Friday, June 01, 2007

Billy's Backyard--Graham Library Opens in Charlotte




Billy Graham received yesterday the treatment that normally is reserved for previous Presidents-- he was given his own memorial library in Charlotte, N.C. Standing behind a lecture and looking frail but regal with his long white mane flowing down onto his shoulders Graham's reaction to what had been done for him was typical-- "I feel like I am attending my own funeral" prompted by the many tributes given to him. Billy Graham is and has always been a remarkably humble man despite all his accomplishments. He said yesterday that he was profoundly disturbed by all the memorabilia about his sixty years of ministry because his whole life had been all about Jesus Christ and exalting him, not about himself. So typical. In an age of narcissistic TV evangelists pandering for more attention (and money), Billy was always the anti-narcissist, the embodiment of Phil. 2.5-11's "Have this mind in yourself..."

Three Presidents (Carter, Bush, and Clinton) who owed Graham a great debt of gratitude all offered far more than faint praise, and Bush who was MC-ing broke down all together at one juncture and just sobbed while standing behind the lectern. It was an emotional day all around. You can read the story here

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/01/us/01graham.html?th&emc=th


For many years I used to ride by the locale of the house on a farm where Billy grew up, out Park Rd. which used to be out of town, but now is engulfed in ever burgeoning south Charlotte. I've spent time at the Cove in Asheville on various occasions and seen the memorabilia before. I understand why the Grahams might want to be buried there in those gorgeous mountains. I remember so well attending Billy's Crusades-- the last time was when I was living in northeast Ohio. Billy's call to come forward and make a commitment or recommitment to Christ was powerful, as was his straightforward preaching. There were no gimmicks in his message-- he just gave us the plain ole unvarnished Gospel. I remember one time watching a crusade on TV and hearing my sister say, when Billy called us to the altar, "lets go up close to the TV screen". He had that sort of appeal and charisma. I remember all the heat and flack he took in the South in the 60s by having integrated crusades-- as if it were a novelty to try and live out Gal. 3.28 in practice.

I remember so well his graciousness, his unfailing love, his kind guidance, his eschewing of partisan politics as best he could in public. I remember working with Leighton Ford, at one time his right hand man, at Jesus 76 at the Charlotte motor speedway and I saw the impact in his life.

I know beyond doubt that one reason I went to Gordon-Conwell Seminary was because it was Billy's school-- the one he endorsed. I was the first ordinand from the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC to go there in 1974, and they delayed my ordination for a year, I'm sure in part because I dared to not go to one of the 13 seminaries of the UMC. They sent a committee to investigate the seminary and see if it was up to academic snuff and when they discovered it was far tougher and more rigorous than Duke at the time (those umpteen semesters of Hebrew and Greek and exegesis were a bit daunting), they went home shamefaced and left me alone. Billy said it was the place to go, and I trusted he was right no matter what anyone else said. As he used to say quoting his favorite book "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight".

I will profoundly miss Billy when he passes on, in part because he is so very much like my Daddy, who just had his 91rst birthday yesterday. He has that same southern gracious loving spirit which exudes Christian kindness at its best. He has that same fervency of spirit and strong conviction about what he believes in, come Hades or highwater, combined with an inexpressible sweetness of character. They both have been well-seasoned in the Spirit's maranade for many years.

If the measure of the man is the number of lives he not merely touched, but was used by God to transform, and the number of people who have wanted to be like him including me, then Billy Graham is surely and clearly the greatest man I ever met. Greater than any President or world leader in my lifetime for sure. Greater than all my sports heroes put together, even the Tar Heel ones like Michael Jordan. The greatness of the man is shown as well in his deep and abiding love for Ruth his wife all these long years of marriage and travel.

Someday in heaven I hope to have a final chat with Billy. After Jesus, the one person I long to hear from about my service for the Lord is from Billy, my fellow Charlottean. If he and Jesus say "well done good and faithful servant" I will know I did passably well. Its one of the things that motivates me. We have too few role models out there in this world, too few that don't have big feet of clay. It has been said you become what you admire, and I have admired Billy since I was a child listening to him on the radio and wanting to be like him. I have especially admired his zeal wedded to such a profound humility. Billy is the ultimate proof that what God wants above all else in his servants is to do justice/righteousness, love kindness, and walk humbling with God. What God wants most is availability, not mere ability and an uncompromising commitment to the Gospel.

