Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 27 March 2016 (Easter Sunday)

For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

 

Risen Indeed for Australia

 

He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” All across the world, today (honoured as a public holiday [holy day] also in Australia), this day is a day of triumph and fantastic news: Jesus who was tortured and killed on a cross on the Friday before is alive – risen from the grave on Easter Sunday. This happened two thousand years ago but the news value – the joy value – remains undiminished. Jesus is still alive; death has been defeated; “He is risen indeed!”

Who are you going to tell this morning? Does your neighbour know that you are in church celebrating Jesus? When a war is won – when finally, peace breaks out and the guns are silent – then everyone shouts out the good news in public. People are not shy to run onto the streets, have parades and raise up their hands in joy. Do you want to do this today – especially today? Jesus has won the war (for us) against sin, death and the devil. “He is risen indeed!”

What would it take for us to be bolder in our excitement about Jesus? Are we actually excited – not just on Easter morning? In the Bible, Paul wrote to one church:

 

Ephesians 1:17-23: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

 

Paul knew that numerous Christians were not in the right place to celebrate Easter properly. They needed to know God better and know his blessings for them better. He prayed for them – and he prayed for them hard (cf. Ephesians 3:14-16: “For this reason I kneel before the Father… I pray …”) – because his own converts struggled with catching the full extent of the Easter message which promised them more hope than they had and greater glorious riches of Jesus’ inheritance in his holy people. Last but not least, they missed (so Paul) “his incomparable great power for us who believe”. These Christians knew that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday [and they were in church on Easter morning] but they did not know – they did not really know – that (and I quote Paul again) “that power [for us who believe] is the same as the mighty strength he [God, the Father] exerted when he raised Christ from the dead”?

Wow! Do you believe on Easter morning that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in the church and available to you? When Jesus rose from the dead, everything radically changed – our hope, our inheritance and our power for this life and the next.

For most of my ministry and for most of the life of this church, we – like Paul – have been speaking the Easter message to Christians. The whole venture of leading a national renewal movement in the Lutheran Church of Australia (writing the two books that I have written, doing seminars and conferences) is to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection and what this means – how much more this means – for us who believe. With passion, we cry out: “Christians, listen to the prayer that Paul prayed: ‘I pray that … you may know the hope … the riches of his glorious inheritance … and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead.’” And then we have the joy of witnessing how one person after another is catching fire and waking up – seeing and knowing that Paul’s words are true.

When we came home from Vietnam, Pastor David Schuppan from Murrumba Downs (Brisbane), who was with us in Vietnam, had a happy homecoming in the sense that in the Sunday service a demon showed himself in one of his parishioners. Intense but great! He is now experiencing more and more that there isincomparably great powerin the church and unclean spirits cannot handle it, and need to leave. People are becoming free.

In Vietnam, one woman shared that she had come to the women’s conference with a heart full of stones but, as the sessions progressed, one stone after another left her and in the end, after Vicki had been praying for her (maybe forty minutes), she experienced the love of God for the first time in her life. This is wonderful. She finally knows better than before that Jesus is risen from the dead and we keep doing this work, preaching the Good News to Christians.

But I am also dreaming about something else. When Jesus rose from the dead, he met his disciples and gave them a great and exciting commission:

 

Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

The risen Jesus sent out his disciples to bring nations – entire people groups – to faith in him. It is important to bring an ailing church into renewal and this is never easy work (there is always resistance to renewal) and – yes – it is rewarding and joyful, but I am longing for the day when we speak to our city and nation. The time comes when we – the church – know again who we are and what we have. We are confident in the message that we carry and Jesus’ promise that he is always with us.

Am I dreaming too much? Will the time come? I draw inspiration from the past. If Australia had ears to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ in the past, it can happen again. For instance, I am amazed at what happened when American preacher Billy Graham visited Australia in 1959. This is in our history and it can happen again:

 

[Show Slide]

 

Karl Faase: Revitalised in Witness – the Lessons from the Billy Graham Crusade of 1959 (Pt 3), www.crossover.org.au/revitalised-in-witness-the-lessons-from-the-billy-graham-crusades-of-1959-pt-3/:

 

In 1959 Billy Graham visited Australia for four months, which included some time in NZ. This was the first and most significant of three Australian Billy Graham crusades (in 1968 & 1979). The ’59 Crusade was perhaps, at a national level, the closest Australia has come to what could be described as a revival. The numbers of people involved in preparation, attendance and response were astounding.

