When Dr. Jim Denison met Billy Graham

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When Dr. Jim Denison met Billy Graham

July 18, 2022 -


Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman continue the “summer favorites” series. In this episode, they each discuss the most impactful time they met someone and their recent trips to Israel. 

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Show notes: Dr. Denison and Dr. Turman talk about Jim’s most recent experience in Israel and what he learned on this trip (1:03). Then, they talk about their most impactful meetings with heroes of the faith (11:42). For Dr. Denison, it was meeting with Billy Graham, and for Dr. Turman, it was meeting Jim Henry (16:03). 

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts 

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content. 

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church. 


Transcribed by Otter.ai 

Mark Turman  00:07

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman host of today’s conversation sitting down again with Dr. Jim Dennison, cultural apologist and CEO of Denison ministries. How’re you doing, Jim?

Jim Denison  00:19

I’m doing well today, my friend,

Mark Turman  00:20

how are you doing? Great. We are going on with our summer favorites series a little bit and summer for many, if not all people, but for a lot of us. It’s all about travel. It’s about vacation. It’s about different rhythms. It’s about in some ways, meeting new people or reconnecting with people. So we both have had some travel already. You’re recently returned from Israel. Tell us anything you want us to know about what exactly vacation for you. But you lead study tours to Israel on a consistent basis. You’ve been there more than 30 times. As I’ve often heard you say every trip is unique. And what was unique about this one,

Jim Denison  01:01

first of all, it’s hot there.

Mark Turman  01:02


Jim Denison  01:03

who knew that it gets hot in Israel in June? I mean, you know, I should have known that I suppose. So. Yeah, it was terrific experience had a great group that we were with there. We had a pastor and his wife that became very special to me while we were on the trip, as well, and just develop some real terrific friendships that were part of the experience as well. At one particular place, we were actually at Capernaum. And someone had asked me, Why don’t the Jews trust Jesus as the Messiah. So I explained that there’s a suffering servant, and there’s a conquering hero. And Jesus came as a suffering servant when he comes back with the conquering hero, but they want him to be the conquering hero. When they did then the disciples said, Aren’t you now going to restore the Kingdom disrobe. So even then they were wanting that they thought Israel was the suffering servant. And they were expecting a conquering hero. So I was explaining all that. And that’s why the Jews struggle with Jesus as Messiah. And the person that runs our tours, Dr. Mike fanning longtime friend, 40 years, a brilliant guy does all the details on our tours, when it made the point that the Jews were expecting Jesus to be a conquering hero, he made the point so are we that we too, want Jesus to be less a suffering servant, Savior, that a conquering hero genie in the bottle, do what I want you to do when I want you to do it. There. We’re just as susceptible as the Jewish people are to that sort of wish fulfillment, transactional religion. And he’s right. He’s exactly right. 

Mark Turman  02:18

And kind of building on that when we talk about and we talked about being formed into the image of Christ, we want to be made like him, it’s easy for us to then connect the dots to made like him as the conquering hero as opposed to the suffering, sir, exactly. I’d much rather be like him in that way, as opposed to suffering as he did.

Jim Denison  02:39

That’s how health and wealth works. Right? That’s the appeal that, unfortunately, tragically so often made in the name of the gospel. And when Mike said that, that was that was my takeaway. Every time I go to Israel, God says something to me that’s brand new and unique I thought I hadn’t had before. And that was the thought that resonates with me from then until today.

Mark Turman  02:56

And it makes me think of the half verse that I like, in Philippians, where Paul says, I want to be, I want to know him and the fellowship of the resurrection. But then it’s the fellowship of His sufferings. Like, I like the first half of that verse. 

Jim Denison  03:10

I wish he’d stopped right there. 

