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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomI went to the early morning Easter Communion service today at my neighbourhood Anglican parish church.

The early morning Easter service is always a wonderful reminder of the passing from darkness into light. As our vicar reminded us, traditional churches remain dark from the end of the Maundy Thursday service through to Easter morning, whether that be at a daybreak or early morning service.

The light returns via the Paschal candle, which is lit following a prayer. The acolyte then lights the other candles from the flame of the Paschal candle.

John’s Gospel has a recurring theme of darkness and light. The risen Christ is, indeed, that Light.

Our vicar gave a moving sermon, encouraging us to think of the Resurrection as a living reality, whereby not only our souls but also our mortal bodies will once again be reunited in glorious perfection one day.

He pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that offers life after death. This is what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter.

The vicar’s sermon was a moving one, as he is a convert from another world faith. He implored us not to turn the Resurrection into an intellectual or historical exercise, because it will be a very real experience when the time comes. He also exhorted us not to view Jesus as a mere historical good example of a life well lived, but as our Saviour and Redeemer.

I thought about the vicar’s sermon for most of the day whilst occupied with gentle pursuits: caring for God’s creation in the garden and preparing a suitable, satisfying Easter dinner of roast lamb.

Our vicar’s sermon made me wish that Easter were more than just one day. Whilst we are now in Easter Week, there are no modern readings by which to remember our Lord’s resurrection for the next six days.

As each year passes, I long for a more fulsome celebration and remembrance of the Resurrection. We sing the beautiful and joyous Easter hymns only one day a year.

For some of us, our recollection of the Resurrection ends up being a fleeting one.

However, it does not need to be this way.

An Evangelical pastor in California, the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries in Fallbrook, has written a beautiful series of sermons on the meaning of the Resurrection and its impact. I hope that you will read the following posts in the coming week and reflect upon his considered, thought-provoking messages about what he terms Resurrection theology:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor has also reflected similarly upon the Resurrection in the context of people’s anger with the Church. This, too, is guaranteed to get us thinking about our sin and the purpose of the Crucifixion as well as our Lord’s rising from the dead in eternal glory — for us:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope that you will join me in contemplating Resurrection Theology, even when it is not stated in those terms.

Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Once again, readers, happy Easter.

May the blessings of the risen Christ be with us today and always. Amen.

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Recent investigative reporting by the Houston Chronicle has revealed long-standing abuses of women belonging to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches.

The Chronicle says that, in 2007, victims of sexual abuse at the hands of SBC church leaders requested that a database be created with names of any current or former church leaders who had been convicted of this type of crime or had been credibly accused of same.

The database was never created. In 2018, advocates for the victims made an appeal for such a registry. Houston Chronicle reporters began their own investigation, combing news archives, websites and databases (emphases mine):

We found complaints made against hundreds of pastors, church officials and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches nationwide.

We focused our search on the 10 years preceding the victims’ first call for a registry and on the 10-plus years since. And we concentrated on individuals who had a documented connection to a church listed in an SBC directory published by a state or national association.

We verified details in hundreds of accounts of abuse by examining federal and state court databases, prison records and official documents from more than 20 states and by searching sex offender registries nationwide. In Texas, we visited more than a dozen county courthouses. We interviewed district attorneys and police in more than 40 Texas counties. We filed dozens of public records requests in Texas and nationwide.

Ultimately, we compiled information on 380 credibly accused officials in Southern Baptist churches, including pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers and volunteers.

We verified that about 220 had been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals and sent letters to all of them soliciting their responses to summaries we compiled. We received written responses from more than 30 and interviewed three in Texas prisons. Of the 220, more than 90 remain in prison and another 100 are still registered sex offenders.

Find our records that relate to those convicted or forced to register as sex offenders at HoustonChronicle.com/AbuseofFaith.

Some of the registered sex offenders are still allowed to preach:

Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.

Most of the abused were teenagers at the time. However, adults seeking pastoral guidance were also victims.

The Chronicle‘s expose is in three parts:

Part 1: Abuse of Faith

Part 2: Southern Baptist churches hired ministers accused of past sex offenses

Part 3: All too often, Southern Baptist youth pastors take advantage of children

A few excerpts follow from the first instalment.

The sections about children were particularly revolting, considering that Southern Baptists in positions of authority portray themselves as being very holy:

Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms.

Here is one girl’s story:

Heather Schneider was 14 when she was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, according to criminal and civil court records. Her mother, Gwen Casados, said church leaders waited months to fire the attacker, who later pleaded no contest. In response to her lawsuit, church leaders also denied responsibility.

Schneider slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casados said. She survived, but she died 14 years later from a drug overdose that her mother blames on the trauma.

“I never got her back,” Casados said.

Here is one man’s story of his molestation as a boy:

David Pittman was 12, he says, when a youth minister from his Georgia church first molested him in 1981. Two other former members of the man’s churches said in interviews that they also were abused by him. But by the time Pittman spoke out in 2006, it was too late to press criminal charges.

The minister still works at an SBC church.

Pittman won’t soon forgive those who have offered prayers but taken no action. He only recently stopped hating God.

“That is the greatest tragedy of all,” he said. “So many people’s faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators.”

The Chronicle says that the reason for rampant sexual abuse is the fact that SBC churches are largely autonomous:

At the core of Southern Baptist doctrine is local church autonomy, the idea that each church is independent and self-governing. It’s one of the main reasons that [August “Augie”] Boto [interim president of the SBC’s Executive Committee] said most of the proposals a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the executive committee because the committee doesn’t have the authority to force churches to report sexual abuse to a central registry …

SBC churches and organizations share resources and materials, and together they fund missionary trips and seminaries. Most pastors are ordained locally after they’ve convinced a small group of church elders that they’ve been called to service by God. There is no central database that tracks ordinations, or sexual abuse convictions or allegations.

I’m not a Southern Baptist, but if the SBC allows sharing of funding, resources, trips and seminaries, surely, it can allow central records to be kept.

A Catholic priest, the Revd Thomas Doyle, thinks so, too.

Doyle was one of the earliest whistleblowers on similar abuse in the Catholic Church, a hierarchical church. He is also a retired lawyer. He contacted SBC leaders in 2007, urging them to act:

“I saw the same type of behavior going on with the Southern Baptists,” he said.

The responses were predictable, Doyle said. In one, Frank Page, then the SBC president, wrote that they were “taking this issue seriously” but that local church autonomy presented “serious limitations.” In March, Page resigned as president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee for “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past,” according to the executive committee.

Details have not been disclosed, but SBC officials said they had “no reason to suspect any legal impropriety.” Page declined to be interviewed.

Wade Burleson, a former president of Oklahoma’s Southern Baptist convention, requested in 2007 and again in 2018, that the SBC take action on this issue, but to no avail:

Leaders pushed back both times, he said. Some cited local church autonomy; others feared lawsuits if the reforms didn’t prevent abuse.

Burleson couldn’t help but wonder if there have been “ulterior motives” at play.

“There’s a known problem, but it’s too messy to deal with,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s not that we can’t do it as much as we don’t want to do it. … To me, that’s a problem. You must want to do it, to do it.”

Doyle, the Catholic priest, agrees:

“I understand the fear, because it’s going to make the leadership look bad,” he said. “Well, they are bad, and they should look bad. Because they have ignored this issue. They have demonized the victims.”

Similar abuses have also taken place in Evangelical churches and institutions, which are also independent.

I saw this tweet the other day:

Linda Kay Klein grew up in Evangelical churches and wrote the book Pure, about the toxicity surrounding women’s purity culture.

In an article she wrote for NBC News, ‘Southern Baptist Convention report on sex abuse shines a light on evangelical culture’, she says:

As an adult, I went on to spend more than a decade researching sexuality and the evangelical church and heard story after story of minimized and unreported abuse. To be sure, sexual violence extends well beyond the church, yet I have found that religious authoritarianism and purity culture — hallmarks of both Catholicism and evangelicalism, among other groups — can enable it.

