A Modern-Day Jonah…But With a Heart of Compassion

The book of Jonah remains one of my all-time favorites simply because I can immediately identify with the reluctant prophet’s poor attitude. Far from earnestly hoping for the salvation of his enemies – the sinful and politically-oppressive residents of Ninevah – Jonah wants nothing more than to get a ringside seat for their destruction (Jonah 4:5). Of course, modern readers are meant to understand that Jonah errs by assuming that he and his people, the Jews, are righteous to the point that they will all survive the judgment of God. To the contrary, the rest of Scripture makes it abundantly clear that no one, not one, can stand apart from God’s grace to us in Christ (Psalm 14:3; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10-11).

Billy Graham in the 1970’s.

Entirely unlike Jonah, Billy Graham has always had a heart that aches for the lost and has spent his entire life going wherever the Spirit of God tells him the Word needs to be preached. There are few in all of history who can claim the influence – or travel itinerary! – of Graham. His voice has consistently called on people from all tongues, tribes and nations to lay their lives down at the foot of the Cross of Christ, and his impact on world Christendom can hardly be exaggerated. Even at the age of 95, Graham’s heart still breaks at the multitude who do not know Jesus or have hardened their hearts against Him.

My own encounters with Graham’s immense ministry stretch back through my entire life of 52 years, even through the dark years of open rebellion that characterized 1977 through 1997. In particular, I can readily recall that Graham was always, always, always preaching on “the Cross.” He didn’t try to jazz it up or make it more contemporary or “less square” for audiences in the mid-1970s. He just brought the Cross, over and over again. Same Billy, same message. My parents thought quite a lot of him, and this was probably reason enough, as a foolish teen, for me to dismiss him, or at least adopt a pseudo-intellectual stance that sought to discredit what he had to say.

Local coverage of the Oct. 1976
Billy Graham Crusade as it
appeared on the Cass City
Chronicle front page.

One memory of Graham, in particular, stands out for me. At some point while I was still in high school, a group of my friends made plans to carpool their way to the Pontiac Silverdome to see Graham in person at one of his many crusades. My motives for agreeing to go were less than pure, simply because I figured it would get me out of the house and out with friends, so I agreed to tag along.

Something about Graham’s altar call at the end of that crusade message seemed “different” than the ones that I had watched at home on TV. Cameras don’t always catch the entire experience, and even with today’s broadcast technology you could hardly convey the atmosphere surrounding hundreds of people getting out of their seats, many of them weeping, and making their way down the stairs to walk to the foot of the stage. The general mood among my friends was something akin to, “We’ve already given our lives to Christ,” and so any peer pressure to respond to Graham had been safely removed.

Still, to this day, I can remember feeling “frozen” in my seat. I knew my life had been drifting away from God – and very much away from Jesus – for some time. The very last thing I wanted was to be cheerfully greeted on the floor of the Superdome by one of Billy’s many volunteers…enthusiastic, loving, concerned people who might actually draw me back into the fold. It’s hard to describe, but the inner turmoil was great, and my own resistance to Billy’s clear call – it really felt like he was talking directly to me – left me feeling more lonely and alienated from God than I had been when I arrived.

Recently, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association produced a short film, just under 29 minutes, simply titled “The Cross.” (There he goes yet again, right?) The film, produced with unbelievers in mind, also has much to say to those of us who nonchalantly claim Christ. If nothing else, it will serve as a great reminder of why we love Jesus so much, and how He alone has the power and the authority to change lives…really change lives! The film features Lacey Sturm, a singer-songwriter from Arlington, Texas, who shares her personal testimony, as does Lecrae, the Christian hip hop artist/record producer. Both of them tell powerful stories of their own lostness and a personal transformation wrought by relationship with Jesus.

Having been memorably confronted by Graham in my teens, only to leave the faith and end up an emotional and physical train wreck, I happily encourage Christians of all stripes, denominations and sensibilities to join with me in celebrating his faithfulness to God and his late-life call to America, in particular, to repent.

Peter in Acts 3:19 (NIV):
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…”

Revelation 14:12 (ESV):
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

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