2018-02-28 / Editorials

Don Lively

MISSING BILLY

Last week I told you about the lead up to my acting debut, a stage play done right here in our little town.

This week I planned to tell you about the actual production, but with your permission, I need to delay that for another week.

Something happened to change my plans.

Billy Graham went to Heaven.

What are we going to do without Billy Graham?

It’s going to be hard getting used to a world without him.

Jesus and Billy needed no introduction when they met face to face just inside the Pearly Gates. They’ve known each other since Billy gave his life to the Lord at a revival preached by legendary evangelist Mordecai Ham in Charlotte, North Carolina. Billy spent the next nearly 85 years leading millions of others to Him.

If any human ever deserved to hear Jesus say, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” it’s Billy Graham.

I’ve never known life without Billy Graham.

Even though he's been out of the public eye for a few years, I, like millions of other Christians, was comforted by his presence on Earth.

Growing up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, the Blessed South, I watched many televised Billy Graham crusades over the years. No matter where Billy was preaching, if it was on TV, Mama was going to tune in. Long before cable television, when there were only three local channels, the TV powers that be had already figured out that broadcasting the thunderous sermons of “America’s Pastor” would result in a ratings bonanza. Even as an easily distracted child, I was always fascinated and mesmerized by the spiritual orations that seemed to flow so naturally from Billy’s mind and voice. He would be preaching to a TV audience of literally millions, but when he looked at the camera I thought he was speaking directly to me.

In the summer of 1973, Billy Graham came to Atlanta for a crusade. I was between my first sophomore year and my second sophomore year of college and was home for the summer. I was so excited when I found out that our little country church was taking a bus load of kids to see Billy. I signed on as a chaperone for the trip.

I would finally get to see Billy Graham in person!

It didn’t happen.

Somewhere between Thomson and Madison our rickety old bus broke down. It was long before cell phones so we waited for somebody to stop. When they finally did, our driver asked them to go to a phone and call for help. It was hours before some men from the church got there to work on the bus and even longer before they got it running.

I missed Billy.

I was very upset, but being young and having a long life ahead of me, I assumed I'd have other opportunities to see him.

Life got in the way.

There were dozens of Billy Graham events over the years since that ill fated bus trip. I never made it to any of them, but I did continue to watch the televised events. I always loved watching Cliff Barrows lead thousands of people singing the old hymns and hearing George Beverly Shea sing one or two of the old standards during the service was a highlight. And hearing Billy preach was enormously inspiring.

If you randomly selected any three average American men, their life expectancy would be somewhere in the early seventies. The three stalwarts of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association blew that average out of the water.

Mr. Shea lived to be 104, Mr. Barrows, 93 and Dr. Graham 99.

I don't believe for one nanosecond that it was coincidental that they lived so long. I believe that God needed them on Earth for as long as possible and all three men continued their ministries until just months before they died.

Untold millions know Christ because of their efforts.

Three spiritual titans who quite literally changed the world.

Who's going to take their place?

One of my relatives said that he cried three times when Dale Earnhardt died.

I didn't cry.

I also didn't cry when Elvis died.

Or when John Wayne died.

But, very late on the night that Billy Graham flew through the eastern sky to meet Jesus, I admit, I shed a few tears.

It's okay.

Sometimes Jesus wept too.

I'll miss Billy.

I'm sorry that he's gone.

But I'm glad he's home.

Don Lively is a freelance writer and author of two books of Southern Humor, Howlin' At The Dixie Moon, and, South O' Yonder. He lives in Shell Bluff. Email Don at Livelycolo@aol.com.

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