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November 7th, 2013
06:08 PM ET

Billy Graham turns 95 at star-studded birthday

By Phil Gast, CNN

(CNN) - The Rev. Billy Graham took people to church, perhaps for the last time, as hundreds joined the iconic evangelist Thursday evening for his 95th birthday.

A guest list that included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Rev. Rick Warren and businessmen Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump came to pay tribute to a man beloved for his humility and faithfulness.

Because the frail Graham no longer has the strength to speak behind a lectern, his enduring message of salvation through Jesus Christ came in the form of "The Cross," a 30-minute DVD that made its debut at the celebration.

"He is my spiritual hero," said entertainer Ricky Skaggs shortly before the celebration began at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. "He exemplifies brokenness and humility."

Graham, in a wheelchair, entered the room to a standing ovation. Although he did not give a formal speech, he later made impromptu remarks from his table, thanking family and friends.

"The Cross" was filmed in part this year at Graham's remote mountaintop home in Montreat, east of Asheville.

His hearing and eyesight have dimmed, but Graham has remained true to his familiar themes.

"Our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I have wept as I have gone from city to city and I have seen how far people have wandered from God," the pastor said in what is expected to be his final video production. "Of all the things I have seen and heard, there is only one message that can change people's lives and hearts."

That message, as billions around the world have heard for more than six decades, is salvation and the need to live a new life because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Graham has provided counsel to generations of U.S. presidents beginning with Harry S. Truman. Staging revivals that he called "crusades" around the world, the founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has reached untold millions of people in person.

In the video, Graham said when he was young he did not foresee speaking to large audiences.

"As I look back over my life, it is full of surprises. I never thought I would become friends with people in different countries all over the world," he said.

Singers Lecrae and Lacey Sturm also are featured in the video, which can be watched online and will be played in churches across the country. It is part of the "My Hope America with Billy Graham" series. The production included recorded sermons and footage of a younger Graham.

Skaggs, singer Michael W. Smith and TV host Kathie Lee Gifford were among those leading the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Graham. About 850 well-wishers were on hand at the resort inn.

Palin told Graham that his Christian message is needed for a "great awakening" the nation and world need.

Graham is a member of the Rev. Don Wilton's church, Spartanburg  First Baptist in South Carolina, and he still watches Wilton's sermons on TV.

"He'll look at me and say, 'Don, let's talk about that second point you had on Sunday,'" said Wilton, who drives up at least once a week to Graham's home.

"My favorite part is when he puts his hands on me and prays with me," Wilton told CNN affiliate WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina.

Graham, a Charlotte native, began his missionary work in 1944 when he started speaking at rallies for the Youth for Christ/Campus Life ministry. Five years later, Graham was holding a "crusade" in tents in downtown Los Angeles.

Cliff Barrows was with Graham in the early years and for decades has served as music and program director.

Barrows, 90, turned to his boss on Thursday evening, paying an emotional tribute.

"I praise God for the journey we have had together. Thank you with all my heart for the privilege. Happy birthday."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Billy Graham • Christianity • evangelicals • Leaders • Protestant • Sarah Palin

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soundoff (713 Responses)
  1. Moishe Pipick

    Someday, before this man passes away I want to hear him tell thew world that he does have compassion for all of those that do NOT believe in Heysuss as their savior and that we will NOT burn in hell if we do not follow his example.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:52 am |
    • Irfan

      He did....he was heavily criticized by evangelicals when he said a few years ago that jesus was not the only way to heaven. He's actually a pretty decent guy. His son on the other hand...

      November 8, 2013 at 7:27 am |
  2. lol??

    Science has a big appet*ite for human SACRIFICE. Just one mo body, please!! Repeat and try again.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • Science Works

      lol?? and Illinois is the 15th state to legalize same se-x marriage and what does Bill say about that lol??

      November 8, 2013 at 6:57 am |
      • lol??

        Well, tell me.

        Illinois is where the Indonesian boy hails from as a non-voting representative of the Masters. Works in the heart of the country, land of Crips and Bloods.

