I’VE BEEN THINKING…about the remarkable Mr. Graham. One of my lifetime hero’s, for his integrity and his unceasing openness to adapt and grow, died this week, at age 99. Billy Graham’s life started on a dairy farm in 1918. Over the next 90+ years he spoke to more people face-to-face than any other person in history, 215 million at last count. He was trusted and admired. Even people who disagreed with his theology respected him. On the Gallup polls list of ‘Most Admired Man in the World” Billy was named 59 times – twice as often as anyone else, ever. I admired three things about Billy. He avoided all scandals – moral or financial; He grew and matured in his theology and practice; Yet at the same time he maintained his core faith beliefs. They included the Bible’s importance & authority, God’s sovereignty, humans’ sin, Jesus’ saving death, resurrection, and return, the necessity of new spiritual birth followed by moral growth, mission to others, and a final eternal destiny. That list is a core of the essentials for all of us.
What I realize I admire most about Billy, and what I want to adopt into my life is his openness to mature, even to change his positions and practices. Although he grew up in the south, and was used to racial segregation, in the early 1950s he took a succession of bold stands despite withering attacks. He would not allow segregation at the worship services he preached at. Black and white were to sit together, wherever they chose. He also became a strong advocate of peace and against militarism. In 1982, speaking in Moscow, Graham said he had undergone three conversions in his life: to Christ, to racial justice, and to nuclear disarmament. That made him unpopular with many right wing Americans. Billy held firm, saying his positions were based on the love of God, and being a follower of Jesus.
It is said that Graham’s most important legacy lay in his preaching about Christian hope. Over the years millions of people wrote him for advice or support. They described lives twisted by sin, marriages on the rocks, kids gone astray, fears of death, and aching loneliness. No matter how badly you have messed up your life, Billy urged, Christ offers forgiveness and a new start. He confessed and apologized several times across the years, whenever he misspoke or saw that he was wrong. He proclaimed the God of a second chance, not only for individuals but also for the world.
So Billy Graham is gone from this earth. It’s not a bad, or sad thing. The first book Billy published (back in the 50’s) was titled ‘Peace With God’. The last book he wrote, just a few years ago was ‘Nearing Home’. The titles sum up the truth and strength of his faith, and of our hope. Thanks be to God for great leaders and role models. We are blessed.
Grace & Peace to you – ORVILLE
I’VE BEEN THINKING…we all know that the world is going to hell in a hand-cart. Except it’s NOT. Given the risk of nuclear exchange with North Korea, civil wars in Syria and Yemen, atrocities in Myanmar, and several world leaders who may be cuckoo, you might think it’s all bad – worst time ever. But you’d be wrong. In fact 2017 was probably the very best year in history. A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.
According to calculations by an Oxford University economist, every day, the number of people living in extreme poverty goes down by 217,000, and the number who gain access to electricity and clean drinking water goes up by 300,000. Granted that the world seems to constantly face mortal threats and dangers. But it also is registering important progress. It’s important to step back periodically and focus on more than just what is wrong. Those of us who live with Faith, need to remind ourselves that there is a God who has a track record of acting in history. And God does that through people – individuals (from Moses to Martin Luther King), and through a People – All people of faith and good will. So sure, at times the world can be seen as a dangerous mess. But people of faith trust God, and listen for God’s whispers of perspective, encouragement, and challenge. The most important think happening right now is not a Trump tweet, but children’s lives saved and major gains in health, education, spiritual maturation and human community. Pray for Peace; Keep the Faith (& pass it on) ORVILLE
I’VE BEEN THINKING…about teamwork and transitions. We are definitely starting a transition, and I’m already getting the feeling there will be a lot of good teamwork making it happen. Because I’m turning 64 next month, and my ‘best before’ date is approaching, I’ve asked our leadership team to begin working on ‘succession planning’. The plan we’ve worked out is that I remain ‘full-time’ here until this summer, and then begin a phased reduction. I will work half-time, beginning July 1st.
Meanwhile, we will need to assemble a team to assess the specifics of what future ministry leadership should look like here, and then begin a search for the next generation leader for this great congregation. There are terrific ministers out there. God will lead you to the right fit for Wellington Square’s unique spiritual DNA.
Because so much is going so well, I believe this is a very good and opportune time for a transition like this to happen. The ministries and programs that make Wellington Square what it is all have strong leadership of staff and volunteers (2 unique worship services, children’s & youth ministry, Adult Study & Faith Development, Outreach & Missions projects, Friday Night Community, etc). They are all healthy and able to continue to function well through any transition to a new minister.
Furthermore, the congregations finances are healthy, as is reported elsewhere in these pages. We finished the past year in the black, thanks to a combination of many generous donations, and a one-time big gift from one of our seniors.
So, all is well, and we can smoothly transition to a new minister. There is a finish line ahead for me. Probably sometime in 2019, about a year from now. I want to finish well. Really well. I don’t want to coast, or click onto ‘cruise control’. Rather, let’s all commit to work together as Jesus’ team, to conclude this chapter smoothly and with vigor. That will lead to great new beginnings and a vibrant future for this community of Christ.
The Peace & Joy of the Lord be with us – ORVILLE
I’VE BEEN THINKING……that this idea of Re-Start is a continuous, ongoing process. At the beginning of a new year, it is normal for most of us to think that this year we’re going to change some things, do them differently: our schedule, our relationships, our finances, and more. And if we’re smart we don’t limit ourselves to starting that in early January; Rather any week, any month will do! Continuously, ongoing, year round. Since last week’s talk about the ‘Power of Your Schedule’ I’ve been seeing more possibilities – for me, and for a lot of us. I mentioned the man who changed his life by putting night school courses into his Monday evening schedule. That led to a 30 year Accounting career with a large corporation. And I told of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (in office 1901-1909) who had a great love for the outdoors and knowledge of nature. This was instilled and enlarged in his youth. He had severe asthma – could not go out and play, and so spent many hours reading, and observing the natural world outside his window. He was fascinated by animals, and learned taxidermy (stuffing & preserving various species). Eventually through vigorous exercise, and natural growth he shed the asthma and became fit and active. When he was President, he developed and expanded the national Parks system to preserve great swaths of America’s landscape and natural wonders. I believe that good result is, in part, because he did not have TV, and video games to kill time with. Instead as he spent time reading and researching about nature, his interests and knowledge grew. I think I’ll take a lesson from this. This year, (not just in January) I’m aiming to reduce time spent in front of an electronic screen. Rather than sitting on the computer, or watching Netflix or sports, I’ll do something more productive – go for a walk, read to learn (rather than just be entertained), develop a friendship in the neighbourhood. I hope it’s a great 2018 for us all. The Lord be with us, guiding and empowering us to become more wise, grace-filled, frugal, generous and joyful. Orville