I Like Billy Graham
Since Billy Graham’s death a few weeks back, I’ve found myself thinking of his life, ministry and career with a deepening affection and respect. Though I didn’t know Rev. Billy Graham personally, there are quite a few reasons why I like Billy Graham and have felt closely connected to him. Here are several of my favorites:
- My family lived in Western Springs for more than a decade, not far from Western Springs Baptist Church where Reverend Graham served briefly in the 1940s. His only parish, BTW.
- He went to college locally at Wheaton College. I know quite a few good folks that call Wheaton their alma mater. Interestingly, Billy Graham got his undergraduate degree in Anthropology. Some have theorized that this gave his biblical enthusiasm a tempered, down-to-earth realism.
- He embodied a paradoxical, inviting kind of strength-plus-vulnerability. When he was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1982, Billy Graham was introduced with these words: “It is with the Bible that he has armed himself above all else. His characteristic refrain, ‘The Bible says . . .’ exposes both the foundation of his preaching and the explanation for his extraordinary combination of humility and authority.” I so admire this. It inspires me to greater Bible-based bravery and deeper personal humility.
- Billy wasn’t shy about calling his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, the “best preacher in the family.” I do wonder if that caused any awkward family moments!
- Billy Graham recommended a method of preaching preparation he called, “Speaking out the overflow.” For any sermon or crusade, Graham would over-prepare and have, at his disposal, double or triple the material he needed. He did this to give the Holy Spirit maximum options to use him.
- Decades ago, when asked what he would like inscribed on his tombstone, Billy Graham said, “A sinner saved by grace; and, he had integrity.” More recently, son Franklin Graham asked his father the same question. According to Franklin, Billy thought about that and said, “Preacher.” The tombstone reads in full, “Billy Graham, Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ," and will be accompanied by a single Bible verse, John 14:6 which states, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” All things being equal, I prefer Billy Graham’s original answer from decades ago.
- Billy Graham was buried in a coffin made at Angola—yes, that Angola! I recall vividly that the first time I travelled to Angola nine years ago, then-warden Burl Cain told us that Billy and his wife Ruth had purchased inmate-made coffins. I’m quoting here from Byron R. Johnson of Baylor University: “The plain wood coffins are made of plywood and were lined with mattress pads made from Walmart comforters covered by fabric. They are adorned with brass handles and a cross on top and are said to cost $215. According to Warden Cain, the Graham family also asked that all of the inmates who worked on the coffins’ construction have their names burned into the wood.” An awesome sign of Graham’s humility and that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
- One of my early memories from watching a Billy Graham crusade on a big old 1970s TV was Billy’s pointing out the difference between “everlasting” and “eternal” life. Everlasting just has to do with how long it goes for, merely the temporal extent of it for good or bad. But a life that is eternal is marked by qualities of which we only have brief glimpses. Eternal life is sturdy, noble, God-honoring, selfless, humble, brave, utterly secure, connected… I’m hoping to share this thought in more detail in a sermon at Elmhurst CRC this Sunday.
- Billy Graham has his priorities straight in life and in death. His son Franklin “kind of chuckled because my father said years ago, 'When you hear that Billy Graham is dead don't you believe it for a second.’ He said 'I'll be more alive than ever before.' " Amen, Billy. See you on the other side.