The headline shocked me: "Billy Graham's nephew isn't mourning his passing." I was afraid that journalists had found a disgruntled family member who would disparage Dr. Graham's legacy.
It turns out, the opposite is true.
Deryl Graham is the son of Billy Graham's brother. Deryl told reporters that the man he called "Uncle Billy" was the same person in private as he was in public:
"People who saw him on TV or during one of his crusades might think there's no way he could be that good and straightforward in real life. But he was. He was meek, and he was honest and he was pure."
He said his family wasn't mourning and was actually glad to see his uncle released from a body that had begun to fail him. "He's been ready to go for quite some time," Graham said. "He told us not long ago that he didn't believe the Lord wanted him to see his 100th birthday on this earth."
Deryl's wife, Nova Graham, agreed that their family wasn't grieving Dr. Graham's death in the way that people might think. "We are so happy for him," she said. "He finally gets to be with his two great loves: the Lord and Ruth."
"'Must' is the word"
A survey released on Monday ranked Abraham Lincoln as our greatest president, followed by George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. The scholars' opinion of our greatest president is not surprising. As one historian noted, "No President in American history ever faced a greater crisis and no President ever accomplished as much."
Since I share this opinion, periodically I read something by or about Mr. Lincoln. I am currently reading The Words Lincoln Lived By: 52 Timeless Principles to Light Your Path by noted Lincoln scholar Gene Griessman.
One chapter begins with this statement by Mr. Lincoln: "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing." According to Griessman, Mr. Lincoln believed that the way to achieve something was to "act as if the object of your desire was already on its way to you. For example, if your goal is to become a lawyer, visualize yourself as a lawyer and you will be well on your way to achieving that dream."
Griessman quotes Mr. Lincoln's advice to a young man who was struggling with school: "'Must' is the word. I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not" (his italics).
In an 1839 speech, Mr. Lincoln declared: "The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me" (his italics).
"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in"
Combining Billy Graham's hope of heaven with Abraham Lincoln's commitment to do the right thing, we can construct this formula: trusting God with the future + resolve in the present = courage today.
If we know that our sacrifice will be rewarded eternally, we are emboldened to do what is right at any cost. If we remember that our last day on earth is our first day in paradise, we are empowered to choose heaven's priorities over earth's temptations.
As C. S. Lewis famously noted, "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither."
Imagine that you were a soldier fighting in Afghanistan. Somehow you knew that the worst that could happen to you would be an injury that would send you home, where you would recover fully in the presence of those who love you. Would you be more emboldened to fight courageously?
"Knowing God is the meaning of human life"
Anne Graham Lotz's ministry publishes a daily devotional from her writings. Her devotional for Thursday, published the day after her father's home-going, states: "Knowing God is the meaning of human life. It is the reason for our existence. . . . it is the completion of all the changes God is making in your life at the present."
Her father's "changes" are now complete. So will ours be, one day.
Scripture teaches that those who live for eternity on earth "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16).
Such hope empowered Jesus, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). And it can empower us as well.
Will you aim at heaven or at earth today?
First published at the Denison Forum.