Franklin Graham begins his Australian Tour
‘I am not my dad. I am not Billy Graham. But I preach the same gospel’
“I was trapped in an elevator in Hanoi,” is Franklin Graham’s response when asked to give his ‘trapped in a lift’ pitch for Jesus. “It started falling from about the 36th floor, and then it caught, started shaking, fell again, stopped. And this person beside me had a camera and said ‘Reverend Graham, what do you think?’ And I said ‘If the elevator goes down, I am going to go up’. That person knew exactly what I was talking about.
“I think when there is a crisis in life many people call on the name of God. But they treat him like a fireman. Only call him when your house is on fire. But God wants to have a relationship in our one every day. Because one of these days our elevator will go down. And if we put our faith and trust in the lord Jesus Christ we will go up to meet the Lord in the sky.
Franklin Graham’s tour of Australia has begun with an opening night in Perth, with over 13,200 people in attendance at the city’s RAC Arena. “You can be forgiven tonight,” Graham told his audience in a passionate talk on Mark 10:46-52, recounting how Jesus restored the sight of a blind man, Bartimaeus. “Maybe tonight, you’re here and you feel as though there’s no hope for you. But if you meet Jesus tonight, your life can be changed. Just like Bartimaeous.”
The tour marks the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Billy Graham (Franklin’s father) tour of Australian which historian Stuart Piggin has counted as a revival in Australia.
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I am not Billy Graham. I can’t be him.
Graham did not slip easily into being a Christian. “It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. I believed in God, but I just didn’t want god running my life,” he tells Eternity. “I wanted to be in control of my life and I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
“But I got to the place where I was just miserable. Unhappy. Empty. Frustrated. Searching.
“And I was 22 years old when I finally realised that I was a sinner, and I needed to ask God’s forgiveness, and I got on my knees one night. I said ‘God, here is my life. If you can just take the pieces of it, put it together and make sense out of it, you can have it.’
“On that night I said to God ‘I believe Jesus is your son and I want to invite him in and control, right now.
“I prayed that prayer that night and I meant it. God forgave me. I don’t deserve it. I am a sinner.”
It was not straight into preaching which might have been expected of Billy Graham’s son. Franklin Graham did not start preaching until many years later, running the Samaritan’s Purse relief agency for years, until his father asked him to run the Billy Graham organisation as well.
“I was about 40. I never wanted to be compared to my father,” he tells Eternity. “When my father asked me to take over the evangelistic association I committed to spending time – now it is about 50 per cent of my time – to evangelistic preaching.
“Not that I am trying to be my father. I am not Billy Graham. I can’t be him. I am a different person – a different preacher.”
“But I preach the same gospel.”
Graham says he preaches the same message everywhere. Australians are not getting a tweaked version. “But the Holy Spirit tailors the response. The Holy Spirit will pierce a person’s heart for one thing, and someone can be sitting three, four seats down, and their heart is being pierced by something else that was said in that message.”
I am here in Australia, not for American politics or Australian politics.
And Graham launches into the key verse John 3:16 and explains “God sent his son Jesus Christ to this earth to take care of sin. He died on the cross, he shed his blood for our sins, he rose from the grave on the third day. And he is alive and he can come into a person’s heart and into their life. While I am in Australia I am going to give an invitation for people to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.”
It sounds very much like the message from his father, Billy. But one thing that will sound very different is the tour’s music. The music is Planetshakers, from the large Pentecostal Church in Melbourne. This is not your parents’ Graham evangelistic event.
Eternity asked Franklin Graham to respond to the concerns that American politics might get in the way of the Gospel during his tour. “I promise you I am here to preach the gospel,” he responds. “I am not here for American politics. As an American I have a right to speak out on political issues, especially as it relates to things of faith and that are important. I think because I believe the Bible from cover to cover – I don’t understand it all, but I believe God’s word is God’s word. It’s for today. But I am here in Australia, not for American politics or Australian politics. I am not speaking here on any political issues. I am here simply to call Australians to repentance.”
Eternity featured a debate between Baptist commentator Karl Faase on why you should go to hear Franklin Graham and Bible College lecturer Michael Bird saying why he can’t support the tour.
Graham has been particularly outspoken on abortion in the United States, a key political issue for US evangelicals. At his first Australian event last night, Graham spent several minutes telling the story of a US journalist who told him, in tears, that she had had an abortion that has “haunted her” ever since and she wanted to ask God to forgive her.
Graham told his Perth audience: “God will forgive you of lies, of idol worship, for taking his name in vain. He’ll forgive you tonight. All of us are guilty. Murder. Now, abortion, in God’s eyes … that would be murder …. but if you’ve had an abortion, God will forgive you. You can be set free tonight.”
Graham emphasised to Eternity that the tour is not asking Australians – or Australian churches – for money. “We are not taking up any offerings. We are not collecting one dime. It’s free. We are asking Australian churches to be a part of this but we don’t want it to be a burden on them.”
Other tour dates include:
• Darwin February 13, Darwin Convention Centre
• Melbourne February 16, Melbourne Arena (Hisense Arena)
• Brisbane February 18, Riverstage
• Adelaide February 20, Titanium Security Arena
• Sydney February 23 and 24 International Convention Centre Theatre