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John F. Kennedy, Billy Graham: irrecoverable moments in 1963

TAYLORS, S.C. (BP) — It has been 50 years since that tragic day in Dallas when bullets from an assassin ended the life of our nation’s 35th President John F. Kennedy. His death remains one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.

All who were old enough at the time still remember where they were when they heard the news in 1963. But as we pass the 50-year mark of this tragedy, we also recognize another famous figure of the 20th century. This month Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday. You already know these two men among the biggest historical figures of recent times, but what you may not know is their close association and a certain “irrecoverable moment” they shared before Kennedy’s death.

In the early ’60s most of our country had a fondness for JFK. He still remains one of the most popular presidents ever. He averaged a 70 percent approval rating during his time in office. These were the days of “Camelot,” and despite some pressing world issues that included the beginning of the conflict in Vietnam, the early ’60s were viewed as a grand age.

This all changed on Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, this horrific day served as a marker of a much more depressing age in our country with more terrible assassinations to come, escalating violence in Vietnam, the crime rate doubling and the drug age around the corner.

Billy Graham had known JFK before he won the presidency in 1960. After Kennedy’s victory, Graham made it clear that he would do anything to help the new president unify the nation under his leadership. Only a few days before the inauguration, Graham was invited to play golf with the president-elect. The two men enjoyed a conversation about world events and politics, but Graham was most passionate about their discussion of Jesus Christ and His pending return to earth for those who follow Him.

Kennedy was so intrigued with their discussion that he requested to meet again with Graham concerning Christ.

They continued to stay in touch through Kennedy’s presidency and were together in February 1963 at the National Day of Prayer Breakfast. In Billy Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he shares his memory of the morning’s events.

After the gathering, Kennedy and Graham walked out together toward the presidential motorcade on this particularly cold and snowy day. Suddenly the president stopped in his tracks, turned and invited Graham back to the White House so he could discuss something with him. But Graham was battling the flu. Fearing he’d make the president sick, he declined and asked if they could meet another time.

The president agreed it could wait for a more convenient occasion. But that moment never came. For Graham, this moment will forever stay with him. In his book he wrote, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”

Today, Billy Graham is still making his life count for the Gospel of King Jesus. Earlier this month on the occasion of his 95th birthday he released maybe his final message for the world, titled, “The Cross.”

It is the central part of his campaign called “My Hope America with Billy Graham.” This month thousands, and possibly millions, of people will see his final message on televisions, computers and handheld devices. Billy Graham knows the value of taking advantage of every single moment. It is remarkable that a man so well loved, who dedicated his entire life to spreading the Gospel, still remembers this one missed opportunity to discuss Christ.

Fifty years ago the assassination of JFK reminded our nation that evil never takes a sabbatical and time is fleeting. The apostle Paul believed in “making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16 HCSB). What a challenge this is for all of us. As followers of Christ we dare not be satisfied until we take every opportunity to share the love of Christ. So who are the family members, friends or acquaintances in each of our lives who seem open to discuss Christ? For indeed today is an irrecoverable moment for all of us.
Douglas W. Mize is minister of evangelism and discipleship at Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Douglas W. Mize