Monday, March 12, 2018

It's a Slow Slide Away From God

There’s something quite contemporary about the book of Amos, even though it was written 760 years before Christ. God sent Amos to speak to the people of Israel, because they had forgotten the Lord.

The people in the capital city of Samaria had winter houses and summer houses. They had houses of ivory. They had great houses. It seems they believed then what we believe today: real property is a safeguard against future troubles. People talk about how investment in real estate is the way to go because, “They’re not making any more of it.” In Samaria in the 8th century B.C., the economy was booming, and the world was their oyster. They slept on couches or beds while most of Israel slept on the ground. They didn’t lack for a thing. When they got tired of living in their summer house, they moved to their winter house. Life was good. They just had one problem, and it was unavoidable: God. Oh, and Amos, this pesky shepherd-turned-prophet. He says, “You like your houses? Well, God is going to destroy every one of them. Your summer house. Winter house. Great house, ivory house. They will all be laid low.”

Is that because God is against people owning a home? Of course not. Is God against people having possessions? No! Is God mad at wealthy people? No. But the question is not how much you own, but whether what you have owns you. For when accumulation of more wealth becomes the trajectory of our lives, we are in trouble. That’s when we pick up our bags at “Consuming to Live Lane” and move to “Living to Consume Court.” That’s when we find ourselves not satisfied with our lifestyle and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level, the next tax bracket, the next social status. What we live for then, as Francis Schaeffer warned us about in the 1960’s, is “personal peace and affluence.” When that is our goal in life, we are sliding away from God and do not even realize it. What God teaches us through the book of Amos is this: wealth can never be our security. Riches cannot protect our souls.

What happens to people, what happens to a nation, that becomes consumed with possessions, and cares only about accumulating more? God answers that question in the book of Amos, as well. He says, “They do not know how to do right.” It is a growing trend in our nation today, isn’t it? Many people no longer ask, “What is the right thing to do?” Instead, they ask, “What is the expedient thing to do? What will be easiest? What will be most pleasurable? What will be most profitable?” When we get to that place in education, only the voices that sing along with what is culturally acceptable are allowed to speak. If current conventional ‘wisdom’ is contrary to what the Bible teaches, you don’t have to guess which one is kicked to the curb. When we stop asking what is the right thing to do in a business, we cut corners on quality, or we underpay our employees, or we lie to our customers about performance or warranty or price. When we arrive at the same place as a family, we may decide that our children need things, or comfort, or fun experiences more than anything else, so we sacrifice doing the hard work of training them and building their character, and only give them what they want. When we get to this place in our own spiritual growth, we may choose to do what is easy and convenient in our Bible reading or prayer. We slowly slide away from worship, giving, and serving. It becomes less important for us even to show up on Sunday morning, though we desperately need to be equipped as followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s a slow slide away from God, and the price we pay is not worth it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Welcome Home, Billy Graham

I had breakfast with my mom last Friday, two days after Billy Graham met Jesus face to face. While we were eating, Mom said, “Wouldn’t you loved to have been in heaven on Wednesday morning?” Yes. I am sure that was a sight to see, as it is anytime one who belongs to the Lord crosses over from death to life.

My great-grandma Hauser was a powerful spiritual influence on me when I was a child. She never knew it, and I didn’t recognize it at the time, but she was. I spent a lot of time with her and remember with fondness the normal lunch she fixed for my brothers and me: a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. Campbell’s, of course. I also remember this little lady with her gray hair in a bun and her wire rim glasses perched on her nose, reading intently from her dog-eared Bible with the pages yellowed from years of loving attention. And close to the Bible, there was always a copy of “Decision” magazine. Every now and then I would read that magazine and find Billy Graham’s articles there, news about his preaching campaigns all over the world, and testimonies from people who had heard the Gospel through this native North Carolinian. Maybe that’s why when I was just a little guy of 8 or 9 years old, I told people that one day I would be a preacher. Those who knew me and the rascal that I was scoffed at the idea, but not Grandma Hauser. She saw with eyes of faith, perhaps, that God could use even me, this middle son with the hot temper and the quick tongue. As one pastor told me years ago, “Hey, God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”

Sherwood Wirt, who was editor of “Decision,” said this about Billy Graham: "My first impression of the man at close quarters was not of his good looks but of his goodness; not of his extraordinary range of commitments, but of his own 'committedness' to his Lord and Master. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a single-minded man; it shames one and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do." That’s the Billy Graham I grew up admiring, the man who was singularly focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel message, and his desire that every person hear the truth about their greatest need: to be saved from sin. He was a counselor to Presidents, he preached to Kings and Queens and Dictators and Prime Ministers. He wrote books and newspaper columns. He encouraged evangelists all over the world and brought them together for training. But mostly, Billy Graham was a preacher. He believed the Bible is truth from God and he spent his life telling millions that truth.

Woody Allen interviewed Billy years ago and introduced him by saying with a smile that there’s a lot that he doesn’t agree with Graham about. The first thing Billy said with a big smile was, “It’s very nice to be with you, Woody, and I would like to say that there are a lot of things I don’t agree with you on.” After the laughter, Woody asked Billy what his favorite commandment was. He replied, “Well, right now, with a lot of teenagers, it’s to honor thy father and thy mother.” Woody said that was his least favorite commandment, and that he was saving his money so when he got a little older, he could put his parents in a home. After the laughter died down, Billy said, “That’s very good; I hope it will be in a home with you.”

The world will miss Billy Graham. But he is finally home.