Franklin Graham talks about his rebellious past, his journey of faith and his passion for sharing the Gospel and helping the poor. (Part 1 of 2)
Jim Daly: So, would you say you had a strong spirit, a strong-willed spirit?
Franklin Graham: No, I wanted to have fun.
Jim: (Chuckling) Okay, that's simple.
Franklin: And I just felt that if I gave my life to Christ, I would be like in a spiritual straightjacket.
Jim: You'd have to act a certain way.
Franklin: I didn't want to do that. I wanted to have fun.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, I wonder if that person speaking with Jim Daly sounds a little bit familiar to you. You'll hear more of his story on today's "Focus on the Family," which we recorded in a very special place.
Jim: Hi, I'm Jim Daly and here with me is John Fuller. We're in Ashville, North Carolina, and we have a very special guest today. John, when I think of this person's background, I think of all of us, because there's often things in our lives that are goin' on, that we're workin' on and we're tryin' to improve upon. And I think today, parents are gonna be encouraged. I know I will be. If you have a teenager, this show is gonna be for you.
John: Well, I find great encouragement in what we're about to talk about and we're at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. It's a beautiful facility. What a gorgeous day it is here in Ashville and I hope our listeners, if they're not familiar with this wonderful place, will be able to stop in some time and see it.
Jim: It's gorgeous. This is the first time I've been here and I'd like to live here!
John: It would be (Laughter) nice, wouldn't it?
Jim: And it's my pleasure to introduce Franklin Graham to the "Focus on the Family" audience. You've been on "Focus" before, but let me welcome you back.
Franklin: Thank you. It's good to be with you today.
Jim: It is a beautiful spot, The Cove. How did this come about?
Franklin: Well, it went back when I guess my mother and father had the idea when Eldridge Cleaver was converted.
Franklin: And immediately, he was kind of thrust into the limelight and so many different Christians were wanting him to give his testimony and speak here and there. And so, my mother just said, people like this have to have a place to grow in the Lord and they need to develop and be quiet and so forth.
So, my mother and father realized that there was a need for a place where people could come and study the Scriptures and be quiet. And you know, the Bible — I'm a pilot. I fly, been flying for 40 years, and planes have operating manuals. And some of 'em is … the more complex an airplane, the more manuals you have for the various systems. But if you don't go through those operating systems and if you don't operate the plane for that manual, you get in trouble. The Bible is our operating manual for life.
And you cannot survive without following the operating manual. And so, The Cove is designed not for credit. You don't get a certificate or anything. You come here and you just study the Scripture. You can come for a weekend. You can come for a longer period of time, but it's where you can take a portion of Scripture and study it and not only study it, but know how to apply it to your life. And so, that's what The Cove is.
Jim: It's excellent. I love that description. In fact, it's a great segue into discussion, because you're speaking from experience. You talk about being a pilot. In your book, which is really the core part of the discussion, Rebel With a Cause, I know it came out a long time ago but I love the theme. And for Focus on the Family to hear your story up close and personal, I am ready, because I love that idea of you being that pilot. But you have a couple of early incidents, where maybe you read the manual okay, but the plane crashed. Tell us about that crash.
Franklin: Oh, I've had several of 'em, but … (Laughter)
Jim: Is that also a metaphor for life?
Franklin: Sure, and we do make mistakes and we can, if not careful, we can crash and we can burn. But when we look at life and we watch people crash and burn and destroy their life because of a series of bad mistakes and taking the wrong turn, that's why we need the Scriptures. That's why we need God's help. We cannot navigate through life. Franklin Graham is a sinner and my parents could not save me from my sins. No matter how much my mother or my father loved me, they could not take my sins on and pay that penalty for me.
But I thank God for my parents that loved me enough to pray for me, family, friend[s]-- people I didn't even know prayin' for me. I remember in speaking in West Texas, a little country church and a[n] elderly African-American lady came up to me and she had a kind of a crooked finger and she was walking with a cane. And she said, "Young man," she said, "I have a piece of your life." Well, I backed up a little bit. I thought, maybe the lady's crazy or something …(Laughter). She's gonna hit me with this cane.
Jim: I think that was wise!
Franklin: Well, she said it again, "Young man, I have a piece of your life." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "I've been on your mother and father's Christmas card list for years." She said, "I just circled your face." And she said, "I've been praying for you--
Franklin: -- almost all of your life." And she said, "Young man, I have a piece of your life." And she had that little cane and she just walked out the door.
Jim: Never saw her again.
