5 Things I Love About Billy Graham: In Memoriam

c93b53ad616e615faf39c2a908de98fd--billy-graham-quotes-travelingThere is a lot to love about Billy Graham. Learning of his death today at the age of 99 is bittersweet. Bitter because it represents the end of something special, but sweet because it is the actual beginning of something else–something Billy talked about so often–eternal life. I’m a little younger than those who were very influenced by Graham, for by the time I came into the ministry his primary years were already behind him. Nevertheless, he still had an impact on me as a believer and as a pastor. To be sure, he wasn’t perfect–only Jesus has that wrapped up, but he was a positive and powerful influence in the world. Here are five things I love about him.

1. I love the Billy Graham Rule. In a world filled with #metoo, we need to remember Graham was way ahead of the curve here. He pioneered the idea of never being alone with a woman who wasn’t your wife. I was taught this in seminary as the Billy Graham model, and it has served me well. A corollary to this involved the establishment of a board to handle money and make salary decisions. Graham taught us that staying away from temptation on the two fronts where men and ministers are most vulnerable is good ethics.

2. I love the way he adopted whatever media worked. We often think off I’m with the big crusades, but he used television, radio, leaflets, tracks, and even films. I am sure many of us remember watching those evangelistic movies from the BGEA. I am certain that if Graham were hitting his stride today, he’d be tearing it up on Twitter and Youtube. Scratch that, he’d be all over #thesnapchatofdecision.

3. I love his book on angels. I don’t really agree with everything he writes in it, but I love that he took the time, did the work, and wrote a theological treatise. It demonstrates to me that even though his gospel ministry was really the same message over and over again, he had a heart for academic pursuits and biblical knowledge.

4. I love that he helped found the magazine Christianity Today. CT is one of my favorite magazines.

5. I love his commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior rather than a commitment to politics, denominations, or particular churches. To be truthful, there were times when it seems like the power of politics, particularly during the Nixon years, threatened to sweep him away like yet another fad. Yet, to his credit, he chucked all that and turned back again toward his first love. He got burned, but learned his lesson.

Rest in Peace Billy. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.


Last Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, I preached a sermon I called “A Symposium on Joy” which was really just a series of loosely connected quotations. If you want the sermon, you’ll have to go listen to the podcast. Here are the quotations, without comment.

The joy which the Spirit brings to our lives lifts us above circumstances. Joy can be ours, even in the midst of the most trying situations.
—Billy Graham

this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it to me,
the world didn’t give it, and the world can’t take it away.
—Contemporary African American Lyric

Yes, a few things in life are absolutely tragic, no question about it. First among them, a joyless Christian
—Chuck Swindoll

We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.
—Helen Keller

I’m out of joy. Stop at Albertsons and get me some.
—Kim Greening

Surprised by joy—impatient as the wind.
—William Wordsworth

Weeping may tarry for the night,
But joy comes in the morning.
—King David of Israel

Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.
—Mark Twain

preserve a quiet conscience, and you will always have joy
—Thomas a’Kempis

the time of preparation for the Lord’s Supper will be filled with brotherly admonition and encouragement, with prayers, with fear, and with joy.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You give me joy that’s unspeakable; and I like it
—Peter Furler

Joy is the serious business of heaven.
—C.S. Lewis

we must preach for joy in the glory of God if we would produce true grief over falling short of the glory of God.
—John Piper

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.


Please forgive that I have not posted all week, but I just returned from the three day extravaganza known as the Annual Meeting of Northwest Baptists.  This year our meeting was in Portland at the Embassy Suites near the Airport.  More on that later.

For those who might not know,  the word “convention” is not really what we are doing.  It is more like a conference.  I’ve always thought we needed a name change given the times we live in.  Convention is ComicCon or Air Compressor salespeople learning about sales strategies or new product.  What we do is more like a conference or an expo–there is a lot of preaching, music, and reports.  I usually skip the reports.  You can read about previous years reviews (Eugene, Eugene, and Tri-Cities)

So here are my thoughts/comments/perspectives on this years gala.

1.  I usually blog at the convention itself, but the stupid Embassy Suites where we were charged $10 a day for wifi so, being a a Baptist I decided to skip that.  I hope you understand.  No wifi really cut into my aimless Facebooking and Words with Friends addiciton.  The bed was comfy, but did I mention the airport was nearby.  How close was the airport?  I’m pretty sure I heard the landing gear scrape the roof, that is how close.  I did not sleep well at all because of the incredible amount of air traffic noise.  Ohhh, and I almost forgot, the loudest indoor waterfall in the world is in their lobby.   I could hear the faux waterfall from my room.  With the door closed.  And my Skullcandy earphones on.  Listening to Led Zeppelin.