        November 8, 2013 at 7:42 am |
  3. lol??

    Too bad the new babes in Christ were turned over to the gubmint churches for training. That's like giving toddlers to Kinsey's child molesters for SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH of DEPRAVED MINDS!

    November 8, 2013 at 6:32 am |
    • Science Works

      Talking about a lost mind lol??

      November 8, 2013 at 6:35 am |
      • lol??

        So you BOUGHT the cultural narrative??

        November 8, 2013 at 6:41 am |
    • Science Works

      Well lol?? bang on this news the earth is just a PLAIN rock.

      No god/devil (like Scalia thinks there is) required

      There is a source for it too, you know where.

      November 8, 2013 at 6:45 am |
      • lol??

        You a mover and shaker of the plain ROCK?? Yer upside down.

        "Isa 53:2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."

        Just plain looking for SIMPLE observers.

        November 8, 2013 at 6:54 am |
        • Science Works

          Just like the new DINO they found in Utah !

          November 8, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  4. worldcares

    Without the evolution of religion, mankind would not be civilized.
    Show some respect.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:29 am |
    • lol??

      Evolution is a myth. It's a pillar of the "strong delusion".

      November 8, 2013 at 6:34 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Stop smoking the crack pipe of religion and you might realize that evolution is not a myth, unless of course you believe the story of incest in your bible is acceptable as our beginnings.

        November 8, 2013 at 7:40 am |
        • lol??

          Course it was acceptable. It was a different climate then and the mutants hadn't taken over yet.

          November 8, 2013 at 7:52 am |
        • truthprevails1

          You're a very sick person if you truly believe that. Please stay away from children and the public in general, you're clearly not stable!

          November 8, 2013 at 7:54 am |
        • lol??

          Clearly you are not a Professional. You are supposedly 98.8% chimp. Let's round that up.

          November 8, 2013 at 8:05 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Nor are you and no-one said we're 98.8% chimp, we do however share a common ancestor with them and the number you are looking for 96% of our DNA is shared...sorry to ruin your love and approval of incest but that 96% includes you.

          November 8, 2013 at 8:28 am |
        • lol??

          "..................Of course, humanity did not evolve from the chimpanzee, which has spent time evolving on its own path for millions of years from our last common ancestor, just as we have. Still, chimps are our closest living relatives — we share 98.8 percent of their DNA — and new research is continuing to shed light on just how similar we remain, promising to yield insights into the roots we both stem from................................."

          http://www.livescience.com/7929-human-evolution-closest-living-relatives-chimps.html

          November 8, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  5. worldcares

    The primitive fear of the earth's elements and celestial activity evolved into the concept of religion which civilized mankind.
    Show some respect here.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:26 am |
  6. Big D

    Billy was the first tele-crook that I can recall. An exploiter and con man from way back.

    I'm pretty sure he has a spot in the afterlife if there is one, it is probably going to be a little warmer than he hopes for.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:24 am |
    • L. Morris

      I pray God will forgive you for your words. Billy Graham has not taken anything from anyone. It says in the Bible to "not touch one of God's annointed" who are you to say anything about a minister of God. You obviously don't know what you are talking about. Its people like you who start garbage about ministers. Why not use your real name, "Big D"

      November 8, 2013 at 6:40 am |
      • truthprevails1

        So being worth $25 million is not taking??? That's slightly a skewed vision of a great con-man. Now you can waste your time praying or you can investigate the facts about this man and potentially change your mind (although people with imaginary friends seldom do). Religion is the greatest con game ever imagined by man, meant to fool the gullible and weak.

        November 8, 2013 at 7:23 am |
      • letter to mah son

        Franklin: this is what I meant when I said "Indoctrinate your flock to be obedient and never question authority. After that, the rest is gravy". Yer Diddy, Billy G.

        November 9, 2013 at 1:08 am |
  7. lol??

    Birthday parties can be dangerous if you're a baker or a water baptizer. Celebrate at yer own risk!!

