Few of us know how to end it gracefully or get out while we're ahead.
Three cheers for Billy Graham who is about to do both. The most famous living Protestant minister has announced that his crusade in New York will probably be his last. He says he carefully avoids using the word "never" when following the Lord's command, but as of now he says this will be his final appearance in a crusade. I just hate the word crusade. But good for you, Billy. You done good, son.
A quote often attributed to Gandhi is, "Christianity is a wonderful idea. I wish someone would try it." While the rest of Christiandom has done its best to give the faith a black eye through bloody crusades and political party affiliations, a few Thomas Aquinasas, Mother Theresas and Billy Grahams have continued to set the gold standard for following a life devoted to Christ's teachings.
Graham is a son of North Carolina farmers and to hear him speak, even today, you might mistake the graying statesman of the Lord as the fellow on the next farm over. I watched a good many Graham crusades over the years and when he left the platform there was never any doubt about what he meant to say. His language is plain, softened by gently Carolina draw, and his eyes always speak of his personal truth.
Billy has one remarkable trait that sets him apart from most that profess to follow Christian teachings: HE ADMITS HIS MISTAKES. In recent interviews he's said that he regrets the few times he's strayed too far into the political pastures, and his biggest regrets not jumping into the civil rights movement more quickly. Even though he demanded integrated seating at his crusades a full year before the Supreme Court's desegregation rulings, he said, "I think I made a mistake when I didn't go to Selma" with many clergy who joined the Alabama civil rights march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I would like to have done more."
Even on the verge of death, Billy's mind did not rush to his many accomplishments. Four years ago he was at the Mayo Clinic, about to have a brain shut implanted. He said, "I thought I was dying. The doctor wasn't sure whether I was or not, but late at night I knew that that was the end. At least I thought it was. And I prayed and all of a sudden all my sins throughout my life came into my mind. And I asked the Lord to forgive me and I had the greatest peace that I've ever had, and that peace has never left me, because I put it all in the name of Christ."
To me, a man's humility is a pretty sure indication of character. I've noticed that each of Billy's crusades follow a similar pattern: a massed choir sings, a celebrity gives a testimony, then the soloist comes forward for a final song before Dr. Graham's appearance. Each portion of the event is announced and the crowd applauds. But when it comes time for Billy to mount the podium, there is no announcement. No applause. He tends to sneak behind the microphone before anyone sees him coming, and he begins to speak. He puts the focus on his subject matter before the audience has a chance to focus on him.
Compare that to the entertainers who refuse to go onstage without the proper flowers, backstage refreshments and waiting limo. Compare that to the speakers who carry their bulbous biography in their coat pocket lest the master of the ceremonies should overlook one of their honorary degrees.
And compare Billy Graham to the mounting army of evangelicals who put their trust no longer in God but in politics. And they who know the will of God will enough to put it into legislation, and whose idea of freedom of religion becomes narrowed to the tenants of their own particular faith.
The poor boy from North Carolina got a degree in anthropology from Wheaton College, found a job preaching at a Baptist church in Western Springs, Ill., then went on to bring the message of good news to 210 million people in 185 countries, picking up a few little tidbits like the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and an honorary British knighthood along the way.
As the Whacko and Jockos of the world keep grabbing the headlines and holding the media in breathless anticipation of their next ego-driven antic, Billy keeps on preaching for one country, one city, one soul at a time. Well done, thy good and faithful servant! You rock. Your convictions may not be mine but you've been faithful to them. And your ego doesn't seem to rule your world.