Billy Graham and I grew up together.
Not literally, since he’s 22 years older, but in the sense I don’t recall life without Billy Graham and his invitation to get out of your seat, and walk down a literal or spiritual path to follow Jesus. More than once, after watching him, while adjusting the rabbit ears on our black and white television, listening on radio or attending a crusade, I bowed my head, closed my eyes and rededicated my life to live the way Jesus calls me to live.
The hymn, Just As I Am, evokes images of Billy Graham standing behind a pulpit, praying while aisles fill with people drawn to Christ through the simple Gospel message of God’s love and gnawing need to be forgiven and loved just as we are.
Even now, as I recall the lyrics, I’m drawn to Jesus, not to Billy Graham.
“Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!”
In recent years, I’ve become increasingly reticent to be identified with the word evangelical in its politicized and narrowly defined caricatures. However, I am not ashamed of the Gospel preached by Billy Graham. With the exception of a few political missteps, he counseled and pastored the powerful without being hooked by its lures.
Billy’s basic stance espoused a centrist viewpoint, encouraged a desire to listen and learn, to risk and reach across divides, and create middle ground for Christians who shunned the extreme right of the fundamentalists and questioned the muddles of liberalism. I liked this sacred middle ground with room to think, question, listen and learn. Still do.
Perhaps the recent mass killings in Florida and death of Billy Graham give cause to consider our ways. Is God calling Christ-followers to get out of our seats, heads bowed as we move across aisles in Congress, in our churches and families, to be reconciled, to make our way down a literal or spiritual aisle, rededicating ourselves to living out the greatest of the commandments? Jesus commands”Love God and your neighbor (all people), as you love yourself”(Luke 10:25-37) and do what’s required, ” act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”? (Micah 6:8 NIV)
It’s Jesus, not Billy, praying and waiting, while angels and saints sing another verse, offering us second helpings of Grace, inviting us to “Come.”
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