Thank you, Billy.

God used Billy Graham powerfully. There are unseen and untold ripples of his faithfulness to the Gospel which no doubt have touched your life.
God sovereignly saved a young man in New Jersey while watching Billy preach on the T.V. That man went on to get his doctorate at DTS, and spent his life teaching Greek, theology and Bible at the Bible College I went to.
After college I found myself working for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Baltimore as a local hire. There are a lot of opinions about Billy Graham in the reformedish circles I find myself in. People talk about Finny, decisionism, revivalism, manufactured emotionalism, altar calls…
There’s plenty to be worried about all that. All I know from working for the BGEA is that Graham’s events were grassroots movements led by local churches. They were prayer movements. Churches prayed, for years, for the people they were going to invite to hear the Gospel.
It was called “Operation Andrew”.
The churches worked together. In a city like Baltimore that meant Churches of all social economic, racial, and denominational backgrounds working together for perhaps the first time. Or, rather… since the last time Graham came to town.
I think we all know the bad side of altar calls. Some are manufactured emotionalism: fake decisions that don’t stick. Jesus talks about all this in the parable of the sower. But… Here’s something interesting: MANY of the volunteers for the 2006 Baltimore Festival were saved at the 1981 Baltimore Crusade. They heard the Gospel, and believed it in their heart and professed it with their lips, just like Romans 10 says, and then they plugged into a local Church.
When I worked for the BGEA we kept the office open after the preaching was done for months trying to make sure that people who made professions of Christ were plugged into a local Church.
We held the 2006 Metro Maryland Festival in Camden Yards where the Orioles play. Billy had retired in 2005, but preached the last night of the 2006 Baltimore Festival, on Sunday. Now, in the circles I run in we don’t use a lot of words like “Anointing” and such…
But this frail, elderly man hobbled up to the podium in Camden Yards, and preached a simple, Gospel message of repentance and trust in Christ Crucified and Resurrected for sinners. God’s power was palpable. There is no other way to explain it. His Spirit was there: Mighty To Save.
They said he couldn’t even speak after he preached. He left it all on the field.

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Small People Dwelling Under The Starry Sky.

Hebrews 11:8-12

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 11:8–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Prayer

Father:

Maybe you gave us skies teeming with stars and beeches overflowing with sand to remind us in the cold dark days that infinite goodness nonetheless abides. And abide you do, Father. You have loved us with eyes wide open, crushing your innocent Son in our place that we might live. And maybe you asked the unthinkable of Abraham on Mt. Moriah so that we would learn the depths of your Love at Golgotha. How are we so enamored with what we can see and touch when your mere words made it all? And, how can we settle here on the side of the narrow road when you’re showing us snap shots and glimpses here and there of Home. Help us to go by faith. Help us to take our stakes up and count the cost of whatever light and momentary afflictions may befall us as we sojourn our way to the everlasting prairie. Amen.

 

v.8-10 By Faith We Live In The Temporary In Light Of The Abiding

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

 

 

By Faith.

 

Faith enables the obedience which pleases God. Abraham didn’t know where he was going. God didn’t give him all the details. He didn’t know where he was going; he knew He who calls. He is calling you to Himself today, for redemption, and life, and beauty. He is calling you to the undiscovered country, a home that will never fade, rust or perish. Jesus died for you to wash you clean. He died to save you.

The text says that Abraham firstly obeyed by faith when called (because obedience without faith looks like what the Pharisees were up to, and faith without obedience isn’t really faith at all according to James), and that he was called secondly to receive an inheritance. This theme is all over the old book. Israel was set free from Egypt for the purpose of worshipping the one true God in the Promised Land that they would eventually receive. You have been called out of darkness to worship God in spirit and in truth in the already not yet until you finally wash up on a beautiful long dreamed up distant shore you’ve never been there, but it’ll feel right, like all the rightness that has always eluded you all these years. Rich Mullins once gave an anecdote about Irish sweaters, the kind with all the knots and patterns. He said that Irish fishermen sometimes got lost at sea. His wife would make his sweater or mother so that when he washed up on shore the family would be able to identify the body. Mullins then said that no matter how hard life is, God will recognize you when you wash up on the celestial shore, “He’s mine”.

