A US congressional committee is expected to approve the design for a new Billy Graham statue this fall. According to Christianity Today, the statue will stand at the Capitol in the National Statuary Hall representing North Carolina.
When the statue goes up, perhaps in two years, it will join more than a dozen other monuments to the late evangelist including statues, museums, roads, and plaques. The article notes that “while there is no official tally, Graham appears to be the most memorialized religious leader since John Wesley.”
My surprising encounter with Billy Graham
I will always remember my personal encounter with Dr. Graham.
More than twenty years ago, I led a group from the Dallas–Ft. Worth area to meet with him where he was preaching at an evangelistic event in California. Our purpose was to extend a formal invitation for him to conduct what later became the Metroplex Mission with Billy Graham in 2002. We delivered hundreds of letters of invitation, then I made the presentation on behalf of our organizing group.
Dr. Graham listened quietly, then he asked me why I thought he needed to return to our area to conduct another mission. (He had led an earlier evangelistic crusade to open Texas Stadium in 1971.)
I understood him to be asking why we needed such an outreach event, so I described in detail the spiritual lostness of our region. He listened patiently, then he asked his question more directly: Why did I believe that he could be effective and relevant in our area given his advanced age?
I was surprised if not shocked by his question and will never forget his humility and transparency.
By that time, Dr. Graham had won more people to Jesus than anyone in Christian history. And yet, he took several weeks to pray about our invitation before accepting. Eighteen months later, when the Metroplex Mission was over, attendance records for the stadium were broken and more than eleven thousand people had registered spiritual decisions.
Dr. Graham’s humility was one reason for the remarkable success of our event and of his global ministry. His passion for excellence was another. From the moment our organizing group began meeting until the mission was completed and churches engaged in follow-up with those who attended, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association led our efforts with remarkable effectiveness. Their commitment to excellence in every detail—from marketing and publicity to engagement of churches and community leaders and the events of the mission itself—exceeded anything I had seen before.
This passion for excellence began with Dr. Graham himself and his devotion to being the best he could be to the glory of God. His lifelong passion for personal godliness encompassed every dimension of his life, including his well-known refusal to meet alone with women who were not his wife. Early in their ministry, his team made an accountable commitment to each other regarding personal morality, the handling of finances, and relationships with media and outside groups.
His formula was simple: personal excellence plus spiritual dependence equals ministry that glorifies Jesus and draws the world to him.
What I learned about ministry from Ben and Jerry
This week we’re focusing on ways to help people turn to God who do not believe they need to turn to God. We have discussed the importance of demonstrating personally the transformation we then invite others to experience and of building relational bridges out of compassion rather than condemnation. Today, let’s embrace excellence with dependence.
During our recent travels in Vermont, my wife and I stopped one afternoon at a local Ben & Jerry’s factory. We would disagree with the company founders on nearly every spiritual and cultural issue of the day (their opposition to Israel and support for same-sex marriage are just two examples). Nonetheless, I noted the fact that from the moment we stepped onto the campus, their company mission was displayed everywhere we looked.
One sign proclaimed: “Our Product Mission drives us to make fantastic ice cream—for its own sake. Our Economic Mission asks us to manage our company for sustainable financial growth. Our Social Mission compels us to use our Company in innovative ways to make the world a better place.” A large graphic on one wall presented their social mission in action, urging us to call on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Their excellence brought throngs of people to their factory store, where their missional passion was exhibited for every customer to see.
As we left the campus, I wondered why churches cannot be even more committed to excellence and missional passion. We have the greatest story ever told: the good news of God’s love. We serve the holy God of the universe who deserves our very best every day. If an ice cream company can be so missional, why can’t God’s people be even more focused on our Lord and our calling?
“Help me to put you above all else”
Here’s the difference: human words cannot change human hearts. Nothing that Ben and Jerry’s can inspire us to do will lead lost souls from hell to heaven. Like Billy Graham, we must be as passionately devoted to spiritual dependence as to public excellence.
Jesus was blunt: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, my emphasis). If we will ask Jesus to make us more like himself every day by the power of his Spirit, he will answer our prayer (cf. Romans 8:29). And if we will live and work with excellence in his power for his glory, he will use us to draw those we influence to himself.
We’ll continue tomorrow. For today, we’ll close with this prayer by Scottish minister John Baillie that combines a commitment to excellence and dependence: “Grant that my part in the world’s life today may not be to obscure the splendor of your presence, but rather to make it more plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow men and women.”
To this end, Baillie asked God to “help me to make a stand today . . . for the conservation of the rich traditions of the past [and] for the recognition of new movements of your Spirit in the minds and lives of people today.” He added: “Help me put the attainments of what is true and just and honorable above the enjoyment of present pleasures . . . Help me put you above all else.”
He concluded: “Give me today a heart like [Jesus]: a brave heart, a true heart, a tender heart, a heart with great room in it, a heart fixed on you; for his name’s sake. Amen.”
Will you pray for such a heart today?