88: Cal Thomas

88: Cal Thomas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 88 •
CAL THOMAS

Author, syndicated op-ed columnist, radio commentator and panelist on Fox News Watch

I first met Billy Graham in the mid-1970s while interviewing him for my book, Public Persons and Private Lives. He came down a little driveway with two enormous German Shepherds. “Don’t worry, they won’t hurt you unless I give them the code word,” he said. I laughed and replied, “Don’t tell me what it is.” He said, “Actually, I forgot it!” and we both laughed. He invited me in and could not have been more gracious: simple house, simple man. Amazing man, actually. I’ve never met anyone like him.

Over the years he has shared a number of stories with me. They all provide great lessons, and I remember them still.

He told me that in his younger days and even as he got older, he never allowed himself to be alone with a woman other than his wife, or to be picked up by a woman at the airport unless her husband accompanied her.

I always thought of that as a great preventive, and I have applied it in my own life. It is in my contract when I go and speak, as a precaution, because we are all fallen people. Given the right circumstances, even those who think they “never would” just might. Some people fall into temptation because they don’t take precautions. They get on Facebook and connect with an old girlfriend or boyfriend from high school and invite trouble.

On another occasion, Billy and I were at the National Press Club. He was there to speak and we attended a reception beforehand. Someone wanted a picture taken with him, and he asked me to hold his glass. He was drinking a Coca-Cola. Later I asked him why he had done that. He said, “I find it best not to have a picture taken with a glass in my hand because people might read something into it.”

In an interview in the 1970s, I asked him if he ever went though temptations of the flesh. He said, “Sure, as a young man, who wouldn’t? But I asked God to strike me dead before He ever allowed me to dishonor Him in that way.” Then he told me a story I think was autobiographical, although I have no way of knowing. A preacher was in Paris one night and felt tempted. He took his hotel room key, locked himself in and threw the key out the window.

You can guard your heart and your character if you care about your family and your reputation. These days we don’t take our own moral character as seriously as people used to because the media encourages us to do whatever we want, pretending there are no consequences.

Temptation, of course, comes in many guises. Anyone who has watched Billy Graham on television or seen him in person in a stadium is aware of the enormous charisma of the man. He once had offers from Hollywood because of his good looks, and from political people to run for the Senate from North Carolina. These were great, worldly temptations, but he turned them all down. He said he was called to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

This is a man who knew early he was called to preach the Gospel. He tells a story that one day as a young man he was conflicted because of his inability to understand certain things in Scripture. He went out outside, put the Bible on a tree stump, got down on his knees, and said, “God, I don’t understand all of it, but I understand enough of it, and I believe in You, and I will take what I don’t understand and accept it as coming from You.”

You can see in that story the humility of the man. Indeed, I have never known anybody who was as famous around the world as Billy, but also as humble, and genuinely so. He really doesn’t think he’s that great. He also had the gift of surrounding himself with people who were ready to hold him accountable and keep him humble in the midst of fame and adulation. One of his associates told me a story years ago. Billy had just concluded a huge stadium event, with many people coming forward. When he got back to the hotel his associate turned to him and said, “You’re not as great as they think you are!”

Humility, kindness, and generosity are the hallmarks of Billy Graham and his family. In 1986, my wife and I were in Amsterdam for the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists that he and his association organized. Our suitcase was broken into and some clothes and other items were stolen. Billy’s wife, Ruth, lent my wife a dress until we could get some other clothes. These are people who would literally give you the clothes off their backs.

If you don’t know Billy Graham it’s hard to compare him to anyone. The closest would be Mother Teresa. I met her once and she was the real deal, too. There are few such people in the public arena. Billy even says things like, “When I get to heaven I’ll have to ask the Lord to forgive me for all sorts of things.” He is the most transparent famous person I have ever known, in the sense of being free of all pretense or deceit.

Of course, he has some regrets. He’s written and spoken about them. He became too identified with Richard Nixon and politics, and in the 1950s he spent too much time pounding the pulpit against communism. Not that that wasn’t a good thing to be against, but it was not his primary calling.

Some people may not know that Billy was also a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Billy would refuse to hold services unless they were racially integrated. He told me that King said to him, “I know you can’t go out on the streets because you have a unique ministry, so you take the churches and I’ll take the streets.” Insisting on integrated services was a courageous stance to take in those days. There were many people in the South and elsewhere who thought that black people were inferior and that God didn’t want those of us who are white to associate with them. So that was extremely brave of Billy Graham, himself a southern preacher, to take a stand when a lot of his colleagues condemned him for it.

Some people wonder what will happen when Billy passes from the scene. My answer — and I think his answer — would be that God will raise-up others. He always has. He did when He raised up Billy Graham.

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