“No boast but the cross of Jesus.” — A tribute to the message of Billy Graham

“No boast but the cross of Jesus.” — A tribute to the message of Billy Graham

Dan Wolgemuth

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

In Billy Graham’s den—a room that could have been littered with self-aggrandizing memorabilia and awards—the words of the Apostle Paul illuminated the day. To further magnify the point, the Bible text was not presented in noteworthy calligraphy, nor framed in cherry or walnut. Instead, it was printed on 8.5 by 11 paper stock in a font size that required two sheets.

The paper was taped to the wall at eye level for a man that was primarily confined to a wing-backed chair.

I didn’t ask if the verse had been present five months earlier when President Obama visited. Whether it was present or not, I’m quite certain that what Billy Graham presented to the leader of the free world was no different than what he expressed to me.

It was the cross of Jesus Christ that defined his accomplishments. It was the symbol of sacrifice and forgiveness that provided the coronation crown for a global figure who impacted eight decades of humanity.

The cross. The singular place of pride. His savior. His King.

My visit to the Graham home in September 2010 provided an opportunity that I will forever cherish. I was fully aware that my invitation had been secured because of the organizational name on my business card, and my last name that connected Dr. Graham to an old friend...namely, my father. Billy Graham and my father, Sam Wolgemuth, were friends for years. The root of their relationship was tied to the early days of Youth For Christ. It was the mid-1940s when Billy became a prominent evangelist for the fledgling organization. By the late ‘40s, Billy had made a commitment to feature the unfiltered Word of God in every one of his speaking engagements. By the early ‘50s, Billy was preaching his message outside of Youth For Christ, and a young pastor from Pennsylvania was now making a significant personal and career shift to join the burgeoning movement of YFC, eventually becoming the fifth president of the organization in 1965.

Paths crossed, relationship developed, trust was forged, and friendship bloomed.

This preamble created the backdrop on which Billy Graham pressed into a thoughtful but pointed examination of me. After all, I was Sam’s son and I now carried the title of President of Youth For Christ/USA. This was a careful and authentic mix of personal and spiritual reflection, as well as a focused and urgent inspection of the mission strategy for the organization that now existed under my watch.

Of utmost importance was the validation that the ministry of Youth For Christ was still on mission. An unwavering and verifiable fidelity to the values and message that had both transformed Billy’s life and fueled his calling were paramount in the minutes that we shared.

Commingled with this test of ministry integrity were spontaneous reflections on the relational persona that my father had carved into the heart of the young and flourishing evangelist. As though interrupted by his soul, Billy would abruptly pause, ponder, and then look my way and announce, “Your father knew how to pray.” A short entrance ramp back onto his train of thought, and we were once again pondering the power of the God that he loved and served. It was a duet on the beauty of the life and message of Jesus. Billy was drilling deeply into the text that ignited him passionately: “No boast but the cross of Jesus.”

For forty-five glorious minutes this was the pattern. I reveled in it, as I do to this day.

I sat next to a man whose body was failing, but whose soul was vibrant and alive. I sat next to a man who could have filled every square foot of the warm but simple den where we sat with awards, degrees, accolades, memorabilia, trophies, citations, endorsements, and gifts that he had rightfully accumulated...but the spotlight of his heart shone brightly on his one boast, the singular symbol of his ministry: The cross. Jesus. The Christ.

As our time together approached one hour, Billy pressed my way with the simple pronouncement: “Why don’t we conclude our time together with a word of prayer?” Then, once again, after a short but productive pause, he tossed one more question my way. “Why don’t you pray?”

In that invitation I felt the test of legitimacy and legacy. In that invitation I felt the weight and the liberty of my calling. In that invitation I felt the honor and the stewardship of sitting side-by-side with one of the most widely known men of all time.

And so I prayed. As I did, I anchored my soul in the steadfast truth that launched a North Carolina farm boy into untold heights of glory while keeping his feet firmly planted in the humility that rarely accompanies greatness.

For all the tributes that are sure to surround this man, I choose to never forget his mission or message. Like William Franklin Graham, Jr., I choose to only boast in this: the humility, sacrifice, and power of the cross of Christ.

Dan has served as President and CEO of Youth For Christ/USA since early 2005 and currently resides in Denver with his wife, Mary. In the United States today, YFC is active and locally-led in over 2,000 communities. To learn more about this ongoing movement, visit yfc.net/about.

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