70: Joel Osteen

70: Joel Osteen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 70 •

Bestselling author, broadcast minister and senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas

I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My father was a Baptist minister for over nineteen years before he and my mother founded Lakewood Church in 1959, the church my father would lead for another forty years, and the one which I lead today. In addition to my own father, John Osteen, I grew up around many great ministers of the Gospel. They were revered in our family, and we were taught that there was no greater thing one could do than to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. But of all the many ministers and evangelists we met and listened to over the years, there were none more admired and respected by my family than the Reverend Billy Graham. As a result, I saw him as a living legend.

Given this, one might be able to imagine how I felt when — about six years ago — I was given the opportunity to meet this great hero of the faith for the first time. Through a series of connections, I was invited to visit Reverend Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina. When I told my wife Victoria of the news, she became as excited as I was. From the moment we left for the airport in Houston, I was filled with anticipation. I remember telling Victoria that I felt like I was on my way to meet Moses or Elijah.

When we arrived in Montreat, we were met by Dr. David Bruce, Billy Graham’s long-time executive assistant. Our first stop was the train station in Asheville where so many times Reverend Graham had begun his worldwide journeys. I remember feeling like I was in a movie — like we had stepped back in time. I could imagine this great man along with his team checking their luggage with the porter, waiting on the platform, and finally, boarding the train that would launch them on their great mission. I remember thinking how travel for him was more difficult in his early days and how easy we have it today. It was a dimension of his ministry that I had not considered before.

Next, we traveled to the house where Billy Graham’s father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell, lived. We then drove up this steep and winding road to a place where Billy Graham used to run for exercise. I thought, It’s such a steep hill. He must have been in really good shape. From there we drove through a gated entrance and soon came to a log cabin, the home of Billy and Ruth Graham. Dr. Bruce escorted us through the back door and into the cabin. It was very warm and inviting and reminded me of my grandmother’s house back in Texas. As we admired the many mementos decorating Billy and Ruth’s family room, Dr. Bruce told us to make ourselves at home and then excused himself to inform Dr. Graham that we had arrived.

After a few minutes, Billy Graham appeared wearing a flannel shirt and house slippers.

At that moment, I didn’t even notice what he was wearing; I felt like Moses had just entered the room. Though he was slightly frail, in my eyes, he stood ten feet tall. With all my strength, I struggled to contain my emotions, though I truly felt overwhelmed by them. Victoria began to cry. He greeted us so graciously, telling us how happy he was that we had come. We embraced for a moment and then we were seated.

After all the anticipation and excitement that led up to this moment, I sat there not knowing what to say. I had been ministering to people since 1999 and had gained some notoriety over the last couple of years, but this was all new and different. I was now sitting with one of the greatest men I would ever meet, one who had devoted an entire lifetime to a great cause. What does one say to a man like this? All I could think of was to tell him what an honor it was for us to be there.

His reply was one I will never forget. He said, “You know, Joel, I feel very honored that you would come to see me today. Thank you, Joel.” And then he followed up with, “I can’t believe you are here.”

I was amazed. I thought, How can you not believe I am here? Who am I compared to you? I told him once again, “No, Dr. Graham, Victoria and I are the ones who are honored.”

He interrupted me and repeated, “I can’t believe you came to see me.” Then he asked earnestly, “What are you doing in town? Do you have a meeting?”

I said, “No, Dr. Graham, we flew here to see you.”

He was genuinely surprised and again said, “I can’t believe you came just to see me.”

It was immediately clear to me that I was witnessing the very essence of Billy Graham — his humility.

We spoke a while longer — about half an hour — when I asked him if he could give me any advice. He simply said, “I don’t know anything I would tell you, Joel, except keep doing what you’re doing.” Then he added, “Don’t let people change you; stay true to what God has called you to do.”

I have thought often of that advice and taken it to heart. But what really struck me was that here was a man who has impacted the world. I’m sure he could have gone on for hours and told me a hundred things that he had learned and experienced over his long and distinguished life. But he didn’t. He was too gracious and too humble a man.

“I want you to come meet Ruth. I want you to come see Ruth,” Dr. Graham repeated eagerly as he rose from his chair. He became visibly excited. Ruth was in the back bedroom lying in bed. She had not been well for some time.

“Ruth,” he said, “Joel’s here. Joel and Victoria are here.”

As Victoria and I spent time with the Grahams, I watched him as he tenderly talked to her, caressed her hand and looked at her with such love and conviction. I was certain that Victoria was going to cry again. Then he rose from her side and walked a few steps until he stood beside an aquarium filled with various kinds of fish.

“I bought her this aquarium,” he said. “She looks at life and movement in these fish.”

This man, who had spent his entire life in service to God and men, was now spending his last years serving the woman he loved. Victoria and I were deeply moved. The three of us prayed with her before we left the room. That was the last time Victoria and I saw Ruth Graham. She went to be with the Lord a few months later.

We then spent a while longer with Dr. Graham, sitting in rocking chairs on the porch overlooking the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains. There we were able to visit with two of Billy and Ruth’s grown children, Franklin and Anne. They were very gracious, and we enjoyed sharing childhood stories.

After we prayed with Dr. Graham, we embraced and he kissed Victoria goodbye. Again he told us how honored he was that we came all that way to see him. As we drove away, I mentioned to Dr. Bruce how humble and sincere I had found Dr. Graham to be.

“Well, that’s the way Billy Graham is,” he said. “He sees everything as the best. He’ll have a piece of apple pie and say it was the best apple pie he’s ever eaten.”

I have had the privilege of visiting Dr. Graham on several occasions since that day, and while I am always impressed by his humility, one conversation remains etched in my mind. As we sat on his porch, he said to me, “Joel, I watch you on television three times a week and can’t believe how you get up there and speak in that big stadium.”

When he said that, I thought, Dr. Graham, you’ve spoken in stadiums your whole life. And then I replied, “Dr. Graham, I’ve learned from the best. I’ve learned from you.”

He just laughed, looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you could have learned from me.”

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