“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14
I felt like I was time-traveling as I sat and watched the recent Billy Graham telecast, My Hope. It was that voice that brought it all back. Suddenly it was the 1970’s again, and I was in my early teens. Somewhere out there were still hippies and leftover flower children. Nixon might have declared the war in Vietnam over, but it still went on, over there and over here. But I was young and times were simple, peaceful in the evangelical world I grew up in.
The seventies brought modern translations of the Bible like “The “Good News for Modern Man” and the revolutionary,”The Way.” The old guard at my Baptist church didn’t approve. According to them, only the King James version was acceptible to God. And Jesus wore pin-striped suits. Yeah.
Those were the years of “Campus Crusade for Christ” and “Up with People”
We read spellbound about how gang member Nicky Cruz was brought to Christ by David Wilkerson’s fearless witness.
The Hiding Place movie came out, the story of what happened to Corrie Ten Boom’s family during the Holocaust.
And I am sitting in my Grandma’s warm kitchen watching the ORU singing group, the World Action Singers on her black and white set. She had an open line to the Prayer Tower and she was fond of both Oral Roberts and Ronald Reagan. Their pictures were scotch-taped in strategic places on her walls. In her broken German accent she could never master Oral’s name, instead it came out something like “Earlen B. Robbins.”
We watched Billy Graham crusades every time they came on TV.
I remembered the line he always said right before he gave the invitation to do that something bold.
That something bold was to step out of your seat and make your way to the aisle to start that trembling, wobbly, floating on your feet walk down the aisle to make a public declaration of your faith.
His message has never varied, it was always and only the Cross. Billy saw no need to fancy it up, to change with the times because he knew its message is timeless.
It’s what was known as the Altar Call. Some churches still have them. I remember the line from every crusade I ever watched. What Billy always said was, “Everyone that Jesus called he called publicly.” He always said it with a grand sweep of his arm as only he could say it.
Once, Billy Graham’s team came to my hometown and held a crusade at our festival grounds. He wasn’t there but another speaker was. All these years later I can still see his face, Lane Adams was his name. I knew by the end of that crusade that I would make that walk down my own church aisle the next Sunday.
I was fourteen and It was the best decision I ever made.
Then there was the time we all went to an actual crusade. I will never forget it. It was a hot, sweltering night in California’s beautiful capital city of Sacramento. We had to walk for what seemed like miles.
And I saw him from far, far away, and heard him speak. And it was powerful. A singer sang that night and I remember thinking, who is that girl and why does she have two first names? The singer was a young Sandy Patti. She was unknown then, but she went on to win Grammy’s and Dove awards. And she still has one of the finest voices you will ever hear.
And then Billy’s closing statements, and there was a hush as people fidgeted in the heat, shifting positions. And then the opening bar of “Just As I Am……” I can still hear the rustling of all that movement. A sea of people rose from all directions and just kept coming. It seemed there might be more up front than out in the crowd. I’ll never forget it.
My last church had an altar call, but I haven’t been to a service where they had one in a long while. Now it’s the declaration of “eyes closed, and heads bowed and a wave of the hand.” Somehow that doesn’t work for me. It’s just not the same. To me, it’s the most Holy moment of church and it brings us all closer together.
For how can we celebrate as a church family if we don’t even know it happened?
How can we acknowledge it when it happens behind closed doors?
For everyone Jesus called, He called publicly.
And He said unto them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19