Purity culture teaches that there are two types of people: those who are sexually “pure,” and those who are “impure.” Some teach one can lose their purity by having sexual thoughts or feelings or making sexual choices outside of a heterosexual marriage. Some even teach you can lose it by inspiring sexual expression in others.

Include purity in an authoritarian local church structure and a fear of secular reaction to scandal and it makes for one unholy trinity of toxicity:

Many parishioners see their pastor as the conduit to a higher power and will go to great lengths to protect them even if it means ignoring, blaming and ultimately hurting survivors.

In America, a contributing factor is a strong culture of collective victimhood in the evangelical community. My interviewees and I were taught growing up that evangelicals were the real victims — that the world hated us so much they’d do anything to make us look bad. So, it was our job to represent our community in the best light possible for more people to join us and enter into heaven. The underlying message was clear: a good Christian keeps their mouth shut.

She describes how this works in practice:

Women and girls, in particular, can be silenced in hierarchic churches that teach “complementarianism” — the belief that God ordains male authority especially in the church and the home. Having been conditioned not to question men, some women struggle to stand up to male misconduct when they see it, and when they do are often dismissed. For example, when my youth pastor was applying for the position, he was given a kind of audition: lead a youth retreat. Our head pastor asked us to report back on his performance. I did. As did at least one other girl. Each of us told the head pastor that the man applying for the position made us uncomfortable. Soon afterward, it was announced that he was our new youth pastor.

Meanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture — which focuses largely on them — can be used against them. Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage — the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault.

Klein’s opinion piece has a video recently broadcast on NBC’s Today show about women who were sexually abused as children in an Evangelical organisation, New Tribes Mission (now Ethnos360).

There is also another Today show article which summarises the video of the New Tribes Mission survivors: ‘Ungodly abuse: The lasting torment of the New Tribes missionary kids’.

The girls’ parents were missionaries at the time, and each mission had a boarding school for the children of New Tribes employees. These missions were in foreign countries, in the back of the beyond. Each dormitory had a ‘dorm dad’ and a ‘dorm mom’. It was not unknown for dorm dads to molest little girls.

In 2009, Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian — one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, who is a law professor and a former prosecutor on sexual abuse cases — began investigating sexual abuse cases at the behest of New Tribes Mission (as was). He told NBC News:

“I feel that in so many ways justice has failed,” said Boz Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor who leads Grace (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), the organization that investigated the New Tribes school in Senegal and that focuses on rooting out abuse in Christian organizations.

“You have individuals who physically and sexually abused children who have gone on to live quote-unquote ‘normal lives.’ You have an organization that had to deal with some press and people talking about it but in large part has moved on and continues to do their work around the world.”

“And then,” added Tchividjian, who is a grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham, “you’ve got the scores and scores of missionary kids. So many of them are struggling to get by in life, struggling to comprehend, why is this man who sexually abused me not in jail, not in prison? Why is this man serving in church, living what appears to be a normal life?

The article recaps the experiences of the victims who appeared on Today. This is one woman’s story. Her dorm dad was David Brooks, the most prolific perpetrator, and an occasional preacher in the Georgia town where he currently lives:

Bonnie Cheshire was just 2 when she arrived in Senegal with her parents, both New Tribes missionaries, in 1981. She grew up in a river village surrounded by forest and miles away from a major city.

“It was an amazing life. It was absolute freedom,” Cheshire said. “Outside all day, in trees all day.”

By age 6, she was living with other children of New Tribes missionaries at the Fanda school where boys and girls were split into separate rooms. There was a “big girls” room and a “little girls” room, each one accommodating about six to eight girls.

Like all of the New Tribe boarding schools, American missionaries who were not sent out in the field were assigned to take care of the children and lead them in Bible study and prayer.

Brooks and his wife held the role of Fanda dorm parents in the mid-1980s, according to the Grace report.

Cheshire said Brooks would sometimes play the “seashell game” when he was alone with the children outside, hiding a shell in his bathing suit and urging the girls to find it.

Soon he was also showing up in her room late at night, Cheshire said. “You need to find a way to relax to go to sleep,” she recalls him telling her.

Brooks would then start touching her, Cheshire said, noting that she was 7 when the abuse started. It seemed innocent at first, she said, but became anything but.

“I knew that it was not right,” Cheshire said.

One woman was abused by her own father when she was a little girl — in the girls’ dorm! He also abused her roommates at the Aritao school in the Philippines:

Escaping the abuse was nearly impossible for Kelly Emory. Les Emory is her father.

Kelly says her dad raped and molested her for three years starting at age 6. She says she was also forced to endure the horror of being in the same room as her father sexually abused her roommates inside the Aritao dorm.

“I had to pretend I was sleeping,” Kelly said. “It was a hell I still live with.”

Kelly said nothing about her father’s attacks until she was 15. In March 1993, with Kelly struggling in school and wrestling with thoughts of suicide, she says she told her dorm mother.

The woman reported the allegations, Kelly said, and days later three New Tribes field leaders showed up at the school to question her.

“They asked me to describe what had happened, and I told them,” Kelly said. “And they told me to not say anything. It was my duty to protect my family, to protect my dad, and if I did say anything, if I did tell anybody anything, my dad would be thrown in a Filipino jail.”

Within a week, Kelly said, her family was shipped out of the Philippines and flown to Missouri to attend therapy sessions with a mission counselor.

“After two weeks we were pronounced healed and whole,” Kelly said. “Those were their words.”

Emory was ordered to leave the mission, Kelly said, but the real reason for the family’s sudden relocation was kept secret from all but a few in the organization.

“You try to do the right thing,” Kelly said. “We got shushed and rushed out of the country. They made us all stay quiet. They silenced us.

In 2009, Bonnie Cheshire and Kari Mikitson, another New Tribes abuse survivor launched a website, New Tribes Mission Abuse. (They have an active forum and an inactive blog.)

Before long, the site attracted a lot of views and New Tribes Mission invited Mikitson to speak with them at their Florida headquarters. It was after that when the mission asked “Boz” Tchividjian’s GRACE organisation to launch an investigation.

GRACE’s investigation took a year, and uncovered widespread sexual abuse of youngsters in the missions. New Tribes Mission then hired another independent organisation, IHART, to continue the work. IHART appears to have done very little.

Today tracked down David Brooks, who refused to speak to camera, and Les Emory who gave a telephone interview.

Emory admitted to what he did and said that he should have been ‘decapitated’.

New Tribes changed its name to Ethnos 360 in May 2017.

In closing, imagine that what actually makes the news in terms of church-related sexual abuse is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

I hope that more will be revealed, for the victims’ sakes as well as for the future health of the Church as a whole.

Finally, all churches — Catholic and Protestant — must take resolute action to ensure these abuses are stopped once and for all.

John F MacArthurThose who have followed my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts will know that I have been citing one of John MacArthur’s sermons in my posts on Acts 23.

John MacArthur wrote ‘Providential Protection’ in 1974, and it is about Acts 23:12-35.

Throughout, the Lord divinely intervened on Paul’s behalf — via unbelievers — to bring the Apostle where He wanted him to be: first class in the governor Felix’s palace, formerly Herod’s. Although Paul was a prisoner and recovering from a heavy physical beating from the people of Jerusalem, he was able to rest for a few days and share the Good News with the upper strata of Roman society in well deserved comfort.

I cited MacArthur’s sermon most recently in my post on Acts 23:31-35 and would now like to share the ending with you. This pertains to all of us and it might surprise some readers in that God does not want us to be miserable. He provides as and when we need it. Emphases mine below:

People always think God wants everybody to be poor, destitute, and barely scrape by. No. God knows when you need first class. I remember coming home from a meeting one time, to give you a really silly illustration. I was so tired; I had never been as sick as I was. I got sick during the entire meeting. In fact, the church wouldn’t let me come home and come back to preach. I was flying from Chicago to Portland, and I was at the end of my tether. I had stayed all week in Chicago in a place that was un- air conditioned. It was 100 every day and about 95% humidity, and I had the flu, and I had to speak two or three times a day in an auditorium without air conditioning. And by the time the week was over, I was wiped out.

