With the passing of Billy Graham, the eulogies and reflections on the famed Christian evangelist who died today at 99 are of course pouring in – many of them memorable and affecting, like that of Alveda King, niece of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said:
"As a fledgling freelance journalist in the 20th century, I interviewed Dr. Graham who was in Atlanta to conduct a crusade. As he spoke, he admonished me to 'pray without ceasing.' As he spoke, his brilliant blue eyes were glowing with a heavenly brightness. As I naively asked how anyone could pray 24/7; he quietly responded in a reverberating voice: 'I'm praying for you right now.' This unforgettable experience changed my life forever."
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However, my own experience with Billy Graham is much more typical and impersonal – and yet likewise profound. As a kid growing up during the '50s and '60s I watched Billy Graham's crusades on television with my parents and siblings, like the rest of America. I actually remember them pretty vividly – the passion of his preaching, his North Carolina accent, the altar calls, the particular music, and his closing admonition to "go to church next Sunday." But in truth, I was much too caught up with my various ambitions and pursuits, my problems and selfishness – "the cares of this life" – to be penetrated very much by his message back then. It was only much later in life, after I'd suffered a lot and realized something very important was still missing from my life, that Billy Graham's efforts truly hit "pay dirt" in me.
As the most heard evangelist in world history (an estimated 2.2 billion people), Billy Graham once explained the profound impact of his methods: "I have found that when I present the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with authority and simplicity, quoting the Word of God, He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart."
This is so true.
"I have one message," Graham said at his final crusade in June 2005 in New York: "that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins."
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According to the BillyGraham.org website, Billy Graham's grave marker will read, simply: "Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
And though I cannot add anything much of value to all the wonderful eulogies being delivered today, I do want to let people know that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headed up by son Franklin Graham, takes more seriously than ever the biblical "Great Commission." I'm talking about Jesus Christ's last recorded words (in Matthew 28): "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Today, the only way to spread one's message to "all nations" is through the Internet. And to that end, the team Billy Graham assembled, which includes some absolutely first-class production people, has created a library of astonishingly powerful videos, originally TV specials, available to download and/or watch online – all free – and aimed directly at the troubled hearts of today's Americans.
I'll just single out just three right now – and will dare predict that, if you watch them, they will change you:
- "HEAVEN": "We never know what we truly believe until it’s a matter of life and death. Billy Graham, along with a firefighter and a young woman forced to face the reality of death, share the Gospel message, and what really happens when we die."
- "THE CROSS": "A timeless message of hope and redemption."
- "CAPTURED BY GRACE": "He outran opponents and outlived a war, but he could never escape God's Love. Louis Zamperini, a World War II prisoner of war, survived 47 days at sea on a raft after crashing in the Pacific Ocean. He returned a hero, but his greatest battle was yet to come."