A beautiful day. A flock of robins in the yard, daffodils opening, the maple budding. Everything, mutely speaking of new birth.
Changes, in every direction I look. We are on the cusp from winter to spring.
I think of Billy Graham, long admired by many of us. He recently died. The funeral is today (March 2, 2018). He is now in the presence of the Lord. What a change for him. A new birth for him.
What was it about this man that made him extra special? I look toward the river and see a blue heron looking down, flying further on.
Billy Graham was a sought-after evangelist and led great revivals in America in the 50’s and 60’s, spreading the Word of God any way he could.
When I was 13, I gave my heart to the Lord. I thought long and hard before doing it. I meant it. I wanted all my meanness gone.
When I was 17, I rededicated my life to God, hoping to smooth out my broken, jagged edges. I was hoping for another beginning.
My rededication happened at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Billy Graham was the evangelist.
I recall going with a busload of fun and noisy teenagers from the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home (Bottom’s Baptist Orphanage at the time) where I lived in Monticello. It was just another adventure for some of us.
You never know what might happen on an adventure - usually something good and memorable.
Many evangelists wore red sports coats in those days. Not Billy Graham. If I recall correctly, he wore a black suit. He did not need crimson to hold our attention.
He sounded different from other preachers I’d known. He told the gospel to the common man in a plain way. I remember wishing my daddy could hear what he was saying.
John the Baptizer must have sounded a little like him, calling people to repent.
Billy Graham met people where they were.
His message told how much Jesus loved us. “Jesus came and died for you. He will forgive all your sins and debts, no matter how wicked you think you have been. He loves you and wants to become your Lord and Savior.” That was the gist of it.
I knew plenty about wickedness for a seventeen year old, especially in my thought-life.
This evangelist said we were living as if we were cocky and sure of the next day. Yes, that was me. I always thought I’d get one more chance.
Billy Graham was saying that we needed to come to Jesus tonight. That way God would hear every word when we prayed. That way God would bless our lives. That way heaven would be our home one day.
Then everyone started singing “I Surrender All.” It was a cathedral moment.
I think that’s when I lost it.
Billy Graham invited us to walk all the way down the aisle in that huge football stadium to the green field in front of him. If I went, I thought, I’d never ever find the bus to get home afterwards. Thousands of us sinners were there.
I stalled. So many reasons not to go.
Everyone, on their feet and singing. He wanted us to “step out” and “come down.”
Much to my surprise, I started tromping down those stadium steps with people I did not know. It was a long way to the field. I remember it like yesterday.
Hundreds of us, making our way down the steps toward the field.
Once I got to the field, they separated us into two groups: on his left, those giving their hearts to the Lord for the first time; on his right, those rededicating their lives to the Lord.
Billy Graham led thousands to the Lord that evening. Then he helped hundreds of us rededicate our lives to the Lord.
I had one thought: No one can take this away from me. God is now my Father.
I would tell Him everything. Of course I would. From God, I would hold nothing back.
Thank you, Billy Graham.
P.S. Thank you for sharing anything of your experience with Billy Graham via radio, television, in person. Feel free to share below the photo of the podium.
A podium at Lone Rock Baptist Church in Lone Rock, Arkansas. Photographed by Pat Durmon, March 2018.