And I’ll never forget; I just didn’t think I could hack it. I knew I was going to get on that airplane and get squished in that preachers’ economy section, next to a guy with a black cigar, you know? I mean, I had it all figured out. I got on there and the girl says to me, “I’m sorry, sir, there are no more seats left. We’ll have to put you in first class.” And I said, “Lord, You know. You know,” and I went in there and they started feeding me, and they fed me from Chicago to Portland.

The Lord knows those things. It is His delight. “Fear not, little flock.” First Samuel 30, verse 6, “And David was greatly distressed, but David encouraged his heart in the Lord his God.” Amen. Let’s pray.

We thank You, Father, for what You have accomplished in the life of Paul through Your providence, as well as through miracles. We thank You for what we see in our own lives as the providence that You design guides us to the accomplishment of Your will.

Thank You for the time we’ve shared together today. Teach us to trust You, to remember that You care. For remember the words of Peter, “Casting all your care on Him, for He cares for you,” and to fear not, to be anxious for nothing; to know that it’s Your delight to give us all that the Kingdom involves. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Excellent points.

Of course, the Lord also gives us trials — another subject — but everything He does is for a greater purpose in accomplishing His will.

Returning to ‘first class’, the Lord knows what we need and when we need it. He is all-loving and all-merciful. May we always remember that.

In April 2017, I wrote about the plight of the Reverend Andrew Brunson in Turkey. At that time, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was trying to secure his release.

Nearly a year later, in March 2018, Fox News reported that Brunson could be imprisoned for 35 years:

An American pastor has been charged in Turkey with engaging in espionage and having links to terror groups, crimes that carry a potential sentence of up to 35 years in prison, Turkey’s state-run news agency reported Tuesday.

An indictment accuses Andrew Brunson of working with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, to stir chaos in Turkey and divide the country, Anadolu Agency reported on Tuesday.

The news agency said the pastor faces 15 years for crimes committed in the name of Gulen’s group and the PKK and another 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political and military spying purposes.

Brunson is originally from North Carolina, but has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. He was arrested during the mass detentions and firings soon after a failed July 2016 coup attempt. He denies any wrongdoing.

The United States has demanded his release.

In April, President Trump was still on the case:

In May:

In July, Trump tweeted:

In August, Trump used tariffs as leverage against Turkey. On August 15, CBS News reported that Turkey responded in kind:

Turkey announced Wednesday that it is increasing tariffs on imports of certain U.S. products as a local court denied an American pastor’s appeal to be released from house arrest — both moves which could escalate a feud with the United States that has helped trigger a currency crisis. In a decision announced in the Official Gazette, Ankara said it will impose extra tariffs on imports of products including rice, vehicles, alcohol, coal and cosmetics.

Tariffs on American cars were doubled to 120 percent while the tariff on alcoholic drinks rose to 140 percent. Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that the tariffs on certain products were increased “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the deliberate economic attacks by the United States.”

A local court in Izmir, meanwhile, rejected the appeal by Pastor Andrew Brunson to be released from house arrest pending his trial on espionage and terrorism-related charges … 

The Trump administration imposed its own financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on the country earlier this month as President Donald Trump tries to secure the Brunson’s release.

The Turkish lira has dropped to record lows in recent weeks, having fallen some 42 percent so far this year …

On October 11, there was light at the end of the tunnel for the imprisoned pastor:

On October 12, Brunson was on his way home via Germany in a US military plane:

The US ambassador to Germany was on hand to greet the pastor and his wife:

President Trump spoke from a rally that day:

Fox News reported:

Brunson was arrested and detained for 18 months before finally being charged by the Turkish government with a connection to the coup attempt.

U.S. officials also refuted the accusations against Brunson, and amid mounting pressure from American politicians, Brunson was moved from prison to house arrest in July.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., hailed the verdict Friday, calling it “long overdue news” and adding that “the Turkish government should put Pastor Brunson on the next flight home.”

The Trump administration advocated persistently for Brunson’s release, leading to an intense economic showdown between the two NATO allies. In August, the U.S. slapped sanctions on an array of Turkish officials and on some goods, sending Turkish currency into freefall.

Brunson was not the only American behind bars in Turkey on questionable charges. Several Turkish-American citizens — including NASA scientist Serkan Golge and several workers from the United States Embassy in Ankara — are languishing in prison alleged to have a connection to Gulen’s group.

Trump has put much emphasis on not paying ransom money for the pastor’s release:

Trump’s efforts in arranging hostage and prisoner releases overseas have been historic:

Brunson’s release brought much gratitude, not only from the Brunsons but also the Evangelical community.

Breitbart reported that Brunson issued a statement:

“We are grateful for the President’s commitment and efforts in securing my release,” Brunson said in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been working to secure his release. “My entire family thanks the president, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support.”

“This is the day our family has been praying for – I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States,” Brunson said. “It’s been an extremely difficult time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day.”

“I am thankful for the representation of the American Center for Law & Justice – especially ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow and ACLJ Senior Counsel CeCe Heil – as well as the many others who worked so hard to obtain my freedom,” Brunson said.

“I look forward to returning home and being reunited with my family,” Brunson said.

The Breitbart report has a comment from the ACLJ which says what many of us assumed; this was not about spying, it was about evangelising for the Christian faith (emphases mine):

The ACLJ said Brunson was targeted because of his Christian faith. Brunson has been leading a Christian congregation and mission in Turkey for two decades.

Pastor Brunson was on trial for the crime of ‘Christianization,’” the ACLJ statement said. “The ACLJ, which has been working in this country and abroad to secure his freedom, said President Trump, as well as members of Congress, continued to push for Pastor Brunson’s release and Turkish officials finally agreed.

“President Trump and his team have been tenacious in seeking the release of Pastor Brunson,” Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ said.“We’re grateful to the president, members of Congress and diplomatic leaders who continued to put pressure on Turkey to secure the freedom of Pastor Brunson.”

Politico reported on the enthusiasm of Evangelical pastors for Trump at the news of Brunson’s release:

When a Turkish court released American Andrew Brunson after two years of confinement, it was a profound moment for Christian evangelicals, who had made the pastor a symbol of religious persecution worldwide.

In Brunson’s case and others, they had prayed for deliverance. And President Donald Trump, they said, delivered …

Again and again, evangelical activists say, the administration has made good on promises made to the faith voters who lifted Trump into office — a group he will sorely need to turn out again for his 2020 re-election bid.

“He wouldn’t be our Sunday School teacher necessarily, but he’s doing a great job of leadership,” said televangelist and Trump adviser James Robison. “I love him so much I can hardly explain it.”

The Hand of God is at work. God is using President Trump as one of His many instruments.

Sarah Sanders’s father, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, acknowledged the Trump administration’s efforts and wondered how the media would cover this joyous event:

At least one journalist understood:

On Saturday, August 13, the excitement was building.

Trump graciously acknowledged Turkish president Erdogan:

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) spoke to the press:

As scheduled, that afternoon, the Brunsons met with President Trump in the Oval Office:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also present …

… as were other members of the administration who worked long and hard to secure Brunson’s release:

Pastor Brunson then prayed over the president, asking the Holy Spirit to descend upon him, granting him wisdom and discernment:

CBN had more on the White House meeting:

Brunson prayed for the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office saying, “I ask that you give him strength. I ask you to protect him.. make him a great blessing to this country and fill him with your wisdom and strength.”

“We pray for you often as a family, my wife and I pray for you,” the pastor told the president …

“We are so grateful to so many people in Congress who stood with us, prayed with us and fought with us,” Brunson said.

President Trump said the US did not give up anything in return for the evangelical minister’s release and pushed back on reports he agreed to lift sanctions.

“Right now the whole world is a fan of yours, the whole world is a fan,” Trump said. “It’s a great honor to have you back home.”

