Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Southern California, one the largest megachurches in America, has praised Billy Graham's inclusive ministry and said that it has inspired him to preach before various groups of people, despite controversy.
"Billy's message was simple and clear, and it never varied: No matter who you are or what you've done God has never stopped loving you and he has a good plan and purpose for your life. Because none of us are perfect, we all need a Savior to in order to have our sins forgiven, understand our purpose for living, and gain a home in heaven," Warren wrote in a Facebook post last week dedicated to all the things he learned from Graham, who died at the age of 99 at his home in North Carolina.
"That's why God sent Jesus to die for our sins. God's offer of forgiveness and freedom is available to anyone who humbly repents and accepts the grace of God through Jesus, regardless of your ethnic or religious background," he added.
Warren chronicled his long history of interactions with Graham, starting from first hearing him speak at the age of 17; to Graham's support and encouragement of his writing; to Graham's advice for him when delivering presidential invocations.
The megachurch pastor listed out four big "smart choices" that Graham made based on preaching God's Word, rather than human opinion, starting with building his life on "integrity, humility, and generosity."
"Billy modeled humility. He never forgot his farm boy roots, his small town values, and the fact that everything he had was a gift from God. Humble people are gracious people and Billy was always gracious to everyone," Warren recalled.
"Great people make other people feel great, while little people belittle people, Billy taught me to ignore both the flatterers and the attackers — the cheers and the jeers from the sidelines, and instead focus on finishing the race God has called you to run."
Secondly, he pointed out that Graham was a bridge-builder rather than a wall-builder; a unifier rather than a divider.
"In the 1950 and '60s, Billy insisted that all his crusades be integrated. In some southern cities in America, the Graham crusades were the first public events to be racially integrated. But Billy also insisted that his crusades be religiously integrated," Warren said.
"He put Catholics and Protestants, Calvinists and Charismatics, Fundamentalist and Evangelicals, Liberals and Conservatives, all on the platform together. He was criticized for it, but he knew that God blesses unity and harmony."
He noted that Graham stayed out of politics and denominational fights, ministering to people from all points on the spectrum. He preached in Communist countries, such as Russia and North Korea, despite being "ruthlessly criticized" for his decisions.
"I have been attacked and misunderstood for accepting invitations to speak to groups of Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, LGBT, secular liberals, and fundamentalist Christians," Warren reflected of his own engagements.
"But I am called by God to share the Good News wherever I can, and you cannot bring your enemies to Christ, only your friends."
He said that Graham taught him that believers "must take the Gospel wherever we can, even if that means being misunderstood, or criticized, or accused of guilt by association."
Next, he hailed Graham for being an encourager, not a critic, many times toward him personally.
"Another time, Billy asked me to fly to his home to give him an update on our Purpose Driven Global P.E.A.C.E. plan in 197 nations. His praise was effusive hyperbole but it encouraged me," Warren wrote.
"After sharing a two-hour report Billy said with tears in his eyes 'Rick, this is the greatest vision I've ever heard. I just wish I was around long enough to see it happen!' That was trademark Graham encouragement and it filled my eyes with tears too."
Finally, he positioned that Graham understood the importance of sharing his platform with the next generation.
"We must take the long view, realizing that our ministries are just one brief phase of a long line of servants of God. Many have served God before us, and many will serve after we're gone," he continued.
"Part of each generation's responsibility is to set up the next generation for effectiveness. I watched Billy do this over and over, not only with me, but with many others."
Warren credited Graham's encouragement for his choice to continue writing and eventually publish The Purpose Driven Life in 2002, which went on to be become one of the highest Christian best-sellers of all time.
"Decades later, when I was invited to pray the invocation at the start of President George Bush's inauguration week, and then again four years later at President Obama's inauguration, Billy's private advice was invaluable. He even gave me his hat that he wore when he prayed at previous inaugurations," he shared.
"He mailed it to me as a surprise along with warm personal note that said 'Rick, It's your time now. I believe in you! Wear the hat! Love, Billy' So I did."
Warren made note of how Graham has mentored him in comments to The Christian Post last week following news of the evangelist's death.
"One of the things that a lot of people don't know about Billy Graham is that he was also an encourager to pastors," Warren told CP.
"One time in Amsterdam he brought in 12,000 evangelists from all around the world. I had written a Bible study methods and Billy had brought a book for every one of those evangelists and had me come in and teach it.
"He was first and foremost an encourager," he added.