“…Ye shall laugh.”
On the evenings of June 24, 25, and 26, 2005, Dr. Billy Graham held a historic Crusade in New York City. This was the last Crusade Mr. Graham was to hold in New York City for his days of public ministry has been severally limited. At age 94 Billy Graham knows he is in the sunset years of his life. He knows that he shall soon depart and be with the Lord Jesus just as his beloved wife, Ruth, went to be with the Lord on June 14, 2007, and as his dear friend, George Beverley Shea, went to be with Jesus on April 16, 2013.
There are many positive comments that can be said about Mr. Graham’s final Crusade in New York City. As always, there was good music from a variety of Christian recording artists. There was a sense of the presence of the Spirit of the Lord. The crowds were large, numbering over 242,000 for the three nights. Each evening hundreds of individuals made a commitment to Christ. But there was something else that is often overlooked in the Crusades, and that is the joy that can be found. For more than sixty years of public ministry Mr. Graham has tried to instill in his messages a sense of joy in the Lord. One way he has done this is with humor.
In reading his book Living in God’s Love: The New York Crusade, I appreciated the gentle laughter that Mr. Graham included in his sermons. On the first evening of the Crusade, he told an audience of 60,000 people that he had just had a picture taken with most of his grandchildren. “I didn’t know I had that many!” he quipped. And many know that feeling of losing count of an extended, growing family. Mr. Graham went on to say, “I’m thankful also for all of our friends that are here. I told the press yesterday that so many old friends were coming that I didn’t know whether there would be room for other people!”
While Mr. Graham appreciates how the Lord has blessed him beyond measure over the years, he remains a humble man and able to laugh at himself. That same night he told the people, “I feel a little like I did in Philadelphia many years ago. I was to speak at a conference, and a man got on the elevator and said, ‘I hear Billy Graham is on this elevator.’ Dr. Bonnell, who was then pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, was with me, and he pointed in my direction and said, ‘Yes, there he is.’ This man looked me up and down for about ten seconds, and then he said, ‘My, what an anticlimax.’ After all this music and all that you’ve read and heard, I’m sure that I’m an anticlimax.’” Is it any wonder that God’s people love, admire, and appreciate such a man, and are touched by his unfeigned humility?
During Mr. Graham’s second sermon on the night of June 25, speaking to young people on The Rich Young Ruler, his sense of humor flashed again when he told the following story. “I heard about a man in California, a drunken cowboy who came out of a saloon. He had a six-gun, and he was shooting at the legs of people and they were dancing all around. An old man came on his donkey from the mountains, and the cowboy said, ‘Old man, have you ever danced?’ And the old man said, ‘No, I haven’t.’ And the cowboy said, ‘You’re going to learn.’ And he began to shoot at the old man’s feet, and the old man did dance around. A little bit later, the old mountaineer reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and said, ‘Young man, have you ever kissed a donkey.’ And the cowboy look at that gun and said, ‘No, but I’ve always wanted to!’”
On June 26, the final night of the New York Crusade, preaching about When Christ Comes Again, Mr. Graham illustrated how we cannot really know the future, even when we think we can predict it. Things turn out much differently. “That happened to a man I heard about some years ago. He came to New York from Texas, and he went to see the horses’ race at Belmont and he really enjoyed himself. Since he was a Baptist from Texas, he wasn’t supposed to gamble. But then he saw an interesting thing: he saw a Catholic priest blessing a horse, and that horse won–And that happened three times. So he said to himself, ‘This isn’t gambling; this is a sure thing!’ When he saw the priest blessing another horse, he put all the money he had on that horse.
The horse started out around the track, and about halfway he began to buck and foam at the mouth, and he fell over dead. So the Texan went over to the priest and said, ‘What happened?’ You blessed three horses and they won, but the fourth horse fell over dead.’ The priest looked at him and said, ‘You must not be a Catholic.’ And he said, ‘No, I am a Baptist.’ Then the priest said to him, ‘If had been a Catholic, you would have known the difference between a blessing and the Last Rites!’”
I know there are some that do not believe humor has any place in the pulpit. Some years ago, I was reprimanded by a good man whom I deeply admired for telling a humorous story before I began my sermon. Though the audience enjoyed the humor, he did not, and so he let me know he did not appreciate the humor. I quickly agreed that, as a rule, God does not need comedians in the pulpit, but I also know that laughter is a gift of God. And Jesus said to His followers, “…and ye shall laugh.”