On February 21, I like millions around the globe was stopped in my tracks to think about the man of the century. A man who God so blessed that he lived from 1918-2018, and not only filled his life with years but filled his years with life. The death of Billy Graham circled the world in just moments. Anyone who had been touched by his life had to pause and think about the impact of a man who many had seen and heard thousands of times but maybe never met. I am fully aware that ten thousands of accolades will be written and spoken that will surpass any of my thoughts and recollections of Billy Graham, but I could not keep from just walking through the years and the touches in my life he brought that have and will continue to live in my heart.
The man of the century? Unquestionably. Just think over these nearly 100 years he lived how many great people have come and gone on the planet. People who truly were great and made a difference to their country or their kingdom or in their discipline of medicine or science. Think of all the things that happened over the 99 years of his life. World wars, depressions, atomic bombs, landings on the moon, but I think I can say without any reservation or contradiction that no man has ever affected the eternal destiny of as many people as this one country boy from North Carolina who heard the call of God to preach the Gospel. When he surrendered to that task, he never looked back and he never wavered. He kept on preaching.
For me personally the moments that I was in his presence — I am talking about in his presence along with thousands of others — were memorable occasions. The first time I ever heard him preach, I believe it was 1952, he was going to preach outside in the football stadium at Bailey Junior High School in Jackson. The little community where I lived planned to get one of the school buses and load it up with anybody and everybody that would like to come and journey from up in Clay County all the way to Jackson to hear a man preach.
I honestly didn’t understand all the hype about what we were doing, but I loaded up with the rest and we made the journey. I enjoyed sitting outside on a football field and listening to a guy preach, and what he was preaching I had already heard. I will never forget that he preached from Luke 15 on the prodigal son. He knew the story, and he told it right. When I say right, it was right from God and right to my heart. I remember that some of the people that were on the school bus with me made decisions for Christ that night, and I remember Billy Graham telling us and telling them that if you came with a group, they would wait on you. We did. It was a life-changing and eternity-changing moment for many from our church and community who had come that night.
Time passes so quickly. Billy Graham became such a renowned preacher across the land and around the world. I kept hearing of him, but that was the one and only time that I ever heard him in my growing up years until I was in high school. At the time, we lived in Hialeah, Fl., in the Miami area and Billy Graham was going to be in the convention center over on Miami Beach for about a week. He came and preached and they asked him to stay longer and he did. I’m not sure how long he was there, but the week turned into two or three weeks. The thing I best remember was that I had several opportunities to load up my car, drive over to the crusade, and hear Billy Graham.
In the car with me were some of my buddies who together we played football and other sports. Some of them came to know Jesus during the crusade. It was at that meeting that just by chance I had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham, shaking hands with him along with my buddies who had come to hear him preach. I didn’t think a whole lot about it then, but now decades later it’s meaningful to me. The next time I had the privilege of going to hear him preach in person was at the beginning of the first event ever held at Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas. My wife Shirley and I went to the service. By design, the very first thing that would happen in Cowboys Stadium was going to be a worship service, an evangelistic service with Billy Graham preaching. We were there and while I saw the Cowboys play both on TV and in person at times, nothing surpassed what took place there as people responded to Billy Graham and the message of Jesus that he preached.
Time passed and I was back in Mississippi preaching as pastor of a church when Billy Graham came back to Jackson in the 1970s. It was going to be at Memorial Stadium, and so while I lived in Gulfport, Shirley and I made plans to come one night and hear Billy Graham again. We drove to Jackson, got into Memorial Stadium, found us a seat, and sat through wind and rain as he preached. We watched as people responded to the call of Jesus to their heart and accepted Him as their Savior.
No way could I ever remember or evaluate all the times I heard his distinctive voice on the radio or saw him on TV when the crusades took place. While I may not be able to document every moment that I heard him or statement he made in an interview or sermon, the thing that has challenged me, blessed me, encouraged me, over and over again, is his staunch, unwavering commitment to the Lord Jesus to do what He had designed and desired for him to do.
I do not know if or when God will place His hand on someone else and raise them up to be not the next Billy Graham but a person who lives out that kind of devotion so that the world can clearly see the genuineness, not of Billy Graham, but of Jesus who makes a difference in our lives. All of us on a small scale have the opportunity to meet with the Lord and let the Lord work through us. While we have this great, giant example in one of His servants, the real test for all of us is that we allow Jesus to do that in us.
The accolades will come, but Billy Graham would point all of those accolades and all of those comments to Jesus who alone is the One who can save and who alone is the One who empowers us to live the abundant life.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.