William Bright Memorial Service
July 30, 2003 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando
Pray with me, please. Lord, nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I plead. Amen.
For a long time, I have been intrigued with the story of the rich young ruler, and for much of that time, I have wondered what might have happened if the story had ended differently? What might have been the impact if the rich young ruler, instead of turning away from Christ, instead chose to follow Christ? Now, at long last, I know the answer. Let me try to explain. You remember how the rich young ruler is described in scripture—he was admired—respected. He was successful—he was in the prime of his life. He had everything going his way. There was so much about him that was right, and there was so much about his coming to Jesus that was right.
He came at the right time—he came when he was still relatively young. He came in the right way—he came enthusiastically. He came asking the right question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And he came to the right person for the right answer to the right question. He came to Jesus. There was so much that was right about his coming to Jesus. I tell you, you couldn’t have a better beginning to a story than that. Unfortunately, the story did not end that way. The story did not end happily every after. Why? Well, because the rich young ruler encountered a Christ who insisted on keeping the Commandments. Christ said to him, “If you love God, you must keep God’s rules.” He encountered a Christ who could not compromise. Christ said to him, “Whatever it is that keeps you from belonging wholly and completely to the Lord, get rid of it. No compromise. You cannot serve two masters.” He encountered a Christ who compelled him to make a choice.
Christ said to him, “Decide now. My way or yours.” And the Bible tells us that when the rich young ruler encountered the call and the command of Christ, he went away sad—how terribly sad! He could’ve ended up in the Bible’s hall of fame. Instead, he ended up in the Bible’s hall of shame. But just suppose— just suppose, that instead of turning away, he had followed Jesus. What then? I now know the answer because I know the story of Bill Bright—the man who called himself the slave of Jesus Christ.
You see, when you stop to think about it, the story of the rich young ruler and the story of the slave of Jesus Christ, actually, began in startlingly parallel ways. Bill Bright, back in his 20’s, was rakishly handsome—a captivating personality—a hard-driving business man. He was deemed to be headed for a life of worldly success. He was admired. He was respected. He was in the prime of his life. He was a prince of this earth. He had everything going his way. And then he encountered the same Christ the rich young ruler encountered. He heard the same thing the rich young ruler heard. However, Bill Bright did not turn away. Instead, he fell down upon his knees. He surrendered everything he had—everything he was—everything he would yet be, and became a willing, obedient slave of Jesus Christ. And just look at what has happened since.
Bill Bright, like his master, kept the Commandments. Oh, there are so many Christians today who seem to feel that the Ten Commandments and the law of God don’t really have much to do with living in this modern world. There are so many Christians today who say, “All you have to do to be a Christian is just to be loving.” In fact, some of them actually go on to say, “You can even violate some of the Commandments, as long as you do it in a loving way.” Not Bill Bright. Never, never Bill Bright. Bill Bright understood that to be a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Bill Bright understood that Jesus never said that love removes the necessity for obeying the law. In fact, Jesus said he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it—to complete it. Love, when it is true, actually heightens the desire to obey the law of God. That’s where true love always begins—with keeping God’s rules. Vonette and Bill Bright have shared a love that is true—a love beautiful—a love truly beautiful.
I defy you to find a more beautiful and a more true love anywhere then in the love that they have shared. And because their love is true, they have kept God’s rules and they have encouraged others to do the same. Their life together is undeniable proof of the enduring quality and the endless joy of living and loving together under the law of the Lord. If you desire a definition of true love and Christian marriage, put simply, all you have to do is to look at the two of them. Their love was true and they kept God’s rules. And Bill Bright, like his master, could not compromise. Do you know why that for the last 50 years, Bill Bright has been one of the most powerful and effective witnesses for Christ in this world? I’ll tell you why. Because Bill Bright was not for sale. There have been efforts. Many organized efforts to try and uncover the stain of scandal or self-gain in his life, all to no avail. His ministry was fueled by millions of dollars, but those dollars never lined his pocket.
He served God with a clean life and a clean heart, and God blessed his ministry. Oh, did God ever bless his ministry! Why? Because Bill Bright was not for sale. He was so sold out on Jesus Christ, that he would never ever sell out to anyone or anything else. No compromise. He served only one master and Bill Bright like his master, compelled people to choose. Long, long ago, Bill Bright made the choice, in his own life, and then he spent 50 years introducing millions upon millions of people to his Christ, and encouraging them to make the same decision in their lives that he had made in his. And yet you know I have to tell you, that for all of the vast worldwide reach of campus crusade, and for all of the international acclaim that came Bill Bright’s way, the fact of the matter is, he never once departed from his iron-clad belief that the Kingdom of God is built one priceless, precious, little soul at a time.
I could make the point by telling you about a trip I took with Vonette and Bill to California. We took a taxicab from the airport to the hotel—a journey of 45 minutes. The cab driver’s name was César Flores. I got in the front seat of the cab. Vonette and Bill got in the back. We hadn’t really pulled away from the airport, good, and Bill leaned up over the back seat and into the front seat, and he began to ask César Flores about his life. How long he’d been driving a cab. How long he’s been in this country. Whether he had family or not. Then in broken English, the man responded. And then Bill Bright said, “Are you a Christian? Do you attend church?” And César hesitated a moment and then he said he was baptized as a Catholic as a child, but he hadn’t been in church since. And with that, Bill Bright began so gently, so winsomely, to share with him about his Jesus. César Flores, even though we were driving down the 405 Expressway in Los Angeles, was very quiet.
And then I noticed that there were tears running down his cheeks. I said, “Are you all right?” And he said, “No one’s ever talked to me like that before. I wish I knew the Jesus he’s talking about, but it’s too late for me—I’m too far gone.” And Bill Bright assured him it’s never too late. And then Bill Bright said, “Now, César, Dr. Edington is sitting in the front seat with you, and he’s going to pray for you and with you to receive Christ into your life. And if you pray that prayer and receive Christ, your life will be changed.” Here we are hurtling down the 405 Expressway, and I said, “César, I’m going to close my eyes and pray, but you keep your eyes open, and you pray with me.” And he did. The 405 Expressway isn’t the Damascus Road, but it might as well have been, because something equally powerful happened there. I happen to know that later on, Bill Bright saw to it that that taxi driver had everything he needed to travel a new road with Jesus Christ in his life. Such is the measure of the man.
So if you want to know how the story of the rich young ruler might have ended, if instead of turning away, he had turned to Christ, that all you have to do is to look at the story of the slave of Jesus Christ—Bill Bright. When he encountered Christ and the love of Christ, he cried out, “Love’s so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” He surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He patterned his life after Jesus Christ. Now, he is with Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen. And amen.