65 years ago tonight, Billy Graham made a slip of the tongue. He didn’t usually misspeak himself but that night he did. He was marrying his sister Jeannie to me and in the ceremony at the end he said that Leighton and Jean had “exchanged wings”! Well I didn’t get angels wings that night but I did get the most wonderful girl in the world I loved her then and 65,000 times more now!
Goodbyes and Greetings Beyond
What a year this has been saying goodbye to great leaders! At the start of the year to our beloved Billy, my brother-in-law and world preacher of the gospel. Now at the end of the year the death of our former president, George Herbert Walker Bush, recognized throughout the world as a kinder, gentler leader.
The two of them were great friends. I am not sure how conversations work in heaven! But I wish we could have seen them when they met and listened in on their first conversations in the presence of the Lord! And with Ruth and Barbara there too!
Words of Wisdom
The remarks of Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming were personal, funny, and worth remembering – especially these two
“When you walk the high road of humility in Washington D.D. you will not be bothered with heavy traffic”!
That drew a huge and understanding laugh. This other perhaps caused some heart searching.
“Hatred corrodes the very vessel it is carried in.”
A call from Canada
My half-brother Bob, a doctor in Canada, called me the next day.
“I had to call,” he said. “Anne and I watched the whole thing and were deeply moved. She sang the hymns as we watched. She grew up Presbyterian and knew them all.”
Twice as we spoke he choked up, especially honored that one of the speakers was Brian Mulroney, former prime minister of Canada.
“I hope this reminds us of the great bond between our two countries,’ he said, referring to the sad breach between our countries in recent times.
And I could only say, “Amen.”
Music that heals and lifts the soul
The magnificent sound of great hymns – Abide With Me and Praise to the Almighty, the King of Creation – brought tears unbidden.
I have found, more than once, that what my mind may question, and my imagination may find beyond my ken, when I hear such hymns, hymns that I have known since boyhood, my soul is moved, and my heart’s desire for eternity cannot be held back.
No wonder that when I would sing some of the crusade songs to Billy, when his hearing was almost gone, he would say so quietly I could hardly hear the words, “Sing more.”
Today, I am an evangelical Christian.
I have wondered, in some recent days,
whether I want to be called an “evangelical.”
The term has been so politicized, so pejorative.
But today, on Good Friday, how can I be otherwise?
It is not that I hold a privileged position,
Or, am a political activist.
Or, that I hold a certain set of beliefs.
It is that I am upheld, by the evangel, the good news,
that by the grace of God I am what I am,
a child of God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who loved me and gave himself for me,
who became obedient to death, and rose,
that I might live in him, fully, now and forever.
Today, and every day, I have the assurance
of living in that grace, and of telling others:
Jesus Christ is alive … and well!
March 30, 2018
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.
Order via Mikehillcommish@yahoo.com
or call 800.861.3729
“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
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.
The year I turned 50 I met my mother for the first time – that is, my birth mother, Dorothy.
I had known from the age of 12 that I was adopted, and had felt chosen and loved and cared for. So it was not until mid-life, while watching the TV series Roots about the descendants of slaves searching for their origins, that I began to wonder about my birth parents. With the help of a friend in Canada I was able to locate Dorothy, and arrange for us to meet.
On a fall afternoon I drove up to her small house north of Toronto. She was standing outside by a pine tree waiting for me. I went to her, gave her a hug, and we went inside to share our histories.
In her bedroom I saw one white candle, standing in a pool of wax on the floor, and asked what the candle was for. She hesitated a moment, then said, “I burn it for purity.”
As she related her story I understood the candle. The summer she was 16 she fell in love with a handsome engineering student in the city where her father was a pastor. That winter she got pregnant and I was the result, and she gave me up for adoption. Her father had never said a word to her about what had happened. She later married another man, had three sons, but that earlier birth had left its mark – thus the lone candle by her bed.
I thought of that candle as we come to Epiphany on Saturday. For millions of Christians around the world this is the end of the “twelve days of Christmas.” It celebrates the wise men who followed the star across the eastern sky until they found the newborn Jesus, and worshiped him.
The Scripture verse that will be read is from the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Even when darkness covers the earth, wrote the prophet, “the Lord will arise, his glory will appear, nations shall come to your light.”
The Christmas lights have been taken down from our streets and stores and windows and stored away until next December. The busy shopping and feasting is over. The kids are back to school. Business as usual has resumed.
But the real reason for Christmas remains. The miracle is not just that a baby was born to the virgin Mary, but that Christ the Savior has come to light up our hearts, and our world.
Dorothy my birth mother married and had three other sons. She was later divorced and lived much of her life alone. I doubt that any of her neighbors knew of that one small candle that she burned, longing for purity, and perhaps forgiveness. When I spoke of faith she said, “I know God loves me. But on a cold winter day if there’s no one in your life to talk to, have a cup of tea with, it’s very lonely.”
All I could do then was to reach over, and give her a hug, and offer what love I could then and for a few years to come.
A young colleague this week told me of reading how at the very beginning of creation God made two lights – a lesser one (the moon at night) and a grander one (the sun by day.) “I may only be a lesser light,” he said, “But I do want to shine for others.”
As for me, this Epiphany, this year, in a world of darkness and dirtiness and conflict, I want to reflect light of Christ to those who, like the wise men are searching.
To light just one candle, today and every day, for purity, for peace, for simplicity.
“After a conference in Alberta I was walking across a river in Banff and came across a young man gazing at the beauty of the river while smoking marijuana.
I approached him simply because where he stood was a wonderful view. He had a French accent so I asked him where he was from. When he told me he was from Montreal I told him I was born and lived there as well.
This opened up a common ground as we talked about our beloved city. I then asked him what a good Montrealer like him was doing in Banff.
In between puffs of his weed he told me he was searching for the meaning of life. I said a quiet prayer and told him how I had found the meaning of life. I shared my story of an accident in which I had broken my neck and could have died. That was my time in which I experienced the meaning of life, as being God’s son whom he loves and is pleased with.
We talked back and forth about God as a loving father not a brooding judge. That led me to speak about God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and what Jesus did for us. I didn’t ask him to get on his knees and say the prayer right there in the spot but I did tell him that God is crazy about him and has already forgiven him if he would just accept his grace through repentance and trusting Jesus.”
Rev. Colin McCartney is the founder of UrbanPromise Toronto and current President and Founder of Connect Ministries. Rev. McCartney has appeared on Canadian television, radio and national newspapers regarding urban issues. He is an author of two best sellers (“The Beautiful Disappointment” and “Red Letter Revolution”, Castle Quay Publishers), mentor to pastors and business people and is in high demand as a ministry trainer and coach. Colin is also a popular speaker who has spoken to audiences as large as 7,000
Taken from Good News Is For Sharing (Leighton Ford Ministries, Revised Edition, 2017)