Billy Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than anyone in history. His legacy will live until Christ returns. His life, as well as his words, taught priceless lessons.
He taught us that integrity matters. From his rise to national prominence in 1949 until his death this year, his integrity remained sterling. Early on, Graham and his associates signed the "Modesto Manifesto," voluntarily imposing safeguards regarding money, sex and truthfulness.
Later he would be instrumental in forming the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
"The gospel must be communicated not only by our lips but by our lives. This is a visual proof that the message we preach can actually change lives," Graham wrote in A Biblical Standard for Evangelists.
He stayed true to the Scriptures. As a young preacher, Graham was tempted to doubt the Bible's credibility. His crisis of faith ended one night while walking in the woods. Placing his Bible on a stump, he prayed, "Lord, I don't understand all the things written in this book, but I accept it as Your Word by faith ... as Your revelation to us." From that night on, Graham witnessed the Scriptures' authority, always generously peppering his sermons with, "The Bible says."
He was genuinely humble. "You are truly a great man," said a man in an elevator who recognized Graham. "No, I'm not a great man. I just have a great message," the evangelist responded.
"He sought platforms for his message, not publicity for his ministry," Larry Ross, Graham's longtime spokesperson, observed.
Convinced he wasn't an accomplished preacher, Graham relied heavily on the Spirit's anointing. He remained focused on his calling. For over 70 years of ministry, his message never changed. "God so loved the world that He gave His Son" was his singular theme.
Graham could take any text or subject and relate it to the gospel. He was much like Philip, the church's first evangelist, who saw the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah and "beginning with the same Scripture ... preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35). As America grieved in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Graham's clear gospel presentation at the National Prayer Service was heard by more people, including more radical terrorists, than any message in history.
Graham also relied on the Holy Spirit. Longing for greater empowerment, the young evangelist experienced a pivotal encounter with God's Spirit in a cottage in Wales. "I have it! I'm filled," he exclaimed. "This is a turning point in my life."
Graham "was determined that nothing would short-circuit his responding to the nudges of the Holy Spirit," noted Harold Myra, longtime editor of Christianity Today. "My lips would turn to clay if God took His hand from me," Graham often remarked.
He also practiced a broad embrace. Billy Graham portrayed evangelical Christianity at its best. He remained winsome and gracious, even when opposed. Without compromising, he befriended the disenfranchised even as the world's most powerful sought his counsel. And no one could convene all stripes of Christians across divides better than Billy Graham.
He launched bold evangelistic initiatives. As one of the pioneers of Youth for Christ, Graham used innovative approaches to share the Good News. He was one of the first to use film to spread the gospel. Ralph Carmichael's musical score for The Restless Ones, a 1965 Billy Graham WorldWide Films release, helped launch the genre of contemporary Christian music. It was Graham's idea to create Christianity Today as an intellectually strong magazine to counter theological liberalism. His satellite-transmitted crusade from Puerto Rico was the first global, real-time outreach. Today, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association invests heavily in online evangelism.
He also modeled great love at home. In an era when ministers' marriages often proved less than exemplary, Billy and Ruth Graham portrayed an ongoing love story. The fact that all five of their children love Jesus and have been involved in ministry speaks volumes.
His heart was for preachers everywhere. Adding to his own ministry in 185 countries, he trained evangelists from at least that many nations. His association's Amsterdam conferences drew thousands of itinerant evangelists. On Aug. 6, 2000, Graham issued this challenge to those convened at Amsterdam 2000: "Let us light a fire of commitment to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth, using every resource at our command and with every ounce of our strength."
Billy Graham truly invested every resource at his command and every ounce of his strength to spread the gospel. May we do the same. We stand on his shoulders.
David Shibley wrote this article Feb. 21, 2018, the day of Billy Graham's death at age 99. Shibley remembers well his brief and only meeting with Graham, shaking his hand and thanking him for his ministry. In 2011, Global Advance, which Shibley founded in 1990, partnered with Will Graham, Billy's grandson, and his Celebration in Kolkata to equip India's church leaders for effective evangelism.
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