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Asheville’s Rev. Franklin Graham delivers conservative message to eclectic hometown
Sunday, 03 November 2019 14:27
By JOHN NORTH
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The Rev Franklin Graham’s Decision America Tar Heel State Tour, which made its final stop in Asheville, provided a message of hope in words and music in a veritable pep rally for traditional Christianity that drew a full house on late afternoon Oct. 13 at downtown’s U.S. Cellular Center.

An estimated 5,500 people attended in what appeared to be a sellout event to hear an Asheville native who — at least according to Asheville’s television station WLOS’ report — is considered “one of America’s most controversial ministers.”

Outside, there were protesters — mainly clad in black — who stayed until the end. “Those who spoke with us say they’re concerned about the preacher’s position on the rights of LGBTQ persons, and marriage equality,” WLOS reported immediately afterward.

“This particular political group-religious group has supported for the last 30 or so years policies that have killed a lot of people,” WLOS quoted Moira Goree of Asheville as saying at the event.

Franklin Graham is the fourth of five children of the late Rev. Billy Graham, a world-renowned preacher and evangelist, and his wife Ruth Bell Graham, who lived in nearby Montreat. One of Billy Graham’s biographers has placed Billy Graham “among the most influential Christian leaders” of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia. 

His eldest son Franklin, 67, who lives in nearby Boone, has followed in his father’s footsteps and took the helm of the latter’s evangelical empire during his father twilight years. Billy Graham died at age 99 on Feb 21, 2018 at his Montreat home.

In addition to serving as president and chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham is president of Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization. 

Graham, who became a “committed Christian” in 1974 and was ordained in 1982, has since become a public speaker and author.

Doors for the event opened at 2 p.m., with musical entertainment provided by various performers. 

The event officially began at 4 p.m., when Christian pop star Jeremy Camp performed for about 30 minutes, drawing much applause from the pumped-up crowd.

Camp and his band drew an immensely enthused response from the crowd.  At the end of his set, Camp said he was pleased to “introduce someone who celebrates Jesus — and has for a number of years.... my friend, Franklin Graham!” The crowd arose — and erupted into applause and cheers.

Graham then spoke for about 30 minutes, after which he asked those in the crowd who wanted to be “saved” to stand up if they desired to repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. 

Also, Graham asked ushers to give them Bibles. As much of the crowd filed out, other musicians performed.

Graham began his address by asserting, “It’s wonderful to be here tonight in Asheville, North Carolina.,” Graham began, noting that Asheville is his hometown.

“Our country is in trouble…. The only one’s who can fix it are not the Democrats or the Republicans…. only God.” (The crowd applauded.)

“You see, I believe in prayer… I believe if His people call on Him,” that God will respond.

Graham then asked “everyone to stand to pray out loud for (President) Donald Trump, (Vice President) Mike Pence, (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi — yep!, (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer, (North Carolina Governor) Roy Cooper and our Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, who is here tonight with his wife and his family. Let’s pray out loud for our politicians.”

In response to Graham’s request, thousands of people were murmuring their heartfelt prayers for the aforementioned elected government officials.

Graham then said, “Heavenly Father, we come tonight, we lift up the name of our president, Donald J. Trump, that he make good decisions. We pray for our vice president, Mike Pence. And Father we pray for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Father, we pray for unity. Father we know you can do this. We pray that Your will be done.

“Father, we pray for our state leaders Roy Cooper and Dan Forrest.

“And Father we pray for those here tonight that they will settle things with you. That they will surrender their hearts and open up their hearts to you. Amen. Thanks you.” He then asked the crowd to “have a seat.”

About eight minutes into his address, Graham asked the audience, “Have you ever wished you could start over and know what you know now?”

With a knowing smile, Graham said he certainly wishes he could redo some things in his life. “I would’ve listened to my Spanish teacher, rather than looking out the window” during classes. “But we can’t go backward, like that.

“I hear so many people say, ‘I wish I could start over. I wish I could be that little boy in my mother’s arms and start over again. I wouldn’t make those same mistakes….’”

He told of a Pharisee who approached Jesus one night and said (in John 3:2), “No man can do what you do unless God is with you.”

To that, Graham said, Jesus responded, ‘Unless one is born again, a man cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’

Graham then quoted from John 3:8:

“The wind blows where it wants, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

Next, Graham cited the biblical character Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, who asked, “How could those things be?”

“He (Nicodemus) was a smart guy,” Graham told the audience. He was “a professor-type. Probably walked around, smoking a pipe and wearing a bathrobe” a lot. (In response, many in the the crowd laughed.)

“But,” Graham emphasized, “he was a smart guy.

“He was religious, but he did not have a relationship with God. And there are many of you (here this evening) — you are religious, but you don’t have that relationship with God. You can tonight. I’m going to give that opportunity later.”

He spoke of people who decide to experiment with “getting high, but just on the weekends. Then they started (do it) midweek (too). And then it was drugs every day. Same with drinking.

“Some of you may get in trouble in school. I always was in trouble in school. Trust me, I would have listened if I knew what I know now.