Mark Turman  03:11

I wish he’d stopped. Right? That’s right. And so yeah, so going places and my wife’s go anywhere we go. In terms of travel, her goal is is to is one of two things sometimes both, she wants to find somebody that she knows in that place. Okay, so she so the first time we went to Israel, she just kept looking around going, I’ve got to bump into somebody here, all the way around the other side of the world, I have to bump into somebody that I already know. So halfway through the trip, we’re going up to Masada, which is a great place to go except in June, by the way except Yeah. Which if you’re from Texas, Masada is the Israel equivalent to up to the Alamo. Exactly. Okay. And incredible story in itself, right? Well, we’re walking into the experience of Masada and down comes the son of our youth minister that we had when we were when we were teenagers, that she babysat this young man when he was a baby. And it just made her trip there yet, somebody like that she could find in Israel completely on a random base. So Judy is known to the world. Yes. And and so that’s her first goal. The second goal is, can I meet somebody knew that would be interesting, which is kind of a segue into what I want us to talk about in this summer favorite series, which is the reality of just how people really do impact and shape our lives in so many deep and profound ways sometimes for bad, but hopefully, most of the time for good. We talk around here a lot about what we talked about and talked about always at my church which is a We always talked at the beginning of a relationship with a new family in our church about the great confession, the great commitment, or the great commandment and the Great Commission. We said that the great confession was to say in your heart and to believe that Jesus is Lord, that’s the, that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God and Peter’s words, that’s a great confession. That’s the moment of salvation, we would talk about that we were talking about. What you often talk about, which is the great commandment Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. And then Jesus has great commission to go in to make disciples of all the nations. Let’s talk a little bit about the the incarnational, personal reality of Christian faith. Let me in let me look back to my own experience in Israel. First time I was in Israel, we got to the Old City. And we were being led by a Jewish guide, who was obviously not Christian, but also was not not practicing in his Jewish faith. That was just his heritage. It’s a very typical thing in Israel, and very wonderful man, very, very knowledgeable. But somebody asked him, Why don’t you believe in Jesus as as Savior and Messiah, I believed him in him obviously, as a historical figure and claimed him very proudly in that way. But basically said God would never stoop to become one of us. He would there’s it was in incomprehensible. The idea of the eternal, perfect holy and living God becoming a personal human being it is incomprehensible. Now he’s right in that, in that is so much at the uniqueness. I can’t remember the scholar who years ago said, if you can, if you can embrace the incarnation, the birth of Christ as God coming into the world, then you can accept everything else that goes with Christianity, it all starts there. Because that’s, that’s, that’s one of the things about Christianity that is profound and unique. And,

Jim Denison  07:08

and staggering. CS Lewis said that if you want to get the hang of the Incarnation, think of how you would like to be made into a slug or a crab. And he makes a point,

Mark Turman  07:18

Again, and makes it pretty clear, as he typically did. Yeah, yeah. And, and, but just the idea, especially around the Incarnation, and around the great commandment that the Bible teaches, in so many profound ways that we are made for relationship. Right. And so that was, that kind of brings me to another reason that I wanted to have this conversation with you, which is We are primarily a digital ministry, we, we are trying to encourage and equip Christians to live biblically in the world that we find ourselves in the culture that we find ourselves in. And we provide most of that much of that through a digital mechanism. And that’s something that our world is more and more accustomed to all the time. I’m a little bit concerned, not a little bit concerned, significant concerned about what it means to become what I would call a digital Phantom, that we are a part of people’s lives only through a screen or through the audio that they take in. And this personal incarnational reality is not something that you and I get to experience through this ministry in the way that we did when we pastored local churches, and we were with people all the time. We see that in our culture, where we talk about people, the one of the dangers of technology, your phone, your laptop, your screen, whatever the case might be. You can be in a room with people but not really with them. And you’re not present in their lives, even though you’re physically in the room. Technology takes you somewhere else.

Jim Denison  09:04

We’ve all seen that. And we’ve all said we’re in the backseat texting each other right. And we’ve

Mark Turman  09:09

all probably been guilty of it probably as well as victimized by it.

Jim Denison  09:14

Keep talking. Let me check my email here. Yeah, exactly.

