What’s Happening This Week at FBC?

We are pleased to be hosting a number of events for various ministry partners in the coming days. Today, we are hosting the Senior Fest for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Chuck Kelley and various faculty members are with us.

On Saturday, March 10, we will host M-JAM for girls in grades 1-6. Girls from across south Louisiana will gather for a day of worship, mission study, and fun. Find out more about this event at fbclaf.org/m-jam.

FBCS Spring Gala is Friday, March 9 –It’s a silent auction, dinner, and guest speaker. Doors open at 6:00 p.m for bidding on auction items, dinner is at 7:00 p.m. followed by entertainer, Dr. Dennis Swanberg.

Dr. Dennis Swanberg…”THE SWAN”…is considered by many as “AMERICA’S MINISTER OF ENCOURAGEMENT.” He uses laughter as a tool to break down people’s barriers about themselves, and he promotes faith and family values in a lighthearted and humorous way. He has the reputation for revealing and instilling hope and motivating people from all walks of life.

Tickets are $25.00 per person and are available at the Information Center on Sundays or through the school office during the week.

I look forward to continuing our message series Sunday called “Easter! So What?” Our church has grown accustomed to my question, “So What?” at the conclusion of my messages. I fell into this practice a few years ago as the result of making sure that every message ends on a note of action. As I routinely say, “We gather not so much for information, but for inspiration and transformation.”

As we journey toward Easter this year, we are pursuing what I would call the ultimate “So What” preaching series. My preaching series through the week after Easter will be “Easter! So What?” We will be considering several questions posed in the Easter accounts in the Bible. Some of the questions come from Jesus. Others questions come from the disciples. A few of the questions come from adversaries of Jesus like Pilate. Many of the questions are our questions. I think you will discover that every question impacts us. That is, all of the questions cause us to ask “So What?”

This week the question is the implied question of the disciples. As we will note in the Gospels, the disciples seemed to have this ongoing debate about who among them was the greatest. In fact, Mark records that two of the disciples, James and John, even said in this context, “We want you to do whatever we ask.”

As we will discover Sunday, true, Godly greatness is the absolute opposite of how the world defines greatness.

Bro. Perry’s Example in Personal Evangelism

Yesterday, of course, we learned of the passing of Billy Graham. He was a great evangelist in the sense of what might be called mass evangelism—preaching to mass crowds.

I woke this morning thinking of Perry Sanders, the greatest personal evangelist I have ever known. Sharing the gospel one on one was as natural for him as talking about the weather.

Today would have been my predecessor Perry Sanders’ 90th birthday.

Since today would have been his birthday, I dug out my notes from the sermon I shared at his funeral. I hope those of you who knew him and those who have never heard his name will be encouraged today about personal soul-winning (as Bro. Perry would have called it). Here is the excerpt from the funeral message.

One of Bro. Perry’s life verses has been Romans 1:16. Paul wrote:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

I would dare say that if we gave everyone the opportunity to give one word that describes Bro. Perry, a good number of us would use the word “boldness.” Boldness is described in this life verse by the phrase, “I am not ashamed.” I think even Bro. Perry’s harshest critic would have to confess he has never been ashamed of the Gospel. Where does boldness come from? One word—conviction. Bro. Perry gained his boldness about the Gospel because he had the conviction revealed in this verse. First, he had the conviction that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation. He believed with all of his heart that there is no other way to be saved. He also had the conviction that this promise of salvation is available to any who would call on the name of Jesus. Bro. Perry had the conviction that the Gospel has power to save no matter the person’s skin color, no matter a person’s financial standing, and no matter a person’s sin condition. The conviction of his heart was that every person can be saved. His boldness came out of that conviction.

Bro. Perry quoted this verse in his last sermon to us.

Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

If we are Jesus’ disciples, He will make us a fisher of men. The desire to be a soul winner is something that “accompanies” our own salvation.

After I had been called as pastor, but before I started, Bro. Perry called me to give the results of visitation one Tuesday night. There was such excitement in his voice as he told me about the decision of each one that had been personally witnessed to that evening. I have watched him share his faith with such ease in every setting—in a restaurant to a server, in a hospital to a patient, in a hospital to the person in the elevator, walking through the Cajun Dome talking to evacuees in the aftermath of Katrina, and even listened in on a phone conversation to a prominent member of our community as he shared the Gospel at the close of a rather routine phone call.

Even when he was in the hospital with a broken hip, Bro. Perry said to me, “You know the Bible says that all things work together for good. Well, I’ll tell you, there is nothing good about this broken hip.” He paused and then with a smile he continued, “Except I’ve been able to share the Gospel with everyone who has come in my room.”

Stories about Bro. Perry are legendary around our church. Here is one of my favorites and the story illustrates well how personal evangelism was at the forefront of Bro. Perry’s every waking moment.

One evening, Bro. Perry had traveled to North Louisiana to preach. His long-time friend, Oliver (from whom I got the story), was with him. On the way home they stopped to get gas and a snack at a rural convenience store. Bro. Perry was pumping the gas while Oliver went inside to an empty store except for the one employee. After pumping the gas, Bro. Perry pushed open the door of the store and said to the lone employee, “Are you ready to die tonight?”

The employee hit the floor. Oliver said that he just knew that poor clerk thought he was about to be the victim of an armed robbery. When the clerk realized he was not being robbed, he was a captive audience to the glorious good news of the Gospel.

