21: Bob Coy

21: Bob Coy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 21 •

Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, one of the largest evangelical churches in the U.S., and host of The Active Word broadcast ministry

I had never met Billy Graham before he agreed to ordain his grandson Stephan at our church, where he had been serving. Naturally, I was honored and thrilled, and when we got together in my office, I said, “Dr. Graham, if there’s something that you’d like to share or anything you’d like to say beyond the ordination, I know our congregation would love to hear you speak.”

He graciously replied, “Bob, I came here to hear you preach today.” I felt so moved by his humility.

Whether Billy communicated with one person or a billion, he was always genuinely humble. In every encounter I had with Dr. Graham, his focus was fully on me. He had no thoughts for himself; it wasn’t important how he was feeling. His only concern was for my needs. That’s the heart of the Lord. The Lord is interested in where you are today, and I saw that concern in all my exchanges with Billy Graham. For instance, one time when I was at the Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina, his grandson and I went to the house. He was ninety years old, but received us so warmly, remembered my wife’s name and knew about the church, even though we had not met often. He was totally engaged.

Years ago, I had the privilege of taking part in a global outreach that Billy Graham was hosting in Puerto Rico. I was astounded by the enormity of the electronic system set up to transmit his preaching to a huge number of people, perhaps eventually a billion worldwide. It was a feat of technological genius. More importantly, just prior to the beginning of the crusade, I seized the opportunity to ask the president of the Billy Graham organization, “So who’s going to be the next Billy Graham?” His answer was something I’ll never forget. “The next Billy Graham won’t be sitting in the seats watching Billy Graham. He’s going to be reaching out to a homeless person, giving a glass of water to a thirsty child, or lovingly sharing God’s forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ,” he explained. “He’s going to be so occupied in doing the ministry that he’s not even thinking about becoming the next Billy Graham.”

Billy Graham changed the way that I live my life in a number of ways. He has been a tremendous role model for me, always remaining faithful to the Word of God, always using Bible stories, Bible references and Bible verses. The Modesto Manifesto also had a huge influence on me. The manifesto is a set of principles and agreements, rather than a physical document, that has been adopted by a large number of preachers and has become a template for how we operate here at Calvary Chapel.

By 1948, Billy Graham was becoming fairly well known as an evangelist in Protestant, fundamentalist and evangelical circles in the United States. He was receiving more and more invitations to hold citywide evangelist meetings. However, evangelism had gained a bad reputation with much of the general public, because of real and alleged misdeeds and corruption. During his November 1948 meetings in Modesto, California, Dr. Graham joined with his co-workers and friends, George Beverly Shea, Grady Wilson and Cliff Barrows, at the motel on South 9th Street where they were staying, to face these problems head on. They determined the most common criticisms of evangelists and developed working principles for their own missions, so their behavior would always be above reproach.

For one, they agreed to avoid even the appearance of financial abuse. The men vowed not to emphasize the monetary offering and to have the local campaign committees oversee the offerings and disbursements of funds. They would accept a straight salary regardless of how high the offerings were. Second, they promised to avoid even the appearance of any sexual impropriety. From that point on, Dr. Graham made it a point not to travel, meet or eat alone with any woman other than his wife. Since evangelists had gained a reputation for overestimating their congregations, the group also assented to being honest and reliable in their publicity and reporting of results. Finally, they knew that evangelists often criticized local pastors and churches from pulpits, and they vowed not to do this, or criticize pastors who openly criticized them.

When I visited Billy in 2004, he was bedridden, recovering from a physical setback. He had just watched the movie The Passion of the Christ, and was deeply excited about it, wondering how many people would see it and get energized about Jesus. He was eighty-five at that time and still full of zeal, something I saw many times through the years. He never lost his love or sense of burden for the lost or his hunger for the Word. It was always there.

We have a huge historical wall down one of our church’s main hallways, and it includes photos of the day Billy Graham came to ordain his grandson. In one, I am looking up at him with an adoring face, as if to say, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe the guy is here.” A sconce light glows behind me, which makes it look like the light is illuminating my head while he is talking at the pulpit, which is in the shape of a cross. No one can miss the integrity and the passion in his heart, even in a photo. It suffused everything he did every day of his life.

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