Today, Rev. Billy Graham passed away. Lead Them Home founder Bill Henson writes a tribute to Billy Graham and his impact on his own life and ministry.
Next to the unconditional love of my parents and grandparents, no other person played a greater role in my coming to Christ than Billy Graham. Today, in heaven, his lifelong witness of the Gospel has counted in eternity for countless saved souls.
In my twenties, I identified as Christian mainly because I grew up in Texas. (Every Texan is a Christian, right?) Yet in my heart, there was so much about religion and church that offended me. Primarily, I felt judged and condemned by people who did not really know my heart.
I held onto my Christian faith through this season of life primarily because of loving family and because of Billy Graham. Notice I did not say “because of many pastors like Billy Graham” — I said “because of Billy Graham.”
Here are five elements of Billy Graham’s witness that kept me intrigued by Jesus:
ONE | Refusing to judge people is Holy
Billy Graham had a deep, piercing stare in his eyes. I know what you’re thinking, but his stare was not the stereotypical evangelical look of condemnation. Rather, his piercing eyes conveyed deep commitment to Christ, trustworthy wisdom, and sincere compassion. Graham refused to allow any room for judgment. I was the kind of person men like him could throw under the theological bus. Instead of judging me, he confronted religious people who might dare to do so. Billy Graham understood that you cannot be holy if you are judging other people. Instead, he focused on laying down his life for people.
TWO | Leveling the ground at the Cross is Hopeful
Many pastors of Graham’s generation seemed to know with certainty the final destination of people like me. I heard that loud and clear because the voices of TV preachers often carry far beyond their listening audience. Billy Graham refused to play pharisee games with vulnerable people. He always asked everyone to come to the Cross. He made it clear that it does not matter who you are or what you’ve done. In many festivals, Graham was famous for saying, “You come. Come now.” His voice was as commanding as his message was compelling. I felt hope when I heard his voice.
THREE | Inviting people to Jesus is Healing
Many pastors, attempting to draw people toward Christ, were actually propelling hurt people away from church and the Gospel. I would not dare step foot into a conservative church for several reasons. First, I would not feel safe. Second, they would not want me. Third, even if I tried it, I would not have lasted long. Yet every time I heard that Billy Graham was going to be on television, my schedule was cleared. I wanted to hear every last word. Until his final breath, Billy Graham never stopped inviting people to know Jesus personally. I was a banished person, and Dr. Graham said that I was exactly the kind of person that Jesus died for. His invitations for me to come toward Jesus were healing.
FOUR | Protecting people from religion is Helpful
Billy Graham had an understanding of the endless pitfalls that people can fall into. He counseled many presidents and world leaders and stars who had fallen into life’s deepest potholes. When famous people fell into sin, they not only were ostracized by Christian leaders. Many times, Hollywood and media personalities suddenly “found their religion” and expertly knew how to take people down. Graham would have nothing to do with these religious and secular forces of condemnation. He always viewed the darkest season in people’s lives as an opportunity to bring the Light of Christ living in his own heart to hurting people where they are. He never watered down the Gospel, as some suggest. He earned the credibility to speak biblical truth into the hearts of some of the most powerful people on earth — and some of the weakest too. He was not a respecter of human success or frailty. He helped many people by being present for them with God’s love at the very moment the entire world turned against them.
FIVE | Telling people they are sinful is Honoring
Wait, what? You may be thinking, That sounds judgmental. I agree. So why is it that Billy Graham never ceased to tell me that I was a sinner in need of a Savior and yet I never once thought he was judging me? It’s simple, really: Graham was humble in how he postured his personality and his positions. Notably, he preached only after abiding in Christ where God could perfect strength in his weakness. In other words, Billy Graham gave up his life in order to gain Christ. The presence of Jesus living in him was so palpable that he could call me a sinner and it was as if that knowledge was already written into my heart by God. It was suddenly safe to admit that I was a sinner. Graham honored me by drawing out of me what I already believed rather than targeting biblical truth at me.
Billy Graham will be missed by his family and friends, but his legacy and witness of Christ will continue to draw untold lost souls into the Kingdom of God. Today is a sad day, but today is also a great festival and celebration in Heaven! Today, the King of Kings will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Prayers of comfort for your family and eternal rest for you, Billy Graham. You graciously invited me to come to Jesus just as I am, trusting that God would build me into who He calls me to be. Thank you.