 

Preparation across the nation resulted in surprisingly large numbers of people getting involved. Counsellors were trained for the crusade meetings in huge numbers – Adelaide 4,500, Melbourne 5,000 and in Sydney between 8,000 & 9,000 were trained. There were also volunteers for the support roles and massive choirs. So great was the response to the call for choirs in Sydney that there were two separate choirs each with 1,000 people.

The churches also prepared their local areas by surveying homes to gauge the spiritual state of the nation. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that at least 300,000 of the 500,000 homes in Sydney at the time were visited and surveyed.

 

Prayer was mobilised in incredible numbers for these crusade meetings. There were local cottage prayer meetings as well as large gatherings, like the one in Sydney where 5,000 people attended. By April 1959 there were 40,000 prayer partners in prayer for the Crusades across Australia.

 

Once the crusade meetings started the statistics continued to be off the dial with massive crowd numbers and enquiry responses. There were 114 meetings in 106 days across Australia and New Zealand. Meetings were held in Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney.

To gain an understanding of the interest in these Crusade meetings the Melbourne story gives a clear picture. The meetings started at the moderately sized West Melbourne Stadium which held 7,500 people. When 10,000 turned out they realised the venue of hopelessly inadequate, so five days later they moved to the Sidney Meyer Music Bowl. On the first night at this new venue 25,000 people attended. This grew to 70,000 on the Sunday afternoon. Sadly, due to the yearly Moomba festival the Crusade meetings had to be moved again, this time to the less than desirable Agricultural Showgrounds. Even with a very poor venue and unseasonable rain and cold weather the nine meetings had attendances varying between 18,000 & 25,000. The final event of the Melbourne Crusades turned out to be a history-making event. It was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a staggering 143,000 people attending. To this day, the record still stands as the biggest crowd ever to assemble at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

 

The overall attendance of all the meetings was 3 million. Many thousands more heard Graham preach on radio, television or in cinemas. They read about him on the front page of all the metropolitan newspapers. Landlines relayed over 3000 services to over 400 remote and regional communities throughout. Australia.

 

At the end of the Billy Graham Crusades, a conservative number of enquirers at all these meetings was 146,000 people. That is, the number of people who walked forward at Crusade meetings to make a response to the message of Jesus which Graham had preached. It is helpful to ask what happened to those enquirers and did these responses make a difference to our nation?

Those who made a response at the meetings were referred to local churches. Some churches had an enormous number of referrals.

 

1.       St Luke’s Anglican in Liverpool had 215 enquirers referred to them.

2.       Port Kembla Methodist, which only had about 100 members in 1959, received 50 new enquirers after the Crusade. (An overnight growth of 50%!) Forty-seven of the 50 enquirers stayed as members of the church while the other three became members of other churches.

3.       The biggest numerical growth was in the heart of the city of Sydney. St Stephens Presbyterian Church on Macquarie Street had a staggering 600 new people referred to them in 1959. The church had to hire an extra minister to deal with the influx. Over 75% of these enquirers stayed as regular members of the church.

 

There was also significant influence in several other areas. While statistical coincidence doesn’t necessarily mean causality, there are some statistics that correlate with the timing of the 1959 Crusade. These may give us a glimpse into the impact of the Crusade on people’s lives:

 

1.       The Bureau of Statistics showed a 10% reduction in alcohol consumption for 1960-61.

2.       Australian Crime Statistics show a brief halt in the increase of crime for 1960-62. (The rate had doubled from 1920 to 1950, doubled again between 1950 and 1959, and then the upward trend continued in the late 1960s).

3.       1960 recorded the slowest growth in the number of ex-nuptial births in a decade in which the figure had been steadily growing.

 

This impact can also be seen anecdotally:

 

1.       Businesses reported an “epidemic” of repayments of bad debts

2.       Counsellors at the Crusades reported burglars handing in the tools of their trade when coming forward. Even a revolver was handed in!