Mark Turman  09:17

Excuse me while I look. Yeah, I’m listening while I look at my phone, and I’m taking in the news or my favorite drama series or comedian, whatever the case might be. The ability to do that in our day is like none other. But life is about relationships. How could you have had the experience with Dr. Fanning if you had not been with him? When he said what he said, Sure. And this idea that God didn’t send a billboard he didn’t send a tweet he sent himself and the very personal nature and I think I think our worlds coming around to that and I do that we love Technology, we’re grateful for what technology is. But a lot of what we’re experiencing in our world today is the recognition of the limits of technology.

Jim Denison  10:07

So means to an end at best right now.

Mark Turman  10:09

think we’re understanding and people are experiencing that on a personal level at home, they’re experiencing on a work level with a big, big conversation in this new world, on the side of the, of the pandemic, about work at home, being in a facility, those kinds of things. So P churches are seeing this as well, you know, yeah. Yeah, big conversations in the church world about whether or not virtual worship is a thing? Is it even worship? Is it? Is it worship? And is it going to be permanent? And how do we understand all of that, right? So let’s talk about people and talking about people that have really impacted our lives. And I would tell people at my church on a regular basis, Hey, be open to everybody, because the next person you meet, could be your next best lifelong friend, the next person you meet, could be the person that you want to travel the world with, as an individual, or as couples together, it could be the, that could be the person who will be standing with you, when you take your last breath. It could be somebody you already know. But it could be the next person you meet. You never know. And that’s the beauty and the power and the excitement of relationship. So we could talk a lot about the impact of our wives, and of our parents of our children, and of course, our grandchildren. Would Yeah, that would be a podcast, right? All of it, too. It’s and it should be, and it should be. But let’s, let’s set those aside as special category. Are you sure? And let’s talk about.

Jim Denison  11:39

I mentioned my grandchildren before, Have I mentioned that I have four? Perfect,

Mark Turman  11:42

perfect. Yes, yeah. Yeah. What’s the most perfect thing about them? The fact that they’re my grandkids? Yes. And that’s the great part about summer as well is the things we spoil them and return them. And just so I can kind of give you a little bit. I am going to see my grandchildren next week, as am I. So there? Yeah, I guess we’re equal on that. Right? Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk about people that we have encountered, could be as recent as yesterday. But people that we’ve encountered and I want to break this down into three brief categories. And I guess my goal is is twofold. One is, is I want us to be present with people, I think is theologically Biblically sound, I think it’s we’ve talked about it with different guests on our podcast, reweaving, community and culture. And doing that right outside your front door, sometimes inside your front door, but right outside your front door, that the biggest influence we can make as believers. And to be salt in light is oftentimes right out our own front door with our neighbors, with our co workers with with our friends, old and new. So let’s talk about people that may have encountered that we may have encountered. And first category is somebody that you and I have encountered very briefly, maybe one time we were with them, or maybe two times. But that encounter was significant in shaping us in some way. Have you had somebody that you’ve had that experience with?

Jim Denison  13:15

Well, the first name that comes to mind is Billy Graham. Okay. So way back in the day back in the early 2000s, I was on a steering group that came together to invite Billy Graham to come to the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex for what became the Metroplex mission with Billy Graham. And so there comes a time long story short, where you actually make the presentation to him. We had 800 letters of invitation that we had gathered together. We’ve been working on this for a number of months, I got to be on the little group that flew out to Fresno, California, where he was preaching. He was doing a mission there in Bulldog Stadium, Fresno State. He had broken his foot the night before getting up to change the thermostat. So when we came in, he was in the locker room at the base down in the stadium, in kind of a green room of sorts. He had his foot and walking cast, it was up on the table. He had his notes in front of him and he was sipping water when the four of us were ushered in. To make the actual formal presentation I was actually asked to lead the process of doing this. I obviously had never met Billy Graham before then I’d been at stadium events with and let’s see them on television, I’d read his work I was marvelously just so great. So grateful, obviously for who he was and what he was. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the experience for his eyes, and the holiness of that moment with him. And then a part of that I bring to the room expecting that I mean, it is Billy Graham, after all, but I wasn’t coming thinking in those terms. When we walked in, he’s frail, he was elderly foot in the walking cast. We sat down, he was very gracious. He shook our hands we all sit down. Then he fixed his attention on me as I started to make the presentation and mark those eyes, those blue eyes. It was like he was seeing into my soul. And I sensed in His presence. presence of God. In a way I don’t believe I came expecting his humility in that moment. After we made the presentation, he asked me well, why did I believe that we needed to have this event? And so I thought he was asking, why did the Metroplex need event like this? So I explained the lostness of our community and the numbers and all of that, he let me do that. And then he said, Well, no, really, my question is, why would someone of my age with my infirmities be effective? In Dallas, do you think? Here’s the person that has led more people to Christ than anyone in human history, asking, if we thought he could actually be effective. That was the humility of his heart, he actually prayed for six weeks before he accepted our invitation. It turned out to be at that point, the largest response numerically and financially that had in the United States, with the humility of his heart, and the godliness, the holiness of His presence. So the only time I was ever in his presence directly, and it marked me, it’s been more than 20 years. And I remember like it was yesterday.