You can see the full event below:

Trump was as energised about this as the Brunsons were:

My prayer is for Pastor Brunson not to return to Turkey, not that he is thinking of doing so now, but he might do so in future.

I hope that he and his family enjoy a happy reunion period at home in North Carolina. May he find a divine calling there.

In closing, may the Trump administration be successful in releasing the other innocent Americans being held in Turkey.

John F MacArthurThe John MacArthur sermon I cited for my post on Acts 20:7-12 has some interesting information about rituals in the early years of the Church.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Worshipping on the Lord’s Day

MacArthur explains that the Lord’s Day — Sunday — became the day of Christian public worship to commemorate Christ’s Resurrection:

First of all, when did they come together? The first day of the week. Now that became the meeting time for the Church. You say, “Didn’t they meet every day?” Sure they did. They met, from Acts 2, “Daily, from house to house.” And listen. Christianity is not a one day a week thing, is it? It’s an everyday thing. And that little church, wherever it was, in whatever little town, those Christians were together usually during the week. There were Bible studies in home. They were breaking bread in homes. They were sharing the Lord’s table, perhaps, in home. So it was not uncommon for the Church to meet on a daily basis in its early years.

But together, the church came on the first day of the week. And you say, “Why did they do that?” Well, you go back to John 20, just to refresh your memory. Verse 19. This was immediately after the Resurrection, “The same day, at evening, being the first day of the week.” Do you know when the first day of the week started in the Jewish calendar? Saturday night, right? After the sun went down, the Sabbath ended. The days were counted from sunset to sunset. And so it was on Saturday night, literally, but it was the first day of the week. So then it was Sunday.

We don’t prefer to call it Sunday. It’s all right if you want to call it Sunday, but that represents the sun god. But that’s okay, because there is no sun god anyway, so you can call it Sunday without feeling bad. But I prefer to call it the Lord’s Day. That’s Revelation 1:10. John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” That’s why in your bulletin you’ll find that we call it the Lord’s Day.

Now they met together here in John 20:19 on the first day of the week, and who appeared to them? Jesus did. Eight days later, verse 26 says, “The next time the first day of the week came, they were meeting together, and the Lord appeared.” Well, you see what happened? They were together on the first day. That was Resurrection, commemoration day. The Lord appeared both times, so He had risen on the first day, appeared on the first day, appeared again on the first day, and they just took the first day and ran with it. That became Resurrection Day, the Lord’s Day.

And so the early Church celebrated its fellowship and its worship and its teaching together on Sunday. And let me hasten to add that I think such meeting together of the Church is strictly important. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, and much the more as you see the day approaching.” That means you ought to come together with the believers and not forsake that.

Now notice that it is not the Sabbath Day anymore. Sunday is not the Sabbath. You hear people talk about going to church on the Sabbath. This is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath was yesterday. And the Sabbath is a dead issue, friends.

You know, I was on the radio in Honolulu. They have a talk station, like KABC. It’s the number two rated station in Hawaii. And they give three hours Sunday afternoon to a Christian kind of dialogue. And so I was the three-hour answer man on Honolulu radio station, KORL. And it was really interesting just to sit there, you know, and be on the grill with all these people. You know how talk radio goes. You do have that little button, however, you know, that you can just say, “I’m sorry, ma’am.” Boing, you know, and it’s all over.

But anyway, people called in, and one fellow asked me a question at the very beginning. He said, “What day is the church supposed to meet?” And you know, I didn’t realize I was being baited, but I was, apparently, because I went into this long, lengthy answer about the meaning of the Lord’s Day and the whole thing and everything. Got all done, and the lines went bananas. And I realized there’s a tremendous contingent of Seventh Day Adventists in Honolulu. And all of a sudden, I had opened up Pandora’s box, and they couldn’t handle the calls, and everything was going, and it was amazing, all the calls that were going on.

Through all of this, I simply maintained, in answering these various questions, that the only way you can allow for the – to worship on Saturday is, one, to ignore the history of the Church; two, to assume that the old covenant is still in vogue; three, to reject the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Well, they didn’t take too kindly to all of those junctions, but I supported them by Scripture. In Colossians 2:16, it says, “Let no man therefore condemn you in food -” That is, if you don’t eat like Jewish people used to eat. “In drink, or in respect of a Feast Day,” if you don’t keep the Passover or the Sabbath, “or of the new moon, or of a Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come.” And once the thing comes, you don’t need the shadow anymore. So don’t let anybody [try to influence] you in those things.

So we went on and on about that. It’s clear to me that the Lord’s Day historically and biblically became the time when the Church met together. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul just assumes it. He says, “When you come together on the first day of the week, that’s the time to bring your offerings.” Right? The Church should meet on the first day. If you want to meet on the Sabbath and you want to buy the Sabbath, then you’re going to have to buy the whole old covenant and you’re going to be saved by works, and that’s what we got into on the radio.

And I finally just turned the tables and I asked the question, I said, “Well, let me ask you about your doctrine. You’ve asked me about mine.” So I said to some guy who was giving me this long argument, I said, “Why is it that you say that the only covenant people are the ones who worship on the Sabbath, and that the mark of the beast is on everybody who worships on Sunday? That’s in your theology.” And there was a long silence. And then he admitted that that was true, that the mark of the beast is on those who worship on Sunday. And ultimately, what they were saying was you’re saved by works, keeping the whole covenant. Obeying the law. And we got into all kinds of legalism, and it became a tremendous thing because I’m so fresh in Galatians that, you know –

You know, the Lord has a way of just arranging things. Somebody must have thought, “Man, he’s got all that stuff down, you know?” That’s why it’s good to study the Word of God. You know, I’ve found that in my life. You study a certain passage, and the Lord will give you opportunity to use it.

The Church met then on the Lord’s Day, and at the beginning, they met on a daily basis, and pretty soon it became a kind of thing where they would continue to meet in small groups, in homes. But on the time that the Lord’s Day came around, the first day of the week, they would congregate together [e]n mass[e]. I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Worshipping as a congregation

The earliest Christians eventually had to leave the synagogue environment and worship in people’s houses. Then, congregations grew to the point where churches were built. It is important that believers come together to worship publicly:

I don’t believe for a minute that the Church is just to be little groups scattered all over town. I think the Church is to come together.

Now where did the Early Church meet? Well, look here. It says in verse 8 they met in an upper chamber. They met everywhere. First, they met in the temple, didn’t they? And you imagine how popular that was. Boy, that must have been interesting. And then after that, they started meeting in synagogues. You know, Paul would go to a town. A bunch of people would get saved in the synagogue, and they’d keep coming to the synagogue and having their meetings there.

But eventually, it just didn’t work in the temple and it just didn’t work in the synagogue, and so they began to pull out and establish their own Christian assemblies. And the natural place to go, first of all, was to homes. Right? So the Church began in homes. And they must have been some very substantial homes. Some very large homes, to accommodate the many Christians that existed in those early years.

By the – oh, I’d say between the middle and the end of the second century, they began to build their own buildings to accommodate all of the Christians. But here, they were still meeting in an upper room, in a home. And when Paul wrote Colossians 4:15, he referred to the Church in the home. When he wrote Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19, he referred to the Church in the home, Aquila and Priscilla and Philemon too, refers to the Church that met in the home. And so there was a very common occurrence in the Early Church, and that was to meet in homes. And then later on, buildings were built.

Just all of that to say this. It’s important for the Church to come together someplace. We cannot exist in isolation, can we? We need the fellowship, the unity of the body. And so this little pattern here that we see gives us an example of how the Early Church met. On the first day of the week, verse 7, “When the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart the next day, and continued to speak until midnight, and there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.”

The love feast

MacArthur explains, scripturally, how the love feast came into being and how it disappeared. Centuries later, with the Reformation, Pietist communities in various countries revived it, and certain Christian sects still hold a love feast of some sort today, even if it involves only a non-alcoholic beverage and a piece of cake.

