Dr. Billy Graham will be remembered as both a man of faith, and a messenger of freedom
(Note: First posted by Faith and Freedom Insider Lela Gilbert at Newsmax.com)
Photo: American evangelist Billy Graham gestures as he preaches to over half a million South Koreans at a plaza on Yoido islet in Seoul, June 3, 1973, in the final day of a five-day crusade there. (AP)
Not a formal scholar or theologian, he was instead in many ways a purveyor of good tidings. For decades he offered, in the clearest possible terms, his "gospel message," which remained unchanged.
Over and over again, he offered what he avowed to be the transformative power of personal faith in Jesus Christ: "I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins."
Billy Graham made that clear and simple proclamation to an estimated 215 million people — through hundreds of crusades and evangelistic rallies over the course of his long life. He reached millions more through broadcast media.
He spoke to massive crowds around the world, "from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Zagorsk, Russia; and from Wellington, New Zealand to the National Cathedral in Washington. In 1973, Graham addressed more than 1 million people crowded into Yoido Plaza in Seoul, South Korea — the largest live audience of his Crusades."
In 1953, as a messenger of freedom, he literally broke down racial barriers. Before integration was the law of the land in America, Graham personally removed the ropes of segregation at his Chattanooga, Tennessee, crusade before he would preach, declaring "there is no color line in heaven."
Likewise, he did not preach in South Africa for decades. And when he finally did — in an integrated meeting in Johannesburg, he called for an end to apartheid. He also spoke of spiritual freedom to crowds in totalitarian states — the USSR and China.
Graham's focus was about personal salvation, because he believed freedom came from within, with the spiritual rebirth of those who receive Christ. And for those who couldn't quite find the words, he always provided a simple prayer:
"Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I'm a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I turn from my sin, I repent of my sins, I invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' Name, Amen."
Despite his fame, Billy Graham was far more than an international "Christian celebrity." He not only spoke to vast crowds but he also served as "America's Pastor." It is said that he prayed with every U.S. president, from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama.
A beloved and comforting figure, he brought hope and consolation to millions after terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 as he addressed the Memorial Service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
"This event reminds us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. We never know when we too will be called into eternity. I doubt if those people who got on those planes or who walked into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon on Tuesday thought that it would be the last day of their lives. And that's why we each must face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God and His will."
My own encounter with Billy Graham and his message came as a surprise. As a young girl, I rode with friends to one of his crusades in the L.A. Coliseum. In those days, a Graham Crusade was an event church kids could safely attend without worrying their parents. We were mostly curious, and looking forward to seeing the huge crowd and hearing the beautiful music.
As the service ended, the choir began to sing "Just as I am," and Billy Graham invited people to come forward to "accept Jesus." And at that moment something strange happened to me.
I found myself walking down the aisle.
I recall feeling both embarrassed and confused. I was already a believer. I had prayed "the prayer" as a little girl — probably more than once. So where was I going? And why?
Somewhere in the minutes that passed during that fairly long and awkward walk, I understood that I might have already given my heart to God. But I hadn't given him my bitterness, my pain, or my future.
Shedding many tears, both of despair and of hope, that's what I found myself doing.
That walk to the "altar" was my own first step into an utterly unpredictable and miraculous life journey. It has continued until now — more than I could ever have asked for or imagined.
So, yes, I remember Billy Graham. He did for me what he's done for untold millions of others. He called me to leave the past behind and step forward into a new life.
I responded. God did the rest.
As for Dr. Graham's passing and of his welcome into a far better world, I can't help but smile.
"I've read the last page of the Bible," he once said. "And it's all going to turn out all right."