- The death of Billy Graham a week ago (at 99) saw the departure of the man who spoke to more people about Jesus than any man before him – and perhaps any man after him. A farm boy who was used by God to shame the wise – his life was exemplary and the team that gathered around him (to lead meetings, sing, organise) breathed integrity and godliness. It’s no wonder he attracted (like his Master) such gratitude and anger. He was crystal clear and astonishingly strong – in the pulpit.
- He himself experienced doubt early in his theological studies – caught between the attacks on the bible and the invitations that were pouring in to speak – so he went into a field one night and placed his bible on a stump. He told the Lord he would trust the Word from cover to cover – but if he was mistaken to be guided out of evangelism. Almost immediately the first great Los Angeles crusade was launched and tens of thousands came to hear. He never looked back. [I got to ask him about this on ABC television in a student Q & A in 1979. And I shook his hand!].
- The Sydney Crusades were in 1959, 1968, and 1979 with declining influence – not that he changed the message or that thousands were unaffected. But every decade the listeners were further away from biblical roots and so the follow up needed to be much more careful and thorough. To see the streets of Sydney in 1959 as buses and trams carried most of the population to hear him [try YouTube] is almost unbelievable. The graph of crime rates has only ever dipped overall in 1960 – in the wake of this visit.
- The Lord kept Billy Graham genuinely humble – he knew his limitations and he never inhaled the lavish praise or fell for the ‘film star’ label that was given to him. Mixing with Presidents or people he was unfailingly gracious but bold. When he asked President Johnson if he was going to heaven and Johnson said “I hope so” Billy replied “then I don’t think so”. When asked if he was nervous preaching before the Queen he replied “I preach before the King of kings every time”. In a Cambridge Mission he tried to match John Stott for intellectual content – failed miserably and confessed afterwards he had tried to impress him.
- It was William Hearst the newspaper magnate in America who told his journalists to “puff Graham” – which I think means to make much of him. This publicity was used by God as the crusades became the best known events around the cities of the world. All types of people attended, all types were converted – gangsters, movie stars, citizens and clergy! Will the mass crusades ever happen again? Can you imagine tens of thousands going out to hear anyone preach? [The MCG crowd record is still a Billy Graham crowd]. Probably not – though the Lord can do whatever He decides!
- Billy Graham’s lovely wife Ruth died a few years ago. She was driving past a building site once and saw a sign to indicate the work was finished. The sign said ‘Reconstruction completed. Thank you for your patience’. She decided to have this on her gravestone – she had a fine sense of humour – and it is there today.
Now she and Billy are reunited – not because we think so or because they were great Christians or servants. But they put their trust in the ‘Resurrection and Life’ Jesus Christ and called many to do the same.
We thank God for using him so greatly.
Yours in fellowship,
P.S. There are some very dear and faithful people in our congregation needing short-term accommodation every now and again because of changes in family or work. If you are someone with a space or spare room or granny flat please let Simon or Jill know. Thank you