I hope all of you out there in the blogosphere have had the privilege of hearing Billy preach in some way or fashion or place. If not, you need to fix that soon via the Internet. You need to learn to follow his example when Billy responded to the call daily, the call which said "Who will go for me?" Billy always responded "Here I am Lord, I hear you calling. Take me." I hope you will as well. We love you Billy and we know you are looking forward to a far greater reward than a memorial library. You're looking forward to hearing Jesus saying "inherit the Kingdom".

19 comments:

Darryl Schafer said...

What more can be said? Amen.

B-W said...

What? You've never been to Montreat? (Billy Graham's home town for many years now) Too bad (if true). It's a beautiful place. (I went to college there, so I'm biased.)

Ben Witherington said...

Montreat is nice, but it doesn't hold a candle to Lake Junalaska :)though I love the Ben Long fresco in your chapel there.

BW3

Rodney Reeves said...

Every time I hear Billy Graham preach the gospel, I want to "get saved" all over again.

Mr. Graham would nearly always respond to the inevitable question, "How do you handle all of the 'success'?" by saying: "I wasn't God's first choice for this ministry."

piano88boy said...

A Graham story for you Dr. Ben. I went to Asbury College and worked in town for many years. When I was in 7th grade I accepted the Lord after watching a Billy Graham crusade on tv. My dad prayed with me. Years later I worked for Ichthus and did the booking for the main stage. Around 1990, not sure of the year, we received a phone call from the Billy Graham association. They were getting ready to start youth nights with christian rock music, but were still working through that process. They asked if they could send 2 men out to the festival to see it in operation. I am a piano player, and one of the 2 men they sent was Ted Smith, long time pianist for the crusades. I was blown away, I had played his piano arrangements for years. They were so gracious. I had the oppportunity to give them a tour of the festival from behind the scenes. The other man was the technical guy and he was interested in how they would adapt their staging for the concerts. I received a very nice thank you letter from them and they told me to contact them anytime that I could meet them at a crusade and they would show me a behind the scenes tour of their operation. It never worked out for me to go and it is one of my biggest regrets in life. Just thought you might enjoy this story of how Ichthus influenced the Billy Graham Crusades.

Ben Witherington said...

What a great story piano boy :) Thanks for sharing.

Rodney I agree with you. My colleague Chuck Killian used to say he was born again so many times as a youth by going to the altar that he had stretch marks on his soul :)

BW3

José Solano said...

Well, it does seem that we all have a shadow and since this is not quite a eulogy perhaps this reminder should come now rather than then.

I do remember that staunch supporter of Richard Nixon and the entire Vietnam War. Maybe someone can correct my memory but wasn’t Billy Graham the man who preached to the nation to stand behind Nixon as US planes bombed Cambodia, etc. Didn’t he stand behind the president when they carpet bombed Hanoi on Christmas Day? Wasn’t he the man who said in South Africa that rapists should be castrated? And I think there were quite a few other statements hardly befitting a great holy man. Maybe my memory fails me. We know how unreliable our memories can be. But God remembers everything.

I’m sorry Dr. Witherington but I feel a need to provide this balance. Among the greatest holy ones of the last hundred years I place Mother Teresa with Billy Graham far behind but somewhere in front of Jerry Falwell.

Peace.

Ben Witherington said...

Your memory does fail you rather badly Jose in this case, especially since Billy has often said he regretted being used by Nixon, and that it was his fault. I suggest you read Billy;s biography rather closely. And as for Mother Theresa, she was certainly a godly woman, but she had plenty of flaws as well, not the least of which was her unBiblical theology about Mary.

José Solano said...

Ah, so perhaps my memory is not failing me so badly but rather Billy Graham has “regretted being used by Nixon.” Imagine such a brilliant mind and great Christian being “used by Nixon.” Maybe his regret is even a form of repentance. This is always wonderful.

I’m afraid I have not followed his confessions and I do not judge the man, but we can look at the historical record of where he stood when Hanoi was bombed on Christmas Day and how he sought to galvanize the nation behind Nixon’s barbarities. I was a budding Christian in those days and I stood with Martin Luther King in his opposition to that shameful war.

Maybe Mother Teresa’s “unbiblical theology” about Mary is matched by Graham’s unbiblical theology about war? Be assured I do think Billy Graham is a great Christian who has been instrumental in bringing to Christ perhaps more people than anyone else in the last 100 years.

I’ll do some more research.

Ben Witherington said...

Honestly Jose, and with all due respect, as I was a Vietnam war opponent, I do not remember at all Billy Graham saying anything, anything at all about the bombing of Hanoi on Christmas day. Billy, by that time of his career, eschewed such public political remarks. Where in the world did you get that idea? I do know that Billy was very angry when he discovered later that Nixon had been lying to him about Watergate. Sources would be nice.

