What a Glorious Day — My Friend Billy Graham’s Homegoing
In the above picture you see Betty and me having lunch with Billy Graham in his home in Montreat, North Carolina. His daughter Ruth (named after her mother who went to be with the Lord in 2007) had asked us to come visit Dad. She said, “James, you know how much he loves you and Betty and it’s difficult for him to hear, but your voice is strong and he’ll be able to hear you well. You will be such an encouragement to him.”
What a joy it was to be with Billy. He shared several times that day how anxious he was to go to be with his wife Ruth and the Lord Jesus. He was ready to go!
This morning when I texted a message of comfort to his daughter Ruth, she responded with this text: “It’s a glorious day! He (Dad) is seeing Jesus and my mother!”
Indeed, he is! He is experiencing the eternal life found only through the Christ and the Cross he preached faithfully for over 75 years.
This is the kind of man Billy Graham was. Not just a powerful, famous preacher, but an individual who cared deeply about others.
Why Would He Take an Interest in Me?
I am grateful to say that I not only knew Billy Graham and the power of his message and ministry, but he was indeed my very good friend. He took an interest in me during that first year Betty and I were married 55 years ago. He actually helped set up our evangelistic association as a 501c3 that he said would be essential for me to have as the ministry grew.
I was still only a teenager. Often I wondered, “Why would he take such an interest in me?”
I had the privilege of visiting with him many times. Over and over he said, “James, God has anointed you. He has given you a gift. I will be praying for you.” This is the kind of man Billy Graham was. I not only knew him as a powerful, very famous preacher, but as an individual who cared deeply about others.
The Prodigal Teen
In my early 20’s, Billy asked me to witness to his teenage son Franklin who at that time was rebelling against God.
Franklin attended Letourneau College and I was attending what is now East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, only 20 minutes away from Longview. I made many appointments with Franklin to go fishing or hunting so I could talk with him about Jesus. Every time, he failed to meet me at the agreed time.
A few years later when I was in my early 30’s, Billy and I played golf together. Out on the course, Billy shared some joyful news. While overseas, Franklin had given his life to Christ. What a miracle it was!
And what a miracle Franklin’s ministry has become.
The Life-Changing Lesson
Billy would call often and ask me to pray with him about getting pastors together in a more cooperative spirit, especially in the Bible Belt. I said, “Yes, it seems to be difficult sometimes to get them to come together in supernatural unity, even for evangelism.” He said, “It breaks my heart.”
Interestingly, I had become a very forceful preacher who in a way added to some of the dissension and division among believers. I found myself targeting individuals or groups who simply didn’t agree with our “Baptist point of view.”
I called Billy on one occasion and scolded him for cooperating with so many different Christian groups. He said something to me then that led to an amazing change in my life.
He said, “Do you know these Christians you are telling me to avoid?” I said, “No I don’t.” He said, “Well I do, and I have found them to be in love with Jesus.” And then the sentence that triggered what I believe was a miraculous and very important change. He said, “I suggest you spend time with those you’ve been taught to avoid.”
I did it. This Baptist evangelist began to spend time with Pentecostals and Charismatics, and even went to some of them and asked forgiveness for the unkind way I might have addressed some of the differences we seemed to have.
The miracle? Not only were those individuals I befriended impacted by the fact I came at Billy’s suggestion, but I was impacted. Iron began to sharpen iron. Essential friction took place with the powerful aid of Holy Spirit oil.
Today, I am watching major church leaders from various denominational groups come together in supernatural unity, praying for the great awakening we must witness.
Billy Graham was used of God to birth that in my heart.
The Towering Example of Humility and Meekness … and Principle
Billy walked in such great humility that I used him numerous times as an example when meeting with national, world and church leaders as a perfect illustration of humility and meekness. He’s the preacher who preached to more people than anyone in history. Without a doubt — apart from the New Testament apostles and a few leaders in church history — he is as famous and influential as any preacher who ever lived. Yet, he walked his long road in total humility until he went to be with the Lord this morning.
I think it’s important to know, however, that although Billy was non-partisan politically, he was very principled and he held high a biblical worldview that I think is critical to the survival of freedom. He agreed it was critical as well.
I’ve detailed on several different occasions a prayer meeting called by Billy in 1979 that I believe impacted the course of history and gave freedom in America an extension. I share that in detail in the book Living Amazed. (pages 135-140)
Everyone Who Heard Billy Graham Heard the Gospel
When God spoke to Billy — and, yes, that’s the exact terminology he used — numerous times he’d call me and say, “James, the Lord spoke to me. God told me…” And what he shared impacted history in a dynamic, profound and transforming way.
Everyone who ever heard Billy Graham heard the Gospel. Everyone who knew Billy Graham saw the good news of the Gospel demonstrated through his life, his character and consistent commitment to the Cross.
In my last visit with Billy, he made it very clear that Christ is our hope and that repentance is essential for the necessary spiritual awakening. He lived until he left us excited about seeing Jesus at His return or at his own homecoming which he was blessed to experience early this morning.
Thank You for Being a Blessing
I know you join me praying comfort for the Graham family. But you can rest assured they are rejoicing because they know exactly where their father is. He and his wife Ruth are rejoicing together in the presence of our Lord and heavenly Father!
I have an idea Robin (our daughter) is going to find a way to Billy and say, “Sir, thank you for being such a blessing to my daddy and our family.”