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TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, November 7th, 1918, Billy Graham was born and, a week ago today, Billy Graham turned 99. A survey was done of great preachers, pastors, priests and evangelists over the last 150 years and no one was found to have lived as long as Mr. Graham has. James Kennedy passed away at 76, Adrian Rogers, 74, Jerry Falwell, 73, Billy Sunday, 72, and even Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” passed away at 57. 99 years old?
DR. REEDER: Yeah, it’s amazing. They’re actually using this year to celebrate his 100th birthday so, now that this one is over, this whole year is going to be a 100th year celebration.
Back in the 19th Century, there was a shoe salesman in Chicago who had a young clerk that was working with him that he mustered up the courage to invite him to his Sunday School class. The young clerk went and the young clerk was converted. The shoe salesman’s name was Edward Kimball and the young clerk was a guy named D.L. Moody.
D.L. Moody, everyone knows, became this great preacher, pastor and evangelist. He did some of his evangelistic work in England, where God used him to reclaim, motivate and encourage an English theologian and pastor who also now would become an evangelist. His name was F.B. Meyer.
And F.B. Meyer, then, would have a significant impact back over here in America in the life of a man by the name of Wilbur Chapman. So, if you know of Youth for Christ, Wilbur Chapman was instrumental in that. And then Wilbur Chapman, in his ministry, had an effect on a baseball player who became a great evangelist by the name of Billy Sunday.
And then Billy Sunday had an effect on a man who became a great evangelist by the name of Mordacai Ham. And, when Mordacai Ham began his ministry, at this same time, there was this group of people that would meet at a dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina in prayer. My grandfather and his brothers were involved in that movement and they were meeting in prayer, asking God to bring revival to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Through those prayers came the invitation to Mordacai Ham to come, which he did, and a little boy that had been playing in the next room at the dairy farm – that little boy that was in the next room went to the meetings and was converted and his name was Billy Franklin Graham.
And he was converted and he went off to college and became an evangelist and one of his first meetings was back in Charlotte at the invitation of what was my family’s home church, Calvary Independent Presbyterian Church in 1948. And, in those meetings an 18 year old boy with his 18 year old wife went forward, holding their baby boy in their arms and gave their life to Christ. And that was my dad and mom.
My grandfather had been part of bringing in Mordacai Ham where Billy Graham was converted, and now Billy Graham came back to preach in 1948 and then my dad and mom were converted, holding me in their arms. And then, in 1958, he came back and preached again and there I was, having the opportunity to be in that crusade in 1958. And then, in 1998, we brought Billy Graham back and I was now a pastor in Charlotte on the committee that invited Mr. Graham back for what we thought would be one of his closing crusades but he went on to preach for another three or four years after that.
I have a letter here where he would listen to the radio program that you and I do and he complimented the radio program. He said, “The guy that’s speaking is great but, the guy who puts this program together, I’m not sure about him.” So, Tom, I hope you didn’t take that personally.
No, he loved the program and they carried it on the radio station in Montreat and Black Mountain. And the relationship goes on and I was on the committee here in Birmingham where we invited Franklin Graham here to do the crusade so we greatly appreciate the family.
Now, the Billy Graham saga, it overlaps with what we do here in this sense. People will hear us talk about a Christian world and life view with Gospel solutions and we keep driving home that Christians ought to be engaged in the public square because we bring salt and light: salt that restrains sin, and purifies and penetrates and then light that lifts up Christ so that you have both common grace and redeeming grace at work.
Mr. Graham, early on in his ministry, was very much committed to speaking to matters of public policy and being engaged in politics. One of the men that he supported very heavily was Richard Nixon and, when the Watergate fiasco and the tapes and the language of all of that became obvious the way Christians were being manipulated, that became a line of demarcation for Mr. Graham.
And, from then on, instead of, “I’m going to preach the Gospel and be engaged in politics,” from then on, he pulled out completely in the field of politics other than being available pastorally to assist presidents, speak with them, give counsel to them and pray with them, but he no longer would be engaged in political statements or any partisanship.
That reflects the way we do this. We don’t endorse candidates or parties – we just try to speak to issues from a Biblical world and life view – but we’re always emphasizing the real solution is the Gospel solution and that’s what Mr. Graham has long believed.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, we did a program a few months ago on Mike Pence’s “putting a hedge” around his life and around his marriage by not dining with another woman in public or private unless it was his wife. When we were doing that program, I couldn’t help but think of Billy Graham, who also always “put a hedge” around his marriage and he did that back in an era back when we didn’t have the Harvey Weinstein moments of life.
DR. REEDER: We actually call that the “Billy Graham Rule” in the ministry and some people set it aside – I don’t. I embrace it. If you come to Briarwood Presbyterian Church, you will find every pastor’s office has a window that cannot be covered. We have the rule that you cannot have private meetings or public meetings with another person of the opposite sex by yourself and there must be others that are there.
And we’re criticized for it, but we will continue to do it. I’ll take the criticism because the testimony, and the witness, and fleeing temptation and all the things that are so important, not only for the staff, but for myself and for the leaders of Briarwood. I learned it from Mr. Graham and I think that was very encouraging.
Can I, maybe, end with a little bit of a funny story? Billy’s brother, Melvin Graham, helped us secure a property at the church that I had the privilege to pastor. I got to know him and he told me this story.
One time, when they were building The Cove, which is the retreat center that the Billy Graham Association has put together in Asheville – it’s beautiful, a wonderful place – he said, “When we put it together, we set aside a place for Billy and his wife, Ruth, to be buried there.” It’s right outside the chapel.
Melvin said, “Well, Billy,” – you know, that Charlotte accent we all have – and he said, “Well, Billy, you need to lie down and let us see it and see if it fits, Billy.” And so, Mr. Graham, he laid himself down on the plot where it was marked out and, as he laid there, Melvin looked at him and he said, “Billy, how is the view from that place?” and he said, “It’s great. I can see all the way into eternity. Praise God for the glories of a new heavens and a new earth.”
Thank the Lord for Mr. Graham. We’ve been grateful for the time we’ve had him and his principal effective ministries. It’s been wonderful to have a servant of the Lord that I didn’t have to worry about if I was going to read something in the paper about a secret life exposed. I thank God for his transparency, his faithfulness, and his singular commitment to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone.
Billy broke down the segregation right here in Birmingham when he had his crusade. He insisted, not only freely invite everyone, but there would be open seating and, of course, the City of Birmingham went along with it as well as the clergy. That was repeated and he was very instrumental in knocking down barriers in so many areas, even as he lifted up the name of Jesus in word and deed.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.