A weekend with Billy Graham

I had the privilege this past weekend of singing in the choir of Billy Graham’s
last New York crusade, and perhaps his last ever. There were services on Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday. Mrs.
Happy
and
I
both
sang at the Friday service (hence the lack of a post for Friday), then I went alone into the scorching heat and oppressive
humidity that surrounded the
Sunday
service, preferring not to have my pregnant wife pass out and fall out of the
stands and fifty feet to the ground.

I was especially looking forward to the Sunday service because the choir would
get to sing Because
He Lives
with the Gaither Vocal Band. That would have an
enormous amount of sentimental value for me, because Bill and Gloria Gaither’s
songs have had a huge impact in my life. The first concert I remember attending
featured The Bill Gaither Trio along with Sandi Patti and Carman. I think it
was at that concert that my parents bought me a vinyl record of the Gaithers
and a group of children singing Gaither songs. I think it was the favorite
record of my childhood, with the possible exception of the soundtrack from The
Muppet Movie
(though that one I had on a cassette tape). Anyway, three
Gaither songs in particular have always had a special place in my heart: I
Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary
, I
Am a Promise
, and Because He Lives. I can’t find any accurate
lyrics for Because He Lives online, or else I would link to them, but this
verse holds an especially powerful meaning for me now:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still, the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He Lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

Sadly, some technical problems prevented us from rehearsing the
song on Sunday, so the entire choir simply sang the chorus in unison. At least
we still got to sing with the GVB, but I felt more like we were singing along
rather than being a part of the performance.

What a thrill it was, though, to sing How Great Thou Art with
George Beverly Shea. Apparently, he introduced that song to America in 1954
when he sang it at a Billy Graham crusade. He has sung that song at every crusade
since, I think. He’s 96 years old, and he can barely walk, but he still sings
the heck out of that hymn. I barely made it through without breaking down into
tears.

As for the Rev. Graham himself, I’m in awe. As I sat in the stands
behind the stage, I thought to myself, "Why would any non-Christian come to
an event like this?" Everything about the services seemed geared toward Christians,
from the hymns and praise music to the prayers and testimonies. He is no longer
even a dynamic speaker. He spoke softly for only 15 minutes on Friday
and 25 minutes on Sunday.
His
messages
were simple
and
plain,
infused
with humor and straight talk. From my perspective, he said nothing life changing
or earth shattering. But nearly 10,000 people claimed that their lives were
changed. I could see nothing remarkable about him. He was not exciting,
or controversial, or even pleasant to look at. He’s nothing but an 86-year-old
Christian who happens to be loved and respected by millions upon millions of
people all
over the world.

After the crusade was over, I saw his interview with Larry King
on CNN, and I think I finally figured out why people respond to him so readily.
It’s all about grace. He has grace in spades,
and he exudes it. Graham’s love for humanity is obvious to all,
and the message he speaks comes from a genuine desire to help people reconnect
to God. He doesn’t make people feel judged, and even when Larry King pressed
him for his stances on divisive political issues, his demeanor made it clear
that issues are not people, and that God loves everyone. Billy Graham is
not the agitator that Jesus was, but I think maybe no one since Jesus has exhibited
so much grace toward humanity.

5 thoughts on “A weekend with Billy Graham

  1. What an experience, Curt! I know of a few folks with less-than-kind opinions of Billy Graham, but I love him. For one thing, he’s the one who finally got through to my grandfather with the message!

    Honestly, Curt, I WOULD have broken down crying. lol I give you a lot of credit. And I’m glad it was such a blessing for you and Mrs. Happy, in so many ways.

  2. That verse will take on a whole new depth of meaning when it is the happy baby you are holding. Please remember to have a clean handkerchief in your pocket for the occasion. If my history is repeated with you, you won’t get over it very quickly. I still haven’t.

  3. Wow! What an experience!
    And “I am a promise”! I remember that from Sunday School! What a blast from the past!
    It’s a shame they don’t sing songs like that anymore.

  4. (I’m bored tonight, and looking for something to do, so I went backwards).

    I never told you that I really loved this post. My current church is kind of bent on singing only very new songs, which is sad for me. Even songs from 5-7 years ago can seem very nostalgic if they ever surface in my church. I think it is a blessing to recognize the heritage left by all the saints who have gone before us. I grew up in a great church and have wonderful memories of love expressed to me by Godly elders (in the sense that they were generations ahead of me, not the position of elder, necessarily).

    I always though Bill Graham was a little boring, but I am so thankful for all he has done. As a child, I read a book by his wife. I don’t remember what it was called at the time, but it was a simple chapter book that shaped my understanding of how the Bible all fits together. Now it is out in a gorgeous picture book called “One Wintry Night,” (Ruth Bell Graham). You should get it and read it to your baby when he gets old enough. My kids have loved it.

  5. I do appreciate Grahams long and faithful service in the gospel preaching. We will all miss him when he no longer will be around, but he has left us all with an inspiring example. He has always been a source of inspiration to me as I try to preach the gospel in my home country of the Faroe Islands. My prayer is that I, by the grace of God, may learn to stay simple and clear in my gospel-preaching, like Billy.

    It was a priviledge to meet Billy at Essen Europe and at the Global Mission in Puert Rico. I had the great joy of beeing one of the interpreters. I never forget the impact he made on me in Puerto Rico, when he, in one of his messages, with his typical voice of authority, before an open camera, said to the whole world: “I proclaime to the whole world to night, that Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.”

    Many good wishes / paul john djurhuus