As I am sure you are aware, Rev. William (Billy) Franklin Graham reunited with His Savior on February 21st. Although I never met him, nor heard him speak in person, he was a co-founder and trustee emeritus of my alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (and I have his signature on my degree). Billy Graham was instrumental in shaping evangelicalism in the 20th century: thousands heard and accepted the Gospel through the crusades he conducted across the globe, thousands more have been encouraged through his writings (including the co-founding of Christianity Today Magazine), and untold numbers of national and world leaders had sought his advice and counsel. He was a giant not only in the church, but in our culture. That being said, when I mentioned his passing at our dinner table, my 10-year old son, Joshua, had no idea who Billy Graham was.
Jump ahead a week. It is the night before the Oscars® and our family is watching what would ultimately be given the award for Best Animated Feature, Coco. The film’s storyline is simple (albeit contradictory to biblical truth): a boy, Miguel, raids a mausoleum to steal a guitar from his hero on Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and is brought to the land of the dead, where he meets his ancestors and discovers a secret. One interesting aspect of the ‘other side’ that Miguel finds out as he is interacting with those who have passed is that you disappear when there is no one left who remembers your stories. According to the movie, when no one remains to remember your name, you cease to exist.
As great as Billy Graham (the man, the preacher, the writer or the friend) was, within a generation or two, he will be largely forgotten. And as harsh as that seems, the Bible concurs:
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14 (NIV)
So, what does this say for me or for you? Maybe we are like lightbulbs – we shine for a while, but eventually we will cease to give light and we will be discarded. Maybe some of you are like lamps – useful for many cycles of lightbulbs, but still subject to the ravages of time and eventually replaced by a cheaper lamp from Ikea©. Whether a lightbulb or a lamp, we are merely a conduit for the electricity. Lightbulbs and lamps (like us) come and go, but the electricity (in this metaphor, the Lord God Almighty) remains.
Billy Graham was somewhat like a lighthouse lamp: strong, powerful, and steady in its purpose; but that light has gone. I pray another light will rise to take his place. While I, in comparison, may be a night light, I still can be strong, powerful, and steady in my purpose until I have been fully spent. Within a generation or two, I will likely be forgotten – a name on a list or a letter, an unfamiliar face in a yellowed photograph – but for now, let me make some impact and shed some light. Perhaps I could guide the next world-changer to avoid stumbling in the dark long enough to see the true Light of the world.
photo found on billygraham.org
Best as I can tell, I was just returning home from a prayer meeting at our own church when a man opened fire in a similar prayer meeting within a similar church 975 miles to our southwest in Charleston, SC. At approximately 9PM, a young man who was welcomed into their fellowship and participated in their prayers for more than an hour suddenly stood, spoke a few words and killed 9 godly men and women at Emanuel AME Church. This tragedy has left many, including myself, with questions that are not easy to answer.
- What would cause someone to come into a church, of all places, and do such an awful thing?
- Is there no place where God’s people can feel safe?
- Why didn’t God protect His children from such a terrible crime?
- Could this happen here?
- Is this simply the beginning of the end?
I cannot answer these questions, other than to repeat God’s words to Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa.55:9).” It would be a fool’s errand to try and comprehend the ways and thoughts of the Lord.
While I cannot answer the bigger questions relating to the interaction between God’s sovereignty and the human will, I can state a few things that I know. I know that God’s plans are not thwarted by the gunshots of a 21 year-old. I know that every one of us lives with our days numbered by God’s providence. I know that we ought to live each day as if it were our last and keep short accounts with God and those around us – saying “I am sorry” and “I love you” while we can. Nowhere in scripture are we promised an earthly tomorrow; instead we are told to make the most of today.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. – James 4:14
And while we do not have answers to the big questions, there are things that we can learn from this utter tragedy.
First, be prepared – we cannot, thankfully, know the day or manner of our earthly demise and therefore we must live in the present reality that it could be today. Is there something you need to say or do before it is too late? Have you bowed before God and sought His forgiveness, confessing and professing Him as Lord and Savior? Have you shared your missteps and insights with someone so that the lessons of your life will have lasting impact?
Second, be empowered – we must live with a sense of urgency and risk (not recklessness, which is quite different, but I haven’t time to share that today). Live today with the bravery and courage that would enable you to welcome the stranger, comfort the troubled, confront the oppressor and love the lost. Live out the teaching of Hebrews 3:13 and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Perhaps, the lasting legacy of those saints who entered into God’s glory last Wednesday was that they were able to pray with and for this man with a heart of darkness for an hour, not concerned for their own futures but for his.