Joshua, Victory Against All Odds
He lived almost 100 years (1918-2018) and he was very mortal with shortcomings like all of us, but he was a great force for good. He preached the saving message of Jesus Christ with clarity for almost a century. Thousands trusted Christ because of him. Yes, it is pretty obvious that some made false professions. I suspect every preacher who has ever won souls to Christ has seen false professions. Not all who followed Jesus were genuine. Billy Graham touched millions of lives; all over the world!
Through the years I have heard him blasted by lots of people, many of them preachers who were close to me. Much of the criticism has come from people who never made much difference for the better in their entire lives. It’s so easy to be negative, critical and full of cheap talk than it is to see the good in someone and get up and do something of value. In my opinion, one of the biggest, most self-destructive flaws of Christians (especially preachers) through the centuries has been their propensity to zero-in in attack mode on each other, fellow Christians who are 98% like themselves. All they can see is the 2% where they disagree. The molehill becomes a mountain. Satan is reaching the masses with atheism, Islam and salvation by works; Bible-believing Christians are fighting over the mechanics of how to get missionaries to the field, the Lord’s Supper and church music; gagging at gnats and swallowing camels. I am not saying that secondary issues are unimportant; I am saying that too many Christians are woefully weak in cooperation, dwelling together in unity and respecting other Christians with whom there’s a 2% difference. It seems to me that we’re people of war who would much prefer to fight each other than real enemies of the cause of Christ.
I wish I could touch the hem of the garment of Billy Graham. He was a Christian giant among us. I am grateful to God for him and his Christian impact on this world. I feel privileged to have lived during his lifetime. I have asked God to give me a portion of the spirit which was Billy Graham.
God called me to preach when I was 13 years old. I’m thankful He did. In those early years, God allowed me to be the pastor of three small churches, and work as a pastor’s assistant in a fourth. In all of those cases, I was either in school or had to work at a secular job to pay the bills.
In October 1964, I became the pastor of the 11th Street Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas. It was a full-time pastorate, but barely; Mrs. Hutson and I lived on $125 per week, and paid all of our bills including rent and taxes. About that time, God brought me into the presence of several spiritual giants in the ministry: H. Frank Fort, Kermit Johnson, Nick Michalinos, Don Warren, Eddie Atkinson and others. It didn’t take me very long to realize that they were in a league far beyond me. I will never forget the day Kermit Johnson asked me to preach at a Preachers’ Fellowship in Beaumont where most of those men were. Talk about scared to death and intimidated! I had heard them preach, and listened-in on their Bible discussions. They were kind to me, but I have to tell you that it was a very discouraging time. I felt neither fit nor qualified to be a preacher.
Soul-searching! Yes, lots of deep soul-searching! I knew God had called me to preach, but I was also humbled by how inadequate I was for the task. Back then after lots of thought, meditation and prayer, I made a decision that has forged the direction of my ministry. I knew that I could not measure up to what other preachers could do, but I also knew that I could do all that I could do. I didn’t have their charisma, their gifted memories, their oratory skills or their great Bible knowledge. But, I could work hard every day; just as hard as they could. And, I could love people and really care. I could study hard and pray diligently. I could give God my best efforts. Routinely! I could make routine excellence the aim of my life. I would give myself to detail, and doing things right. My motives would be right, and I would not give myself to self-exultation. Back then I decided I would seek to be God’s man, as much as humanly possible give Him the best I have and let Him do with me as He might see fit.
I am content to be who I am. I am grateful to God that He does not expect me to be someone else. I am convinced that He only expects me to be the best that I can be on a routine basis. I am glad to be in His hand, and know that He is my final judge.
“Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well,” Psalm 84:6. The Hebrew word Baca carries with it the idea of weeping and sorrow. “The valley of Baca” is a literal valley in the Holy Land; by way of application it is a valley of deep sorrow in a person’s life.
When Moses and Israel were poised to depart from Egypt, God said to Moses, “The land, whither ye go to process it, is a land of hills and valleys,” Deuteronomy 11:11. Wow! That’s life: always ups and downs, hills and valleys everywhere, hardly ever any level ground! Everywhere I go there are tales of sorrow and suffering. So many people are hurting: sickness and death, debilitating diseases and injuries, financial stresses, addictions, shattered dreams, marriages in deep trouble, injustices everywhere, a world in which political sanity seems to have gone away. No doubt many of you who read these lines have a sack full of stories. You know what it is to be in “the valley of Baca.”
