In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me family members, friends and Christian leaders tell 101 stories about Billy Graham. This is the final excerpt from the forward and is written by A. Larry Ross who served as Billy Graham's spokesman since 1981.
Among the many examples of Mr. Graham’s personal, spiritual and financial integrity, I remember when he kicked off the twelve-week, six-city Mission England tour the summer of 1984 in Bristol, west of London. In their coverage of the opening service, local papers appealed to their readers’ British reserve through articles criticizing the “emotionalism” of the American evangelist’s meeting. Their evidence was the fact that the choir sang softly during his invitation for people to come forward to make a faith commitment.
So for only the second time in the history of their ministry, before the start of the meeting the next evening, Mr. Graham told program director Cliff Barrows to refrain from having the choir sing during the invitation. But the next day, the headlines in the paper read, “The emotionalism was in the silence,” and Mr. Graham decided that if he was going to get criticized, they should at least do it right, and they went back to the choir accompaniment for the rest of the mission -- and ever since.
In August 2005, just two months after he had preached his final crusade in New York City, I went to visit Mr. Graham at his log cabin home in western North Carolina. On the flight to Asheville, I reflected on an observation shared by a pastor friend that every individual needs three things in order to find fulfillment in life: someone to love, something to do and something to anticipate.
As I drove up the mountain to call on Mr. Graham, I realized that for the first time in more than six decades the evangelist had only two out of three of those elements. He still had Ruth, his marriage and ministry partner of then sixty-one years; he was working on a new book and remained regularly engaged with the ministry he founded; but he could not look forward to another crusade planned for the near future.
I knew that Billy Graham always believed and lived what he preached, but I wondered how that applied to his current life stage. What mindset would I encounter in the forward-thinking evangelist, who had always focused on the next thing and who had been a part of current events on the world stage since the Truman administration?
While sitting together on his back porch for several hours, eventually watching the sun start to set over his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains, I asked Mr. Graham how he felt. He replied, “I have never been more at peace in my life. My wife Ruth has been there for me as I traveled the world in itinerant ministry. But with her recent medical needs, it is now time for me to take care of her. God has enabled me to do that, and I am looking forward to spending more time together.” Ruth passed in 2007.
During my most recent visit to Mr. Graham’s home, despite physical limitations of his own, I found him once again filled with passion and purpose. As he sat in his favorite chair in the den, he told me how he felt called to deliver one more sermon about the need for renewal in the Church and revival across America.
It was obvious that, though his body might be physically weakened, the heart of the evangelist continued to beat. He had already selected his text, Galatians 6:14, which he had posted in big letters on the wall beside him and recited to me, “’May I never boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…’” In his characteristic authenticity and transparency, he then stressed that when he gets to heaven he is going to lay any awards and rewards received in this life at the feet of Jesus.
Leadership with Love
Several years ago I had the opportunity to share the story about Mr. Graham and John Glenn at the TIME gala with a former bureau chief of the magazine. He smiled, acknowledging that he was at that event, and told me I needed to know “the rest of the story.”
He then informed me that the black-tie dinner in question was held in March 1998, during the period following President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. Minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, organizers were in crisis mode, as iconic sports figure Joe DiMaggio had refused to sit next to the President at the head table.
Further, no other celebrity or marquee figure in attendance would accept that offer and they seemed reluctant to be photographed with him in the midst of the political kerfuffle. When Billy Graham was approached about the situation, he declared, “I'll sit next to the President. He's my friend!”
What mattered most to Mr. Graham was to faithfully lift up the name of Jesus with authenticity and integrity to the great and the low, the high and the humble. Though he never compromised the Gospel or the dimension of the reality of God’s judgment, unlike some other Christian leaders whose messages come across as condemning, in my experience Mr. Graham always functioned as a “paramedic,” rather than a “policeman,” for the Kingdom of God.
Billy Graham represents a balance of grace and truth. He is a man of humility, integrity, authenticity and an agent of God’s love, who despite his many gifts and ability, the Lord used more for his availability. He had an audience of One, and would consistently “suit up and show up,” leaving the results to the Lord he served, and giving all the glory and honor to God, knowing that he was operating with faith in His strength and power from above.
This excerpt from "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me" is provided courtesy of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Copyright 2013.