A Lincoln pastor whose father wrote a hymn played on the Rev. Billy Graham's televised revivals remembered the famed Christian preacher as an inspiration.

Graham, dubbed "America's Pastor" and the "Protestant Pope," died Wednesday at his North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and reach no other evangelist is likely to match.

More than anyone else, the magnetic, Hollywood-handsome Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States.

Lincoln Berean Church senior pastor Bryan Clark grew up in the 1970s hearing his father Eugene's song "Nothing is Impossible" on Graham's crusades, where he preached before thousands in stadiums.

Eugene Clark, a noted Christian musician and composer, wrote the song while bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis and was in contact with Cliff Barrows, a member of Graham's team, Bryan Clark said in an email Wednesday.

Bryan Clark remembers hearing his father's song sung on the televised crusades. At the time, his father was bedfast, blind and living in deep pain — how he lived every day for 20 years before his death in 1982.

"On several occasions, Billy referenced my dad and his faith in the midst of his suffering in his sermons," Bryan Clark said. "As a boy, that certainly impacted me, as I saw God using my dad’s story through Billy Graham to impact others."

Graham transformed tent revivals into events that filled football stadiums, and reached the masses by making pioneering use of TV in prosperous postwar America. By his final crusade in 2005, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide.

All told, he was the most widely heard Christian evangelist in modern history.

"Graham is a major historical figure, not merely to American evangelicals, but to American Christianity in general," said Bill Leonard, a professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina. Graham was "the closest thing to a national Protestant chaplain that the U.S. has ever had."

Attendance at Graham's 10-day crusade in Omaha in September 1964 was 183,170, including an estimated 26,000 people for the Sunday finale in the Ak-Sar-Ben grandstand.

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In his final message in Omaha more than 50 years ago, Graham noted that many of the conditions present in the world at that time were similar to those described in the Bible as preceding the end of the world.

"Jesus said that before the end, race will be fighting race, evil will intensify and there will be immorality," Graham said. Noting that increasing numbers of nations are gaining the capacity for nuclear warfare, he said some madman sometime, somewhere will pull that trigger — unless God intervenes."

Added Graham: "We may not have much longer, we don't know."

In 2004, Graham staged one of his last crusades, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  Among those in attendance were two busloads of students from Campus Life in Lincoln.

“When we were on the bus, kids kept asking me, ‘Who is this Billy Graham guy we are going to see?’" said Nathan Kroll, one of the leaders who organized the trip. "I told them that someday Billy will die and it will be all over the news and they will be able to say, ‘I gave my life to the Lord at the last Billy Graham Crusade.”

Graham was one of the first field representatives for Youth For Christ, which includes Campus Life, Juvenile Justice and Parent Life programs active today in Lincoln.

He had inspirational integrity and a simple devotion to his calling that moved Bryan Clark, the Lincoln pastor.

His example, Clark said, serves as an example for Christian preachers seeking to stay true to their "calling before God" in a time when flashiness and corruption taint some ministers.

"(Graham) ran his race faithfully and finished very well," Clark said.

Health problems gradually slowed Graham. In 1995, his son William Franklin Graham III, then 43, was designated leader of his ministry.

Billy Graham's wife died in 2007 at age 87. Graham will be buried next to her at the Billy Graham Museum and Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. There was no immediate word on other funeral arrangements.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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