5: Mark Batterson

5: Mark Batterson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 5 •

Bestselling author; pastor, National Community Church, Washington, D.C., named one of the most influential churches in the U.S.

I put my faith in Christ for the first time when I was five years old. I had watched a Billy Graham-produced film called The Hiding Place at a church in downtown Minneapolis, and somehow God used the medium of a film and the story it told to impact me deeply. When I came home after seeing The Hiding Place, I told my mom I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart, and she fully encouraged me to go ahead. It took some courage for me, but I felt a prompting to make sure I was in the right relationship with the Lord, even though I was so young. Mom kneeled next to my bed, as she usually did when we prayed before I went to sleep, and I prayed what I would call a “genesis prayer.” That was the beginning of my spiritual journey.

My life is a work in progress. I think we grow into a holy confidence. Hopefully, now in my forties, I have a greater understanding of and deeper surrender to the Lord than when I prayed that night. However, after Billy’s film, I made a five-year-old’s profession of faith, and the Lord honored that. No matter what our level of knowledge, experience or maturity, He always meets us where we are.

I remember being transfixed by the movie, which was probably a bit beyond typical five-year-old fare. For instance, at moments it graphically displayed what happened in the Nazi concentration camps. The story of Corrie ten Boom’s faith and endurance in the camp suffused my heart and spirit in a way that differed from simply listening to a preacher offer the Gospel message in words. I often marvel that God could use a woman named Corrie ten Boom, who was born decades before me, to reach me through a screen. The film is a testament both to the commitment to the Gospel and its creative communication that have been demonstrated by Billy Graham over all these years.

I think that we tend to try to reach people for Christ the way that we were reached. Perhaps that’s why, as a pastor and preacher, the best compliment I can receive is to see a junior high kid listening to the entire message and getting something out of it. Interestingly, the Lord used a Billy Graham film to change my life, and I am now the pastor of theaterchurch.com, a church that meets in six movie theaters around the Washington, D.C. area. We have a media department that produces short films, as well as trailers for our sermon series. The medieval church used stained glass to communicate the Gospel story in pictures to an illiterate society. In our post-literate culture, movie screens are like post-modern stained glass, which we can use to communicate the Gospel message. I see Billy Graham and his films as being on the cutting edge of this approach.

My other encounter with Billy Graham’s ministry was at a crusade at County Stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1979, when I was ten years old. It changed my life not because I went forward in an altar call to give my life to Christ, but because I brought a friend who went forward to accept the Lord. That truly formative experience helped me understand the importance of sharing my faith with other people. The crusade was a memorable testament to the power of the Gospel and Billy Graham’s ability to communicate it. My experience there gave me my first excuse to be evangelistic, to invite friends that I knew needed a relationship with the Lord.

Pastoring a church in the nation’s capital over the past fifteen years and having members of Congress, cabinet members and people that are part of every administration as part of our congregation has been incredible. Our church started with nineteen people and now has six locations around the D.C. area. In many ways, I feel like God has called me to our nation’s capital to influence influencers and to be a voice to this nation, to this generation. In that respect, I am inspired by the example Billy Graham sets, because when Billy speaks, I am always confident that he will speak the Gospel in a way I can fully endorse, and there are not many people like that. Billy Graham possesses the ability to share the simple Gospel in a way that allows the Gospel to do all the heavy lifting. He preaches so that the Gospel itself does the work, which is one of the gifts that the Lord gave him.

I know that Billy Graham would never compromise the Gospel or his integrity. He is someone who says what he means, means what he says and always speaks the truth with love and in an uncompromising way. Billy has a long track record of consistent character. Even when he was at the White House praying with a president, it didn’t change him. He never sought out relationships with the famous or powerful because of their positions. He lived for an audience of one, concerned only with what God thought.

Washington, D.C. has many people who fear other people more than they fear God, which is a dangerous thing. Billy Graham always had a healthy fear of God that helped him overcome his fear of people. It supported his ability to connect with millions of people around the world, the young and the old, the poor and the powerful. Everyone resonated with the purity of his love and his intention.

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