Dr. Billy Graham, who was a major spiritual leader in America and throughout the world for six decades, passed away on Feb. 21 at the age of 99.
His 100th birthday is coming right up, on Nov. 7.
Graham's preaching made quite an impression upon many of us, with an estimated 3.2 million individuals making a commitment to Christianity as a result of his call to "come to Christ" at the conclusion of every message.
No one can determine how many of those commitments were genuine--none of us can know the exact depth or the sincerity of another one's faith anyway--but 3.2 million decisions is still a number that, at the very least, symbolizes an incredible impact.
From my own childhood until the year 2005, when Graham retired, I have fond memories of seeing his messages on television, and once when I was a teenager, perhaps 15 years old, I got to see him preach in person at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
At the conclusion of his message that evening, when hundreds of people were coming forward, I walked across the football field in the middle of the stadium to get a closer look at Graham. He was a humble servant and never appeared to pursue the limelight, but the masses deemed him a celebrity nonetheless.
Rain had started to fall in the Liberty Bowl, and I could see Graham--the evangelist who always took his calling seriously--standing motionless on the platform as people came forward.
The rain didn't distract him from anything.
It was a time of decision, and Graham's demeanor conveyed that. It was, quite simply, a sacred hour that was to be respected.
In another instance, with my grandparents in their home, I remember watching Graham deliver a sermon on television about the tax collector named Zacchaeus, from the 19th chapter of Luke.
"Jesus is passing by ... right now," Graham said, "and He may never come this way quite like this again."
He explained clearly that people have a limited number of opportunities in life to contemplate the meaning of Christianity and to make a decision that will be life-changing.
"When will it ever happen again?" he asked. "Jesus is passing by, and for many of you, it may be the last opportunity that you'll ever have to make certain of your own personal relationship to God."
(I confess that I wasn't taking notes when I first heard the message, but I recently found the text of it online).
Graham explained that there may be obstacles that keep a person from Christ. Zacchaeus had his, just as we all do.
He said for some people the obstacle is pride. For others, it might be the desire for possessions or wealth.
The sermon was delivered in the 1970s, but like so many biblical messages, it remains relevant for each new generation.
"Materialism has become our God in America," Graham said. "The materialism and the technology we have developed has so far outstripped our moral ability to control it, it is now out of control."
In one of Graham's books entitled The Challenge, Sermons from Madison Square Garden, his message called "Come and Know God" concluded this way: "...you should come and make your commitment to Christ now while the spirit of God is speaking. You may never be this close to the kingdom of God again."
Those words were, without a doubt, important to those who considered them at that time. And they remain important to anyone who will contemplate them today.
And now, as Graham's 100th birthday approaches, it is only fitting to remember the message of how each of us must grapple with our own relationship with God.
In fact, it would be best if the message was commemorated more than the man himself.
We know that's how Graham would want it, because that is the legacy he left behind. He never went anywhere to make a mark for himself, but to deliver a word of hope for others.
--David Wilson, EdD, of Springdale, is a former high school principal and is the communications director for the Transit and Parking Department at the University of Arkansas. He has other articles online at DWilsonNotes.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 10/31/2018
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