A Light Shone, The Legacy of Billy Graham

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  – Matthew 5:16 KJV

Five years ago I was part of a group of local pastors asked to reflect on the life of Billy Graham in what was thought to be his final days. Those final days extended to another half decade as he went home to be with the Lord early this morning. An aspect of his ministry that is too often forgotten is his contribution to racial reconciliation. Let us hear the Rev. Graham himself:

billymlk

“Though the race question has important social implications, it is fundamentally a moral and spiritual issue. Only moral and spiritual approaches can provide a solution.” (Reader’s Digest. 1960)

He also stated in a broadcast in 1963: “Only the supernatural love of God through changed men can solve this burning question. Christ was not so much a reformer as He was a transformer. This does not mean the race problem is not to be preached and taught, but it is not to be our Gospel. … The racial problem in America will not be settled in the streets, but it could be settled in the hearts of men in a spiritual dimension.”

Here were my comments at the time that I now offer a hearty “Amen!” to this morning:

I look to Dr. Graham as a personal hero in way of race relations.  Billy Graham led in this fight in incalculable ways. He caused a stir when he invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his New York City crusade in 1957. He personally removed ropes intended to segregate crowds in Chattanooga, TN in 1953. Other times he boldly insisted on the integration of crowds or said he would not come to cities from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Jackson, Mississippi to Johannesburg, South Africa.  His actions speak louder than words. These are real gospel moments when the man of God insisted on bringing together the people of God. I pray this part of his legacy will not soon be forgotten.Billymen

Today I add this video of Dr. Graham, George Beverly Shea, and Cliff Barrows singing, “This Little Light of Mine.” It makes me smile. I am thankful these men let their lights shine. I hope they do an encore real soon.

 

Advertisements

Burning Issues and the Content of Character

“Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?  (Amos 3:3 ESV)

Image

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed these words.  I am from the molehills of Mississippi, and I have moved to the red hills of Georgia, and I cannot affirm that this dream has been fully realized in the sense that it ought to be.  Racial Reconciliation ought to be in the forefront of the mission of every church in the Bible belt south if we intend to reach the nations with the Gospel. That is the imperative of the Gospel. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Mat 28:19 ESV)

Above are pictured two giants in the canvas of the American portrait: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Billy Graham.  As Rev. Billy Graham has pointed out, the church should have been leading the way in racial reconciliation the whole time (as opposed to the military and schools). The same time that Dr. King was marching across the South, the Rev. Graham was tearing down ropes at his crusades all the way from Jackson, Mississippi to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Why? Because he preached the cross of Christ and in Christ, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.(Gal 3:28 ESV)That is the power of the Gospel.

I resolved long before I was a full time pastor, that though I was resolved to be an expository preacher, I would tackle two topics every year – both what I consider to be “image of God” (see Gen. 1:22) issues: abortion and racial reconciliation. I was convicted to do so in reading two chapters in John Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (“Brothers, Sever the Root of Racism”; “Brothers, Blow the Trumpet for the Unborn”). Since entering the pulpit, I have done exactly that, and the responses (as with most messages) vary.  I once had someone comment to me after a sermon on the topic of racial reconciliation, “what you say sounds good and all, treating everyone equal and such, but never in this lifetime.”  That day I had to withhold my sentiments in the name of speaking the truth in love, but this is the answer to that remark: we are not to treat each other equal, we are equal. That is the point of the Gospel.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13 ESV)

The only way we can tackle this issue is through the unadulterated proclamation of the Gospel and a firm grasp of the implications of the Gospel. Billy Graham commented in an article in Reader’s Digest in 1960, “Though the race question has important social implications, it is fundamentally a moral and spiritual issue. Only moral and spiritual approaches can provide a solution.”[1][1]

He also stated in a broadcast in 1963: “Only the supernatural love of God through changed men can solve this burning question. Christ was not so much a reformer as He was a transformer. This does not  mean the race problem is not to be preached and taught, but it is not to be our Gospel. … The racial problem in America will not be settled in the streets, but it could be settled in the hearts of men in a spiritual dimension.”[i][i]

So Brothers, what are we doing?  If you have not settled this question in your heart as a Christian (and I primarily address ministers of the gospel) I urge you to bring it to the front burner until fully prepared to let the outcome be an overflow of your character.  As a dear Native American friend repeatedly says, “Time is short.” Indeed it is. Let us take the gospel to all peoples as we strive towards being one gospel people.

Recommend Resources:

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. John Piper. Crossway. 2011.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. John Piper. Broadman and Holman. 2013 (new edition)

Today’s “The Briefing” Podcast with Dr. Al Mohler