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“Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8)

February 21, 2018 was the date that William Franklin Graham Jr. entered his eternal home. Known simply as Billy Graham, the man who came to be referred to as ‘America’s Pastor’ was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Graham has been credited with preaching to more individuals than anyone else in history, not counting the additional audience he addressed through radio, television and the written word, resulting in leading uncountable millions to Christ. Graham’s preaching ministry first gained national prominence in 1949 when he held a crusade in downtown Los Angeles under a large white tent, termed a “canvas cathedral.”  He was the most prominent evangelist of the twentieth century, providing spiritual counsel for twelve consecutive Presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He has been rated by the Gallup organization as “One of the Ten Most Admired Men in the World” a staggering 51 times, more than any other individual in history. Billy Graham will finish the same way he started – under a large white tent in front of thousands of people in funeral remembrances by family and friends.

On the day that he died, his death was lost to some due to the other prominent news stories of the day. While many famous individuals acknowledged his passing, the opportunity for criticism was not unrestrained. One national headline read “Divorce, drugs, drinking: Billy Graham’s children and their absent father.” Graham recognized the imperfections of himself and his loved ones, acknowledging in later life that he wished he would have been able to spend more time with his family. He was strongly led by his conviction to evangelism. As people came forward during his crusades to the customary singing of “Just as I Am” – he made it abundantly clear that they were not doing it for Billy Graham but that they were giving their life to Christ. He once said, “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” He was never surprised by the words of his critics. He just kept his eye on the ‘heavenly prize’ (Philippians 3:14).

Jesus said that those who followed Him would subject themselves to criticism, even persecution. In the Sermon on the Mount, He proclaimed: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). He told His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves . . . You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:16, 22). If we choose to allow Jesus to direct our life, then we will no doubt face some type of persecution during our time on this earth. Social exclusion and insult from other individuals, however, will not turn off the growing Christian. For when we come to understand God’s reasons for allowing persecution, we not only expect it but are also willing to suffer because we understand who holds us. Reverend Graham put it this way, “The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”

Upon hearing about Billy Graham’s passing, former Governor Mike Huckabee stated: “While the critics came and went, Billy Graham never turned to the right or left, but kept his eye on the Cross,” Huckabee said. “His influence was bigger than any of the people who temporarily held an office or had a fortune. His power was never his, but that of Christ, and his fortune was massive, but not on earth, but stored in the incorruptible vaults of heaven. ” Reverend Graham once adapted and personalized a line from another well-respected evangelist from the nineteenth century, D.L. Moody. That thought – “Someday 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.” If we follow his lead, we too will be blessed to share that same address when our time here has come to an end.

REFLECTION: Have there been times in your life when you have faced criticism because of your Christian beliefs?  How did you respond, and how might you respond differently in the future?  In light of the promise of eternity, what type of persecution are you willing to bear in this lifetime?



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