There are always two ways to react to trouble. The more common way, even for Christians, is to gripe and complain. It is so easy to see nothing but the bad. Lots of people blame God and get mad at Him about where they are. They forget that all of the miseries and troubles that we face in this world were the decision of man, not God. God warned of the consequences of failure to live life His way; Adam didn’t listen. We are all caught up in the mix; we’re in a world of troubles. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble,” Job 14:1. Look around. Like it or not, that is the way it is; no one can escape trouble. People who think they will get through their lives in only ease and comfort are dreamers, out of touch with reality. Griping and moaning doesn’t change a thing, but that’s how too many people do it.
Every now and then someone in “the valley of Baca” digs “a well.” Instead of continuously sucking on his thumb, he decides to do something positive. Yes, really! He decides to leave the pity party, and make a difference for the better. He knows that in time some other life traveler will pass through the same valley where he is. So, he digs a well. Maybe like blind Fanny Crosby, he writes, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long.” That’s not the only well she dug.
How refreshing it is to stop by an old well! Somebody was there, hurting with sorrow and full of tears just like you; but he left a well, a place where you can be encouraged and refreshed. Out of his necessity came a tool; out of his tears came a song or a book or a sermon that has touched the lives of countless weary travelers including you.
Are you digging wells? You are not the first person to pass through your valley, and you won’t be the last. Make the most of where you are. Don’t just sit around and cry; dig a well.
I highly recommend an excellent Ravi Zacharias book by the same title. Though this is not a review of that book, comparing Jesus and Christianity with other religious concepts is a provocative and highly enlightening experience. I challenge every one of you to try it. Compare biblical Christianity with atheism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, communism, socialism, Hedonism and all the others.
Ironically many of the basic positions of Christianity are now political issues. They were biblical positions long before they reached the political arena. The God of the Bible was here first, and addressed social issues long before politicians and professors woke up.
As far back as Genesis 4, God made it clear that life is precious and sacred in His sight. With God, black lives matter; and so do white lives, red lives, yellow lives, old lives and yes, babies! Not just unborn deer, tigers, pandas, and elephants, but baby people. Mothers and their health are also very important, but so are their babies. Take care of women, but also take care of babies. One doesn’t have to die at the hands of the other. With God, life is not cheap. “Thou shalt not kill” is the Christian position on abortion and euthanasia.
The sanctity of marriage and the home is a big issue on God’s list. According to God, a marriage is a legal and binding contract between one man and one woman. The home is the basic brick in any society. When the home goes down, all kinds of social ills proliferate: violence, disrespect, irresponsibility, lawlessness, poverty and oppression. The home is the place where life’s most basic education occurs. There is where people learn respect, sharing, giving and to love one another. The home is life’s incubator for the needed skills of life.
Love and respect are uniquely Christian traits: love for God and gratitude for his goodness, love for others and love for the earth and its creatures. Jesus said, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Christianity teaches you not to steal their car or sex from their wife. Christianity says you should not trash and pollute the earth or mistreat animals.
Another major Christian position is personal responsibility. The Bible teaches that we are all accountable for our own actions. What does that do to Freud and the blame game? Christianity teaches us to police ourselves. In societies where Christianity prevails, the need for policeman and prisons is much less. God is no respecter of persons, and we shouldn’t be either. The Christian way is for people to receive jobs and promotions upon the strength of ability and performance, not gender or skin color. Talk about a blow to racism, Christianity is the biggest hammer of all. What do you suppose this basic Christian position does to affirmative-action, and to welfare for those who are not responsible enough to get a job?
Then, there is obedience to civil government. Yes, Christianity says, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Real, practicing Christians pay their taxes and obey the law. They don’t blow up non-Christians, loot or shoot innocent people. Obviously, Jesus stands mighty tall right here.
Consider liberty of conscious and freedom. Christians believe that all men should be free to choose, and that no man has a right to impose himself and his beliefs on others. This eliminates totalitarian systems, civil or religious. Inherent in the concept of freedom is a free enterprise system of government where every man is free to rise or fall on his own.
There are really only two world views: theistic and atheistic. Christians believe that God made the world, and that we are accountable to him for our behavior in it. The basis for morality and a peaceful, law-abiding society is anchored in the fixed, eternal authority of the Word of God.
How will Christianity impact a society where it is practiced? It will produce love and integrity. It will produce men and women who are honest, who pay their bills and who give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. It will cut down on strife, confusion, division and violence. In their places it will produce friendships, harmony, cooperation and peace.
Christianity generates forgiveness and teaches men how to resolve differences. It teaches men to be kind, to give and to return good for evil. It makes men responsible, loyal, moral and unselfish. It keeps men from cheating, stealing, bullying and abusing drugs and other people. It softens hearts and generates love and compassion. Out of Christianity grows respect, hard work and civil harmony. Yes indeed! Christianity is good for any society. The impacts are good, like medicine to hurting people.
