Spirit of Grace Ministries
SOGM
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

A Tale of 3 Evangelists

Billy Graham

by Dennis Pollock

In the year 1945, as our nation’s greatest war was coming to an end, three young evangelists were making a huge impact upon the English-speaking world. They were packing out auditoriums and gaining fame as some of the most outstanding preachers the church had seen in generations. One of these three you know well; the other two are most likely not at all familiar to you. Billy Graham was one of the three and was preaching in large youth rallies all over America and in Europe, serving in an organization called Youth for Christ. The other two evangelists were Chuck Templeton and Bron Clifford. Both were powerful speakers. Clifford had been called “the greatest preacher since the apostles,” and Templeton was nearly as dynamic. Many who compared Graham with Templeton stated that Templeton was the better preacher.

These men seemed to burst out of the starting blocks like rockets and appeared destined to set the world ablaze with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In Graham’s case, that pretty well describes his life and ministry. But for the other two it never happened. Both got sidetracked and did not last. With Templeton the issue was a growing skepticism. This highly intelligent, fiery young preacher began to doubt both the Scriptures and the deity of Jesus Christ. There was a lot of what has been called “higher criticism” in those days and it had become fashionable to carry your Christianity with a dash of cynicism. Even some Christian university professors were suggesting that the Bible was not to be taken literally (or seriously). Books were springing up questioning whether Jesus was God or simply a wise and good teacher. We don’t know why or how, but Templeton took the bait hook, line, and sinker. Within five years he left his promising ministry and became a writer, and radio and television commentator. He admitted that he was no longer a believer.

Steve Farrar reports that the other minister, Bron Clifford, seemed to fall apart after his wife bore two children, both with Down’s syndrome. He left his wife, left the ministry, and got a job selling cars in Texas. Within ten years of his glory days as one of the nation’s greatest evangelists, he was found dead in a seedy motel room, alone. He had become an alcoholic, which had destroyed his liver and brought him to an early grave. Two of the leading lights in the body of Christ had flamed, fizzled, and been extinguished within a decade.

One Who Stayed True

But the third man, Billy Graham, stayed true to his course. He hadn’t been quite as spectacular as the other two, but he proved a whole lot more durable and consistent in his Christian faith and walk. As Templeton was turning away from Jesus, he tried to talk Billy Graham into following his own course of agnosticism. In what would be their final conversation, he mocked the idea of a literal creation story as found in Genesis, and wanted to know how Billy could possibly believe it. Graham told him:

I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.

Our world has been incredibly blessed and countless multitudes have found eternal life through Jesus Christ because this man stayed true to his calling, true to his faith, and true to his Lord. When Billy Graham graduated from this life and passed from earth to heaven at the age of 99, his voice was nearly gone, his eyesight had failed, and his body was a mere shell of what it once was. But his faith in Jesus was still strong. Unlike the other two evangelists Billy had come to Christ in his youth and had never deviated in his devotion to his Savior.

Abide in Me”

Jesus commands those who belong to Him to abide in Him. To abide means to remain, essentially to stay put, to never wander or stray from our place of trust in and dependence upon Jesus. Perhaps the greatest test and demonstration of abiding relates to our walk with the Lord in our old age. With the passing of time, our strengths will often increase, and our weakness will often magnify. What may have been a mere crack in our lives when we were in our twenties ends up a terrible abyss by the time we reach our sixties. And this is true with our abiding or our lack of abiding.

Many who profess Christ may seem to be stable and vibrant Christians in their younger years, even though their prayer life is anemic and their time in God’s word is practically non-existent. They attend church regularly, talk about Jesus boldly, and appear to have a strong devotion to Jesus. But within a few decades, in many cases these same individuals seem to have lost their zeal. They may still profess Jesus, but their lives, their conversations, and their habits seem little different from those who make no pretense of Christianity. Secularism, in all its hideous dimensions, has overtaken them and swallowed them up. They have not remained thoroughly immersed in Jesus. They are not abiders. They have gradually, slowly, progressively wandered from the Savior.

The apostle Paul deals with this theme as it relates to his own life in his letter which we know as 2nd Timothy. He is near the end of his life and he knows it. He becomes a bit reflective as he considers his life, his ministry, and his walk with Jesus from youth to old age:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

Still Remaining

Paul has not wandered; he has not strayed. He is finishing in a strong place, spiritually. He is an old man now, he carries numerous physical scars from the beatings, whippings, and stonings he has received for preaching Christ. He may not look as good as he once did, he may not be as physically strong as he once was, but in the thing that really matters, he is doing very well. He mentions three evidences of this.

