Dear GCI Family,
While touring the most popular attraction in Charlotte, I was struck by some coincidental characteristics between myself and the personality for whom the museum was honoring. The video film introduced our main character as, “A southern farm boy from North Carolina who became a gospel preacher and worldwide evangelist.” You may have guessed that I was touring the Billy Graham Library and my “aha moment” was, “Hey, I too am a southern farm boy from North Carolina, and a preacher of the gospel.” It feels good to associate with the likes of Billy Graham (though I don’t have any notions of filling stadiums as he did).
Over the course of the tour I saw more insights into Graham that intrigued me. He had a friendly relationship with every US President from Harry Truman forward. There were pictures of him playing tennis and golf with a few presidents. There were other shots with him at retreat sites or their personal properties, like Lyndon Johnson’s farm in Texas, or George Bush’s vacation home in Maine. Billy Graham was active, athletic and a rather “normal” guy who was good company to presidents and ordinary people alike. I aspire to be rather normal myself.
During his long and storied life of 99 years, Graham displayed humility. He readily admitted that his wife Ruth was a better Bible student than he was. He touted Ruth as being his chief spiritual counselor throughout his ministry. Again, I felt a kinship with him knowing just how important Susan is to me.
Another similarity is that Billy Graham’s greatest attribute was pointing others to Jesus. At his best, Graham was simply reflecting the Jesus in him. More than any aspiration to be like Billy Graham or any other spiritual leader, my greatest aspiration is to be like Jesus. I’m sure this is your aspiration as well.
In several gospel accounts, Jesus was a regular party guest, and I bet he would have fit very well into the social scene of spending time with the presidents of our modern era. Both Matthew and Luke identify Jesus as a “friend of sinners,” and they add glutton and drunkard to their critical review. Ironically, the “friend of sinners” label was meant as a criticism and yet it is one of the highest compliments awarded Jesus. I hope the same label will be awarded to the leadership of GCI. It is a mystery how religious people want their leaders to be other-worldly instead of approachable and likable.
The apostle Peter challenges believers to be like Jesus and to follow in his steps. In his first letter, he reminds us we have been called to be like Jesus in our patient endurance, especially in the light of unmerited suffering. What!?! How am I supposed to do that in a world that has programmed me to stand up for my rights and to fight back against any type of abusive treatment? It is only in the vicarious humanity of Christ that I find the strength to walk in his steps; it is Jesus who has saved me from sin and death, and only him living in me can empower me to endure the struggles of this life.
Following in the steps of Jesus is different from the typical protégé coming along behind a senior mentor and trying to follow his or her pattern of life. Following Jesus is also more than reading about Jesus in the pages of the Bible and then, through our determination and human effort, striving somehow to be like him. Following in the steps of Jesus means actively walking with him, in communion, continually relying on him, and becoming more and more like him in this Christian journey known as sanctification.
The bottom line is that Jesus is more than a historical example. He is the God-Man who is real, relational, and desires to make his home in every single human. Following Jesus means more than admiring him and hoping to be like him. It means participating with him and coming to the realization that we can do all things only through him (Phil 4:13; John 15:5).
From this southern farm boy who shares some commonalities with the late Billy Graham, allow me to echo the sentiment of pointing you to a day-by-day vibrant relationship with your Lord and Savior, Jesus. As the great evangelist said, “I have never known anyone to accept Christ’s redemption and later regret it.”
Walking with him,