I’m willing to bet my bedside Bible that when Billy Graham ascended to his Heavenly Throne on the morning of February 21, Jesus Himself wrapped the arms that calmed the seas around the greatest saint of our time and whispered, “Welcome home.” Now don’t go get in a big twist -- I have at least a dozen Bibles after the life I’ve lived and the things I’ve done, but there's no chance I’ll lose the wager. That’s what God said to Billy. I know because the great preacher’s youngest daughter Ruth let it slip at this weekend’s huge funeral in Charlotte.
For what it’s worth, last December marked the 61st straight time that Dr.
Graham has been in the Top Ten of “The Most Influential Men in the World” (Gallup poll) and that’s something for a man who was 99 years old this time. In Charlotte the big story is how many are mourning they weren’t among the 13,000 lucky ones who were able to file past his casket at the museum before the funeral.
George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were among those in Charlotte but the big show was in Washington, where he became only the fourth citizen in United States’ history to lie in state in the Capitol Rotundra. The Washington Post reported the line was city blocks long. “You couldn’t see the end of it … and every so often those waiting would sing “Amazing Grace” in different sections of the line.”
Are you getting how powerful this is?
Hundreds of thousands lined the funeral route from Asheville last week but that’s small shrimp after a conservative count of 215 million worshipped with Billy in 185 countries (there are just 195 in the world) and that’s “in person.” An easy billion watched on TV and heard his never-to-be-forgotten voice on their radios. So many adored him the funeral was invitation-only, as much as his family detested leaving anybody out, but “The Canvas Cathedral” – bursting to the gills since 1949 -- could only handle 2,000.
I’ve read a lot about his funeral, this at a time when the J-word (“Jesus”) is never seen or heard in the mainstream media, but I wasn’t there. In an effort to include all I can, I’m going to share some choice excerpts from some who were. The first was part of a brilliant story written by Theoden Janes that was in Sunday’s Charlotte Observer:
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ABOUT ‘BEING STUBBORN, WILLFUL AND SINFUL’
There was even a little improv. Partway through (daughter Anne Graham) Lotz’s address, as she explained how she would read passages of scripture to her father late in his life, wind whipped through the tent, blowing what appeared to be her notes off the lectern. “I don’t need ’em,” she said, laughing. “Those are all Kleenexes.” Then, after a beat: “Well... I may need ’em, actually.”
And if she didn’t, plenty of others did minutes later, when youngest daughter Ruth Graham gave what was arguably the afternoon’s most powerful speech.
It’s one that she admitted to having shared before, often – including in a 2004 book titled “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.” But on this day, it packed an unusually emotional punch.
In describing her parents’ attempts to warn her against rushing into a second marriage, Ruth Graham remembers “being stubborn, willful and sinful.”
“I married this man ... and within 24 hours, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. After five weeks, I fled. I was afraid of him,” said Graham, who has contended he abused her.
As she fought back tears, voice quavering, she continued: “What was I gonna’ say to Daddy? ... I’d been such a failure. What were they gonna’ say to me? ‘We’re tired of foolin’ with you. We told you not to do it. You’ve embarrassed us.’ And let me tell you – you women will understand – you don’t want to embarrass your father.
“You r-e-a-l-l-y don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham.”
Many in the crowd laughed, through tears, with Ruth Graham.
“As I wound myself up the mountain, I rounded the last bend in my father’s driveway, and my father was standing there waiting for me.”
She paused to compose herself.
“As I got out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me and he said, ‘Welcome home.’ There was no shame. There was no blame. There was no condemnation. Just unconditional love. And, you know, my father was not God. But he showed me what God was like that day. When we come to God with our sin, our brokenness, our failure, our pain and our hurt, God says, ‘Welcome home.’
“And that invitation,” she said, smiling again, “is open for you.”
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SOME OF THE VOICES AT THE FUNERAL
“On February the 21st, Heaven came down and took my brother from me. One day, Heaven will come down and take me. And I know what he would want me to say today is, Heaven is coming again and would like to take you also.” – Jean Graham, Billy’s sister.
“The Billy Graham [who] the world saw on television, the Billy Graham [who] the world saw in the big stadiums, was the same Billy Graham [who] we saw at home. There weren’t two Billy Grahams.” – Franklin Graham, Billy’s son.
“My father was F-A-T. He was Faithful, he was Available, and he was Teachable … May we all be that way.” – Nelson Graham, Billy’s son.
“Mr. Graham had a profound and deeply spiritual conviction concerning the word of God. The Bible. He loved the Bible. It governed how he lived and it governed how he died.” – Dr. Don Wilton, Billy’s Pastor
“American people, I thank you in the name of Jesus for standing behind this great man to fulfill the mission which was given to him by God and I do pray that God will bless America for giving the world such a great man as Billy Graham.” – Rev. Sami Dagher of Lebanon
“Thank you for bringing salvation message to our part of the world… Indeed, you have had impact on millions of lives including Kings, and presidents, and vice presidents, and common people around the world.” – Rev. Billy Kim of South Korea
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Boz Tchividjian – one of Graham's grandchildren who all called him "Daddy Bill" – remembered finding his grandfather alone in a New Orleans hotel room after Billy had prayed at a big political convention.
