I am old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy and his brother Bobby. I also remember receiving the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Events like these cause us to remember where we were when we first heard the news. Today, hearing about the death of Billy Graham will similarly be etched in my mind. His death makes me sad.
I met Billy Graham personally only twice. The first was at the dedication of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. As the president of the Wheaton Ministerial Association, I sat on the platform with him, offered a prayer of dedication, and then awkwardly shook his hand.
But it was the second time that will stick in my memory. At the church where I previously served, Dr. Graham was going to be involved in the funeral of a person who had been on the Billy Graham Association Board of Directors. We on the pastoral staff were excited that Dr. Graham was going to be at our church. Just before the service, I barged into the Senior Pastor’s office to talk about some detail of the funeral. I was startled by a person at the door almost tripping over the tall man who was equally surprised at this unannounced visitor. He quickly recovered and stuck out his hand and said to me in that mild southern accent, “Hi, I’m Billy.” Here was a person who had spoken to millions of people throughout the world, personally met with U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, introducing himself to me simply as “Billy.” No pretension, no formality – he simply said, “Hi, I’m Billy.”
But I am sad today. Why? Because I feel like we have lost one of the great champions of the faith for this generation. I have witnessed many prominent preachers who were once considered the pillars of American Christianity come and go because of moral failure or hubris. Not so with Billy Graham. To put it in the simplest terms, the life lived by Billy Graham has withstood the test of time. And I am sad because, with my limited understanding, I see no prominent Christ-follower who can take up the banner of American evangelism and carry it with the same integrity, humility, and a love for lost souls. Oh, I know we only look to Jesus as our example, but in Philippians 3:17 Paul also tells the church to imitate him. So I am sad this day that we, as Christ-followers will no longer have the humble, living example of Billy Graham to follow.
How has Billy Graham impacted your walk with Jesus? And how can we emulate the grace and humility of Dr. Graham in order to do our part in carrying the mantel of American evangelism forward?