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Remembering Elizabeth Philhower  
I will never forget the first time I met Elizabeth Philhower.  Pulling up to the farm with her daughter, Diana, I was struck immediately by how different a place this was from my home.

I grew up in the shadow of O’Hare airport surrounded by congestion, noise, crowds and planes.  But Calvin and Elizabeth’s place was peaceful, quiet and surrounded (it seemed to me) by corn—and cows.

To know Elizabeth Philhower was to know she always had a place for you at the table.  Last-minute dinner guest?  You were welcomed. You brought an extra friend with you?  Never a problem.  There was always a place for you—and your friend—at the table.

There was a place for you in her family room.  I remember the many conversations we had with Elizabeth and her husband Calvin. Whether it was just a few of us…or a ton of us…(like Christmas and Easter) there was always a place for you in her family room.

There was a place for you if you needed a room for the night!   She housed many an overnight for her kids’ friends.  There were overnights with missionaries, overnights with others in ministry. Or others—like me—interested in their daughter, Diana.

There was a place on Elizabeth’s lap for little children. She loved little babies and always made space for them.  She adored her grandkids and great grandkids.

Most importantly, there was a place in Elizabeth’s heart for Jesus.  Long ago, she reached the conclusion that Jesus is not a religious myth invented by weak people trying to make sense of life.

She came to realize that she—like every one of us—had sinned (fallen short of God’s perfect standard).  Elizabeth knew that she needed to be forgiven.  So she asked Christ to be the leader of her life, the forgiver of her sins.

Because of that critical life choice, the Bible assures is that Jesus now has a place for Elizabeth…. and for all who receive the forgiveness of Christ.

Elizabeth died last Wednesday afternoon at the age of 91.  Diana and I will miss her. But some day, by the authority of Scripture, we are promised we will see her again, because Jesus has made a place for Elizabeth, and us, and all who have made room for Him as Savior.

Have you made that choice?

Jesus said in John 14:1-3, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
What Billy Graham's Grandson Wants You to Know  

Recently, I had the honor of talking with Will Graham.  As the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, Will carries the family name well.  Better than that, he carries the name of Jesus well.

In the course of more than three decades at Moody Radio, I’ve been blessed to meet and interview a number of Will’s family members: Anne Graham Lotz, Franklin Graham (Will’s Dad), Gigi Tchividjian, and Billy himself, whom his grandson refers to as “Daddy Bill.” 

Can I tell you a secret, something I’ve seen up close?  Apart from their love Jesus, the most important thing you need to know about the Graham family is that they are plain humble people, gracious and unassuming to a person.

They’ve been everywhere, done everything.  They have preached, published, and proclaimed the Word.  They have dined with presidents and princes.

In the course of our conversation, I thanked Will for the Graham family’s integrity over many years.  He reminded me that he is constantly aware of the potential to fall, jealous to guard the reputation of Christ. 

Will recalled traveling to Anaheim, California as a boy where his grandfather was speaking. Billy was spotted and people lined up for autographs—big time.

There were hundreds of people and the line wrapped around the entire block. “Daddy Bill patiently met with every single one of them,” Will reflected.

At one point, Will decided to walk across the street and talk to his Grandpa.  But a policeman, doing his level best to manage the crowd, kindly informed young Will he’d have to get in line.  Will remembers, “Just then Daddy Bill called out to me with his arms wide open.  ‘Will!’ I ran right over to him.”

Will now ponders that moment of so many years ago as a unique life lesson. “When you’re a grandson, you have access to your grandfather.  When you’re a child of God, you have access to your Heavenly Father.  Because we know Jesus, we have access to our Heavenly Father!”

Billy Graham is 98 and in declining health. Will told me, “Someday soon, he’ll go home to Jesus.  The world will lose ‘Evangelist Billy Graham.’  But I will lose Daddy Bill, my last living grandparent.” 

At this point, Will spoke softer, a lump clearly lodged in his throat. A slight pause followed as He found himself wiping a tear.  I found myself looking away.   Apparently, it was contagious. 

Travesty or Teachable Moment?  

How do you mix the Fourth of July, the story of Gideon, and an urgent desire to pass on biblical truth to your grandkids?  I’m not at all sure I know. But here’s what happened.

All four of Josh and Lynnette’s grandkids showed up at our house for an overnight on July 4th.  With ten-month-old Sadie finally asleep, it was time to get Josie, Caleb and Lucy to bed.  Bible stories are a grand tradition, and we have a couple of favorite kids’ Bibles we use (I strongly recommend Ken Taylor’s, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes from Moody Publishers.  It has just the right amount of text and pictures.  Plus, difficult concepts are explained wonderfully simply).

