Few men have inspired me as a person, truth-seeker and church pastor like the Rev. Billy Graham. Both his message and manner have had enormous impact on me and millions of people across the world. He epitomized hope and encouragement and his name evokes images of some of history’s largest gatherings of people on record. With his genuine love for Jesus Christ and concern for lost souls, Billy Graham became the foremost evangelist of modern times.
Several of his inspirational classics, including Peace With God, How to be Born Again, Angels, The Journey and Nearing Home, sit on bookshelves in my study. Some I’ve read twice. When my “well of inspiration” needs refilling, Billy Graham is a person I turn to.
My wife, Patrice, and I attended a Billy Graham Crusade in the late sixties at Bibletown Conference Center in Boca Raton, Florida. We both had made decisions to follow Christ very recently and this was a big moment for us in our spiritual journey. It was disappointing to be consigned to an overflow room, but afterwards, Reverend Graham made an appearance and spoke to the group. I was struck by his gentle demeanor and the kindness in his voice. His eyes smiled at everyone as he looked upon us. His personal warmth conveyed humility, acceptance and love. His visit made a lasting impression on me.
Years later, after Patrice and I were married and I began pursuing God’s call into pastoral ministry, the memory of that brief, up-close encounter with Billy Graham helped shape my own personal style of shepherding the flock. Jesus loves His sheep and every young, aspiring church pastor needs good models to pattern their ministerial lives after. Billy Graham was exemplary in all areas.
Throughout my years of ministry, while making new acquaintances, people will more than occasionally ask with a smile, “Are you related to Billy Graham?” I typically reply with, “We have the same heavenly Father!” And it’s also fun when, over the phone, I’m asked to repeat my last name. My standard response is: “Graham, like Billy Graham.” It’s funny how quickly people get that!
One of my funniest moments under the banner of the “Graham” name occurred in the late nineties when I was invited to co-officiate at a wedding ceremony in the mountains of Western North Carolina. A grandson of Billy and I jointly performed the wedding. It was a wonderful event with hundreds attending. Invited guests knew one of Billy Graham’s grandsons would be involved in the nuptial ceremony, but his name was Stephan Tchividjian (tu-vid-gen). Guess who they thought was the grandson!
Billy Graham humbly marveled during his time on earth: “Why me, Lord? Why did you choose a farm boy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?” (From Just As I Am) Why did God choose Billy Graham to become one of the greatest leaders and preachers of the Church? For the same reason He chose you and me to belong to Him: His love, mercy, pleasure, and for His glory!
Let’s let this knowledge awaken within us a greater sense of wonder that we are saved, and also that God has a glorious plan for us too! Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (John 15:16, NIV)
Billy Graham’s life is also a beautiful lesson about what it means to finish well. He can say with confidence, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Let’s commit to doing the same thing out of love and gratitude for what Christ has done for us. It’ll be worth it all just to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21,23)
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