MacArthur doesn’t go into the revival of the love feast, however, he tells us that Paul told the Corinthians not to hold any more, because they were being selfish about the dishes they brought to the love feast:

You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

You know, it’s a sad thing to think about, but the agape love feast kind of faded from the scene. You know why? Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Do you know what he said to them in chapter 11? He said, “You really messed up the love feast.” 1 Corinthians 11. Let me just read you a couple of verses. And this is what happened to the love feast. It just deteriorated. He says in verse 20, 1 Corinthians 11, “When you come together therefore into one place, this is not the Lord’s Supper which you eat.” In other words, “You think you’re coming together for the Lord’s Supper, but you’re not. You polluted it. It isn’t His supper.” “For in eating, everyone takes before the other his own supper.”

Can you imagine going to a potluck and have everybody sit in their own corner and eat their own potluck? It’s what was happening. And some of the hungry people who had nothing were coming, and they were going away hungry. And so he says, “One is hungry and another is drunk.” In other words, the people who come and have nothing get nothing. The people who come and have a lot overindulge.

He says, and I think this is important. He says, “Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” If that’s all you’re going to do, go home. “Or despise you the Church of God and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. You have literally despised the unity of the Church.” And so that’s what happened, and the whole beautiful commonness of the love feast just faded historically.

Communion

MacArthur takes issue with the way Holy Communion has evolved over the centuries:

… communion also got hit in history. The Catholic Church moved in, and when the Catholic Church dominated the world, before the Reformation, communion stopped being a natural, informal, warm sharing together in the memory of Christ, and it became a mystical priestly ceremony that’s now continuing to go on, known as the mass. And somehow, Protestantism sprang out of that, and we got a little closer to the truth, but I’m not sure we’re there yet. We still think of communion as something that’s performed by a whole lot of ministers, and it has to be done with little silver trays and little – and walking up and down aisles, and organs playing. And I think that’s wrong, too. I think that’s one way to do it, but I think communion is something we all ought to do much more frequently than we do.

Often people will say, “You know, John, I’d like to participate in communion, but I can’t come on Wednesday nights.” That’s no excuse. That’s no excuse.

Communion at home

I’m still digesting MacArthur’s suggestion for home Communion, which follows on from people saying they’re unable to attend his church’s Communion service, but then I come from a theological background wherein a Real Presence is part of consecrated bread and wine.

For MacArthur, Communion seems to be a symbol of the Last Supper, therefore, he says to hold one’s own Communion ceremonies at home:

You can have communion any time you want. The best place I think to teach your children communion is in your home. Teach them the meaning of breaking of bread. You know, some people just go crazy when you talk like this, because they say, “Only ordained ministers can do that.” You can’t find that in the Bible. You can share around the Lord’s Table any time you want, and you should. Jesus said, “Do this until I come, and do it with you in the kingdom.” It’s your responsibility.

There are plenty of occasions. You know, can you imagine when you get together – have you ever gotten together with other Christians and gone home after evening and said, “What a wasted evening. We could have talked about the Lord, and all we did was fool around and talk about Aunt Mary and Mrs. So and So, and how we don’t like this guy and this girl.” Have you ever done that? Sure. And you had a whole _____ thing. How about if you came together three or four couples, and just started out by breaking bread. I think that might change the pattern of your evening. It might even change where you go after you got done, or what you talk about, for sure.

And so I think we need to remember that this is part of the Early Church. It was a common and easy and a natural and a flowing thing, right out of the life that they had and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s just what they did when they came together. And that’s the way it should be with us. But unfortunately, I think we’ve been victimized by those who have told us that all of these things are to be performed in some kind of a formal, ritualistic manner as well.

Then he says that, along with this, comes edifying, instructive conversation. That I can get on board with:

But the disciples came together to break bread, and here’s the second thing that I want you to notice about the time they met together. Paul preached unto them. They came together for teaching. Whenever the Early Church came together, this was primarily the purpose. Sometimes it was to break bread, and there is no command here as to how frequently. It’s just to be done often. And this time when they came together, they did that. But Paul preached unto them. This became the priority when they met, was preaching and teaching. And the word preaching here is not to preach the Gospel. You don’t need to preach the Gospel at a service of breaking of bread, because everybody’s already a Christian.

Paul taught them, and the word preaching here has to do with dialogue. He answered questions, and there was feedback, and he shared with them. Teaching. That was the priority. The Apostles had earlier said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word,” Acts 6:4. And Acts 6:7 says, “And the Word multiplied and the Church multiplied.” It says the same thing in Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20. “The Word of God grew and prevailed.” This is the priority.

Interesting, to say the least.

Agree or disagree, it’s food for thought, especially for those who consider themselves Christians but who no longer attend church because they find many of today’s churches lacking in solemnity and teaching.

That said, an effort should be made to find a good congregation or a good service that you feel comfortable with. Attend now and again to make it a regular habit.

In 2012, I excerpted a series of articles by the Revd James A Fowler of Christ in You Ministries on a concept he calls Resurrection theology.

As we are in Eastertide for the next 50 days — until Pentecost — readers might enjoy reading excerpts of what Revd Fowler wrote:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran minister, the Revd Rod Rosenbladt, wrote along similar lines, although he did not use the term Resurrection theology:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

It’s really essential that we Christians remember the Resurrection as often as the Crucifixion — every day.

I was glad to hear our vicar read the following verses from 1 Corinthians 15 at Easter this year. He also told us to spread this message. (Already done.) This is the heart of the matter (emphases mine):

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Both the Crucifixion and Resurrection had to occur in order for our salvation.

Believers feel elation on Easter, the Church’s greatest feast day. Paul’s words and Resurrection theology can help us maintain that elation the rest of the year.

Rather than considering Easter as just one day and Eastertide as just one season, we would do better to contemplate the Resurrection at every opportunity.

On March 17, 2018, I watched the Alex Jones Show, where his big headline was about an Evangelical church in Australia that was told to amend an Easter sign with the name of Jesus on it.

Not surprisingly, Jones was deeply unhappy.

So were many people watching or listening, no doubt.

However, it turns out that Jesus’s name can remain on the sign.

The Daily Mail, despite its title for the story, tells us what happened. The source story is at the 2GB radio site.

Elim Church is located in a shopping centre in Gosford, New South Wales. Between March 29 and April 1, they are running revival meetings on the Gosford Waterfront. The digital sign they want to put up at their church in the shopping centre reads (photo at the Mail link):

the greatness of His Power

Jesus is Alive!

Lendlease manage the shopping centre. They objected to the name Jesus:

Pastor Martin Duffy told 2GB radio that shopping centre manager Lendlease objected to the signs and forced them to be changed to read ‘Risen Christ’ instead of ‘Jesus’ …

Pastor Duffy claimed Lendlease requested to withdraw the word ‘Jesus’ from the sign as it may have offended shoppers and non-Christians.

The logic in Lendlease’s argument is mystifying. Why would ‘Risen Christ’ be any less ‘offensive’ than ‘Jesus’?

In any event, there is good news about the Good News:

Pastor Duffy said Lendlease has since changed their mind and allowed the word ‘Jesus’ to be included in the sign.

Although:

He said Lendlease said the word ‘Jesus’ has yet to be added to the sign but he is hopeful it will be returned eventually.

One wonders if the locals made a righteous fuss. Lendlease issued a statement:

It was an error of judgement to ask the church to change its messaging and we apologise unreservedly.

Lendlease values diversity and inclusion and we welcome people of all backgrounds at our shopping centres.

Good. All being well, the sign will be up soon and the church’s Easter events will be well attended.

Last week, I featured two posts on Billy Graham:

Remembering Billy Graham

More on Billy Graham

My last piece on him relates more to his daughter Ruth, who, in 2012, first opened her heart on Beliefnet. Since then, she writes regularly for the site on her page Safe Place with Ruth Graham.

In 2012, Beliefnet recapped her first column in an article called ‘Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth has been through the fire, says it’s time for honesty’. Anyone who has been through a marital breakup or has been dogged by self doubt will want to read it.

The article also has great Graham family photos from the 1950s, which are definitely worth seeing.

