Billy Graham Could Have Been in Your Youth Ministry
"By the 1960's the United States had a new ruling class - the teenager!" - Billy Graham
On February 21st Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. I am assuming you knew that. Even today I was listening to some of his sermons on satellite radio and heard him share his famous quote that has been posted, tweeted and shared many times the last few days, "Some day 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."
There is also great chance that if you are interacting with this post, you likely knew something about Rev. Graham and his lengthy ministry. It included week-long crusades all over the globe attended by over 215 million people, a popular radio broadcast before television became the norm in American homes, authoring 33 books, spending time one-on-one as a spiritual advisor to 12 consecutive occupants of the Oval office from Truman to Obama, inviting Martin Luther King Jr. and other African-American pastors to preach along with him as a call to end segregation, getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame and countless selections on most-admired lists. Some have said that Billy Graham was the Nation's Pastor and it is estimated that he preached the gospel to more people than anyone who has ever lived (2.2 billion +/-). The impact and legacy of William Franklin Graham Jr. was and is profound to Believers, non-believers, global leaders, ministers, and missionaries.
On Wednesday highlights of his life were on the television screens wedged in between the Olympics and the weather of the local BBQ place where I was having lunch with friend Drew Kearney (lead for Iron City Worship). Drew commented that his home church, The Chapel on The Campus in Baton Rouge, LA was birthed out of a Graham crusade there in LSU Tiger Stadium in 1970. I thought, how crazy is it that here at one of Graham's crusades happening in "Death Valley" and out of it comes new life in countless individuals in attendance, but also the birth of a church that will have an impact for generations upon generations in the lives of God's people.
The life of Billy Graham is a great reminder to never underestimate the power of one life fully yielded to God.
But like so many people in life, we often see and admire the end product. But how did he get there?
In his best selling biography, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (1997, Harper Collins), Billy Frank, which is what he was known by growing up, had no desire for anything related to God as a boy living on his family's North Carolina dairy farm. As a young teenager, he cared much more about comic books and baseball than giving much attention to his parent's faith which he respected, but he thought they were fanatics. Once, at their encouragement he applied for a church youth group at Tenth Avenue Presbyterian Church and his application was denied because Graham was deemed "just too worldly."
A year later, Graham after at first wanting nothing to do with it, began spending time listening to a minister at the invitation of a friend who worked for their family that had asked Billy to drive him to local revivals in his dad's Plymouth, a fun treat for the not yet 16-year old. That fall he was greatly impacted by the series of these revivals that were full of worship and the Word. He came to know Christ and publicly professing his faith in the saving grace of Jesus on November 1, 1934, just a few days short of his 16th birthday. Graham said of this experience, "I saw a lady standing next to me, and she had tears in her eyes, and I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn't feel all worked up. But right there, I made my decision for Christ. It was as simple as that and as conclusive." Interaction with the Living God changed this teenager and the trajectory of his life.
He announced later that night to his parents that he was, "a changed boy." He began displaying this change, growing in his faith and also sharing with his high school friends. It got to the point that some teachers began to notice and one who had mocked him as "Preacher Boy" in front of his classmates told him he would likely never amount to anything. As Graham continued his schooling, he began seeking further what God might have designed for his life. Ironically he says he heard from God while playing golf that he was to be a minister. I can relate, I have had more than one conversation with God on the golf course...
This week as we celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Graham and his ministry, do not forget it began as a teenage convert before leading to being the world's best known (and maybe most impactful) evangelist. If you work with students in any capacity, I encourage you to remember the opportunity of influence that you have. Look around at the faces of the students you interact with and just imagine the potential for impact. The possibilities are endless of what God can do with a young man or young woman that fully surrenders their life and focus on Him.
Next generation stewardship has extreme value. I trust you know that. Sitting under your leadership and your influence this very week may be the next Billy Graham (1918-2018)…or the Wesley brothers (John 1703-1791, Charles 1707-1788), Bishop Richard Allen (1760-1831), Catherine Booth (1829-1890), Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), Lottie Moon (1840-1912), Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), Eric Liddell (1902-1945), Dawson Trotman (1906-1956), Bill Bright (1921-2003), Jim Elliot (1927-1956), Bill Gaither (1936-), John Piper (1946-), Chris Tomlin (1972-), Christy Nockles (1973-), David Platt (1978-) Katie Davis (1989-) or the next teenage convert who through the power of God living in and through them will change the world, one day at a time. We have no idea who God will use. But it just may begin with how God uses you and me this week.