God honours those who honour Him. The Bible cites as God declares, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.” (1 Samuel 2:30)
Billy Graham, the renowned Gospel preacher who spoke to millions across the world in his lifetime and one of the most celebrated and non-controversial men in history, died on February 21, 2018 at the age 99. Death is a common denominator to all living things. But, the death of a saint is something special to God. It is a time of rejoicing as the saint leaves this world of sin and goes to a perfect place to be with the Lord.
Billy Graham was known for counselling 12 US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He participated in eight presidential inaugurations a feat only he and a US Supreme Court justice have accomplished.Graham had extraordinary access to the White House over the years and served as spiritual adviser to many of the presidents in their hour of need.
To Graham, it was not about politics, it was about unity and hope in times of crisis and national tragedy. “My calling has been to help people look beyond this world and its problems to the world to come,” Graham told ABC News in 2006.
Trump, Congress honour Graham at Capitol
At a ceremony honouring Rev Billy Graham at the US Capitol, President Donald Trump shared a special memory of his father taking him to see the prolific preacher. Trump and congressional leaders praised Billy Graham as America’s pastor during a private ceremony at the US Capitol as the preacher lay in honour.
His casket was placed in the centre of the Capitol Rotunda for the crowded morning ceremony attended by members of the Congress, the Cabinet, President Trump and Vice President Pence. Throughout the 30-minute ceremony, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump sat next to the Graham family. The President called Graham an “Ambassador for Christ,” who changed America and the world. He recalled how his father, Fred Trump, brought the family to see Graham speak at Yankee Stadium. “It was something very special,” the President said. “Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher.”
After the ceremony Trump tweeted, “The Great Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man!” He urged “men and women like Billy Graham to spread a message of love and hope to every precious child of God. “We say a prayer for our country: that all across this land, the Lord will raise up men and women like Billy Graham to spread a message of love and hope to every precious child of God. “Today we honour Billy Graham as only three private citizens before him have been honoured. Graham is the fourth person to lie in honour at the Capitol.
The previous was civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005. US Capitol Police officers Jacob Joseph and John Michael Gibson, both of whom were killed in the line of duty in 1998, also received the honour,” Trump said.
Graham counselled 12 US presidents:
Harry Truman, the first of Graham’s presidents, said he thought the young preacher was just a publicity seeker. But perhaps because of such publicity, Graham’s popularity grew. By 1952, his words of encouragement helped convince Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to run for president and, once in office, establish a National Day of Prayer. Graham then became an Oval Office regular and a presidential golf partner.
It was a pattern that continued in the John F Kennedy years. Though some Protestants weren’t sure they could trust a Roman Catholic president, Graham liked Kennedy and helped put to rest the long-held suspicions.
After Kennedy’s assassination, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, asked Graham to join him in prayer — and an unlikely friendship developed between the clean-living pastor and the blunt-spoken politician.
Graham had an especially close — and complicated — relationship with Richard Nixon. He stuck by Nixon’s side through the Watergate scandal. But the reverend later said he was shocked to hear what was really going on in Nixon’s secretly recorded White House tapes.
With Eisenhower and Johnson, Graham was the righteous soldier of the Lord, using his access to the Oval Office to fight relentlessly for an American spiritual revival. But in his enthusiasm, Graham, whose best quality is the ability to see the best in others, imagined a goodness and conscience in Nixon that, finally, wasn’t there. Graham fought harder for Nixon than for anyone else and more publicly.
Graham continued counselling presidents through the decades, remaining a White House fixture through the Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations. He called Ford as he was making the decision about whether to pardon Nixon. Ford told Graham he had not yet made up his mind. Carter had a deep admiration for Graham, as he said, “He was broad-minded, he was innovative, he believed in breaking down the barriers between black and white when it was very unpopular to do so in the South. I just think that in almost every way, the things that he did as a Christian were admirable, and the kinds of actions that I have sought to emulate.”
Graham had particularly kind words about Reagan, telling he was “the greatest. I mean, he helped turn this country around. He made us proud to be American.” When President George HW Bush decided to enter Kuwait to repel Saddam Hussein’s invading army, he sat up with him the night Desert Storm began. The elder Bush later honoured him with the George Bush Award for public service in April 2006. “When my soul was troubled, it was Billy I reached out to for comfort, advice, and prayer,” Bush said as he gave Graham the award.