Excerpts and a summary of the article follow, emphases mine.

The article begins by introducing her Safe Place page and assuring readers that she will reply to anyone commenting on her posts. Ruth said that she felt it was time to be open and honest, something she could not always do growing up:

She knows what it’s like to have to put on a false smile. The third of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham’s five kids remembers having to pretend nothing is wrong – even when her world was falling apart. All preachers’ kids endure that, but a famous evangelist’s kid has to be especially careful. Stepping out of line can result in a front page headline in the National Enquirer – and bring shame upon a beloved dad.

Fortunately, for her, she was always a devout Christian:

“I really did have a genuine relationship with the Lord,” she recalls. “I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven, kneeling beside my bed with my mother. At age 11, I made that commitment public by going forward at the altar call at a church revival held by a friend of my father. Daddy went with me.”

Incidentally, she said that she and her siblings met a lot of famous people who were friends of her parents, but they were only introduced and that was the extent of it.

Ruth was not a rebellious teenager and, at the age of 15, was sent to:

an exclusive boarding school in New York. There, “I came down with mononucleosis and I was miserable.” All alone, it was just her and God. “I just had to claim my faith as my own. At that point, it was no longer Mother or Daddy’s faith, it was mine.”

She followed a conventional middle class route of college followed by marriage. In the 1990s, she faced a greater personal crisis than mononucleousis:

her world fell apart when her husband was unfaithful. After 18 years of marriage, Ruth was devastated. They went through months of counseling before admitting defeat. Then just a few months after the divorce, she remarried “on the rebound” but knew within 24 hours that she’d made a terrible mistake. Her life a shambles, she loaded up everything and sought refuge with her parents.

She was worried about their reaction. However, all was well. Her father Billy stood in the driveway, awaiting her arrival:

He wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘Welcome home.’”

Ruth said that, at the age of 40, she was in a deep spiritual crisis. Although she followed her mother’s example of being active in the church, including teaching Bible studies, Ruth did not feel as if God was ‘taking care’ of her — and her children. One daughter had an eating disorder. Another gave birth out of wedlock in her mid-teens. Her son had to go to rehab for drug abuse.

Gradually, Ruth came to understand that these were severe trials God’s people sometimes have to endure:

He had something to teach me about the difficulties of life: to show me that none of us are exempt, that we all have hardships. We all have things that happen to us that we don’t ask for, but we have to endure.

And it’s OK. It’s all part of God’s plan. I didn’t like having to go through that – none of us do.

But it was very important for me to have that experience – and to grow from it. I’m still growing. The story is not over. But that’s OK, God gives me grace. And God is a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful even when I am not. Now I’m living life. I am just living in the grace of God.

During her crisis years, her father told her she was being too harsh on herself:

I remember one day when I was really beating myself up and taking responsibility for my marriage falling apart – just pouring my heart out. Daddy said, ‘Quit beating yourself up. We all live under God’s grace and we just do the best we can.’

Whenever I go home, there’s always a bouquet of flowers in my room with a handwritten note that reads, ‘Welcome home. Daddy.’

Ruth said she had been focussing too much on meeting other people’s expectations rather than on God’s love:

I have realized that I have an audience of One. As long as He’s happy with me, then that’s OK. You can’t please all those other people anyway. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t think you measure up.

At each stage as I went through this, I knew I loved the Lord. There was no question of that. At each stage, He has taken me deeper. And I don’t like the fact that the deep things of God are taught in suffering.

As a result, I know God’s grace in a way that I never would have otherwise. I’m learning to tell myself the truth.

Hence the reason for her Beliefnet columns. She wants to help others open up, too:

I want to share that and also to dialogue with my readers – so they can unburden themselves – making my column a confessional of sorts. And they will find no condemnation from me. I am not into shaming people.

I believe in passing along God’s grace.

Ruth told Beliefnet that it was difficult watching her father battle pain and illness. It was also hard for him to lose his beloved wife Ruth after so many decades. That said, his daughter thought he was less distracted and a gentler person in his twilight years.

After her father’s funeral earlier this month, Ruth wrote a column, ‘Taking Daddy Home’. She described the funeral and interment — and the bitterly cold weather:

It was freezing in the tent! Daddy started in a tent in Los Angeles and Franklin thought it would be appropriate. Fortunately, my older sister brought an extra coat for which I was grateful.

Each of us had 3 minutes to speak. I asked the Lord to help me and He did. I felt the freedom from the Holy Spirit to talk of my father’s lasting legacy to me. It touched many hearts for which I am grateful. I want to pass on my father’s legacy of grace.

I stayed until he was buried – even though it was so cold – but I didn’t want him to be alone. I went back the next day to see it all finished and landscaped. At long last Mother and Daddy are side by side!

She also had things to take care of at home. Her refrigerator was not working properly and one of her daughters is staying with her. A tree fell on the daughter’s house and they have no heat, so Ruth is hosting her and her family. As such, she says she has had no time to reflect on her father’s death.

Nevertheless:

God has been working wonderful ways and I praise Him that I have seen His hand in a multitude situations that could have been difficult. God just paved the way.

He keeps His promises of Isaiah 40:4-5.

Those verses are as follows:

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

May God continue to bless Ruth Graham and her family at this difficult time.

Yesterday’s post discussed Billy Graham’s lying in state and his funeral.

Today’s looks at aspects of his life some of us might not know about.

Church upbringing

Billy Graham’s parents, Morrow (née Coffey) and William Franklin Graham Sr., were members of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The ARPC still exists today but is a tiny denomination affiliated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council as well as the World Reformed Fellowship. The denomination was founded in 1803 in Winnsboro, South Carolina. It emerged from a Scottish Covenanter/Seceder tradition. Theologically, it is Evangelical Calvinist.

Early life

William Franklin Graham Sr was a dairy farmer. The family farm is just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Billy was the eldest of four children. He had two sisters — Catherine Morrow and Jean — and a brother, Melvin Thomas.

Billy enjoyed reading, especially boys’ adventure books. He liked Tarzan so much that when he climbed trees and gave out the famous Tarzan yell, he scared horses and drivers. His father later said imitating Tarzan led him to the ministry.

When Prohibition ended in December 1933, Billy was 15. Graham Sr made all his children drink beer until they were physically ill. None ever touched a drop of alcohol after that.

Despite church and abstinence from drink, Billy was considered ‘too worldly’ for membership in a local youth group. One of the Graham farmhands, Albert McMakin, encouraged Billy to attend a revival given by Mordecai Ham, a Baptist evangelist. Billy duly attended and was born again in 1934.

Further education

Billy graduated from Sharon High School in 1936. He enrolled at Bob Jones College which, at the time, was located in Cleveland, Tennessee.

After his first semester, he found it too legalistic and rule-driven. Although he was advised by Pastor Charley Young from Eastport Bible Church, he was almost expelled. Bob Jones Sr told him:

At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks … You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours. He can use it mightily. [23]

In 1937, Graham transferred to the Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida, near Tampa. That year, he preached his first sermon at Bostwick Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida. While at the Florida Bible Institute, the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club played a significant role. He later wrote, he got his call to ministry on the 18th green.

Graham practiced preaching to the birds, alligators and cypress stumps across the Hillsborough River directly across from that 18th green. Later, this area was transformed into the Reverend Billy Graham Memorial Park, which still exists today.

In 1939, he was ordained in Palatka, Florida, at the Peniel Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation.

The Revd Graham then moved to northern Illinois to attend Wheaton College. He graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1943.

During his time at Wheaton College, Graham accepted the Bible as the infallible word of God. However, this decision took place in California. He attended Forest Home Christian Camp (now called Forest Home Ministries) in the southern part of the state. Henrietta Mears, an evangelist and Director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (yes, that Hollywood), helped him arrive at that decision. A memorial at the ministry camp marks the spot.

Love, marriage and family

Wheaton College can take credit for Graham’s love story with a fellow student, Ruth Bell, a surgeon’s daughter.

