A SOLDIER GOES HOME                                                                                                            Andy Hollifield 2-23-18

Acts 7:51-60 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (52) Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have now been the betrayers and murderers: (53) Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (54) But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. (57) Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, (58) And cast him out of the city and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. (59) And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (60) And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this he fell asleep.

Acts 8:1-4 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time, there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (2) And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. (3) As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. (4) Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.

Acts 11:19-21 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. (20) And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. (21) And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.

Not much has changed has it? People that have no room for God in their lives still resisting the pleading of the Holy Ghost. Persecuting and sometimes killing, either physically or the influence of, those who carry the gospel of God. We are living in a day that God’s people need to just look steadfastly to him because I believe that we have reached the eleventh hour of the Saturday evening of time, at least that is how I remember the last days being referred to when I was a kid. In those days, the things we see now in the world and even in our country and communities, with evil being called good and good being called evil, were never even dreamed possible in our protected little corner of the world. “Those things will never happen here” we believed. “We are in the buckle of the bible belt.” Yet here we are. At nearly 53 years old, I have seen stuff come to pass in our area that if you had of told me in the ’70’s when I grew up that we would be seeing now, I would have told you that you had lost your ever-loving mind and it would never happen here.

That is the world we live in. The one thing that seemed to be a constant throughout my life was that there was one man who had the respect of the entire world it seemed and filled stadiums wherever he went in the world. He wasn’t an entertainer and definitely not a politician but a preacher. Not only a preacher but a local preacher residing in Montreat, NC. The Rev. Billy Graham conducted himself with the utmost integrity that commanded respect wherever he went. He put forth a lot of effort guarding his reputation against any possible occasion for slander and is the one preacher that I have never heard slanderous accusations against. When I was a young preacher, my pastor Rev. Bruce West, often used Mr. Graham as an example of how to protect my name. I was told, and have heard it on numerous occasions, that he would not walk into a hotel room unless someone on his team had went in first and made sure no one was in it. I also heard how that he wouldn’t step into an elevator alone with a woman other than his wife and if a lady got on, he would immediately get off and wait on the next one.

That was how concerned he was about trying to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) Although I never got to meet him, I still managed to learn a lot from his ministry. In the days when I first started preaching in June of 1986, there was a very strong conservative bias against other versions of the bible. I am still, and always will be, a die-hard King James Version man. It was in the fall of ’86 or that winter that my pastor and I decided to attend the Billy Graham School Of Evangelism. It was a 3 day event held at the Great Smokies Hilton (currently Crowne Plaza Villas of Asheville, NC). It only cost 25 dollars and had several seminars by well-known preachers that I had heard on Focus On The Family. Those included Tony Evans of Dallas Theological Seminary, Greg Laurie and Chuck Smith from California, and a Methodist pastor and evangelist whose name I believe was Eddie Fox from Tennessee. He was far more country than what I would have expected but I still remember the message he preached about “I Put A Dot On A King’s Map.” Anyway, that was where I first really considered the fact that God could use those men to reach lost sinners just like he could me. They preached the same bible doctrine of salvation by grace through faith that I do. Not only did I learn that but I also had the privilege of being in a service with primarily preachers and deacons from all sorts of denominations and I found out that when the Holy Ghost comes on the scene, some of them will shout and worship just like I do. Up till that point, Charles Stanley was really the only man I had ever listened to much that used a different version. That was also the time when I met Franklin Graham and got to take a bus ride up to the cove before it was even built. There were only a couple of outdoor camp meeting sheds on the property then. I am thankful that I learned those lessons early in my ministry before I started shooting the soldiers in my own army, so to speak, because of our differences.

I started with several scriptures about the death of Stephen. I have always admired his spiritual strength and devotion to God as well as his uncompromising boldness. The reason I used so many verses was to help illustrate the fact that things today are not that different from then. The public stonings are not real common in most places yet but I would not rule them out before this thing winds up. One thing about the single-minded focus of Stephen was the fact that he fell asleep while being stoned to death. He was not knocked unconscious but the bible said after he asked God to forgive those that were stoning him and gnashing on him with their teeth that “he fell asleep.” It isn’t until you read the other verses I mentioned that you can begin to realize the impact that Stephen’s ministry, and that day in particular, had on the spread of the gospel. Another ironic occurrence is the fact that the very ruler that was “consenting unto his death” is the very man who God saved and sent to evangelize the known world making him the best known apostle because of his New Testament writings to the churches he started. All of that because of the impact of one man on the world; Stephen.

As folks around the world share their stories of Billy Graham, it still remains to be seen, and we will probably never know, the impact that the ministry of this one man will have on the world. I have heard it said this week that he probably preached to more people in his life than any man since the Apostle Paul (Saul). The estimate I heard was possibly over 250 million and that is not even counting the untold numbers of his television and radio audiences. I saw a cartoon of Mr. Graham approaching heaven’s gate with his bible tucked under his arm and the gate-keeper said to him, “Welcome Billy Graham, millions of people are waiting inside to thank you.” There is a lot more truth to that than a cartoon could imply. He was a friend to hundreds of world leaders, entertainers, business and social leaders, and anyone else that would take the opportunity to speak to him. I have heard stories of folks meeting him in a doctor’s office and finding him as personable as their next door neighbor. I have heard interviews with his family members that say “he took the gospel seriously but never took himself too seriously.” From all accounts I have heard or read about his life, I am sure that if he were here, he would downplay all the fuss and try to put the spotlight and focus the attention on someone else and always on Christ. As well as Mr. Graham, several other area saints crossed heaven’s threshold in the last week and among them Dewey Brown of Weaverville, Laura Fowler of Woodfin, and Cecil Honeycutt of Hendersonville, just to name a few that I know. I don’t know if there are millions waiting to thank them like there probably are for Mr. Graham, but there are millions waiting to greet them and Mr.Graham including Stephen and Paul and most of all; the one all of these spent their lives in service for; our Savior Jesus Christ. Look what’s waiting for us! Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!


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