    November 8, 2013 at 5:59 am |
    • Will

      Let me guess... You're a Jehovah's Witness and you believe everything the watchtower says even though it issued a hundred years of kooky prophecies that never came true. Here's a suggestion: Be a good steward of the mind God gave you and stop following uneducated know-it-alls who have shown over and over again how foolish they are.

      November 8, 2013 at 6:55 am |
      • lol??

        Socie gubmint church?? Inc'd?? Paul didn't beg for existence from the existentialists.

        November 8, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  8. saggyroy

    "Our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I have wept as I have gone from city to city and I have seen how far people have wandered from God," You have had 2000 years. It ain't happening. Get over it.

    November 8, 2013 at 5:48 am |
  9. michael lee

    he's still alive?

    darn.....i was hoping him and people of that age who think like him would be a little quicker in kicking the bucket

    america has been pressing its reset button and we are getting impatient

    November 8, 2013 at 5:43 am |
    • Dave Johnson

      Michael Lee, you can keep pressing that button until it wears out and catches fire b/c nothing you or any other human says or does will keep Jesus from his appointed return to earth, first in the clouds to claim his followers both dead and alive then physically on earth to destroy the devil and his minions..........I hope and pray that you will not be in the devil's group!!!

      November 8, 2013 at 6:13 am |
      • Dan

        While I don't personally believe in your sky demi-god sometimes I like to fantasize that it's true. I do this because after studying his teachings for the first half of my life, I know that if he did come back the first asses he'd kick would be the televangelists, the "prosperity ministers", the men and women who turned is teachings into a ponzi scheme, people who took food out of the mouths of the hungry, and cheered as we went to war. Very few "christians" would make it anywhere near your sky Valhalla.

        November 8, 2013 at 6:25 am |
  10. mrw

    Many people from around the world respect Rev. Billy Graham. He traveled the world and was able to lead billions to becoming followers of Christ.He worked with local churches of every denomination to set up his revival meetings. His organization never charged churches for the materials. To rent out a stadium he paid in advance. People come to these crusades to see if the man & the message are real. Over 60 years people around the globe are ready to listen. The message of Salvation is ageless. Its eternal.

    November 8, 2013 at 5:08 am |
  11. mrw

    Billy Graham is one of the most admired men of the last century and this new one. No one has ever found any true scandal regarding finances, or any kind of infidelity. If he had been guilty it would have come out several decades ago. His testimony is truehe has endured many illnesses but he is still keeping his faith. Dont compare a true man of God with those who have been exposed as frauds. He preached one message The Salvation of mankind through Christ Jesus. He never compromised.

    November 8, 2013 at 4:56 am |
    • saggyroy

      Being a hypocrite is not against the law.

      November 8, 2013 at 5:43 am |
  12. NYNJCT

    I have respected what he has done. May be God is awaiting for Billy Graham with golden crown.

    November 8, 2013 at 4:39 am |
  13. melvin

    A great American

    November 8, 2013 at 4:36 am |
  14. Realist

    ******************************

    Is it too moch to ask for a "Non-Belief" option?

    ******************************

    ... http://www.GODisIMARINARY.com ...

    ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

    ... http://www.EVILbibe.com ...

    ******************************

    November 8, 2013 at 4:26 am |
    • Realist

      ******************************

      Is it too moch to ask for a "Non-Belief" option?

      ******************************

      ... http://www.GODisIMARINARY.com ...

      ... and thank goodness because he emanates from the ...

      ... http://www.EVILbibe.com ...

      ******************************

      November 8, 2013 at 4:27 am |
      • fyi

        Are you aware that your links are misspelled... and what is "moch"? Why do you want to look sloppy?

        November 8, 2013 at 4:42 am |
    • saggyroy

      I guess you could head over to the science and technology blogs.

      November 8, 2013 at 5:40 am |
  15. Up next on CNN

    Atheists despiiiiiise Billy Graham.

    November 8, 2013 at 3:24 am |
    • Doug

      Not really... He's just another hypocrite... You know, if the good die young, then this is one nasty old monster !

      November 8, 2013 at 4:27 am |
    • Dave Green

      Despise is such a strong and ugly word. I don't despise Billy. I just think he's full of crap. Another evangelical con man.

