Remembering Billy Graham (1918-2018)
"Billy Graham, America's Pastor, Has Died" intoned the USA Today headline this morning: "The world's best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99. From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America's pastor" (www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/21/billy-graham-americas-past...).
It's no secret I have admired Billy Graham throughout my ministry (is there a preacher who hasn't?). I've read his autobiography, Just as I Am. And then on a two-day trip with my mother-in-law sitting beside me, I listened to Cliff Barrow, Graham's longtime evangelistic associate, read the autobiography on tape. Last May Cheryl Logan gave me a book, God in the Garden: The Amazing Story of Billy Graham's First New York Crusade. What a stirring first person account of that historic four-month series in Gotham City! Throw in a couple of John Pollack's biographies of the famous preacher-evangelist and a tour of the amazing Billy Graham Museum Library in Charlotte, North Carolina—and I can testify I've come to know this great man who died peacefully this Wednesday, nine months short of a century on earth.
In May, 1957, Billy Graham wrote in his diary: "'Tonight I felt probably the greatest liberty I have felt thus far [in his New York City Madison Square Garden crusade]. I doubt if there is an experience in the world quite like a minister preaching the Gospel and having liberty and power. It is beyond any other human experience. There is nothing more horrible than to preach without liberty and power. I have had ministers tell me that they never had liberty or power in preaching. . . . I think I would leave the pulpit'" (God in the Garden 132). How very true!
According to most estimates, Billy Graham through his 417 crusades and music events spoke to more human beings than any other single individual in history (popes and politicians included). In live audiences alone, he preached the gospel to more than 215 million people globally (with 3.2 million people accepting Christ in those crusades). But adding his radio and television broadcasts, Wikipedia calculates "Graham's estimated lifetime audience . . . topped 2.2 billion" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham). No wonder he appeared in Gallup's list of most admired men and women sixty times since 1955, more than any other person in the world.
After reading his autobiography, I jotted down a list of life lessons for me as we counted down to something we called NET98. And I submit this list of lessons as a humble testimony to the influence this godly man has had on my own journey as a preacher (journal entry August 9, 1997):
- Plunge into challenge no matter how you feel
- Bathe your campaign in prayer
- Believe the Bible is God's Word to your world (stupendous mission—Rev 14:6, 7)
- Surround yourself with a team of honest, devoted spiritual leaders
- Turn down $$ as sideline—keep all fund-raising accountable
- Be willing to travel
- Learn from each new experience and campaign
- Expect setbacks and failures
- Expect God to intervene
- Go for the young
- Be willing to speak to any group
- Don't let important messages hold you back from accepting invitations
- If God could bless Billy [Graham] & Charles [Spurgeon] & [Dwight L] Moody—why couldn't God bless me
- Think strategically
- Rally local pastors to your support
- Don't be afraid of interviews, news conferences and publicity
- Remember Who called you
- Remember the message you found is what the world's hungry for
- Work with a partner and a team—no Lone Rangers
- Talk boldly—your spirit will follow—EGW
- Drink warm water—ice water only tightens the throat muscles
- There is absolutely no need to apologize for the gospel of Jesus Christ in academic settings—the gospel can more than hold its own
- Jer 29:11 & Is 55:
- Always preach the cross
A great man has died. But the Christ Billy Graham preached still lives—and still issues today to all who follow Him His compelling imperative: "'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:19-20).
To which I invite you to respond with me to Jesus, "Here am I—send me." Amen.