The two married in 1943. Their devotion for each other lasted until Ruth’s death in 2007. Interestingly, Ruth remained a Presbyterian her entire life. She never became a Baptist, Graham’s denomination after ordination.

Ruth gave birth to five children:

Virginia Leftwich (Gigi) Graham (b. 1945), an inspirational speaker and author; Anne Graham Lotz (b. 1948), runs AnGeL ministries; Ruth Graham (b. 1950), founder and president of Ruth Graham & Friends, leads conferences throughout the US and Canada; Franklin Graham (b. 1952), serves as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and as president and CEO of international relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse;[34] and Nelson Edman Graham (b. 1958), a pastor who runs East Gates Ministries International,[35] which distributes Christian literature in China.

The Graham children, in turn, had their own families:

At the time of his death, Graham had 19 grandchildren, including former pastor Tullian Tchividjian, and 41 great-grandchildren.[36]

Notable events in early and middle ministry

Before Graham graduated from Wheaton, he became pastor of the United Gospel Tabernacle. He also took on various speaking engagements.

From 1943 to 1944, he was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, in the Chicago suburbs. He left to take over a Christian programme on radio, Songs in the Night, which was about to be cancelled because of lack of money. The church in Western Springs financed the programme. Although Graham left the programme in 1945, it continued for many years afterwards.

In 1947, the first Billy Graham Crusade was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the city’s civic auditorium. Six thousand people attended.

In 1948, at the age of 29, Graham became president of Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was the youngest president of any higher education institution in the United States.  Despite this privileged position, Graham wanted to be a military chaplain. Instead, he came down with the mumps and went to Florida to recuperate.

Whilst in Florida, Graham joined a new ministry, Youth for Christ (YFC), which his friend Torrey Johnson co-founded with a Canadian evangelist, Charles Templeton.

Graham somehow managed to continue as president of Northwestern Bible College and tour the US as well as Europe with YFC.

Graham also held his own revival during this time. In 1949, he held a long-running revival in Los Angeles in a car park equipped with circus tents. The revival was supposed to last three weeks. Instead, it lasted for eight.

In 1950, he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which will continue to exist. Initially, it was based in Minneapolis, as that was where Graham worked. Later, it moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, his home city.

Graham resigned from in Northwestern Bible College in 1952.

In 1953, he came out openly against segregation at his own rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee:

Graham tore down the ropes that organizers had erected in order to segregate the audience into racial sections. In his memoirs, he recounted that he told two ushers to leave the barriers down “or you can go on and have the revival without me.”[49] He warned a white audience, “we have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.”[49]

In 1957, he made friends with black clergymen:

Graham’s stance towards integration became more publicly shown when he allowed black ministers Thomas Kilgore and Gardner C. Taylor to serve as members of his New York Crusade’s executive committee[50] and invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he first met during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955,[50] to join him in the pulpit at his 16-week revival in New York City, where 2.3 million gathered at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, and Times Square to hear them.[10] Graham recalled in his autobiography that during this time, he and King developed a close friendship and that he was eventually one of the few people who referred to King as “Mike,” a nickname which King asked only his closest friends to call him.[51] Following King’s assassination in 1968, Graham mourned that the US had lost “a social leader and a prophet”.[50] In private, Graham advised King and other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).[52]

In 1974, he co-founded the Lausanne Movement with two Britons, Graham and John Stott. The first meeting was held in Lausanne, Switzerland on July 16–25 that year.

Videos

As we know, Billy Graham made countless public appearances, not all of which were in a religious setting.

In 1969, he gave an interview to William F Buckley Jr, who was a devout Roman Catholic. At the time, young people were wondering if God was dead. Buckley’s interview on Firing Line centred on the decline of Christianity.

Here is a short clip, which everyone should watch if only to hear Buckley speak. I’ve never heard better American English, both in vocabulary and tone:

The full interview is here.

Graham told Buckley that 75% of scientists believe in God, a higher percentage, he said, than when he was growing up. He also said that he thinks there is life on other planets (!!), but only on Earth does God face rebellion. He said there has to be a theocracy during Christ’s 1,000 year reign. He said that a theocracy is in the Apostle’s Creed. Buckley, who knew his prayers, said that was a reference to the next life. Yes, indeed!

Graham thought that being born again had to be a deep ‘personal experience’. He thinks that churches intellectualise receiving the Holy Spirit. That was, no doubt, a polite reference to Confirmation classes.

Graham also said that people should go to church as Jesus attended synagogue. He also foresaw that, by 2000, there would be home churches just as there were in the days of the early Church.

People on other websites have found the following Billy Graham videos memorable.

This is his address in the National Cathedral in Washington DC after 9/11. He tells the audience that they mustn’t give up hope or faith:

In the next video, from 2014, Graham discusses death and Heaven:

The last video celebrated his 99th birthday. Those who knew and worked with Graham discuss him and his astounding ministry:

Billy Graham and Steve McQueen

In closing — and saving the most intriguing fact for last — Billy Graham helped the famous actor Steve McQueen to embrace Christianity:

The Charlotte Observer has the story:

Actor Steve McQueen, who personified cool during his nearly two decades as a Hollywood superstar, retreated from the glamor and excesses of the movie scene late in his short life and embraced Christianity.

When he died at age 50, McQueen was clutching a Bible – one given to him by Billy Graham.

In fact, it was Graham’s personal Bible, the one he preached from at crusades. The Charlotte-born evangelist had handed it to the actor, then gravely ill with cancer, during a private meeting Nov. 3, 1980 – just four days before McQueen died after surgery in Mexico …

And though Billy Graham, now 98 and living in his mountain-top Montreat home, doesn’t speak or appear in person in “Steve McQueen: American Icon,” the preacher and his Bible play a major role in its final minutes …

Viewers are told that McQueen took along the Graham Bible – with a prayerful note from the evangelist on an inside page – when he traveled to Juarez, Mexico, for the operation to remove a tumor.

The actor died of a heart attack shortly afterward, on Nov. 7, 1980. And when Grady Ragsdale, the manager of McQueen’s ranch in California, went to retrieve the body, he pulled the sheet back and found that McQueen had died clutching the Bible to his chest.

Laurie puts it this way in the film: “He was holding on to the Bible of Billy Graham as he entered eternity.”

How cool is that?

The Revd Billy Graham departed this mortal coil on February 21, 2018, aged 99.

Only the good Lord knows how many people he converted or awakened to Christianity. If he spoke in person to 250 million people around the world during his ministry, imagine the hundreds of millions of people watching his televised Crusades and specials or listening to him on radio. What he accomplished over his 80 years as a preacher was so extraordinary that it might not be repeated for generations to come.

CBS News reported that Graham was (emphases mine):

the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history

Spokesman Mark DeMoss said Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday morning.

Tributes from American presidents

President Donald Trump tweeted and followed up with a formal statement later that day:

President Trump’s statement reads as follows:

Melania and I join millions of people around the world in mourning the passing of Billy Graham. Our prayers are with his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all who worked closely with Reverend Graham in his lifelong ministry.

Billy’s acceptance of Jesus Christ around his seventeenth birthday not only changed his life—it changed our country and the world. He was one of the towering figures of the last 100 years—an American hero whose life and leadership truly earned him the title “God’s Ambassador.”

Billy’s unshakeable belief in the power of God’s word to transform hearts gave hope to all who listened to his simple message: “God loves you.” He carried this message around the world through his crusades, bringing entire generations to faith in Jesus Christ.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001, America turned to Billy Graham at the National Cathedral, who told us, “God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.”

Reverend Graham would be the first to say that he did not do it alone. Before her passing, his wife Ruth was by his side through it all—a true partner, a wonderful mother, and a fellow missionary soul. He also built an international team and institution that will continue to carry on Christ’s message.

Melania and I were privileged to get to know Reverend Graham and his extraordinary family over the last several years, and we are deeply grateful for their love and support.

Billy Graham was truly one of a kind. Christians and people of all faiths and backgrounds will miss him dearly. We are thinking of him today, finally at home in Heaven.

