100th birth­day of Dr. Billy Gra­ham

The Weekly Vista - - Opinion - DAVID WILSON

Billy Gra­ham, who was a ma­jor spir­i­tual leader in Amer­ica and through­out the world for six decades, passed away on Feb. 21 at the age of 99.

His 100th birth­day is com­ing up on Nov. 7.

Gra­ham’s preach­ing made quite an im­pres­sion upon many of us, with an es­ti­mated 3.2 mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als mak­ing a com­mit­ment to Chris­tian­ity as a re­sult of his call to “come to Christ” at the con­clu­sion of ev­ery mes­sage.

No one can de­ter­mine how many of those com­mit­ments were gen­uine — none of us can know the ex­act depth or the sin­cer­ity of an­other one’s faith any­way — but 3.2 mil­lion decisions is still a num­ber that, at the very least, sym­bol­izes an in­cred­i­ble im­pact.

From my own child­hood un­til the year 2005, when Gra­ham re­tired, I have fond mem­o­ries of see­ing his mes­sages on tele­vi­sion; and once when I was a teenager, per­haps 15 years old, I got to see him preach in per­son at the Lib­erty Bowl in Mem­phis.

At the con­clu­sion of his mes­sage that even­ing, when hun­dreds of peo­ple were com­ing for­ward, I walked across the foot­ball field in the mid­dle of the sta­dium to get a closer look at Gra­ham. He was a hum­ble ser­vant and never ap­peared to pur­sue the lime­light, but the masses deemed him a celebrity none­the­less.

Rain had started to fall in the Lib­erty Bowl, and I could see Gra­ham — the evan­ge­list who al­ways took his call­ing se­ri­ously — stand­ing mo­tion­less on the plat­form as peo­ple came for­ward.

The rain didn’t dis­tract him from any­thing.

It was a time of de­ci­sion, and Gra­ham’s de­meanor con­veyed that. It was, quite sim­ply, a sa­cred hour that was to be re­spected.

In an­other in­stance, with my grand­par­ents in their home, I re­mem­ber watch­ing Gra­ham de­liver a ser­mon on tele­vi­sion about the tax col­lec­tor named Zac­cha­eus, from the 19th chap­ter of Luke.

“Je­sus is pass­ing by … right now,” Gra­ham said, “and He may never come this way quite like this again.”

He ex­plained clearly that peo­ple have a lim­ited num­ber of op­por­tu­ni­ties in life to con­tem­plate the mean­ing of Chris­tian­ity and to make a de­ci­sion that will be life-chang­ing.

“When will it ever hap­pen again?” he asked. “Je­sus is pass­ing by, and for many of you, it may be the last op­por­tu­nity that you’ll ever have to make cer­tain of your own per­sonal re­la­tion­ship to God.”

(I con­fess that I wasn’t tak­ing notes when I first heard the mes­sage, but I re­cently found the text of it on­line).

Gra­ham ex­plained that there may be ob­sta­cles that keep a per­son from Christ. Zac­cha­eus had his, just as we all do.

He said for some peo­ple the ob­sta­cle is pride. For oth­ers, it might be the de­sire for pos­ses­sions or wealth.

The ser­mon was de­liv­ered in the 1970s, but like so many bi­b­li­cal mes­sages, it re­mains rel­e­vant for each new gen­er­a­tion.

“Ma­te­ri­al­ism has be­come our God in Amer­ica,” Gra­ham said. “The ma­te­ri­al­ism and the tech­nol­ogy we have de­vel­oped has so far out­stripped our moral abil­ity to con­trol it, it is now out of con­trol.”

In one of Gra­ham’s books en­ti­tled “The Chal­lenge, Ser­mons from Madi­son Square Gar­den,” his mes­sage called “Come and Know God” con­cluded this way: “…you should come and make your com­mit­ment to Christ now while the spirit of God is speak­ing. You may never be this close to the king­dom of God again.”

Those words were,

with­out a doubt, im­por­tant to those who con­sid­ered them at that time. And they re­main im­por­tant to any­one who will con­tem­plate them to­day.

And now, as Gra­ham’s 100th birth­day ap­proaches, it is only fit­ting to re­mem­ber the mes­sage of how each of us must grap­ple with our own re­la­tion­ship with God.

In fact, it would be best if the mes­sage was com­mem­o­rated more than the man him­self.

We know that’s how Gra­ham would want it be­cause that is the legacy he left be­hind. He never went any­where to make a mark for him­self, but to de­liver a word of hope for oth­ers.

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