3.       A Sydney District Court magistrate reported a 50% drop in alcohol-related crime.

 

Another profound impact was on people’s life and career decisions. In this sense, the Crusade had an immeasurable but enormous influence, the ripples of which were still felt 50 years later. The impact in theological colleges training people for Christian ministry was felt almost immediately:

 

1.       More than half of Melbourne Bible Institute’s 160 students in 1969 were there due to the 1959 Crusade.

2.       Of Adelaide Bible Institute’s 118 enrolments, 25% were there because of the 1959 Crusade.

3.       In Moore College in Sydney, numbers peaked at an unprecedented level in 1960 and 1961. (They had a first year intake of 44 students in 1960, and a record level of 104 total students in 1961).

4.       Every female student at Moore College in 1961 had been involved in or converted at a Billy Graham Crusade.

5.       The leadership and personnel of missionary organisations, like CMS, or Wycliffe Bible Translators are full of those impacted by the 1959 Crusade.

 

Overall, there was a widely-reported “deepening of spirituality” because of the Crusade. This is hard to measure of course, but nevertheless we do know that:

 

1.       During the Crusades, sales of Bibles trebled in capital cities.

2.       An additional 140,000 copies of the Gospel of John were given away free.

3.       Scripture Union memberships almost doubled between March 1958 and November 1959 (from 58,000 to 104,400).

 

The 1959 Billy Graham Crusade in Australia had a remarkable impact at the time and an ongoing long-term influence. This was not just the result of one great preacher coming to town. It is the outcome of the church working together, sustained prayer, an anointed preacher who presented the Gospel is ways that could be clearly understood and without apology, outstanding organisation and the power of the Spirit of God at work in the lives of those who heard the message. Whilst it would be foolish to try to replicate these events, it is a challenging reminder of what God can do when we focus on the Gospel and work together for Kingdom outcomes.

 

+++

 

Australia at the time was a place of conformity and conservative social values. Nearly 90% of Australians identified as Christians. They didn’t go shopping or drinking on Sundays. Instead they went to church.

 

Billy Graham Press Conference Melbourne
I think young people today are searching for something. Something to believe in. The president of Harvard University recently said about American teenagers that they were searching for a creed to believe in and a song to sing. And I believe that’s true all over the world. And I think thousands of teenagers are turning to Christ in many parts of the world. Just as thousands of young people are turning to Communism. They’re searching for something that can believe in and give their lives to.

 

Peter Jensen-Anglican Archbishop of Sydney
That doing something about it he said was to stand up and to come down the front.
It was a dramatic concrete expression of coming to faith. You don’t need to do that to become a Christian. All sorts of people become Christians without doing anything of the sort. But it was his method of actually getting us to make concrete what was going on within. And so, as I saw others go forward, with a step of courage which I didn’t think I had, I too went, stood and went forward. It was as clear headed a decision as I ever made in my whole life.

Peter Jensen-Anglican Archbishop of Sydney
You know whenever I go to our local churches - and I now travel around - I always ask, was anyone here came to know Christ at the Billy Graham Crusades in the 20th century. And so far there’s always been people sitting in the congregation who came to know Jesus at that time. In other words, yes our churches had a terrible shock in the 1960’s and went through a great revolution. And they were challenged very profoundly, and that challenge continues. But without the Graham crusades I think our churches would be in a far far worse place than they now are.

 

Christianity was mainstream. It was culturally appropriate to be a Christian in the Australia of 1959. You could stand up in your school or workplace and say “I went to the Billy Graham Crusade last night” and get nods of approval in reply.

There might have even been a few in the room feeling a little envious of you. “I wish I had gone and seen what all the fuss is about,” they might think to themselves. “I wonder if he’s speaking anywhere else?”

 

+++

 

From post war America, Graham begins preaching to millions and finds himself on personal roller coaster, moving through a changing political landscape, being brought in and out of the White House, meeting world leaders and even finding himself being lined up for the Presidency.

His private conversations with Churchill, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ and Nixon et al. are fascinating as are the admissions of his personal doubts and mistakes.

The book says quite a lot about the 1959 trip to Australia. Graham had to leave his wife & five small children behind to make the trip and had just been diagnosed with a serious vision problem. This was a tough tour.

But the committee, led by such luminaries as Archbishop Howard Mowell (who died just before the Crusade began) did an incredible job with the logistical nightmare they must have been presented with.

There were warm up rallies in most of the major cities Graham preached at. These warm ups were led by second string evangelists from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They included Leighton Ford who preached in Brisbane. Ford was Graham’s brother in law and has continued his ministry to this day.

