93: J.C. Watts

93: J.C. Watts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 93 •

Former U.S. Representative (Oklahoma), co-founder of the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa and chairman, J.C. Watts Companies

As I was growing up, there were times when I could not swim in the public swimming pool or sit on the main level of the movie theater with my white friends. Instead, I was confined to the balcony. When I was in the third grade, my uncle and father protested the pool restriction and got the swimming pool opened to all people. I didn’t fully comprehend at that point what they accomplished or the implications of the balcony-only policy in the movie theater. However, the older I get, the more I appreciate the stand that people like my father and uncle took and the sacrifices they made.

Reverend Graham was such a person and I therefore admire him not only as a Christian, but also from the perspective of civil rights. Billy Graham fully understood the truth of God’s Word and at a difficult time in our nation’s history, he insisted on applying it universally. In so doing, he gave us a tremendous picture of what living out of faith should look like.

The more I discover about Reverend Graham, the more I peel away the layers of the onion, so to speak, the more impressed I am. Reverend Graham would be the first to tell you he is not perfect, but as someone who has observed his life over many years, he has consistently walked the walk in his life and in his preaching. By consistently, I mean he never tries to change God’s Word to fit the times. He remains constant on the nature of God’s Word, its truth and revelation.

God loves you and He wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with you. That has been his message over and over. The simplicity of this message has been wonderful through the years and I believe the consistency of his walk has been the reason his message has resonated with and impacted so many people, leading thousands and thousands to a personal, intimate relationship with Christ.

Scripture says God gives to all of us the measure of faith. I don’t think God gives Billy Graham any more faith than He gives anyone else. However, faith is like a muscle; the more we use it, the stronger it gets. Reverend Graham’s faith in the truth of God’s Word encouraged him to believe at all costs, even in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, when it wasn’t popular in some parts of the country to point out that John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In addition to the significance of the words, “gave his only begotten Son,” the word “whoever” is key. Even in the face of segregation, discrimination and Jim Crow, Reverend Graham believed “whoever” meant everyone: black, white, brown, yellow, red, rich, poor, man or woman. That has been his unchanging position.

We often exercise our faith based on how we feel or how others feel or what they say or what the news media says. Billy Graham affirms that these things don’t matter. What matters is God’s Word and God’s Word states that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Reverend Graham has always held that this is true for people of all colors and all nations all the time.

I applaud ministries today — white, black, red, yellow and brown — that preach and teach this, but what separates Billy Graham from the pack is that he preached this even when it was most unpopular, back in the ’50s and ’60s. The difficulties in our lives or the difficulties that society faces don’t create character; they reveal character. I did not have to face prejudice and Jim Crow the way my parents and grandmother did, but I saw enough of its ugliness to realize that anybody in Reverend Graham’s position who stood up against it was surely revealing something special in his character. His spiritual strength and integrity seem even more amazing to me today than they probably would have back then.

I had the privilege of being around Reverend Graham during his visit to Oklahoma City in 2003, where he held one of his famous crusades. As a member of Congress representing Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District, I was on the program to share a testimony. I went backstage to a room where he and others were waiting and spent about twenty or twenty-five minutes with him. If I had not known about Billy Graham or had not ever seen him before in my life, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this had been the face of evangelism all over the world for decades. His humility and his desire to be totally obedient to the Lord were remarkable and inspiring.

I’ve operated in a number of different arenas in my life. I was a youth pastor for eight years and I still preach about eight or ten times a year around the country. I was also a college quarterback and professional athlete. I have run businesses and I spent twelve years on the front line of politics including eight as a member of the United States Congress. In all these spheres, the cheer of the crowd, even the praise of the individual, can be highly seductive. People call you “The Honorable” or tell you, “Man, great game” and “Man, you were wonderful; you were fantastic,” and the media says how great you are. On Sunday mornings, after you preach, people come to you and say, “Hey, a great sermon. You so touched my heart and I gave my life to Christ.” In business, when you close the deal and take your company to another level as the CEO, you start to think how good you are and that whatever is happening is about you or because of you. It’s easy to lose perspective and humility in any and all of these circumstances.

Billy Graham was surrounded by these kinds of situations. If ever someone in America could have lost their perspective or their humility or earned the right to use the pronoun “I,” it was Billy Graham. Yet it seemed like all the attention embarrassed him. He totally refused to be a superstar.

After my personal introduction to him, I felt a great personal bond and I wanted to learn more about him. I started reading about him and I had the privilege of visiting the Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College in Illinois. As I found out more about his life, I recognized the contribution his humble beginnings in North Carolina had made to his character and demeanor, though I think by and large that is just who he is.

Reverend Graham’s involvement in evangelism has probably touched four or five generations of Americans, including four generations in my own family — my grandmother, my parents, my children and myself — with the steadfastness of his message. I think his family contributed to that consistency. I can’t imagine a better partner, wife and friend for Reverend Graham on his journey than Ruth Graham and I know how important that is. Billy and Ruth Graham stood in the truth of God’s Word and now their children are associated with the ministry. Teach your children the way they should go and they’ll never depart from it.

His mission was not to impress kings, queens, heads of state, members of Congress and ambassadors, but to impress upon the hearts of the people who heard him speak that God loves them and wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with them. I’m convinced that has been his only interest and when someone speaks from the heart, people feel it. So, it’s not a tall order to comprehend who Billy Graham is. Anybody prepared to look with an open mind and heart, regardless of his or her skin color, would say, “Billy Graham has a special sauce.”

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