Billy’s Cross


This poem about Billy Graham was composed in 2013 by his brother-in-law, Leighton Ford, for Billy’s 95th birthday. Billy Graham died in February of 2018, nine months short of his 100th birthday. For almost a century, he was “America’s evangelist.” He was a friend and advisor to all the Presidents who served during his ministry, both Republican or Democrat. It didn’t matter, because Graham was apolitical. He stuck to the gospel of Jesus Christ and refused the temptation to try to gain anything for the kingdom of God through politics.

Billy’s Cross

by Leighton Ford

The cross!

The cross!

the young preacher cried

to the vast crowds

in the football stadiums of the world.

The cross!

the old man says in his husky voice

sitting next to his dog

on the porch of his log house,

gazing with faded eyes at the blue ridged hills.

The cross!

Above his chair in the kitchen

a small cloth banner . . . a reminder:

“God forbid that I should glory,

save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But why?

Why glory in the cross?

Didn’t Jesus on the cross ask “Why?”

I think I know my brother-in-law

well enough to know

why the cross matters to him so

that after these ninety-five years

he makes it his last word.

He knows how much he himself needs grace.

When he meets the Lord

he’s not going to puff his chest, stick out his hand

and say, “I’m Billy Graham, your chief envoy.”

Knowing him he’ll be prostrate, on his face,

Saying, “Thank You for your mercy,

for choosing me, a sinner.”

But it’s not as if he thinks of the cross only as a ticket to heaven.

He knows that coming to the Cross costs nothing, and everything.

How many times I’ve heard him quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die.”

And Jesus: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

He knows that the Cross offers both free grace

And a call to die daily to self-glory.

Billy is a preacher, not a poet,

but I think he’d agree with a poet who writes,

“I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross

when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness,

cries out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'”

  (Christian Wiman)

I have seen him gaze with longing at the picture of

his departed and beloved Ruth, wince at the pain

that runs through his jaw and down his leg.

At the Washington Cathedral after 9/11 he said,

“I don’t know why God allowed this. It’s a mystery.”

But he knows that on the cross God was saying

“I am with you, not beyond you, in suffering.”

There’s more. A Chinese scholar once told me,

“When Billy Graham came to China

he came not with a closed fist, but an open hand.”

That’s because he knows there’s a paradox in the cross

(though he might not call it that).

The cross is both the narrowest gate

and the widest welcome to new life.

The narrowest, for Jesus said, “I am the door, the way.”

The widest because he also said,

“Whoever comes to me I will not turn away.”

That gate is open to all who seek God’s grace

and are willing to receive it,

people of every kind and condition –

      liberal, conservative

      Straight or otherwise

      Republican, Democrat, Libertarian

      Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, or “none”

All kinds of sinners and seekers.

In the cross of Christ God throws open the gate of new life and says,

“Welcome. There’s room in my house for you. Come in.

And you’ll be changed into what I created you to be

  • a human fully redeemed.”

We can hang a cross round our neck,

gaze at it on a steeple,

but it is far more than an icon.

The cross tells us that life itself, creation itself

is cross-shaped, cruciformed,

the hope of healing for a broken world.

-Leighton Ford, November 2013

Join us tonight for our Zoom International Bible Study at 6:00 p.m. PDT. We are studying Ephesians 4 and learning about the church — the body of Christ — and how we, as believers all over the world, are the church without walls. Don’t miss this opportunity to be with other Christians while we practice “social distancing.” Use the following link to come online. Come a few minutes early so we can say hello. <>

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4 Responses to Billy’s Cross

  1. Mark D Seguin says:

    TY Pastor John 4 quoting Leighton Ford poem – through enjoyed reading it!

  2. drewdsnider says:

    I’m going to print that out and keep it someplace where I can refer to it. We all need to know it!
    It’s Interesting that you’d run this on the day the NY Times reported on the “field hospital” set up in Central Park to treat COVID-19 patients … set up by Samaritan’s Purse.

  3. peter leenheer says:

    I too am going to print it. Some of these keepsakes are priceless.
    This is how Billy Graham impacted my life. I was a Christian and in my twenties. There were a lot of Leighton Ford and Billy Graham Crusades happening around the world. I decided to pretend I was not a Christian to see what all the fuss was about Billy Graham and his evangelistic influence.
    One night when there was a stadium full of people and Rev. Graham was preaching on television, I watched and listened to his sermon, as well as the singing of Beverly Shea. It was awesome. I loved God dearly at that time of my life. When I listened impartially to him he persuaded me that the only way to live was for Jesus.

    God gave that man an incredible gift. He was a modern day apostle Paul.

  4. jwfisch says:

    Yes. Very powerful.

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