Graham was also one of several prominent clergies in President Bill Clinton’s circle of advisers. “I doubt that many presidents ever wanted to be around him because they thought it would help them politically,” Clinton said. “I think that they really felt and hoped that whatever the state of their own spiritual life, that by being with Billy Graham their own faith and understanding might be deepened.” He also counselled President George W Bush, whom he had known most of his life. “I’ve known him as a boy, I’ve known him as a young man, I’ve known him now still as a young man,” Graham said. “And I’m very proud of him and I’m very thankful of the privilege of calling him a friend.”
In 2010, Graham and son Franklin met with President Obama at Graham’s home, chatting about wives, golf and Chicago, Obama’s adopted hometown.
Trump and wife Melania met Billy Graham at the reverend’s 95th birthday party in 2013, but they never met after Trump took office. Instead, Trump maintained a White House connection to the Graham family through Franklin Graham, who read a passage from the New Testament at Trump’s inauguration and has attended at least one White House event during his administration.
Billy Graham wowed those who witnessed him
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., touted Graham as a leading American religious figure. “He ministered to all walks, from some of the greats whose status line this very hall Eisenhower, King, Ford and Reagan to everyday citizens lining up to pay their respects,” Ryan said. “His message never diminished. That love was so infectious, wasn’t it? The man had such a gift for connecting with people.”
Graham’s wooden casket was carried into the packed but silent Rotunda by military pallbearers just after 11 am. It was placed on a wood catafalque, the same one used for Abraham Lincoln and others who have been honoured at the Capitol. McConnell said Graham, who “touched millions of hearts” and “was a success story for the ages, knew better than anyone that fame and an impressive Rolodex weren’t the real standards of success. His aim was simpler: sharing the good news with as many souls as he possibly could.”
“Having served our nation for decades,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, who represents Graham’s hometown of Montreat, N.C. “I can think of no more fitting honour than for Rev. Graham to return to Washington one final time to lie in honour in the Capitol’s Rotunda.”
Outside the Capitol, hundreds waited in line to view Graham’s casket. Among them was Joan Fesmire, a Pennsylvania woman who rededicated her life to Jesus Christ after hearing Graham speak at Madison Square Garden when she was 15. Others came to show their respect even if they weren’t close followers. Maryann McFadden of Arlington, Va., said she never saw Graham preach, but his honesty set him apart from others. “It was just easy for him to speak, and he was sincere,” she said.
Joy Knuth, visiting from Alaska, said she never heard a full Graham sermon but still admired him. “I really respect his ministry and all that he’s done for our country and how he’s been a personality around the world really standing strong for Jesus Christ,” she said.
A humble beginning of his ministry
When Billy Graham was 15, just a farm boy with poor grades, he committed himself to Christ as his Lord and Saviour at the invitation of Preacher Mordecai Ham at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. Three years later, when the calm had worn off and the wrestling had started, the Holy Spirit moved in him as he wandered disconsolate one night across a golf course in Florida. At the edge of the 18th green he was urged to kneel, pray and accept the call to ministry.
On the strength of the promise made to the Lord, he set out to preach the Gospel in every land. Over more than half a century, as he changed from a strapping, vigorous, shiny-suit evangelist to a frail patriarch with a white mane, around 215m people in 185 countries heard him live at more than 400 crusades.
In 1957 he packed Madison Square Garden every night for 16 weeks, and in Seoul in 1973 he drew a crowd of more than a million. In Moscow in 1992, so hungry for God, 155,000 came to hear him. From 1947 to 2008 around 2.2bn people watched the crusades on television, video or webcast, or listened to his “Hour of Decision” radio talk, which aired weekly for more than 60 years. His magazine, Decision, had 2m subscribers. All this was God’s wondrous doing, not his. And the number that really mattered was that over his years of ministry, when he issued the invitation to come forward, at least 3.2m people walked to the Cross to receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
His way of preaching was not hellfire and brimstone in the old revivalist style, though it started that way at the Florida Bible Institute, where he would go into the swamps to shout at alligators with a voice already resonant from practising Tarzan yells as a boy, the pulling voice that preachers needed. As he got better at it—working up from a basement church in Illinois to local radio broadcasts to his first revivalist meetings, in two old circus tents in Los Angeles in 1949—his delivery modulated, but not his urgency. Men and women had allowed their souls to shrivel up in sin. They had forgotten God. Yet God had sent His only Son into the world to save sinners. Jesus had hung, and bled, and died on the Cross, for them. When were they going to give their lives to Him? When would they repent and earn God’s forgiveness? Now was the time, today! For at any moment God might call them to His judgment.
