By Dennis Grimski
I have been a born-again evangelical Christian since 1983. One of the persons I have most admired is the Rev. Billy Graham. It is in this context that I wanted to share some thoughts on his great life, and some observations on how he lived that we can each apply to our own lives.
As most of us know, this past week the world saw the passing of a great man … a person known as America’s pastor. Mr. Graham was a Christian evangelist whose worldwide crusades and role as adviser to decades of U.S. presidents made him one of the best known religious figures of our time.
Mr. Graham, who had been in ill health with Parkinson’s disease for a number of years, was regularly listed in polls as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.”
His Christian crusades took him from the frenzy of Manhattan to isolated African villages and according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website, he preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history. The BGEA put his lifetime audience at nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories, with “hundreds of millions more” viewing him on television, video, film and webcasts.
Today, the current generation of young people, and many people in the Blue Water area, may not have had the chance to attend one of his conferences (he retired in 2005). Yet, his ongoing legacy still has a lot to teach us. This article is an attempt to draw from Mr. Graham’s life and to see what crucial life lessons we can glean and apply to our own lives.
- He showed us that integrity matters.
The model for ministry integrity in America was Billy Graham. His integrity remained sterling since he came to national prominence in 1949. Now, that’s long-term faithfulness. Early in his ministry, Mr. Graham and his associates signed the “Modesto Manifesto,” voluntarily imposing safeguards regarding money, sex and truthfulness. Most people will attest that Mr. Graham lived his life with high integrity, and that’s a great model for each of us to emulate.
- He was committed to the Bible.
While still a young preacher, Mr. Graham determined to take God at His word and rely on the truthfulness of Scripture. Every speech Mr. Graham gave usually had more than 50 bible quotes. Billy Graham had confidence in God’s promise: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Mr. Graham was never ashamed of the Bible, and, we should not be either.
- He has prayed with Presidents but promoted Bipartisanship
Among Billy Graham’s many claims to fame is the fact that he met with every U.S. president since Harry Truman. He formed close friendships with some, counseled others, and simply met to pray with a few. He supported candidates from both parties over the years, but refused to equate Christianity with a certain party, shying away from Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the late ’70s, saying, “Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left.”
- He worked toward Racial Reconciliation
In the 1950s, Graham spoke out for civil rights, insisting that the audiences at all his rallies be integrated. (He once personally removed the ropes dividing the sections at an event in Tennessee and told ushers he would leave if they put them back up). He told a white audience, “We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.” “There is no scriptural basis for segregation,” Graham told crowds. “The ground at the foot of the Cross is level.”
- He spoke out against Injustice
Though Graham spoke throughout Africa in the 1960s, he refused to visit South Africa because the government enforced racially segregated seating. In 1973, he finally visited, and his rallies in Durban and Johannesburg became the country’s first integrated public meetings. “Christianity is not a white man’s religion,” he told audiences. “Christ belongs to all people.” Mr. Graham also spoke out against apartheid and corresponded with Nelson Mandela while Mandela was in prison; and he was very good friends with the Rev. Martin Luther King, and marched with him.
- He engaged the Arts and Media World
Though Graham turned down a $5 million contract with NBC early in his career, he went on to create his own media outlets through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which he founded in 1950. Along with his traveling crusades, Graham also reached audiences through his Hour of Decision radio program, syndicated newspaper column, television specials and Decision magazine. He also founded Christianity Today and World Wide Pictures, which produces evangelical films.
- He provided examples of how to engage with people with different beliefs
In 1969, Graham appeared on a Woody Allen TV special to have a conversation with Allen about religion, rules and other matters of theology. It was a rare instance of a respectful, gracious conversation between two people with opposing views—a radically different example of how to engage in controversial conversations than the hate-filled yelling matches we often see today. Mr. Graham showed us how to engage in opinions that differ without being caustic, rude or cruel. A good example for many of us on Facebook today.
- He promoted Church Unity
In his sermons and speeches, Graham steered clear of theological particulars, choosing to focus instead on the bigger picture of the Gospel. This brought him criticism, but it also allowed him to work with churches of all different denominations. In 1974, he partnered with John Stott to gather evangelical leaders for the International Congress on World Evangelization, which birthed the Lausanne Movement, which encourages collaboration on evangelism worldwide. Many churches today can learn from Mr. Graham that we have more in common in Christ being part of ‘one body’ than emphasizing non-fundamental beliefs that separate us.
As I close this article, let me say that Billy Graham was not a once-in-a-generation servant of God; he was a once-in-a-lifetime blessing to the Church and the world. We can each learn a lot from Mr. Graham. If we were to each take only one thing about how he lived and apply it to how we live our own life, I guarantee the world will be a much better place. Thank you for reading.
Dennis is a 40+ year resident of the Blue Water area. He is a retired Executive Officer for two regional healthcare organizations; and was the CEO for his own successful Management Consulting firm. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Western Michigan University; a Masters Degree in Professional Counseling from WMU; and a Specialist Degree in Psychology/Behavior Modification from the UM. Dennis is a Christ-follower, husband, father, grandfather, and loves golf, board games, and discussing politics and religion. He is a leader in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF); disciples several men; and has been an Elder, children’s bible teacher, Sunday school teacher, Life Group leader, and Men’s ministry leader in his church.
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