Billy Graham: Personal remembrances
Like many I have had the opportunity to hear Billy Graham preach in person, in my case twice.
The first was as a ten year old at the old Madison Square Garden in 1957 with my parents. I recall the music of the 3,000 person choir led by Cliff Barrows, particularly their rendition of "Just As I Am" at the end of Dr. Graham's sermon. I recall feeling the presence of the Spirit of God touching my heart but, as a ten year old with my parent's present, I was hardly ready to take those steps to the floor of the Garden at the call at the end of the service. It was the first time that I clearly understood that our Christian faith was a personal, individual experience not simply a community worship experience with parents and friends at our local place of worship.
Of course, the other memory that remains to this day was of George Beverly Shea singing his powerful and moving version of "How Great Thou Art" with the 3,000 person choir backing him up. Though we often sing this song in our worship services today, back in 1957 it was never sung in the Baptist Church on Long Island (New York) which we attended. The church left this song for the crusade and it made it that much more special to hear.
" It was the first time that I clearly understood that our Christian faith was a personal, individual experience not simply a community worship experience with parents and friends at our local place of worship."
Forty-eight years later my wife and I attended a Billy Graham Service in Queens. New York. It was held on a Sunday afternoon and we were returning from a visit to a Hindu Service at a church a friend of ours attended. We were unaware of the Billy Graham meeting as we travelled to that Hindu service.
This was our first visit to a Hindu place of worship and our three hours with a Hindu congregation left us in a contemplative mood. On the way home a billboard on the side of the road announced the service by Billy Graham. We were ready to hear him.
Little did we know that this would be the last public sermon that Dr. Graham would preach (At least, as depicted in newspaper reports the next day.) Once again George Beverly Shea sang his version of How Great Thou Art.
The topic of the sermon was the story of Noah, how Noah had to make a decision - to obey or not to obey a rather unusual directive from God. Billy Graham did his usual wonderful job of telling this Bible story just the way it was written but with a passion for the Word of God. In the story God, noting Noah's faithfulness, called him to build an ark for his family and all living creatures of the earth. He had to act alone at the instructions of God. The rest of the world was going their own way.
The message was a simple one and Dr. Graham asked each of us: have you ever found yourself all alone, taking a stand for what you deem to be correct while being questioned by all others around you. It made me think about times I have taken stands out of faith when logic said otherwise. Not as often as perhaps I should have but there have been times. Those few times resulted in blessings beyond which I could have imagined could occur.
Billy Graham was a humble man, giving all the credit for his success to God. His life of commitment is as influential to me as any of his sermons but the two times I heard him, in person, were impactful.
We live in troubled times in America. The country is separated into factions that are unbearable to observe. Many, who deem themselves conservative, and many, who choose to follow liberal standards, appear to have less tolerance for each other than at any time during my lifetime.
It is a lonely place trying to be the mediator at this time. The mediator is attacked by both sides of the ideological segments of the world. The Christian Church even has become ideological.
Perhaps the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School will be the moment that people look to those things we can agree upon and focus less upon their differences. The articulated determination of the youth of this country to bring about needed change is commendable. Is there another Billy Graham in this generation?
" The articulated determination of the youth of this country to bring about needed change is commendable. Is there another Billy Graham in this generation?"
Perhaps the gospel message by Dr. Graham, that touched me as a ten year old, is a message the Christian world needs to hear again. God calls us individually and personally. We all have a choice to respond or not. Respond "yes" and the loneliness we sometimes feel will be overcome by the prayerful inspiration we receive.
Click: The Challenge that Separates Us