The night before the passing of Billy Graham I was in Yazoo City, Miss., leading revival services at the First Baptist Church in that historic city.
During the invitation, we sang “Just As I Am,”a popular hymn used prominently by the famous evangelist as he preached in evangelistic crusades over the decades of his long ministry.
When I took my seat before the close of the worship service, I asked myself, “Isn’t this the year Billy Graham becomes 100 years old?”
I googled his name and discovered that his date of birth was November 7, 1918. Had he lived to this date in November, he would have indeed been a century old.
Life is not measured by duration but donation. Billy Graham was a contributor to the cause of Christ. He lived to preach the Gospel of Christ and to exemplify the love of our Lord.
When former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee heard the news that Billy Graham had died, he said his first response was, “That is fake news. He is more alive now than ever before.” That assessment depicts the kind of life Billy Graham lived.
I was privileged to be a part of his last two evangelistic crusades—in Los Angeles in 2004 and in New York City in 2005.
David Spencer, a friend of mine from my Tuscaloosa days, and I attended the L.A. Crusade. It was supposed to be the last one for the renowned evangelist who was facing declining health.
Billy surprised the audience with the words, “People have said this is my last crusade. Well, it is not my last one. Lord willing, I am going be in New York next year.” At that point, my friend leaned over to me and said, “You are on your own next year!”
In 2005, my wife and youngest daughter made our way to the Big Apple for the last evangelistic crusade led by Billy Graham.
In Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, we gathered with thousands of people from all backgrounds to hear the well-known preacher lead his last crusade.
During his message the first night, Dr. Graham said again, “People are saying this is my last crusade. I am not sure that is true. I have been asked to do one in London next year.”
The next night, reluctantly, Billy Graham did say that this was his last major gathering for his preaching ministry.
In the last few years, Billy Graham was featured on social media and video offering his message of hope to a new generation of people.
His resonant voice was weakened by his medical condition and the effects of age. His speech was slower but his thoughts were just as clear as when he first began his preaching ministry in the 1940s. He preached Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life.
Like so many others, I have been positively influenced by the life and ministry of Billy Graham. His fidelity, or faithfulness, in preaching the clear and consistent message of Jesus Christ, despite all the cultural changes so often described as being a part of a post-Christian age, was always evident. That fidelity impressed me, and it reminds me to remain faithful as well.
The integrity of Billy Graham is a major part of his legacy too. He was not a perfect man.
During the Nixon years, he was recorded on tape expressing some uncharacteristically biased sentiments in a conversation with the controversial president.
However, as so many other Christian leaders fell by the wayside due to theological fallacies or moral failures, Billy Graham remained an icon of theological orthodoxy and moral purity. His integrity speaks loudly and clearly to those who desire to be used of God in their time of service.
Billy Graham was not only known for his fidelity and integrity, but his life and ministry were also characterized by humility. A man who spoke to large crowds all over the world which numbered beyond 200 million, he was always a humble man who knew that his Lord was the focus of his ministry, not him.
Billy Graham remembered his upbringing. His childhood home is now located at his library, a facility which honors Christ, not his life.
Pam and I visited that library several years ago. I was overwhelmed with the aura of simplicity and humility which is so apparent in that setting.
Billy Graham was an adviser to 12 presidents. However, he often said, “I don’t advise them, I pray for them.”
Yet, those presidents often called upon him in times of need. President Eisenhower, as he lay in his hospital bed facing death, wanted to see Billy Graham.
Months before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy spoke with him, and that conversation made a lasting impression on the famous evangelist.
Ronald Reagan called upon him on several significant occasions.
George H.W. Bush sought his counsel before the first Gulf War.
George W. Bush credited Billy Graham with helping him overcome his alcohol problems early in his life. Later, President Bush invited him to speak at the National Cathedral after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In his book, “Just As I Am,” Billy Graham detailed his life’s walk with his Lord.
He always knew that we come to Jesus just as we are. Not as we want to be, but just as we are. It is at this point the Lord makes us into what we need to be.
Billy Graham came to Christ just as he was, a young man who needed salvation. The Lord then made him into what he wanted him to be. He became a person of fidelity, integrity and humility. Billy Graham is a role model worth emulating!