We ought never take the word or concept of ‘hero’ lightly. It is reserved for those who live with courage and boldness, who see things a little differently than most and who inspire us to be better and do better. “Hero” is the first and last word that comes to mind as I reflect on the passing of Dr. Lon Allison, former Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center and Teaching Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church.
After a nearly 2-year battle with cancer, Lon went to be with Jesus today.
After being diagnosed with liver cancer, Lon, a trained actor who loved to use his full self to express his love of God and our world, sang this remarkable rendition of Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn.” The words must never be lost on us:
Weak and wounded sinner, lost and left to die
O, raise your head for Love is passing by
Come to Jesus, come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live
Now your burden's lifted and carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain
So sing to Jesus, sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live
And like a newborn baby, don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk, sometimes we fall
So fall on Jesus, fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live
Sometimes the way is lonely and steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain
Then cry to Jesus, cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live
O, and when the love spills over and music fills the night
And when you can't contain your joy inside
Then dance for Jesus, dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live
And with your final heartbeat, kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side
And fly to Jesus (Fly to Jesus)
Fly to Jesus (Fly to Jesus)
Fly to Jesus and live
In a world which screams at us to value many things—money, work, status, ability—those who were lucky enough to have crossed paths with Lon heard and saw a better and truer way—the way of Jesus. Lon’s life was sold out to Jesus; his commitment to personal discipleship and evangelism were nearly without measure. He lived and breathed evangelism and his heartbeat was that all would come to know and trust in him.
His life made all those who knew him want to live differently. That’s what heroes do.
But Lon was also just like you and me. He was able to honestly assess his shortcomings. He knew he wasn’t perfect, and honestly spoke of it with those around him. But this made him draw nearer to Jesus, pushing himself and those around him to live a life of holy service and unbridled love.
In May of 2018, I interviewed Lon on The Exchange and asked him, “Not too long ago you were diagnosed with an aggressive liver cancer and have been receiving treatment. How has this impacted your faith and the way you view God?”
His response was both sobering and inspiring:
I have clung to two truths to sustain me. First is the sovereignty of God: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven. His Kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). The second great truth is his love for me and my family: “And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17-19).
The sovereignty of God means he has authority over this situation. He has allowed this cancer to strike me. He can cure it in a nanosecond, or allow it to grow within me. He is in charge, and I deeply desire he be glorified through it.
The love of God reminds me of his goodness lavished upon me and mine with his love. He is not a tyrant God, nor an absent God. His love is always present and extravagant. Those twin doctrines sustain me.
Lon was a great writer, having completed his last book, Billy Graham: An Ordinary Man and His Extraordinary God, while he was sick. He told me he’d have to hurry the book because he was not sure how much time he had.
Many who have been around the work of the Lausanne Movement and the Billy Graham ministry family know his name. Most who know his name also know his heart.
Lon reflected God’s (and Mr. Graham’s) heart for our world, and continually reminded all of us that we too are part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. It was truly an honor to take over the position of executive director of the Billy Graham Center and continue the work Lon gave his life to for nearly 15 years.
And, because of our love for Lon, we made him honorary director of the Center a few years ago.
Our world is less because of Lon’s passing. And yet what a steward he was of the life he was given! My prayer is that all of us would let our hearts beat wildly for the gospel and that we would go out and tell everyone of all the good things our God has done. That was the music of Lon’s life, and we are privileged to carry on that melody.
Thank you, God, for Lon’s legacy. He was a hero to many and will be deeply missed, but empower us to continue on where Lon left off.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Laurie Nichols is Director of Communications and Marketing for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, creator of the Our Gospel Story curriculum, and co-host of the new podcast, Living in the Land of Oz. She formerly served as Managing Editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Laurie is involved in anti-exploitation efforts when she is not spending time with her husband and two kids.