After reading Franklin Graham’s tribute to his dad, I pondered it for a moment. It didn’t take long before a thought popped into my head. Actually, it’s the Bible verse from the Gospel of John. John 15:13 says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

It isn’t that the verse fits Franklin Graham’s article perfectly. It simply doesn’t. It’s that Franklin’s tribute to the man he called “Daddy” described Billy Graham’s life message. Specifically, Franklin spoke of a troubled time in his life. In Franklin’s words, “After graduating from college in 1974, I headed for Lausanne, Switzerland, to work at a conference the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was sponsoring for 2,500 evangelical leaders from around the world. My life was a mess; I was empty and lonely. During that conference, my mother and father wanted to take me to lunch to celebrate my 22nd birthday. After lunch at a little Italian restaurant on Lake Geneva, Daddy and I walked along a pathway beside the lake when he turned to me and said, ‘Franklin, your mother and I sense there’s a struggle going on in your life.’ Somewhat stunned, I wondered, ‘How does he know this?’ He continued, ‘You’re going to have to make a choice either to accept Christ or reject Him. You can’t continue to play the middle ground.’ With my mind racing, wondering what he was going to say next, I heard these words: “I want you to know we’re proud of you, Franklin. We love you no matter what you do in life and no matter where you go. But you’re going to have to make a choice.” He had pricked my conscience to the point I was actually angry. I couldn’t figure out how he knew about the struggle that had been going on inside me — but he did, and he was right. My father’s words haunted me for several weeks until I finally gave up running from God and made that choice to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and turn my life over to Him. I’ve never looked back or regretted my decision.”

The man that preached redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ didn’t have condemnation towards his son. Christ repeatedly told His followers that His love was unconditional. Billy Graham’s love for his son was unconditional, too, and he told him that during the conversation that turned Franklin’s life around, albeit not immediately.

By 1974, Billy Graham was a household name. He had a reputation to uphold. People would’ve understood if he’d given Franklin the tongue-lashing of his life. Based on what I’ve often read about Billy Graham, that simply wasn’t who he was. Staying true to his character, Billy Graham reminded his son that his love for Franklin was unwavering and unconditional.

It wasn’t just that Franklin Graham wasn’t a typical Christian. It’s that Franklin was a hell-raiser:

Graham’s boyhood mischief grew into young adult rebellion. He rode motorcycles, learned how to pilot planes and lived life in the fast lane. “I just wanted to have fun,” Graham said, describing wild times of “drinking the beer, and going out to the parties, and running around with different girlfriends.” Even though he’s shed his rebellious image, Graham still loves the rush of riding his motorcycle.

He smoked, drank, got in fights and admitted trying marijuana. “He loves to live on that adrenaline rush,” Lotz said. “You know whether it’s an airplane or a fast motorcycle or doing something on the edge.” His family sent him to Stony Brook, an elite Christian boarding school on Long Island, New York. He dropped out and was later expelled from another school, LeTourneau College in Longview, Texas, for keeping a female classmate out all night past curfew.

That’s when his life changed:

Things would soon change. During a trip to Switzerland in 1974, Billy Graham talked to his 22-year-old son about the direction in his life. Franklin Graham remembers his father looking him straight in the eye and saying, “I want you to know that your mother and I sense there is a struggle for the soul of your life, and you’re going to have to make a choice.”

These words troubled Graham as he continued on his tour of Europe. Driving across the countryside with a bottle of scotch in his hand, he began to think about the conversation with his father. One night in a hotel room in Jerusalem, Franklin’s life changed. He describes his epiphany in a passage from his 1995 autobiography, “Rebel With a Cause: Finally Comfortable Being Graham.” “That night instead of going to the bar for a couple of beers, I found myself alone in my room reading through the gospel of John. “When I came to the third chapter, I read not just that Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again, but I also grasped that Franklin Graham had to be born again as well.”

Franklin Graham is now living a changed life because his father didn’t condemn him. He’s living that life because his father reminded him that his love was unconditional.

Franklin is living that changed life because Billy Graham stayed true to the Gospel message that he preached in public. In this setting, it wasn’t just his public persona. It’s who Billy Graham was in private life, too. I find that consistency inspiring.

Greater love hath no man.

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