 

In Sydney the staggering fact is around 5% of the population made a commitment at one of his rallies. That’s 57,000 becoming Christians (or at the very least claiming they had) in just four weeks. The statistics show that during the four months of the Crusade, around 2% of the entire Australian population made a decision for Christ.

Has there ever been anything to match this? Even if you were to be as sceptical as possible & claim those people were only swept up by emotion or perhaps went forward every night to swell the numbers, you can’t argue with the fact that they all received counselling and were referred to local churches.

Some churches received hundreds of referrals and had to employ new ministers just to cope with the influx. They literally did not have enough seats for their congregations the following Sunday. It’s staggering to think of this. Imagine an extra 200 people turning up to your church this week. At St Stephens in Sydney, 600 referrals were received. Unbelievable.

The Baptist churches were the greatest beneficiaries per capita. Baptists in 1959 accounted for just 2% of Christians in Australia, but they received over 10% of the referrals. Being a Baptist himself I suppose Graham’s message resonated with Baptist people somehow, but it’s not clear how because nothing in his messages was of a denominational nature.

So we must conclude that the Billy Graham Crusade of 1959 was a true revival in Australia. This cannot be said for his subsequent visits (1968 – Sydney, 1969 – Melbourne & 1979 – Sydney). Our churches are full of people today who made their commitment at this event. It’s a lasting spiritual legacy.

 

+++

 

A Billy Graham crusade is a mammoth feat of organization. It is run according to directions laid down in Crusade Procedure Books which are full of SOP, Standard Operational Procedures, a military term. This manual has 12 chapters covering committees (of which there are 12), Correspondence, Counselling, Financial, General Office, Prayer, Press, Promotion, Relay, Reservations, Statistics and Ushers. Most of these are subdivided into pre-crusade, crusade, and post-crusade.

 

+++

 

Graham did not overly use emotion in his sermons, but when you listen to them today, they sound very dynamic and forceful:

 

“The Bible says the way of the ungodly shall perish. The Bible talks about the lake of fire. The Bible talks about the second death. The Bible talks about outer darkness. The Bible talks about hell. Whatever all of those terms mean, they mean one thing; they mean separation from God. And destruction. And judgement. That’s the end of the broad road. And I’m here this afternoon asking you to turn from the broad road before it’s too late. I’m asking you to surrender your life to Jesus Christ and enter the narrow gate. The Bible says Jesus said there is a gate. A narrow gate. It’s a narrow gate but thank God there’s a gate!”

 

“I tell you there is going to be a resurrection. And all of those loved ones of yours that have died in the past in Christ; they knew Christ as their saviour, they’re going to be raised. And there’s going to be a glorious and grand reunion in that day!”

 

“I want you to listen to this minute of what I am going to say because this is the most important thing I’ll say. You must be willing to repent of your sins. Jesus said ‘Except ye repent ye shall likewise perish’. I didn’t say that. Jesus said it. Have you repented?”

 

“To receive Christ is not anti-intellectual. God says ‘Come now let us reason together’ saith the Lord. All the way through the Bible it tells us to use our minds to seek after wisdom and knowledge. To study to show ourselves approved unto God. But the Bible does use this word ‘faith’ many times. And in order to receive Christ and to have your life changed, you must be willing to readjust your way of living. That’s difficult. And the reason many people don’t come to Christ and the reason they cover it up with intellectual arguments is because they are not willing to meet the demands of Christ. Christ demands that we deny self. That Christ becomes Lord and master of our lives and that we turn from our wrong doing and start living for him.”

 

In four months, three million Australians attended Billy Graham meetings and even more listened to him on the radio or saw him on TV or the cinema. Three million people attended and 146,000 of them came forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ. They wanted Jesus. “In Sydney the staggering fact is around 5% of the population made a commitment at one of his rallies. That’s 57,000 becoming Christians (or at the very least claiming they had) in just four weeks. The statistics show that during the four months of the Crusade, around 2% of the entire Australian population made a decision for Christ.”

Are you getting excited? I think that it is time to have faith for this kind of outreach again. We have enjoyed the Jesus Tent (a few converts but it was also frequently for the Christians) but more needs to happen to change a nation.

