Things could have easily turned out different for Billy when he was a young man. He was a good baseball player and even though from a devout family he was, after all, a typical teenager. He was a good boy but he wanted to strike out on his own and active attendance at such events as revivals with his parents just weren't things he wanted to do until..........his good friend told him he should go because there were pretty girls there. And as it turned out, that night he laid eyes on his long time bride, Ruth, and his world changed.
Billy attended Bible college in Florida and to his amazement he found that he had a gift for speaking the Word. He worked hard and from a small start eventually founded the Billy Graham Crusade which was, and still is, one of the most respected and honored evangelical presentations in the world. Over his long career in the pulpit, Billy traveled the world, introducing millions to Christ and devoting his life to saving souls and building the Fellowship of Christ. And the Billy Graham Evangelical Association is one of the most financially solvent and low overhead operations in the evangelical movement, for Billy always required extensive accountability and never took more than a modest salary for his work. The man could have easily been a multi-millionaire yet he always found his riches in the love of Jesus.
When Ruth died, Billy continued his work but, as he began to fail, pulled back quite a bit, yet he still continues with the gleam in his eye and the love in his heart which is apparent to all who hear him speak. Son Franklin checks in on him weekly as they enjoy lunch together.
My dearly devoted mother always paid attention to his crusades, and if I was home when one came on the TV I knew I was expected to be there at her side. I had great respect for him, but I never knew just how great a man of God he was until a special event that came to my hometown when I was in my thirties.
At that time I lived in the same town where Mom resided and I ran many errands for her when I was in her area. She didn't drive and being a widow, I knew she needed the help of a son. And one day she called and said that the Crusade was coming to town and would I take her. Well, of course, I said yes and the night in question we pulled into the Coliseum and the parking lot was booming. She had two tickets, marked VIP, and I didn't know the significance of that until we entered the floor. There was seating filling up throughout the huge arena, just like for a college basketball game but when I gave an usher the tickets he took us front and center to the eighth row, directly in front of the raised podium. Little did I know that Mom had contributed religiously to the Crusade and she was on that special list of some of Billy's best supporters.
When the opening music ended and Dr. Graham walked up to the podium, I saw a man who had a glowing expression, fire in his eyes and a smile on his face that represented the love of Christ. I was truly mesmerized by his sermon, hanging on every word and sensing his direct connection with the Lord. His demeanor couldn't have been an act; nobody could have acted that way unless he truly believed. I actually shed a tear as I thought about our Savior on the Cross, dying in such agony for a sinner like me. It was a truly moving experience and he directly impacted my life at that moment.
As we walked out into the parking lot thinking about what we had just witnessed, Mom turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and said, "He got to you, didn't he, Son?" I nodded letting her know that as usual she was right.
She only said one other thing about it but it struck home directly, "I knew he would. That's why I wanted you to be here."
I've thought about that night many times in recent years and I've been made more aware of it since my mother passed over ten years ago. She knew I had an open heart but one full of questions and she also knew that attending that Crusade would have a positive impact on increasing my focus. And I am truly grateful for her doing this for me and for having the experience of witnessing this great evangelist in person. He is a truly great man, one for the ages. And Billy, millions of us appreciate what you have done to sow the seeds of believing in Jesus in so many souls. God bless you, Sir.
Tonight at 9:30 we will celebrate Dr. Graham's birthday in advance on North Florida Writer Live. Since I have a regular devotional on tap for the weekend, I thought it appropriate to do what I can to let America know how lucky we are to have him as an American in advance of his day. He represents the best of the traditions from which this great nation was created: one nation under God.
Happy Birthday, Billy. Enjoy your special day. Here's the link to the live show. It will be available on demand once the broadcast concludes using the same link.