The recent passing of Billy Graham prompted some reflection on his ministry as well as many others over the past sixty years. Hundreds of thousands responded to Billy’s invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. His message was always simple, emphasizing sin, its consequences and God’s provided solution at the cross of Calvary. Remarkably, the same message was being preached in thousands of churches across America, often with identical results. During the sixties and seventies this was a regular occurrence in many evangelical churches. In the eighties and nineties the results were in obvious decline which may be one reason why Billy spent more time overseas. It was during those decades that he began to repeatedly point out the corporate sins of our nation. By 2018 it’s a rare thing to see anyone walk the aisle and publicly confess Christ, asking Him for forgiveness and redemption. Many churches have forsaken the traditional “invitation” to avoid the embarrassment of no responders.
The Bible offers many examples of diminishing returns; one that is particularly relevant to modern America is found in the first book of the New Testament. Matthew chapter 14 records the occasion when Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men plus a large number of women and children from the multiplication of five loaves and two fish. In chapter 15 the miracle is repeated but with subtle differences; 4,000 men plus women and children were fed, which required “seven loaves and a few little fishes.” It obviously took more to produce less.
And real student of the Scriptures is compelled to search out the reasons for the reduction, which interestingly is found in the verses sandwiched between the two incidents. Immediately after the first supernatural event “Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side…but the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves…And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.” Peter attempted the same but began to sink “when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid.” Jesus rescued him but chided Peter for lack of faith. Faith then is the real issue and moral of the story. Mark 6:52 includes an addendum: “for they considered not the miracles of the loaves; for their heart was hardened.”
The fountain of faith is the Word of God: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). In 1963 America allowed the Supreme Court to remove the Scriptures from the public schools. The effect of the lack of this critical wellspring of spirituality was not immediately discernable because the young adult generation had grown up in schools that celebrated the nativity at Christmas and utilized prayer and Scripture verses to reinforce morality. This permitted a continued harvest of souls because the children of the forties and fifties possessed a certain God consciousness that was depleted in the next generation. Twenty years after the court ruling the Word was not only missing but was, and still is, under constant attack by skepticism of ignorance.
The next event finds Jesus engaging the Pharisees in controversy when He exposes one of their revered traditions as a financial scam (Matthew 15:1-9). On the heels of his scathing rebuke, “Then came his disciples, and said unto him, knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” The disciples, good conservatives, were about to learn that “being offended” was a weapon of the Left that is often drawn from the scabbard of liberalism when there is no truth or logic to support their agenda. By the time we reached the turn of the century myriads of so-called minorities were blinded politically and spiritually because of programmed offenses. The concern of the disciples garnered an unexpected response from the Lord: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”
In the wake of this hate speech, Jesus blasted the mouths and hearts of his adversaries. “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18-19). In other words, an average night on the boob tube. All of this serves to dilute an awareness of God which ultimately harbors a horrible aftermath.
Just prior to the diminished miracle a Gentile woman approached Jesus: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” School, theater and mall shooters do not have a mental health problem but rather a spiritual health problem. These incidents are a classic picture of social evolution in reverse.
“Heavenly Father, we come before you to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good.’ But that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from sin and set us free. Amen!”... Billy Graham’s prayer for America at age 95