Late last month, Gallup published their list of "Most admired men for 2011." Barack Obama was number one on the list which was enough to cause me to question the validity of the entire list. But number four on the list was the Rev. Billy Graham. There have been years when he held the number one spot, but for 2011, to come in at number four is still quite an accomplishment! There are many young people, and those under 30 who probably don't even know anything about Billy Graham. If you are one of them, let me bring you up to speed with this incredible man of God who, long before the days of satellite television and the internet, preached the gospel to more people around the world than any other human being.
|Record crowd in attendance at L.A. Billy Graham Crusade|
My first encounter with Billy Graham came when I was 14 years old. My church youth group decided to attend his L.A. Crusade which was being held at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Initially, my interest lay in the fact of seeing the Coliseum filled with 70 or 80,000 people since I had never been in a room with more than a couple hundred people. But, as you might have guessed, I got more than I bargained for. God was speaking to me through Billy Graham and for the first time, I was hearing about Jesus Christ and the good news that I could be forgiven of my sins and have a relationship with God.
On the fourth night, Youth Night, God was calling me to himself. How did I know this? During Billy's message that night when he preached on David and Goliath, my heart was pounding so hard and loud that I surely thought anyone around me could hear it. Later that evening, along with about 3,000 others, I went forward to surrender my will to God's along with seeking his forgiveness for my sins and asking Him to change my life. That was way back in 1963. To put this in perspective, this was the same year that JFK was assassinated and the Beatles arrived on the scene.
Since that night, I continue to live my life as a follower of Jesus Christ, and Billy Graham continued to preach the Gospel to millions worldwide until his retirement in 2005. In 2008, it was estimated that over the course of his lifetime, he preached to over 2.2 billion people in person, on TV, radio and movies.
BillyGraham in now 92 yrs. old. For some reason, I think this will be the year that God takes him home. The young man that I remember seeing in L.A.Times photos doing an early morning run along
is now confined to a wheelchair, suffering from Parkinson's disease. His voice is weak, no longer strong and vibrant as it once was when he preached to thousands. Santa Monica Beach
Here's what I want you to know about Billy Graham. In an age of hypocrites and evangelistic scandals, he was the real deal. He was a man who walked the talk. He would never allow himself to be alone in a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex. He was always aware of his weaknesses and set safeguards in place to protect himself and his ministry from succumbing to temptation.
Another evidence of his integrity came in the early 1950s when NBC offered Billy a $5 million dollar, 5-year contract for a weekly series, but he turned it down to honor his pre-arranged commitments to conduct crusades around the world. Also, in 1950 when Billy and his associates formed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc. headquartered in Minneapolis, they set in place several layers of accountability to assure that there would be no co-mingling of funds. Billy was paid a modest salary and never ever used ministry funds as his personal ATM. Anyone donating money to Billy Graham could rest assured that their gift would be used for the sole purpose of preaching the gospel.
In the early 1950s, Billy Graham was on the cutting edge of racial integration long before it became a "fashionable liberal cause." He tore down the ropes that had been erected in his crusade tents and auditoriums to separate whites from blacks. He also refused to speak in some auditoriums where they imposed segregation. He opposed the KKK and even paid the bail to secure Martin Luther King's release from jail. For someone born and raised in the south, this was huge, and very risky on his part, but he kept appealing to a colorblind God.
During the Cold War, he was the first evangelist to do mass evangelism in Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union. In 1973, he held a crusade in South Africa where he openly denounced apartheid. On Sept. 22, 1991, he held largest crusade in the U.S. with over 250,000 in attendance at Central Park in NYC.
I have included a couple of videos of Billy Graham, one is from the same L.A. Crusade where I first heard him and came to Jesus. That same crusade set a record attendance for the Los Angeles Coliseum which still stands today.
The days of mass evangelism in a stadium are over, but there is still a need for men and women who have a passion for the Good News and who walk the talk, not seeking to please men but to please God. For me personally, Billy Graham is number one on my list of "Most Admired" men of the 20th century.
How about you? Who is on your list of "most admired people"? What qualities in them do you admire and why? Let me know who makes YOUR list of "most admired."