Friday, October 26, 2012
For the last several years, I have been privileged to be the song leader for various seminars held at 'The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.' In addition, I have been blessed to play at special 'Christmas at the Cove' programs hosted by Cliff Barrows, with George Beverly Shea providing cameo performances. I have been blessed by the opportunity to partner with these amazing men, along with their impressive wives. My wife, Jennifer, and I even had the joy of meeting and ministering with Dr. Billy and his estimable bride, Ruth, who has since gone on to her eternal reward.
'The Cove' is the gift of the Graham's to the body of believers, dedicated to train people in the scriptures in order to share their faith with a needy and sin-sick world. It also serves as a place of rest and refuge for the family of God, where everyone is treated royally, like children of a king, (which indeed they are)! The hallways are filled with pictures depicting the life of Billy Graham, from past to present; display cases show mementos from their years of ministry; the decor reflects Ruth Graham's desire to make everyone who visits feel as if they are in their family home.
Should you ever decide to go there, you'll be fed with the finest of food; not only the culinary delights, but also the sumptuous servings of the Word of God, in which is our true delight! All this will be experienced in the most beautiful of settings, the rolling hills of Asheville, North Carolina!
I have so enjoyed my continuing sojourn with the good folks at The Cove. It is, indeed, as close to heaven as one can find on earth!
There is only one problem I have when I am there. I find myself surrounded by the evidences of Dr. Billy's 'life well lived!' It is awe-inspiring to trace the history of what God has done with and through him these many years. One can only marvel to observe what can be done with and through a person wholly given to the Lord and His Gospel! (And that is only the 'witness' of The Cove; there is a whole library in Charlotte testifying to the life of this ambassador for our Messiah, his family, and his ministry partners!)
My problem? I can't help looking at my life in the light of what I see there...and it's sometimes painful to consider! (As we say where I come from: Oy vey! That's Yiddish for, 'woe is me!')
The good news is that Dr. Graham never takes credit for his historic life; he always gives glory to God, exhorting people to think on what God--not he--has done. Even his autobiography bears the title, 'Just As I Am,' taken from the hymn by Charlotte Elliott that says:
'Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.'
With this title, Billy Graham is communicating to all of us that it is only the sacrifice of the savior, Yeshua (Jesus), that has made us acceptable to the Lord. None of us can glory in ourselves; only in Him who has saved us and sanctified us and 'delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love!' (Colossians 1:13)
Still...I can't help wondering if my life could have been...and could be... more fruitful, more effective for God, if only...(fill in the blank)!
Will my biography be titled: 'Just As I (Wish I Could Say) I Am?
That remains to be seen! These day I lean hard on the promise that states: 'He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ)!' (Phillipians 1:6)
However, I thought I would simply share some of my thoughts with you, my friends, with whom I have not communicated for a long while! (Sorry!) With these musings, I hope to 'nudge' myself into sharing some more in the days ahead!
Pray for Dr, Graham and his family; the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Cove; and would you please pray for me!
Jenny and I, along with our daughter, Misha, would covet your prayers, and we thank you for your faithful interest in what we are doing.
In the meantime, I will meditate on a 'hymn' from our CD, 'Hope of Glory':
'Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.' Psalm 90:12
'Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Yeshua from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Messiah Jesus, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.' (Hey, that scripture is sung on 'Hope of Glory' as well!)
Please forgive the shameless plug!!
Thanks for listening!!
Just As We Are,
Monday, February 27, 2012
I have a confession to make: I watched the 84th annual Academy Awards. I have been watching the Oscar ceremonies since I was a litttle kid. I have always loved watching them; and it's been an annual ritual for Jenny and me since we've been married!
I have another confession: I always watch with a slight tinge of 'Gee, I wish I were one of those people!' They seem so together, so talented, so beautiful...so everything I wish I were!!
I know, I know! It's silly...it's vain...it's so, well...Hollywood!
I lived in Hollywood in days gone by. I know some of the folks that are in that business. Jenny and I are good friends with one fellow who is now a movie star...and soon to be a HUGE movie star!! One of the most celebrated movie composers in the world used to play piano for 'Bert and Marty', a singing act I had way back in my youth in New York City!
I can't help thinking sometimes, while watching the Oscars, that, as Marlon Brando so famously said in a scene from 'On the Waterfront': "I coulda been somebody; I coulda been a contender!" If only I'd done things a little differently, if I'd met the right people, if I'd worked a little harder...!! Perhaps I coulda had what those lucky folks have!!
Yet, strangely enough, after watching this year's presentation, I found myself grateful to have something many of them don't seem to have: SHAME!
Let me explain! I know that Yeshua---Jesus---took away my shame when He died on that cursed tree! I realize I am 'saved by grace' and don't have to bear the shame of my transgressions against my God! I know...and rejoice...in all that! That's not what I'm talking about!
