March 2018

Reflections on a visit to Israel

March 19 2018 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Through more than 40 years of ministry, I’ve heard the refrain from friends, “Every Christian should visit the Holy Land – especially pastors, teachers and church leaders.” The Bible will come alive, they say. It’s been on my wish list. At one time, my wife and I put it on our calendar, paid the deposit and prepared to go – until the tour company cancelled our plans due to intense political unrest at the time.
 
Last year I learned about a unique tour designed for pastors – abbreviated and reasonably priced. Steve Scoggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, asked me to consider traveling with a group of mainly western North Carolina pastors that included some leaders of Fruitland Baptist Bible College, two associational directors of missions and a few pastors outside our state.  
 
In the third week of February, our group of 32 enjoyed a Holy Land trip together.
 
Everyone reading this who has toured the biblical locations in Israel knows very well the emotion and spiritual insight associated with this tour experience. It’s hard to describe what it means to be on a boat on the Sea of Galilee or walk the streets of Capernaum, knowing that something recorded in scripture happened in this location nearly 2,000 year ago.
 
Our tour included Tiberias, Nazareth, Jericho, the Dead Sea, Qumran, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
 
At the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem stands the Church of the Pater Noster. The church is said to be built on the site of Jesus’ teachings on the Lord’s Prayer. On the grounds of the facility, the Lord’s Prayer is displayed in more than 100 languages.
 
I thought about the nations for whom Jesus died – the peoples of the world – as I gazed on the many languages of the model prayer of our Lord: Cherokee, Welsh, Korean, Swaguku, Icelandic, Latvian, Spanish, Japanese and many languages I did not know existed.
 
We prayed at the Wailing Wall, saw the pool of Bethesda, walked inside the Garden Tomb and observed the Lord’s Supper in the garden outside the tomb.
 
There is a lot of history to take in – not just biblical history, but the years since the early church, when different cultures and religious groups alternately took ownership of the region. Each left their mark on the region’s varied architecture and valuable art. Some buildings were destroyed by conquerors but rebuilt in a later period. Only a few have remained intact more than 1,000 years.
 
I paid attention to the culture in Israel and the West Bank. The scenes of both poverty and wealth are striking. The aggressive agriculture in the countryside and modern amenities in the cities do not go unnoticed.
 
News media often highlight security concerns in the region, but we did not see or experience anything that threatened our sense of well-being.
 
The food was great. The tour guides were the best. The weather was cool, but pleasant.
 
As you might expect, tourism is important to the economy of Israel, the West Bank and surrounding areas. Tour buses in Israel are almost as plentiful as olive trees in the land. Our bus was often behind a line of other buses on small streets that were constructed at least a thousand years before the first bus was ever conceived. But somehow the skillful drivers maneuvered the narrow streets, kept traffic moving and got us to our destination on time – most of the time.
 
This year my Easter celebration of our Lord’s resurrection will be different. I will remember walking the Via Dolorosa, praying in the garden where Jesus prayed and walking inside the empty tomb.
 
I am thankful that Steve Scoggins invited me to join this great group of brothers. I appreciate the excellent planning and facilitating provided by Quest Travel Group of Atlanta, Ga.
 
In the four days we toured Israel, I encountered five other groups from North Carolina that included two associational missionaries, a retired seminary professor, several pastors and some lay leaders I knew. I also connected with a pastor at one of our Baptist churches in New England and his wife, whose wedding I conducted more than 30 years ago.
 
Obviously, the Holy Land is a very popular place to visit. That caused me to consider ways the Biblical Recorder might encourage church-sponsored tours to biblical sights.
 
Some pastors lead a tour group every year. Initially a strong sign-up is common, but a few seats may remain open for a long time. We would like to help fill those seats, and we want to encourage believers to put a Holy Land tour high on your priority list.
 
Given the spiritual value of such trips, in the next edition of the Recorder we will outline a plan to launch a special advertising section for tours organized by North Carolina Baptist churches, Baptist church leaders or affiliated N.C. Baptist organizations. The tours must be for sights related to biblical locations or places of historical significance to the Christian faith.
 
