For this meaningful Friday, I’ve asked one of my special friends to share a message.
For many years, I have been blessed to be friends and neighbors with several of Reverend Billy Graham’s close relatives. They are all extraordinary! Leighton Ford is Reverend Graham’s brother-in-law who traveled and preached with him for decades.
He has spoken face-to-face to millions of people in 37 countries on every continent of the world and served as Associate Evangelist and, later, VicePresident of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He is married to Reverend Graham’s lovely sister Jean. They are two of my most favorite people in the world.
In addition to our faith, Leighton and I share a passion for animals. I look forward to later sharing with you his wonderful book about his beloved rescue dog Wrangler. I treasure it! I also trea
sure one of Leighton’s paintings of his cat Butternut who looked very much like my beloved cat Miu that I still miss everyday. Yes, Leighton is the author of several powerful books in addition to being an amazing artist. His and Jean’s Christmas card is always one of his recent paintings (and yes, of course, I have saved them all, as I do all of the Grahams’ Christmas cards).
One of my favorite of Leighton Ford’s quotes is “There is no detour to holiness, Jesus came to the resurrection through the cross, not around it.”
Today I share his message about the cross, the reason for this Holy Season. Leighton wrote this in honor of Reverend Graham’s 95th birthday.
A Meditation for his 95th birthday.
the young preacher cried
to the vast crowds
in the football stadiums of the world.
the old man says in his husky voice
sitting next to his dog
on the porch of his log house,
gazing with faded eyes at the blue ridged hills.
Above his chair in the kitchen
a small cloth banner … a reminder:
“God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Why glory in the cross?
Didn’t Jesus on the cross ask “Why?”
I think I know my brother-in-law
well enough to know
why the cross matters to him so
that after these ninety-five years
he makes it his last word.
He knows how much he himself needs grace.
When he meets the Lord
he’s not going to puff his chest, stick out his hand
and say, “ I’m Billy Graham, your chief envoy.”
Knowing him he’ll be prostrate, on his face,
Saying “Thank You for your mercy,
for choosing me, a sinner.
But it’s not as if he thinks of the cross only as a ticket to heaven.
He knows that coming to the Cross costs nothing, and everything.
How many times I’ve heard him quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die.”
And Jesus: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
He knows that the Cross offers both free grace
And a call to die daily to self-glory.
Billy is a preacher, not a poet,
but I think he’d agree with a poet who writes,
“I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross
when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness,
cries out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”
I have seen him gaze with longing at the picture of
his departed and beloved Ruth, wince at the pain
that runs through his jaw and down his leg.
At the Washington Cathedral after 9/11 he said,
“I don’t know why God allowed this. It’s a mystery.”
But he knows that on the cross God was saying
“I am with you, not beyond you, in suffering.”
There’s more. A Chinese scholar once told me,
“When Billy Graham came to China
he came not with a closed fist, but an open hand.”
That’s because he knows there’s a paradox in the cross
(though he might not call it that).
The cross is both the narrowest gate
and the widest welcome to new life.
The narrowest, for Jesus said, “I am the door, the way.”
The widest because he also said,
“Whoever comes to me I will not turn away.”
That gate is open to all who seek God’s grace
and are willing to receive it,
people of every kind and condition –
Tea Party, Occupier
Straight or otherwise
Republican, Democrat, Libertarian
Sarah P and Nancy P
Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, or “none”
All kinds of sinners and seekers.
In the cross of Christ God throws open the gate of new life and says,
“Welcome. There’s room in my house for you. Come in.
And you’ll be changed into what I created you to be
– a human fully redeemed.”
We can hang a cross round our neck,
gaze at it on a steeple,
but it is far more than an icon.
The cross tells us that life itself, creation itself
is cross-shaped, cruciformed,
the hope of healing for a broken world.
Billy has preached the cross,
He also has lived it, or, better
lived by it,
Have a blessed and beautiful Easter!