It was in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas that I first saw Billy Graham. It was the only time I saw him “in person.” His Little Rock crusade filled up a stadium with altar calls and praise what was normally filled with Hog calls and touchdowns.
As a prideful Baptist college student, I remember critiquing his message. It was so simple as to be almost embarrassing. There was no “meat” – no depth, or so I thought. I had grown up in a church that focused exclusively on expository preaching – line by line, verse by verse. The church I attended in college was the same way. It’s how I even preach today.
However, that night, in the warm September air of War Memorial Stadium, the Reverend Billy Graham preached a simple, loving message about Jesus Christ and how we all needed to acknowledge Him as our Savior. And he appealed/begged/cajoled/urged us to consider our sinFULLness and to turn for forgiveness to Jesus alone, who made us and loved us. Through faith alone in His death and resurrection, we could have eternal life. We could be “born again.”
I was already a Christian. I affirmed his content, but I was disappointed in its lack of… style, depth, exposition, etc. I was the professor; he was the novice. Such pride enveloped me that night.
Until the altar call.
As the music began to play, Billy Graham invited any and all who wanted to get right with God to come forward. His organization had trained hundreds of volunteers in the weeks prior to receive those who came. He said there would be people there to pray for anyone.
And I watched in humbled astonishment as people surged forward. One after another, people left their seats, walked the steps/aisles, and made their way to the grassy football field. Everywhere you could see, there were people moving. Responding. Many in tears.
I stood there in humility, as my bewilderment turned to thanksgiving.
God does not need flashy speakers, big churches, social media, (this was before the internet!). God is simply looking for those humble enough to proclaim a simple, true message with no adornment other than love.
Billy Graham died on February 21, 2018 at the age of 99. The world mourned, and for the past week, media has been full of both the man and his message. It’s amazing how the gospel is being preached by him and others boldly and freely during these days. It’s another testimony to his commitment to the message of Jesus. From Kathie Lee Gifford to news anchors to world leaders to coffee shops, the gospel is preached because of Graham’s life.
I think Billy would be gratified by the exposure of the gospel, much as the apostle Paul was:
“To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will… What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice..” (Philippians 1.15-18)
Billy Graham was a man who lived his entire life completely confident in the message of Jesus to convict, transform and change people. He submitted himself to that message, and it is what he preached over and over – simply and faithfully.
He resolved to “preach the gospel — not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.” (1 Corinthians 1.17)
He understood, like the apostle Paul, that if we’re not careful, we will lose the message in silly attempts to be relevant, clever, or humorous. Or we’ll lose ourselves in our attempts to be influential, powerful, or innovative.
“My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2.4)
I am ashamed of my prideful, critical spirit that September evening in 1989. It was a spirit that elevated myself and my own knowledge. In truth, I was not belittling Graham’s simplicity, but I was belittling the gospel’s power. I have learned over and over since then that it is not my job to embrace eloquence or wisdom but to simply embrace and preach Jesus Christ.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..” (Romans 1.16)
If you have stumbled across this post, and you are not yet a Christian, I thank you for reading through it to the end. I say yet because it is my earnest hope that perhaps you will see beyond Billy Graham’s life to his message, to our message. It is other-worldly. It is true. It is genuinely good news.
“For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin.” (Galatians 1.11)
What do you do if you want to know more about the “gospel?”
The gospel literally means “good news.” Maybe you have no prior understanding of the Bible, of Jesus, and you’ve only heard/believed what you’ve read or thought antagonistically toward “Christianity.” I encourage you to find out for yourself. Life is too valuable (and short!) to go on hearsay about life, death and forgiveness.
- Watch this short video to help grasp what all the fuss is about.
- Sermon from Little Rock crusade: The Bubble that Bursts
- Sermon from Little Rock crusade: The Value of Your Soul
- Christianity Today’s amazing website on Billy Graham
- Time Magazine’s obituary on Billy Graham
- Video: Billy Graham tribute from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association