Age has taken a toll on Billy Graham’s body, but not on his mind, not on his heart and certainly not on his passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the months leading up to his 95th birthday on Nov. 7, he periodically sat before cameras in his Montreat, N.C., home with his friend and pastor Don Wilton to tape the My Hope With Billy Graham message he believes is critical for the nation to hear and heed.
“There is only one message in any generation and in all times, and that message is Jesus,” Mr. Graham said in one of the sessions.
The My Hope program, titled The Cross, will be nationally and regionally televised and reproduced on DVDs. Thousands of believers will invite friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers into their homes to view the program and to share their personal testimonies in the hope that many will come to a saving faith in Christ.
“I think it’s one of the greatest ideas for evangelism in my lifetime,” Mr. Graham said. “I think the Lord is going to use this in a marvelous way, and I hope everybody will join in.”
Bob Coy, pastor at Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., requested copies of the DVDs so members of his congregation could use them to share the Gospel with others.
“I think it’s the ultimate example of Billy truly making evangelistic disciples,” Coy said recently while at The Cove. “What better declaration of someone’s drive to evangelize than to create a tool the next generation of evangelists can use to actually do the ministry?
“It’s nice to have a chance when we can say, ‘This is who Billy is, this is who Billy was, and this is who Billy will always be.'”
Preston Parrish, BGEA vice president of My Hope, said the greatest tribute anyone could pay to Mr. Graham would be to share the Gospel so someone else could come to faith.
Wilton, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., sat directly in front of Mr. Graham for each of the tapings, conversationally interviewing him. There were times, however, when Mr. Graham simply got on a preaching roll.
“I cannot tell you the number of times I would ask him not to look at me, but to look into a specific camera over one of my shoulders and speak to America,” Wilton said. “It was during those times that incredible spiritual moments happened. He would just simply be in the zone. It was like he was in a Crusade, like he was standing in Wembley Stadium, Madison Square Garden or the (Los Angeles Memorial) Coliseum.
“He would just take over, and I would sink back into my chair. When he was through, there was just this silence in the room. It was a wonderful spiritual encounter of the highest order—for me, probably the most unique I’ve ever had in my life and ministry.”
In the first taping, Wilton asked Mr. Graham if there are any people who don’t need to repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life.
“No—no exceptions,” Mr. Graham responded, echoing the Bible that he considers wholly true and authoritative. “(There’s) no one in the whole world (who) doesn’t need the Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him, we’re lost.”
Wilton routinely arrived at Mr. Graham’s home in the morning and was met there by a BGEA media team setting up the living room for the taping. Wilton visited with Mr. Graham in his study. They would talk, drink coffee or tea, and pray while holding one another’s hands.
Mr. Graham’s eyes would light up when he entered the living room. He’d greet each person and express his gratitude. His sense of humor surfaced regularly, such as when a little bit of television touch-up makeup was applied to his face. Almost invariably, he’d say Wilton was the person who needed it most.
Mr. Graham has wanted to preach again for the past several years, but his physical condition prevented him from doing so in the traditional sense. He was thrilled when Franklin Graham, his son and BGEA president, suggested recording a message for broadcast and mass distribution on DVDs.
“It put a sparkle in his eyes,” said Billy’s sister, Jean Graham Ford. “He knows he might reach more people at this particular moment than he has in his whole life. It’s kind of mind-boggling to him.”
Mr. Graham has preached the Gospel to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. His last Crusade was in June 2005 in New York City, when 1,424 churches participated.
More than 25,000 U.S. and Canadian churches were partnering with BGEA for My Hope With Billy Graham as of early October.
In conjunction with the effort, Mr. Graham released his latest book in October, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation. An accompanying musical CD also was released featuring some of the top contemporary Christian artists, including Michael W. Smith.
Smith, who sang at numerous Billy Graham Crusades and is a close friend of the evangelist, said of My Hope: “This is history, big-time, in the making … [It] feels like a little spark that’s going to turn into a big ol’ fire. … I hope, at 95, it’s as invigorating [to Mr. Graham] as it was when he preached his first message.”
Only the Lord knows whether Mr. Graham will have more opportunities to widely communicate the Gospel, but My Hope is like a climactic crescendo to his nearly seven decades of ministry, which has been steeped in humility, integrity and fruitfulness.
To this day, Mr. Graham deflects personal praise by pointing toward Heaven, or by waving off a comment and changing the subject whenever someone speaks of his fame and influence.
He still keeps open Bibles in various locations around his home. For months, he had the same Scripture verse positioned on walls, on his phone, in the kitchen and in the bedroom: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14, KJV).
Guests who visit Mr. Graham are overcome sometimes by what only can be described as the presence of God.
“If I told you some of the names of the people we’ve taken up there who literally have not been able to talk, you would be amazed,” said Ford, Billy’s sister. “When they walk in the room, men and women start crying. There is something that glows about him.”
Coy said it’s the light of Christ emanating from a man on a mission that’s not his own.
“God honors honor,” Coy said. “Billy has done his best to honor God, and God is still honoring Billy. How does God honor a man who has honored Him? It’s with anointing.”
Now, as always, what matters most to Mr. Graham is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. “That causes me to applaud in my heart all the time,” he said.
He finds himself caught between two worlds, still inspired about reaching others, yet longing for Heaven.
He held nothing back in the video tapings, hoping to spark revival in a nation in tremendous moral decline.
“God has burdened my heart to use my energy that I have left to share this important message with you,” Mr. Graham said. “I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross. Not the cross that hangs on a wall or as jewelry around someone’s neck, but the real cross of Christ. His was a rugged cross. It’s scarred and bloodstained.
“I know that many will react to [this] message and many will be offended. But it is the truth, and with all my heart I want to leave you with truth.
“The cross is offensive because it confronts people. People don’t want to hear that they are sinners … It’s a confrontation that all of us must face. So I’ve prayed about this message. This is God’s message for you. This is His hope. This is my hope. This is your hope. I am praying for you today.”
Millions over the years have taken hold of that hope in response to Mr. Graham’s invitations, yet he is not satisfied.
Not as long as there is one lost person left on earth. Not as long as he is left on earth.