This poem about Billy Graham was composed in 2013 by his brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, for Billy’s 95th birthday. Billy Graham died in February of 2018, nine months short of his 100th birthday. For almost a century, he was “America’s evangelist.” He was a friend and advisor to all the Presidents who served during his ministry, both Republican or Democrat. It didn’t matter, because Graham was apolitical. He stuck to the gospel of Jesus Christ and refused the temptation to try to gain anything for the kingdom of God through politics.
by Leighton Ford
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 –
Straight or otherwise
Republican, Democrat, Libertarian
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.
-Leighton Ford, November 2013