Thankful for one who kept it simple

Some critics looked down upon Billy Graham’s preaching as too simplistic. In a way they were right. He did keep it simple. He kept preaching about Jesus and the cross. He knew everybody needed to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. He kept the focus on Christ, crucified and risen again.

Often when Billy came to the closing service of a crusade, he would tell people, “If there’s only one thing you remember from these meetings, remember this: God loves you.” Pretty simple – and also powerful and life-changing.

Billy believed there was great power in simply and clearly telling people what Jesus had done. When he and his wife received the Congressional Gold Medal, he had the chance to speak before those considered movers and shakers in Washington. Instead of political pronouncements he proclaimed the good news of Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. He knew that was what Washington needed to hear.

After many years of prayer, Billy had the opportunity to preach in the former Soviet Union. A lot of Soviet police attended the services to spy on what was going on. When asked about it, Billy said he was thankful the spies were there. He believed the simple gospel had the power to change the heart of the hardest Soviet spy.

In the 1950s blacks and whites were forced to sit in separate parts of stadiums in the South. That was not how it was to be at Billy Graham Crusades. At an early crusade Billy himself took down the ropes the ushers had put up to keep the blacks out of the white section. White segregationists were furious when he invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to pray at his 1957 New York City crusade. Billy’s life was threatened when he had a crusade in Alabama at which white and black people sat together. But Billy believed the simple gospel was for all people and that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34-35).

When I was about 10 years old I went to a movie produced by the Billy Graham Association. The end of the movie was a scene where Billy gave an invitation for people to come to Jesus. I began a relationship with Jesus when I was baptized as an infant, but I felt led by God to go forward that evening and recommit my life to Christ. Billy had made it simple enough for my 10-year-old mind to understand. I had sinned but Jesus loved me and He died on the cross for my sins and He wanted to come into my life.

My mother was in a hospital room and a Billy Graham Crusade came on TV. I left to have dinner, not thinking it would be the last time I saw her. I soon got the call that she had died. I thought it was a gracious gift from God that she went to be with the Lord while listening to Billy Graham preach. Only God knows how many others were also ready to meet Jesus, because they heard the simple gospel that Billy preached.

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A wild and crazy love story

If there had been a Jerusalem Post in 700 B.C. imagine the headline: “Prophet Marries Prostitute. Says God Told Him To.” What a scandal!

Even without a newspaper or social media broadcasting the news, it still must have been shocking when the word got around about what Hosea, a prophet of God, had done. Out of all the women he could have married, he married Gomer. Gomer sure wasn’t the type of person people thought would make a good prophet’s wife. The main thing we’re told about her is that she was “adulterous” (Hosea 1:2).

People were probably talking and wondering what Hosea was thinking. They didn’t expect it would go well, and it didn’t. In Hosea 3 it says, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. …’ Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.’”

Now the crowd knew for sure there was something wrong with Hosea. They had questioned his sanity and what kind of man of God he was when he married Gomer. Then she continued to live the life of a prostitute and cheated on him and loved other men. Now Hosea, instead of wising up and getting out of this messed up situation, runs after Gomer. Before Gomer gives any indication of changing her ways, Hosea shows love to her, encourages her to change, and promises to be her faithful husband.

People probably thought this crazy stuff Hosea was doing must be offensive to God, but Hosea said it was actually God’s idea. The Lord told him to love Gomer to serve as a lesson in how God loves people. “Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods” (Hosea 3:1).

Could this story of Hosea really be true? Did God really tell a prophet to marry a prostitute? The Bible says it really happened.  We have a difficult time believing the story of Hosea and Gomer is true because we have a difficult time appreciating the incredible nature of God’s grace and love. We’re guilty of spiritual adultery. We have loved other things more than we have loved God. We deserve judgment. It would make sense if God wanted nothing more to do with us. But He doesn’t do what the world would consider sensible. He still loves us. He still wants us. He pursues us, even when we run away from Him.

It is tempting to make the story of Hosea into a “deadly be” story: “Be like Hosea.” Yes, we should love like Hosea. We wish we were more like him, but the main point of the story is: we are like Gomer. And yet while we were spiritual prostitutes, Jesus loved us and went to the cross for us.

The story of Jesus’ love for us is even more shocking than the story of Hosea and Gomer. But we rejoice that, as wild and crazy as it is, it is totally true.