Abraham did not seek out God. Abraham did not seek out the inheritance. Abraham did not get up from the seductive temporary comfort of the familiar. He arose and set out after God called Him. God gets the glory.

He went out, adventuring in this uneasy and weary world of ours, not knowing where he was going.

Some would call that not having a plan.

Some would look down on that. They might say Abraham was flying by the seat of his pants.

But he had the best plan of all: He stopped making plans based on the fading concrete things he could see, and started trusting the God who calls without explaining Himself. That’s one of the big ideas of Job, after all. God, who was there all along, reveals Himself, and doesn’t explain Himself one bit. Isn’t interesting that your study Bible probably says Job is the oldest book of Scripture. What if we started with Job instead of Genesis, what if we started with God wild, defiant, and good in the midst of suffering rather than starting with creation?

He is a consuming fire, after all.

And because His faith was true, in as much as he believed God when called and acted upon that faith, God counted a dirty old sinner like Abraham as righteous. Some folks who aren’t all that honest about their own sin aren’t too found of what God did there in Abraham’s life, because Abraham did some low key cowardly things in his life. But I imagine that’s why we all are but dust and to dust we shall return and God in His mercy knows our frame is dust… and yet, Mercy for those such as ourselves is what God delights in.

 

Genesis 15.6

 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. [1]

 I wonder what kind of change God might bring about in our lives if we’d stop looking at our selves and kept our eyes pinned upon the promise of Jesus.

Can you number the Lovingkindness of God?

Could you ever wile away the days plumbing the depths of,

the goodness of,

the Lovingkindness of God?

 

And, could you ever, even fathom a better way than His? Could you do better by blindly stumbling along a path of your own?

 

Never.

 

So it was that Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness. Counted, reckoned, not earned, because that’s not how such things work. We’d never get there on our own.

Abraham was a sinner. There were moments when he was a coward, and put his wife’s safety in jeopardy. There were times he gave in to the darkness. His only prayer was the same as yours is: that grace really is for sinners.

Here’s what faith looked like for Abraham, the patriarch of old, picked up and moved, and staked down His future and family, and faith to the God of wonders, in a tent, wheresoever God would lead, he would follow.

 

Whomsoever would be forever must follow the Crucified Carpenter King wheresoever He leads.

 

Abraham lived the tent life, faith meant enduring the already not yet of dwelling as a stranger in the land that would belong to his children. The Old Testament weaves a tale of gaining and losing, and restoration, over and over again. There came a time when God’s house lay in ruin while the people made themselves paneled houses (Haggai 1.4), and you gotta believe because you’ve felt it in your own heart that one of the greatest struggles they warred against is the very same one you war against: believing that this is not your true Home.

Maybe if we all lived in tents…

And had to strike camp every couple of days so as not to kill the grass…

The people of the cross are emissaries, of the coming King. The Church is the embassy for the coming City of God. The good city of the good King, a city eternal, not built with hands (2nd Corinthians 5.1)… a city that makes you closer to God just by the mere thought of it. That’s why you’re to look for it.

Hebrews 11:10

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

 Keep your eyes peeled, beloved.

The Kingdom is coming.

v.11 Sarah: Made In The Image Of God

11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

 

Now, if folks are prone to have a beef with a dirty old sinner like Abraham being justified by faith alone then they’ll also take umbrage with his wife being held up along side dirty old Abraham as an example of one who resides in the grace of God.

 

Because she laughed at God, and when she suggested they have an open marriage for the purpose of procreation rather than trust God completely, Abraham jumped at that chance, like every-dirty-dog has his day, like he thought he’d hit the jackpot and could do what his wicked heart always wanted and blame his wife for it, like the dirty old man that he was.

A lot of people who aren’t all that realistic about the darkness residing within have a lot of problems with these two being held up as righteous. I hope you know that they dwelled in the shadow of the most high. I hope you understand they stood in the righteousness of another, by faith. They were declared righteous, and they abided in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ The Lamb of God.

Where do you get your definition of righteous? Do you get it from the old book? Does your definition come rushing like waters from the eternal and good God? Or is your definition a stain you bleed together piece meal from man made modern malarkey?

