You know that Billy Graham died recently. His life and his death had a huge impact on many people all over the world. One church member/friend recently said to me: “What about Billy Graham’s death?” I said: “Well, he was 99 years old.” I was thinking that was a great long life. He said: “It’s sad.” He wasn’t saying that it was sad that a 99 year old died. I think I heard him saying rather that with Billy Graham’s passing there was the passing of an era, a time, a ministry that spanned generations. OK. I get that.
I can remember sitting in front of the television with the whole family when I was a boy watching and listening to Billy Graham. Even as a boy, he was good TV, and I mean it in a good way. He was a captivating, engaging, charismatic preacher of the Word. He included humor and story, and he had the authority of a prophet from the Bible. Many people owe their spiritual birth, or conversion, to Billy Graham.
In fact, many of our churches were blessed by people who were brought to Christ in that dramatic moment when it seemed the whole world was singing: Just as I am without one plea!
Dr. Graham came along at a time when television was being born. And, younger people laugh when I say this: there were only three channels to choose from. So, we all watched much of the same stuff. We all watched the man on the moon land. We all watched JFK get shot. We all watching MLK march and lead and then die. No, we didn’t watch all the same programs, even then. There were three options. But, much of the major stuff we saw together.
So, when Billy Graham took the Gospel to television, it was a new thing. In fact, it was a new thing to take his whole ministry to the air waves. And, to hand out an 800 number that you could call and get counseling and literature, free.
While many felt that Dr. Graham was not as prophetic as he ought to be in civil rights and other issues, I felt he was a part of that great American ideal that says that there are some things that transcend politics . Of course, nothing transcends politics now. Ha! He avoided the political rancor of partisan politics but he also embraced African-American leaders and taught and preached a Gospel that was a call to all people. A lot of people got upset when he stood with Nixon, but I can hear Graham saying it now: “We’re all sinners.”
So, for me, my faith came through the church and my family. We loved Billy Graham; there was no reason not to. He was a towering figure and in many ways he was, as some call him, the Protestant Pope. We will miss that towering figure who stood with presidents in times of crisis. Who can forget his presence at the National Cathedral after 9-11?
We wish his family well in the days ahead. And, we give thanks to God for this servant who kept his integrity in an age when many fell prey to a consumer mentality. His goal was not to be rich, but to be faithful to his calling to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.
A good thing to remember and foster during this Season of Lent!