If evangelist Billy Graham's message is the simple gospel, his daughter's message to the church is just as simple. Get back to the basics: read your Bible and follow Jesus.
With a fiery intensity reminiscent of her father's early days, Anne Graham Lotz has been delivering that message, most notably through her "Just Give Me Jesus" two-day revivals held in arenas across the United States.
Anne's message is direct and upfront, mixing challenge with Southern charm, but above all it's biblical. Her father has even called her "the best preacher in the family."
"I feel the most desperate need of our country is to experience revival within the church," she told an audience of Christian writers and editors in May. "If we're not on fire in our hearts for Jesus something's wrong." Revival, she says, is not fire-and-brimstone preaching, but "an awakening of your relationship with God."
"We're after the heart of people, so they can fall in love with the Lord," says the 52-year-old mother of three married children.
"In a day of superficiality, in a day when so much preaching is tickling people's ears ? she eschews all that. She has something to say. It's solid. It's biblical. It's a no-nonsense presentation. That's what makes her attractive," says her mentor and friend, world-renowned preaching expert Stephen Olford.
Jesus in focus
Her itinerant speaking ministry?AnGeL Ministries?and her revivals are primarily geared toward Christians, encouraging them to study the Bible for themselves, develop a deeper prayer life, share their faith, and generally start living with a passion for their Lord. She's tired of seeing believers blocked by the obstacles of busyness, prosperity, and unconfessed sins, and she's bothered by those whose religious facade and church activities become a substitute for genuine surrender, love, and obedience to Christ.
"Somehow we've lost our focus on Jesus," she says.
For those who aren't satisfied with the mediocre Christian life, she wants to offer a fresh touch from God by bringing them back to the Bible. "Our whole thrust is to get people into God's Word."
Anne is in fact a serious biblical expositor; this July she became the first woman ever to address a major session at England's famous Keswick Bible Conference. Her first book, The Vision of His Glory, was the product of her study of Revelation, and her latest, Just Give Me Jesus, is structured around the Gospel of John. She takes passages verse-by-verse, unpacks their meaning, and applies the lessons. Providing others with the skills to do the same is her passion.
The "Just Give Me Jesus" revivals, which also feature Jill Briscoe guiding in prayer, Kay Arthur leading in Bible study, and worship led by Fernando Ortega, are reverent rather than frenzied pep rallies, and they're not "dumbed down." Briscoe says she appreciates having time to soak in the Scripture, rather than dealing in sound bites. "Anne preaches for three solid hours, one hour at a time," she says. "It's powerful."
Free but not cheap
There's no admission fee?a financial step of faith for Anne's ministry?and, though promoted to women, the events are open to men. Last spring in Knoxville, Tennessee, the revival drew 12,000 to 15,000 people, with a noticeable number of men.
"If a man wants to come in, if a pastor comes in to see what's being taught, if a husband wants to see what his wife is involved in, or if a man just out of curiosity wants to visit," she says, "it's fine. I'm not pushing men to come at all, but it's open."
Unbelievers are welcome, too. On the first night of each event, Anne gives an invitation to let go of unconfessed sins and/or accept Christ. AnGeL Ministries does not keep turnstile counts or conversion stats, though; Anne, who receives no salary for her work, says she measures success in changed lives, noted by e-mail, phone, or word-of-mouth.
She mentions the woman who was suicidal days before an event but accepted Christ, the two women who decided to start a Bible study after hearing her, and the woman who wrote to her: "You gave me just the kick in the pants I need to get me growing and going again."
At the Fort Worth revival in May, a woman from nearby Wedgwood Baptist Church, site of a 1999 shooting that left eight dead, said she came with more than 20 other members and experienced a healing touch from God.
Anne's defining moments
Anne herself has experienced God's touch in her life several times, maybe most significantly through a series of events in the mid-1970s. By age 18 (1966), she'd married Danny Lotz, a 29-year-old college basketball star turned dentist and the son of a New York City preacher.
Their first years together were difficult. They suffered through several years of infertility until their son Jonathan arrived in 1970. A miscarriage followed a year later. Then their daughter Morrow was born, and years of struggle merged into years of busyness. Emotionally drained, Anne felt trapped and far from God.
"I didn't drift intentionally or willfully, but just because I was busy and distracted by all the responsibilities that were mine. I was immersed in small talk and small toys and small clothes and small, sticky fingerprints," she writes candidly in Just Give Me Jesus.
But God had not abandoned Billy Graham's second daughter in the "wilderness." She and Danny attended the 1974 Lausanne Congress (on evangelism) in Switzerland, which her father had been instrumental in convening, and she came back with a burning desire to share the gospel with her neighbors. She soon invited several ladies to her home for coffee, and four showed up.
They made mom-talk for an hour until Anne says she finally got up the nerve to tell them what she wanted to say. It wasn't a smooth presentation of the gospel, and none of them became a Christian that day.
Nevertheless, as Anne writes, again, in Just Give Me Jesus, "It was a watershed experience for me. I had crossed over the line. Following that day, I began reading my Bible and praying on a regular basis."
She had another child, Rachel-Ruth, in the next year, and as she slowly grew closer to God, he gave her fresh love for her family. But Anne wanted more, especially to be in a Bible study group. However, she couldn't find anyone to lead it.
