(photo taken last time I met Billy Graham in 2010; Cliff Barrows, Music Director for BGEA is in background )
They were born within two years of each other, yet no one took notice. No headline announced the baby in South Africa, the girl in Macedonia, or the arrival of the infant in Poland. And the little boy born on the farm in North Carolina? His arrival garnered no headline.
But his departure certainly does.
Billy Graham was the final of the four to depart.
Pope John Paul II.
Their faces form a Mount Rushmore of faith. Their legacies will be long cherished.
I keep three framed letters hanging in my office: an acceptance letter for my first book from my publisher, a kind note from President George W. Bush, and a letter from Billy Graham complimenting a sermon. Each one a treasure, a compliment from Mr. Graham felt like a blessing from the Apostle Paul.
Of Billy Graham’s many noble qualities, there are a few I seek to emulate:
He had convictions without being divisive. His deep belief in God, his high regard for Scripture, his complete dependence on the message of grace; no one questioned where he stood. But nor did anyone feel threatened by his beliefs. It is one thing to have an opinion; it’s something else to have a fight. There was no doubt that Mr. Graham had the former. I can’t imagine him having the latter.
His life matched his message. One can hardly watch a newscast without hearing of another scandal involving another public figure. Politicians, pastors, priests, coaches, Hollywood elites–is anyone able to simultaneously maintain a public posture and a high level of integrity? Mr. Graham did. By no means was he perfect. He had his share of regrets and missteps. But he led a life beyond reproach.
He never took himself too seriously. I first met Billy Graham when he came to San Antonio in 1997 for a Crusade. I served on a prayer team which met backstage with him prior to each evening’s event. On the first night, I was escorted to the room and told that Mr. Graham was already inside, waiting for me. I expected to find him in prayer or reading his Bible or, if nothing else, reviewing his notes. He wasn’t. He was joking around with his brother. He had snatched his brother’s baseball cap off his head and dared me to rub his brother’s head. The evangelist was only minutes from addressing 60,000 people and he was joking around about his brother’s scalp.
Such joy is refreshing. We religious folks tend to be so serious that we repel. Billy Graham was contagiously happy.
He enjoyed a right-sized ego. Sometime ago I partnered with musician Michael W. Smith for a ministry weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. The retreat was held at The Cove, a beautiful facility owned and maintained by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
A few hours before the event, Michael and I met to go over the weekend schedule. But Michael was so moved by what he had just experienced that he hardly discussed the retreat. Michael had just met with Billy Graham. The famous evangelist was, at the time, ninety-four years old. His thoughts turned to what might be said about him at his funeral. He told Michael that he hoped his name would not be mentioned.
“What?” Michael asked.
“I hope only that the name of the Lord Jesus be lifted up.”
Billy Graham has preached to 215 million people in person and hundreds of millions of others through media. He has filled stadiums on every continent. He has advised every U.S. president from Truman to Obama. He has consistently been near the top of every most-admired list. Yet he doesn’t want to be mentioned at his own funeral.
The Bible says: “God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
It’s easy to see why. God resists the proud because the proud resist God. Arrogance stiffens the knee so it will not kneel, hardens the heart so it will not admit to sin. The heart of pride never confesses, never repents, never asks for forgiveness. Indeed, the arrogant never feel the need for forgiveness. Pride is the hidden reef that shipwrecks the soul.
The humble heart, however, is happy to do what pride won’t. The humble heart is quick to seek God’s help, grace and strength. God gives grace to the humble because the humble are hungry for grace.
God certainly graced the life of Billy Graham. And the world is better because of it.
Pope John Paul II.
May the One who gave us them, give us many more like them.