I Failed to Become Like Daddy Bill
A year ago today I woke up to the sad news that my grandfather had died. And even though we had been anticipating this moment for quite some time, it was still a shock. Regardless of age or cause, death is always jolting and painful. It is, after all, “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
As I sat on the edge of the bed, numbness came over me. The finality of it hit me hard. While my phone kept buzzing with calls and text messages from people sending me their condolences, all I could think about was how this was the first time since I came into this world in 1972 that I would no longer have access to Daddy Bill. In this life, I would never again be able to talk with him, seek his counsel, hear his prayers for me, listen to his stories, laugh at his idiosyncrasies, or go on walks and swim with him. For my entire life, he was a loving source of strength and comfort and support and guidance. He was there for me during all of my ups and downs. I told my mom that even though in his later years he wasn’t the same, just knowing he was there—one phone call or plane ride away—was reassuring to me. It gave me a deep peace. And now he was gone; out of reach and untouchable.
I sat there in stunned silence for a while until I finally mustered up the wherewithal to get up and turn on the TV. That’s when the tears began to flow. Tributes from people all over the world were rolling in. People from all walks of life, religious backgrounds, and political persuasions spoke glowingly of my granddad’s life and global impact. It was clear that my family and I weren’t the only ones grieving his death. The world was grieving the loss of his trustworthy stature, his unifying influence, his robust integrity, and his respected perspective. He was once called “America’s Pastor” for a reason. Interestingly, the tributes that flooded the media after his death reacquainted me with the magnitude and beauty of his life.
But as important and remarkable as all of those tributes were; as important and remarkable as he was, I was just missing my granddad. More tears began to flow as I thought about how his hands which gripped so many pulpits also held me as a baby. The voice that boomed the truths of the Gospel spoke gently to me as a child. The man who prayed alongside multiple Presidents took my hand and prayed with me. Whatever great things were said about Billy Graham, the greatest thing about him to me was that he was my very own Daddy Bill.
As I sat there, crying and speechless, I vividly remembered a night when I was in college many years ago. On that night I got down on the floor—face down—and begged God to make me into a man like my granddad. I asked God to keep me humble like him, to make me a man of integrity like him, to develop the same kind of character in me that he developed in him. God’s call put my granddad's feet on a path from which he never wavered. And he fulfilled that calling without ever being guilty of any sexual, financial, or other moral scandals. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
It was amazingly sweet for me to listen to and read all of the tributes that came in, but they were also a sour reminder of how NOT like Daddy Bill I had become. I failed to become like him when I grew up.
Having myself been entrusted with a call to preach the good news of God’s boundless love to a broken world, I blew it. I had it all: the influence, the gifts, the charisma, the platform, and the audience. But what I apparently did not have was the character to handle it all.
In a season of sin and self-destruction, egotistical pride and selfish ambition, unfaithfulness to my wife and unfaithfulness to Christ’s Bride, I lost everything and hurt many people in the process. In 2015, at 41 years old, I broke my life, I broke my family, and I broke the hearts of those who trusted me and looked to me for leadership.
Through heaving tears of sorrow and shame, regret and remorse, I sent this note to a friend of mine a couple of nights after Daddy Bill’s death:
Watching my grandfather’s life, it has hit me afresh just how selfish and arrogant I was, how much I squandered. And for what? FOR WHAT?? What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Character matters. It does not gain us favor with God, but it does give us credibility with others so that we can deliver God’s favor to the world. I blew it. I’m undone.
He responded with six words: “There was a man named David…”
I lost it.
He had the perfect words at just the right time. It was the powerful and comforting reminder I needed at that moment that God loves and uses people who fail because people who fail are all that there are. Maybe you need that reminder too.
Yes, “There was a man named David…” But even more powerful and comforting is the good news that there is a man named Jesus.
Unlike Daddy Bill, I soiled my record. Regardless of how I live my life from now until the day I die, my season of sinful self-destruction will always be remembered and talked about. The hurt I caused myself, and countless others will linger in many hearts and cause some people to doubt me, disparage me, and distrust me for the rest of my days. I’ve accepted that my blemished reputation is here to stay. There is no going back.
But I believe that if Daddy Bill were still alive, he’d say something like this to me:
Tullian, I may not be guilty externally of the same sins you are, but I assure you that my heart is no less sinful than yours. According to God’s standard of perfection, I’m a failure just like you. The tributes speak to what people saw. But the Gospel speaks to what only God sees. All of our records are stained with sin. But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ perfect record is ours by faith. When God looks at our account, He doesn’t see all of our nasty withdrawals. Rather, he sees all of Christ’s perfect deposits. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that because of Jesus, the sins we can’t forget God chooses not to remember. So take heart failed one, before God the righteousness of Christ is all any of us need. Before God, the righteousness of Christ is all any of us have.
That righteousness, that gift of God, speaks louder than any voice of accusation. I may have a blemished reputation, but not in the eyes of God. When my Father sees me—and when he sees you—he sees someone who looks just like Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.
Thankfully, God is not simply the God of second chances. Because, I don’t know about you (actually, I do) but I need a lot more than a second chance. Rather, He is the God of one chance and a second Adam.
So, for me, for you, for each of us, there is no going back to a past that we have lost or spoiled or outright destroyed. There is no going back and expunging our blemished record or deleting our history. But there is a going to; going to the God who has forgiven and forgotten the sins of our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. The God who continues to liberate us from ourselves and who reminds us that despite our past, he has promised us a future; the God who won’t stop pursuing us, no matter how far or how fast we run; the God who has already welcomed us, accepted us, and given us a new record and a new name: Beloved.
This was Daddy Bill’s comfort in life and death. This is my comfort. And this is your comfort too.
“Well may the accuser roar, of sins that I have done;
I know them well and thousands more,
My God he knoweth none.”