We knew it was coming. With each passing birthday, we knew a spiritual giant of our lifetime would be in heaven soon.
It's still hard. And even more real for me, having just come from Billy Graham's funeral service. For so many of us, he embodied the best of Biblical faith. Even though his last crusade was in 2005, there's still this sense that we have lost something irreplaceable.
Leaving many asking the graveside question his pastor posed: "Billy's gone - what happens now? Who will take Billy's place?"
First, our God is a God of surprises. There may not be another Billy Graham in our generation. God will, of course, continue to extend His invitation of love to a lost world. But His plan may or may not include a larger-than-life evangelist like Billy Graham.
While there may not be one Gospel voice with Billy Graham's singular impact on our world, we can be thankful that God still has His messengers across the world. I had the privilege to be with 10,000 of them from some 200 countries when Mr. Graham hosted them at a gathering in Amsterdam. Among God's Gospel voices are, of course, Billy Graham's son Franklin and grandson Will - both bold ambassadors for Christ.
One thing we can be sure of. In the words of George Mueller, "God buries His workers. He never buries His work."
Second, our God of surprises may, indeed, be preparing another Gospel warrior like Billy Graham.
On November 6, 1935, Billy Sunday, the most famous preacher in the world at the time, passed into eternity. That same night, a gangly teenager wandered into a revival meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. And went forward to declare he was putting his faith in Christ as Savior that night. His name was Billy Graham.
In a single night, as God was taking His leading voice in one generation home, He was bringing to faith His voice for the next generation.
But ultimately the hope of the Gospel does not rest with some evangelistic superstar.
Not for the lost people I know or you know. If they come to Christ, it will most likely be through a Jesus-follower they know. Someone already in their life. That's you. That's me. Like Jesus said, "You will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8).
Most of those who came to Christ through Billy Graham's crusades were there because of a believer they knew and trusted. And most people who ever come to Jesus do it because of a Christian they know.
The landscape has changed dramatically since Billy Graham came to prominence. That moral consensus, that sense of sin. Gone. A reverence for the Bible, a willingness to check out a religious event. History. And, sadly, there's great suspicion of anyone who's perceived as a professional "God-salesman."
If we wait for lost folks to come to our meeting, they will likely be away from God forever. If we're counting on a man on a platform to bring them to Jesus, we are effectively deciding to leave them lost.
No, the hope of the Gospel is someone in their world who acts like Jesus. Who shares their personal Hope Story of the difference Jesus makes. Someone in their "tribe" - at work, at school, in the community. People listen to someone they trust - and that's usually someone who walks their trail and lives their battles.
This isn't new. When Jesus, the greatest evangelist of all time, wanted to reach Samaritans, He did not initially "hold a crusade" in their village. Instead, He reached a Samaritan woman and sent her back to be His voice. To her tribe. And the Bible says, "Many of them believed in Him because of the woman's testimony" (John 4:39).
It's a mistake to look for some anointed Gospel communicator to break through to the lost people you know. To the extent that their eternity is in human hands, those hands are yours and mine.
The life-changing agent in the work of Billy Graham was his Message. The same Message you and I have. God loves you so much that He gave His Son to pay for your sin so you could be with Him forever.
Billy Graham always described himself as a "messenger." For the people in your world, that messenger is you. His "ambassador for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20).
You are close. You are in their life. You have a story that was totally changed by His Story. And can change their story forever.
In a sense, you are their Billy Graham. Jesus' voice, calling them Home.