Will Graham and his wife, Kendra Graham, daughter C.J. (left), son Quinn and daughter Rachel.
Together we are approaching a very unique Thanksgiving. 2020 has been a chaotic and volatile year, and for many it may be hard to find things for which to be thankful. Perhaps that describes you after a season of coronavirus, societal unrest, lawlessness, and economic upheaval. The struggle has been compounded by a particularly contentious political election season, which is pitting two very different visions for America against each other. As believers, we must be in a constant state of prayer for our families, our churches, and our nation.
Though things look bleak and can be discouraging, in Philippians 4:6–7 the Bible gives us the roadmap for thankfulness in the face of challenges: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (NKJV).
No matter our situation or circumstances, we serve an eternal and loving Father who is at work in our lives for the sake of His Kingdom. In down days of pain and discouragement, we can be thankful for His faithfulness, presence, and peace. In good days of victory, we can be thankful for His blessings and hope. While this world sways to and fro in the winds of change and volatility, we are able to have hearts of gratitude for our Rock, Fortress, and Deliverer (Psalm 18:2).
And I’m thankful for you as well. Your prayerful support for the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association—especially in such a tumultuous time—has provided the gift of hope for eternity to searching souls. Through your generosity, we’ve been able to continue proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ near and far.
The live stream was geared toward a Canadian audience, as it coincided with a pair of outreaches postponed by COVID-19 I had originally planned to hold in Ontario this fall. When it was all said and done, however, people from 45 different countries had tuned in. More than 55,000 viewed the program, and we praise God for the more than 400 souls that entered into a relationship with Jesus!
Among those who responded to the Gospel message was a man named Andres from Venezuela. He had found my message and reached out to chat with one of our volunteers online. “In a world like we are living how can I have peace and hope?” he asked, followed quickly by, “Problems and worries are all around us.” As the volunteer shared verses from Scripture, Andres understood his need for a Savior. “I declared from my mouth to Jesus believing from my heart,” he said. “I repented from my sins.” While there was a minor language barrier, the hope of Christ and the Holy Word were clear as Andres embraced eternity with Him.
Again, this would not be possible without your faithfulness and partnership in ministry. You played a major role in seeing that which was once lost, found and made whole in Christ.
While God has opened incredible online opportunities for ministry over the last several months, I’m extremely excited that we just announced an in-person Celebration. The Tiftarea Celebrationwith Will Graham was originally scheduled to take place March 20–22, 2020, in Tifton, a beautiful southern Georgia city along I-75. We have now settled on the date of Feb. 5–7, 2021, for the outreach. We plan to take as many precautions as needed in order to keep people as safe as possible. It will be a wonderful blessing to once again join together, raise our voices in praise to God, and proclaim His salvation to those who need it. Please join us in praying for the Tiftarea Celebration, and—if you’re in the southeastern United States—make your plans now to join us!
My father, Franklin Graham, is also planning a one-day evangelistic Festival in Milan, Italy. Let’s pray for God to move mightily there in people’s lives.
Even as we praise God for answered prayers and excitedly make plans for upcoming evangelistic outreaches, we also understand that there are many in this nation who are hurting deeply right now. From the West and Northwest (wildfires) to the Southeast (hurricanes), Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains have been offering hope to the hurting and peace to the broken. The ministry has deployed to more than a dozen locations in recent weeks as disaster after disaster have pummeled our shores. It’s as if we’re living Paul’s words in Romans 8:22: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (NKJV).
We mourn with those who mourn, sharing the comfort of our loving and ever-present God. In many cases, our chaplains have the opportunity to share the hope of Jesusin the midst of these disasters. Just in the last months, hundreds of people (many of whom are persevering through the hardest days they have ever known), have placed their faith in Jesus. In doing so, they’ve discovered strength to carry on, a new-found hope for this life and for eternity.
