Voices: What I learned from a 100-year-old pastor and a 99-year-old evangelist

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In January, one of our church members, Bracy Bledsoe, passed away at the age of 100.

I had the privilege of being his pastor for a little over four years. Bracy was a retired pastor, WWII veteran, and a Purple Heart recipient. The Baptist Standard did an article about him in the fall of 2017: ‘Retired pastor testifies to a century of God’s faithfulness.’

In February, Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99.

I never had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham or hearing him in person. Nevertheless, I’ve read numerous biographies about him and have watched him preach on TV and the internet many times. Like so many others, I felt like I knew him.

Bracy and Billy

In some ways, Bracy and Billy are different.

Bracy was not famous and pastored faithfully, mostly in the Temple and Austin areas, and was known by the churches he pastored, by his family, and by his friends. Billy was famous the world over.

Bracy influenced thousands through the churches he pastored and the people he impacted. Billy influenced millions and impacted world leaders.

Bracy’s funeral was attended by hundreds. Billy’s was attended by thousands with thousands more watching.

As I think about their lives, though, I’m struck not by how different they are but by how similar they are. Their similarities continue to impact my life. Therefore, as an exercise to process how these men impacted my life, directly and indirectly, I wrote a list of how these men were similar. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I pray you’ll find it as encouraging, inspiring, and helpful as I did.

The pastor and the evangelist

  1. They were faithful over the long haul.

 Both men ran the race of faith as a marathon and not a sprint. They were faithful decade after decade and not just for a few months or years.

  1. Their public and private lives were aligned.

These men were not the stereotypical, hypocritical preacher who preaches one thing and lives another. The faith they proclaimed in the pulpit was lived in the privacy of the home. This alignment is most importantly seen by the ways their wives and children reflected on their lives.

When I heard the families of Bracy and Billy talk about their lives, I was struck by the fact that, while the men were not perfect, there was a genuine alignment between their public and private lives.

  1. Their humility was about exalting Christ.

As I’ve read and listened to the stories about Billy Graham, one thing people constantly spoke about was his humility, especially for a person of such fame. What I noticed about both Bracy and Billy was that their humility had a purpose. Their humility was not humility for humility’s sake; their humility served the purpose of pointing people to and exalting Christ Jesus.

  1. They experienced the pains and disappointments of life but never became bitter.

Both men knew what it was like to experience loss. For example, they both experienced the death of their wives.

Both men knew what it was like to be hurt and misrepresented by others. I remember talking with Bracy about some of the hurt he had experienced as a pastor. What I remember most about these conversations was that he was not bitter and how he turned the conversation to talking about Christ’s faithfulness.

Because they experienced Christ’s faithfulness during the most difficult and painful seasons, they were freed from bitterness.

  1. They cared about people, and people knew it.

As I prepared to do the sermon for Bracy’s funeral, his family told numerous stories about how people — people who didn’t know Bracy — were impacted by him in just one encounter. People were not a burden to Bracy or Billy. They cared about every person who came across their path, no matter who they were, and people knew it.

  1. They never neglected the word and prayer.

The foundation of their personal relationship with Jesus was spending time reading, studying, meditating and memorizing the Bible and in prayer with God. Maybe this ultimately explains their faithfulness over the long haul: they continued to grow spiritually and never neglected the foundational spiritual practices of the word and prayer.

Examples and encouragement

I’m thankful for the lives of Bracy and Billy. They are an example of not only starting the race of faith but of finishing the race.

They are an encouragement for all of us that Christ is worth it, we can trust Him and He will provide the endurance we need to joyfully live for Him all the days of our lives.

Ross Shelton is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas.

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