The Malarkey is fuzzing up your vision all murky and mildewy when sinners can’t see themselves proper and end up looking down upon other sinners. My only hope is that God’s grace is for sinners. Period. The End.

When God came around looking to bless Abraham in Genesis 18, Abraham rushed to get some water for God’s feet, and rushed Sarah to whip up a meal real quick like. And they sat and talked under the oak trees about great things. In Genesis God promised dirty old Abraham children, which of course, would involve Sarah, and as she overheard it and pondered the rather earthly realities she was all too painfully aware of concerning her and Abraham, she laughed.

Now, there’s no reason for that, and no excusing it. But I would point out that when we sin all we’re really doing is laughing at God because we didn’t believe what He said. We didn’t trust His promises. We didn’t think He could make a way in the desert, or that He could split the Red Sea, or that He could provide a way out of temptation, or that through the death of the prince of peace He’d actually make Heaven our Home. There’s so much we don’t understand with our wide eyes, and half an old tattered spiral of facts to go on, but boy, we sure do like to act as if we have a clue.

 

God rebuked Sarah for her laughter, and his rebuke will save your soul if you believe it: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

 

I hope you believe him deep down in your tired old bones. Resurrection Day is coming. Joy may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning. Blessed are those who mourn. The meek shall inherit the earth. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Trust God. Pray, give, stand firm. Resurrection Day is coming.

Sarah got over her doubts. Sometimes laughter is from doubt, and sometimes your doubt gives way to praise and awe and joy and worship, and so it was for Sarah, because in Genesis 21 she held her little boy. We learn that God loves to astound us, and give us good despite our doubts.

 

He is changing despair into worship.

 

Sarah ended up believing God, that’s what Hebrews 11:11 teaches us. Sarah believed God’s specific promise for her, which involved her and Abraham’s infertility, a condition effecting many around us. You who often suffer in silent despair, I want you to know you are not broken, you are not deficient, and you are not abandoned nor are you forsaken of God. You are made in the image of God, just as you are. And Christ is making you more and more like Him every tear filled day from this very moment until Resurrection day. It is a hard business dwelling here under the sun in the already not yet, the man of Sorrows knows it well.

God Is Infinitely Good

What is God showing us here in the meantime while we sojourn in tattered tents waiting for the reconciliation of all things in Christ?

He’s showing us His goodness. It is hard to see it sometimes, harder still to believe it, easy to say it without meaning it, perhaps, yes. But the cross is always stumping and reshaping my frustration protests. He is good.

We are forced to wrestle with God’s goodness in Abraham’s life here in verse 12.

Hebrews 11.12

12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. [2]

My doubting heart is forced to wrestle with the fullness of God’s goodness every time I look up at the stars, because then I have to remember that barren couple who lived long ago in tents.

A couple weeks ago after we locked up the old white Church after Monday Nite Town Wide Worship we all stood around shivering and talking because the fellowship was thick, and stronger than the draw of warmth. You can feel God’s power and pleasure among the saints when we can’t break away from the fellowship. And I glanced up at the stars as I’m prone to do, and I saw Orion up there, and all the others. The great thing about the constellations is you can sort of just make it up as you go, because that’s all somebody else did long ago, before city lights made God’s reminder of faithfulness undeniable. See the star crocodile up there?

The stars are always up there burning and reminding us of God’s faithfulness, you know. It’s just that sometimes you can’t see them, or won’t see them.

God is infinitely better than the infinite amount of things Pop Christianity teaches you can get from Him. He is in and of Himself infinitely good. I know this is no new crick of thought.

He is our greatest good. Not the things He can deliver, not  breakthroughs and deliverances, Him. Christ upon the cross, Christ strolling out of the grave, Christ there shining in the joy long set before Him on Resurrection Day when we all heartbreak comes untrue, and we’ll all find ourselves in His good hands. On that day all that is hard in life will come untrue. J.R.R. Tolkien writes in one of his stories, “Will all that is sad come untrue?”

 

Yes, it will. In Christ it will. Hold on to faith, beloved.

 

I see His Light shining, just around the bend. Hold On.

 

Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ge 15:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 11:8–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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