Franklin: So, I never saw her again, but I thought to myself, how many people that I'll never know, have a piece of my life?
Franklin: Prayed for me and cared for me.
Franklin: See, God answers prayer. For parents out there who've got kids and you're strugglin'. I can just tell ya, you pray for your children. But you have to set the example in the home.
Parents fail many times at modeling. And they come to me and they say, "Oh, my son is this," or "my daughter is this." But the parents haven't been the models. And so, I get calls, you know, people wanting me to take their children overseas or want them to come work at Samaritan's Purse. And what they're wanting me to do is finish raising their kids. I can't do that! (Laughter)
Franklin: Um …
Jim: But let me ask you this, though Franklin, because you have a unique position being the son of Billy Graham. I mean, that had both, I'm sure great benefit and some tough stuff with it. Talk to us though. Paint the picture that you did so well in Rebel With a Cause, in terms of the type of rebel you were. I read in there … I was shocked that I think it said that the construction workers when you about 4, they were flickin' cigarettes at you. And you'd pick 'em up and begin smoking 'em at age 4. Describe the kind of rebel you were.
Franklin: You know, as I look back at it, it wasn't that I didn't believe in God, Jim. I believed in God and it wasn't that I didn't believe in Jesus Christ. I did. But I didn't want to commit my life to Jesus.
Jim: So, would you say you had a strong spirit, a strong-willed spirit?
Franklin: No, I wanted to have fun. (Laughter)
Jim: Okay (Chuckling), that's simple!
Franklin: Okay. And I just felt that if I gave my life to Christ, I would be like in a spiritual straightjacket.
Jim: You'd have to act a certain way.
Franklin: I didn't want to do that. I wanted to have fun. But the more I tried to have fun, the emptier I became on the inside of my life. I remember sometime later after I gave my life to Christ, remember Kurt Cobain--
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: --who was the head of the rock group, Nirvana. He committed suicide. And I was at a barbershop and you know, waiting for my turn to get a haircut and they had Rolling Stone magazine. Well, I don't read Rolling Stone magazine, but that was the only magazine there, so I just picked it up and you kinda thumb through the articles. And it's pretty sad these musicians telling themselves and how empty they are and that kind of stuff. Well, I get to this article about Kurt Cobain, so I thought, well, that's kinda interesting. I'll read this. And they had his suicide note--
Franklin: --printed in Rolling Stone magazine. And he talked about this great big black empty hole that had opened up in his life. Sex couldn't fill it. Drugs couldn't fill it. Alcohol couldn't fill it. Fame and money did not fill it. And he out of desperation and just searching and not finding, he just took a shotgun and ended his life. But I thought about that big black empty hole…
Franklin: --that is in everyone. And it can only be filled by God Himself. We cannot fill it. We try to do it. The more we try, the emptier we feel. Oh, it doesn't mean you can't have fun. You can. You can go to a party and have fun. But you wake up the next day and you say, "There's gotta be something more to this."
Franklin: There's just that emptiness in life.
Franklin: And millions and millions of people are just experiencing this emptiness. And God made us and He created us and we have a vacuum that can only be filled by Him.
Franklin: And the only way that can be filled is when we come into a right relationship with Him and that's through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. There's no other if, and's or but's. And when I got to that point in my life where I just cried out to God and said, "I have sinned and I'm sorry. Forgive me. And I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for me, that You raised Him to life and I want to invite Him now to come into my heart. And if You can just take the pieces of my life and somehow put it together, You can have it. But I realized I couldn't do it.
Jim: And that's actually a good place to be. That's, I think, probably where God wants all of us to come to the end of our rope to say, okay--
Franklin: No question.
Jim: --we give up. Let me ask you this though. You talked in your book about the way in which your mom and dad gave you that leash. It sounded like, as I read it, they didn't over-parent. They weren't paranoid perhaps.
Franklin: Well, you know, it's interesting, 'cause that's true, but that's not the way I've dealt with my kids, I can promise you that. (Laughter)
Jim: You were a little more concerned?
Franklin: I'm a little … I knew the tricks and I just said, "You know, they're not gonna pull one over on me." And so …
Jim: So, talk about that contrast, what your parents did for you and what you did--
Franklin: Well, my…
Jim: --as a dad.
Franklin: --my parents were disciplinarians, okay? And this is something that's missing in the home and even at school. When I was goin' to school, you back-talked a teacher--
Franklin: --when I first started school, the teacher would paddle you. And then it got to where they couldn't do that. You had to go to the principal's office to get paddled.
