This past week we mourned the death of one of the greatest evangelists our world has ever known. At the age of 99, Billy Graham went home to the heaven he so passionately preached about. Countless news outlets, social media outlets, churches and ministries posted the message: He is Home! What a glorious day for Billy Graham, for in his earthly death, he met Jesus face to face. Praise God for His promise of eternal life. Billy Graham is now living that reality.
Billy Graham’s family gave touching tributes to his memory and powerful Gospel presentations. One that really caught my attention was a statement from Nelson Graham, Billy’s son. In his tribute to his father, Nelson claimed that Billy Graham was FAT. After getting our attention, Nelson explained.
“My father was F-A-T. He was Faithful, he was Available, and he was Teachable … May we all be that way.”
In just a couple of sentences, a son summed up the life of his father. In just three words, Nelson Graham let us all know what was important to this renowned evangelist and teacher. His father loved the Lord, was present for anyone who expressed a need, and displayed a humility apparent to all who had the honor of knowing him.
In a culture that applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and how many likes we get on social media, this message is quite contradictory. It was a great reminder to me to keep my desires and motivations in check as I make my way in this world. Let’s face it, that is not always easy to do.
We sometimes spend our time and energy attempting to obtain recognition and acknowledgement for what we have accomplished. We strive and complete to earn a prize from the world that says we are the best at what we do. We want to be remembered for what we did well in this life.
Living a FAT life means keeping our eyes squarely on God, his work in this world, and his work within us. In Psalm 37, David gives us a good road map to becoming faithful, available, and teachable.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
Often times, I charge ahead with a goal or a dream and ask the Lord to bless it rather than submitting to the Lord and having Him determine my path. This is not the way of someone who is both faithful and teachable.
God offers us more encouragement on how He can guide our steps if we let him lead the way. Proverbs 3:5-6 says
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
As for being present, I have made some changes this year to slow that tide. It means saying no to things, some very good things, in order to be present with those I am attempting to serve. My students, my small group, my colleagues, and my family. For me, being present means not being so overscheduled that I cannot adjust my day to make room for someone who needs my ear. It means spending more time in God’s word than ever before. Breaking busy is hard. It’s counter-cultural. And it’s worth it.
Franklin Graham, another of Billy Graham’s sons, closed his comments with one that gives hope for all who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
“My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, wrote a book on heaven, and now he’s in heaven. His journey is complete.”
So, feel free to call me FAT. I consider it a compliment.
My son came home from school one day and grabbed the dust pan and broom. I had wondered if this boy who rarely jumps into chores without my prompting had suddenly become responsible and independent during the course of the school day. As I was getting ready to sit down and congratulate myself for training him right, I heard him say, “Got it!” With that declaration, he grabbed a Ziploc bag from his pocket and carefully poured in the dust bunnies he had collected from under our couch.
By the expression on my face, he could see that I was quite confused. “It’s for science,” he said. “We are studying what kind of stuff makes up dust. We’re dissecting it!”
I didn’t know if I should be proud or offended that he knew just where to find these suspicious little dust-globs. I thought that I’d been successful at keeping those little buggers hidden. When it was time to host a party or even just a friend or two, I would take great pains to go through the house collecting and eliminating these pesky little reminders that people actually live in my home. I much prefer creating the impression that my family so squeaky clean and happy that even the dust bunnies don’t gather here.
But my son knew better. He knew just where to find the shady characters. And now, he was going to dissect the very dirt that can expose me for what I am… a hider, a fake, a person who needed help. By literally sweeping the dust under the rug, my house appeared clean and free from people who might want to dissect it.
Dust is not something we want on display. It’s not something we proudly hold up as a prize to be earned. Rather, dust is unwanted, something to hide. Dust is, well… dirty.
Sometimes I clean up my life the same way I clean up my house. I polish, sweep, and scrub away anything that might give the impression that I am somehow less than. I sweep some things under the rug like failures, mistakes, and shame. My “dust” could be the argument I had with my brother, the anger that sometimes takes over, or the regret that still plagues me from my childhood. Polish up. Sweep away. Buff and shine. Yes, I clean up quite well.
