The world's greatest evangelist died early Wednesday morning. Here are some thoughts, including from the late Chuck Colson, on the Rev. Billy Graham.
Here's a story that could be repeated by any one of a million Americans:
"At age 45 I attended a Billy Graham Crusade in New York City and responded to the call. A man took me aside to counsel me after I went forward and I really felt Christ was in that conversation.
"I knew it was all different from that point on," this man continued. "I was going to church before then but I didn't have the personal relationship."
That testimony belongs to Tom Phillips, the man who, several years later led Chuck Colson to Christ. At the Colson Center, Graham's passing represents more than just the end of an era. It's something like the loss of a grandfather.
Rev. Graham ministered to every U.S. president since Harry Truman. He was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement, even posting bail for Martin Luther King, Jr. and personally removing the barrier between the white and black section at his crusades. And he appeared on Gallup's list of most admired men and women more often than anyone else in the world.
His 67 years of evangelism, not only in tents, churches and stadiums but also through innovative use of new media and technologies, would deliver a simple Gospel message to more people than any other Protestant minister in history: an estimated 2.2 billion.
In response, millions surrendered their lives to Christ to the contrite strains of "Just as I Am."
Chuck Colson first met the Reverend Graham in Nixon's White House. In a 2006 tribute, he recalled the minister's pastoral care and concern for the President and his staff. Chuck also felt a debt of gratitude to Graham for offering counsel and support when he was released from prison, and he credited Graham as a mentor who shaped his ministry from the beginning, and even joined him in the prisons to share the Gospel.
Chuck recalled seeing Rev. Graham, the celebrity evangelist to millions, sitting cross-legged on the floor in a maximum security prison sharing Christ's love with a single prisoner. Chuck later wrote, "He was as comfortable in that prison as he was in a palace."
But still, what strikes me in all of this, is just how unlikely this story is. Some of Graham's success can be attributed to extraordinary talent, oratorical skills, his strong team, and other things. But it can't explain how this self-described "farm boy" would become—well—Billy Graham.
Timing is part of the story: God called Graham to ministry at an extraordinary time in American church history. After the Scopes trial of 1925, American evangelicalism had largely retreated from public life—perceived by a hostile public to be nothing but backwoods fundamentalism.
But then arose four faces of an evangelical resurgence: Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today Magazine, the National Association of Evangelicals, and most important of all, Billy Graham, who leapt onto the national stage in the unlikeliest of ways: a 1949 evangelistic crusade in, of all places, Los Angeles.
So what was it? His "golden" voice? His calm demeanor? His ability to connect with the powerful? His humility? His innovative use of new technologies? His impeccable integrity? All of these things certainly contributed to his life and influence. But his answer, when he was asked by CNN's Larry King in 2005: "It's the message..."
God raised Billy Graham up at a specific time and specific place to exalt Jesus. And that's exactly what he did. This Christian hero came to Jesus "just as he was," and he dedicated his entire life to telling others that, really, that's the only way for any of us to come to Jesus: "Without one plea, but that His blood was shed for me."
Thank you God, for Billy Graham. And thank you, Reverend Graham. We love you. We'll miss you.
Remembering Billy Graham: America's Pastor Goes Home
He was a mentor to so many, and an inspiration to Christians around the world. Read more about Billy Graham, America's pastor, by clicking on the links below.
First published at BreakPoint.