Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remembering a Spiritual Giant—and Father in the Faith

Larger than Life

It was the twentieth of August 2006. Karmyn and I sat three rows from the front, just to the (stage) right of the pulpit. The air felt cool, the environment overwhelming. The music was beautiful and then, Doc stepped up to the Pulpit to welcome us all to the worship service. The big baritone voice was incredible. It was larger then life, and one couldn't understand it from just watching him on TV. The voice penetrated you. I felt overwhelmed.

This man was larger than life. The first to be saved in my family was my mother, she was saved watching him preach while my dad was working the night shift. He was a mentor to my father who studied the Liberty Home Bible Institute Doc founded with Dr. Harold Wilmington.

As a child I had read his autobiography, "Strength for the Journey" and Jerry Falwell became a ministry ideal for me. He did all the things I thought the church should do, from the home for alcoholics, to the nationwide chain of Liberty Godparent Homes for unwed mothers, facilitating thousands adoptions. He founded Liberty University, to train up "young champions for Christ" a phrase my dad often quoted. The most memorable is, "A man's character is measured by what it takes to discourage him". When I played competitive sports, when I started a ministry project, this line often encouraged me to go foreword.

He was preaching in I Corinthians and his verse 26:

In verse 26, we see that God's purpose for each of us is to use us for His glory. We read the words, “For ye see your calling, brethren.” The word “calling” refers to the saving will of God; the effectual call; the call that results in redemption. The use of the word "brethren" makes that clear. He is speaking of believers. Saved people. What is it to which God saves us? He saves us to a life of usefulness and fruitfulness... a life of purpose and productivity. He does not call us to be spectators, but participants.

The very next week, I met David Wheeler who said "God wants you to be a church planter". He laughed disarmingly and then said, "Seriously, have you ever considered it?" It was the final human recognition that we needed to begin our pursuit of this challenging ministry.

Meeting the Man

But then I got to know this man, this icon of education, ministry, politics and so many other things. I was walking to class one morning, when I saw the big black suburban pass me by and I was shocked by the tremendously ridiculous train engine horn that blared just feet from me! Inside Doc was laughing like a maniac, waved and moved on. I shook his hand a week later as I joined Thomas Road Church, and he asked me about where I was from. I told him Alberta Canada, and he struck up a conversation about the oil industry and on how he had recently told the president to rely more on Canadian oil, if possible. "At least they won't try to kill us". He recalled saying.

He was never without his smile, the sparkle in his eye and the gracious nature that let any one of his 22,000+ students, 20,000 church members, or Old Time Gospel Hour listeners walk right up to him and earn a few moments of time.

Working for the University as a parking attendant for NCAA games, I was often in charge of the executive lot, where Doctor Falwell and his friends parked. This became a harrowing experience my first day, when I went to move the cones out of the way and he came straight at me accelerating. I stepped back, he kept coming, then when I realized he wouldn't lose this game of chicken, I leaped behind a parked car and he zoomed by with his and out the window waving back at me.

The next game he stopped and apologized that I had to stand outside in such cold weather, and promised to save a piece of pizza for me if I could make it in the building during the game.

That was Doctor Falwell a man of fun and compassion. A good guy, but most importantly a man committed to the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.

Formed by Falwell

Humanly speaking, it was because of Doctor Falwell, my Mom, and eventually my whole family was saved. Because of his training program that my father developed into a spiritual leader who raised us conscientiously "in the discipline and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:3). Dr. Falwell's Liberty University was the place my Uncle Darren and Aunt Cheryl met, and they became a major part of my life as I went through college and started ministry. It was the care and concern for the Scripture and the ministry of the "message preached" that became a model for my grandfather, Dr. Lyle Richards. Grandpa was my ministry mentor and the man that encouraged me to read good theology and to aspire to great preaching.

Last Words

The Last sermon I heard from Doc, three weeks ago, was The Indestructibility of God's Servant. He said a phrase I immediately wrote down:

"God’s man/woman is indestructible until he has finished the work God has called him to do. Therefore, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything. God's Servant is bullet-proof, until God is finished with him".

While Doc has gone on to his reward, we left behind can still follow his example, learn from his mistakes and remember the last words he uttered in my hearing:
"God is faithful. He is never surprised. He is never perplexed. He is never out of control. Remember what He said."