Mark Turman  16:03

Wow. And I like just like said just to, since that holiness, and that humility, all wrapped up just in that, that brief encounter, you just gotta love that. What about you, I had an experience, a twofold experience. That was the second part of it was actually renewed yesterday. That’s how fresh this is. So I’m fresh in from California, big meeting of our denomination that I was part of went out to, part of it was to just to meet people was a primary purpose of going out there and to meet some new people that we can hopefully do some things in ministry with, but also to reconnect with some people. But while I was there, I was just about to leave for the airport to come back yesterday, and was in a small reception room with a friend of mine. And this rather short, elderly, somewhat elderly man walked by and he said, you know who that is? I said, I didn’t really pay attention. He said, That’s Jim Henry. Oh, the longtime Packers fan, just throw that. Orlando first time I met. Jim Henry was four or five years ago, a fellow a mutual friend of ours. Put a put together a gathering of about six or 10. Pastors, we would get together once a year. And just talk about what it means to lead churches and what we were learning what we were struggling with. It was therapy on multiple levels that struggles, I’m sure no struggles at all that you know, pastoring sis and Cakewalk all the time. That’s right. But we would get together over spring. And so my friend who led this group, knew Dr. Henry and had worked with him in pass and said, and so said to us, let’s go to Florida. And we’ll meet at the First Baptist Church of Orlando, and who doesn’t want to go to Orlando. And so sorry, you had to do that. I’ll see if Jim Henry will spend some time with us. We happened to show up at the at a time when there was a large church growth conference going on at this church. So the campus was full of pastors. Oh, so we weren’t a part of that. Okay, a couple of 1000. Church leaders in the sanctuary learning and growing, having some amazing time. We were just in a small little room, having your own club, having our own little small conversation, and spent the morning with Jim Henry. Wow. And was just absolutely certain we did better than the guys that were in the big room. Okay. You’ve Absolutely I don’t know how you couldn’t have. But when we when we met him when I met him for the first time. He was in a season of his life, where he was still preaching. But he had gone back to preaching Sunday morning at the original location of the church in downtown Orlando, not at the campus that he had helped to construct that we were meeting in. His wife was in a state of advanced illness and Alzheimer’s and he was her primary caregiver. And he talked a lot about what it meant to live out his vows. In this season of his life, and the joy he had not only of caring for her in this journey, but also the journey, the joy of going back to the original location of the church, and what that meant for him. So it was just this marvelous five hour experience of conversation where we just let him talk, we asked him questions about what it meant. And I had never known him except by reputation until that moment. And and then when it was over, we broke for lunch. He left the room ahead of us and then we stayed for a while for a few minutes to figure out what we’re going to do for lunch. And the big conference was all So breaking up for lunch at that time, and people were scattering all over the campus and eventually all over town. Well, we walked out. And Jim Henry was sitting on a bench in front of a small chapel that’s also on the campus. And there are church leaders literally all moving all around him. And no one recognized who he was. and the 10 of us as we walked by, we all took a mental snapshot, that perhaps the greatest pastor in the country or in the state, for sure, is sitting right here by himself. And none of these younger church leaders recognize who’s in their midst. They’ve been meeting in a building he built in a building that he built. So anyway, so yesterday, I’m in this meeting and California bout to come home, sitting in this small little reception room with no more than six or eight people in the room scattered all around having their own conversations he walks in, completely unannounced and an unexploited. My friend says to me, that’s Jim Henry. And he spoke to him. And Jim Hindery came over and engaged with us. We talked about that meeting four or five years ago, we talked about our mutual friend who’s now in heaven. And when he walked away after being with us for a few minutes, my friend said, You didn’t notice the difference, right? I said, What was the difference? He said, unlike a lot of people who were in that convention hall that we were in, who smile at you come over, shake your hand, but their feet never stopped moving. Jim Henry turned fully toward us, came and spoke to us, and was fully present with us. That’s the difference. And I won’t, I won’t forget yesterday, and I haven’t ever forgotten what happened four or five years ago, when I first met him.