George H W Bush also issued a statement:

Billy Graham was America’s pastor. His faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world,” Bush said. “I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. He would come to Maine to visit with Barbara and me, and he was a great sport. He loved going really fast in my boat. I guess you could say we had that in common. Then we would come home and talk about life. He was a mentor to several of my children, including the former president of the United States. We will miss our good friend forever.

It’s true. There was never a whiff of scandal around Billy Graham. God blessed him abundantly, and the Holy Spirit worked through him until the end.

CBS News discussed the long line of past presidents Graham met with:

from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, but always denied any role in setting policy saying, “I don’t advise them, I pray with them,” CBS News reported. Lyndon Johnson looked up to his close friend, the pastor. Richard Nixon asked for his counsel during Watergate. The elder Bush called Graham to the White House the night before he launched the first Gulf War. Younger President Bush has credited Graham with turning him away from drinking and towards embracing God.

These are the names of those 12 past presidents from at least the early 1950s through to the present day: Harry S Truman, Dwight D Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard M Nixon, Gerald R Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, William J Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama. That’s a mighty long list.

And he met with President Trump.

That’s 13 presidents in all.

Obama was the first sitting president to visit Graham at his home in North Carolina. That was in 2010, three years after Graham’s wife Ruth went to her heavenly rest.

CBS reported that Graham also became friends with Martin Luther King Jr about a decade before the civil rights movement took root:

In 1952 he stopped segregating his crusades and began a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“All the problems of America tonight and of the world stem from the fact that we as the human race have sinned against Almighty God,” he said in May 1997.

Such was the impact of Billy Graham’s life that flags flew at half mast in Washington DC from February 21 to March 2, the day of his funeral and burial:

Tributes from clergy

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, remembered his family’s respect for Graham’s ministry:

As anyone growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s can tell you, it was hard not to notice and be impressed by the Reverend Billy Graham,” Dolan said in a statement. “There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God. Whether it was one of his famous Crusades, radio programs, television specials, or meeting and counseling the presidents, Billy Graham seemed to be everywhere, always with the same message: Jesus is your Savior, and wants you to be happy with Him forever. As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past, and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement. May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest.

One of Graham’s grandsons, the Revd Tullian Tchividjian, noted his grandfather’s universal appeal:

My granddad wasn’t just Christian-famous, he was famous-famous, he was crossover famous.

Unfortunately, Tchividjian succumbed to temptation in his own ministry. He resigned his pastorate at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale after admitting to an extramarital affair. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) deposed him from their South Florida Presbytery as being ‘unfit for Christian ministry‘. A subsequent pastorate and outreach ministry also failed because of more sexual impropriety. In 2015, Tchividjian divorced his first wife Kim after 21 years of marriage. He married his second wife Stacie the following year. Hmm. What a contrast to his grandfather.

Honour of lying in state in Capitol Rotunda

Billy Graham was honoured greatly prior to his funeral:

This is a good photo of the exterior of the Capitol Building from Billy’s son’s — Franklin Graham’s — Samaritan’s Purse ministry:

A memorial service took place. Pictured is one of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s daughters, Lynda Bird. I remember when she and her husband married in 1967:

President Trump spoke at the service:

What follows is the text of President Trump’s address. It’s very moving — probably written by the incomparable Stephen Miller — and really expresses not only who Billy Graham was but how much he appealed to his audiences. I remember watching his Crusades when I was a child. During the first one I watched at the age of seven, I approached the television set when he made his call for people to come forward!

11:21 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell. And, most importantly, thank you to the entire Graham family for honoring us with your presence here today. Thank you.

In the spring of 1934, Billy Graham’s father allowed a group of Charlotte businessmen to use a portion of the family’s dairy farm to gather for a day of prayer.

On that day, the men prayed for the city. They prayed that, “Out of Charlotte, the Lord would raise up someone to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.”

We are here today, more than 80 years later, because that prayer was truly answered.

Billy Graham was 15 years old at the time. Just a few months later, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

That choice didn’t just change Billy’s life — it changed our lives. It changed our country, and it changed, in fact, the entire world.

The North Carolina farm boy walked out of those fields, into a great and beautiful history.

And I remember that, because my father said to me, “Come on, son” — and, by the way, he said, “Come on, mom. Let’s go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium.” And it was something very special.

But Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher. Fred Trump was a big fan. Fred Trump was my father.

In London, Tokyo, Seoul, Bogota, Moscow, New Delhi, Saigon, Johannesburg, and scores of other places all over the world, Reverend Graham shared the power of God’s word with more than 200 million people, in person, and countless others through television and radio where people loved to watch and listen.

In 1978, with the support of the Catholic Bishop who would soon become Pope John Paul II, Reverend Graham went to Poland and spoke of the meaning of the cross to a people suffering under the soulless oppression of communism.

Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, as Franklin will tell you, was always in America.

He took his message to the poorest places, to the downtrodden and to the brokenhearted, to inmates in prison, and to the overlooked and the neglected. He felt a great passion for those that were neglected.

Everywhere he went, Reverend Graham delivered the same beautiful message: God loves you. That was his message. God loves you.

We can only imagine the number of lives touched by the preaching and the prayers of Billy Graham –- the hearts he changed, the sorrows he eased, and the joy he brought to so many. The testimony is endless.

Today, we give thanks for this extraordinary life. And it’s very fitting that we do so right here in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, where the memory of the American people is enshrined.

Here in this room, we are reminded that America is a nation sustained by prayer. The painting to my left is of the pilgrims as they embarked for America, holding fast to the Bible and bowing their heads in prayer.

Along these walls, we see the faces of Americans who prayed as they stood on the Lexington Green, who prayed as they headed west, prayed as they headed into battle, and prayed as they marched for justice, and always marched for victory.

Around us stand the statues of heroes who led the nation in prayer during the great and difficult times, from Washington to Lincoln to Eisenhower to King.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you very much.

END

11:28 A.M. EST

That evening, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump hosted a dinner for the Grahams. Franklin Graham is sitting to the left of Mrs Trump (her right):

The funeral

Billy Graham’s funeral took place in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday, March 2.

His grandson Roy provided the story behind the evangelist’s simple wooden casket. Recommended video:

This was the scene under a tent at the Billy Graham Library before the funeral:

The Trumps and the Pences walked together:

The Charlotte Observer reported:

His funeral service under a massive tent at the Billy Graham Library in his hometown of Charlotte drew more than 2,000 guests, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, governors, senators, religious leaders, celebrities and longtime Graham family friends. It was the kind of star-studded turnout that would have made Graham blush, suggested some of the speakers, who lauded this pastor to presidents and everyday people for always trying to steer the attention away from himself and toward Jesus Christ.

Family members escorted Graham’s plain wooden casket into the 28,000-square-foot tent, which was meant to harken back to Graham’s 1949 crusade in a “canvas cathedral” in downtown Los Angeles that shot him to national attention.

The service lasted the planned 90 minutes. Franklin Graham, who heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association — BGEA — as well as his own Samaritan’s Purse, gave the address:

My father’s greatest longing has been granted,” the younger Graham said. “He’s in the presence of God” …

Franklin Graham recalled his father’s love of his late wife, Ruth, his sense of humor and joy in his grandchildren. “The Billy Graham that the world saw on TV, and in the big stadiums, is the same Billy Graham we saw at home,” he said. “There weren’t two Billy Grahams.”

But Graham said the late evangelist also believed in heaven and hell, and in the Bible as the infallible word of God: “He didn’t understand it all, but he sure believed it all.”

In an era of political correctness, he added, some “want you to believe there are many roads to God. It’s just not true.

“Daddy, I won’t see you on this earth again,” he ended, gazing at the casket before him, “but I will see you again, and maybe soon.”

The article concludes by stating that the Graham family and the BGEA consider the funeral to be the Last Crusade. They hope it will stimulate new interest in the Gospel.

The videos of the funeral service follow:

More on Billy Graham to follow.

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