The Billy Graham organization has a reputation for doing things right. But partly because the Graham family activities are so big and far-reaching, it’s not a reputation that’s especially easy to live up to.
Besides the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, there are all the media enterprises in radio, TV, film, and even social media. There’s Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s mammoth welfare and relief agency—and its subsidiary, Operation Christmas Child. There’s The Cove, a resort-like lay training center in the mountains just outside Asheville, N.C. There’s the Billy Graham birthplace museum in Charlotte, N.C. And there’s more.
Preaching, teaching, training, shaping, serving. Instead of shrinking and fading away, the Billy Graham influence actually grows through the years. And wherever it goes, it tends to produce—even from skeptics—a sense that it is well done.
So it was no surprise Thursday night that the party thrown to celebrate Billy Graham’s 95th birthday was done right. It was grand and fun at Asheville’s historic Grove Park Inn, but the simple two-course dinner and brief program were appropriately modest. The second course was a chocolate cupcake, made from a recipe chosen by Billy Graham himself, and topped with little candles that 920 of us guests lit as we ended the evening with a rousing “Happy Birthday,” led by Ricky Skaggs, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Michael W. Smith.
The list of other things done right included the choice—and deployment—of celebrity guests. Those who spoke did so briefly, and without pretending they were spiritual experts. That included North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did talk confidently about faith issues—with the authenticity born of personal experience. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, financier Donald Trump, hotel magnate Bill Marriott, pastor Rick Warren, and broadcaster Glenn Beck were all on hand, but they were not introduced and had no speaking parts.
And the planners of the evening were right in giving the guest of honor a memorable platform for proclaiming the biblical truth that he has spoken so plainly for the last 75 years. “I want to leave you with truth,” he said bluntly. If the 30-minute film his handlers produced for this occasion tended sometimes toward the mystical, Billy Graham’s words themselves were anything but. Simple, direct, and biblical, his delivery repeatedly directed guests, viewers, and listeners to the uniqueness of Jesus and the salvation he offers through his death and resurrection.
It was a good birthday party. A great man was honored well by a team who knows how to do such things right.