Show me any person God has used in a powerful way to influence many and I will show you a person who has attracted a legion of critics and naysayers.
I was thinking about that reality today as I reflected on the news of the passing of Dr. Billy Graham. I think it’s fair to say that no one more than Billy Graham was the public face of Christianity around the world in the last 70 years. From his 1949 Los Angeles Crusade all the way through until our day, he was widely admired, respected, lauded and honored as “America’s Pastor.”
That title is a bit of a misnomer. Graham was never a pastor. That was not his gifting or his calling. He was focused on evangelism and core need of every human being to be reconciled to God. I saw estimates today that said that he presented the gospel to more than two billion people in his lifetime. And by God’s grace, his life and ministry were used by God to bring the gifts of repentance and faith to an incalculable number of people.
Was his ministry perfect? Of course not. No man’s ministry is, present company included.
But there are three things we can say about Billy Graham’s life and legacy. First, his faithful, bold and winsome proclamation of the gospel, and his heart to see lost men and women come to faith ought to be a model for all of us. I dare say no one reading this newsletter can claim that his or her desire to see the lost reached for Jesus surpasses Billy’s desire. His burden for evangelism is something that I am asking God to make truer in my own heart and life.
We can also rejoice that Billy’s life was never marked by any kind of scandal that might have brought a reproach on his message. By all accounts, he was not a man controlled by greed or lust. We never woke up to a headline exposing some activity that would have brought reproach on the name of Christ. In the decades since his ministry began, we’ve seen many prominent preachers admitting to sexual sin or financial improprieties. Not so with Billy. In fact, starting in 1955 and continuing until last year, Billy Graham was on the list of the top 10 most admired people in the United States a record 61 times. There were only two years when he didn’t make the list, and one of those years was 1976 when they didn’t take the poll! Having a ministry that scanned almost 70 years and was scandal free is not something we should take for granted.
Finally, while people’s opinions of Christians in our day are often unfavorable, even unbelievers have been slow to mock or slander Billy Graham. Some might argue that his relative popularity was owed to the fact that he was calculated and measured in managing his image. But at some level, that’s what each of us is called to. We are to conduct ourselves honorably among unbelievers, Peter tells us, so that in a case where they speak against us as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing our good works, glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11). Our manner of life, Paul says, is to be worthy of the gospel. We are ambassadors for Christ. Our reputation matters. Billy carefully guarded his reputation, and as a result, he had favor with lost people. And in doing so, he was a lot like Jesus, who was a friend of sinners.
I remember hearing a sermon once where a pastor spoke harshly and critically of Billy Graham and his ministry. And honestly, many of the things that pastor said were accurate. As I’ve already said, he was not a perfect man.
But I have to temper any criticism I might find in his ministry by looking at how much greater than my own was his passion for the lost. I have to thank God for a man and a ministry that did not bring dishonor to Jesus or the gospel. And there is a lot I can learn from his life and legacy about how to be both winsome and bold.
Someone shared a quote from Dr. Graham today that read “when we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.” What Billy Graham saw dimly yesterday he sees clearly today, face to face with his Savior and Lord.
A couple of dates for your calendar. The first is our annual church business meeting. Here are the details.
And don’t forget, that morning we have some special friends coming to lead the music portion of our worship service. We’ll be welcoming the Spencer Family from Kansas to Redeemer. You can learn more about them here.
And men, make sure you block out Friday and Saturday, April 20 – 21. We’ll be heading up to the Ozark Conference Center for a one night men’s retreat. Our special guest speaker this year is Jim Davis, a pastor friend from Oxford MS. More details soon.
Have you ever been in a gathering that was marked by some extraordinary work of God’s Spirit among His people? We’ll look this Sunday at examples from history and from scripture that describe what happens when God shows up in the midst of His children.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!