How did Billy Graham do it? How did God do it through Billy Graham? This is encouraging. Billy Graham was and is not a super-smart intellectual, exceptional in every way. His preaching was simple and straight to the point. (And he also did not whip up the emotions.) His preaching was the preaching of an evangelist. It was all about Jesus, the cross and salvation. He did not elaborate on complicated church doctrines but kept it simple. Everyone here could give one of his messages. And the Bible commended this approach:

 

1 Corinthians 1:17: For Christ did . send me … to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

 

1 Corinthians 2:1-5: … When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

 

However, he did talk to the nation and people’s deepest needs.

 

[Show Video Clip]

 

Billy Graham did not give a deep analysis of the world’s problems but he showed awareness of what was troubling people and he pointed out that none of the human answers yielded any results. He made a case that in a world where no one (neither philosophers nor scientists nor modern spirituality) has found solutions, Jesus is the answer. This was his bold claim and he was not shy to talk about Jesus’ claim on his listeners.

 

This is a report from the Melbourne Crusade, Friday 29 February 1959: Once again the message was clear Gospel: “We have not come to Melbourne to perform an entertainment,” Dr Graham said. “We have come to talk to you about the problems of life. We want to talk about the issues that everybody has to face.”

Dr Graham said the Bible said that everywhere Jesus went he was doing good. “Is that what they say about you?” he asked.

He said that Jesus set an example for everybody to follow. “He was interested in the racial problem – I shall talk about that one night,” Dr Graham said.

“He was interested in poverty.” “Thousands of people will be hungry tonight. Do you worry about this?”

Dr Graham said that people had to accept Jesus as what he said he was or “the biggest liar in history”. “I had to make my own decision on who he was. I decided that he was what he claimed to be. Since then he has changed my life and he can do the same for you tonight.”

Dr Graham said people had to learn that money would not take them to heaven. “I have spoken to wealthy people in the United States and they have told me there is an empty space in their lives,” he said.

“I have talked to film stars – some of the top ones are my friends – and they have told me there is an empty space in their lives.”

Dr Graham said that these people had everything for the body, but the “real you” was within the body. From when people reached the age of moral comprehension this “real you” was searching for God.

Some people felt this desire for God troubling them and sought to escape in drink or sex. Others tries religion but still did not find God.

What was wrong with all these people?

The answer was that some time in their life each person had to have an “encounter with Christ”. “We must meet him face to face,” he said. “We must be converted.” “I ask you, have you had this encounter with Christ; have you been converted?” “You can tonight – you can encounter Christ tonight.”

Dr Graham said that to encounter Christ a person had to make him the “Lord of their life.” “Unless you can do this first there is no use in trying to go further,” he said. “You must deny all other things for Christ.”

Dr Graham said that if people were willing to give themselves to Christ he would forgive their past sins. He said that he could not live the Christian life by himself. He could only do it with Christ.

“I have supernatural power to live the Christian life and so can you have the same power tonight,” he said.

Dr Graham said that to encounter Christ converts had to: (1) Be willing to renounce their sins; (2) Have faith to receive Christ as their own; (3) Be willing to obey Christ.

The great moment of the evening came when Billy Graham made his appeal. At first a trickle came down the aisles. But the volume quickly grew and as people surged forward to register with the counsellors it soon became evident that the arrangements could not hope to cope with the crowd. When all available space had gone Billy Graham called for everyone to remain where they were and directed alternative arrangements from the main platform. “Our faith was too small,” he confessed as he called for counsellors to reach the enquirers in the aisles.

 

Two other elements are worthy of note here. (1) Billy Graham testified that Jesus changed his own life and that what Jesus had given him was better than anything the world can give. Unless Christians are changed by Jesus and display evidence of a newfound hope, joy and love, no one is going to listen. But, as soon as Christians live a different life in Jesus, others may see it and become hungry to have what we have. This is why it is important that we are constantly being renewed and alive in our faith and this is why it is important that as a church community we live in unity and love, by the power of the Holy Spirit. (2) Billy Graham was not shy in asking for a commitment. If I remember correctly, he said that God did not really give him the gift of preaching but the gift of making an invitation to give your heart and live to Jesus Christ as your Lord. Billy Graham talked to the nation of Australia and asked everyone to make Jesus Lord – repent and follow him. He was bold and I wonder whether he can inspire us to become bolder ourselves.

