My hero died today.
Billy Graham passed in to eternity at the age of 99. His reward from God is sure.
I first encountered Mr. Graham while listening to a radio program called “Hour of Decision” while I was in middle school. While at the time the Bible was dry as dust to me, there was something about Billy that made spiritual things come alive.
Perhaps it was his gentle, yet commanding, southern drawl. Or it might have been his enthusiasm for his message, which of course was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have heard that those who met Billy in person were held in awe. I was mesmerized to a degree just by watching him on television. As he and I got older, he became a type of Moses figure to me.
It was through this medium that Billy’s ministry led me to faith in Jesus while I was in high school. As I recall, he was holding a crusade in Minnesota that was broadcast on TV.
One night I was quite down. I believe it was due to having just broken up with a girlfriend.
Billy gave the same message he always did: that Jesus lived a righteous life, one without sin; that He died on a Roman cross to pay for the sins of mankind, which is not righteous and deserves punishment; that Jesus rose from the dead; and that He is alive today and wants to have a relationship with those whom He has redeemed.
I knew all of this information intellectually, even as a teenager. But during this particular crusade a man gave a testimony of God’s work in his life that brought the import of this message home.
He spoke of how at one time in his life he had lacked peace and purpose. However, after inviting Jesus into his heart this fellow said he now had a peace and purpose that changed his life .
I knew I had neither peace nor purpose. And I knew I wanted then both.
I began to ask some have a conversation with myself about my life after this fellow talked. Why am I going to college? To get a job, I thought. Why am I getting a job? So I can get married and have kids, i.e. so I can support a family. Why am I doing that? So my kids can grow up, go to college, get a job and raise a family….so their kids can…..”
It all just seemed like an endless and purposeless cycle. It was the feelings that came from this sense of emptiness that led me to cry out to God that night.
Billy always gave an invitation at the end of his sermons. He entreated the huge throngs in stadiums and event centers to get up out of their seats and come forward and receive Jesus into their hearts.
The audience watching on their televisions at home were also included in Billy’s earnest plea. They were told to come to Christ right there in their living rooms.
For those present, Billy would tell them not to worry about how they would get home. If they stuck around to do business with God, “the buses will wait,” he said. This was the most thrilling cliche of my youth.
This “sealing of the deal” , the closing, the receipt of the invitation, was what I was missing from my personal understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. That night I prayed:
“Oh, God. Come into my life. I need peace and purpose.” He did.
I have indeed experienced peace and purpose during my time on this planet, but not always. Whenever I have lacked them, it has not been God’s fault. It has been the result of going my own way instead of His.
Tonight I mourn Billy’s loss deeply because of his impact on me for eternity. I learned of his passing this morning, in stages.
As I was traveling I saw some general mention of Mr. Graham on Twitter. It occurred to me that something may have happened, but I was driving from the airport with my friend and Christian mentor. We were talking and I had no chance to surf the news.
When we stopped for gas, I received a news alert which told me of Billy’s death. I went out to the pumps and told my friend. It was difficult to hold back the emotions, but I did. I didn’t want to get teary-eyed in public.
In my mind I know that it was time for this century-old icon to meet His loving Maker–the God whom he believed chose him to preach the gospel to the entire world in his generation. I also am aware he is happier than he has ever been. Billy is home with the God he loved and his dear with Ruth.
However, my heart still weeps because of the sense of loss. The world, especially as it is today, is not worthy of such a man. In fact, that the world has been deprived of a man sent by God to save them adds to my grief. I am concerned for our world’s prospects.
But my prayer is that God will be merciful to the youth of today and raise up someone of his ilk for them. Because of our current wickedness, it doesn’t seem we deserve another chance at hearing about the love of God from such a man as Billy Graham.
But He was gracious to this undeserving sinner and his contemporaries. Perhaps God will take another young man and make another Billy Graham for the current generation.
That’s something we can all pray for.