Today we have learned that evangelist Billy Graham has left this life for the next at the age of 99. He is no longer struggling with earth’s pains and suffering but has traded these in for heaven’s glory. He has surely had a grand homecoming and is now reunited with his beloved wife Ruth and is with his Savior whom he has proclaimed so faithfully. It is for Billy a time of great gain. We should remember, however, to keep his family and friends in prayer for this is a time of great loss for them.
There is so much that can be said about Graham. Over the hours and days and weeks to come, his accomplishments and influence will be rehearsed and celebrated and rightfully so. He was not just America’s pastor he was an evangelist to the world. He, through his God-given message, touched Presidents, Governors, Senators, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens, and Dictators. What an amazing life the Lord gave him.
He also touched me. Billy Graham was not just the evangelist to the world but he was also one of God’s instruments in bringing me to Christ. I’m eternally grateful for Him and his ministry. In fact, his ministry reaches deep into my life and my family.
In September of 1973 I was 14 years old and beginning High School. I was on the verge of making some less than great decisions regarding my life. In that context there came to our house “Decision Magazine”, a publication of Billy Graham Ministries. We never subscribed to it. I think we got it by “accident”. It changed my heart and life.
As I read the magazine I came across an article by Graham on the Second Coming of Christ and our need for Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. His words rattled me. I had been to church but had never quite heard it like this. The Bible passages He quoted convicted me. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Within a week I sought out a football coach who I knew was “religious”. He watered the seed that Billy Graham had planted and I personally accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What I mean by that is that I acknowledged my sin and sinfulness and thus my need for a Savior. I believed that Christ was who He said He was. I placed my faith and trust in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of my sins and my eternal destiny. I gave my heart to Him. I experienced and still experience what it means to be saved and to know for sure one will go to heaven when they leave this life — just like Billy Graham.
The influence of Billy Graham on me didn’t stop there. Shortly after become a Christ follower I was starving for literature to read on the Christian life to supplement my Bible reading. On one of his nationally televised broadcasts Graham offered the book, The World, the Flesh and the Devil by Harold Lindsell free of charge. I had to send for it and when it arrived eight weeks later I devoured it. That book was the first Christian book in my library. I still have it today some forty-three years later.
Through my early years as a Christian I often watched Billy Graham’s national evangelistic broadcasts and was greatly encouraged by them. I was always overwhelmed with joy as the choir sang “Just I Am” and 1000′ s came to Christ. It was a very special day when I learned that my father-in- law had come to Christ at a Baltimore Billy Graham Crusade.
As a college student I showed his films at a local juvenile detention center and saw young women and men come to Christ through them. As an Associate Pastor in Blacksburg, Virginia I helped with the film ministry of the Billy Graham Association and saw people come to Christ through the film “Caught” which was shown in theaters. As a Senior Pastor in NYC, I have been privileged to participate in the two crusades held here since my arrival (1991 and 2005). Though we didn’t see the great move of God that occurred during the 16 week 1957 Crusade in Madison Square Garden none the less God moved. We brought our neighbors and friends and saw some of them walk the aisles to come to Christ. In addition, none of us should forget his words at the National Cathedral soon after 9/11.
I am, of course, grateful for Graham’s worldwide ministry, but for me it has been more personal. When I leave this world and go to heaven it will be in part because of the work of Billy Graham. Myself and millions of others are eternally indebted to him.
Billy, we are your joy and rejoicing. Thanks. See ya soon!