These will include groups traveling to the Holy Land, the churches of Asia, Oberammergau and historical sights related to Christian trailblazers such as Luther, Zwingli or Knox.
 
The cost of advertising will be much lower than anything we have previously offered. It will be a great value for tour groups. We understand that professional travel companies will be the primary organizers of most tour groups, but a N.C. Baptist connection is essential. The Biblical Recorder is supported by cooperating N.C. Baptist churches, so we want to help these churches and entities have a successful tour group.
 
The tomb is empty! He is not here, He is risen! Celebrate His victory – our victory. He is alive! 
 

3/19/2018 3:04:15 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 1 comments



Franklin Graham: Father’s ‘journey is complete’

March 5 2018 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

It is fitting that North Carolina Baptists’ news journal, the Biblical Recorder, dedicated the March 10 print edition to the most famous Southern Baptist in history. Billy Graham was a North Carolina native, a life-long resident and an ordained Baptist minister. Several of his children and grandchildren are Baptists. The two pastors that ministered through the memorial events, David Bruce and Don Wilton, are leading Baptists.
 
We owe a great debt to this faithful man of God. Our tribute is very small when compared to such a spiritual giant.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo by Kathy Kmonicek/The Associated Press
The hearse carrying the body of Billy Graham passes under an American flag as it drives toward the Billy Graham Library Feb. 24.


How do you sum up the days from the morning Billy Graham died in his Montreat, N.C., home to the afternoon 10 days later when his body was interred on the property of the library that carries his name in his hometown of Charlotte? How do we summarize the 35,465-plus days of this man’s incredible life – especially the time after his salvation experience, a few days before his 16th birthday?
 
I am certain that the most noble attempts of family, friends, media, biographers and historians will fall short of painting the complete portrait of the rare person we called Billy Graham and his equally rare wife, Ruth Bell Graham. However, the media attention and public response has been nothing short of phenomenal. The focus has been on the simple gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
 
Three days after Graham passed away, an escorted motorcade carried his body on a 130-mile journey from The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville to the headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in Charlotte.
 
“My father made me promise long ago that we would take him back to Charlotte after he died,” Franklin Graham said, “and that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now.”
 
The procession rolled through Black Mountain, where Graham often shopped. It proceeded down Interstate 40, turning on U.S. 321 toward Interstate 85. Media in the motorcade said they expected a crowd in the famed evangelist’s small hometown, but admitted they were not prepared for the overwhelming response of the public along the remaining route. Neither was the Graham family.
 
Standing beside highways, on bridges and overpasses, people of every walk of life paused by the thousands to pay tribute to Graham. Emergency vehicles were draped with large American flags while pedestrians held high a copy of the Bible or signs that read, “Well Done” and other supportive slogans.

The 321 interchange near Hickory added to their surprise.
 
Thousands stood along the busy roadside to see the hearse bearing one who impacted their families, their churches, their nation, but most importantly, their personal walk with God.
 
Two days later, Graham’s simple pine casket that was crafted in 2006 by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, sat quietly inside his boyhood home on BGEA property as presidents, dignitaries and grassroots supporters filed by.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
Jean Graham Ford, Billy Graham’s sister, once talked about the 14-year age difference between her and her older brother. “It was sort of like having a second parent,” she recalled. “I’ve always just adored him.”


For two additional days, the same pine casket rested in the stately Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., as more mourners honored the world’s most famous evangelist and arguably one of the nation’s most respected sons.
 
On the 10th day after Graham died, family members, friends and religious leaders of many faiths assembled to honor a man who took the Christian gospel to millions around the world. More than 2,300 people gathered in front of the Billy Graham Library in a tent that illustrated the “Canvas Cathedral” in Los Angeles nearly 70 years earlier where the evangelist was catapulted into public prominence.

Franklin Graham, who now leads his father’s worldwide organization, said, “Today he is in heaven. His journey is complete.”
 
