I recently took milady with me to a worship leader conference in Charlotte. We enjoyed the plethora of sugar in authentic sweet tea and the good taste of grits. My stomach needed a little time to adjust to the fried chicken and hush puppies, but by far the highest recommendation was to visit the Billy Graham Library. We had some spare time after the conference, so we went on over.
The free attraction features Billy Graham’s childhood home, moderately preserved and relocated just a few miles from its original site. It also features a large, comprehensive biographical museum, a bookstore, “Prayer Gardens” and the burial site of Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth.
I’ve spent most of my childhood as well as my undergraduate years just a few blocks from Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, which also features a museum and many other honoring collections in their archives, but the experience of the Library gave me pause to think about, specifically, as a teachable pastor myself, how God was able to use Billy Graham to leave a legacy of love, evangelism and biblical influence that really won’t be matched for a while.
I took a few notes:
- Simple, yet creative communication. Billy Graham always spoke biblical truth into the microphone. One of his signature phrases is “The Bible says . . .” He acknowledged the biblical reality of future judgment and wrath from God, but he, rightly (unlike textbook hellfire preachers) and certainly did not let that define God’s character. Graham’s been criticized on occasion that his “packaging” of the gospel is out-of-date, but as a student of cultural exegesis, as I watched Graham interviewed by various pop culture icons of the past and present (e.g. Woody Allen, Johnny Carson), I’d have to disagree. Graham also put his work early and often in newly-created television, and that helped his ministry like the Romans‘ roads. (Unfortunately, there’s so many more options in technology now and getting people’s attention is a bit more difficult).
- He never took a strong political side. Christopher Hitchens, the celebrity atheist, would know if he did. Hitchens has a hobby of doing research on his opponents (who are mostly Christians with a proud political agenda) and ripping them apart in his writings. I’ve seen him do that to many, yet he had little-to-no political dirt on Graham who, for several decades, strived to follow 1 Tim. 2:1-2 and was a sincere and biblical friend to consecutive Presidents of all shades.
- He was for unity. Graham didn’t want theological non-essentials to keep the Church from being united in its priority mission: evangelism and outreach. He worked with many Roman Catholics and also the Baptist churches that stubbornly insisted on baptism in their facility. (He’s, therefore, been baptized many times). The simple biblical-ity of his words and mission makes our bickering look embarrassing.
- He was humble and prayerful. Graham’s always made strides to avoid mistakes and scandal. Every evangelistic “Crusade” was audited and shown in the local paper. Legend has it that decoy employees preceded Graham into almost every room to avoid a photo scandal. Graham has turned down opportunities and money, insisting on simple living in a smaller town in North Carolina. But when he was approached about mistakes he did make, he remorsefully acknowledged them. He doesn’t attribute his ministerial “success” to any of his felt qualifications, or even the aspects of his ministry I’m writing about right now, but only to the power of God. I’ll never forget his three steps to a successful “Crusade”: Prayer, prayer and prayer.
I left the Library very much humbled by the life of this exemplary man. He seems to shine like a diamond among many modern Christians that are known primarily for something other than preaching God’s love to the broken. It’s my hope that I (and many others) can strive to be more Christ-like as he was. And it starts with letting God do the work through you. Without you.