I awoke yesterday morning to learn of the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, age 99. Over the past several years, as he grew older and frailer, it was evident that his time on earth was drawing near to death’s doorstep. I grew up listening to his sermons and attending his crusades, with increasing admiration for a humble man from the backwoods of North Carolina. The story of Billy Graham’s impact on the lives of so many started long before Billy Frank, as he was known to his family and friends, ever lived.
Edward Kimball was a Sunday school teacher who not only prayed for his group of rowdy boys in his Sunday school class but also sought to win each one over to the Lord. One of his boys, in particular, didn’t seem to understand what the Gospel was about, so Kimball went to the shoe store where one of his “rowdies” was stocking shelves and confronted him in the stock room with the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That young man was Dwight L. Moody. Moody would become an evangelist reaching two continents for God. That’s where the story begins.
There was another man working under Moody named Wilbur Chapman. Chapman later became an evangelist preaching to thousands. One day at one of his revivals, a professional ball player had a day off and attended one of Chapman’s revival meetings. That ball player was Billy Sunday.
Sunday quit baseball and became part of Chapman’s evangelistic team. Over time, Billy Sunday held his own crusades. One of the converts at a Billy Sunday revival was Mordecai Ham.
When Mordecai Ham came to Charlotte, North Carolina, a sandy-haired, lanky young man in high school vowed that he would never set foot to hear Mordecai preach. But his friends were going, so Billy Frank, as he was called by his family, went too.
Billy was intrigued by what he heard, so he went another night, responded to the invitation, and was converted. Billy Frank, known as Billy Graham, would preach to more people than any other person who ever lived over the next 60+ years. His estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. Billy Frank Graham became the world’s best known and most beloved evangelist.
The impact Rev. Graham had on me was simple – it was his pure message that God loves me. Billy was a great communicator that never complicated the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I also admire was how he saw himself in God’s great plan. He took God serious, but not himself. He once said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” Those are good words to live by and one that a lot of people and institutions could put to practice.
We can learn a lot from the life of this simple man used in extraordinary ways by an almighty God. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone practiced the same?
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”