But on Ash Wednesday, we enter into that sanctuary buffed and shined only to kneel before the altar and receive the sign of the cross with the dust of the earth. We allow ourselves, our whole selves, to be seen. We put it all out there. We walk back down that aisle exposed for who we really are. And we see the dust on others too.
In that dusty cross placed on our foreheads, we are reminded where we came from. We are reminded that we were once just dust, but in the hands of our creator, we became something beautiful. We became sons and daughters. And even in our dirty, broken state, we are still deeply loved. And because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are clean.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Dust is a public testimony to who we really are—broken people in need of a Savior. The dust removes the façade that Christians are somehow cleaner or brighter or better than others. Rather, the ash on our foreheads reminds us that from dust we first came and to dust we will return. There is a richness in that dirt… a transparency to our condition. The dust levels the playing field and points instead to Christ.
So this Lenten season, consider gathering those dust bunnies in a Ziploc bag, not to dissect but to acknowledge that even dust can be beautiful when touched by the hand of God who loves us.
*Lent begins this Wednesday, February 14th
Our culture applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and what we can upload to social media. But God notices us even when we are tucked away in hidden places. I loved talking with author Sara Hagerty about how sometimes being hidden is a good thing and that God still enjoys us, even if we’re living what the world might consider an unproductive life.
Click HERE for a podcast of my radio conversation with Sara Hagerty.
Sometimes we allow the negative labels of others shape our identities. But God has His own dream for our lives, and it’s worth discovering. Ministry leader and fabulous woman of God Jo Saxton (I like her name!) shares her journey of broken identity in hopes that we will find the courage to discover our own. God is in the business of restoration, as pointed out in Jo’s new book, The Dream of You. Click HERE to listen to the podcast of our interview on Faith Radio.
From the bright lights of Hollywood to the Playboy mansion to the horrors of anorexia, actress Andrea Logan White had what seemed to be a charmed life, but she felt empty. How she discovered that being perfectly unfinished is a good thing. Click HERE for my interview with Andrea Logan White.
Some time ago, I attended track-and-field day for my young son, Sam. As a volunteer at the long jump station, I filled out a name tag and took my post. For some reason, I simply wrote “Sam’s Mom.” Child after child would pass through and they would immediately know that I belonged with that snappy little 3rd grade boy named Sam. We had a connection. Even after the event was through, children would run up to me and say, “Sam’s Mom—look at all the ribbons I won!” or “Sam’s Mom—can you watch me run?”
Knowing who I belonged to somehow made the kids feel like they knew me. We were buds. My name was not important in that particular context. But my relation to their friend was significant. Furthermore, as Sam’s Mom, I saw myself not as a teacher or writer or radio host, but as someone who was there to serve the 3rd graders during their special day.
It reminds me of the gospel writer, John.
In his gospel account, he writes about the unmatched and unparalleled love of God. John has often been described as the beloved disciple. This title is not given as a status symbol—Jesus did not play favorites. Jesus himself does not use this title for John or any other disciple. But rather, the beloved disciple was how John described himself in the gospel that bears his name.
On several occasions, John refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Listen in as he describes himself in the following verses…
One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him (Jesus). John 13:23
Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved standing nearby, and he said to her, “Woman, here is your son.” John 19:26a
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around and jumped into the water. John 21:20
Perhaps this was John’s way of exhibiting remarkable humility. Or, maybe his experience of being loved by Jesus was more precious to him than even his own name. John is said to have had a greater understanding of God’s loving nature because he experienced God’s love in a distinct way. He knew and experienced this love of God in a way that trumped everything else that he thought about himself. He was no longer just John. He was no longer just a fisherman, a sinner, a disciple-in-training or a flawed human being. His identity no longer came from what he did or didn’t do, but came from the One who knew all of these things about him, and yet loved him fully anyway. John’s based on his identity in relation to Christ. He simply saw himself as the one whom Jesus loved.