But because it was the Fourth of July…and because these kids’ mom had left each of them with a glow stick, I decided to attempt a reenactment of the story of Gideon.  You’ll recall the action from Judges 7, where God whittled down Gideon’s army to just 300 men. Armed with trumpets and clay jars covering their oil lamps, at God’s instruction, they wreaked havoc against a vastly superior Midianite army, suddenly revealing their lamps.

Judges 7 records, “They shouted, ‘A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!’ While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.”  Call it a low tech version of shock and awe. 

So how did this mix with our little tykes’ glow sticks?  They were hidden under pillows and pajamas to block out the light.  We took turns giving “the signal,” then repeatedly shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”  Only then did the kids whirl and twirl the glow sticks.   

This faux attack was repeated again and again (complete with several iPhone videos of our reenactment).  And I reminded the kids that this Bible story—like all of them—really did happen. 

In retrospect, the video evokes more of a scene from Star Wars then Scripture.  But I suspect the next time you mention to Joslynn, Caleb, or Lucy the biblical character named Gideon, they will surely remember his story.

Travesty or teachable moment?  You decide! 

(Love to get your email on this!).  



Remembering Elsie  

Today we bury Elsie. 


At 92, she was still young.  She emailed.  Used Microsoft Access.  Was an ace at Wheel of Fortune.  She was a regular out at our campfire, spinning stories into the sparks and dark.  


We will miss her.  


Born in 1924 in Chicago, Elsie once met actor Charlton Heston, at the time a student at Northwestern University.  She attended a production at the Goodman Theater.  Later that evening, Charlton Heston gave Elsie and her girlfriend a ride from the theatre to their home.   Elsie commented that she wasn’t very impressed with him.  Then again, that was before Heston used his staff to part the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments.   


Speaking of biblical themes, the thing that her children, grandchildren and friends knew Elsie for best was her love of the Bible.  She read it, pondered it, lived it, memorized it.  


Out at the campground, it was easy to find Elsie on her deck—reading the Scriptures, or should the weather be drizzly, sitting inside, an open Bible on her lap.  Her grandson remembers falling asleep as a little child, then waking up and seeing Grandma Elsie asleep…but with a Bible still open on her lap. 


Elsie’s love of the Scriptures stands in sharp contrast to the biblical illiteracy that increasingly describes America:


  • Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.  
  • 82% of Americans believe that the saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is actually in the Bible.  
  • A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  
  • Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three disciples. 


This is just one of many reasons why losing Elsie is such a loss. Our team is down one very knowledgeable Bible reader.  But better than merely reading the Word, she really did try to live it out.  There could be no better way to close this tribute to Elsie then quoting the passage she loved best, Proverbs 3:5,6:


"Trust in the Lord with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight."



Beyond Beautiful  

Swimming.  Boating.  Horseback riding.

For most kids, that's standard stuff at summer camp. Not when you’re a special needs child.  But the ministry of Joni and Friends is quietly rewriting the book on all this.  One chapter of that story played out last week in Michigan at a gathering exclusively for people like Michelle and their caregivers.

She has Down syndrome and lives with my friend Dan and his wife, Joan. Michelle was one of about sixty-five “kids” (many of adult age) who attended, along with their caregivers.  And everybody—everybody—was treated lovingly.

“The whole point is to let the kids experience normal life, while parents enjoy a week without stares from strangers,” Dan commented.  Caregivers were treated to spiritual encouragement in an in depth look at Psalm 123. 

A girl with Down syndrome steering a motorboat?  It happened for Michelle—and Dan has the video to prove it.  The grin on her face is precious.

Dan told me about talent show night.  From crooners to comedians, it was all there, all performed by special needs kids who soaked up the moment—and the applause.

Imagine living your whole life in a wheelchair, wondering what it would be like to—just once—ride a horse.  It happened here, thanks to Joni and Friends.

Through the assistance of a special ramp, a mobility impaired child was sat on a horse with a caregiver sitting behind wrapping their arms around the child.  Additionally, one caregiver walked on either side.

Of all the lovely snapshots Dan shared with me, this is the one that makes the lump that makes it hard for me to swallow. Or not cry.

Isn’t this the perfect visual metaphor for the lavish care that Jesus would have us show toward one another?  Someone wrapping their arms around someone else with needs--two on either side walking the trail together—it’s beyond beautiful.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  --John 13:35

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