2006 American of the Year: Billy Graham

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America’s minister and the pastor to the White House for the past fifty years, the Reverend Billy Graham is named as the third recipient of the  “American of the Year” honors.

A true warrior for God, Rev. Graham follows the previous selections of NFL and real-life warrior Pat Tillman in 2004 and culture warrior Bill O’Reilly in 2005.

For the current year honor, Graham was selected over recently deceased former President Gerald Ford and former UN Ambassador John Bolton.

In a year that showed sharp division in American politics and increased division in American society overall, and a continued worldwide increase in violence and movements away from such basic societal standards as self-respect, self-control, principled morality, and consideration for others, Mr. Graham wound down his public life, one that was almost always the model for such standards and behavior.

Mr. Graham was born as Franklin Graham Jr. in November of 1918, four days before the end of World War I, and was raised on a dairy farm in North Carolina. His was the typical life of a young man during the Great Depression, and he passed his time reading on a wide variety of subjects until at the age of 16 he went to see a traveling evangelist at a revival meeting in his hometown of Charlotte.

In 1939, Mr. Graham was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention. He studied at what is now Trinity College, and graduated in 1943 from Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met and married his wife and lifelong partner Ruth McCue Bell, herself the daughter of a missionary surgeon.

The Graham’s would go on to raise a family of three daughters and two sons. Mr. Graham pastored the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois and ministered to youth and servicemen during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

In 1949, Mr. Graham launched his first major “crusade” in Los Angeles, and his fiery oratory style and his perceived integrity and sincerity drew huge crowds.
The crusade, scheduled for a three-week run, was extended to eight weeks, and led to similar crusades extended to twelve weeks in London in 1954 and sixteen weeks at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1957.

In the decades since, Mr. Graham has gone on to preach the Gospel in thousands more public presentations to millions of people around the world, in most all of the major cities and venues on every continent. He has preached the Word on television, and written dozens of books and other works, always preaching the message of peace, love and salvation through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior.

Mr. Graham met and ministered to U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower during the 50’s, and quickly became known as a sort of Pastor to the White House and the nation, going on to be a strong confidante of every President since. He was particularly close to President Nixon, and in his later life has become friends to both the politically polar-opposite Clinton and Bush families.

The famous pollsters, the Gallup organization, described Mr. Graham as the dominant figure in their “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” polls, on which he made 48 overall and has now made 41 consecutive appearances. He has appeared on the covers of and been featured in Time, Newsweek, Life and numerous other publications.

In an April, 2006 article, Newsweek stated “Graham’s largely unifying legacy is worth considering at a time when faith seems ever more divisive.” Like many of us, Mr. Graham struggled through his younger years as he straddled the line between political involvement and spiritual matters, before finally gravitating to become a solely spiritual force.

Now all of this might prompt one to comment that Graham has indeed been an important public ministerial figure, and a great American, but also question what he did in particular in 2006 to warrant selection as the top American for this past year. What Graham has done both this year, as he spoke before many groups which honored him for his lifetime of giving, and in his previous years is attempt to heal us.

America as the world leader, and the world at large, has become extremely divisive. Democrats vs. Republicans, conservatives vs. liberals, young vs. old, defenders of democracy vs. islamofascists. Not only in division, but in violence and war, the news is filled every day with these bleak images.

It seems the only break from the violent is the obscene. Which current young starlet has bared all publicly? Which Hollywood couple is breaking up? Which drunken celebrity has committed a crime, or made a publicly foolish statement? The world seems to have gone insane all at once.

In this time, in this year, the example of calm, reassuring, stable, God-fearing faith that the Reverend Billy Graham has continued to exhibit while battling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses and debilitations of old age is a lesson for all of us.

He is a true man of God, our own John the Baptist for our times. He genuinely cares about every one of us, that we might come to know and learn the teachings of Jesus Christ and be saved.

For his teaching and preaching during his decades-long example of faith, and for his continued moral and spiritual strength during a difficult time for the world, the Reverend Billy Graham is named as the website American of the Year for 2006. God bless him, his family, his continuing ministry, and us all as a country and world.

A star, a star, shining in the night

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Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.

It was a common ancient belief that a new star would appear at the occasion of a ruler’s birth.

On one particular, memorable night just over two millennia ago now, three king’s from the east arrived at Jerusalem asking “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at it’s rising and have come to do him homage.

When the news of the eastern king’s arrival and questioning reached the ears of Herod the Great, who was set by the Romans as the ruler of the land encompassing Jerusalem, he gathered all the learned men of his people and inquired of them “Where is the Messiah to be born?” They told Herod that old prophetic writings said the place would be Bethlehem.

King Herod called for a meeting with the eastern kings, and he questioned them as to details of the star’s appearance. He then sent them on their way, asking that when they should find the child “bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.

Now Herod was a plotter and schemer. His reign was reported as “one of continual fear of plots and he does not hesitate to execute his own relatives and children.” Herod meant not to worship the newborn King, but to kill him.

When the kings from the east set out again, they quickly found the same star, and it led them to a house in Bethlehem of Judah where they found the newborn child Jesus with Mary his mother. They bowed and knelt before him, and presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The latter two items are extracts of tree sap, used to make incense that when mixed with other items such as nuts or roots makes wonderful scents.

Joseph had brought his young wife here to the little town of Bethlehem while she was still pregnant in order to stand for the census.

Each family had to go to its own ancestral town to register, and since Joseph was from the house and family of David this was their destination. On arrival in town they found no room at any of the inns, and so had to take shelter in the stable room of a local house.

While they were there in Bethlehem, it came time for Mary to have the baby, and she soon gave birth to a son who the couple named “Jesus”. Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger to sleep.

Soon the couple was visited by some local shepherds who told them they had been visited in a field by angels who had told them “today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.

The young mother Mary and her older and more worldly husband Joseph knew that their child was special, but these visits from the shepherds and the three wise men, three kings from afar, was the first real-world concrete sign to them that mankind would find something special in their son. How astounded and grateful at this attention and these gifts they must have been.

After paying their homage, the kings prepared for their return journey and a stop to tell Herod of all that had transpired, and where he might go to find the child and worship him as well. But they were visited in a dream and warned of Herod’s wicked intentions. Being three wise men indeed, they returned to their native countries by another way.

In a similar dream, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph saying “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose, took Mary and Jesus, and fled with them to Egypt as the angel had instructed them. There they would stay until Herod’s death.

Herod soon realized that the three kings were not returning and he grew furious, ordering the murder of every boy in Bethlehem and its surrounding towns who were two years old and under. He believed that he was playing for keeps against a future king, and he would leave no margin for error in eliminating this potential threat. Little did he know the reality of the power that he was up against.

After Herod’s death, the angel again appeared to Joseph and told him to take Mary and Jesus and return to the land of Israel. While en route, in yet another dream Joseph was warned that Herod’s son had taken over this region, and so was directed to take his family to the region of Galilee instead. Joseph took his family there, and settled in the town of Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary had previously been living prior to the census.

This is the warmly familiar story of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The baby born in Bethlehem, who slept in a manger surrounded by barnyard animals in his infancy, would indeed grow to be a King, just not of the type that Herod had feared. He would grow to teach us to love God and to love one another, and ultimately he would die so that we all might live in eternity.

It all began two thousand years ago when a star appeared in the sky over Bethlehem. This Christmas season be sure to remember and reflect on all of these events, and the dramatic influence that they eventually had on your own life. Perhaps while you are looking up at the sky on a clear night you too will see that star, the one that brought us goodness and light.