Sunday, June 30, 2002

Graham's words as soft as the gentle rain

        The rain fell gently like God's mercy on the crowd in Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night. It was the opening night of Billy Graham's last Mission in Cincinnati. And the old preacher's power did not fail.

        “Come,” he said, as soft as the rain. And they came by the hundreds. Some limped, some slowly hobbled on canes. Others skipped as they clutched their parents' hands. Old couples made their way carefully as if they were walking on ice. Young families came down, wrapped like sandwiches in plastic rain ponchos. Groups of six or eight strolled out holding hands, arms draped around shoulders, bonded by the call, as soft as a velvet choir robe: “Come.”

Come as you are

        When I was a kid, I used to complain when those “gawd-awful” Billy Graham crusades moved in on my corner of TV-land for a week. I was mystified by the thousands who gathered in stadiums without a baseball game for an excuse. I thought they must be sheep on their way to be fleeced. Didn't they know Billy Graham was a punch-line for jokes on the Tonight Show?

        I think the Bible says something about that: How God makes the wise guys of the world look foolish, and how fools think God's wisdom is a joke.

        And now I know who the fool was.

        On Thursday, I waited for the lightning and thunder to pass over and then sat with Dave Snowden, a pastor and Navy chaplain in the reserves, who drove down from Englewood, just north of Dayton.

        We toweled the rain off our seats and listened to Anthony Munoz's strong testimony about his love of Christ. As golden sunlight made a renaissance painting out of thunderheads over Kentucky, the football hero said, “He has taken me to places I've never even dreamed of.”

        He was talking about his spiritual journey — a bigger adventure than the Super Bowl, believe it or not.

        We listened to a host of angels singing from the end zone, a choir in bright red robes that rose and fell like a theater curtain.

        We heard Michael W. Smith sing “Open the Eyes of my Heart, Lord,” and a song about Old Glory that put a lump in your throat.

Love your neighbor

        But the man who got the rock-star applause and whistles was the tall gentleman with the swept-back white hair. His topic was the story of the Good Samaritan, which he used to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

        “There are many people in Cincinnati who need to be picked up and cared for,” the Rev. Mr. Graham said, “regardless of the color of their skin.”

        He spoke with power: “The devil is loose in the world today. All you have to do is turn on the TV.”

        He spoke with humility: “When I thought I was dying two years ago, my whole life passed before me — and I did not say, "I'm a preacher.' I said, "Oh, Lord, I'm a sinner — and I need your forgiveness.'”

        And he spoke with love. His most powerful word was his gentle invitation to take the courageous first step and walk down to receive Christ.

        “Come,” he said. And they came. And the rain fell like God's own grace, mingling with tears of joy.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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