Jim: Did you have the paddles with the holes to--
Franklin: Oh, yeah, I had …
Jim: --to speed up the …
Franklin: Sure I did.
Jim: I got swatted by one of those in school once (Laughing)
Franklin: Oh, yeah--
Jim: They drilled holes in it to keep I guess, the air resistance low.
Franklin: --so the paddle would move faster through the air. But we had discipline. My parents, you know, disciplined me.
Too many parents today are trying to be their children's best friend. That is a bunch of garbage. Now we are parents. That's what we are, parents and God gives parents their children for a reason.
Jim: That's right. Although I loved in the book, your mom when it came to a curfew. She I think found a very unique approach to that. By not setting a curfew, how did she set your curfew?
Franklin: Well, my mother was a character. (Laughter) And she was a ton of fun. And you know, I would … when I was 18, you know, I began to come in late and so forth. And I would come in maybe at midnight or after and the light would always be in her bedroom. And when I'd walk through the front door, I'd look back kinda down the hall and her light would go out.
And then I thought, okay, let's see how late she can stay up. (Laughter) So, I'd come in at 2 or 3; the light was on. And when I'd walk in the house and my mother could hear the door close, the light went out. And I finally said, I'm not gonna do that anymore. I began to feel guilty. I said, I'm not gonna do that.
Jim: You're keepin' your mom up.
Franklin: Keepin' my mom up, but I can never remember coming into the home where her light was off. Her light stayed on till I came in.
Then I remember, you know, I smoked. But I never did smoke in front of them, but I smoked in my bedroom and you know, there'd be ashtrays and … and they would be pretty deep with cigarette butts and ashes.
And my mother one time came in to get me up for school. I was late. So, she looked over at the head of my bed, I had this ashtray. It was actually a cup and it was full of cigarettes and ashes. And she just took that cup of cigarettes and just dumped 'em on my head and said, "It's time to get up." (Laughter) And …
Jim: So, she was pretty tough!
Franklin: So, I jumped up and now I'm mad, but what can you do? That's your mother. (Laughter) So I didn't do anything. You know, I just … all right and so, I got up and my bed's a mess. The cigarette butts are everywhere. Ashes are everywhere.
So a couple days later, I thought, you know, I'm just gonna lock my door. She ain't comin' here to do that again. So, I heard her out there beatin' on the door tellin' me to get up. I just rolled over. And um … I was lying there and then all of a sudden, I heard something. And here she came crawlin' across the roof. Now my window was open. (Laughter) We didn't have air conditioning. And she had a cup of water.
Jim: Across the roof!
Franklin: Across the roof and she was on the side of the roof and she's on all fours, kinda crawlin' across the roof. And this cup of water is in her teeth. (Laughter) And so she gets to the window and she takes and she slings the water in the bedroom and all over the bed. So, I got up. (Laughter)
Jim: That's determination.
Franklin: A few days later, same kind of scenario. And I heard her comin'. Okay, so, just before she got to the window, I just slammed the window and locked it. And so, my mother could not turn around very easily on the roof, 'cause it's at a slant. So, she had to kinda back up with this cup of water in her teeth. And I just remember lookin' out the window and I still have that memory today of my mother … like oh, what am I gonna do now? (Laughter) But she was a lot of fun. But she was a woman of God.
End of Portion of Prerecorded Interview
John: We're hearing some great personal reflections from Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham on today's "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and our host is Jim Daly and contact us about a CD or download of the entire conversation with Franklin.
And today when you make a donation of any amount to Focus on the Family, we'll send a complimentary copy of his book, Rebel with a Cause. Our phone number is 800-A-FAMILY or you can find details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
End of Program Note
Jim: John, we need to get back to Franklin, but I hope this encourages parents. I mean, this is the son of Billy and Ruth Graham and it just put a smile on my face to see how much mischief he was getting into.
Jim: And you know, they just stayed the course. But I want to share one more story from Franklin's past, 'cause again, I think it shows us the way forward. You remember the one we recorded at the end of our conversation. We were kinda done with the interview, but--
John: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --we kept talking and he shared a story. We were able to capture it and it's about he sometimes continued to push the limits so far and got into some serious trouble. And what's fascinating about this is how his parents, Billy and Ruth Graham really refused to rescue him from the consequences of those actions. Let's listen to the end of that conversation.
Jim: Like that one story and we didn't ask it. We should've, 'cause it's hilarious in one way that you were speeding and the police followed you to your house. You run in the house, lock the door. (Laughter) I mean, if my boys do that--
John: Like that's gonna work.