True: Many folks who win the coveted Academy Award thank their peers, their wives and families, their mom's and dad's and...very occasionally...their God! There are numerous hard working, down to earth, truly professional people who just happen to work in the movie business.
Then there are the others; the ones whom the world adores and strives to be like; the ones who are the reason we watch the Oscars in the first place! The movie STARS!
Even amongst the stars there are strong families, normal children, healthy relationships with friends, family and co-workers. That is truly admirable in that environment, and they are to be commended for it.
But then there are the others. The ones over whom the media fawns and the public clamors to see and be around. It's amazing to observe people who follow Hollywood celebrity; you know---the ones craving to know every detail about stars' lives, existing vicariously through them, hoping to maybe...someday...hopefully have a life even remotely as glorious and glamorous as theirs! You know...people like me!! (Kidding...I HOPE!)
So, I reflected on this year's festivities, as one does the morning after the night before. For some reason, this time, I couldn't help thinking that the hype about the Academy Awards exceeded the actual event. There was a camera shot of a well known---but not particularly celebrated actor---sitting in the hall, not surrounded by adoring fans, empty seats flanking his, and surrounded by what seemed to be a noticable lack of excitement. It was just a guy---in a theatre---watching the proceedings, registering nothing notable on his face, either of pleasure or displeasure.
Up in the front rows, however, were other celebrities, movie moguls and screen stars. Amongst that group were folks living together outside of marriage, having children outside of wedlock and engaging in 'alternative' lifestyles. Yet...they sat there...smiling and taking it all in, being feted by the press, honored by their industry, celebrated by an adoring public worldwide.
I'm not begrudging them that. As a matter of fact, they should enjoy their reward here..in this age...in this world. For there is a time coming when they...as well as all of us...will stand before our Creator and give an accounting for the lives they---and we--- have lived here on earth. (Gulp!)
In that day, 'Oscar' will be of no help to them. Only Yeshua--- Jesus---is up to that role!
In that day, we will all cast our 'crowns'...and our gold statuettes, if we have them...down at His feet and bow and declare Him, LORD!
Don't get me wrong! I am not sitting in judgment of them. I STILL fancy what it would be like to be part of that world. But, as once was said by the biggest star of them all...the Bright and Morning Star, in fact...: "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man---(or a woman)---give in exchange for his (or her) own soul?
That's where the aforementioned 'shame' comes in! Believe me: I KNOW I will have much to answer for when the envelope is opened and MY name is called! Let's put it this way: I don't see myself giving any long speeches thanking the 'academy' for my award!
Perhaps, in that final day, there will be some 'reward' coming my way. I certainly hope so! Should there be, I will accept it on behalf of my Lord and Savior who--through His mercy and grace---made my performance---such as it is---possible!
But I know this above all: I will be truly grateful I was a person who had the capacity to be ashamed of my sin!! Yes---I mean sin!! We don't talk much of it these days, but that's what it is! Just plain old sin! And I am prone to it and guilty of it! Apart from the shed blood of the Man from Galilee, the perfect Son of G-d, I would be lost forever! But I'm not.
Furthermore, I have no ability to judge who, in that august Academy gathering, is lost---or found! This I know, however: the best thing that could happen to their career---and their lives--- would be, not the recognition of their accomplishments by their peers, but a recognition of their accountability to the God who created them!
I can't believe I'm saying this; I who am no celebrity, not famous, not one of the 'beautiful people': How sad that they can receive the applause of men, telling them that they're great, and not feel the slightest bit of 'shame' over the lives they are living, in front of God and everybody!
It's not that they're bad people. It's not that they don't have a heart and are not trying to do their best.
It's not that I am any better than they!
It's simply this: I give thanks to God that I am sorry for my sin and can feel shame for all the ways I have not lived up to His holy standards, bringing dishonor to myself and to His precious Name! I am glad I never 'succeeded' in 'show biz' in such a way that I might never come face to face with my sin---and find forgiveness in my Messiah, Jesus!
I can't say I won't watch the Academy Awards again. I can't say I won't be feel tempted to feel a bit envious of celebrities and privately wonder what it would be like to be a movie star. I can't say I wouldn't like to have the experience of saying: 'I want to thank the Academy for this award!'
I simply know this: I will be FOREVER grateful that I bowed my knee to the Lord of everybody and everything---even Hollywood---and pray that, when that final 'award' ceremony happens, I will be able to walk that carpet---'red' with the blood of my Redeemer---with those of whom it is said: ''Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness like the STARS forever and ever." (Daniel 12:2)
May I hear, after it is said, 'The envelope, please!': "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"
That is the one and only true award worth having!
May it be---for all of us!