This afternoon, they will lay to rest the body of Billy Graham after a private funeral service at the Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. But the iconic evangelist and preacher, who passed away on Feb. 21 at the age of 99, has already entered into his final rest. I am guessing he was welcomed into heaven with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
His body lay in state in the rotunda at the U.S. capital building earlier this week, like a president or national hero. He was the first religious leader ever honored in that way. That is especially surprising in this day of antagonism against the faith and Biblical values Billy Graham stood for, and only goes to show the respect that he had earned over the last century of life and ministry.
Last night, they held a memorial service in Concord, Tennessee for the man who probably had the greatest influence on me entering ministry, pastor Doug Sager. “Brother Doug” passed away last Saturday night at the age of 78. He was originally from my home church in Midfield, and began preaching at 11 years old. He did so faithfully until the week of his death, at the age of 78, and many of his sermons–at student conferences in Gatlinburg when I was in college–were used by the Lord to radically change my life.
Both of these men of God had incredible impacts on our world over the last 70+ years, and their legacy continues in the lives of Christ-followers who came to faith under their ministry. They certainly had a great influence on me.
But it was more than just their public ministries that left their mark. Both men lived consistent and faithful lives of integrity and godly character that were above reproach. Sadly, that is more and more of a rare trait in today’s world, and many of their peers have certainly fallen by the wayside over the last several decades because of unfaithfulness and poor moral choices.
So what can we learn from the example of Billy Graham (and Doug Sager)? And how can we follow in their footsteps as we live our lives for Christ, whether we be in vocational ministry or serving the Lord in another way?
First, they were people of the Book. They always preached from, and took their cues from, Scripture. Both were up to date and often “cutting edge” in their methodology, but neither ever got caught up in faddish doctrines, or self-help teaching, or lessons from worldly leadership gurus. They preached “thus saith the Lord,” and they practiced what they preached.
They were also single-minded in their mission, to preach the gospel. Like the apostle Paul, who said “I do all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:23), both men preached “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and sought to fulfill the Great Commission to lead lost sinners to salvation through Him. In fact, the purpose statement of the Billy Graham Evangelism Association very simply stated: “To spread and propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by any and all…means.” And literally millions of people came to faith in Jesus through that ministry over the years.
Something else that stood out was their moral integrity. It takes a lot to live to almost 100 years old in a very public ministry, where the enemy and other detractors are always out to get you, and remain above approach. But Billy Graham went to great lengths to protect himself from temptation and accusations. The BGEA was one of the first such ministries to establish great financial accountability, and in a ministry where hundreds of millions were received and spent, there was never a question of their trustworthiness in how they handled money. Likewise, Billy had strict rules to never be alone with a woman who was not his wife or family, and though some accused him of misogyny and sexism, those boundaries protected him from falling morally, or even the appearance of evil. And let’s face it, we wouldn’t be talking about either of these men and their legacies had they succumbed to temptations and failed morally.
A final characteristic that we would all do well to learn from was their humility. If ever there was a man who could have poked his chest out in pride for the accomplishments in his ministry, it would have been Billy Graham. His crusades, movies, television programs, books and other media reached tens of thousands every year. He had the respect of and regular audience with presidents and world leaders. But you never sensed that Billy Graham thought he was anything more than just a servant of God. He was confident in his calling, but humble in his dependence on the Lord. That would also describe Doug Sager, a humble servant of the Lord, who modeled what Jesus taught: that genuine greatness comes from being a servant.
These are two spiritual giants, in whose footsteps we seek to walk. Both of them will be greatly missed here on earth, but I am sure they are rejoicing in their homecoming with their Father in heaven. May our lives reflect the legacy of faithfulness that both of these men lived, as we live for the same Lord Jesus they loved and served.