I feel it is most appropriate, when talking about Reconciliation today, to honor Billy Graham who did more than anyone else in our lifetime in proclaiming worldwide the message of reconciliation.
BILLY GRAHAM WAS THE GREATEST PEACEMAKER IN RECENT CHURCH HISTORY
Ø He insisted on integrated crusades
Ø He included RC & Orthodox leaders of the countries in which he preached on the platform with him.
Ø He called for and raised for funds for the Lausanne Congress of 1974 which resulted in the Lausanne movement which still challenges evangelicals to work together in the task of World Evangelization.
Ø He planned several Evangelists’ conferences to especially train national evangelists
Ø He refused to be “politicized” – and when he made statements he later regretted having made, he apologized.
Ø He was a model of moral and financial integrity
As we remember his life and honor him in his death let us commit ourselves to emulate his exemplary lifestyle.
Several years ago Jeanie and I went to visit her brother Billy in his mountain home above Montreat, North Carolina. At that time he was still able to converse. While Jeanie and he had a brother-sister talk I went outside for a stroll around the house.
I was struck by this old wooden gate standing open in a stone fence, looking out to the far mountains.
It was a powerful symbol. I thought of Jesus saying he is the gate for his sheep. That Billy had directed so many through the narrow gate that leads to life. That Ruth had already gone through the gate to the far heavenly hills beyond.
I took some photos, and later painted this original watercolor.
Billy himself has now entered through Jesus the gate, and is with his Lord and his beloved Ruth.
That old wooden gate has since been removed. But the gate to God is still open. And Jesus still says, “I am the gate. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
Watercolor. 14” x 20”. 2014.
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“The heavens are telling the glory of God …”
Psalm 19. The Lectionary reading for the day.
I have been thinking much about him these days,
the earthly part of him,
that long, lithe frame,
lying in a pinewood box.
I’ve been picturing him as he was,
standing tall, confident, humble,
with those piercing blue eyes,
those well-groomed hands clutching his Bible,
jabbing them out to make a point,
lifting them up in a gesture that said,
“Come. Come now.”
A distant relative of his, an artist, reflects,
“He looked as if he knew something,
something he had to share.”
He did that.
Now he lies still.
Nearly a hundred years ago
the breath of life came into him,
as later the words of life came through him,
as clear as the whistle of a train
across miles on an early morning,
with a hint of thunder.
Today that breath is all breathed out.
His voice is silent.
In the Psalms for today I read that
“The heavens are declaring the glory of God.”
They are not silent.
Neither are the stones, which Jesus said
would cry out if his disciples didn’t
announce his kingdom.
They will not be silent.
How can we?
I can hear another voice saying
“It’s your turn. Lift up your voice.
A hundred of you, a thousand, a million of you.
Lift up your voice and say,
‘The Lord reigns.’
Lift up your voice and sing,
‘To God be the glory, great things he has done.’”
And could that be his voice I hear, from not far off?
Singing, as he never could before,
with his true and lasting voice:
“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the nations rejoice.
O, come to the Father,
through Jesus the Son,
and give Him the glory,
great things he has done.”
March 2, 2018
Our last visit with Billy at his mountain home was around Christmas time. Jeanie and our Debbie and I, and his daughter Gigi, joined hands and sang one of his favorite crusade songs: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine.”
At 99, eyesight and hearing mostly gone, he was only dimly aware we were there. Then as we left Jeanie leaned over and said, “Billy Frank, we’re going now. I’d like to take you to Charlotte with me.” There was a long pause and then he breathed the two words he spoke to us that day: “Oh, my.”
Now he has come home to Charlotte – at least the earthly part of him has – to rest in the red Carolina soil, next to Ruth, five miles from the farm where he grew up.
Hundreds of admirers lined up on roads and highways and overpasses along the route of the motorcade that brought his body here from Montreat. They waited for hours, with Bibles and signs and flags to wave a goodbye.
Coming after the recent silent years, when he was away from public view, almost, it seemed, forgotten, this eruption of care and thanks and attention from around the world, touched Jeanie and me so deeply.
His simple casket, made of plywood by life prisoners at Angola Prison in Louisiana, was carried gently into the Library. There the family, from Jeanie down to the youngest grandchildren, gathered around, and his pastor offered a prayer.
As we stood quietly talking, I saw the large cross shaped window over the entrance reflected on the casket.
It was a powerful symbol, the cross over the casket, light shining over death, servanthood over self.
He preached that the way of the cross leads home. Now it has led him to his eternal home, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
This afternoon Billy‘s family gathered around his casket at the Billy Graham Library. The glass across the entrance of the library is reflected on the casket, a moving symbol of salvation as light from the cross outshines death.
In the early days of Youth for Christ all of us young preachers wanted to be like Billy– the star preacher with the stylish double-breasted gabardine suits, the flowery ties, the piercing blue eyes, the stabbing finger, the voice with a touch of Carolina thunder.
