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Disheveled Theologian: Billy Graham's hope (is the same as ours)

I arrived at work on Wednesday morning, sat down, and as I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and set it on my desk beside me, across the screen came a message from CNN: “Famed evangelist Billy Graham dies at 99”.

“Bless his heart,” I thought, “how happy he must be.”

Many times over the past few days I’ve seen Graham quoted as saying, “My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.” I hadn’t read these words of his prior to his death, but I

knew, the instant I read that he had died, that that would be his belief. For Christians, heaven is our home. Our time on earth is just the stuff we have to slog through before we reach home base.

Which not to say it’s all bad, down here on earth! But it is to say that so much better lies ahead.

Another quote I’ve seen frequently over the past few days from Graham stems from a 1992 interview with Diane Sawyer. Sawyer asked Graham about his opinion of death, saying that she’d heard that he “looked forward to death because it would be freedom from bondage. Do you still feel that way?” she asked.

“Yes, I surely do,” Graham replied, going on to say, “I don’t want them to say big things about me because I don’t deserve them. I want to hear one person say something nice about me, and

that’s the Lord. When I face him I want him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ But I’m not sure I’m going to hear it, but that’s what I would like to hear.”

Graham knew that he was a sinner. He knew that without Jesus, he along with the rest of us, is a slave to sin and death. Without Jesus we are in bondage and there is nothing that we can do to get out of it.

But with Jesus … oh, my friends, that makes all the difference. With Jesus we are set free from sin. Only when we allow the blood of Jesus to atone for our sins, can we be set free. Only then

do we have a chance of being called good and faithful servants of God.

None of us are perfect. Not even “America’s pastor” Billy Graham. But when we put our trust in Jesus, who died to forgive us of our sins and who then rose back to life, proving that he is God

and enabling us to have eternal life, then we can say together with Graham that we are not afraid of death. We can, in fact, look forward to it.

I never met Billy Graham. No surprise there. But I did know his sister-in- law, Rosa. She lived on Orcas Island and died just a few years ago. It wasn’t until I moved off of the island that I knew

she was related to Graham.

I think what that says is that Rosa was not a name-dropper. She and her sister, Ruth, Billy’s wife, grew up as missionary kids in China. Rosa had amazing stories to tell, but more importantly, she had amazing faith in God. The God she had known all her life. The God she served until the day she died. That mattered so much more than who she knew or whom she was related to.

Why do I mention this connection? What does my knowing Rosa really have to do with this story?

Just this: Rosa was a normal person. Sure, she was related, by marriage, to a famous man, but Rosa herself was just like you and me. She went quietly about her life, doing the usual church

things like bringing food to funerals and teaching Bible study almost up until she died. Google her name and she doesn’t pop up. But because of that very reason, Rosa’s life points out

something vital.

You don’t have to be famous to be faithful.

Rosa, just like you and I and any person who loves Jesus, can look forward with the same hope that the Reverend Billy Graham had, that someday the Lord will say to us, “Well done, thou

good and faithful servant.”

What verse could be better to end with that this, the core of Graham’s message: John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” NIV

There is no more important legacy to leave behind than a life lived fully believing this verse.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is