This was not a political message. “Evangelical” simply meant, of the Gospel. Yet it drew in presidents, not least because a Godly America was bound to prevail against Soviet evil. He prayed beside the deathbed of Eisenhower and the sickbed of Johnson; put his strong arm round Nixon’s shoulders after his early election defeats; helped George W. Bush to give up drink, and told all of them that God’s grace alone, not any works of theirs, would assure them of Heaven. Through all this he struggled not to be partisan, kneeling down with Republicans and Democrats alike.
As his mission was to save souls, he was bound to love everyone in Christ. The ground at the foot of the Cross was level. When he received Him he began to see people without colour, which in the Deep South astounded him. It led him to tear down the ropes separating whites from blacks in his early southern crusades, and to a friendship with Martin Luther King that extended to bailing him out of jail. With other groups, God’s command was harder. At times both Jews and Muslims bothered him. As for homosexuals, though he refused to join the ultra-conservative Moral Majority, he prayed they would repent of their perversion. The Bible was clear on that point. God’s inspired Word defined marriage as between a man and a woman and stipulated, too, that the man should lead and the woman should follow. He was not a fundamentalist, not a Bible-pounding Old Testament man, but handed out the Gospel of John at his crusades. John’s message was redeeming love, pure and simple.
He did not need the global adulation or his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All he needed was Jesus Christ. But God had mysteriously planned his life otherwise. And he trusted that, sinner though he was, the Holy Spirit would testify to his faithfulness; and that after all his travelling he would have the assurance of Heaven, truly home.
Why everyone wants to say thank you to Billy Graham:
Standing at the simple wooden pulpit that Rev Billy Graham once used to preach his global crusades, his five children and evangelists from around the world gave tribute on Friday to a man who for half a century was the world’s best known living apostle of evangelical Christianity.
Graham was eulogized in front of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte where he conducted his breakout crusade in Los Angeles in 1949. President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their wives attended the funeral. The funeral gave the platform to the disciples who carry on Billy Graham’s ministry including evangelists from India, Lebanon and South Korea and his children, who offered testimony that was sometimes very personal. The expectation was that the funeral would draw all or most of the living presidents who were healthy enough to attend.
Three spoke at the opening of the Billy Graham Library in 2007 and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton came to Charlotte earlier this week to pay their respects to the Graham family. Throughout his life Graham begged politicians to invoke God more frequently in their speeches. It is in part thanks to Graham that President Eisenhower inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance and stamped “In God we trust” on the bills. Though Jerry Falwell has been credited for bringing religion into the political sphere, but Graham was there long before him. After Nixon, Graham befriended and even loved presidents and their families the Reagans, the Bushes, the Clintons but he never again flew so close to the flame. At the end of his life, Graham, who is not given to introspection but has clear hindsight that he had been blessed with a character devoid of jealousy or hate. “That was a gift from the Lord. Jesus…loved sinners, people who didn’t deserve it, that’s what grace is. It means God gives us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. And to me that’s a wonderful thing,” Graham told his admirers. His admirers frequently called on Graham to run for president, but no president ever loved his people as deeply as this pastor did.
Former President Jimmy Carter credited Graham with having an “enormous influence” on his spiritual life. “Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve,” Carter said of Graham in a statement.
Former President Bill Clinton said he’ll never forget the first time he saw Graham: 60 years ago at Little Rock, Arkansas, during the push for desegregation in schools. “He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace,” Clinton recalled in a statement. “He had a powerful, captivating presence and a keen mind. He was full of kindness and grace. His love for Christ and his gentle soul helped open hearts to the Word, including mine,” the 43rd president said. In a tweet, former President Barack Obama, who went to visit Graham at his home in North Carolina in 2010, called Graham “a humble servant who prayed for so many – and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”
*Views expressed are author’s own.