77: Michael Reagan

77: Michael Reagan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 77 •

Bestselling author of Twice Adopted, motivational speaker, political consultant; and founder of the Michael Reagan Center for Advocacy and Research

Dr. Billy Graham, “America’s Pastor,” has prayed with every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama — and that includes, of course, my father, Ronald Reagan. I have known Billy Graham for many years, at least as far back as when my father was governor of California. I’ve known the Graham kids — Franklin, Nelson, Gigi, Anne, and Ruth — since they were children.

A few months after my father died in June 2004, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association called and asked if I would speak at Dr. Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade in November. I asked, “Are you sure you’ve got the right Reagan?” The representative explained that Dr. Graham had heard me eulogize my father at the funeral, and he was so moved that he wanted me to speak at the crusade.

I was awed and humbled. I have such respect for Billy Graham that I felt unworthy to share the stage with him. Yet if he wanted me there, how could I say no? “I’d be honored,” I said.

As the day approached, I learned that nearly 100,000 people were expected at the Rose Bowl. The enormity of the event began to weigh on me.

On the day of the crusade, my wife Colleen and I went early to the Rose Bowl so that event organizers could tell me where to stand and when to speak. As we were on the platform, they showed me Dr. Graham’s new high-tech pulpit. Because of Dr. Graham’s age and Parkinson’s disease, the pulpit was designed to be electrically raised and moved into position, and there was a seat where he could sit comfortably while speaking.

After our tour of the stage, Colleen and I went back to a “green room” area. Dr. Graham came over and chatted with Colleen and me about our family and about my dad. I’m sure Dr. Graham sensed that I felt burdened by the responsibility of speaking to such a vast audience. “Michael,” he said, “there are times when God gives you a task like this, and the best thing to do is to give it up to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Spirit to enter the stadium and meet the needs of everyone here.”

When he said that, I felt a sense of calm and peace. I knew my job was to simply tell my story, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

Finally, it was time to go out on stage. After a musical program, the worship leader led the crowd in several worship songs. As the crowd sang, someone came out and removed the lectern I was to speak from. I thought, Hey! They took my lectern! The crusade representative next to me leaned over and said, “Change of plans — you’ll be speaking from Billy Graham’s pulpit.”

I looked at him incredulously and said, “Have you cleared this with God? Are you sure He would approve?” The man assured me it would be all right.

As I got up to be introduced, I remembered Billy Graham’s advice. “Holy Spirit,” I prayed, “I give myself completely to You. Give me the words to speak. Enter this stadium and meet the needs of everyone here.”

I walked up to Billy Graham’s pulpit, looked out over the crowd, and felt a prompting within: “Michael, leave the preaching to Billy Graham. Just tell them a story about a man who was lost and now is found.”

So I told my story. It was the story of being molested by a day camp counselor as a child, of growing up with incredible guilt and fear. From childhood into adulthood, I hated myself, and I believed God hated me, too. I thought I was doomed to hell, beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness. When my wife, Colleen, led me to a relationship with Jesus Christ, I found forgiveness and a release from guilt and fear.

I told how God had healed my wounded relationships, including my relationship with my father. Because of Christ, Dad and I began to say “I love you” and hug each other every time we were together. This bond of father-son love continued even after Dad fell under the shadow of Alzheimer’s disease. Even when he could no longer say my name, he would always put his arms out for a hug.

That was the story the Holy Spirit prompted me to tell that night at the Billy Graham Crusade. I concluded my story with these words, “As you listen to Dr. Graham tonight, I want you to think of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He’s standing at the doorway of your life with His arms wide open, waiting to give you a hug.”

As I came away from the podium, Billy Graham stopped me, shook my hand, and said, “Michael, you should have stayed out there and kept speaking!” What an honor it was to hear those words from Billy Graham himself.

As I sat down and listened to that great twentieth century apostle preach one of the last sermons of his long career, it struck me that Billy Graham and Ronald Reagan were very much alike. They were both great men who deeply impacted their times. Both represented ideas much larger than themselves. Billy Graham represented the Gospel of Jesus Christ; Ronald Reagan represented the office of the President. Neither man was caught up in who he was; each was caught up in what he represented.

It has been a rare privilege to have known Dr. Graham and his family for so many years, and to speak at one of his final crusades. That night, Billy Graham, well into his eighties, walked slowly, needing help from a walker, needing a special pulpit to accommodate his infirmities — but to me, he looked like a runner taking a victory lap. His mind, soul, and spirit were as strong as ever.

I watched him do what he counseled me to do. He gave himself over to God and allowed the Holy Spirit to enter that stadium, to speak through him, and to meet the needs of everyone there.

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