Our chaplains visited with one man in a small town in Louisiana. He and his mother—with whom he lives—were both in very poor health even before Hurricane Laura made landfall and caused catastrophic damage to their humble home. He told the chaplains that he had no money, no help, and nowhere to go. He was hopeless. As their conversation progressed and turned to spiritual matters, the chaplains asked the man if he wanted to have peace in the “storms” that he was facing, and he gave the chaplains permission to share the Gospel with him. Upon hearing the Good News, he grabbed hold of the free gift of salvation and surrendered his life to Jesus! Only afterwards did he admit that he had contemplated suicide due to the destruction and his inability to have contact with his friends. The chaplains joined the man in praising God that he now had a Friend that would never leave him nor forsake him.
We truly have so much to be thankful for. The stories I’ve shared today are only the beginning of the way we’ve seen God work this year. As you know, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association launched a 24/7 prayer line earlier this year after the initial impact of the coronavirus, and—through short 60-second spots on television—my father, Franklin Graham, has proclaimed the Gospel across the airwaves countless times in 2020. Since March, nearly 230,000 people have called for prayer, and more than 10,000 people have made a decision for Christthrough this simple, effective method for reaching people where they are.
One call was from a man who said that he has been lying to himself and to God, pretending to be a true believer when he really has not been. He was tired of giving into addictions, corrupting his mind, and pretending to be what he was not. He said he was ready to truly accept Jesus into his life as his Lord and Savior. After fully surrendering his life and eternity to Christ, the man proclaimed that he now has a “new birthday”!
My friends, life is hard. We live in a chaotic world that doesn’t make sense. But do we have reason to be thankful? We absolutely do! God is at work in our midst, and He’s using you in ways you may not even be able to imagine.
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
“Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. From the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez;and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.”
Last week, as we moved into chapter 11, we saw that the Israelites had a problem. Even after the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, it remained vastly unoccupied. There were several reasons for the empty Holy City; one of them being fear, another being, people had already settled in outlying towns before the walls had been repaired, and thus they did not want to uproot their families and move. Therefore, it was necessary to cast lots and select people to move into the city.
The majority of chapter 11 is a long list of names of those selected to move into the Holy City. If you are like me, I often skim long sections of names in the bible, but today, I want to highlight a few of the people listed above.
First, Nehemiah starts with the lines of Judah, and of Benjamin. The first two kings over Israel arose from these two tribes. King David from Judah, and King Saul from Benjamin, so it was intentional that these two tribes had top billing, and begin the repopulation of the city.
Next I want to focus on the fact that the sons of Perez are listed in a prominent manner. Perez was the illegitimately conceived son of Judah and Tamar. If you are not familiar with the story, you can read about it in Genesis Chapter 38. I believe God gave the sons of Perez an important part of repopulating His Holy City of Jerusalem because of the man’s difficult past. I believe both the lines of the kings, as well as those with a checkered past are mentioned because God welcomes all who will come into His presence through His son. He draws us all to Himself. All to His Holy City. The city on a hill.
“And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing, opened its beak, or chirped.”
What can we learn from Nehemiah?
· As the first two tribes were called upon to do God’s work, they answered the call. Be the first to answer when God calls.
· Do not let my past hinder me from doing what God is asking of me.
· Obey God’s word, make a step of faith and we will have a part of His Holy City
· Making a step of faith may not seem safe or comfortable, but He will reward you for making the move.
It took courage for these men to move their families from a comfortable home in the country to a city that wasn’t necessarily safe, but God not only honors our faith, but also our actions. He listed these men as men who took the steps and moved into Jerusalem. A city on a hill, which contained God’s Holy presence.
James 2: 14-17
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
What questions can we ask ourselves that can affect change?
What work has God given me that I am afraid to do?
What is holding me back from moving in my calling?
What can I do to listen more intently to the Holy Spirit?
What is in my past that is causing me to doubt God’s call?
