Today we learned of the death of Billy Graham, lauded by many as the greatest Christian preacher of the 20th century. He died at his home in Montreat, located in the beautiful moutains of North Carolina.
During the many decades of his evangelizing around the globe, broadcasting in all media, authoring books, and being the unofficial “Pastor to the Presidents,” his effect on the spiritual life of the entire world was incalculable. Never afraid to hold up a mirror to sin, Graham unabashedly and fiercely called everyone to repentance.
From the church pulpit or the podium inside a 50,000-seat coliseum or in city streets and parks, he had a powerful and polished speaking style, to say the least. He was able to bring emotions up to peaks of joy and expectation of God’s love, and take them down to the burning conviction of our own sins. Tears were common at his revivals, even from seemingly tough, steel-hardened men of the earth and the factories. When Mr. Graham believed that the audience had been fully convicted of their need for repentance and salvation, he would invariably issue an altar call, which usually brought huge numbers of penitents and converts.
But any outsiders looking into one of these arenas (or viewing a television broadcast, appropriately titled The Hour of Decision) would be totally in error to conclude that Mr. Graham’s ministry comprised only emotion and fervor. Anyone reading printed transcriptions of his sermons would immediately conclude they were theologically as well as logically sound, based on doctrines straight from Christian orthodoxy. His emphasis was always on examining oneself, the act of repenting, accepting the saving grace of God, and living a life in which one’s relationship with God is the most important thing in the universe.
Mr. Graham was a keen observer of the issues of the day, but his interest in them was solely limited to a Christian perspective. Trying to classify him as Left, Right, Conservative, Liberal, Democrat, or Republican (or any other similar label) was as nonsensical as trying to assign a gender classification to the Sun. Case in point — We would all do well to deeply consider this prayer of Graham’s which summarizes his view of this nation and the world:
We come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.
We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done:
We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Mr. Graham lived the Christ-centered doctrines of love, repentance, and forgiveness that he preached. He told it like it was, even before that became a thing. And he was uncompromising in his Christian views on even the most controversial topics. A prime example was his early stand on issues related to the country’s racial problem.
- At a 1953 Tennessee rally (think about that date!), he himself physically tore down the ropes that the organizers had put in place to keep the audience racially segregated. When confronted about his actions, Mr. Graham informed the organizers that they were to leave the barriers down “or you can go on and have the revival without me.”
- He once warned an all-white audience “We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.”
- As documented by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, “Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced a unique friendship that dates back nearly 60 years. In the summer-long 1957 New York Crusade, the two friends took the stage together in Madison Square Garden and boldly took a stand to help end segregation in the United States. ‘I think both Dr. Graham and my father were trying to make the world a better place,’ said Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
This morning, Mr. Graham joined all of “those who sleep in death” awaiting the Resurrection to eternal life as Paul described it throughout his writings.* Though parted from this life, this great modern evangelist has left a legacy of preaching total submission to God, abject repentance for sins, undeniable certainty of God’s grace and our need for forgiveness, constant service to our brothers and sisters, and the daily calling to mirror God’s love to the world.
We need that today perhaps more than ever.
A Tribute to Billy Graham (5:51)
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
“When we reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have just begun.”
WILLIAM FRANKLIN GRAHAM, JR.
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