In April of 1937, Billy Graham was only 18 years old. He was on a trip in sunny Palatka, Florida where he would be invited to preach his first sermon. Terrified at the idea, but willing, the young Billy Graham stood up to deliver the Word of God. With everything in him, “America’s Pastor” delivered a message on Easter Sunday to an eager and expectant congregation. “America’s Pastor” preached and preached and preached — for 8 minutes.
After this sermon, I would imagine his nerves were still firing on all cylinders and he was probably trying to piece together what had just happened and how it was received. A man promptly came over to him and said, “Boy you better go back to school and get a lot more education because you’re not gonna make it.”
Nothing like some good encouragement after you pour your heart out…
11 years later, after more school, he would hold his first crusade — and he wouldn’t quit preaching until he had no breath left in him.
Billy Graham didn’t start out being great, or even good, but later in his career seemed to have an unreachable status, through what most perceived as an unattainable gift.
What made Billy Graham so different?
I believe that Billy Graham had a profound impact on the world because he first embraced the call, not of being an evangelist, but being a Christian.
Billy Graham was not a christian.
Christianity vs Christianity
“I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians; they are nothing like your Christ.”- Gandhi
Most christians that I know go to church most Sunday’s. Most christians don’t cuss or drink too much, and have a group of nice friends to get together with occasionally. They like to serve the church or the community every once in a while, and they raise some nice, fairly well-behaved kids. They give some money to the church and other charitable causes and many are even in a small group or a Bible study. They do some “devotions” on their Bible app in the morning and they pray before they eat. Most christians are really nice people.
However, I’ve found that most christians — eventually — are overcome with a feeling of emptiness and un-fulfillment. It may take a lifetime but it seems almost inevitable. Once the work of their career comes to an end, or their kids leave the house — once they have a moment to slow down — they find themselves lacking.
Well I suppose if you confine some cheetahs to a cage for a couple of generations, they neglect to realize that they were made to run. We have used the walls of a church as a fortress from the world rather than an open sanctuary to usher in the broken. The church has become our cage, and we’ve forgotten how to run. We are not using what we have been given.
We have neglected our mission as the Body of Christ. We have a Body that sits with popcorn while a few “radicals” use their gifts. We know our Bibles and our pastors, but don’t know Jesus or what He created us for. We know when to go to church, when to stand up and sit down and when to say Amen.
We have become highly qualified to be totally useless. We are called to be the “hands and feet” but I’m convinced that too many people signed up to be the butt cheeks.
Just because you go to church all the time doesn’t make you a Christian. I can sit in my garage all I want and it doesn’t make me a car. — Unknown
It’s like joining a football team and loving the fact that you have a jersey. Loving that you are allowed to attend practice and can hang out in the locker room, but have zero desire to get in the game. This person, is more of a hindrance than a help. Jesus described this person as “lukewarm”, and it didn’t seem to end well for them.
This person, for some reason, is always the one that loves telling people that they are on the team.
But they can’t describe what it’s like to be so passionate that the game becomes all you think about. What it feels like to win and lose when you have poured blood sweat and tears into the game. That person will never know the exhilarating feeling of being in the trenches with a group of people and giving it everything they have, together, no matter the outcome.
So, since we have a shallow experience with the “game”, we have a shallow testimony. Why would anyone else want to join the team?
Here are 3 reasons why I believe much of the Church Body is riding the bench:
Reason 1: They don’t believe they have anything to offer the team (but they do).
“I would imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know? They always come with the exact amount they need. So, I figured if the entire world was one big machine then I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason — and that means you have to be here for some reason too.” — Hugo
Reason 2: They are terrified of getting hit (but that’s where they find who they were created to be).
“Mountain tops are for views and inspiration, but the fruit is grown in the valleys.” — Billy Graham
Reason 3: They have learned to love their spot on the bench and begun to believe that that spot is their calling (but it’s not).
“God will not make his work manifest by cowards.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I don’t think our neglect is intentional and I don’t think it is malicious. I think that we are addicted to being comfortable. We have somehow devolved in the Christian world to believe that stagnant is normal and the ones like Billy Graham are just “radicals” that we watch in awe from our couch.
“Religion’s like salt. A little’s good. Too much will **** up the meal. I mean, I’m basically trying to find God before God finds me.” — Chris Rock: Tamborine 2018
Most people would nod their head in agreement with the legendary comedian — even people that claim to know Jesus.
If we believe what we say we believe, then how has it become acceptable to live comfortable, self-indulged lives? How can we say we believe in God, but ignore the one purpose He created us for and the one mission that He gave us?
We have a church that is missing out on what a RELATIONSHIP with God produces.
The tragedy is not only that we are not doing enough — the tragedy is that we think we are doing plenty. If we believe that we are doing something well, then WHY would we change?
What better way for the enemy to immobilize the church than to make them think that we are doing the best we can?
Many pastors point fingers at their congregation for their lack of Jesus-esque behavior without realizing that this is what they are unintentionally creating. Church has turned into a once a week performance club for its members, rather than a place to strengthen the Body and a refuge of light for those lost in the darkness.
Who I Think I Am vs Who I Was Created To Be
Just because your gift doesn’t land you on a stage in front of millions does not mean that it is less significant or less necessary. If everyone was like Billy Graham, who would have fed the homeless or worked with addicts? Learn to let go of what you don’t have and dive into what you do. See (1 Corinthians 12:15–27)
If you’re breathing, which I assume you are because you’re reading, then you have a specific task that you are here to perform. And you wouldn’t believe the way that your soul lights up when you begin to walk into it.
