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Billy Graham’s Life

Anthony Correia (Anthony Correia/Shutterstock [1])

And so, Billy Graham has finally died. [2] What a glorious day it must be in Paradise. The Gospel Coalition’s [3] initial — and perfect — response is this old quote from Graham:

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Billy Graham is dead. Long live Billy Graham! Open thread for your comments and remembrances. I agree with this Roman Catholic Princeton professor:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js [5]

As a child, I remember watching Billy Graham crusades on television. The “Just As I Am” altar calls at the end were deeply moving. I haven’t thought about them in many years, but that’s what remains in my mind as my deepest impression of Billy Graham. As a kid, I had never imagined that Christianity could be like that. These first two verses of the hymn, which ended every Graham crusade (at least every one that I watched), capture the simple but enormous power of Evangelical Christianity:

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

UPDATE: My friend Doug LeBlanc, an Episcopal journalist, writes in memory of Graham. [6] He talks about how he grew up in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge as a real believer:

But my understanding of the gospel was impoverished. I thought it amounted to this: God is holy, we are not, and at the end of time our lives will be measured for the balance between good deeds and evil deeds. I knew Jesus died on the cross, but I thought it was because he was too good for this world and the time when he was present in it.

In the early 1970s, God brought many changes to the spiritual life of the LeBlanc household. My older brother, Randy, became a Jesus Freak, as hippies-turned-converts were called then, through a coffeehouse ministry called the Looking Glass.

My father was bewildered and thought Randy had joined a cult. Dad began reading Scripture more, and I think he was searching for a verse in which Jesus said, “Follow me, but don’t be a nut about it.”

I adored my older brother, in the way that causes older brothers endless grief: I wanted to hang out with him, to be friends with his friends, and to let some of his hippy magic rub off on me. Because of this, I responded well when Randy helped me grasp the more personal nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. It took the Jesus Movement for me to learn about the Atonement.

For a time the faith I shared with my brother felt like a great struggle between the with-it kids and their square parents, which gave it a flavor of forbidden fruit.

But then the Billy Graham Crusade came to town, stopping at LSU’s Tiger Stadium in 1970. Mom sang in the crusade’s choir, just as she sang in the choir at St. Luke’s. I cannot remember if Dad attended the crusade with us, but Graham’s message — which included references to Jesus’ Second Coming and the Last Things — began sowing seeds that what my brother had discovered might not be so fanatical after all.

LeBlanc talks about how the Graham crusade led his parents to deeper conversion, and led him to embrace Evangelicalism within the Episcopal Church, of which he remains a member.

I hope at least some of you readers will tell stories about how Billy Graham’s life, his words, and his deeds changed your lives.

54 Comments (Open | Close)

54 Comments To "Billy Graham’s Life"

#1 Comment By Rob G On February 23, 2018 @ 7:56 am

“Yes, those are ethically and morally equivalent, alright. Anyone who can believe that is morally bankrupt.”

They don’t have to be “equivalent” for the point to be salient, you dolt.

#2 Comment By John On February 24, 2018 @ 12:09 am

Siarlys: His conment was in response to my statement on his antisenitidn, not what you are talking abou. And antisemitism isn’t morally equivalent to adultery or plagarism by a long shot.

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 24, 2018 @ 11:19 pm

His conment was in response to my statement on his antisenitidn, not what you are talking abou. And antisemitism isn’t morally equivalent to adultery or plagarism by a long shot.

This first sentence is so incoherent that no meaningful response to it can be offered. The second sentence raises a fascinating philosophical question by offering a conclusion without prior debate.

#4 Comment By Austin Shaver On February 25, 2018 @ 11:52 pm

As millions around the world mourn the passing of Billy Graham, it is doubtful that I can add to much of what has been said, but what I can share is how my single substantive interaction with him changed my life forever. You see, I went to one of his crusades thinking I had been a Christian most of my life, but God used his simple, powerful proclamation of the Gospel to bring a dead man (that’s me) to life and save me. In words far too inelegant for the occasion, this is my tribute to Reverend Graham, for whom I am forever grateful and look forward to seeing again one day. Thank you, sir. This is my story…

Scene: Saturday, June 3, 2000, Nissan Stadium (née Adelphia Coliseum), Nashville, Tennessee.

I am a 17-year-old preparing to start my senior year of high school, and I am on my way to the Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville. I am also, I think, a Christian and have been since I was six. Outwardly, I have tried to live a Christ-like life, whether that be through church membership and involvement, student ministry leadership, exercising the spiritual disciplines, or any number of other things that Christians are commanded to do. Inwardly, I have tried to do this as well though I often fall short, but this is no story of some secret, hidden hypocrisy. My hypocrisy, my sin, was all too readily visible. So, as a life-long churchgoer, I am excited to hear Reverend Graham preach, but I have no great expectations for the evening.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

Reverend Graham preaches a variation of a sermon that he has undoubtedly priest thousands of times in his life: 1) Do you know Jesus; 2) If not, repent and believe in him and be saved. It was a sermon I had heard dozens of times in my life, nothing flashy, and frankly, one I probably could have preached myself if so necessary.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

Then, God broke me.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” – John 6:44

When Reverend Graham concluded his sermon, despite there being some 60,000 people in attendance, God used the faithful preaching of his word to pierce the very core of my heart.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

You see, God revealed to me that I was trusting not in him for my salvation but in my own self-righteousness, my own good works, which were not good at all. In fact, they were a stench in his very nostrils.

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” – Isaiah 64:6

So, the choice he laid before me was plain. I could: 1) continue to trust in my own works for my salvation, in which case, I would certainly go to Hell; or 2) I could repent of my sin and believe in Jesus and be saved.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” – John 10:28-29

It was there that God saved me.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:4,8-9

So, thank you Reverend Graham for preaching the gospel faithfully and relentlessly for so many years. Congratulations on finishing the race and making it home. Can’t wait to see you soon.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:15

In keeping with the warp and woof of Reverend Graham’s life, I can think of no better way to honor him but to ask you: do you know Jesus? Would you repent of your sin and believe in him today? Maybe you find yourself asking, “What is this gospel of which you speak?” Here is an excerpt from a sermon that I recently prepared that I hope will answer that question:

There is a holy and perfect God, who has existed forever as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created the universe and everything in it, including humanity. He gave us commands for how to live, but we have and continue to sin against him. Because he is holy, he cannot be in the presence of sin, the punishment for which is death and an eternity in Hell where we would know nothing but his wrath forever. The good, no, the best news, however, is that, because of God’s mercy and great love for his people, he sent his Son, Jesus, to live as both God and man. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience, as we were supposed to do, and then was crucified on a Roman cross, where God poured out his wrath that should have been poured out on us, on his Son, who died in our place. It gets better: Because Jesus was without sin, he could not die, and on the third day after his crucifixion, God raised him from the dead, he appeared to many, and then he ascended to the right hand of the Father, where he sits today and intercedes on our behalf. But wait, it gets even better yet: He tells us that, if we repent of our sin (which means to forsake not only all of the bad things we have done but also the good things we have done in trying to earn God’s favor, because we cannot ever be good enough to deserve it), confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, then we will be saved by grace through faith in Christ. That is the Gospel.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” – Romans 1:16