Monday, February 21, 2011
FINISH WELL -- Gibson
In the early 1940’s, three young preaching dynamos lined up at the starting block of evangelistic preaching. The trends for those times ran in the direction of large campaigns, which attracted thousands for as long as a week at a time.
Critics called Chuck Templeton, the “Babe Ruth” of evangelism. One seminary president marked him for greatness, calling him brilliant, dynamic, and “the most talented preacher in North America.” A 1946 article published by the National (US) Association for Evangelicals featured his ministry as one of five most successful in the past five years.
Others believed Bron Clifford to be the most powerful preacher in many centuries. Once, when addressing students at Baylor University, the president had the school’s bells turned off so nothing would distract listeners from Clifford’s two-hour lecture.
In his book “Lead On,” author John Hagee notes that by age twenty-five, Clifford had “touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records” than any other preacher in history. Tall and attractive, Hollywood unsuccessfully tried to woo him into a starring role in the movie “the Robe.” National leaders, too, courted him.
Like the others, the third young preacher attracted large, spiritually hungry crowds. But Billy Graham also spent much time in the quieter pursuit of establishing boundaries for both life and ministry. Because they worked jointly in the organization Youth For Christ, Graham and Templeton became good friends, but of the three, Graham was considered the least.
Templeton proved a disappointment to his lauders. By 1950 he’d abandoned preaching for a career in broadcasting and commentating. He eventually lost his faith entirely and became a prominent atheist.
A few years following his sudden rise to the top as the evangelical sweetheart preacher, Bron Clifford left his wife and two Down’s Syndrome children to work as a car salesman. An article by Mike Fehlauer in Ministry Today reveals that shortly after, Clifford died in a drunken stupor in a “sleazy motel room in Amarillo, Texas.”
At age ninety-two, Billy Graham is the best loved and most widely known evangelist in history. In 2008, his lifetime audience for his radio and television broadcasts topped 2.2 billion. He has preached live to more than 215 million people in over 185 countries and territories. His children say of their ailing father, who only recently stopped making public appearances, that he has one more sermon left to preach. He has counseled and befriended almost every US president serving during his adulthood. Though not without critics or self-confessed faults, Graham is finishing the way he began—well.
At the end of each life, career or year, what matters most to God and for eternity is not what we’ve been or done—it’s what we’re being and doing right now. And as Christ-followers, when it comes to influencing people around us—nothing else matters either.
No matter our beginnings, we all can finish well. How are you doing?
Watch a young Billy Graham here:
columnist, author, broadcaster
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