Billy Graham: a Singapore pastor’s tribute

Gravestone of Billy Graham

So he was buried yesterday. Billy Graham went home to glory at the great old age of 99. I remembered the National Stadium in 1978. I was trained to be a counsellor. One of thousands who were instructed to walk down to the green field when Rev Graham gave his invitation to the audience to receive Christ. Hundreds streamed down to the strains of “Just As I Am”. I did not counsel anyone. Nor prayed with anyone. But I remembered the stadium was packed with people and the choir was huge.

I remembered that months before the evangelistic crusades a team had come to talk to pastors and to share their hopes and plans. It took months of hard work to galvanise the churches, train counsellors, the choir, ushers and to rally prayers for the crusades. It was my fifth year as an enthusiastic believer and I was happy to attend the training and participate in the meetings.

To me it is plain to all that Billy Graham is the greatest evangelist of the 20th Century. His messages were persuasive, powerful and impactful. I was surprised at the compactness of his preaching. It never felt lengthy or draggy and yet he never left the important things unsaid. In fact you felt his gospel was marked by simplicity, effectiveness and sincerity. He keeps the main things the main things, and kept them fundamentally orthodox, and never majored on the minors.

I salute Billy Graham for his godliness and integrity. He was a man of simple devotional habits. He read the Bible regularly and he prayed. He has no secret techniques. He loved God and kept himself faithful to His Word. He lived out what he preached: he was a man of integrity.

I like it that he lived modestly without extravagance or unseemly flaunting of wealth or fame. He did not accumulate great possessions but neither was he a pauper. He lacked nothing and was well off. He lived above any accusation of financial or sexual impropriety. No one could accuse him of taking advantage of his large and loyal following that he had built over many decades of faithful ministry, operating under a board that managed financial affairs of his world wide ministry.

He was faithful to his heavenly call to preach the gospel to all the world. He stuck to his mission. With his fame and the vast financial resources and trust that he had built it would have been easy for him to be diverted to other challenging, interesting and inspiring projects but nothing deterred him from his focus on declaring God’s good news. He will certainly hear his Master say, Well done thou good and faithful servant. Something we should all aspire and desire for our lives too: steadfast obedience to God’s call.

I have read biographies about him but wished that one day his journals could be made available. I wish to see the real man – the struggles, the ambiguity, the sorrows, the temptations, the failures. The Billy painted by his biographers shows the public man but does not contain enough to understand the real man. A fuller picture of his struggles and mistakes would make his future biographies much more enriching, nourishing and encouraging for a new generation of evangelists and spiritual leaders.

Thank you Sir, for leaving us a legacy the church could be proud of.

Holy Week: contemplative and charismatic

The theme of our Holy Week was The Gethsemane Journey. Can the Pentecostal and contemplative blend? Why not? Although  the practices of the Pentecostal and the contemplative seem to be incompatible opposites they actually enrich and deepen each other! I saw this in our experience of Holy Week 2017. I handed the planning to our young pastoral staff: Ethel, Tom and Sarah. I told them the parameters was that we share with the church different practices of prayer both contemplative and charismatic. This was what they came up with.

Monday: Lectio Divina

Tuesday: Praying the Psalms

Wednesday: Prophetic prayer

Thursday: Intercessory prayer

Each evening would begin with time for people to be still and wait on God in silence with background instrumentals played over the speakers. Then there would be brief explanations of the prayer practice we would be doing. Followed by an hour for people to actually enter into the practice of prayer. The last segment would be a partaking of Holy Communion.

The worship hall would be made conducive with dim lights, devotional  instrumental music (except of the last evening when we had a live band), and the hall would be cleared of the usual auditorium seating so people could sit anywhere on the floor or chairs along the edges.

Personally I enjoyed each and every evening of Holy Week. It was no chore. The Lord was present each night to impart different insights and experiences. The first night a Scripture portion lighted up and shifted my posture towards a ministry matter. The second night I felt I was crying out to the Lord on behalf of the sick. The third night, I composed and sent prophetic prayers and words to three friends. The last night, I had to facilitate the intercession evening. However I enjoyed the soaking session with the live worship band. Whether contemplative or charismatic practices are used the common element is the presence and power of God.

Some of the participants who attended the Holy Week wrote about their experiences in this article in our church website: Holy Week: The Gethsemane Journey.

The whole Lent and Holy Week can possibly be a seasonal “curriculum” for personal and church renewal. How does your church use this season for God’s glory? Share with the readers what your church has done.

Appreciation Sunday for Cell Leaders

Praying for the cell leaders
Praying for the cell leaders

Today’s Sunday Worship Service was devoted to encouraging and affirming and blessing our cell leaders for their works of faith, attitude of hope and love for God’s people. We had a meaningful, wonderful and inspiring morning. These were some of the things we did:

  • We let everyone know that we were going to appreciate the the cell leaders and reaffirm the importance of cells in spirituality.
  • The 25 minute sermon on Matthew 6:34 was a word in season for the cell leaders and members. A sermon about the purpose of cell groups is so hackneyed we decided not to do it. Ps Thomas spoke on “Living in the Present”, an exhortation to live fully in the present, and not to be stuck in the past, or to live in anxiety about the future.
  • A new member, Suling, shared with the congregation her thoughts about why the cell group was so beneficial for her growth.
  • Our youth worker Ethel Cannon-Shin shared how the new commandment of Jesus in John 13:34,35 should be the bedrock of the cell and how participation in a cell provides community.
  • We showed a video that stitched together every cell groups’ words of appreciation for their cell leaders. This was a clincher and it affirmed and energised every the cell leader.
  • We called all the cell leaders out to the front and asked all the cell members to gather around them and pray for them. Each cell leader received a gift of appreciation.
  • We had some special light refreshments: ang ku kueh, with a tortoise impressed upon the cake, to symbolise longevity. We do hope the cell leaders will be sustained by the grace of God, and the support of the cell core team, and will continue serving and leading for many years.

How does your church recognise, appreciate and celebrate the cell leaders’ contribution to church spirituality? Do use the comment box.

Cell appreciation from Tom Cannon on Vimeo.