Brenda and I had the wonderful privilege to attend the Rev. Billy Graham's memorial service. We were honored to be asked to fly down with Vice President and Mrs. Pence. The service was both Christ-honoring and spiritually sweet.
As I sat at the memorial, my mind wandered back over the years to the three personal experiences I had had with Mr. Graham.
The first happened in 1971. I had only been saved for about 6 months, and was living in downtown Alexandria in the upstairs of a storefront on King Street that my good friend Bob Porter was using as the headquarters for his street witnessing ministry called, The King's Inn. One evening, we were sitting together studying the Bible and there was an old B&W television set in the room that we hardly ever turned on, but Bob knew that a Billy Graham Crusade was airing that night, so he wanted me to watch it with him. After a pretty profane 40 years of life, Bob had come to Christ in his living room by falling on his knees at the end of a Billy Graham telecast and praying to accept Christ. I had never heard of Billy Graham (remember, I'm Jewish and synagogues don't advertise Billy Graham crusades!). So I had no idea what to expect. Then Cliff Barrows appeared on the screen kindly welcoming me to the program; there was George Beverly Shea singing "How Great Thou Art" with his booming voice; there was Ethel Waters singing "His Eye is On the Sparrow." After that song, I was a complete mess! I had tears streaming down my face and I was weeping uncontrollably. All the hurt and pain of my 22-year sinful life was still so fresh, and the love of God for a sinner like me was still so overwhelming, that I could not keep the emotions inside. Then came Mr. Graham! He took hold of that pulpit like a shepherd grabbing a sheep by its horns! Again and again he thundered out, "The Bible says, the Bible says." He painted the wonderful picture of a holy God who nonetheless loved sinners like me! I was mesmerized and glued to the message! I had chills and goosebumps (literally) as he preached. The power of the Holy Spirit was flowing out of that old TV set with so much dynamic that it was like I was sitting 10 feet from the man himself. When he gave the invitation at the end, I was so overcome by the Gospel Mr. Graham had just preached, that I recommitted myself to Jesus afresh and vowed never to let go of Him! To this day, 47 years later, I still remember that evening like it was yesterday, and I am so thankful for Mr. Graham being used by God to help set my commitment to Jesus in concrete for these last four and a half decades.
My next encounter came in 1986 at the Billy Graham Crusade in Washington, DC. My good friend, Dan McKinnon, had been the chairman of an earlier Billy Graham Crusade in San Diego and knew Mr. Graham pretty well. Dan asked me if James (my oldest son who was 9 at the time) and I would like to sit on the platform with Mr. Graham and others during the service. I said yes, and before long we found ourselves shaking hands with Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, Ethel Waters, and even Mr. Graham himself. Wow, what a great privilege this was! The service was powerful and thousands of people came forward to be saved. I had a small Bible that I had brought with me, and before we left the platform that night, I went up to Mr. Graham with James at my side and asked him if he would sign the Bible for my son. Mr. Graham hesitated. What I did not know at the time was that it was not his practice to sign Bibles because, as he said, he was not the "author" of the book. But there was 9-year old James looking up expectantly at Mr. Graham. So rather than disappoint a child, Mr. Graham signed the Bible! What really struck me was the tenderness and compassion of this man--to violate his normal practice for the sake of not discouraging the faith of a young child.
And finally, in 2013, Brenda and I were invited to Mr. Graham's 95th birthday celebration. We had the honor of being brought into a meeting room at the hotel where Mr. Graham was receiving friends and visitors. There he was in a wheelchair looking very frail, not at all the energetic man I remembered from TV or the crusade in Washington, DC. Mr. Graham did not say much as we talked with his son Franklin, but as I stood there next to this man of God who had served the Lord so powerfully and faithfully for over 6 decades, whose home-going I figured had to be sometime soon, I couldn't help but think of the verse of Scripture from Isaiah 40:6-8-"All flesh is like grass, and its loveliness is like the flower of the field...The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever." I was reminded once again that Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, and I are just servants of the Lord who are just "passin' through". It is the Lord and His Word that are eternal! And so it should be!
Now Mr. Graham is with the Lord, as I will be one day (and you too if you know Christ as your personal Savior!). May we use our time and energy while we're here to serve the one eternal being in the universe and not ourselves--and to promote the one eternal item in the universe, God's WORD!