BW3

José Solano said...

Much as it pains me to reopen that sad era of US history I am looking into the sources. You may be right that Billy Graham did not say a word about the Hanoi Christmas Day bombing.

I don’t think that Graham’s deep and lasting friendship with Nixon and his unwavering support of Nixon’s war effort could be in question. Here is some evidence that gives a sense of Graham’s approach to the Vietnam War.

http://www.counterpunch.org/alexgraham.html

Mine is not an academic research at this time. I’m merely googling some memory threads of mine to see how my memory is verified.

Here’s evidence that my memory did not fail on Graham’s castration comment. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,878543-2,00.html

His comments on a Jewish stranglehold on the media are mentioned in my first source above.

Nixon himself mentions that Graham supported his run for the presidency stating that it was Nixon’s “destiny.” http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAnixon.htm

I’m trying to find verification of my memory of Graham’s remarks when the US invaded Cambodia. As I recall he came out telling the nation to stand behind the president in this action. Never do I recall any criticism of the war.

I do believe that Graham has done a great evangelistic work but my memory of his cuddling with Richard Nixon and his obvious support of the Vietnam War have left for me and many others sad impressions of his moral leadership at that critical time in our history. To be sure Cardinal Spellman, and if I recall correctly, Norman Vincent Peale were in the same pro-Nixon, pro-Vietnam War mentality.

Your views are so close to my own that I really do not wish to belabor some of Graham’s past mistakes. He has expressed his regrets and we all have our flaws.

I’m off to Hawaii to set help set up an education conference.

Peace.

Ben Witherington said...

Wow-- blessings on your travel. I am off to Hawaii tomorrow also with my wife for our 30th anniversary :)

Ben

Brian said...

Thanks for the post Dr. W. Billy Graham was/is indeed a "great" man in all sense of the word. Lately, my wife and I have enjoyed watching clips of his preaching from his younger days which they have been showing in TBN. He is an amazing speaker (not one "uh" or "um") and seems as prophetic today as it was then. It is amongst the finest example of prophetic and or evagelistic preaching I've ever seen, in my opinion.

Too bad his own organization admits a 90% failure rate in keeping those who have come to the "altar" calls.

Also, the link you put isn't working, at least not on my comp.

Singing Owl said...

Here is a snippet from one of my old blog posts about the presence of God.

"I clearly recall the first time I was aware of the presence of God's Spirit even though more than fortty years have passed. I'm sure there had been other times when God's Spirit was very close and active, such as when I knelt to pray for Jesus to "come into my heart," but I hadn't been particularly aware. I hadn't "felt" anything. On this occasion I was about ten years old and attending a Billy Graham crusade in the Los Angeles collesium. It was a lovely warm California night, and the great stadium was packed. But there was something supernatural pricking my senses. Billy gave his usual clear call to walk the aisle down to the front and to pray with him for Jesus to forgive sins and save us and make us citizens of Heaven. The choir sang, "Just As I Am"-- and a profound hush fell over the place. There were moments of stillness which the child me recognized. I leaned to my older sister and whispered, "Do you feel it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit?" She, with wide eyes, nodded wordlessly. Not knowing how to describe it, I said, in awe, "It's heavy."

This occasion was about 45 years ago, and I still recall it with awe.

NCApologist said...

Dr. Witherington.
What is your take on "crusades" or evangelistic festivals?
I have always had my reservations on them because the new believer is stuck asking "now what?".
I was at the 2002 Billy Graham Crusade in Cincinnati and I know pastors are on hand to give out literature and some advice; but after this babe in Christ leaves the stadium, they are placed back in the real world.
I recall the numbers from Cincinnati. Some 11,000 total came forward, but there was no signs of significant attendance increase in area wide churches. There is no possible way that the majority of the 11,000 were out of towners, which forces me to ask "what happened with those 11,000?"
What is your take on stadium style evangelism?

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I've also been very impressed with Billy Grahm. I've always made time to watch his crusades on TV, even if it were only for a few minutes. I think he was God's first choice for that ministry, and Billy's too humble to admit it... lol

The Burdman said...

Funny... I've always thought of Wheaton as Billy's school.

Julie said...

You'll remember that I became a Christian at a Billy Graham Crusade, Dr. Ben...so I am a supporter of any post about him. He is a beautifully humble man who is willing to admit his faults and his desperate need for God's grace. I think that is why people find it so easy to listen to him...

Nick said...

In a few weeks I am about to take up my first post pastoring a methodist church over here in Ireland and I also I'm inspired and grateful to the life and ministry of Billy. One of my yet-to-meet mentors.