In my lifetime there have been some very culturally iconic figures who have passed away. With the most recent passing came a stark contrast in my mind between two of them. I grew up hearing these names and seeing these men in the media on a very regular basis. Both are now gone, each leaving us with very different images to remember.
The first to pass away a few years ago called himself “The King” of his genre. He died unexpectedly and all of the television news outlets covered the event constantly for days (maybe weeks). His family planned an elaborate funeral for him. His body was placed in a solid-bronze 14-karat gold plated coffin which was lined with blue velvet and cost approximately $25,000. A major arena was rented in Los Angeles and an online lottery was held so that his millions of fans would each have a fair chance of getting one of the 17,500 seats available to them. Leaders of the city made public pleas for the devoted fans to not descend on the area and create chaos, they suggested that if you didn’t have a ticket you’d be better off watching this major event from home.
Though some people did participate in the lottery, when the day of the memorial arrived it was reported that tickets were being given out to bystanders and passersby of the event center in an effort to fill up all of the empty seats. Several of the tickets had actually been listed on eBay (some with a starting bid of $10,000!). Needless to say, many of the grand expectations for the sendoff of this “King” were left unfulfilled. He was just a man and not a king after all!
The second to pass away more recently didn’t die quite as unexpectedly. Though we would have loved to see him live 99 more years, we all knew that he would leave us sooner than later. He had a Doctorate Degree but insisted that everyone who knew him call him by his first name and he told everyone —EVERYONE— that he could about his King.
He had met and was intimately acquainted with his King. He was in love with his King. His King had asked him to call Him by name too. His body was laid in a plywood casket built by inmates in a maximum security prison facility—thieves, drug dealers, murderers (he also told them about his King), a tent the chosen facility for his memorial service. The processional of cars escorting his body inside that plywood casket passed by hundreds of people who lined the sides of the road for almost every inch of the 3 ½ hour drive. No tickets, no seating, no grand announcements. Some had driven for hours just to sit on the grass beside the highway and watch as they passed by in an effort to show gratitude and respect. He was just a man who knew THE KING after all!
I had just finished watching this processional when I felt the urge to write this and I have to admit I cried. It was impactful to see a saint of God being honored on live television for over 3 hours. It seemed surreal, in this world where everything except righteousness is exalted, to watch people in mass showing their respect for a man who stood for truth. It was awesome to hear Jesus proclaimed boldly as people who were interviewed shamelessly shared their testimonies. A couple of times, it was humorous to listen to the newscasters try to come up with anything else as a reason for this historical event currently unfolding, only to admit in the end that he never marched for anything yet somehow rallied multitudes—they didn’t have a clue that it was the body of Christ he was building and not a political agenda.
As the wife and mother of Fire Fighters, I felt proud to see that almost every overpass they drove under had a fire truck waving the American Flag and a few also lifted high the Christian flag. One newscaster said something very thought provoking, he said, “If you’re tuning in now, there will not be another person like this to come along in your lifetime and possibly for a long-long time. This is truly a rare event.”
While I know that’s true, I hope the world is full of people who will boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ—born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, persecuted for my transgressions, beaten for my diseases, crucified for my sins, buried, risen, ascended, seated at the right hand of the Father, and coming again soon as KING of kings—this message alone can change a life, a nation, a world. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing this world to have had such a consistent, committed, compassionate messenger as Billy Graham.
My husband and I had an opportunity to go to one of his crusades years ago. On the way to the event a terrible storm blew in and there were tornados reported in the area. We found ourselves stuck in traffic as hailstones fell so large that our vehicle was dented; still, we continued on to the event. Having to park no less 1/2 a mile away, we walked through mud so fresh from the torrential rain that had just briefly subsided that we found our feet sinking. Thousands of people everywhere walking, pulling their feet from the mud, making their way into the stadium with us. It was a powerful thing to behold.
We listened as Johnny & June Carter Cash gave testimony and sang, the sky growing dark again. Then my favorite singer of all time stood up to sing. I was so excited to see her in person again, this was the first time since I was a teenager that that had happened. Evie only sang one song because the sky was still growing ever darker.
Then, the man who wanted everyone to know his King rose from his seat and walked to the podium. He said, “Ruth told me I have to keep it short tonight and that I needed to get right to the point.” The wind was blowing now and you could hear the rumble of thunder. “So, I’m just going to read to you the words you need to hear.” He picked up his Bible. You could see lightning in the distance behind him. He read the words with so much passion and conviction that I couldn’t begin to describe it, then he said, “If you want to know Jesus and be born again come now, come quickly so that we can pray with you.” Literally hundreds of people leaped to their feet and began to move as quickly out of the stands as they could. We watched as they began to run toward the stage when they reached the open ground. It was starting to rain–we stayed, we couldn’t leave, we wanted to help pray over these new believers. It seemed that no one was leaving during this alter call.
Finally, when we did leave, we walked among that multitude of people in even deeper mud back to our car. Soaking wet, we started the ever so slow drive through crawling traffic. It hailed again. Marvin said, “I bet we just heard the shortest sermon Billy Graham ever preached.” We laughed. We cried. We were so moved by the intensity of it all.
To this day we firmly believe that Satan tried so very hard to stop that event, that crusade to save souls. We were already born again believers and didn’t go for the alter call, we went for the music and the sermon; but, it is that alter call that we will always remember. People weathering a violent storm to be led to the foot of the cross where they could lay down their sin and carry away a new life bearing the name of the King.
Did you ever have the opportunity to experience any part of this man’s ministry? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Please share it in the comments and…
Let’s Grow Together!
(PS: In the above picture I am on the second row of the audience, middle of the row wearing the pink shirt….a terrible storm blew in that night also; but, that’s a different story.)