First he declares that he has “fought the good fight.” In Paul’s writings he often uses martial terms to describe the Christian life. He tells us that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God,” and declares that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The Christian life is not some gentle stroll down a path alongside a beautiful botanical garden in which we can gently and quietly reflect upon noble thoughts and stop frequently to smell the flowers.

Following Christ can often mean enduring violent storms of one kind or another, storms which threaten to capsize our little boat and which create fear and terror in the pits of our stomachs. We are told that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” and that we have an adversary who eagerly seeks to destroy us. We have powerful defenses in Jesus, to be sure, but that does not mean we live a carefree, casual, happy-go-lucky life, strolling down the garden path singing Que Sera Sera. There is a fight which must be fought. Through steadfast faith in Jesus Christ we can fight that fight and we can win, but if we suppose that we can get through life without any struggles or any battles, we are living in a fantasy world.

Marathon Runner

Second, Paul states that he has “finished the race.” Once again, we see a reference to extreme effort. Races are not won by slow, casual strolls. They are won by running flat-out. They involve pounding hearts, and sweating, and straining for every physical reserve one can muster. Nobody carries any extraneous weight on them when they enter a race. You never see a runner with a backpack on, or running in heavy boots, or carrying a briefcase with him as he runs. Likewise, the Scriptures tell us: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sometimes, during his ministry, Paul made tents to help support himself. With his incredible ambition, drive, and intelligence, he probably could have developed this little tent-making enterprise into a major business. He could have hired employees and had one of the most successful tent-making companies in all of Israel. But Paul wasn’t about to do this. He was focused on “this one thing I do,” and wasn’t about to get distracted with the cares and time expenditures that would have come upon him had he taken his tent-making too far. He knew that he was called by God as an apostle and an evangelist, and not a businessman. And so he made a tent or two, earned a little money to further his travels, and went on to the next town. No heavy backpack for this long-distance runner!

By the end of his life, Paul knew that his race was finished and that he had completed it successfully. It was time for others to take up the baton and carry on.

Keep the Faith

Third, Paul tells Timothy that he had “kept the faith.” And here is the heart of the matter. If you keep the faith, you’ll run the race. If you keep the faith, you’ll fight the good fight. Keeping the faith is the essence of a successful Christian life which grows stronger rather than weaker over our decades of struggle and endurance. Jesus had told His disciples to abide, that is, to remain in Him. And this is precisely what Paul had done. His body by this point may have been weak, but his faith was very, very strong. He loved Jesus more than ever. He depended on Jesus more than ever. He trusted in Jesus more than ever. When he was converted to Christ on that Damascus Road, that experience had truly stayed with him. He had not wandered; he had not strayed. He never left his place of abiding in Jesus.

Billy Graham

In my opinion, what Paul said about himself could also apply to Billy Graham. There were certainly changes in his life and his ministry as the years passed. In his latter years, Graham’s preaching was far slower and less frenetic than in his twenties. And finally the day came when he knew it was time to stop preaching altogether. But Billy never strayed from his faith in Jesus Christ. He simply transitioned from one type of ministry to another. He did some writing, but his biggest contribution was prayer. His son, Franklin, wrote:

The last few years of my father's life -- though he could not preach, he shifted his ministry to praying. Not only praying for the leaders of our country but praying for our family and our ministry around the world. That's why I felt it was so important to see him on Sundays, to fill him in on what we were doing and things we were working on. So he could be praying for us.

Unlike the two others mentioned earlier in this study, Billy died with his faith in Jesus completely intact – a most blessed way to depart this world.

How about you? Are the passing years bringing you closer to Christ or moving you further from Him? Have you wandered, slowly, imperceptibly, but steadily away from Jesus? If so, shake yourself out of your spiritual lethargy and come back to that blessed place of abiding in Jesus. Fight the good fight, run the race, and by all means keep the faith. There is great reward for those who do. Paul writes: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).


line

To see a full listing of all articles available, go to our Written Devos Page.
For a full listing of all articles as audio mp3 files (free downloads), go to our Audio Devos Page.

 

     

        For inspirational devos, bios of Christian leaders, free downloads, and the latest SOGM news:
Sign up to receive E-newsletter
>>

Your donations are needed and greatly appreciated!

 

 

Just for you!

Missions Outreach


A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Mateka, Kenya.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.