If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid. — Einstein
We all have something we have been given to use on this earth. Christians are called to be running a race. Christian’s are called to use what they have been given, not just bury it in the ground. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are not blessed to make ourselves feel good or to make others feel insignificant.
Isn’t it terrifying to believe you can go through your whole life and never realize what was inside of you that the world was supposed to see?
I have bad news: A flash of lightening that gives you your strengths and gifts and passions is not on its way. We must seek to find — and if we look for nothing, or we look for excuses — then that’s what we have a good chance of finding.
Read a book, write, get around inspiring people, serve someone, do SOMETHING — get off the couch.
Whether you have the most warming smile in the room, or you can play an instrument, or you’re creative or studious or kind or generous or brilliant, you have something we need in order to see the world changed. It takes each of us, individually to make up the Body, and without one part, we are not whole — therefore, we suffer.
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.” — Les Brown
Speaking of the “anomaly” and uniqueness of people like Billy Graham has become an excuse for people to do nothing rather than an inspiring example of what is possible when we give this life all we have.
Cause Driven vs Convenience Driven
I heard a story of an atheist who said, “I don’t have a problem with Christians trying to proselytize (or evangelize) to me and tell me about Jesus.” He continued, “What I have a problem with is those who don’t. If you GENUINELY believe that there is a heaven and a hell and you have the key to heaven, how much do you have to HATE me to not say anything?”
In the business and marketing world, I spent time with people who were driven, hungry, and motivated. They looked at challenges and saw opportunity. They looked at failure as a revelation of a weak spot in their abilities that they could improve on. They had this attractive intensity and focus that made it clear why they were the “1%”. They would read as many books as it took, as many classes as they had to go to. They would work their fingers to the bone and develop the skill and become the person necessary to get what they were after. They were possessed by a mission.
Years later I started spending time in the Christian world and I was intrigued. These people claimed to have the answer to eternal life. They claimed to have the key to peace, joy and love—essentially everything that all humans are looking for in this life. They had an opportunity to bring this light that they claimed to have to the world, yet spent their free time in an automated trance dictated by the distractions and comforts of society.
We seek comfort more than we seek God. Therefore, we do not find the function of which He created us for in the Body, therefore we distract ourselves with fun or work or anything that will take us.
Billy Graham was possessed by a mission because he KNEW the one who gave him his mission. He gave Jesus everything he had because when you know Him you trust His promise. When you trust His promise, you realize this life is just the starting line, not the finish line. When you realize that, what else would you give your time to?
So, instead of being possessed by a mission, we coast for comfort and we do just enough to make it seem like we are trying.
“We fail, not because we do not try to do something but because we let our little efforts become an excuse for not doing more.” — Master Plan of Evangelism
Christians are called to be the “ambassadors” for Christ; representatives of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Instead we have generations of American christians who have become entitled, lazy, judgmental, and easily offended. We have a church who cares more about what someone may say about them online than they do what God will say to them on the day they are face to face with Him. It’s almost as if they believe that day isn’t really coming, they just want “fire insurance” just in case hell is real.
Billy Graham made his life about a mission, not his comfort. He ran his race. We are supposed to be on a mission together, using the power of God to impact the world around us, yet people are outworking us and they are doing it for a dollar… or bitcoin.
If someone is consciously aware of the crisis that is around them every day, and are physically and mentally able to contribute to the solution, yet do not — then that someone is the problem.
Relationship Driven vs Rules Driven
Much of the Body has adopted a superficial ideology and claimed it to be their religion because it is convenient and safe. Christians are not called to this. Christians are called to the unknown depths of a relationship and it’s those relationships that change the world around us. Christians are called to movement and mission.
christians have cheapened evangelism into a door to door sales service and bashing people over the head with out of context verses from the Bible.
christians have taken this lazy approach to being the Body of Christ. I will throw a bible verse at people who are in need or hurting or lost. I tell people that I will pray for them (and then don’t pray for them) when I have the ability to physically do something helpful in the moment. I bash gay people and tell the world what is wrong with it. I won’t let someone with opposing views into my home or near my children. I won’t allow someone from a different religion or background become more than an acquaintance. I only listen to “outsiders” long enough for them to take a breath so I can tell them the “Truth” that they need to hear.
Many of us have adapted to surface level “intimacy” — even in marriage. We don’t know how to have a relationship with people directly in front of us, so we become utterly confused when told to have a relationship with God.
Freedom is found in the depths of relationships with God and with people.
At 29, he held his first Crusade. At 86 he held his last. From 1947–2005, by TV or in person, he led roughly 417 Crusades in around 185 countries. He spoke to over 215 million people. He once ran crusade in Madison Square Garden that lasted 16 weeks — He preached there NIGHTLY.
Billy Graham seemed to be a different breed of Christian not because of his ability to evangelize, but because of his commitment to our mission and the love of God and His people.
Billy was given the gift of evangelism, and until the day he couldn’t anymore, he ran his race. Even at 95 years old he felt compelled to get one more shot at saving someone’s soul.
You and I, most likely, do not have the gift of evangelism like Billy Graham, but I do have the same human will and the same Holy Spirit.
“Some day 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.” — Billy Graham
I’m sure when Billy Graham was received into heaven, God undoubtedly said to him the words we should all long to hear, “You ran the good race. You fought the good fight. Well done my good and faithful servant.”