The Heart of the Evangelist Still Beats Strong: Billy Graham's 95th Birthday Vision
During a visit to Billy Graham's home several years ago, to my delighted surprise I found him filled with passion and purpose, despite the physical limitations inherent with his nonagenarian life stage.
As the beloved evangelist sat in his favorite chair in the den, he told me how he felt called to deliver one more sermon. He had already selected his text, Galatians 6:14, which he had taped to the wall beside him, the letters bolded in 72-point type for the benefit of his weakened eyesight.
"May I never boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world," he recited to me in his signature lilting Carolina cadence that was understandably softer, but still sure.
With characteristic authenticity and transparency, Mr. Graham went on to stress that when he gets to heaven he is going to lay any awards and rewards he's received in this life at the feet of Jesus, Whom he has faithfully served in public ministry for more than six decades.
Mr. Graham further revealed, however, that before he joined his Savior in heaven, he felt called to deliver a forewarning message about the need for renewal in the Church and revival across America. It was obvious that, though his body might be physically weakened, the heart of the evangelist still beat very strong, and with heightened urgency.
In his address at the National Cathedral following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the evangelist expressed hope for America, despite the challenges of modern society.
"I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation," he said, reprising his role as America's Pastor. "One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America."
In calling the Church to repentance and the nation to revival, Mr. Graham does not blame our society's moral decline on culture, which is never more than a reflection of accepted values; nor does he believe revival can be attained through legislation or vilifying culture's secular influencers.
The Church, he declares, must understand how it has neglected its role as the example for right living, a lifestyle that is the result of a deeper and richer understanding of God's limitless grace. "The grace of God," he once wrote, "has been tested in the crucible of human experience, and has been found to be more than equal for the problems and sins of humanity."
Mr. Graham further opined that "Christianity cannot expect the world to live the truths of the Gospel until it has the life that the Gospel provides in Christ." The vision he expressed to me that afternoon on a mountaintop in North Carolina is one in which believers and the Church pursue a more active role in setting the moral example for America by—ironically—accepting the reality of their own passivity in their relationships with Jesus.
Now finally, on his 95th birthday, November 7, once again Billy Graham will have an opportunity to share the reason for his hope—salvation—in a televised sermon to living rooms across America. As has happened countless times in arenas and stadiums around the globe, the transformative message of the Gospel will serve as a catalyst for a spiritual awakening across our nation, supported by trained volunteers from 22,000 churches.
Over more than sixty years of evangelistic crusade ministry, Billy Graham faithfully proclaimed from the pulpit a timeless message in a timely way at the intersection of faith and culture. But he did more than just preach the Gospel—he lives it out daily as a sermon that anyone with whom he comes in contact may read.
"Mr. Graham was a man who walked with the Lord daily, and that is who he really was," said Associate Evangelist Dr. Ralph Bell. "And out of that came all of the rest of what we know about him."
Dr. John Akers, long-time Special Assistant to Mr. Graham, confirmed that the man and the message cannot be divided. "Mr. Graham would call us to a greater faithfulness to the truth we hold and to the character that Christ called us to live. And he would call us as well to live that out in the preaching of the Gospel."
In an era where confidence in institutions is crumbling, and even religious organizations are being scrutinized and Christian leaders criticized for lack of integrity, Mr. Graham has stood as an example of how to finish well.
Over the more than thirty-two years I have been privileged to work closely with him, Mr. Graham has modeled for me and countless others the truth that the principles of Jesus one lifts up and lives out are far more powerful than the mere words one says. And that is the greatest sermon I have ever heard, and will always remember.
A. Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency that provides crossover media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. For more than thirty-two years, he has served as spokesman for evangelist Billy Graham.