“Sometimes, it’s just the failures in life… Whatever the problems you’re facing, I’m telling you tonight (that) Jesus can fix it — if you’re willing to let him. (The crowd responded with cheering and some also extended one or both arms upward and swayed.)

After a pause to wait till the audience settled down, Graham said, “If you don’t remember anything tonight, remember ‘God loves you.’ But we have a problem — sin. God is a holy God and a just God and He cannot tolerate sin…. And the penalty of sin is death” for an eternity.

“The majority of the human race is under a death sentence… He (Jesus) died on that cross and He shed his blood for you…. Tonight, you can have a new beginning, a new life.

“Jesus came to Nicodemus… Jesus stops Nicodemus and tells him, ‘You have to be born again.’ Nicodemus must have been stunned. He was a Pharisee, which was the most strict (sect) in his religion.”

Graham added, “Religion, itself, cannot save you. I hear someone say, ‘I’m a Catholic.’ Or ‘I’m a Baptist.’ Or ‘I’m a Pentacostal.’ But I’ll say that being that (by itself) won’t save you.

“You see Jesus said, ‘I’m the way, the truth and the light.’”

“There are not many roads to God. There is just one way.”

After another pause, Graham asserted, “There will be Muslims who make it to heaven,” which caused some in the audience to appear somber.

He then added, “There also will be Buddhists who make it to heaven.”

Before those looking askance could respond, Graham quickly pointied out that, “in both cases, Muslims, Buddhists — they will make it to heaven (only) by seeing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” (The crowd cheered.)

Speaking more generally, Graham cited the Bible as saying that “death came to all men because of sin. Sin is breaking God’s law.”

Gazing out at the packed audience in the U.S. Cellular Center, the evangelist said solemnly, “The whole human race is under this death warrant.”

He noted that he has seen churches who have felt the need to loosen Christianity’s standards to meet today’s lifestyles, but “let me just say — His standards don’t change. His laws are the same.

“If you say, ‘Franklin, what do you mean?’

“You’re lying right now,” he said, apparently semi-playfully, prompting some laughter from the crowd as he grinned.

More seriously, though, Graham reiterated that, based on biblical teachings, “All men are liars…. “

For instance, he said, “Coveting is a sin. Taking God’s name in vain is a sin. Murder is a sin.

“ How about an abortion?” Graham asked, triggering the audience to applaud. “That’s right. In God’s eyes, it’s murder.

“You might say, ‘Franklin, it’s legal in North Carolina and many other states.’ But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s not right and not a sin. It (abortion) is a sin.

“But I will tell you tonight, God will forgive you tonight for that,” Graham said, prompting applause.

He quickly added, “But you’ve got to be willing to accept Christ by faith.”

Graham then addressed adultry, noting, “Let me say something about sex. He (God) made us male and female. He made it (sex) for a relationship between a man and a woman in marriage.” The crowd applauded.

“Now there may be some of you tonight who are in” non-traditional relationships. 

“You may be a member of the LBGTQ community here tonight — and I’m not judging you. I’m just telling you” that that is a sin. But, Graham added, “there is a road to forgiveness an an afterlife in heaven.”

Or, he said, “you might be guilty of adultry — cheating on your husband or wife. God will forgive you.

“All of us are guilty of sin. It only takes one sin to keep you out of heaven.”

Graham then asked, rhetorically, “What is the new birth? Paul said in Romans that a new birth is like being brought back from death to life. When you do that… Christ comes in and gives you that new life.

“The new birth is not a change in the body. it’s not a physical change. It’s the union of your soul with the holy spirit.

“To obtain the new birth…. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son …. (and) we are saved through God’s grace through faith.

“You can’t work for your salvation. You can only get there through faith.”

Graham then added, “Who so ever does not believe stands condemned already….

“You have a choice: you can either trust in Jesus or reject him. God doesn’t force himself on you. He’s offering you a new life, a new birth. Will you trust Christ?

“You might say, ‘Why Jesus? Aren’t there many roads to Christ?’

“No,” Graham said. “There’s only one cross. He died for your sins. He was buried for your sins…. If you’re willing tonight” to stand up, an eternity in heaven looms.

About 30 minutes into his address, the lights in the U.S. Cellular Center were turned up and Graham urged those in the audience to “stand tonight, if you’re not sure your sins have been forgiven. Wherever you are, just stand.”

In response, dozens of the 5,500 attendees people stood up.

Graham continued to say, “Just stand. Stand.. Just stand.... By standing you’re saying, ‘God, I’m a sinner…. I believe Jesus is your son. I want to trust him. i want to follow him as my Lord from this day forever.’

“The most important decision of your life right now is to stand wherever you are, right now,” Graham said, as the audience erupted into ringing applause.

Graham added, “You might say, ‘Franklin, it’s kind of embarrassing standing in front of people.’” However, he noted that what he was asking was incomparable to the fate of Jesus, who, he said, “they (the Roman soldiers) stripped Him of his clothes in public and they nailed Him to a cross. There, He shed his blood for us....

“Here, all I’m asking is you stand publically….

