There was a sad yet joyous announcement this morning as we started our day. The Reverend Billy Graham had passed from this world early on the morning of February 18, 2018.There was sadness in my heart as I started the mourning process for someone who had impacted my life and the lives of so many others, yet there was also joy in knowing that he had finally passed into the awaited Kingdom of Heaven at the age of 99 years and would no longer be constrained by the body that had long ago started to fail him.
Billy Graham is probably the world’s best known evangelist and his message crossed all boundaries of the Christian faith. “God Loves You”. Even as broken as we all are, Billy reminded us that with a redemptive heart and spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ, all have a pathway to the kingdom. His message reached hundreds of millions of people and created many spiritual leaders through the years using his Crusades.
In 1968, he brought his crusade to Pittsburgh and thousands came to hear his message. On September 4, 1968 at the Pitt Panthers Stadium, he came and spoke to a world of people who were troubled by the events going on around them. The Vietnam war was raging, protesters were filling the streets, the civil rights movement was in full swing, women’s liberation was on everyone’s minds and the old world was passing into history. Patriotism as passé. On September 8th, former Vice President Richard Nixon attended the Pittsburgh Crusade as he was closing his successful campaign to become the next President.
And my family was in the stands. At the end of each Crusade, Billy called for people to come down and accept Jesus. My oldest brother went at the call. The choir was singing “Just as I am” and I also heard a small voice inside telling me not to miss this chance… so I got to my feet and at the age of fourteen walked down the concrete stairs out into the field. There were men there waiting for us to arrive and they brought us forward to be prayed upon. I don’t remember the prayers. I don’t remember anything especially spiritual happening at the time. Maybe I felt a little guilty about coming down since I wasn’t really sure what all this spiritual stuff was supposed to be about. But I signed the forms for more information and sure enough within a week, the newsletters started coming.
It didn’t stick with me at the time. I was fourteen and I was just about to enter a world where every manner of distraction would keep me off balance. I don’t think I am any different than many kids of that time. Peer pressure and the world’s rapidly changing landscape drove a wedge between us and our parents and our parent’s ways. The newsletters stopped coming at one point and were replaced with many other things. By the time I was seventeen, the Navy was the only path on my mind.
In all the years since, I have wondered if I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe if I had just listened to the words better that day in September 1968, my whole life would have been different. But through every trial and every journey, I still held the most important words he said that day strongly in my mind… “God Loves You”.
I am in the autumn of my life now. Maybe even the beginning of winter. But I have a great wife who keeps trying to help me come to terms with my spirituality. One of the ways she does this is to continue to be a prayer warrior and be a gentle reminder to share a daily devotional time with her. This year’s book (one of three we are using) is from Billy Graham’s Ministry and is called “Unto the Hills”. It’s a daily devotional with scriptures and thoughts Reverend Graham had over the course of his long ministry. After we heard the news and stumbled through breakfast, we sat down and I opened the book. The title of today’s lesson:
More than Conquerors
We are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:37
Out of respect for the copyright, I will only share one part of the message.
“There is only one way to have victory over sin. That is to be so closely walking with Christ that sin no more abounds in your life, that sin becomes the exception with you rather than the rule.”
Today my old friend is walking side by side with his Savior Jesus Christ. As has been said so many times this morning by people far more important than me, I can hear Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
I will miss you Billy, but we will meet again. Thank you God for sharing your friend Billy Graham with us.