Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• INTRODUCTION •
STEVE POSNER

Instructor at the University of Southern California and author of Spiritual Delights and Delusions and Israel Undercover, among others

When I met Billy Graham in 1979, he was the most influential evangelical preacher in the world. Today, more than three decades later, he remains a powerful presence. His enduring stature is not only the result of his captivating sermons. It is the man, not just the preacher, who millions of people honor and admire.

The personal stories in this book show us why so many individuals from differing faiths, nationalities, and political beliefs regard Billy Graham as a touchstone of goodness. They come from people who have been inspired by his lifelong determination to live by the words of Jesus, rather than to just speak about them.

The first Billy Graham Crusade was held in 1947 at the Civic Auditorium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but it was his 1949 appearance in Los Angeles that catapulted him to fame. Standing inside a gigantic tent dubbed the “Canvas Cathedral With the Steeple of Light,” Billy Graham delivered a series of sermons that reached 350,000 people. “Held Over By Popular Demand” read a local flyer, and indeed he was: the revival kept going and going, far past the original three-week schedule, stretching on for nearly two months. The impact was huge, even for Hollywood. The popularity of the young preacher, just thirty years old, was unprecedented.

Billy Graham went on to hold more than 400 crusades in 185 countries. He never ceased to remind us that his popularity came from God, and that he was merely a vehicle to spread His message of forgiveness, redemption, and service.

With characteristic humility, he often said that throughout his six decades of ministry, there was always a risk that he might one day succumb to the temptations of fame. He was aware that, like many others, he could fall victim to the allure of wealth, pride, and passion that come with celebrity. Such disarming honesty connected him to the average person, because many of us know that we too might be led astray if we had such global fame and power.

He refused to pretend that he was the best or wisest among us. That honor, he insisted, belonged to God. However often the headlines blared about Billy Graham the evangelical superstar, he would guide us back to the real news that he lived to tell: No one is hopeless, for God’s love can redeem us.

I once asked him about the fate of those who do not share his faith. “I don’t try to play God, saying you’re lost and you’re saved. That’s between the person and God,” he said. “I think we are told to proclaim Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the light, but God will decide who is saved and who is lost.”

When I asked if he was able to distinguish between the word of God and the word of Billy Graham, his answer was simple: I try to stay faithful to Scripture. “Being an Evangelist simply means that I am to declare the Gospel, and the word ‘Gospel’ means the good news,” he said. “And the good news is that God loves you and He loves everybody.”

Many authors have thoughtfully written about Billy Graham’s charisma and his oratory, yet the stories in this book reveal something different. They give us an inside glimpse of the ways in which the everyday Billy Graham has lived as a loving father, brother, grandfather, uncle, mentor, pastor, statesman, and friend.

I am deeply grateful for the generosity of all the contributors. They took the time to graciously share their experiences so we could draw inspiration from them.

My wife, Mona, was instrumental in the writing of this book. Personally working with the contributors, she was deeply moved by their reflections about Billy Graham. As a result of her inspired insight, she was able to bring together a diverse group of people to create a combination of stories that carry a universally uplifting message. The book’s value is directly attributable to her participation and wisdom. She represents the spiritual heart of this project.

I want to thank Amy Newmark, the talented and tireless publisher at Chicken Soup for the Soul, who worked with me on this project. My appreciation also goes to the company’s CEO, Bill Rouhana, who believed in this effort from the beginning.

This book could not have written without the support of Billy Graham’s personal spokesman, Larry Ross. His cheerful assistance and steadfast dedication to Mr. Graham was inspirational and invaluable. Mr. Graham’s representative, Michael Crisp, helped guide this project to its completion. Billy Graham’s chief-of-staff, David Bruce, gave us the opportunity to coordinate our work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I am grateful to them all.

Bryan Aubrey deserves great praise for his astute editorial skills. My gratitude goes to Bob Jacobs, Annette Norris, Cynthia Lane, Susan Heim, Mary Lou Lohr, Mia Maturen, and Jesse Posner whose valuable participation was essential. My assistant, Marilyn Muerth, demonstrated her usual excellence when assembling all the complex pieces needed to complete this book. D’ette Corona, assistant publisher of Chicken Soup for the Soul, was also invaluable in working with all the contributors and creating every part of this book.

My final words are for Billy Graham, whose good-natured kindness has stayed with me throughout all these years. I remember when I was still in my twenties, reading his books and preparing questions in anticipation of my meeting with the world’s most famous preacher. When the time came, the man I met was more than that. He seemed almost unaware of his own fame. We spoke as if we were old friends. As the conversation progressed, with just the two of us talking, away from the crowds and the adoring spotlight, I could sense the gentleness of his spirit. “The greatest demonstration of a true Christian is that he loves people,” he told me. In these pages you will find 101 stories about a man who loves people, and the people who love him back.

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