Today is Billy Graham’s 95th birthday. I wanted to take a moment and offer Happy Birthday wishes to him. I also wanted to take a moment to thank God that in his foolish wisdom, he allowed a farm boy from North Carolina to preach the gospel to untold millions all around the world for what seems like forever. There’s no way to calculate on this side of eternity the impact Billy Graham has had on everyone from presidents to orphans.
I was fortunate to attend a Billy Graham crusade in the late ‘90s. It was at Panther Stadium in Charlotte. The place was literally packed to the rafters. I went with a church group, and the only seats we could find were nosebleed. Me being me, I wanted closer to the action. A friend and I made our way down near the reserve ground level when a BGEA (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) volunteer met us. I thought we’d probably get kicked out of the stadium because security was tight, and moving about was frowned upon. To my surprise she smiled, and asked what we were doing. I told her I was serving as an associate pastor in Gaffney, SC, and that Billy Graham was my wife’s grandmother’s favorite person, and I wanted to be closer to the stage. I mean, Billy Graham was legendary and he was already aged, and rumor had it that he was physically weakening, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Even more to my surprise, she radioed someone, and a guy showed up and guided my friend and me to a seat directly behind Billy Graham’s stage! He had a choir that evening and I was literally sitting with them. Even more cool was Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows (Billy‘s longtime music leader), Michael W. Smith, and Charlie Daniels were all just a few feet away from me. I could hear Dr. Graham’s hearty laughter even above the buzzing crowd.
After several songs and performances, the stadium became very quiet. Dr. Graham had to helped to the podium, and he began to preach. To my amazement it was one of the simplest, yet most profound gospel presentations I’ve ever heard. It went something like this:
“You are a sinner. You’ve broken God’s laws. There’s no way you can save yourself. Jesus came and died to take God’s wrath for you. God loves you and desires a personal relationship with you. The only way that can happen is by believing in Jesus and what he’s done for you. Will you believe this day?”
I confess that as a more reformed Christian, I wanted to find fault with his message. I wanted to pick apart his lack of theological depth. I wanted to criticize his Finney-esque altar call. But I could not. His message was airtight. It was solid. It was passionate. And it resonated. Not just with me, but with the seemingly thousands who were praying around me with counselors. That day God softened my heart for Billy Graham. Ever since I’ve had the utmost respect and admiration for him and his ministry. I cannot say I agree with everything, but who does agree with everything? We’re on the same team. I could only dream of making a pin prick of the impact Billy Graham has.
One thing that also impressed me that day was Billy Graham’s humility. He spoke of “coming home” to Charlotte, and how all the hoopla was not about him and how he was unworthy to be preaching for as long as he had. He spoke about envying the country preacher who simply shepherded his flock on a daily basis.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet and spend time with members of Dr. Graham’s family, all preachers like him. To a man, they’ve all been as humble and personable as Billy himself. You’d never know their grandfather was the Most Trusted Man In America, and America‘s Pastor. Like Dr. Graham, they simply loved Jesus, loved people, and loved preaching the gospel.
Happy 95th birthday, Billy Graham! Thank you God for softening my heart for Billy Graham. Thank you for your forgiveness, your grace, and for the gospel, and for those who, like Billy Graham, simply live to make it known to anyone and everyone. Thank you for Dr. Graham’s faithfulness. He is truly worthy of our emulation and respect (Hebrews 11).