When Billy Graham Said “No”…

Integrated crowd at Billy Graham Crusade

 Billy Graham was a son of the segregated South.  He grew up, as did I, with signs declaring “Whites Only” and “No Colored Served Here.”  Division by race was the abnormal accepted thing.  It was understood that black people who showed up at “white” churches would be met at the door and redirected to a church for “their kind.”

Billy Graham became a national figure in 1949 with the Los Angeles crusade.  Invitations to conduct city-wide crusades poured in, including invitations in Southern cities.  During the first Southern city-wide crusades, whites and blacks were seated in different sections, as was the custom.  But the Holy Spirit began to trouble Billy’s heart.

The defining moment came in 1953, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King, before lunch counter sit-ins, before Civil Rights marches.  It happened in Chattanooga, a southern city with deep racial division (what southern city didn’t have deep racial divisions?).

The stadium where the crusade was to held had been divided into white and black sections, as was the custom.  Ropes marked the division.

When Billy Graham came to the stadium prior to the first night of the crusade, he saw the ropes.  This time, he said, “No.”  With holy passion he mounted the steps of the stadium and began to pull down the ropes and the signs.  Local Crusade organizers tried to stop him.  He bluntly told them, “Leave the ropes down or you can have the crusade without me.”  The ropes stayed down.  The gospel was preached.  Whites and blacks came forward together to receive Christ.  Because one man said, “No.”

It is hard now, in 2018, to realize how courageous this act was.  Just three years after Chattanooga, Billy Graham’s pastor, W. A. Criswell, would proclaim to the South Carolina Legislature that “anyone who believes in integration is dead from the neck up.”  Graham quickly made a statement to the press, saying, “My pastor and I have never seen eye-to-eye on the race question.”  What Graham did not say was that a great number of his financial backers expected Graham to support segregation or at least stay silent on race.  But Graham would not budge.  Every crusade would integrated – period.  For more than twenty years, Billy Graham refused to hold a crusade in South Africa, until segregation laws were repealed.

True, Billy Graham did not march with Martin Luther King, Jr.  By his own admission, he became too involved in politics during the Nixon Administration.  He was not perfect, nor did he claim to be.

But for millions of Americans who had been touched by his ministry, a new thought formed: “If Billy Graham says ‘no’ to segregation, maybe I should say ‘no’ too.”

I remember as a child seeing televised crusades.  The camera would pan over the choir and I would see black people singing next to white people.  I had never seen that growing up in rural Florida.  Even in my child’s mind, something said, “This must good, if it’s happening at a Billy Graham crusade.”

Billy Graham has always been my hero.  He preached the gospel.  Millions came to know Jesus.  He used modern media to share Jesus.  He made it okay to have music that sounded contemporary in Christian gathering.  He spoke as the prophet America needed to hear, once saying to a white audience, “We have been proud and thought we were better than any other race, any other people. Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to stumble into hell because of our pride.”  He was the nation’s pastor, a calming voice of faith when tragedy struck.

And he tore down the ropes.

Thank you, Billy Graham, for saying “No.”

Try Something New…

try something new

You need to try something new.  Your organization needs to try something new.  Your church needs to try something new?

Why?  Isn’t the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” true?


Just because something is working in this moment is no guarantee it will work tomorrow or even the rest of the day (ask any farmer about this; he can tell you equipment breaks down at worst possible moments).

For the Jesus follower, this is critical.  Jesus always invites you to take a next step.  This means you must embrace a life that requires a focus on Jesus and a willingness to move from what is comfortable and familiar.  Jesus regularly invites you into the new.

Why do we not do something new?

We’re afraid to fail.

Failure is the last thing God’s people should fear.  God can redeem every failure of ours and make it new.  Learn from our failures – sure.  Let our failures keep us from trying something new?  Absolutely not.

It’s time to try something new in your walk with Jesus.

So if you read the Bible every day, that’s good!  But if it feels stale, then switch it up and listen to the passages of scripture instead of reading them.  Read it in a different translation.  Read a whole book through in one sitting.