My own family used to think, and still remonstrates with me on occasion, that I am too bold and blunt sometimes in my sharing of Jesus and especially testimonies of what Jesus has done for me and others. I tell healing stories and miracle stories and don’t worry too much about challenging the worldview of the other person. Most of the time, they have a Christian background and read the Bible where they encounter precisely the same worldview. They should know better and I just let my excitement bubble out and hope that it is catching. And I am not shy in asking for a commitment – even if it is just an invitation to come to church. It could be that sometimes my family is right and my timing is not always spot on but I like to err on the side of boldness. How long do you want to wait before you tell your neighbour that he needs Jesus? How many years of cultivating a relationship does it take for us to share the Good News and talk about the need to repent? Chances are that if we fail to witness to Jesus at the beginning of a friendship, we never will.

 

Mark Ellis: Louis Zamperini – How he came to Christ through Billy Graham in L.A., March 7, 2011, http://blog.godreports.com/2011/03/louis-zamperini-how-he-came-to-christ-through-billy-graham-in-l-a/:

 

He ran for his country in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. During WWII, his B-24 crashed in the Pacific and he barely survived 47 days adrift on a raft. Picked up by the Japanese, he spent the remainder of the war in a P.O.W camp, where he endured horrible abuse at the hands of a prison guard nicknamed “The Bird.”

After the war, he met and married the girl of his dreams, but post-traumatic stress disorder threatened to destroy his marriage. All the while, he dreamed of a return to Japan to hunt down and kill the former guard who tormented him.

“I had nightmares every night,” says Louis Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book “Unbroken.” The nightmares followed Zamperini home like a crazed hound from hell. “No one knew about it, because I looked perfectly normal,” he says. “I covered it up by drinking.”

His wife Cynthia suspected something was terribly wrong, because Zamperini often woke up in a cold sweat, shouting. One night he dreamed he was strangling The Bird. In fact, he was on top of his pregnant wife with his hands around her neck, choking the life out of her. “I woke up and couldn’t believe it,” he says.

His life spiraled downward as he began to chase other women at local bars, where he and his Olympic buddies often got free drinks. “I began to fall apart,” Zamperini recalls. “My wife decided she wanted a divorce.”

About that time, a new couple in their apartment building talked about a young evangelist preaching in a large tent in downtown Los Angeles. “In those days ‘evangelist’ was a dirty word because there were so many crooked ones,” Zamperini notes.

 

The young evangelist preaching in a tent

 

The young evangelist was Billy Graham, the object of William Randolph Hearst’s famous order to his news editors — “Puff Graham” – that led to 10,000 people jamming the tent each night. Cynthia went with the couple to hear Graham, but Louis refused to go. When Cynthia returned home after the event, Louis immediately noticed something was different.

“She started speaking of a peace and joy in her heart,” he recalls. Still, Louis stubbornly resisted her invitation to hear Graham. “She knew that to save our marriage I would have to be converted.”

Despite her appeals, Louis continued to dig in his heels. “I wanted no part of it.”

But then Cynthia said something that got his attention. “Because of my conversion I’m not going to get a divorce,” she announced.

The next day Cynthia was all over Louis again, and this time he relented. “Ok, Ok, I’ll go,” he said. “But when that fella says, ‘Every head bowed and every eye closed,’ we’re getting out of there.”

That night, Graham spoke from the eighth chapter of John about the woman caught in adultery. “He began to preach and quote scripture that reminded me of my life,” Louis notes. Still, his heart was hardened. At the end of the message when Graham asked people to bow their heads, Louis grabbed his wife’s arm and bolted from the tent.

As they got in their car, he said, “Don’t ever get me back in a place like that again.”

Louis suffered a fitful night’s sleep that night, with more nightmares about The Bird. The next morning, Cynthia was just as firm in her resolve that a change in Louis’s heart was the only possible way to save their marriage. She went after Louis again and convinced him to go back a second time to hear Graham. Louis warned his wife, “If he says ‘every head bowed and every eye closed,’ we’re out of there.”

This time, Graham spoke about why Christians suffer and why God seemed to allow communism to flourish. At the end of the message, when Graham asked people to bow their heads, Louis got up to leave. As he moved to the end of their row and stood in the aisle, he hesitated and stopped.

Something Graham said about people “at the end of their rope” who turned to God triggered a flood of memories. He thought about his ordeal in the Japanese P.O.W. camp, when he and the other men prayed daily. He promised God then ‘If you get me home alive I’ll seek you and serve you.’