I am not half of the evangelist that Bro. Perry was, but he made a lasting impression on me in our few years together that I pray and want you to pray that I never get over.

And yeah, I confess, though we don’t know everything about Heaven, I find myself thinking about Bro. Perry saying to Billy something like, “Billy, you got here just in time for my birthday.”

My Reflection on the Ministry of Billy Graham

So many others are going to write better articles today about the ministry of Billy Graham.  I have read many already. There is a sense in which I feel foolish for writing. You will read better articles than this one. However, since writing for me is something of a therapeutic experience, perhaps I write more for me than I do you, my reader.

Billy Graham shared my mother’s birthday. (The day, that is, November 7, not the year.) He would have been 100 this coming November 7. My earliest memory of Billy Graham was watching the Billy Graham Crusade on television as a small child with my mother. For our family, this was “must watch” tv. Indeed, he was the most famous preacher of my lifetime and second place is not close. And yet, the quality that I admire most about Graham is that he never set out to be famous, just faithful.

As I reflect this morning on what Billy Graham has modelled for me as a preacher, I note these characteristics.

1. He was a man of impeccable integrity.

Perhaps you have heard of the Modesto Manifesto. Graham and his team of Cliff Barrows, Grady Wilson, and Bev Shea were holding a crusade in Modesto, California. They were discussing the problems associated with other evangelists and covenanted together to build their ministry on four principles: secure money for their crusades in advance through local committees rather than through love offerings at the meetings, never be alone with a woman not their wife, support the local church, and not emphasize numbers in their publicity.

2. He was a man of honest humility.

I say honest humility, because I have witnessed some occasions where the humility is fake in order to be thought to be humble. What an incredible irony that is! But the humility of Graham always seemed to be truly genuine.

One of my favorite stories about Graham comes from his brother-in-law, Leighton Ford. Ford tells the story of his being on a flight. Ford settled into his seat and closed his eyes to get a little rest on his trip. The attendant approached him with a 95 year old woman. The attendant said, “Sir, would you mind looking after this dear woman? She’s 95 years old. Make sure she doesn’t need anything.”

Ford, now interrupted from his nap, thought to himself, “Well, I might as well make the best of it.” He decided to engage the woman in conversation. He began, “Ninety-five years old, wow, you must have had a lot of wonderful experiences?”

“Yep,” she said.

“And you must have met a lot of interesting people?”

“Yep, she said,”

This went on for a few more questions and all he could get this woman to say was “Yep.” He decided to change his tactics. He asked, “In 95 years, what’s the most important thing you have ever learned?”

She answered, “I guess the greatest thing I’ve ever learned is the Lord sure has been good to me.”

At this point, Ford, an evangelist, deciding to have a little fun with this woman said, “Surely, you don’t believe in God. Surely you’ve learned something besides this.”

Ford, at this point says that the little old lady, who to this point had said so little, looked at him and lit into him. “Let me tell you, sir, what the Lord has done for me. He’s the only reason I’m here today. He’s the one who helped me raise my kids.”

Ford began to laugh and explained to the woman that he had just said that to get a response.  He explained that he was a traveling evangelist. “Actually,” he said, “my brother-in-law is the famous Billy Graham. You ever heard of him?

“Nope,” the old lady said.

“Oh, sure, you know him. He’s been on television,” Ford offered back.

“I must not have had the television on the nights he was on,” she said.

Ford, of course, couldn’t wait to call his brother-in-law and rub it in a little bit. He told Graham about the lady he met. They both had a good laugh. Graham ended the conversation this way.

“You know, isn’t it great, that not everybody knows us, but God knows everyone. He is a faithful God.”

Humility!

3. He kept the main thing the main thing. He preached the Gospel.

On May 2, 1996, Congress awarded Graham the Congressional Gold Medal. What do you think Graham did for his acceptance speech? He preached as clearly as I have ever heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I listened to that message again this morning.

I have shared my favorite Graham story, now let me share my favorite Graham quote. When asked what was different about preaching when he started and at the end of his public preaching ministry, Graham noted:

“Nothing has really changed in terms of the needs of people. Whenever or whatever you preach, you must remind them of their sin, speak to them about Heaven and Hell, show them to the cross, and urge them to come to the Savior.”

4. He seemed to balance better than most preaching the same Gospel in changing times.

This morning, as I listened to that message in front of Congress from 1996, I was amazed at how Graham spoke the unchanging Gospel in the changing times. He spoke of “guns in schools.” In light of last week, I got chills when he made that reference. He mentioned the rock group Nirvana. Those his age should not have known the band Nirvana, but Graham wasn’t necessarily speaking to those of his age. And, yet, (and sorry I can’t resist) Graham didn’t feel the need to ditch the suit and preach in a t-shirt, skinny jeans, and bare footed to reach a younger generation. He preached the message of Jesus to changing cultures without becoming unbalanced in his methodology. I think my generation of preachers has much to learn in this area.

5. He seemed to balance better than anyone ever of my lifetime that right engagement with politics.

He had a hearing with every president from Truman to Obama. He influenced the influencers, but never made politics the focus of his ministry.

All of this causes me to pray….Oh, Lord, in your mercy, give us another Billy Graham!

Editor’s note: In our Midweek Service tonight at 6:00 p.m., we will view the message mentioned in point three of this blog.