Billy Graham is dominating my Facebook feed today, and well deserved. Millions are in heaven today because of him.
Like many other tributes, one of the first things that springs to my mind when I think of Billy Graham is his reputation with the world. I’m reminded particularly of one thing I learned from reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye in years past:
In the early days of his ministry, Billy Graham experienced deep concern over the public’s distrust of evangelists. How could he preach the gospel to people who assumed he was a fake? As he considered this question, he realized that most people who distrusted evangelists did so because those evangelists lacked integrity, particularly in the area of sexuality. To combat this, he and the close circle of men who ran the crusades avoided opportunities to be alone with women who weren’t their wives.
Think about this for a moment. What an inconvenience! Did these men really fear that they’d commit adultery the moment they found themselves alone with a woman? Weren’t they going a little too far?
No, I’m not dead.
*big sigh of relief (or disappointment)*
I just stepped away from the blog for a few weeks over the holiday, and honestly, it was nice to escape the pressure. I’m back now, and looking forward to your readership in 2018.
It’s funny…when people ask me how my 2017 went, I’ve found that my usual reaction is to fall back on the typical “oh man it was horrible, toss that one in the bin and bring in 2018!” that we all cynically throw around for a laugh. Or some version of that.
But then I stopped and realized…my 2017 was actually rather terrific.
…is it okay to say that?
A year ago this week, I received a gargantuan answer to prayer. I and many others close to me were quite giddy about it.
The fascinating thing is – it came very shortly after a week spent forgiving people.
In Mark 11, after seeing a prayer of Christ’s answered (surprise), the disciples receive a glimmer into the mystery of prayer.
“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:21-25)
This is one of those stories that we don’t quite know what to do with. One look at the world around us confirms that not all prayers are answered. That and our fear of disappointment has made us cautious of prayer. We know we’re commanded to do it; most of us pray over our meals at the very least. But to really dive into deep prayer – to really hit our knees and spend a season there, emotionally invested and powerfully engaged – is like jumping into a new workout program. The thought makes us groan. Will it really be worth it?
Jesus, on the other hand, seems to see prayer more like a pursuit whose ways must be learned, like sailing or creating pottery. The Bible drops hints about prayer being affected by our holiness, by our maturity, and by the kingdom of darkness. Yet even the most basic of these hints – praying with persistence – is not practiced by many Christians, despite the fact that you can’t get through an honest reading of the Gospels without seeing it everywhere.
So it comes as no surprise that the harder “keys” to prayer are neglected also. One of them is forgiveness.
One April during my Air Force tour, our squadron commander handed us a goal: a 100% off-duty safety record for the summer.
I raised an eyebrow. Our squadron was based in college-town Phoenix and consisted of twentysomethings brandishing motorcycles, ATV’s, jet-skis, and a love of drink. No off-duty accidents for a whole summer seemed as likely as deciphering a Newsboys lyric.
Later, that commander visited the flightline and happened to strike up a conversation with my work group. Being a little (too?) bold, I asked if he realistically expected the 100% goal to be reached. His gracious reply:
“Well, what results would I get if I only asked for 80%?”
I am among many Christians struggling with certain sins. We sincerely want to please God, cut the garbage out of our lives. The first thing I often say to teens who admit they’re struggling is, “Good. Struggle is good. It’s better than surrender.”
But eventually we have to face the results. Longings to become gentler and kinder, with little to show for it. Years of bondage to sexual sin. Constant failed attempts to be more honest. Our flesh doesn’t just roll over; it weighs us down, and our hearts sink with it.
One day, I heard a talk that transformed my approach to sin.
Like country music, Facebook, or prom night, it’s one of those institutions that celebrates romantic love for those who have it, and acts as kryptonite to the contentment of everyone else. It threatens to bring to the surface all the self-pity and frustration that besets the honest single who doesn’t enjoy being single.
But this Valentine’s Day…I’m cool.
That’s been a choice.
We are all in a season we didn’t choose. Some of us are in hard financial straits. Others have been hit by injustice. Perhaps you’re just dying to be finished with high school. Some of you don’t need to be in high school to be fighting tooth and nail for your self-worth.
For others, the frustration is their singleness. Especially around this time of year. I know – it sounds silly to compare that frustration to the true suffering others face. But the longing is real, and it’s too readily sniffed at by those who are a different kind of person and value different things in their lives. So you won’t hear me dismissing any longings, even if it does overflow its banks. Some people simply don’t enjoy being single, and weren’t designed to. (That’s why this isn’t another tired treatise on why Jesus is your valentine. “That’s just weird,” as a single female friend once said.)
Unchosen seasons can seem overwhelming. Our emotions are a bully, dictating that we must be laid low, that we have no way to find peace or joy in these moments (or that we’re not being “honest with ourselves” if we do).
But we have a choice.