Happy Birthday Billy

11.2.14Today is Billy Graham’s 96th birthday. Ninety-six years is quite an accomplishment for any human being! But this human being is the best known evangelist of my generation and a previous one.

I confess that there was a time in my life when I would pronounce him a false teacher who has led many people to hell.  That may startle some who are not familiar with my heritage. I’m embarrassed to say that because Mr. Graham did not say some things in his sermons the way I thought he should say them that any good accomplished by his crusades were negated. I’m thankful to God to have had time to grow and to appreciate this evangelist who, even in his ill health, continues to talk about heaven and hope.

Over the years I have come to believe that Billy Graham has led many people closer to Jesus (again, those unfamiliar with my heritage may think that an oversimplified oafish statement!). I like how he pointed people toward the promises of Christ and did so with passion, clarity, and a southern drawl that captured everyone’s attention.

He didn’t promote a specific church. Those responding to his invitations could write on a card which denomination they wanted to contact them. In this way a crusade was truly city-wide. I remember when he did a crusade in Nashville. At the time I was incensed that some churches of Christ helped promote and participate in it. I had such tunnel vision for my church of Christ world that I couldn’t believe that grace extended beyond our own walls.

In reading his books and listening to him, I don’t agree with everything Billy Graham ever said and wrote. I don’t know anyone to whom I grant that kind of favor. If I were preaching his sermons I would add an application or two to the end of his messages. But the truth is that God didn’t give me stadiums of people to preach to … he gave them to Billy. The cross was lifted up to the masses as the only hope of the world. Through music and message Jesus was the focus of attention. I hope in his last days he will recall with fondness the people streaming down to reach out to God, no doubt for some of them it was a turning point in their lives.

Nobody has ascended to Billy Graham’s level of appeal or outreach. From football stadiums to the Oval Office, his influence has been amazing. Maybe there will never be one clarion voice like his again. I don’t know, but I do know our world needs a voice like that today. A voice of integrity that rises above the scandals and self-promoting prosperity-driven religiosity. Thank God there are many voices reaching many people in churches small and large throughout the world.

I hope Billy Graham has a happy and healthy birthday. We have  a lot to learn from him.

Thanks for reading, John.