Imagine how our life might look different if we started from this assumption. I am the one whom Jesus loves. And as such, our worthiness would already be established. Our status would already be decided. We might pray differently or act differently toward our neighbors. We might love others with the same love he bestows on us.
He knows me.
He sees me.
And He still loves me.
I am the one whom Jesus loves.
When we think of ourselves this way, we begin to read Scripture differently. It is no longer for those people of that time. Each verse is written with us in mind. Imagine this paraphrase of John 3:16:
For God so loved [Jo] that He gave His only son, that since [Jo] believes in Him, [Jo] shall not perish but [Jo] shall have eternal life.
The Bible is personal. It’s God’s love letter to us. We are the ones whom Jesus loves.
How about putting that on your next nametag?
I was rummaging around in the chest where I keep my childhood belongings when I came across a well-worn toy from my youth—The Magic 8 Ball. Maybe you had one too? Perhaps, like me and my grade-school friends, you used to ask this magic ball if a certain boy in your math class might someday ask you out on a date, and then squealed with delight when the fortune-telling ball revealed, “It is decidedly so.”
Perhaps your questions were a bit more mature in nature like; “Will I go to college?” “Will I get married?” “Should I say ‘Yes’ to that job opportunity?” Chances are, that Magic 8 Ball didn’t always get it right, and your reliance on such toys faded out soon enough along with acid-washed jeans and Bonnie Bell lip gloss. I, too, found the same flaws in the ball’s ability to direct me down the right path. That’s how my Magic 8 Ball found its way to the bottom of my chest.
I hadn’t lost the desire to gain direction and advice; I just figure the Magic 8 Ball might not be the way for me to get it.
So how does a person gain the ability to make right choices? I’ve noticed that a series of right business decisions can land a person that job they’ve always wanted. A couple of right decisions can heal a strained relationship or bring restoration to a difficult situation. In the same way, the choice to spew hate can cause relationships to end, and a couple of bad career choices can land you in the unemployment line.
When the Lord asked Solomon what he wanted from God, Solomon could have chosen riches or fame or the power to kill his enemies. He could have chosen to have the most beautiful woman on earth or the largest kingdom ever known. But instead, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:12), and God granted him a wise and discerning heart.
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
1 Kings 3:9-12
Thankfully, Solomon shared many of his wise sayings with us in the book of Proverbs.
This book of short truths tells us that people who have wisdom enjoy its benefits. The person who has wisdom, for example, is faithful and trusts in the Lord. The wise put God first and turn away from evil. The wise know right from wrong, they listen and learn. Wise people do what is right.
But Solomon isn’t the only person to receive wisdom. God is generous with his gifts of discernment. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). This wisdom isn’t something we have to chase after or save money to purchase. Wisdom isn’t a resource a psychic can sell or a secret a horoscope can reveal. In fact, consulting these sources would likely be considered unwise. Rather, wisdom is something that we receive by drawing near to God and asking for it.
So I’ll put my Magic 8 Ball back in its spot at the bottom of my chest. I’ll remember fondly the wonder and excitement of childhood superstitions. But to receive true wisdom and guidance and advice for my life, I’ll turn my eyes back to the Word of God. And I’ll remember the words of wise King Solomon:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.
Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.
This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.
I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keep the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas.
I always figured that if God had a job to do and needed someone to act on his behalf here on earth that he’d choose someone who was perfectly qualified to get the job done.
I try, have tried, and am trying to be that person whom God might want to entrust with one of his jobs. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Toiling away at striving, perfecting, and keeping up appearances that I am, indeed, worthy of the task is a never-ending job. Worse yet, I continually fall short of making myself the perfect candidate. Every. Single. Time.
That’s why I love the story of Rahab. She’s far from the model citizen. But she believes who God is and what He can do. She wants in. And when faith collides with willingness, we get to see God’s power at work.