What made Billy Graham special?

Are you or your children the next Billy Graham? How do you know? What about Billy Graham made him so special and influential?

If you have not heard, Billy Graham died Wednesday morning, Feb. 21, 2018. Our prayers are with his family in this difficult time of grief.

Who was Billy Graham?

The Billy Graham website introduces the evangelist’s life as follows:

Throughout his life, Billy Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories. He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books.

I have always admired Billy Graham, his wife Ruth, and the impact they’ve had on this world.

When I think of great leaders and world shakers like Billy Graham, my mind immediately asks how they got that way.

The Person vs. Their Wrappings

Maybe I’m strange, but I’m not very impressed with titles, commendations, or connections.

I try to evaluate people based on who they are, not what they’ve done or who they know. Here’s why.

Each person has things they’re good at and things they’re not. Each person has things they struggle with and hard things that have happened to them. Each person has things they are proud of, that make them happy. Each person has value and worth because they are a person made by God in His image (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:3).

That means that you could have the most important job in the world, but you’re still a person like the rest of us. You could know all the big wigs in your field, but you’re still a person like the rest of us. You could be the most popular person in town, but you’re still a person like the rest of us.

Let me give you an example. In seminary, I saw across campus a (rather intimidating looking) man with all of his visible skin (other than his face) covered in tattoos. The friend I was walking with must have noticed my reaction, because he asked if I knew the man. I then heard his story.

It turns out this man uses his tattoos to share the gospel. He had one of the most powerful ministries to prison inmates I’ve known. The tattoos (which were all Bible and gospel based) also opened numerous doors for him to share Jesus with people he encounters day to day.

And here I thought he was just a gang member whose life God had turned around.

Nope. You can’t judge a person by their wrappings. People are still people, just like the rest of us.

What about “Important” People?

In college, I felt like I started at a disadvantage.

My mom, two aunts, uncle, two older sisters, cousin, and grandfather had all attended OBU before me. All but two of those graduated from the same school and all eight seemed to have gone on to great things. You could say I had some big shoes to fill. But I was just little, insecure, seventeen year old me.

I met professors, deans, and university trustees who knew my family and knew my name, but was I really supposed to know them? Some of them on a first name basis? That’s not how the world is supposed to work!

As an adult, I’ve met people everyone respects for one reason or another. Some (like Billy Graham) remembered they were people like the rest of us. Those I respect. Others thought they were better than the rest of us for one reason or another. Those I have a hard time respecting.

You know what, though? Meeting all of these people, I discovered that these important people were just people like the rest of us.

Yes, they had hopes, dreams, and goals, but they also had fears, failures, and struggles. And not all of those struggles were in the past. They still tried new things, asked for help, and struggled with sin.

And, guess what? Some of those people were the good people they worked hard to appear to be. Some where not.

Some were going through rough patches or difficult seasons of life.

Some of the struggling simply had not yet found their niche. When they did, look out! They hit it out of the park.

This isn’t surprising. We all could tell similar stories from our own lives. Am I right?

Rubbing Shoulders

As an adult, I’ve met lots of different kinds of people. Church is cool that way. People of all types rub shoulders week to week.

This is especially true when you work with kids. The so-called “important” parents drop off their kids in the same room as “everyday” types of parents and “struggling” parents. When you work with the kids, you inevitably also work with the parents.

I heard stories of people who changed careers for one reason or another.

I heard stories of people God had rescued from drugs, additions, and other awful things.

I saw the struggling, the grieving, the depressed, the shocked, and those reaching out in new ventures. (In the process, I dealt with a lot of the same in my own life.)

I finally figured out the secret.

The Secret

If you’ve heard Billy Graham preach or read the Bible, you know that Jesus came for all people. The Billy Graham website shares the central message the evangelist shared with the world.

“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,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

Later, another quote elaborates on our equality in God’s eyes.

Preaching in Johannesburg [South Africa] in 1973, Graham said, “Christ belongs to all peopleHe belongs to the whole world.…I reject any creed based on hate…Christianity is not a white man’s religion, and don’t let anybody ever tell you that it’s white or black.”

This echoes Colossians 3:11.

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew. There is no difference between those who are circumcised and those who are not. There is no rude outsider, or even a Scythian. There is no slave or free person. But Christ is everything. And he is in everything.” (NIRV)

It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done, or who we know. We’re all just people, sinners standing in the need of grace. God offers forgiveness to all who humbly come before Him in the name of Jesus.

So what?

As a Christ-follower, I want to become more like Jesus. I want to love as He loved and live for God’s glory as my Savior did. I don’t always succeed and I have a long way to go, but that is my goal.

If my goal is to glorify God in the name of Christ Jesus, then it doesn’t matter who I know or what people think of me. All that matters is that I do the will of the Father who sent me (like Jesus, John 6:38; 20:21).

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10 NASB

Our job is simply to do what God calls us to do. Some things He asked of all of His children. Some things are unique to the individual. Still, God promised to give us what we need to do what He’s asked us to do.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

What if God asked me to do something little?

God may ask you to do something quiet behind the scenes or something out in front of the world like Billy Graham. That doesn’t make one role better than the other.

First Corinthians 12 may be a familiar passage to you, but take a moment to read it again. (I’ve added a few words in brackets below.)

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body [the group of people following Christ] does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If [I] the foot should say, “Because I am not [Billy Graham] a hand, I do not belong to the body [and I’m not important],” that would not make it any less a part of the body [or important]. 16 And if the ear [my child or friend] should say, “Because I am not [the person I admire] an eye, I do not belong to the body [and I’m not important],” that would not make it any less a part of the body [or important]. 17 If the whole body [everybody] were an eye [made the same and doing the same thing], where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body [that is, people like you and me], each one of them, as he chose [with different gifts and different callings]. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

1 Corinthians 12:12-20 ESV

Do you really believe that?

Now’s the hard part.

It’s one thing to know something in your head. It’s quite another to live out that truth.

You have a choice to make. Will you stay home and stew because you’re not the next Billy Graham (or whatever you wish you were)?

Or will you get on your knees and ask God to show you what He’s made you to be and do? Then look for God to answer that prayer. He will.

Let’s take a moment now to commit ourselves, our lives, and our futures to God. Let Him do with us what He wants to do, whether it be big or little.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Isaiah 6:8 ESV

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