Jim: --my wife will be going, "We've raised ax murderers!" I mean, that's like not a light thing to most Christian moms.
John: How did James … (Laughter)
Franklin: No, but you know …
Jim: You run in the door; you lock the door and hey, we're not gonna bail you out.
Franklin: No, we had an electronic gate and so I went through the gate, just hit the remote control. And so, here are the cops behind me and the gates closed. (Laughter) And you know, I'm thinkin' I'm safe, you know. That shows you how stupid and naïve you are, only for the cop to turn around and go back down and pick up the phone and call the house.
Jim: Open the gate.
Franklin: And daddy marched into my room. He said, "The police are coming." He said, "If they arrest you, I'll help them put on the handcuffs." (Laughter) He was not happy. And of course, the cop came in. He had his cop face on. He he didn't come in and smile, he just …
Franklin: But the point was, my father took the side of the cop.
Franklin: He didn't take my side.
Franklin: And when I got in trouble at school, my parents never took my side. (Laughter) It was always the teacher or the principal.
Jim: And you respected that in the end.
Franklin: Well, I knew I wasn't gonna get sympathy at home, so, you might as well stay out of trouble. (Laughing)
End of Excerpt
John: What an illustration of letting the natural course of events occur if you have a challenging child. And we're gonna continue with more from Franklin Graham, talking with Jim Daly on today's "Focus on the Family," as he offers further encouragement for parents who might need a word of hope.
Franklin: It's not that I never did not believe in God. I did. It's just I wanted to have fun and I wanted to party and I wanted to do the things that I thought would please Franklin Graham. I wanted not to put God first. I wanted to put self first.
Franklin: And it just didn't work.
Jim: You know, Franklin, you're saying something that speaks to the heart of so many people and especially so many young people, whether they're teenagers or they're in their 20s or 30s. Oftentime[s] when I'm talking with someone in that age group, they'll say that. It's not about rejecting God. It's just that I don't want to stop having fun and I feel like if I become a Christian, I have to stop having fun. You lived it both sides now. Speak directly to that 27-year-old, who's been living in that space. Pretend I'm that kid.
Franklin: Well, first of all, you can't forget the fact that God loves us. And if a person doesn't remember anything from this radio interview, remember this, that God loves you and He does. But God is a God of law. If we go down the Interstate, go down the road too fast, a policeman may pull you over. You get a ticket and you have to pay that ticket. If we break other laws, we have to stand before a judge or a jury and we have to pay society for breaking the law. God has law.
And when we violate that law and all of us have, the Bible says that we've all sinned and come short of God's glory, that the wages of sin is death. We're all under a death sentence, the entire human race is under a death sentence from God. And there's nothing you can do to save yourself. You can give money. You can go to church. You can read the Bible from cover to cover 10 times. Nothing's gonna save you. The only thing that's gonna save you is, God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Franklin: And you have to come to that point where you realize that He is the Savior. He is the King of Kings. He's the Lord of Lords and He loves us. The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life. And Franklin Graham is just a sinner and I was 22-years-old when I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart, to forgive me of my sin. And so, if there's a young person out there today who's struggling with where to go or what to do in life, you have to understand this, that God loves you, but you're under a death sentence.
Jim: Hm. That's--
Franklin: You're under the death …
Jim: --plain talk.
Franklin: That's what it is. You're under a death sentence and hell is a real place. But God has a plan and He's got a purpose for your life and until you repent of your sins and "repent" means, you have to turn, okay? It doesn't mean, you say, "God, I'm sorry" and you just go back on living life, the way you live it. No.
And a lot of people confuse this with grace. You know, we're under God's grace, so therefore, we can kinda do what we want to do. That's a bunch of garbage. We have a manual, an operating manual—the Holy Scriptures. And we are to apply that to our life and we're to live that. And we've got to repent and turn from our sins and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has to come in and be the Lord of our life. We have to live for him every day.
Jim: Franklin, we have so many parents that write Focus on the Family and they're desperate. You know, their 13-year-old, 15-year-old, 18-year-old, they're doing things that are contrary to the Word of God. And um … they're worried. They're worried that they're on a path of destruction and they don't know in the long term if their children are gonna make it. What advice do you have for them?
Franklin: I remember my uncle was sayin', this was my father's brother that when they grew up, they were on drugs. They were "drug" to church. (Laughter) And they were drug to Sunday school and they were drug to prayer meetings. And okay, we say that a little tongue in cheek.