Our weekly Bible verse comes from Matthew 11:28 (NIV):
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities. And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants, and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem. From the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez;”
The first time I read this passage of Nehemiah, it made me incredibly sad. Jerusalem, the holy city, the place that housed the temple, or dwelling place of God, remained relatively uninhabited. Other than the leaders and temple workers, no one wanted to live in the city that Nehemiah worked diligently to rebuild. How could that be?
This troubled me and I was not able to let it go for days so I began to research why no one wanted to live in Jerusalem. The answer was both simple and complicated. Simple in the city had been essentially uninhabited for seventy years. When people moved back from exile, it was not safe, so they built homes in the outlying cities. The complicated answer is, after the walls were rebuilt, no one wanted to move out of their established home . . . in another city.
So God’s holy city remained uninhabited. A rebuilt ghost town if you will. The solution was to cast lots to get people to move to Jerusalem. The Israelite people even prayed a blessing on those who got chosen to make the move and yet they did not want to be the ones to receive the blessings.
I understand packing up a family and moving may seem like an inconvenience, when you consider the move would be to live in God’s presence and will for His people . . .
Revelation 21:10, 22-26
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb.The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed;and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;”
What can we learn from Nehemiah?
· We all want to do our own thing, live our lives and not be held accountable, but when we do, we can miss God’s very presence.
· Bless those who choose to follow God’s presence and will. Help them with the sacrifice they are making to follow God.
· Do God’s work no matter where I live. Follow Him and watch the blessings flow.
· Be the first to step forward in doing God’s work
“My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me;
One who walks in a blameless way is one who will serve me.”
What questions can we ask ourselves that can affect change?
How do I view living in God’s presence? Sacrifice or blessing?
What is my desire, to do my own thing or dwell in the house of God?
Typically, only 10% of people serve in church or other ministries. Will I by the 10%?
Am I seeking my own security or is God calling me to make a step of faith?
Our weekly Bible verse comes from Romans 5:1-2 (NIV)
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.”
Let this verse be a great reminder that we can have peace in the midst of any storm because God is with us. We do not need to fear, but just have faith.
“The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.”
As the Israelite people concluded the written contract with the Lord, and put in writing everything they committed while renewing their faith. These verses again center on the importance of the tithe. Last week we saw the tithe as it pertained to the individual and their personal commitment. Whereas, in the verses today, God, through the pen of Nehemiah, explained the intended flow of resources in the sanctuary.
The priests and the men of Levi, the temple workers, are to receive the tithe from the people as their living wage, and in turn they were to give a tenth of what they receive back for the daily need and upkeep of the house of God.
We also see how specific God was regarding the process needed, plus each item needed for temple upkeep, such as new wine, oil and the utensils. This was all so the house of God would not be neglected. The flow – from the people to the priests to the temple of God.
When we think about our own tithes and offerings, I wonder if the lay church member understands the true importance and how God intended the house of God to be maintained. Do we think of our giving in terms of providing for those who are doing the work in ministry, and ultimately for the “house of God”.
In the New Covenant, the house of God is not specifically a building, although it can be in context of a church building, but rather, the house of God is the Body of Believers. We see this demonstrated beautifully in the book Acts at the birth of the church.
“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
What can we learn from Nehemiah?
· Make tithing and offerings a priority.
· Make bring a good steward of all of God’s provision, including my time and talents.
· There was a process set in place for a reason, that the house of God is not neglected. Make sure I follow the what God is telling me to do with my resources.
· Actively seek out where we can be a blessing as “anyone might have a need.”
1 Peter 4:9-11 (NASB)
” Be hospitable to one another without complaint.As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Luke 12: 48b (NASB)
“… From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
What questions can we ask ourselves that can affect change?
What has God given me that I need to be intentional and faithful with His provision?
How can I be a better steward with what God has given me?
Where does God want me to concentrate my giving for the year to come?
Is there a ministry that I can serve with my time and talents?