"Let those who have spiritual ears to hear: HEAR what the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of THE LORD Yeshua, the Lord Jesus Christ is saying to the seven churches..."
This vital message from the heart of Billy Graham near the very end of his life was his final appeal to people all over the world. Spoken on his birthday just four years ago.
RIP, Billy Graham 1918 - 2018
My first encounter with Billy Graham came in the 1961.
I was what you might call a "teenager" but I was in my early teens and I hardly fit the bill. I was at an awkward age but it didn't matter so much at the time because it was a simpler time -- a time when everything wasn't labeled, categorized and pigeonholed.
I saw Billy Graham speak at the old Philadelphia Convention Hall in what is now called university city. Billy Graham had brought his crusade to the City of Brotherly Love and the hall was packed. I was with a group of relatives and we walked quietly into the back of the hall and took seats. We didn't plan on being there. We just happened to be in the area and were curious.
Reverend Graham's sermon had already begun and I never forgot it. I was overwhelmed by the attention that this man commanded and the power he held over his growing flock.
As long as I could remember I've been mesmerized by words, particularly spoken words. On some level, I must have instinctively recognized from an early age just how potent public speaking could be. And, I was drawn to bigger-than-life figures who could touch people's hearts and minds. I was also fascinated by the theatricality of it all -- how dynamic, persuasive speakers performed; how they attracted the audience's attention, held that attention, won the audience over and moved their listeners to think, feel and, above all, act a certain way.. For me, there was a magic to it all and I was spellbound.
Perhaps an hour or more went by but Billy Graham made his audience lose track of time and place. When he was finished, a huge choir sang and people poured forth from the audience to come forward and turn their lives over to Christ.
In the years that followed, I saw Billy Graham many times on television and heard him on the radio. He continued to attract enormous crowds, filling larger and larger venues. This went on even through all the upheaval of the turbulent 1960s and into the rather vacant 1970s and through what some people view as the indulgent 1980s.
More than 30 years passed before I saw Billy Graham again. That was during his 1992 Philadelphia crusade when he filled Veteran's Stadium. This time I took my children, ages 14 and 11 at the time. I wanted them to witness, just as I did, the power of a great speaker with a powerful message -- a moral man, a man of principle, an admirable, towering, iconic public figure.
Once again, Reverend Graham did not disappoint. Yes, at 74 his voice was not quite as strong and his gait and posture were that of an older man. But he remained compelling.
Like many great orators, Billy Graham knew the power of a single, strong, simple message. And he remembered these principles of effective messaging:
1) Always have an overriding theme that unifies your message.
2) Start by making a vital human link with your audience; capture their attention and gain their trust through a recognizable story or anecdote.
3) Include the essence of the theme in your core message that reaches a climax about three-quarters of the way into your remarks.
4) Remember the purpose of your remarks: how you want the audience to think, feel or act when you are finished.
5) Conclude strongly with a call to action.
This was the basic formula that Billy Graham always followed no matter where he was speaking, even as his message took him to the far corners of the world.
He was blessed with a remarkable ability to win followers.
Billy Graham was America's pastor. He was our moral touchstone, guidepost and guardian. His ministry welcomed all and included all.
He came to prominence when we were a more God-fearing nation; when "in God we trust" on our currency really meant something; when "one nation under God" was more than just a phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance; when people dutifully attended religious services weekly; when children began each school day with prayer; when families prayed together and often said grace before meals; when God Bless America wasn't just a song but an oft-repeated phrase as well.
Billy Graham was the real deal. No, he wasn't perfect and he was the first to admit that. But, through it all, he and his ministry remained untarnished and scandal-free. And more than most other religious leaders he not only talked the talk but he actually walked the walk. And he did it day in and day out through the better part of an entire century and into the next one.
Billy Graham was immensely consequential. He brought us together and worked tirelessly to bring out the best in us. He loved and believed in his family, his country and his God.
In this pursuit, he gave his all.
God rest his gentle and mighty soul!