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
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".