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God Almighty, Billy Graham & My Conversion to Christ

I was born and raised in a Lutheran home, water baptized as an infant and confirmed as a young teenager.  I was a cultural Christian but not a follower of Christ.  I didn’t understand the gospel and could not have explained it to you.  

Nevertheless, I am grateful my church was willing to help cover the costs for our youth group to attend Explo 72 in Dallas, Texas.  The event was sponsored by Bill Bright and Billy Graham.  On the last day, 250,000 young people gathered on an unfinished piece of Interstate.  Little did I know, it was the height of the Jesus Movement.  God was sweeping hundreds of thousands of young people into the Kingdom of God. 

Explo occurred in June of 1972.  I had just graduated from high school and been given the award for “most likely to succeed.”  The graduation issues of the student newspaper said, “We can just imagine Brent Detwiler as President of the United States” (operative word – “imagine”).  I was also “homecoming king.”  The desire to be great and popular were my functional gods.  Little did I know God was about to radically change my whole outlook on life.  

One evening in the Cotton Bowl while Billy Graham was preaching, I came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and my eyes were opened to the gospel.  In tears, I realized I was a great sinner in need of a greater Savior.  By the grace of God, I turned from my sins and trusted in the substitutionary death of Christ as payment for my sins.  It was the most extraordinary moment of my life!  Though 45 years ago, I remember it like yesterday.  

That night, my sins were forgiven, my heart regenerated, and my reconciliation with God secured through Christ.  It was the end of my old life and the beginning of a new life.  Self-exaltation was replaced with a desire to live for God’s glory, not mine, no matter the cost. 

Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru) also preached during the week at Explo 72.  There was a lot of emotion as the Holy Spirit was moving upon hearts.  Without dismissing these godly affections, Bright laid out the call for discipleship.  He made clear you cannot be a Christian unless you are willing to be a disciple and discipleship involves “picking up your cross.” In other words, becoming a Christian may literally cost you your life.  It will certainly cost you your desire to esteemed by this world.  

My father was a doctor.  When I got home, I put a One Way Jesus bumper sticker on his professional vehicle.  My youthful zeal was misguided, but it represented my commitment to follow Christ.  

We were a well-known family in the area.  My parents helped start the local Country Club.  Dad was President of the School Board.  Mom was active in many civic organizations.  I was now a “Jesus freak.”  Being a “born-again” Christian did not go over well with them or family friends who pleaded with me to not embarrass the family or ruin my life.  The most likely to succeed was now the most likely to fail in their eyes.

Those were difficult years in my late teens and early 20’s but God used them to deal with my desire for approbation and the praise of men.  I was mocked and called many names – from Jim Jones to the devil.  The Lord used the rejection I experienced as a new believer to purge my heart and draw me near to him.  How often, I remember being overwhelmed by his comforting presence.  

In May of 2005, I was asked to speak to the staff of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at their morning chapel service.  Three months later, I was kindly invited to attend the private dedication of the Billy Graham Library.  On that occasion, I was able to talk briefly with Dr. Graham.  I never thought I’d get to thank him this side of heaven for the effect of his life and preaching upon me.  It was a warm and sweet exchange.  

Explo 72 was an explosion of gospel grace for me and everyone else in our youth group.  All 13 of us were genuinely converted and came back to our Lutheran church where we testified to the saving grace of God in Christ.  

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were courageously preaching the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior upon all men.  Their example and message, challenged us to go forth into the world and live (or die) for the glory of God.  

Both men are now with the Lord.  May their willingness to call men to repentance, their commitment to preach “One Way Jesus” and their lives of integrity inspire us all. 

"I have had the privilege of preaching the Gospel on every continent of the world. And I have found that when I present the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with authority, quoting from the very Word of God--He takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart." --Billy Graham


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