Ok, not really WITH him. But I spent my week in Florida studying the life and ministry of Billy Graham. I read a biography, part of his autobiography, watched a documentary and the movie Billy: The Early Years that came out a couple years ago.
What – a – life. What – a – legacy.
I was especially draw to the early break-through years for Billy in the late 40s and 50s. Many of us think of the internationally respected Billy of his later years. But there was a time when Billy Graham was a nobody. I’m drawn to the faith and boldness that led him and his entourage to first step out and begin holding evangelistic rallies back in the old days.
Would anyone turn out? Would they invest money and advertising, spend thousands on setting up big tents in Los Angeles and have no one show up? Would his message (more fiery and intense in his earlier days) have any impact on the modern minds skeptical of this traveling preacher?
Before his career as a traveling evangelist, Billy was a young, scared Bible student yet to preach his first sermon. I loved the story of his very first preaching experience in 1937 as a 19 year old. The Dean of his school volunteered him to fill the pulpit of a backwoods little Baptist church in Bostwick Florida. Billy was up in a cold sweat the night before, running over his 4 prepared sermons. Each sermon he suspected could last 25 minutes or so.
His debut was a humiliating disaster. He breezed through his sermon so fast that it only lasted 2 minutes. He went on to the next and the same thing. After he had preached through the notes on all four sermons, only 8 minutes had gone by. He sat down thinking to himself, “I’m never doing that again!”
Well, I read this story sitting by the pool in Florida and wondered where this church was where Billy preached his first sermon. On Friday Keri and I went on a pilgrimage to find it. The church is still there, looks much the same on the outside, and they even put up a historical marker outside last year!
As someone who has also had his share of humiliating preaching experiences but continue to press on in obedience to God’s call, this was a wonderfully inspiring week with Billy Graham.