Billy Graham turns 93 years old today. I have been thinking about him because I used a clip of him preaching in 1949 in the worship gatherings at Vintage Faith Church this past Sunday.
We are in a 14 week series going through historical doctrines of the Christian faith and this past Sunday was the doctrine of "salvation". In the beginning of the sermon I showed the film clip of Billy Graham and shared how he is passionate about seeing people put faith in Jesus. I also had the spirit of Scot McKnight lingering with me the whole time (The King Jesus Gospel) so I explained how the gospel is not just personal salvation. But I very clearly said upfront that at the end of the sermon I will be walking through a prayer of commitment of putting ones faith in Jesus for those who never have before. I said it was "get saved" Sunday and explained how people have used the word "saved" etc. I was very clear that as a church we aren't about making decisions but disciples and that is what this series is even about with the deepening of understanding theology and Jesus. All our mid-week community groups are studying through the book of Romans right now too.
At the end of the message after teaching through the meaning of biblical words such as justification, reconciliation, propitiation and others about salvation – I explained how at a Billy Graham meeting people all come forward, but we aren't doing that here. I did walk through a prayer and said if you want to let me know you put faith in Jesus today and weren't a Christian before – that I will hang out up front. So it was a joy to have people at each worship gathering come up to let me know. From high school students to older adults. I can't describe the joy of knowing people who weren't followers of Jesus are now entering into a faith trusting relationship with Him. Never believe that people are not open to knowing Jesus and putting faith in Him. Even in more progressive, liberal towns like ours to conservative Bible-belt towns who also need to hear the message. God's Spirit can melt anyone's heart and we just need to be faithful to share the truth of who Jesus is.
I also in the message shared how I once got to go to see BIlly Graham speak when I was young adult pastor. And we took a bus of young adults to San Francisco to see him and when we got there it was totally full and they closed anyone coming into the actual building but set up video outside. I then joked (but I actually did this) and said I refused to watch Billy on video as this likely would be my only chance to see him – so I abandoned the young adult group in the video area and actually ran right past the grandparent older couple who were the volunteers guarding the entry from people coming into the building (still feel bad about that). So I illegally ran past the grandparent guards and went inside to watch Billy preach in person. When he gave the altar call, I even walked down into the front area where people were praying to trust in Jesus to be there amongst those moments. I don't cry at movies rarely ever, but I doget emotional and cry every time I see on TV when Billy Graham would give an altar call or know people trust in Jesus. Maybe I cry when I hear Michael Jackson sing the song "Ben" too. But that's another topic.
I know we have learned a lot about the weaknesses of mass evangelism, or the over emphasis we have put on "saying the prayer to go to heaven" and all that. But I am so thankful to Billy and his example of being passionate for people to know Jesus. Today I head to Monterey to speak at the "Organic Outreach Conference" which focuses on evangelism. And so thrilled to around people the next couple of days whom are rethinking what that means for today.
I just know there is such joy of seeing people put faith in Jesus like this past Sunday. And Happy Birthday Billy Graham and thank you for your life and example and also not embarassing the rest of us being the major Christian public figure that you have been. You have served well and inspired so many of us to never forget the importance of evangelism.