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Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
(Matthew 11:28 NLT)
Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God, by Lon Allison with a foreword by Dr. Leighton Ford and Jean Graham Ford; Paraclete Press. ISBN 978-1640600874.
In an era of Western culture where instant gratification and – oftentimes – entitlement mentality seem to be the growing norm, it seems contradictory that a person who used today’s opening Scripture as a means of reaching out to share the salvific love of God with so many souls would also state the following as one of the guidelines that drove his own life:

I learned to obey without questioning. Lying, cheating, stealing, and property destruction were foreign to me. I was taught that laziness was one of the worst evils and that there was dignity and honor in labor.

Yet through more than seven decades of ministry and a life that fell just a few months short of covering a century, the late Billy Graham held the two ideas in a tenuous balance. The result? An all-at-once humble-yet-stalwart man who allowed himself to be used by a gracious God to take the message of Christ to practically every nook of the world.
In a brand-new release by Paraclete Press, biographer Lon Allison recounts the highlights of the evangelist’s life. But it isn’t so much his retelling of a life story that makes Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God a unique and spiritually-challenging read. The actual gem of this book lies in Allison’s method of presenting the material in a way that resonates with Graham’s desire to always be sharing the Good News and – perhaps more importantly – what, exactly, Graham’s message was and how, exactly, it still holds relevance for us today.
Allison has a gift for explaining how everyday people can connect personally with the God
who loves them. The author’s resume as pertains to Graham is impressive to say the least. The seminary instructor of evangelism courses made his career with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for a number of years and served as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. As the current pastor of Wheaton Bible Church in Illinois, Allison explains his desire to share both the story of Graham and his message of Jesus Christ with a whole new generation:

My prayer is that this book will be read by a generation that has never heard of Billy Graham…. I also write for those who are broadly attached to the Christian faith, and for those who have had only a small or short brush with faith in their lives. Billy impacted everyone from Catholics and Lutherans to Bible Church Evangelicals and Assembly of God Charismatics. As I hope you will hear clearly in what follows, he touched people like me with very little religious background. He was the ‘Pastor to Presidents’ and a spiritual guide to celebrities. But more than everything else, he was a friend of Jesus and passionately devoted to telling Jesus’s story to everyone he possibly could in all the world.

Allison does such a good job of pursuing the goal he describes above that, for this week’s post, His Own Heart has prayerfully decided to share three excerpts from the book as a means of encouraging you to taste its premise in the author’s own words.
Regarding the role of mentorship to be given and sought in a lifestyle that counts for Christ:

[In addition to Graham’s formal learning], there was another dimension of his education that cannot be overlooked … Billy’s period of preparation was linked to some special individuals. From these men and women he gained more than academic knowledge. From them he experienced … “whole-life development.”

There is a verse … that speaks of Jesus’ whole-life development: ‘And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man’ (Luke 2:52). Jesus grew mentally, physically, spiritually and socially, since He was fully human as well as divine. It is more than appropriate to imagine that God wishes all His children to grow in these ways as well. We don’t know how Jesus grew in these important ways, as the Scriptures don’t provide many details, but we do know that when He began His three years of public ministry He immediately gathered twelve men around Him and poured His life into them. Two church-growth consultants have recently written that Jesus spent about 75% of His time with the twelve and only 25% with the masses of people. They were with Jesus all the time. They watched Him interact with His family and His village. They walked with Him throughout Israel in those years … His whole life was displayed in front of them, and they discussed with Him all the issues He addressed while He was alive. They even watched Him die. Finally, those original disciples were witnesses of His resurrected life for a period of forty days

In today’s vernacular we call this kind of whole-life education ‘mentoring.’ Generally speaking, mentors are about a generation older than the recipient of their wisdom and experience. They may also sometimes be peers. Sometimes a mentor comes into a younger leader’s life for only a season; others might be involved for many seasons. Billy was blessed with both kinds [from the time of his initial calling until his late years in life] …

It’s impossible to measure the impact informal mentoring education had on Billy Graham’s life. Perhaps you, the reader, find yourself thinking about key individuals who have invested deeply in your own life. I certainly do, and I find myself wondering for whom I am to be [a previously discussed] definition of a mentor: a ‘shoulder to cry on, a brain to pick, and an encourager to help others see what they cannot see for themselves.’

