Today is Billy Graham’s funeral. Coverage starts at 10:00 am eastern and the actual funeral at 12:00 noon, eastern. You can access the funeral and coverage here. As an American baby boomer, I have known about Billy Graham most of my life. All my life I’ve met people who committed their lives to Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade or while watching one on TV or listening on the radio. I’ve watched many crusades on TV and was blessed to attend two in person. I remember in my teenage years I thought this or that preacher was better than Billy Graham. Maybe some of them were, at least in their specific calling. Anyway, as I’ve occasionally watched youtube videos with Billy Graham preaching from the 40’s to the 2000’s, what a preacher!
For decades I have enjoyed reading various biographies and autobiographies about great people of God over the past 2000 years. Generally, I find older life stories more inspiring than American Superstar biographies. I bought Just as I AM, Billy Graham’s autobiography at half price books for $2 which was a bargain because the book is huge. Because I assumed it was an American Superstar biography it sat on the shelf for some time. Then as I was looking for a good book to read at our annual Erickson resort time two years ago, I chose Billy’s book. Here is a link for the book.
I was not prepared for my reaction to that book. True stories of great men and women of God often move me and inspire me for better. I have wept over a few. Didn’t think that would happen with Billy. It did. I devoured that book, often getting up and leaving the group setting at the resort to finish a good cry. What was that all about? I just couldn’t get over how God could use one man who said yes to anything God asked of him. Of course, many others said yes and have spent their lives supporting this great Evangelist. I think a lot, I always have. I can’t help but wonder what I missed in this life by not being attentive to the Spirit, maybe saying no when I should have said yes. I can’t go back but I can resolve to listen better and do better during the time I have left.
As I read the book I was so taken by how “All in” Billy Graham was since his late teens. His wife Ruth was said she never met anyone who desired to please God more than her husband, Billy Graham. Can your spouse or someone close to you say that of you? Later in life, he was quoted as saying he might have said “yes” too much and should have studied and prayed more. But I think it ended up a job pretty well done.
Consider his commitments when he was around 30 years old. He had three full-time jobs simultaneously. He was president of Northwestern College in St. Paul MN, the very first full-time evangelist on staff with Youth for Christ, and had just begun the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And as if that wasn’t enough, right during that time he had the infamous Los Angeles Tent Crusade that went far longer than planned and put him on the national map in a big way. Any of the above is exhausting. Only God could give Billy the ability to do all this at once. It boggles the mind.
Not long after the BGEA began, Billy took whatever staff he had by then and asked them to all go aside for an hour or two and write down common things that can go wrong with an organization like theirs and with staff like they had. They parted and came back together with predictable answers: Money mismanagement, various sins, becoming about Billy instead of Jesus, and the like. In response to this, the BGEA immediately put together safeguards, strict ones to avoid all the pitfalls that can plague a ministry. Things like checking Hotel Rooms of Billy and the Staff before they settled in to make sure nothing evil was planted and that any questionable media was simply disabled. Money policies was a biggie, as well as Jesus getting the glory instead of Billy. Those same policies continued on for decades and have obviously served the staff and organization well. What strikes me about the ministry is how much of it stays the same through the decades. Same commitments to their cause and same commitments regarding how they accomplish their goals.
When I listen to Billy’s preaching I can’t help but appreciate the simplicity of the message he preached and his faithfulness to that message. It is a little different than some of the evangelistic preaching today where the word “repent” is an endangered species. Its ok to talk about the blessings offered by a generous God to those who will come to him. And salvation is free, sort of. We can’t do anything to earn it but the package deal comes through faith, and repenting of sin. Following the examples of Jesus and the apostles, the subject of repenting is front center at the beginning, not somewhere down the road. It’s like full disclosure with no fine print. Coming to Jesus is free and it costs everything.
Anyway, there have been great men and women of God who have come and gone through the centuries. Many of them would fit well in Hebrews 11, the great faith hall of fame. Of those listed in Hebrews, it is said regarding them: “Of whom the world is not worthy.” I think we have witnessed a near century of another one whom the world was not worthy, Billy Graham. Who will be next to give their all? Are you all in? Is there one reader who knows he or she is called to more and needs to step forward? Remember this exciting promise that applies to you!
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9).