The end of a great epoch in the history of the Christian Church has come in the passing of Billy Graham.
I've missed him in the years since his 2005 Crusade in Flushing Meadows in New York, where the 1964-65 New York World's Fair - see my last couple of blog entries - was held. His failing health from age and Parkinson's Disease gradually removed him over the years from us. His legacy is represented in his son Franklin's work in heading the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan's Purse - the ministry to disaster-ridden places around the world, perhaps the most famous being combating the Ebola pandemic in Africa recently portrayed in the movie "Facing Darkness." (BTW, if you haven't seen this film, do it - several times. It's powerful and moving.)
The closest I ever got to Billy Graham was after the Norfolk VA crusade in 1976. I met Cliff Barrows, the music director, one of Billy's inner circle, about a song the choir had sung - "Share His Love" - and he said, "Here. You can have my music," gave me the packet of music used for the crusade complete with his notes, shook my hand, smiled, and moved on.
Since February 21, 2017, my next chance to meet him will be in heaven someday. I'd still like to shake his hand.
His film company, World Wide Pictures, released many professionally-produced movies. My favorite is "The Hiding Place," the story of the Ten Boom family who hid Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and their subsequent imprisonment in concentration camps. That imprisonment claimed the lives of all the family members except Corrie Ten Boom. It is gripping and intense, and features the statement by Corrie's sister Betsie, “There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still. They will believe us, because we have been here (Ravensbrück concentration camp).
Billy was someone who presented some contradictions, but overall was the most renowned, lauded, controversial, and most respected communicator of the Gospel in the 20th century and into this century. He not only preached to millions, calling them to faith in Jesus Christ, but was a champion of civil rights. He personally removed ropes for segregation in crusades in the South; spoke against segregation and for civil rights, befriending Martin Luther King who declared his debt to Billy for his help to him and the movement; speaking out against apartheid and refusing to go on with a crusade in South Africa until the government-imposed insistence of segregated meeting places be integrated. He was pastor to world leaders, champion of religious rights (meeting with leaders in the Soviet Union, despite claims that he was allowing them to use him for propaganda purposes, which led to more openness to the spreading of the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain), and mentor to evangelists worldwide. Add to that a prolific writer and wearing a lot of hats - he did a lot in his 99 years. Recently he announced he was planning to preach on his 100th birthday, November 7, 2018. He came just short of that, but his funeral, which he had planned in detail, became that last sermon.
What a life.
He believed and preached real hope - in the Resurrection of Christ.
Billy said about death and his own resurrection, "The future is as bright as the promises of God ... I’m looking forward to it (death) — I really am. I’ll be happy the day the Lord says, ‘Come on. I’ve got something better planned' ... Accept the fact that you will die, ... Make arrangements, ... Make provision for those you are leaving behind ... and make an appointment with God.”
Easter Sunday, April 1 - I prefer to call it Resurrection Sunday, because of the roots of the word Easter in paganism - is also April Fools Day. And I'm reminded of the statement in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' " In 1 Corinthians 1:18, we are told "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Billy Graham preached that "foolishness" and did it well: Preaching to over 250 million people around the world, he moved great numbers to first-time decisions, dedications to Christian service, and the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our resurrection to eternal life through Him. Uncounted millions - maybe billions yet to come - will be in Eternity with Christ because faithful spiritual "children" and "grandchildren" of Billy Graham gave themselves to serving Christ and spreading the Gospel in public and private ways in churches and mission fields all around the world.
Billy Graham has left a challenge - a challenge to be resurrected over and over again with the people of Christ.
Everyone who makes a decision to live for Jesus and serve Him in His church will follow in Billy Graham's footsteps. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' ” Isaiah 52:7 (NKJV)
Billy Graham had some really beautiful feet. How are yours?
Blessings from here to eternity,