Representative family members and guest speakers underscored Graham’s intense commitment to the Bible.
 
“He loved the Bible. It governed how he lived, and it governed how he died,” Donald Wilton said. Wilton is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., where Graham was a member.
 
Jean Graham Ford said, “My brother Billy, my sister Catherine, my brother Melvin and I grew up here in this house. We learned hard work. We learned to love the Lord. We learned to pray. We learned to love the scriptures.”
 
Anne Graham Lotz said when she visited her father, he always asked her to read the Bible and discuss its meaning. “I want to make a pledge to my daddy,” she said. “I pledge to you, Daddy, in front of all of these witnesses, I will preach the Word. I will do the work of an evangelist. I will share the gospel.”
 
Billy and Ruth Graham have a large family including five children and a surviving sister who spoke at the memorial service.
 
Additional grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews and others comprise the extended kin.

I do not know most of the Graham family, but I know Jane and Franklin Graham, their three sons and a daughter because they attended the church I pastored in Boone for more than 16 years. All four of their children are faithfully serving God in various ministry roles. I’m thrilled to observe the deep commitment to the gospel in the lives of each one.
 
All participated in the memorial events, but two sons were more visible in the media through the 10 days of mourning – Edward and Roy.
 
Captain Edward Graham is the stately uniformed officer you saw in the media leading President Donald Trump and the family at events in Washington, D.C. and Charlotte.
 
The Army Ranger and West Point graduate was wounded in Iraq through several tours of duty. He is a man of solid Christian character who depicts the character of his grandfather.
 
If you viewed the live stream video of visitation periods, you saw Roy Graham graciously greeting every guest, all day long. He is director of donor ministries for BGEA. Roy Graham stood for many hours greeting more than 10,000 people, thanking them for visiting the family. The kindness and appreciation he extended to each visitor is commendable. He is an example of his grandfather’s genuine love for all people.
 
At the close of the memorial service on Fri., March 3, I asked several Baptist leaders in attendance to reflect on the celebration of  Graham’s life and ministry.
 
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said, “I think the service was absolutely appropriate to the man Billy Graham was.
 
“He was honored, the gospel was lifted up, Jesus was magnified and it was a most appropriate service for who he was and all that he did.”
 
James Merritt, former president of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said, “If anybody had the kind of service that they deserved, Dr. Graham had the service he deserved today. It was all about Jesus and the gospel. How many times was Jesus and the gospel mentioned? ... I know I speak for Danny [Akin] and I when I say this was one of the greatest honors of our life for us to be here today.”
 
Frank Page, CEO of the SBC said, “I think it was a great experience of hearing the gospel preached once again. I pray that it’s gone out to millions of people. I thought every part of it was classy and powerful. I so appreciate the words of Franklin, the daughters and all the family. I met Billy Graham some years ago, and I’m thankful for what he did in my life. I’m so glad to be here today to honor him and represent Southern Baptists.”
 
Steve Gaines, SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said, “I thought it was a fantastic service. It honored the Lord Jesus Christ, and it also really showed you that the Graham family genuinely loved the Lord Jesus – not just Billy and his sweet wife, but their children. I thank the Lord for every aspect of the service pointing to Jesus.”
 
Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and a candidate for the U.S. Congress said, “The service was Billy Graham. It was what I could imagine he would have hoped for. ... Franklin did a great job of presenting the simple gospel message. His family certainly demonstrated the legacy that we’ve been talking about. The way that each of them had their own personality, yet you could see the impact of this man as a dad, as a preacher, as a leader throughout the world – it was very powerful. I think this last week has been his greatest crusade.”
 
Now, life on earth goes on for all of us. We can be certain that the influence of Billy Graham and a multitude of other godly people surrounds us every day. Their legacy shaped the world we know. Now we carry the torch of God’s Word today and every day until God calls us home.
 
The Father will use us to the extent that we stay centered on the Bible.
 
To God be the glory for sending Billy Graham our way. May his legacy and the message he proclaimed remain strong.
 

3/5/2018 3:17:49 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments