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“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me,” releasing Feb. 12 from Simon & Schuster, is a unique anthology dedicated to a man whose prophetic voice has influenced three generations as “God’s Ambassador,” “Evangelist to the World” and “America’s Pastor.”
This volume contains 101 personal and anecdotal stories by some of the most significant world-changers and influential leaders in business, sport, religion and government – remarkably including every living U. S. President – as well as friends and relatives of Billy Graham who know him best.
This unprecedented, genre-busting compilation represents the first, and likely only, time since its founding in 1993 that the iconic publisher of uplifting stories has focused a volume around an individual, rather than the usual topical approach.
The sheer diversity of leadership representing myriad professions and disparate ideologies, political persuasions and faith traditions coalescing around the common denominator of utmost respect for one individual – including those who do not share his perspective or worldview – is a testimony to the timeless message Billy Graham faithfully preached for more than six decades. In a sense, this celebration of friendship and influence is a first look at the 94 year-old evangelist’s legacy – while he is still alive.
In the foreword to this latest “Chicken Soup for the Soul” project, I reframed its underlying premise, “Billy Graham & Me,” into the lexicon of the man himself. Having served as principal spokesperson for the evangelist since 1981, I knew he would be more deferential and self-effacing, identifying the source of his strength and success as “Billy Graham & God.”
I have been privileged to have a front-row seat at the game to observe that spiritual partnership firsthand and watch Mr. Graham’s agenda-less servant leadership unfold over more than half of his public ministry. Regardless of one’s familiarity with the man or identification with his message, more important are the transferable principles by which he lives his life.
A life marked by humility, integrity, authenticity and love
In an era where confidence in institutions is crumbling, and even religious organizations are being scrutinized or Christian leaders criticized for behavior inconsistent with their beliefs, Billy Graham has long modeled courage, character and conviction and stood as an example of how to finish well.
Through the years, many reporters have asked me to sum up his life and legacy in one word. But in response, I have to use four: humility, integrity, authenticity and love – each of which I have observed consistently in my travels with him.
Many of the compelling “Billy Graham & Me” entries contain little-known facts, such as Mr. Graham once putting up bail for Dr. Martin Luther King.
Other contributions document counter-intuitive insights and “ah has” about the evangelist. Henry Kissinger first came to hear him speak in 1957 – initially out of skeptical curiosity. He found himself deeply moved by how Mr. Graham touched some profound spiritual yearning among the crowd, prompting him to attend a second time.
President Obama addresses Billy Graham’s friendliness and modesty, describing him as a man who is warm and welcoming to all, while President George W. Bush reveals how the evangelist helped him strengthen his understanding of faith – beyond self-improvement to following the example and principles of Jesus.
President Bill Clinton discusses Billy Graham’s influence for positive change in this country, including the impact the evangelist’s early integration efforts had on him as a young man that has endured to this day. And President Jimmy Carter is among the many contributors who reference Mr. Graham as the most influential spiritual leader in their lives, through his humble, forgiving treatment of others.
Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan describes Mr. Graham’s three audiences with Pope John Paul II, during which he did not try to blur theological differences, but demonstrated a “spiritual generosity celebrating a universal message of love and compassion that people of all faiths can embrace.”
Veteran news anchors and reporters share observations about Billy Graham’s impact at the intersection of faith and culture, including Dan Rather, who attests to his authenticity – which passes even a critical journalist’s test. Fox News television host Bill O’Reilly attributes Mr. Graham’s unique influence among newsmakers to transparent virtues of “his decency, his goodness, his simplicity.”
But perhaps Mr. Graham’s inimitable influence and effective impact is best summed up in the book by Doug Coe, who works with friends around the world as part of the National Prayer Breakfast family.
“Just as chicken soup heals the body in times of physical illness, Billy’s unfailing fidelity to his calling has enabled millions of individuals suffering from spiritual sickness to find nurturing for their soul,” he said. “I don’t think we will see another like him in our lifetime.”
Billy Graham represents a balance of grace and truth. He is a man of humility, integrity, authenticity and an agent of God’s love, who despite his many gifts and ability, the Lord used more for his availability. He had an audience of One, and gave all the glory and honor to God, knowing that he was operating with faith in His strength and power.
An exclusive excerpt from the Foreword of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me” appears below:
In August 2005, just two months after he had preached his final crusade in New York City, I went to visit Mr. Graham at his log cabin home in western North Carolina. On the flight to Asheville, I reflected on an observation shared by a pastor friend that every individual needs three things in order to find fulfillment in life: someone to love, something to do and something to anticipate.
As I drove up the mountain to call on Mr. Graham, I realized that for the first time in more than six decades the evangelist had only two out of three of those elements. He still had Ruth, his marriage and ministry partner of then sixty-one years; he was working on a new book and remained regularly engaged with the ministry he founded; but he could not look forward to another crusade planned for the near future.
I knew that Billy Graham always believed and lived what he preached, but I wondered how that applied to his current life stage. What mindset would I encounter in the forward-thinking evangelist, who had always focused on the next thing and who had been a part of current events on the world stage since the Truman administration?
While sitting together on his back porch for several hours, eventually watching the sun start to set over his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, I asked Mr. Graham how he felt.
He replied, “I have never been more at peace in my life. My wife Ruth has been there for me as I traveled the world in itinerant ministry. But with her recent medical needs, it is now time for me to take care of her. God has enabled me to do that, and I am looking forward to spending more time together.”
Ruth passed in 2007.
During my most recent visit to Mr. Graham’s home, despite physical limitations of his own, I found him once again filled with passion and purpose. As he sat in his favorite chair in the den, he told me how he felt called to deliver one more sermon about the need for renewal in the church and revival across America.
It was obvious that, though his body might be physically weakened, the heart of the evangelist continued to beat. He had already selected his text, Galatians 6:14, which he had posted in big letters on the wall beside him and recited to me, “‘May I never boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.'” In his characteristic authenticity and transparency, he then stressed that when he gets to heaven he is going to lay any awards and rewards received in this life at the feet of Jesus.