Regarding the level of commitment to be pursued in a lifestyle that counts for Christ:

Billy Graham is an example of someone who had Christian background and practices but had not experienced what the Bible calls the “new birth” until that November night in 1934. In our culture today, a Christian polling research firm has determined that nearly 50% of our current population is just like Billy was. Half of those, about 25% of Americans, say they are Christians because they live in America and have some Christian background. They don’t necessarily practice Christian faith in any way, but they say they are Christians because of their heritage. We often categorize them as “cultural Christians.” The other 25% are what some have called “casual Christians.” Casual Christians may seldom attend church, or they may attend all the time. The key to their being “casual” is they seek to live moral lives following the Ten Commandments and other virtues as much as they are able, and probably consider themselves pretty good people, at least compared to others. They also believe their level of goodness is enough to be approved by God. Almost all culturals and casuals believer that if they died they would go to heaven because of their perceived degree of goodness.

Billy was a casual Christian before his tipping point – which is why he would very soon be willing to give his life to help the culturals and casuals see that they aren’t really Christians at all until they enter a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They have to repent and turn from their sins to receive forgiveness … A true Christian is a person who never believes they are good enough to please a holy God; but that God is good enough, perfect in fact, and will forgive all who repent, believe and put their trust in Him. The survey…calls this group “committed,” and this group too constitutes about 25% of our population. [The final 25%, referred to as “closed”], don’t believe in Jesus Christ and His message and for the time being don’t want to.”

[Allson] want[s] to offer an appeal to any reader who would say, “I am a ‘cultural’ or ‘casual’ Christian, or ‘I am at present closed to Christianity.’ Billy Graham would tell you that God loves you, but that you are also in everlasting danger if you don’t receive God’s love through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Why everlasting danger? Because people who want little or nothing to do with God in this life cannot expect God to force a person to be with Him in heaven. Why would He do such a thing? It violates His love to force you to love Him and be with Him.

Regarding the level of holiness to be pursued in a lifestyle that counts for Christ:

[Graham’s sister, Jeanie Ford, states in the book’s Foreword that] we can still picture [Graham] when he spoke to a crowd: standing tall, humble, with piercing blue eyes, hands clutching a Bible, jabbing them out to make a point. His voice was clear and penetrating, like the whistle of a train on an early morning, with a hint of thunder.

But to us the personal Billy is as real as the public preacher. There were not two Billy Grahams. Just one. He was as real and genuine in person as he was on the platform.

Her words underscore especially well Allison’s emphasis on the deliberate commitment to Godly character and integrity that remained a top priority for Graham throughout his life and ministry. Allison describes an action taken by Graham in 1948 – before Graham’s ministry became a household word in American culture – that illustrates clearly the extent of the evangelist’s commitment to holding himself as well as his team to living in holiness of character and accountability.

Billy called his small traveling team together … Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea, and Grady Wilson were there. Nothing was wrong, necessarily, but the more they traveled the more they realized that evangelists had a bad reputation in America … Too many evangelists operated independently, with no checks and balances to their behavior or fidelity in their organizations.

[While in Modesto, California], Billy drew his team together and asked that each person take an hour and write out a list of problems that plagued the integrity of evangelistic campaigns. They each went to their rooms in the old-fashioned Hotel Modesto and listed the most frequent criticisms. They came back together with lists of ten to fifteen common factors, which they narrowed to four key aspects of Christian character – [shady handling of money, sexual immorality, badmouthing others doing similar work, and exaggerating ministerial accomplishments]. These have become known as the ‘Modesto Manifesto’ in Billy Graham circles.

…Billy wanted to be pure and authentic before God and the people he served. He understood the need to know what was right and what was wrong, and knew how important it was to have people of Godly character around him to hold him accountable.

The book does contain a couple of areas that might have benefited from more research – like the socio-economic status of farm families who lived and worked in rural southeastern America – as well as a bit of second-hand hearsay regarding Graham’s children. Although Allison probably should have avoided the latter topic altogether, he does – in all fairness – openly admit not having a personal knowledge of certain issues.
The point of this post has not been so much to sell yet another biography about America’s Pastor, but to reflect upon a premise that serves as a large factor for His Own Heart as a whole. Per its description, the blog aims to instill in readers the foundational truth that pursuing God in everyday life through a deliberate, personal relationship with His Son changes everything. Successful, deliberate Christian living really does revolve around pursuit of deliberate, defining, one-on-one interaction with Jesus Christ.
If a God-ordained servant like Billy Graham senses and pursues with dedication the dire need of such a relationship with our Creator – while nurturing a character of integrity and holiness – with how much more dedication must the rest of us pursue it?
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.

Note: Any brackets used in the text above are placed there by the blog’s writer.