Ironically, Christianity is increasingly held in scorn among us. Christians are called the radical religious right. Somehow, we’re bad and the concepts we embrace are to be rejected. My how this world needs more Christianity, not less! America could use a whole lot more honest, law-abiding citizens who treat others right; and a whole lot less killing, cheating, drug-abuse, violence and downright ugliness.
I know that not all that parades in the name of Christianity really is Christian. Sadly, there are wolves among the sheep, tares in the wheat, pretenders and hypocrites! They hurt our cause and give Christianity a bad name. Don’t judge Christianity by what you see in some; you find real Christianity in the Bible. And, it is not only beautiful, but it works. Give it a chance. It will change you for the better. It works here, and here after! No other belief system offers even the slightest hope beyond the grave. Christianity does. Come to Jesus who is the only true God among all the gods, and he will change your life for the better while you live here on earth and then take you to heaven when you leave here. I challenge you to give him an honest try.
Oh how easy it is to forget where we fit in the overall scheme of things! Selfishness and self-sufficiency is a disease with which all of us are fatally infected. Me. Mine. What I want. My way. My car. My money. My home. My job. My wife. My time. Jesus once asked one of us, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Luke 12:20.
The truth is that we are all stewards, not owners. That’s right. In the big scheme of things, not one of us owns one thing. God owns everything including the air we breathe, the earth where we reside, time itself and even us. We didn’t bring even one penny into this world, and we won’t take even one penny out. We’re just passing through, privileged to enjoy a few of the things that belong to God the owner. When you back off a bit and look at the true picture, it becomes obvious that every moment is precious. Yes. Precious! Call it a lifetime trip or the trip of a lifetime; either way, life is quite a trip.
The older I get the more keenly aware of stewardship I become. Managing what God lets me have is a daily balancing act, especially time management. From the deepest recesses of my soul I want to use wisely all he allows me to touch. It is not uncommon for people to become somewhat irritated with me because I’m not as readily available as they think I should be. They can’t always instantly reach me by phone, and I don’t return their call quickly enough. They want me to call or visit someone, make a hospital or shut-in call or be somewhere or do something. Usually on their timetable. With all the preaching and seminar work I do (all of which requires lots of preparation, usually many hours), the books and other materials I write, the travel and the help and advice I give to people all across America and often foreign countries, I often find myself overwhelmed. There’s more work than there is boy, not to mention a wife and family and a seemingly incessant increase in time spent in doctor’s offices.
More and more this forces me to view my time and other resources in light of the eternal, what my owner would have me as a steward do with His resources including the time He allows me to have. Only He knows how much I want to make it count! My use of it may sometimes disappoint and irritate others, but more than anything else I want my stewardship to be acceptable to God. If I have disappointed you, please forgive me. Sometimes my days and weeks end well before I complete all that is before me. Thanks to all of you who have cut me a little slack and been so patient and understanding. Pray that I will give the very best I have to my Master, and be a good steward of the resources He has entrusted to me. I am well aware that the day of accounting for my stewardship is not far away.
The incessant parade of counterfeit ways to be right with God and soothe the conscience never ceases to amaze me. Quit your sins. Be baptized. Baptize the babies. Go to church. Join a church. Be a good person. Be sincere. Be zealous. Work hard. Sacrifice yourself. Crawl on your bare knees over rocks to a holy shrine. Give lots of money. Pray The Sinner’s Prayer. And now the wave is, you don’t need a church or a particular religion; just be spiritual.
No need for a church or any formal religion or religious activities. In fact, “We don’t like religion. We don’t need it. We have our own spirituality.” On its Today show, NBC recently aired a series legitimizing this kind of thinking. I’ve heard it for years, “God and I have an understanding. I don’t believe in organized religion. I don’t need a church. I have my own arrangement with God.”
I’m reminded of one of Israel’s lowest points: a time of lawlessness, violence and utter chaos. The prevailing idea of the day is summed up in Judges 21:6. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Sounds like today; every man insists on being his own spiritual authority. “No church, no preacher, no Bible is going to tell me what to do. That’s between me and God.”
The fact is that had not God told us, not one of us would know what He thinks, what is right or wrong or what it takes to be right with Him. If He hadn’t told us, it would be any man’s guess and no man’s opinion would be any better than any others. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33. But, He has told us. Talk about presumptuous and egotistical, to bypass and ignore the Bible where God has clearly stated who He is and what it takes to be right with Him and in turn substitute your own ideas about Him exalts folly!
