I’m writing this on Billy Graham’s 96th birthday – November 7, 2014. His son, Franklin Graham, reports that he is in good spirits, eating well and his mind is still sharp.
He notes that although his father’s hearing and vision are failing he still enjoys daily devotions and reading the Bible with his staff.
Last year’s birthday celebration included 800 guests. Celebrations this year will be smaller and quieter – family members and a few friends. And his preaching will continue only via his books and audio- and video-recordings.
Also, on this birthday another “My Hope” telecast will be broadcast nationally. In the film Billy Graham says, “I know I’m going to heaven. I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation.” Also this presentation will air him preaching one of his sermons never before released.
Although Billy Graham has been a public figure for six decades the respect of the national press is still said to be very high. And the Christian community’s gratitude for his gospel witness remains strong.
During six decades of ministry it was not only his clear, resonant proclamation of the gospel that never faltered, keeping the Good News unsullied before even the cynical element of the public; it was also his high ethical standards that marked and undergirded every aspect of his ministry from the start.
The one shadow on his record has to do with his friendship with American presidents, especially his close relationship with the embattled President Nixon. More information on this has recently been released from the Nixon Library in San Clemente, California. Long ago, Rev. Graham offered apologies for offenses caused by political and other comments made in these relationships.
And the ethical standards followed for his ministries were sterling.
I remember that at the outset of his nationwide ministry some businessmen agreed to underwrite his salary so that no monies raised at the campaigns or through other avenues of Billy Graham ministries would come to him.
And whenever he stayed in a hotel during a campaign an aide checked the room thoroughly before he entered to be sure no compromising situation could develop. In addition, he never rode an elevator alone. Extraordinary care was taken to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, so as to not damage his ability to proclaim the Gospel.
Billy Graham, the Baptist evangelist, and Ruth, his Presbyterian wife, made a striking couple. In their commitment to proclaiming the gospel of redemption, a redemption purchased by the Cross of Christ, they were one. Denominational tags tended to fade at the cross.
Ruth spent long periods raising the children and keeping the home intact while he was in other parts of the world preaching the gospel. Once asked about this she said she would rather have Billy for one month of the year than any other man for 12. Ruth preceded her husband in death in 2007.
How did Billy Graham become the convinced and convincing preacher he was? It was not a straight road. He started modestly. He had mentors who were faithful to him, such as V. Raymond Edman, fourth president of Wheaton College.
But he settled a major issue not long before the Los Angeles big tent meeting in 1949. It was that Los Angeles engagement that caught the attention of the nation, launching him into a lifetime of preaching to massed gatherings around the world. What was that major issue?
It was about the trustworthiness of the Bible. His friend, Charles Templeton, was a brilliant and engaging preacher. But Templeton began a slow turn from the faith saying the Bible was full of errors and could not be trusted. He pressed this opinion on Billy Graham with intensity.
In the face of this pressure, the Los Angeles meeting was approaching and Graham had to go one way or the other. He was in conflict. He made a decision to trust the Bible’s authority and to preach it without fear or apology.
People thronged to the big tent as meetings got under way. (I seem to remember the tent could hold 12,000 people) Many well-known people responded to Graham’s invitations and received Christ by faith. Lives were changed in radical ways. Billy Graham’s gospel influence continues right up to the present. The rest is history.
Photo credit: Paul Walsh (via flickr.com)