hypothetical question as to whether some kind of permanent moral standard would stand in the way of progress, Lewis replied that without such a standard, no one would be able to measure progress. “If good is a fixed point,” he argued, “it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede.” Absolute moral standards for society are society’s only hope, he concluded.

TruthUnless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. . . . If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion.

While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.

“Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

Just how optimistic was Lewis that Christians taking up the challenge of the public square would make any real difference? In an address given at his own Magdalen College during World War II, Lewis dealt with the question of the futility of human endeavor. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that we, as Christians, do our duty, regardless of the success or failure of our efforts.

“I am not for one moment trying to suggest that this long-term futility provides any ground for diminishing our efforts to make human life, while it lasts, less painful and less unfair than it has been up to date,” he insisted.

FaithfulnessThen drawing on an illustration, he continued, “The fact that the ship is sinking is no reason for allowing her to be a floating hell while she still floats. Indeed, there is a certain fine irony in the idea of keeping the ship very punctiliously in good order up to the very moment at which she goes down.” If we are living in a world that is sinking, we nevertheless have an obligation to make it less of a hell than it would be without our influence.

He concluded, “If the universe is shameless and idiotic, that is no reason why we should imitate it. Well brought up people have always regarded the tumbril and the scaffold as places for one’s best clothes and best manners.”

As long as a public square exists and Christians are not banned from it, the responsibility to speak out for truth remains. If the Christian worldview and the morality that naturally emanates from it is rejected by the society at large, Christians must remain faithful to God’s command to be His voice, even if the world attempts to drown out that voice.

Christians & Politics: Cynicism or Faithfulness?

For years I have been trying to encourage political participation—or at least political awareness—among Christians. While there are many who have seen the light on this, some still remain on the sidelines, allowing what once was a drift in the wrong direction to turn into a tsunami.

Sometimes, I hear the refrain that it makes no difference, all politicians are the same, so there’s no point in trying. I must admit, when one surveys the political field, it can be discouraging.

For instance, we have a president who has one solution for everything, an idea he has had since his tutelage by a communist mentor as a young man:

Young Obama

The one who wants to replace him on the Democrat side has, shall we say, a problem with honesty and integrity (along with truly wrongheaded policies):

Trouble Believing

The bureaucracy at the federal level often makes bewildering decisions:

Water on Mars

And the other party, the one that’s supposed to be the counterweight to those who seek to subvert the Constitution and the rule of law, is infested with far too many members more concerned with their public image than principle:

A Little Pushy

So, yes, I understand why people can become cynical and think nothing they do can make a difference. The only problem with that thinking, though, as a Christian, is that it is a faithless position to take.

If you want to guarantee that things get worse, stay on the sidelines and do nothing. But the Gospel I believe in, and the God of that Gospel, tells us to make disciples of all nations. He also tells us to be light and salt in a society. If we give in to a kind of fatalism for our future, we act against the very commands we have been given.

God doesn’t promise that we will win every battle, but He does want to see warriors on the field, doing their best as they take their orders from Him. The question in our minds ought to be the one asked by Jesus Himself when He queried, “When the Son of Man comes [back], will He find faith on the earth”?

I want to be found faithful. How about you?

There Are Days

There are days when I don’t want to write a blog.

There are days when I wonder why any of us care to try to make a difference in this world.

There are days when I am so sick of the hypocrisy in our culture that I have to fight cynicism in my own heart.

There are days when racial wranglings and the bitterness and resentments that flow from them make me ill.

There are days when I despair that the utter selfishness/sin that creates all our problems will run rampant.

There are days when I am so upset over the unwillingness of people to take personal responsibility for their actions that I fear we are staring into the abyss.

There are days when I am frustrated to the point of wanting to scream at Christians who fall for unbiblical positions on the crucial issues before us: abortion, sexuality, loss of religious liberty, the overreach of government.

There are days when I want to just walk away from it all and let the world go up in flames without my saying another word.

Then I remember these words: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

There are days, more than the ones I’ve just catalogued—thankfully—when I choose to continue with God’s calling on my life.

He has called me to be faithful. I will obey, out of love for Him and out of gratitude for lifting me out of my own personal pit. Now I must help others out of their pits as well, no matter how thankless or unfruitful my efforts may sometimes seem to be.

May you also remain faithful to His calling for you.

Lewis: Faithful Correspondent

Collected Letter of LewisIt’s been both a revelation and a joy to be able to sit in my study and systematically go through C. S. Lewis’s collected letters, concentrating on the correspondence he had with Americans. He became quite personal with a good number of regular correspondents, sharing tidbits of his life and offering whatever advice he could when they asked questions regarding the Christian life.

One of those letters, from January 1954, may provide a perfect example of how he combined the personal with the wisdom God gave him. He had a correspondent simply known as Mrs. D. Jessup, on whom there is apparently little information. All I can say about her is that she lived in a town called Rye, New York, and in this particular response to her, Lewis was guiding her through a time of suffering. Here’s what he wrote to her:

C. S. Lewis 2I don’t know whether anything an outsider can say is much use; and you know already the things we have been taught—that suffering can (but oh!, with what difficulty) be offered to God as our part in the whole redemptive suffering of the world beginning with Christ’s own suffering: that suffering by itself does not fester or poison, but resentment does; that sufferings which (heaven knows) fell on us without and against our will can be so taken that they are as saving and purifying as the voluntary sufferings of martyrs & ascetics.

And it is all true, and it is so hard to go on believing it. Especially as the dark time in which you are now entering (I’ve tried it; my own life really begins with my Mother’s illness & death from cancer when I was about 9) is split up into so many minor horrors and fears and upsets, some of them trivial & prosaic.

May God support you. Keep a firm hold of the Cross. And try to keep clear of the modern fancy that all this is abnormal & that you have been singled out for something outrageous. For no one escapes. We are all driven into the front line to be sorted sooner or later.

To me, it’s nearly unbelievable that Lewis would take so much time out of each day to write these letters. He sometimes complained of the need for so many responses, yet he felt the urging from God to be faithful; it was a vital part of his ministry. Reading them now, I am grateful that he chose faithfulness. He has given us a model to follow. May we exhibit such faithfulness, so those who follow us will have models as well.