If prayer feels stale, try praying in a different physical posture.  Instead of praying sitting in a chair, pray on your knees.  Pray on your knees?  Try praying standing up with your arms outstretched.  Have a familiar pattern of prayer?  Switch it up.  Confess your sins first, then ask God to meet your needs.

If the worship service you attend feels stale, sit in a different spot.  Take notes on the sermon for a change.  Maybe visit a church way outside your worship tradition.  If you are Pentecostal, go to an Episcopal Church.  Baptist?  Go to a Pentecostal church.

Your organization needs to try something new.  Re-arrange the furniture.  Offer a sale at an offbeat time.  Roll out an experimental product.  Change the meeting schedule.

I know your church needs to try something new.  Instead of Sunday night worship, try a three month experiment of having worship on Monday night.  Instead of a big Christmas musical, take the choir to the Walmart parking lot and sing carols.  Maybe your pastor needs to try something different in his preaching – like asking random people at McDonald’s what kind of sermons would interest them, then preaching those sermons.

God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Join God in what is new.  Get uncomfortable.  Grow.  Stretch.  Fail. Learn.

Try something new.

Courage to Come to Church…

I want to tell you a story that didn’t happen to you.

On Palm Sunday you got up, made some coffee, and skimmed your Facebook.  You got dressed with a little fear in your heart.  You drove to church scanning the cars you passed for signs of trouble.  You parked some distance away from church just in case.

You walked several hundred feet to the building and joined a line that was fifty people long.  You thought, “It’s taking a long time for people to clear through today.”  Your wait today was 15 minutes; longer than last Sunday, but not as long as it will be on Palm Sunday.

You come to the metal detector and wait for the signal.  You pass through with a nod to the Security agent.  Making your way into the church, you see smiling familiar faces.  There is a warmth and peace among these people that can’t be found on the streets.  Finding your seat, you see with fresh eyes the cross.  You’ve seen it hundreds of times before, but for some reason, today it touches your soul.

The service begins.  Someone on stage reads the story of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  You know the story.  It is the first bookend of Holy Week.  Holy Week is a week that begins in triumph, falls into tragedy, and finishes in victory.  Today is all about remembering the most important week in human history.

The scripture reading is finished.  The music begins.  Then a flash.  Deafening noise.  Dust.  Screams.  You pass out.

You come to, and dare to open your eyes.  You are on the floor, under a pew.  Looking down, you see blood flowing from your leg.  Screams of pain continue.  You roll from under the pew and try to stand.  The pain is intense, but you see a mother trying to lift a piece of a pew off her child.  Despite your busted leg, you limp over rubble to help.  Both of you strain, the pew moves, and the child cries.  At least the child is alive.

After helping the Mom, someone grabs you and pushes you toward a hole in the wall that wasn’t there before.  “Get help,” they yell.  You step through the hole into a tangle of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars.  Still in shock, your mind barely registers a policeman’s voice saying, “Must be 40 or 50 people dead.”

You knew this was a possibility.  You knew it could happen.  You knew someone could sneak through security and detonate a bomb.  That’s why there was that stirring of fear before you left home.  But your love of Jesus overcame your fear.  That’s why you were there when the bomb exploded.

This story didn’t happen to you.  But it happened to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt.  Two Coptic Christian Churches were bombed by suicide bombers on Palm Sunday.  Forty four people died; over a hundred were injured.  ISIS is claiming responsibility.

Can you imagine the courage it took to go worship Jesus on Palm Sunday for our brothers and sisters in Egypt?

Stories like this remind me to quit my whining.  I do not know the threat of death going to church on Sunday or Monday.  No one has attacked me for preaching the gospel.  What kind of songs we sing, what translation we should use, who we should vote for – it all seems pretty silly and petty.

There are people courageous enough to go church and chance death all over the world because they love Jesus

Maybe I need to ask God to make me courageous too – courageous enough to follow Jesus.