But there's something about we make our children. You don't give 'em an option do they want to go to church? No, you're going to church. We don't give them option, do you want to go to Sunday school. No, you drag 'em to Sunday school. Now they may be kickin' and bitin' and screamin', but you drag 'em to Sunday school.
Jim: Don't worry about bein' their friend.
Franklin: That's right. But you pray for your children. Pray for 'em. And … because I can tell you right now, the world in which we are living is so wicked and so evil, we have to have the covering of the blood of Christ. And our children will never make it if we as parents, are not prayin' for our kids. And we have to set that example that godly example in the home and we have to make those decisions for our children, which are not always easy, 'cause our kids, you know, they don't' want to do some of these things.
Jim: That's so true.
Franklin: And it's doing the right thing. that's the thing. Do the right thing for your children.
Jim:This may be too personal a question, but it's an obvious one that I have to ask. In talking with your father in the last few years, he's seen the whole story, when you were that 4-year-old puffin' cigarettes that the construction workers threw your way or the teenager that wasn't living it. And I'm sure as a dad and for your mom, as well before she passed away, they must have been so proud of what happened in the end game, with all the grief that you caused in the beginning. Did you ever have that moment with them to say, "Hey, mom, dad, have I done okay?"
Franklin: I don't think "proud" is the word. I think probably "relieved." (Laughter) And I think for all of us as parents, I mean, I have four children of my own and my mother said, I didn't deserve any of 'em.
Jim: They were too good, huh?
Franklin: I did not have trouble with my kids. And my wife is as strong a disciplinarian as you would want. And my kids stepped to the left or to the right and she would straighten 'em out real quick. But my children all love God and are living for Him. And I'm proud of them and so, I can't speak for my parents. (Laughter) I think again, they were relieved. But I'm proud of my children and the fact that they're walking with the Lord
End of Prerecorded Interview
John: Well, what a heritage that man has. You're listening to "Focus on the Family" and that's part one of a conversation that Jim Daly and I enjoyed with Franklin Graham about his life's story. And it's so remarkable, Jim, how God has used a former self-proclaimed rebel, like Franklin, to have such a profound impact on so many.
Well, it is, John and I hope parents listening to this program today found comfort in that, you know, because parenting is hard work and you never know, am I on the right track? And God can work things out in life and in any child, no matter how much they may be struggling or acting out or even walking away from their faith. You might have that rebellious child, but I hope that you'll take comfort in the fact that even Franklin Graham was on that path, but he found the way back.
And we hear from a lot of parents of prodigals like that and we know your hearts are breaking. There was a mom named Melissa, who contacted us about her 18-year-old daughter not long ago. And this girl grew up in a Christian household, but she has chosen a lifestyle of illegal drugs and drinking and premarital sex, while in college. Melissa is heartbroken, but she thanked Focus on the Family for the encouragement and advice we offer through programs like this and our counseling team and the other resources that we provide hurting families.
John: Uh-hm and the only reason we can do that kind of work is because of generous friends like you, who support this family ministry. And Jim, we depend on a donor team that resonates with the message and the direction of Focus and steps alongside us and says, we want to help.
Jim: It doesn't happen by accident. I mean, that's the truth, John and let me say to you, our friends who support the ministry, thank you so very much for changing lives in this way. You know, we measure this, John and I'm so thrilled that literally hundreds of thousands of people are touched each and every year.
Jim: Your offering moms and dads that hope in Christ and motivation to keep praying for their prodigal children. You're also providing a caring Christian counselor, who can help these families begin that healing process through prayer and hopefully, wise counsel. You're also providing resources that many of these families are unable to pay for in their time of need. But thanks to you, we can give them away at no cost.
Again, let me say thank you for your ongoing support of Focus on the Family and if you can join us today, please do so. The needs are there. We can touch as many as we have the resources to provide and I hope that you will join the Lord's team today in helping families at their point of need.
John: Well, I hope you'll donate today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And when you get in touch, be sure to ask how you can get a copy of Franklin Graham's book, Rebel with a Cause. In fact, make a donation today and we'll send that to you with our thanks for your support of what we're doing here at Focus.
The program was provided by FOF and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more from Franklin Graham, as we once again, offer encouragement to help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Franklin GrahamView Bio
Franklin Graham is the president and CEO of two organizations: Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He is also an evangelist, a popular public speaker and the author of more than 10 books, including Living Beyond the Limits, Kids Praying for Kids and his autobiography, Rebel With a Cause. Franklin and his wife, Jane, have four grown children and five grandchildren.