Thank God for a free country where any person can believe anything he chooses even when he is blatantly wrong, but do not forget that believing something doesn’t make it right even when you are passionate and sincere. God is the author of and final authority on truth: who He is, what is right and wrong, what is takes to be right with Him. It is pretty obvious that people all over the world have their own ideas about God, and the general consensus is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, even if you don’t believe there is a God. Just be deeply spiritual. That’s the only thing that really counts, and in the end it will all work out.
God said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” Proverbs 14:12. It’s not up to each person to come up with his own scheme about God, to write his own code about what spirituality is and how to be right. To be right you have to think God’s way and do things His way; and it is in the Bible that He tells humanity who He is, how he thinks and how to do things right.
All concepts out of step with His will ultimately fail. Sadly all who embrace concepts which are not founded in the Scriptures are doomed to perish with their homemade concepts. It takes more than a baptism, a church membership, a parade of good works, a prayer and being spiritual to be right with God. No one is right with God who has not had a personal meeting with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, God is the author of organized religion. Yes. According to Him, every person who personally meets Christ should give his life to serving Christ in one of His churches. No one who fails to do that is right with God.
Improvement. Doing better. It’s a part of all of us. Coaches work to get every ounce of performance they can out of every player. Coaches, players and fans alike dream of going to the top: the state championship, the Final Four, the Super Bowl. There’s something about J.J. Watt that inspires all of us to be our best.
You hear a lot about it as a New Year cycles across the horizon. Resolutions to eat better, to lose weight, to quit bad habits and to get into shape. The desire to do better gets really cranked up at church. The Rev thunders about the need to better serve the Lord. He trounces dead beat and half-hearted Christianity, and we know he’s right. There’s conviction. We’re at a natural doorstep of new beginnings and opportunities to straighten up and get things right. So with considerable emotion, we go down front and promise God things are going to be different. This time, we’re for real. We’re going to do it. We’re going to do better. We say it in our hearts and out loud to those around us.
History has proven that most of the time our pious promises don’t hold up. But, they make us feel good. We thought about it and have a good heart. Our intentions are good. In well over half a century in the ministry, I have heard lots of promises. My! They really roll out when people think they’re about to die. At a time like that, they’ll promise God just about anything. If He’ll spare their lives and heal them, they will serve Him faithfully forever. I am sad to say that I’ve heard a lot more talk than I’ve seen follow-through.
Someone has wisely said that talk is cheap. It shouldn’t be, but too often it is. I rejoice when people become convicted about where they are in life and when they aspire to do better. I say, “Yes. Do it. That’s God’s way. He wants growth in all of us. It’s not His will that any of us plateau and stalemate.” At the same time I am wondering how the person with the good intentions is going to get it done. Has he taken a serious look in his mirror and diagnosed his situation? Does he really see his weaknesses and where he needs to improve? Is he truly honest about where he is? What is he going to improve: his attitude, his priorities and his integrity? Is he going to become kinder, more caring and competent and a more effective worker? Is he going to treat his mate better? What about the people at work? And, the neighbors? What’s he going to do about that loose tongue, those irresponsible ways and that self-centered approach to life?
I’m also wondering about his game plan. I’m curious to know how he plans to get from point A to point Z (or even B). Is he going to get into the Bible and seek God’s counsel on his issues? Is he going to seek out people with proven track records and let them help him? Is he going to deliberately address his weakness and work to do better in specific areas? I know for sure that until a person gets specific about areas of need, little if any improvement is going to occur.
Change for the better is a wonderful concept, but usually it is nothing more than an empty pipe dream. There must be more than good intentions and empty rhetoric. Vain words and a trip down front won’t cut it. Improvement involves serious intentions followed by lots of hard work. Athletes who win gold medals pay a high price: sweat, endless practice, long hours, dedication and plenty of sacrifice. Everybody wants a great body with a gold medal around the neck. Not very many are willing to pay the price. It is easy to say, I want to improve and be a better person. It is not so easy to get serious about it.
Christmas is really about Jesus Christ. He left heaven where all power, glory and praise was His and came to this earth where He was rejected, hated and abused beyond adequate description. The Bible puts it this way. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” Philippians 2:5-8.
Imagine that! He was the creator of all things. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made,” John 1:3. He is the “Almighty,” Revelation 1:8. There can be many who are mighty, but there is only one Almighty. Jesus Christ was (and is) “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords,” 1 Timothy 6:15. Nobody made Him come here and go through that absolutely horrendous, bloody, mind-boggling ordeal. He did it voluntarily, of His own free will. Hear it in His own words. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” Matthew 28:18. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself,” John 10:18.