Again, speaking rhetorically, Graham said one might assert, “‘I’m asking — Franklin, are you sure my sins are forgiven?’” 

To that, Graham said, “This is between you and God... God will forgive you, but you’ve got to come to Him through Jesus.”

Then he repeated, “Anyone else? Anyone else? Anyone else?” After a pause, Graham asserted, “Amen!”

Then the evangelist said, “I’d like to pray with those” who are standing, asking Jesus to take control of their lives from this day forever. Amen!” Graham said, again triggering resounding applause.

For those standing, he asked that they continue to stand, so that his assistants could give them a book.

After a pause, Graham said, “God has heard your prayer and you are forgiven... Take that book and then we will have some more music in just a minute.”

He also asked anyone interested to text him at: decision2477

“Let me say one other thing,” Graham said. “God loves you. And He sent his son to take away your sins on the cross. And He forgives your sins... And the Bible is God’s Holy Word.”

He then asked the audience, as it departed the auditorium, always to remember that “God loves you — and remember to text the word decision2477.”

Pausing, he then prompted laughter from the crowd when he quipped, “If you don’t know how to do this (text the number he mentioned), look around for a kid!”

In closing, Graham said, “Let me just have a word of prayer... We pray for not only the ones who are standing, but the others here tonight…. Thank you that we have this new birth in Jesus Christ!”

Prior to Graham’s address, Camp, a singer-songwriter and Christan rock mega-star, entertained the audience with his high-powered Christian pop vocals.

Interestingly, as Camp said during his performance and as noted on his website, he is “also heavily involved with a biopic feature film about his life, ‘I Still Believe,’ which chronicles Camp’s personal story of love, loss and faith,” based on his autobiography of the same name. “‘I Still Believe’ is being produced by the Erwin Brothers’ newly-formed studio, Kingdom, in association with Lionsgate and is scheduled for a March 20, 2020 release.”

The film’s website says it features “the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss.”

Meanwhile, his website also stated that Camp holds the title for most No. 1 songs among solo artists on the Christian Airplay chart. (That total is 32 No. 1 singles.) He also was named “Billboard’s No. 2 artist of the Decade in 2010.” What’s more, Camp tallied 40 No. 1 radio hits across all formats, four RIAA certified gold albums and one gold single Along with his Grammy nominations, he has three American Music Award nominations and four ASCAP Songwriter of the Year awards.

As Camp and his band took the stage in Asheville, many in the audience arose to their feet, with more than a few raising one or both of their arms upward ... heaven-ward — and some also swayed in rhythm to the pulsing rock music, which was cranked up loud.

Camp, flanked by his talented band, wore a black T-shirt, tight jeans (with fashionable rips) and white track shoes. Many in the crowd remained excited and on its feet during much of his performance.

An overhead screen was used to highlight the lyrics to his songs — for those wnating to sing along or at least to decipher what he was singing. Two sets of strobe lights whirled beams of light around the room. 

After two intense songs in a row, Camp exlaimed, “We love you so much (God)! You’ve given us life — breathed life into us God.... I thank you for what you’re going to do for us tonight.... Wow. Honestly, it’s been an incredible journey.... All around the world everyone feels pain... We want to tell you we love you! Jesus loves you! If you have breath in your lungs, praise Jesus…. I love you, Jesus!”

After his third song, Camp said, “Thank you, Jesus,” triggering applause.

On his next song, Camp introduced it by “thanking Jesus for giving us the power to love,” as he and his band launched into “The Same Power” song, triggering more arms raised into the air.

Camp’s music sounded steller — similar to that of a contemporary mainstream rock bands, with all else the same, other than Camp’s stellar vocals, the sacred nature of the lyrics — and the singer often tossing in ad-libs between lyrics of “Thank, you, Jesus!”

At 4:23 p.m., he welcome to the stage, “My beautiful wife, Ms. Adrienne Camp,” who also is a recording artist. The crowd applauded. 

Adrienne, known as “Adie,” is Camp’s second wife. He married his first wife, Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp, on Oct. 21, 2000. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died on Feb. 5, 2001. After a period of mourning his first wife’s death, Camp, on Dec. 15, 2003, married Adrienne Liesching, the former frontwoman for The Benjamin Gate, a former South African Christan rock band.

His current wife, with blonde hair to her shoulders, wore a maroon T-shirt with a golden cross encircled with a symbol and an undecipherable word from this reporter’s distant vantage. 

She wore black pants and white tennis shoes. During her brief stint on the stage with her husband and his band, she sang harmony and held one arm up in the air much of the song, as she swayed to the music, with the microphone clutched in her other hand. 

After the song, Camp said, “There’s a lot of brokenness in this place tonight…. Whatever it is, God is big enough to take care of all of those situations…” The crowd again cheered.

Camp then asked everyone to stand up for this last song of the event and said, “We will sing ‘We will overcome …  by the blood of the lamb … and by word of our testament….’” Those lyrics were repeated over and over.

As the crowd applauded enthusiastically, Camp said, “Thank you, Jesus!” and then — with gusto — introduced the Rev. Franklin Graham, who he referred to warmly as a true friend.



 



 


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