      November 8, 2013 at 4:34 am |
    • saggyroy

      No no at all. We love the believer but hate the belief.

      November 8, 2013 at 5:41 am |
    • Irfan

      I'm an atheist and I like Billy Graham

      November 8, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  16. rich hill has huge teeth

    Love him, or hate him – he's 95. Happy Birthday. We should all be so lucky to make it this far....

    November 8, 2013 at 3:21 am |
  17. correctlycenter

    May the LORD continue to bless His servant, Billy Graham

    November 8, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    •  Doris

      I used to have a dumbwaiter in this one house that I lived in. Now that's something that's actually useful.

      November 8, 2013 at 3:00 am |
      • bilbfit

        Why, because the waiter's intellect wore off on you?

        November 8, 2013 at 4:20 am |
  18. Chancho

    Im not sure who is acting more like a zealot on this board, the christians or the atheists...

    November 8, 2013 at 2:19 am |
    • Jura

      Christians have their organized religion with churches and other venues for their preaching, whilst atheists use social media and other discussion forums as their primary outlet for preaching. You'll find a lot of atheists who's behaviour mimick those of religious fundamentalists on the web, often more so than their religious counterparts.

      November 8, 2013 at 4:21 am |
  19. tallulah13

    His guest list reads like a contemporary who's who of greed and corruption.

    November 8, 2013 at 2:16 am |
    • Doris

      No kidding.

      November 8, 2013 at 2:18 am |
      • aaron

        Why, why such vile hate, his charity samaritan's purse give, literally, millions in food and aid to the most impoverished places on earth. Before hurling more anti-Christian bile, name the last time you did even one thing for someone else?

        November 8, 2013 at 3:21 am |
        • fyi

          That's his son Franklin's doing...(you might regret bringing it up, though, much controversy over it).

          November 8, 2013 at 3:38 am |
        • Emeric

          You're right aaron. And you know we shouldn't hate Hamas or Hezbollah so much either. They help their communities, give millions in aid to the most impoverished areas of the middle east certainly, and generally provide services to their local communities.

          I hope you get the point, listing out charity work doesn't nullify the bad deeds done by a person or group. What you say about Christian demogagues I can easily say about Muslim extremists groups. That doesn't make either of them any less reprehensible otherwise.

          November 8, 2013 at 4:21 am |
        • Zwei Stein

          Who keeps track of what they did for someone else? And what sort of person would even mention it? A Christian?

          November 8, 2013 at 4:44 am |
    • Palin 2042

      He invited Palin. He obviously has lost what little sense he had.

      November 8, 2013 at 3:31 am |
    • bilbfit

      I think you're confusing that with Obama'a inaugural ball. Or are you under the illusion that all those guests are on food stamps like you?

      November 8, 2013 at 4:24 am |
  20. Doris

    Poster "matthew" wants to rattle off his detailed "knowledge" of evolution, but regarding social morality he runs to a security blanket with this line in response to booty's statement that "sin is a disgusting concept invented by religion to control you.":

    (matthew:) "Lol....if that were true humans would not feel guilt, shame or remorse. Without god or Sin, these concepts are no more rational than claiming you have a headache."

    Still waiting for the response "matthew" – what is an absolute truth? What can you or anyone convey and demonstrate purely by objective means? What do any of us think we know via science or "spooky" physics that does not employ some level of subjectivity/consensus? Should be an easy answer....

    November 8, 2013 at 2:14 am |
    • tallulah13

      I hope that matthew is a troll. He uses a lot of words but never really says anything.

      November 8, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • Graham Krueger

      The difference is we can know things without depending on magic to make them real. As for your first point, guilt and shame are constructed, if anything more than that it may be an evolutionary advantage- a species that has an aversion to hurting its own members will probably fare better than a species of, say, cannibals.

      November 8, 2013 at 2:25 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I think matthew has checked out, as in pulled a Herbie, or is it a Chad, or a Topher, or a?

      November 8, 2013 at 2:30 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.