"I knocked on the door. Daddy Bill is in his pajamas, and I never will forget looking out of the corner of my eye on his bed and there you could tell he had been sitting and his Bible was open," he said.
"It was a glimpse of the authentic Billy Graham, that when left alone, if he had the choice of spending time with Jesus or going out spending time with the influential politicians, he chose Jesus. And that memory has always stuck to me, because I left that night feeling a bit convicted but remember leaving going, 'Man, that's the real deal. Lord, help me to know and love You in that way,'" he said.
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When Jean Graham Ford spoke at her older brother’s funeral service, she couldn’t resist this one: “When the president (Trump) saw me today, he said, ‘My goodness, your family has good genes,’ ” said the 85-year-old Ford, Billy Graham’s only surviving sister. “Well, he didn’t know that my name is Jean.”
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THE BEST OF BILLY GRAHAM
NOTE: It is editorially, spiritually and mortally impossible to list “The Best of Billy Graham” but Kayla Root, writing for CBNnews.com, came pretty close over the weekend with this version:
1. "Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God."
2. "My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world."
3. "Do I fear death? No. I look forward to death with great anticipation. I am looking forward to seeing God face to face. And that could happen any day." (Newsweek, July 4, 2005)
4. "When we all reach the end of our earthly journey, we will have just begun."
5. "The Bible says that as long as we are here on Earth, we are strangers in a foreign land. There are enemies to be conquered before we return home. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven."
6. "Heaven doesn't make this life less important; it makes it more important."
7. "Death for the Christian is the doorway to heaven's glory. Because of Christ's resurrection we can joyously say with Paul, 'Where, O death, is your victory?'" (1 Corinthians 15:55)
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Billy Graham wrote a book called “Nearing Home” about seven years ago – this would be at age 92 when the cheap stuff no longer matters -- in which he asks, "What home are you preparing for?"
"Some people spend their lives building ultimate dream homes so they can enjoy their twilight years. Some find themselves exchanging their bank accounts for residence within the gates of a retirement center. Others spend their last days in nursing homes.
“For those of you who do not know Him, choosing your eternal home is the most important decision you will ever make. For the Christian the last mile of the way is a testimony to God's faithfulness, for He said, 'I go to prepare a place for you.'" (John 14:2 NKJV)
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About salvation: "I'm counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I'm not going to Heaven because I've read the Bible, nor because I've preached to a lot of people. I'm going to Heaven because of what Christ did."
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LET’S DO A ‘Q & A’ WITH BILLY GRAHAM
QUESTION: Is there any way I can know—really know—that I am going to go to heaven when I die? I believe in Jesus and have given my life to Him, but I still can't say that I know beyond doubt that I'll go to heaven.
ANSWER: Imagine for a moment that you owed the bank an enormous amount of money—far beyond your ability to repay, even in the best of times. Even if you worked hard the rest of your life, you knew you’d never be able to earn enough to pay this debt—and yet it had to be repaid or you’d lose everything.
Seemingly, your situation was hopeless.
But then suppose the banker’s son came along and befriended you—and not only that, but he offered to pay the debt for you. Would you accept his offer? Of course you would—and if you did, the debt would be canceled forever, and you’d be free from your fears of ever losing your possessions.
This is somewhat similar to what Jesus Christ did for you. You owed God a debt far greater than you could ever repay—a debt caused by sin. And no matter how good you were or how hard you tried, you could never be good enough to erase that debt. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did it for you! By His death on the cross He paid the price for our redemption, and now our sins are forgiven—completely!
The Bible says, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins” (Colossians 2:13). Remember: If you have trusted Christ, He has made you a member of His family forever—and nothing can ever change that. Thank Him right now for His love for you—a love that will never end and will carry you to eternal life in heaven.
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UH, ONE MORE – HOW CAN I (This is me!) GET TO HEAVEN?
STEP ONE -- God loves you and has a plan for you! The Bible says, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” — a complete life full of purpose (John 10:10).
STEP TWO -- Here's the problem: man is sinful and separated from God. We have all done, thought or said bad things, which the Bible calls “sin.” The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The result of sin is death, spiritual separation from God (Romans 6:23). But wait! Here’s the good news:
STEP THREE -- God sent His Son to die for your sins! Jesus died in our place so we could have a relationship with God and be with Him forever. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But it didn’t end with His death on the cross. He rose again and still lives! “Christ died for our sins. … He was buried. … He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).
STEP FOUR -- Would you like to receive God’s forgiveness? We can’t earn salvation; we are saved by God’s grace when we have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. All you have to do is believe you are a sinner, that Christ died for your sins, and ask His forgiveness. Then turn from your sins—that’s called repentance. Jesus Christ knows you and loves you. What matters to Him is the attitude of your heart, your honesty. We suggest saying this prayer to accept Christ as your Savior:
THE PRAYER – “Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen."
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Yes, it is that simple. Why wait?