Matthew West – Sparrow Records artist | Root beer. That’s the first thought that popped into my head this morning when the headline came across my phone that he had passed. Billy Graham, a spiritual giant, a voice to the masses, a man who filled stadiums with hungry souls and reached countless people with the life-saving message of a God who loved them. And the first thing I thought of was root beer. I’d like to share with you the reason why.

I was scheduled to perform an intimate acoustic concert at the Billy Graham Library. Billy’s grandson (and my friend) Will Graham sent me a text message that read, “I have a surprise for you.” He picked me up the morning of the concert and we took a little drive up through mountains of North Carolina until we arrived at the home of Billy Graham. This would normally be what one might consider a “bucket list,” moment. But for me, a one on one meeting with Billy Graham was far too lofty to have ever even made my bucket list. This was beyond bucket list. This was a full circle moment of epic proportions.

See, at the age of thirteen I was a preacher’s kid who was pretty sure he would just get to heaven because he had family connections. Back then, a personal relationship with Christ took a back seat to a personal relationship with friends, baseball, and Dairy Queen. I remember sitting down in the basement of my childhood home one afternoon and turning on the TV in the hopes of finding a Chicago Cubs game. Instead, I found a Billy Graham Crusade. Normally, I was quick to change the channel when a preacher came on, but this time was different. I remember the choir singing, “Just as I Am.” I remember Billy’s booming voice echoing through the stadium inviting people to get up out of their seats, step into the aisle and come forward if they would like to pray and invite Jesus into their lives. People were pouring down to the floor of this stadium, but they weren’t the only ones about to have a life-changing moment. I was sitting on that old blue couch, (I can still see it now) heart pounding with the feeling that this would be the moment I would answer the question Reverend Graham had just asked, “What will you do with Jesus?”

My mom was doing a load of laundry and walked past me with a basket on her hip. She stopped, looked at the TV and then looked back at me. “Matthew, do you want me to pray with you?” I whispered, “yes.” Together we prayed and that was the hour I first believed. I like to joke that I heard thousands of my dad’s sermons but it took Billy Graham to really make it stick! I’m not sure my dad likes that joke, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind it. Because he knows what I know. God used Billy Graham and my dad to reach a young kid who wasn’t sure he needed Jesus. And my life has been forever changed.

Now here I was, all these years later walking into Billy’s home and shaking his hand. I was invited to sit at a large, round, wooden table in the kitchen. The home quiet, peaceful. I remember thinking, ‘I could write some songs in this house.’ But I wasn’t there to write songs. I was there to meet one of my heroes. Billy’s drink of choice? Root beer. How classic is that? That afternoon a singer and a preacher sat and swapped stories over a couple of root beers. Well, mostly I just listened. After all, isn’t that what you would do if you were in my situation? In the presence of wisdom, you listen more than you speak. That’s what I did. And I’ll never forget that conversation.

Today, I cried a little as I remembered that root beer conversation in Billy Graham’s kitchen. I cried as I thought about this man who impacted so many lives including mine. I cried as I thought about the ripple effect of his impact that is now felt in the songs I sing and how grateful I am that I listened to the message of God’s grace and believed. And I still believe. I believe in the message of scripture that Billy preached so often, John 3:16. Billy liked to describe that verse as “twenty-five wonderful words.” And I want to make the most of my years the way he made the most of his.

I’ll end this with words from a text message I received from Billy’s grandson, Will, this morning after I reached out to say that I was praying for the family. He reminded me of something Billy used to say. “One day you will hear that Billy Graham is dead. But don’t you believe it. For on that day I will be more alive than ever.” Tonight, I’m going to drink a root beer with my family at dinner and I’m going to tell my daughters about the life of this man who is now seeing the Heaven he has showed so many the way to. A man who is now more alive than ever.
Matthew West, Billy Graham, CCM Magazine - image

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