Jim Denison  22:00

I know we need to close this. And maybe we can pick up in the next one. Yeah, and talk about more long term relationships and kind of maybe do a two part we’ll do a sequel here. We’ll do a sequel, we’re gonna have a cliffhanger.

Mark Turman  22:11

Yeah, we’ve already had Top Gun two. So we might as well have a sequel two, three, exactly.

Jim Denison  22:15

Yeah, let’s see how that goes for us. But I love the fact of being present where you’re present. You know, and the greater a person is, the more humble they are. In my experience, the old saying is the closer you get to God, the further away you realize you are. And Jim Henry is at a place where he has nothing to prove to anybody, no place he has to be. And so we can be where God calls him to be right. And isn’t that a model for us? You know, what a model at this point in his life to be able to be that present in that moment. And Billy Graham was that way with us. I mean, here he is getting ready to go up and preach in this state. And he gave us as much time as we want it is the folks that were running the schedule actually had to finally come in and end our meeting, right, you know, so that he could get ready for what he was going to go do next. But he just was so in that moment with us. With all of us, all four of us. He asked each of us our stories. He wanted to know our backgrounds. He wanted to know what we were doing in our lives and our ministries. And he turned to each of us as he turned to me, he locked on each of us and He ministered to us in that moment. He was present to us in that moment. In a way that made me realize if the greatest evangelist in history can do that. Why can’t I do that? Right? Why can’t Why am I too important? You know, Sarah Hill, I guess, Battle Hymn of the Republic. Author, if I have the story, right, I wrote to the President, whoever it was with him, she had a relationship and mentioned to ask his help for some need that she was worth. And he wrote back and said that as President, he was too busy to care about the needs of individuals, to what she wrote back and said, Well, that’s remarkable. Even God isn’t that busy? Wow. Well, if God isn’t that busy, and Billy Graham isn’t that busy? And Jim Henry, isn’t that busy? Maybe we’re not that busy. Either. We just think we are

Mark Turman  23:58

That’s a good word reminds me. We’re both CS Lewis fans. Reminds me of this quote that he is known for “you’ve never met a mere human being right.” There’s no There’s there’s no such thing. That’s right. So be present where you’re present be with the people that you’re with. Technology is great. Distraction is real. Yes. Be Jim Henry, turn your feet toward the people that God puts in front of you. It could be your next best lifelong friend. Right. And you could be there’s

Jim Denison  24:32

he had no idea where we’ll be talking about him today. Exactly. Who knows who will be touched because of how he touched you. Right on the other side of this.

Mark Turman  24:39

Yeah. Which is perhaps a good closing challenge for us is today, if you’re listening to this podcast, when you listen to this podcast, think about the people that you’re with, think about the people that you’ve been with today or that you will be with the rest of this day or this week or on your summer vacation and look for ways under the Spirit of God to be fully present with them for how that might be redemptive both for you and for them. You’re there for a reason. You’re there for a reason. Have a great day. Thank you for listening to our podcast. We’ll see you again soon.

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