"I knew if I spent time with God's Word and in prayer I would grow in my relationship with him and I would be a better wife and mother," she says. "I tried to get everybody else to start it, but nobody else would. So, I decided I would do it, just so I could be in it ? I think the Lord allowed me to fall far enough away that I was desperate to get back?even so desperate that I would make a commitment to teach (a) class."
Digging into the Word
In 1976, with the blessing and encouragement of her husband, Anne started Bible Study Fellowship?an intense Bible study program?in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she still lives. She was a nervous leader and at first often threw up before class, but under her direction the weekly meeting grew to 500 women within a couple years. All four of the women she had invited to coffee months earlier became active Christians. Anne didn't miss a class until she stopped leading the group in 1988.
Having to prepare for each week's session led Anne to intense personal Bible study. "Anytime, anywhere, Mom was always reading her Bible," says her youngest daughter, Rachel-Ruth, 25. "My sister and I would be fighting, and we'd run to her room and she'd be reading the Bible."
In addition, Anne developed a strong morning devotional time each day?reading, journaling her prayers, and taking time for praise before she goes on her three-mile walk.
"She has a deep, profound devotional life," says Lewis Drummond, an evangelism professor at Beeson Divinity School and Anne's friend. "She's a challenge to anyone who gets to know her."
Amazingly, her personal study has been her most significant training. She's never attended any college or seminary. And growing up Graham was no Bible school. "My father never sat me down and taught me how to give out God's Word," she says. What she did receive, she notes, was a love for the Lord and his Word.
Compelled to speak
Over the years, Anne's unusual ability to apply biblical truths to daily living resulted in more and more requests for her to speak outside of class. Finally, in 1988, Anne says God called her to a new ministry through Deuteronomy 1:3, 6-7, where the Israelites break camp "in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month," and through Paul's commission to be a witness for Christ in Acts 26:16.
So, on April 1, 1988, the eleventh month of her fortieth year, she announced to her class she would be leaving at the end of the year to start her itinerant speaking ministry?AnGeL Ministries.
Anne, who accepted Christ as a child after watching Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings on TV one Easter, says she chose the name "AnGeL" because angels only go where God wants them to go. (Of course, it works out nicely with her initials as well). For the past 12 years, she says her ministry has picked up where others in her famous family leave off, with the most public step being this year's revivals.
"Franklin and Daddy are like the obstetrician; they bring the baby into the world. We at AnGeL Ministries are like the pediatrician; we help the baby grow up."
Though she's found plenty of support, Anne's ministry has not been without controversy as some criticize her for teaching audiences of men and women.
Around the time she launched her speaking ministry, a group of pastors protested by turning their backs as she addressed them. The situation brought her Bible out again.
She felt confirmed by passages where Jesus commanded Mary Magdalene to tell his disciples about his resurrection and where God told Jeremiah not to worry about the reaction of his audience. She also wrestled with 1 Timothy 2:12 where Paul forbids "a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" and came to believe God did not want her to pursue ordination or a senior pastorate. For those who still criticize her, she says she is not accountable to them but to God.
"[My father] and I are a little bit the same," she told Larry King in a CNN interview this spring. "We just feel we're under compulsion. We have a message that we want to give out, and we believe God's called us to do it. We want to be obedient."
Step by step, hand in hand
In addition to her ministry, being obedient to God for Anne has meant being a supportive wife and mother through good times and bad.
All three children remember her being home with a snack and a listening ear ready for them after school. Jonathan, 30, recalls both his mother and father at his football and basketball games. "She (Mom) could hoot and holler with the best of them," he says.
And when Rachel-Ruth was having an unbearable time in high school, her mom took her out of school to go shopping one day. Maybe they talked things out while enjoying an Auntie Anne's pretzel or a Frosty from Wendy's, among Anne's favorites.
Anne was hardly a softy, though; Rachel-Ruth describes her parenting as "strict" but a "godly example." Anne and Danny did not consider prom an excuse for their children to miss early morning services at Providence Baptist in Raleigh, the children couldn't date until they turned 16, and soda and sweet tea were off-limits except on Sundays, according to Morrow, 27, and Rachel-Ruth.
Over the past three years, the Lotzes have had their share of stressful experiences: their property was devastated by a hurricane, Danny's dental office burned down, Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Anne's parents have been ill, and all three of their children were married within eight months of each other.
They've weathered the storms and have come out stronger than ever with Anne now leading revivals and Danny continuing his dental practice and leading his own Bible study.
"I love my husband more today than when I first got married," says Anne, who tries to be away from home not more than one night a week. "We have separate ministries, but we're united in our love for each other and for Jesus."
As for the future of her ministry, she says she doesn't have any concrete plans. When asked, she shares an anecdote about when she and Danny attend football games at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. With thousands of people crammed in the parking lots, she can't see where she's going. However, her husband, a head taller at 6'7", can look over the crowd, so he takes her hand, and leads them to their seats.
"So, the way I get from the car to my seat is just by holding his hand and following him closely through the crowd," she says. It's the same with her walk with the Lord.
"I just try to faithfully follow the Lord step-by-step and day-by-day," she says. "Ten years from now, I just want to look back to the year 2000 and know that to the best of my ability I have been obedient to God's call on my life."
Editor's note: Two more revivals are scheduled for Fall 2001: Minneapolis (Sept. 21-22) and Phoenix (Nov. 9-10). Check out www.annegrahamlotz.com or call 919-787-6606 for more information.
A Christian Reader original article.
2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine (formerly Christian Reader).
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