I shared a birthday with Billy Graham.
I shared a birthday with Billy Graham.
I’m sure that bit of trivia meant more to me than it did to him. It does make it harder to believe that I am the only male member of my family who isn’t ordained in some way by the Southern Baptist faith.
Billy Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99. He preached his last sermon on his birthday in 2013. Macular degeneration stole his eyesight. He didn’t hear well. He wasn’t mobile. Those facts make my favorite quote more meaningful.
“One day you'll hear that Billy Graham has died. Don't you believe it. On that day I'll be more alive than ever before! I've just changed addresses,” Graham said. In that one quote he expressed the hope that all believers have.
This isn’t it.
There is more to life than organs wrapped in skin. His hope was placed in faith in Jesus Christ that would qualify him for Heaven. That is the hope he shared every time he spoke at his famous crusades or any speaking opportunity.
As a Southern Baptist, Billy Graham meant a lot to me. That quote resonated with me when my father died. Graham shared a faith that changed despair to hope. He wasn’t a huckster, like so many who stand in his shadow today.
Everyone knows him as the pastor to presidents. He was.
As Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said today after Graham died, “Billy Graham was, in my view, the most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul,” Dr. Moore said. “He preached Christ, not himself, not politics, not prosperity.”
To be certain, there have been many important evangelists since the Apostle Paul. I’m sure a few weeks after Graham’s death, Moore might be willing to discuss places 2-5 with a little less certainty. But the fact that Graham’s ministry had an incredible impact on the 20th century is impossible to refute.
Was he perfect? He was not.
In pastoring one Richard M. Nixon, Dr. Graham actually found himself taped saying some pretty anti-Semitic things. You know, Jews run the media. Jews will bring down America. It was not something to be proud of for anyone, especially not a Christ follower. Graham apologized three decades later in 2002.
He said he didn’t have a memory of making the comments heard on that recording, but he regretted making them.
“Throughout my ministry, I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians,” he said. “I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities.”
That is probably why Graham also said he regretted becoming political.
“I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to,” Graham said. “But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
He wasn’t perfect. He never claimed to be. Anyone who does claim to be perfect is not only imperfect, but also a liar.
Graham’s ministry shone a light for America through difficult times. He brought hope.
I’ll never forget in 1995 when Oklahoma City was reeling from a terrorist attack.
Rev. Graham spoke at the State Fair Arena to a state-wide memorial service for those who were lost. He had many words of wisdom but my favorite words were, “I don’t know.”
“I have been asked why God allows things like this to happen,” Rev. Graham said. “I don’t know. I can’t give a direct answer. I have to accept by faith that God is a God of mercy and grace even in the midst of suffering.”
I think that was the best thing any of us in attendance that day could have heard. We weren’t alone in asking, “Why?”
Were weren’t alone in not knowing the answer to the mystery that only faith can solve.
After 99 years, Graham finished his race. His legacy is one of faith – a faith in his heart that moved his feet. He shared the gospel across the globe and followed his calling until his body no longer allowed it.
He wasn’t a perfect man. None of us are. The Bible says Christians are welcomed into Heaven with the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We don’t have to be perfect. That isn’t possible.
I hope God raises up more faith leaders like Dr. Graham who serve well, learn from their mistakes and share hope everywhere they go.