I came to faith in Jesus, as a young man of 18, in 1960, at a Lutheran Bible School In Los Angles. The Scripture used to help me simply surrender my life to Jesus was Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the inequity of us all.” I saw that my sins had been placed on Jesus. I confessed, opened my heart and surrendered to him.
Since that day I vowed to live my life for Jesus, no matter the consequences. In those early day, I “hung unto Jesus” during adversity both from without from within. Billy Graham was reaching the high of his popularity. His simply, yet powerfully appealing message of “Jesus as the way.” was a beacon for me as I found my way, having been called to become a Lutheran pastor. I went to Fuller Seminary, which Graham helped found, in the Fall of 1966. It was rare for a Lutheran to be at Fuller in those days. But I absorbed what I believed was good “evangelical thought.” I have never changed my perspective.
I personally owe Billy Graham a great deal for being the leading voice of the evangelical movement that was just coming into the main stream of American life when I was a young man. He helped shape a religious culture and expression in which I found a home, allowing me to be a “Jesus Follower,” who believed that the Bible was the final authority on matter of faith and practice.
I wept when I read about Billy Graham’s death. I realized in that moment that I had been privileged to live in an era when “The Evangelical Movement” was shaping our culture and had a voice in the public square. Sadly this is no longer the case. But I give testimony to the fact, that my worldview has not changed. This is why I continue to write this blog. I want men to know that Jesus and his death on cross is the answer to the deepest questions of their lives.
Here are four qualities in Mr. Graham that I have admired for years, challenging me as a man and Pastor.
First, Billy kept “the Main Thing the main thing.” It was always about Jesus. I often wept when I heard him preach, watching the people coming forward to receive Jesus. He was not a eloquent or polished preacher. No, his passion came through when he would point people to Jesus on the cross. That was tonic for my struggling and questioning soul as a Lutheran in a church body that has reservation about conversion.
Secondly, his integrity. I never forgot the story I head from one of Billy’s associates, I think it was T.W Wilson, who worked with him throughout his whole career. He said, “Our job is to keep Billy Graham humble.” I never forgot that story. I knew as man and Pastor I would need men around me to be accountable to for my behavior and beliefs.
Thirdly, Billy’s humility. Don Wilton, who became Billy’s pastor during the last decade of his life, meeting weekly at his home, had this to say about Billy Graham. “Nothing about Mr. Graham, in his demeanor, his touch, his incredible spiritual humility, would in any way cause a feeling of intimidation…Mr. Graham didn’t just say what he said, he lived what he said.” Mr. Graham always gave the glory to God.
Fourthly, his open-mindedness. He was very controversial in wanting his crusades to be integrated, insisted on going to communist countries to preach and was very ecumenical in his outreach. It helped me to be more broad minded.