The Rev. Billy Graham, who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism, becoming a counselor to presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died Wednesday. He was 99.
Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in North Carolina, according spokesman Mark DeMoss.
More than anyone else, Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States. His leadership summits and crusades in more than 185 countries and territories forged powerful global links among conservative Christians, and threw a lifeline to believers in the communist-controlled Eastern bloc. Dubbed “America’s pastor,” he was a confidant to U.S. presidents from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.
In 1983, President Reagan gave Graham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. When the Billy Graham Museum and Library was dedicated in 2007 in Charlotte, former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended.
“When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he’s praying for you, not the president,” Clinton said at the ceremony.
Rev. Graham spoke for more than half a century in front of sold out stadiums literally across the globe. I personally had the privilege of attending one of his many talks when the Billy Graham Crusade came through Minneapolis in 1996. I had attended many sporting events at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome where there was 50,000+ in attendance to see the Twins and 60,000+ for Vikings games. I would estimate that 70,000 crammed into the dome (with 25,000 watching on a big screen outside) on that summer evening in '96! It was one of the most incredible experiences of my lifetime to see literally thousands of individuals responding to Rev. Graham's invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior.
In my observation of Rev. Graham's life, what most struck me was his utter humility. I wrote about that very thing on his 90th birthday back in November 2008.
To me, the most impressive attribute is Graham's genuine humility. Raised on a dairy farm in North Carolina, he has often marveled at how God used a mere farm boy like himself to spread the gospel worldwide. And despite visiting scores of foreign countries, holding more than forty crusades and earning the admiration and respect of eleven U.S. Presidents, at the end of the day Graham still went home to a modest cabin in rural North Carolina.
Luke 12:48 says that to whom much is given, much shall be required. Billy Graham humbly admits he has been blessed exceedingly, abundantly above what he could ever think or ask. As such, he has tirelessly dedicated his life conveying that very message.
The one quote of Rev. Graham's I've seen circulated most frequently today is this:
“Someday 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.”
Can you imagine the reception he received from the literally millions of saints who accepted Jesus into their lives upon hearing a sermon from Rev. Graham? What day of rejoicing that must've been.
Well done, good and faithful servant.