Billy Graham died on 21 February 2018 at the age of ninety-nine. As a messenger of God, he had planned his own funeral very carefully to be a call for people to put their faith in Jesus. He had said beforehand, ‘Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.’ In 1934, at the age of sixteen, he’d heard God’s call and became a faithful messenger of the gospel. He spoke about Jesus to over 210 million people in person and to almost half the population of the world on TV or radio. He was determined to make the most of every opportunity, including his own funeral, to pass on God’s message to the world. ‘*My messenger*’ is the way John the Baptist is described by God (Luke 7:27). You too can be God’s messenger. Jesus speaks of ‘*the message* about the kingdom’ (Matthew 13:19). In the New Testament, ‘*the message*’ is a synonym for ‘*the gospel*’ (see Acts 2:41; 4:4; 10:44 and so on). Our task is both *to hear* this message and *to declare* it to others (1 John 1:5).
1. Stay close to God
If you want to hear God’s message, you need to ‘wait passionately for God, don’t leave the path’ (v.34a, MSG). ‘The spacious, free life is from God, it’s also protected and safe. God-strengthened, we’re delivered from evil – when we run to him, he saves us’ (vv.39–40, MSG).
Lord, help me to stay close to you, staying on your path and hoping in you.
2. Seek Peace
God’s messengers must be messengers of peace; ‘For there is a happy end for the man of peace’ (v.37b, AMP). God’s messengers should not be stirrers or seek to bring unnecessary division. Rather, be a person of peace. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matthew 5:9).
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Luke 6:37–42, 47-49, 7:7-8
3. Do not judge
Jesus says, ‘Do not judge’ and ‘Do not condemn’ (6:37). ‘Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticise their faults’ (v.37, MSG). Jesus’ famous story about trying to take a ‘speck of dust’ out of someone else’s eye when we have a ‘plank’ in our own eye is a challenging one (vv.41–42). It is far easier to see the faults in those around me than to see my own shortfalls and weaknesses. If we live this way, we will always be falling out with others.
I need to pay more attention to my own faults and the areas where I need to grow. Only then can I help reconcile others to God in their struggles. When you treat others with the same patience God shows you, you are much more likely to get on with everybody else and recognise the validity of other people’s ministries.
Lord, help me to remove the ‘planks’ from my life and to extend grace to those around me.
4. Forgive others
Jesus said, ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (v.37b). Forgive people even if they are not sorry. Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred and the waste of energy. The forgiveness that God gives you should be a virtuous circle that overflows into your relationships with others.
Lord, thank you that you have forgiven me. Help me to forgive others, regardless of whether they are sorry or not.
5. Give away your life
As we saw yesterday, generosity is at the heart of Christianity. In this passage Jesus reiterates that message: ‘Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity’ (v.38, MSG).
Lord, help me to reflect your generosity in my attitude to others. Help me to look for the good in others, to forgive, and to give.
6. Hitch your wagon to a star
‘Hitch your wagon to a star’ was the best piece of advice I was given when I was looking for a place to train as a pastor. Jesus says, ‘The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher’ (v.40). As I looked at Sandy Millar, I knew that he was the ‘star’ that I wanted to be like. Therefore, I wanted to train under him because even though I felt I would never equal the wisdom and gifting of my teacher, at least I knew what I was aiming for.
That is why I often read biographies of people like William Wilberforce, Corrie ten Boom, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Bryan Stevenson. Their examples enrich us and inspire us to aim higher. Of course, Jesus ultimately is the only star. Hitch your wagon to him.
Lord, thank you for the heroes of the faith who have gone before me, and for the leaders that you have put in my life. Help me to learn from them and to aim higher in my walk with you.
7. Guard your heart
Jesus says, ‘Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their hearts, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their hearts. For out of the overflow of one’s heart the mouth speaks’ (v.45). If you want to be God’s messenger you have to fill your heart with his message, his presence and his love. Billy Graham always used to say he liked to speak ‘out of the overflow’.
Lord, help me to guard my heart and store up good within it. As David prayed, ‘create in me a pure heart, O God’ (Psalm 51:10).
8. Obey God’s Word
Superficially the two houses looked the same. But the one that collapsed had no foundation (Luke 6:49). Jesus said, ‘If you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation’ (v.49, MSG).
The difference between the two is that the wise person hears the message and puts it into practice (v.47). It is not enough to study God’s message. Live it out. Knowing God’s Word and obeying it should be the foundation of your life.
Lord Jesus, help me to listen to your words and to put them into practice in my life.
9. Be under authority
All authority comes from being underauthority. The centurion recognised that Jesus’ authority came from being under authority, just as his own authority as a centurion to give commands came from being ‘under authority’ (7:8).
Your message today will have authority if you are under God’s authority and are led by his Holy Spirit. This authority does not belong to you: you are authorised by God to be his messenger. The apostle Paul spoke of being an ‘ambassador’ of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Lord Jesus, thank you that you have authorised me to be your messenger. Help me to be a faithful ambassador of the gospel to those around me.
10. Finish well
According to the New Testament, Balaam’s life is a counterexample. He is cited as an example of a false prophet: ‘They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. ‘But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey – an animal without speech – who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness’ (2 Peter 2:15–16).
It is a warning against ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Three times the angel of the Lord tried to stop Balaam going with Balak. But Balaam was determined to go in spite of the fact that the angel of the Lord was trying to stand in his way and said to him, ‘I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me’ (Numbers 22:32).
Balaam had set out to accept a fee for giving Balak the oracle he wanted to hear. Yet, we see in the passage for today that at one stage in Balaam’s life he had tried to do the right thing. He said, ‘I must speak only what God puts in my mouth’ (22:38; see also 23:8,12,26).
Balaam’s life is a warning that even those who are used by God can get themselves into a mess. It is an encouragement to keep on doing what Balaam, at one point, set out to do – to hear God’s message and pass it on to others. Be faithful and finish well.
Lord, help me to be your faithful messenger. I want to be sensitive to the guidance of your Holy Spirit, to follow where you are leading and to stay faithful to the end.
I don’t like people being cruel to animals. Sometimes animals are more sensible than humans, as in the case of Balaam’s donkey; God used an animal to speak to Balaam.
Balaam was determined to go on despite the obstacles. The difficulty we face in life is to work out what God’s plan is. It is sometimes difficult to work out whether God is stopping us from going down a disastrous route, or whether there is opposition that we need to pray through to overcome. Either way prayer is the key.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Alpha’s annual Leadership Conference is coming up on Monday 2 May and again on Tuesday 3 May. It’s online and free – and we would love you to join us. We all have a part to play in God’s kingdom. Leadership Conference 2022 is a chance for us to gather together, encounter Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, and be envisioned to play our part in the transformation of society. To find out more and to register please visit leadershipconference.org.uk.