On Feb. 21, shockwaves crossed our nation and throughout the world, with the news that our beloved Evangelist Billy Graham had died at age 99. Within minutes, his life and ministry were being hailed by journalists, ministers, business leaders and presidents. Stunned and overcome with grief, I sensed great personal loss; then, I remembered Dr. Graham’s own words:
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” The Lord Jesus had indeed said to His followers: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)
Every United States president since Harry Truman has had the privilege of meeting with this great man of God at least once. Fittingly, it was announced that His body would “lie in honor” in the United States Capitol Rotunda two days this week, being only one in four private citizens to ever have this special tribute! His private funeral is on Friday.
I had the high honor of meeting Dr. Graham when I was a very young, impressionable pastor. It was a casual meeting, at a broadcaster’s convention in Washington, D.C. His humility was amazing, and after talking about his family members with me, he asked me to pray for his wife, Ruth, who was ill.
That same year, my wife and I were given a personal tour through the BGEA headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since Dr. Graham was not in his office, I took the opportunity to sit in his desk chair for just a moment and dream of preaching to millions of people in my lifetime, as this mighty evangelist was doing!
We attended his evangelistic crusades in 1960, 1981 and 1986, and I was awestruck by his simple messages that pierced the souls, as well as the unbelievable visible responses to his sermons. Dr. Billy Graham was a mentor to me.
The evangelist only had one message: the message of salvation by way of the Cross. Whether preaching to thousands behind the Iron Curtain in Romania, to one million people in Seoul, South Korea, or to 250,000 in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Billy Graham always preached the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Word of God was His text, and he never strayed from its truth.
Face to face, he called for more than a hundred million people in six continents to acknowledge their sinful condition before a Holy God, and their need for a Savior. He urged the people to accept forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ, who died on a cruel Roman cross. He seemed to always include: “God loves you,” as He offered hope to a lost generation. With the addition of radio, television and satellite broadcasts, it is estimated that more than two billion people heard his appeal in the evangelist’s lifetime.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in our nation on September 11, 2001, Dr. Graham spoke to a grieving nation at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. May his own words that he spoke that day now bring comfort to our hearts, as we say farewell to “America’s Pastor”:
“We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be…My prayer today is that we feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and that as we trust in Him, we will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us.”
Jim Vaught is minister at Calvary Assembly of God in Mount Airy.