2.  One of the things I appreciate about my convention, my tribe, is our radical commitment to facial hair.  Most of the men (and some of the women?) had completely spectacular beards.  Case in point–here is a snapshot of the praise band from Monday and Tuesday.  What awesome beards they have.  They were a great praise band too–which is probably directly proportional to the amount of beardage.  It makes me proud to be a Northwest Baptist.


3.  The preaching is always what pulls me in the most.   Jeff Iorg did a great job this morning encouraging us to keep to the basics of disciple making.  Our Convention president this year, Steve Schenewerk, gave last night’s message.  Afterward I took a photo of him because he looked like a mafia don.  I skipped today’s afternoon session because we had a long drive back and I needed to get back tonight for small group but I have heard on the Twitter that Barry Campbell did a great job.


4.  Billy Graham was the theme of the convention, I think.  Every preacher it seems told a Billy Graham story.  I kid you not, I would swear on a stack of Baptist Hymnals that one of them said something like, “If you don’t tell your lost friends about Jesus for their sake, or for the love of  Jesus, then do it for Billy’s Graham’s 95th birthday.”  That might be a little hyperbole, but not much of one.

5.  The best quote I heard–“your ability to lead a church is directly proportional to your ability to tolerate pain” by Gary McIntosh.

6.  The best part for me, always, is reconnecting with old friends whom I see far too infrequently.  I also sometimes make new friends, like I did this year.  It reminds me that the ties that bind us are not doctrine, methodology, or affinity but instead it is the only thing Jesus called a new commandment:  love for one another.


7.  I felt like there was a lot of angst at the convention this year.  Not towards people or anger or anything, but a kind of despondency.  Most of the preachers referred to the recent elections in a negative way and wrung their hands and seemed to indicate that all is lost.  When that is paired with the usual tone of  “if your church doesn’t have 2,000 in worship on Sunday then you are doing something wrong” and people seemed to feel uptight.  As I left today I wanted to give everyone a big hug and tell them it would be okay.  Jesus is still King and our job hasn’t changed–to be faithful.  I wish I could just find a way to help everyone relax a little bit more and enjoy this amazing life of grace that we lead.


Earlier this week I tweeted (yeah, I Twitter; @jamiedgreening) that I was reading the book A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church by Warren Cole Smith.   Almost immediately a pastor friend of mine asked me to write a review of it when I was finished.

Smith’s premise can best be summarized from a brief sentence near the end of book.  He writes:

In fact, it is unfortunate that perhaps the most apt metaphor for the megachurch’s relationship to the body of Christ is that of the cancerous tumor; as it grows, it kills the body. (p. 216).


This one sentence encapsulates the gist of Smith’s complaint.  He has come to believe that megachurches and the people who lead them are doing great harm to the overall church in the United States.  I thought it would be impossible to find someone who was more cynical of the church-growth movement than I am, but I was wrong.  The deeper I got into the book I decided it should have been titled Why I Hate Megachurches.  Smith is a reporter, not a pastor or theologian and he goes at his work with the kind of fervor that an investigative journalist might go after a story about faulty car seats for infants or tainted milk in school cafeterias.  One gets the feeling that a certain glee at the “Aha, I got you,” came over his face as he put the book together. 

I have to admit I like his style.  He does not hold back names or direct accusations.  He goes after all the big named people:  Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren.  In fact, he accuses Rick Warren of downright lying and Billy Graham of heresy in salvation theology.  Smith even goes after dead people, devoting a large amount of print to attacks on Finney.  The best parts of his book are when he is outlying the theological weakness of most of Protestantism right now and how quickly we buy into faddish things.

The book is not for the squeamish.  Smith very capability surveys broad scopes of history, theology, and business.  In fact, the “Christian-industrial complex” is a favorite topic of his.  Perhaps his best chapter covers the Christian music industry and how it has taken something that is free, worship, and added a price tag to it.  I liked that chapter.

The thing about Warren Smith is that he is interesting.  Whether or not you agree with his premises or his complaints his writing is engaging.  Sometimes I agreed with him, and sometimes I wanted to immediately send him an email in refutation.  I particularly felt this way over his continued insistence that a Calvinist approach is the only real sustainable theological way of doing church.  I am a non-Calvinist yet I still agree with much of what he says.  Not all, but much.  However, he kept me engaged and that really is all I ask of writer.  It is so boring to just agree with everything.

The book was written in 2008, which means it is a little dated.  However, not much has changed in the Evangelical world since he wrote.  However, much of what he laments are already being addressed by myriad people.  For example, much of his sentiment is captured in Eugene Peterson’s recent memoir The Pastor.  Many of us have begun to get the feeling and sense that the way we’ve been doing church for the past 50 years has failed.  The system is broken.  We do not have more Christians than we used to have and the a majority of those following Christ today are not as theologically, biblically and morally sound as believers were in the past.  Smith’s tone and sensibility resonate with me.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to look critically at the state of Evangelicalism right now.