What would move Him to do such a thing? Just one thing: His love for you and me. Yes! “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” John 3:16. God knew that all of us are sinners and that sin has consequences. “The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23. That’s not merely a grave, it’s separation from God. Unless sin is properly addressed, the separation is eternal in a lake of fire. No man is capable of properly addressing his sins. Only the blood of an innocent, sinless sacrifice can do it. If the sin problem damning every man was to be addressed, God would have to personally address it. Only He is sinless and qualified. Would He give Himself in the place of sinners or would He stand by and let all of them perish in the lake of fire? We know the answer to that question. He’d willingly and voluntarily do for them what they could not do for themselves. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for us . . . God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:6, 8. What made Him do it? Love, not for the lovely and good; but love for us as unlovely as we are! “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us,” 1 John 3:16.
Oh what a joyous season Christmas is! We love the special time with family and other loved ones. We make little chubs out of ourselves with all that great food. Who doesn’t like to be remembered with special cards and gifts? So much glitter, the festivities, a little time off from work! I love those beautiful Christmas trees and all those decorations. The music is great, especially the carols. The kids are all full of anticipation. The excitement is contagious. Yes, it’s a great, great season!
But, the bottom line is Jesus Christ! Christmas is really about Him. Our hope is in Him. If He had not come, Christmas and life would be empty, meaningless. There would be no hope, especially beyond the grave. It would all be about right here; and with aging, disease, death and a world that is more and more dangerous and out of control there couldn’t be very much joy. The good news is that He did come; and while He was here He died on the cross, went to the grave and three days late conquered it in resurrection. Yes, that’s really good news. Upon the strength of what He did, every man can have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Someday the body will go back to the earth from which it came, but the spirit of all who come to Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life will go to be with God forever.
In view of His coming and sacrifice Jesus said, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish,” John 10:28. Friend, don’t miss Christmas. It’s about Jesus Christ doing for you what you cannot do for yourself. You have one and only one lifetime to get it right. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,” Revelation 22:17.
Everybody has a stake in the police business. Yes, everybody including you. Most of us see law enforcement as us and them. Yes, there is the official law enforcement community at various levels: city police, sheriff, state troopers, game wardens, National Guard, the military and the list continues. Yet, peacekeeping is everybody’s business; mine and yours.
The need for law and order is embedded in every fabric of society. Even little babies need someone to help them with boundaries: fire is hot, poisons can kill, the rights of others must be respected. Without boundaries they become hazards to themselves and others. Homes, schools, businesses, churches, governments and even police forces cannot function very well without some measure of law and order.
At the heart of law and order are such factors as honesty, integrity, justice, personal responsibility and accountability, respect for the rights and property of others and obedience to God-ordained authority. (Oh yes, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus Christ was right in the bull’s-eye of where life really is!)
Just how do you insure “honesty, integrity, justice, personal responsibility and accountability, respect for the rights and property of others and obedience to God-ordained authority” in “homes, schools, businesses, churches governments and even police forces?” Do you keep raising taxes and hire more law enforcement officers? Will more and tougher laws do it? Is the answer stiffer penalties and more incarceration facilities? No, no, no! We all know better.
It is obvious that law enforcement starts in the heart. (Oh yes; there’s that Jesus stuff again.) Law, order and peace come when people learn to police themselves. Their own honesty (not a policeman) keeps them from taking what is not theirs. A bicycle in the yard or an unlocked car or home is safe. They don’t cheat on others by cutting in line: at the cafeteria or on the freeway. It is not a contract that makes them pay their bills. On time! It’s their own heart that makes them tell the truth and treat other people with respect and kindness. Before God their own heart moves them to do the right thing.
What happens to a society that leaves God out of the equation? Look around. America has been moving away from God for a long time. One of the ramifications is a diminishing of self-policing. With the diminishing of self-policing has come a steady rise in lawlessness, violence and civil disorder at every level of society: the breakup of homes, vastly increased crime, bigger and beefed up police forces at all levels, more incarceration facilities and a huge tax burden.
It is the personal responsibility of every person to police himself. Failure to do that ultimately breaks a society. As fewer and fewer people police themselves lawlessness, violence, bedlam and chaos grow to an unsustainable level. Usually a bloodbath takes place and a dictator with an iron fist steps up; everybody loses.
Who is your policeman? Who keeps you honest and doing the right thing? No Christian should need a policeman or a contract. Love for our God is enough. Oh how our world needs more Christians; not professors who wear the name but are void of the earmarks, but real Christians whose lives have been changed from the inside out by a personal meeting in the heart with Jesus Christ!