When he preached there was such power and passion and when he gave his invitation to come to Jesus always so many came forward. Almost always.
But not when he came to my home town in Canada to speak at our youth rally. The place was packed. His message was powerful. But when he invited people to the front no one moved.
I was so disappointed. We were sure all of our friends would respond. Billy saw my emotion, came over, put his arm around me, and said, “I am going to pray for you and if you stay humble God will use you.”
That night he also pointed me to Wheaton College where I met and fell in love with his sister Jean. On a cold December night in the old, old Calvary Church, he married us – with one slip of the tongue: he said we had exchanged “wings”! And I literally took “wings” as I preached around the world with him for thirty years.
He was as commanding a presence in person as in the pulpit. After one of his crusades he would come to the family home on Park Road. Mother Graham would serve her special Russian tea. And he would captivate us with his stories of where he had been and who he had met.
For years he was named as one of the world’s most admired men. Yet when he namedropped about famous people he’d been with he was like a farm boy in awe of where he had been and who he had met.
Now I think more now of the personal Billy, than the public one. To his family he was son and big brother Billy, and he showed in so many ways that he cared.
Jeanie was stricken with life-threatening polio in the 1940s. Billy and Ruth had just arrived in Chicago for his first pastorate when he learned she was seriously ill. He immediately turned around and made the same long drive back to Charlotte to be with her.
Our Debbie had a recurrence of breast cancer (from which she has fully recovered). At Mayo Clinic in Florida she was walking down a hall toward a test she feared might show the cancer had spread. Ahead she saw an old man sitting in a wheel chair. It was her uncle Billy. He was there for a checkup and had found out exactly where she would be. She ran to him, they hugged and cried, and he prayed. Later at his Montreat home she sat on his bed and said, “Uncle Billy, for me that was the best sermon you ever preached. It wasn’t you on a platform, me in the audience. It was you in a wheelchair. I in my fear. Both of us on the same level, with our needs.”
And he was human! Over the years he had many health problems, and he could be a bit of a hypochondriac. We joked that if he had a hangnail it could be a major threat! It was I suspect one way a public man could allow himself to be ordinary.
It’s been poignant to see this man who touched the world, spending his days in bed or in a wheelchair, unable to see or hear much. Yet when we stood by him and sang one of his crusade songs his lips would move in time with our song.
Some time ago I asked if, when God calls him home, he would like his sister to say something at his service. “I would be honored,” he slowly replied.
What would he like her to say? He paused, then slowly said, “He tried to do what he thought he should.”
And what was that? In that subdued, aging voice, he said, “Preach the gospel.”
That is the Billy I knew. That is what he did. And that is what he lived.
Why we need Lent
Ash Wednesday, this year on 14 February, marks the start of the forty-day period of Lent that runs up to Easter Day. Some Christians follow a longstanding tradition of fasting during Lent; denying themselves something – chocolate, alcohol or even social media – that is good but not essential. Today, this whole idea strikes some people as bizarre but in fact the idea of Lent and fasting has perhaps never been more relevant.
Our modern culture is fixated not simply on having things, but on having them now. Advertisements encourage us not to save but to buy on credit and have what we want immediately: instant food, instant messaging, real-time meetings and instant downloads of music, films or books. We don’t ‘do’ waiting anymore. Whether it is food, pleasure or possessions, we expect to have them all now.
Yet there is something very dangerous about this demand for ‘instant gratification’ and it’s not just Christians who say so. The reality is that all good things (whether food, pleasure or possessions) are truly at their best when they are taken at the right time. Intentionally delaying a pleasure (and that’s what fasting in Lent is all about) is a wise thing. The ability to postpone our gratification may actually be critical to making us fulfilled human beings. After all, if we want our pleasures now, we are going to struggle with things like learning to play the piano or acquiring a foreign language where it may be months before we can tap out a tune or engage in a meaningful conversation on holiday.
Postponing a pleasure may even have been fundamental in making the human race what it is. A great breakthrough in history was when people realised that instead of eating grains of wheat or rice they could plant them and wait a few months until the crops sprang up. The discovery of cultivation allowed settlements, farms and ultimately civilisation to flourish.
It’s not just history that teaches us about the disadvantages of instant gratification; there is also some hard psychological evidence on the subject. In the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1970s a group of four-year-old children took part in a psychological study. Each child was given one marshmallow and promised that, if they could wait twenty minutes before eating it, they would be given a second one. Some children could wait the twenty minutes and others couldn’t. Records were kept and sixteen years later children were revisited; those who had been able to delay eating were found to score significantly higher in academic tests. The ability to say ‘no, not now’ seems to be vital to both civilisation and education.
Lent helps us to learn to say ‘no, not now’; it teaches us self-control and an expectation and an anticipation of what God may reveal to us. Lent isn’t just a human exercise but a sacred discipline.
Rev. Canon J. John