Likewise, his mind returned to his suffering on the raft. “On the raft we were at the mercy of the elements on the ocean. I came back alive. God kept his promise,” he realized, but he had not kept his part.

“What a heel I’ve been,” he muttered to himself.

 

A softened heart

 

Instead of heading for the exit door, Louis turned and walked toward the prayer room. There, he fell to his knees and gave his life to Christ. “The Holy Spirit came into my heart and I became a member of the true church, the Body of Christ.”

Something unusual happened as he knelt humbly before God. “When I was still on my knees I forgave all my guards, and I knew I was through smoking, drinking and chasing women.”

That night his nightmares stopped abruptly. “The miracle that happened,” he says, “it was the first time in years I never had a nightmare. I haven’t had one since.

Zamperini rummaged through their apartment the next day. He tossed out all the liquor, cigarettes and girlie magazines hidden in various places. He dug out his WWII Bible, walked to a local park and began to read. “I got to the crucifixion and I started crying like a baby.”

He left the park and hurried back to see Cynthia. “A miracle has happened in my life,” he said excitedly.

“The same miracle happened to me,” she said. “That’s the miracle of conversion — it happens the moment you believe!”

 

Louie with Billy Graham

 

The following day Louis found Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows and told them about the marvelous change that happened. “I was bubbling over with joy,” he recalls. Louis insisted, however, they would never get him up on a platform talking about his faith.

But God had other plans. “The next day Cliff Barrows gave me a train ticket to Modesto.” Zamperini boarded the train and headed for his first participatory Graham event, where he shared about his newfound faith. “I only knew two or three scriptures,” he admits. “Since then I’ve been on platforms all over the world.”

Zamperini notes that one of the reviewers of “Unbroken” faulted the book in one respect: “He couldn’t understand how someone with post-traumatic stress disorder could get over it in a moment.”

“The reviewer didn’t know the scripture,” ‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things become new.’”

 

John 1:9-13: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world … To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 

Louis needed a persistent and bold wife that did not give up ondragginghim to hear Billy Graham preach. Sometimes this is what is required. I myself gotdraggedto the Emmaus Walk and it really blessed me. Billy Graham was bold and the whole nation knew that, at the end of every meeting, the call to follow Jesus would be given. And the nation responded.

Today is Easter Sunday and surely the cry must go out from here to the whole world: “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” Billy Graham reached our nation and now – God willing – it is our turn. I read to you from the draft pamphlet for this year’s Lutheran Renewal Conference in Adelaide:

 

Conference Aim

 

The aim of the conference is to receive an “apostolic mantle” (a mantle of authority by the Spirit of God) for Australia. Rolland Baker, together with his wife Heidi, is carrying one for the nation of Mozambique (and they reach many other nations) and, at the conference, we want to be on a journey of humbling ourselves and exercising faith for an impartation of what God has placed on Rolland. We know that this is aiming high but there is a story of how God brought us to this place.

 

Lutheran Renewal is a national renewal movement within the Lutheran Church of Australia and twice – at key junctures – God led us into repentance and made us specifically repent of looking down on Pentecostals, especially what came to be known as the “Toronto Blessing”. We will tell more of the story at the conference.

 

God has been teaching us a lesson on Christian unity and its blessings. We know that we are unlikely candidates to invite and encourage others to share in repentance and unity because we have such a troubled track record on unity even with fellow Lutherans. But this is probably God’s sense of humour.

 

Which church or denomination do you keep at a distance? You may even have issues with Lutherans but none of us are perfect and we believe that there is no advancement into the fullness of God without humbling ourselves and repenting of our disunity. The journey is worth it. God give us a heart and grace for our nation, Australia.

 

Jesus changed my life and he changed your life – most of us here. He has answers for the troubles of this world. He cares about the economy, marriage and family, global warming, religious terrorism and whatever else is troubling us. With him and his power [“that power [for us who believe] is the same as the mighty strength he [God, the Father] exerted when he raised Christ from the dead”], we have a future and this nation has a future.

I close by giving the same invitation as Billy Graham. If you are not a Christian – if you have not yet had an encounter with Jesus Christ – then this morning I invite you to come forward as a sign of commitment that you turn to Jesus and want to give your life to him. You want him on Easter morning because he is risen indeed. Amen.