Dear Friendship and Heath Memorial UMC Families,
This past Saturday our Bishop released a statement that churches may resume “in-person” worship
services on June 14th. He also unveiled guidelines for safely doing so under a Covid-19 resource entitled,
“Reset, Restart, Renew.” These guidelines clearly state that each church should choose a time to reopen
that meets the needs (spiritual and physical) of their congregation. I will be in conversation with the
leadership of both of our churches. When we do go back into our church buildings we will still have to
maintain social distancing, proper cleaning and sanitization of facilities, utilize only 50% of our seating
capacity, and protect one another from possible harm by the coronavirus. There are so many more
decisions and guidelines to follow before we may safely return to worship in our buildings. In fact, it is
not only overwhelming, it is mind boggling. Some of us may be more than ready to return, some of us
may be afraid to return, some of us may think it is too soon to return. And, if we’re totally honest, some
of just don’t know when it will be safe to go back. Like all of you, I am a mixture of these emotions. I,
personally, am high risk due to having asthma and diabetes; I am not mentioning my age! I am also your
pastor who is frustrated by feeling the need to preach from my pulpit and not in front of a camera. Part
of me wants our families back together again and part of me loves you too much to put you at risk. We
will make our decision after prayerful consideration and after seeking God’s wisdom and guidance.
When we do return I would like us to consider this – how will we walk back into God’s house? Will we
return with the same level of commitment, less commitment, or, more resolved to walk with God
farther and deeper than we ever have before?
(Romans 4:13, 20-25)
As we entered the auditorium at The Cove (Billy Graham Evangelistic Training Center) we all expected
to hear from the speaker who was listed on the day’s agenda. This was Day 2 of the 2008 School of
Evangelism for Clergy and spirits were high as we anticipated another day of inspired teaching, powerful
music from the Tommy Coombs Praise Band, and personal renewal. We did not know that the Director
of the School of Evangelism had a surprise for us! “I am excited,” he said, “to present a very special
guest speaker today. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Cliff Barrows.” For those of you who are
too young to have much familiarity with Billy Graham’s early ministry and crusades, Cliff Barrows was
the music and program director of the crusades as well as a personal friend of Rev. Graham. As he stood
before an audience of about 500 clergy he smiled and said, “I’d like to take you on a journey. My
journey with Billy Graham and how he had such an incredible walk with God.” In his early years Billy
Graham preached at student rallies. One day a mentor challenged him and said, “when are you going to
stop preaching those watered down messages and start preaching the word of God?” From that point
on his messages became bold proclamations, “the Bible says . . .” Do we believe that? Do we live that?
God’s word is so important that is the word which informs and transforms our lives. Is it the word of
our lives, or, are our lives based upon some other word? What word are we depending on to guide us
through this pandemic? If God’s word ever needed to be powerfully proclaimed to the world it is now.
Now is the time for the word of salvation to be offered to a hurting world and to people who are
desperate for hope.
While preaching that word of hope during a crusade at a stadium in Germany the translator repeated
Billy Graham’s message sentence by sentence. At the end of the sermon he gave the invitation to Christ
and 50,000 people stood. Cliff Barrows said “Billy’s jaw flew open and he was stunned for a few
seconds.” Then Billy said, “Sit back down. You must have misunderstood my message.” So, he stated it
another way, the translator repeated it, he gave the invitation again, and 50,000 people stood. This
went on 3 times. What message have we been giving? Have people misunderstood it? The message
should be one from our hearts – that Jesus Christ is our life and that we want others to meet Him and
come to know Him.
But just how far will we go to give that message to others? Billy Graham held 419 crusades in 185
countries. Cliff Barrows said one time they went to this very small country. They were the guests of the
leader of the country and his wife for a dinner after the service. When they walked into the dining area
there was a table as long as football field and it held every kind of food in the world on it. Billy got to
one dish and he asked what it was. The wife of the leader answered through a translator that it was
royal food. Billy Graham said he didn’t know that he had ever had royal food before. She explained,
“very good, deep friend hornets.” Cliff Barrows said Billy took the spoonful he had dished up and said,
“have some Cliff” and plopped it on my plate. Talk about a new way of “feasting on the manna.” Billy
Graham said he would “go anywhere, anytime, any way he could to preach the gospel.” How far have
we gone to help people feast on the manna? Will we go around the corner, down the street, across
town, in the next room in our homes, on-line? How far will we go to walk with God through this
pandemic and share the good news of Jesus Christ?
This, my friends, is the heart of the matter. In 1947 Billy Graham laid his Bible on a tree stump, knelt,
and with hands clasped in prayer gave himself completely to God and asked God to fill him with the Holy
Spirit. It was a cry from the heart. He knew that it would not be through his human power or strength
that he would do what God had called him to do. It would only be through the power and presence of
the Holy Spirit that Billy Graham would be the man of God he was created to be. Now, the heart of the
matter is the same for you and me. If we want to be the man, or, the woman, God has created us and
called us to be, then it won’t be by our human power and strength. If we want to walk back into our
sanctuaries with a new level of commitment, more in love with Christ, and willing to serve Him however
He asks us to, it will only be by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit working within us and through
us. Lately, due to this coronavirus, it may seem like we’ve been crawling instead of walking. Are we
ready to be those men and women of faith and begin walking with God anew? “There is a time for
every purpose and activity under heaven.” Now is the time. The time for revival.
In Christ’s Love,