Growing up in a small town in the mountains in the 1970s, our television boasted a repertoire of seven channels. Changing those channels meant utilizing the vice grips laying atop the TV to turn the stem that had long ago lost its knob.
Television was for Saturday morning cartoons, rainy days, or an occasional special program. For my father, who was raising three boys on his own and working a job that required a good deal of overtime, only the occasional special program applied.
From my earliest days, the special program I remember my father watching was the televised crusades of Billy Graham. There probably were other shows he watched, but that’s the one program that sticks in my memory as getting his full attention. I knew Billy Graham had something to say worth hearing because my father was listening.
As a second-year seminary student, when I learned that Billy Graham was scheduled to speak at the inauguration of our new seminary president, Albert Mohler, I called my father and encouraged him to attend. Unfortunately, a major traffic accident closed the interstate between Lexington and Louisville, creating an enormous backup. Caught up in the traffic, Dad missed the service.
I have other memories connected to Billy Graham, plenty in fact. Most of us do. His is a household name. Graham is famous the world over for reasons that are good.
Billy Graham was a farm kid saved in a tent revival who went on to preach to more people than anyone in history. He counseled presidents, authored books, and turned the attention of his generation and several generations born after him to the most important matter in all of life, the state of our eternal soul.
Countless millions of people have heard Graham’s personal call, “Come! Come! Right now, will you come? Come!” The call to come always followed a simple and clear presentation of the gospel. Graham spoke consistently of the sin that plagues us all, the sacrifice of Jesus to pay the price of our sin, and the forgiveness and eternal life that is available to any who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as savior and Lord. His call to “Come!” was always a call to publicly acknowledge coming to follow Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Jesus has many wonderful ambassadors, but none who have been heard by more people than Billy Graham. He gave his life to Jesus and then spent his life imploring people everywhere to come to Jesus.
Graham will be mourned, and he will be missed. But I’m certain if he could speak to us from heaven right now, he’d still say what I heard him say sitting on the floor in front of that old Zenith television, “Come!”
Paul Chitwood is executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention.