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.

Incarnation: God made flesh

Christmas is over.  I am still meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation. God made flesh. Lived among us. Moved into our neighbourhood as The Message paraphrases it.

It fills me with wonder that Jesus had to be God-man: fully man and fully God. Fully man because only the life of a human, lived perfectly and sinlessly, could be spared the wrath of God and therefore be a substitute for another sinful human being.

Jesus had to be fully God too for his substitutionary death to be of infinite worth and therefore capable of paying for the sins of the whole world past, present and future.

And after Christ has died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life, and ascended to the right hand of God, he exists in that fully God fully human form. He had not shed aside his humanity like a used shirt. It has become a part of the Godhead.

He had taken on humanity so that we could take on divinity. Union with God in the newly renovated earth and heaven will demonstrate God’s purpose of healing and reconciliation that extends to the whole of creation, uniting all things to Christ.

Trying to find my own words to express this mystery as I see it thus far, and the panorama and vista is mind-blowing!

What do you see of the incarnation?

A Great Bible Reading Program for 2017

It has been some years since I went through large chunks of scriptures. In 2016 I was meditating on short passages from the Revised Common Lectionary for the public reading of Scriptures in worship services.

There were the usual readings from Psalms, the Old Testament, the Gospels, and other New Testament readings. Typically about four passages. I settle on the ones that caught my attention and stayed there to hear and see what the Lord had for me.

U versionThis new year I began a new habit: reading the whole Bible in a year. I downloaded a Bible app called the YouVersion. Then I chose a reading plan called Bible in one year 2017 in which Nicky Gumbel, of Alpha Course fame, makes comments on every passage.

bble plan

Instead of reading, I listened to the audio readings. I chose the NIVUK version which has audio support and a very good reader. Listening to the scriptures has been a refreshing change for me.

The challenge is that it is difficult to switch from reading to listening. The mind wanders too. However the more I listened the more I enjoyed this way of learning even though it was not my preferred input.

The Old Testament scriptures were heard by the people of God. There was a great tradition of orality. People did not own Bibles. The printing press had not been invented yet. Scriptures were listened to in the Temple and in the synagogues. For the first several centuries A.D. it was like that too. The Old and the New Testament were heard in house churches. That is why the promise in book of Revelation is for those who heard the apocalypse read to them. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3 ESV)

I enjoyed going through large segments of Genesis and Job recently. They give me the big picture narrative. The context was clearer. I still got lost in Job, with the endless cycle of arguments and debate, but what helped to supplement this was a YouTube book survey that gave me an overview of the whole book. Its titled Read the Scriptures series. Here is a sample: JOB.

I had to refer to this survey twice as Job is an often misunderstood book and I found this to be one of the best overview of Job I have ever come across. And its done succinctly and pictorially and expertly. The Bible Project, under which this Read the Scripture series belong to, covers all the books of the Bible and more.

What a great study program then it is to go through the whole Bible in a year and along the way do the relevant Bible overviews of the books you are currently reading! Its a great way of equipping, of feeding oneself, of knowing scriptures better.

Though I listen to large chunks each day I listen attentively for a word, verse, or idea that catches my attention and meditate on that through the day. Like a burning bush, I let it speak to me, and reveal God to me.

I am doing this with the church colleagues and the people I am mentoring and we have just begun a year long journey. Pray for us. Better still join us on an exciting and challenging journey.