Billy Graham: Just as he was

Published 8:43 pm Friday, March 2, 2018

One of my concerns for my three millennial children is that they would grow up not knowing much about Billy Graham. Therefore, I tried to teach them about him. But one good thing that came out of his recent passing at the age of 99 is that many more young people — and people around the world — learned a lot about him in the past couple of weeks.

Billy Graham was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in church history, and perhaps the greatest Christian evangelist since the Apostle Paul. There isn’t space in this column for all the reasons we can admire him, but here are three:

4Authenticity: Billy Graham was “the real deal.” People who knew him all say that he was one of the most kind and humble persons they ever met. In fact, people who met with him tell me that they went into the meeting armed with questions they wanted to ask him, but instead much of the conversation involved questions that Dr. Graham asked them. He was more interested in getting to know others than in talking about himself.

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Graham’s personal integrity was beyond reproach. Early in his ministry, in a California hotel room, Billy and his team wrote out what came to be known as the “Modesto Manifesto.” They covenanted before God and one another that they would maintain sexual purity and financial transparency and never exaggerate statistics.

When Billy Graham got up to preach, people could sense that he deeply and sincerely believed and tried to live out the message he passionately delivered.

4Authority: Graham’s sermons were peppered with the phrase, “The Bible says…” He stood on the Bible as the Word of God, and preached not his own opinions, but the Scriptures, which he held to be fully truthful and infallible.

This grew out of an experience as a young man. In his 20s, Graham had a friend and colleague named Charles Templeton. Templeton preached alongside Graham at Youth for Christ events but began to question the truthfulness of the Bible. This led to a crisis in Billy’s life. It came to a head one night at Forest Home Retreat Center, in the hills of Southern California. That night, Billy took a walk in the woods, to be alone with God. That night, the man who called millions to a “decision” made a decision of his own — he would believe and preach the Bible as the very Word of God.

4Clarity: One of the most powerful things about Graham’s sermons was that they were so clear. Billy didn’t chase rabbits. He knew he had been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, and he didn’t beat around the bush.

He used effective illustrations and cultural references to connect with people, but his ultimate goal was to drive home the message of the cross and resurrection, and how people could receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, if only they would repent and believe in Jesus.

He was once asked if he would do anything differently if he could live out his ministry again. He replied, “I would just preach the cross and the resurrection even more. That’s where the power is.”

If you have never read it, I recommend you check out “Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham.”

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.