Dr. Jerry Falwell died today.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It truly stunned me. He seemed like the rock of Gibralter, a mountainous man with mountainous vision who accomplished much of his God-given vision during his 73 years on planet earth.
I can’t say that I saw eye-to-eye with him on everything. My view has always been that if America was going to be reached for Jesus it’s not going to be through spiritually overhauling the political system. Political involvement, while important for every Christian, is at best “hacking at the leaves of evil” and only the preaching of the gospel can truly “hack at the root.”
Dr. Falwell hacked at both with boldness.
Twenty something years ago as a freshman at Liberty University (Liberty Baptist College back then) I couldn’t wait to hear him preach every week…twice. I heard him preach his Sunday morning service at Thomas Road Baptist Church and then in chapel at Liberty.
While he wasn’t the best expositor in the world he commanded absolute respect in the pulpit. It wasn’t just his booming voice or hulking frame, it was his presence. I’ve never seen anyone take command of a pulpit like Jerry Falwell. I was in awe of his absolute, unshakeable faith in the power of God. That faith poured through every pore of his presence.
It was his book Strength for the Journey that gave me the courage to not give up when I planted a church at the ripe age of 23 and things weren’t going all that well. I read and re-read his book as a young pastor and it gave me, well, strength for my journey.
My favorite memory of Dr. Falwell was not of him introducing Ronald Reagan at the Baptist Fundamentalism Conference (yes, it was actually called that) in 1983 in Washington D.C. It was not of meeting him at the first Dare 2 Share conference held at his church a decade or so ago. It was not of me being super impressed how he remembered me and my wife’s names one year later (the guy had a photographic memory!)
No, my favorite memory of him was years before I did a Dare 2 Share event at his church. Although I had gone to Liberty I had never actually met Dr. Falwell. I wanted to personally meet him, shake his hand and get his autograph. I had heard that he would be signing autographs at a certain part of this convention center where thousands of Christian teens and adults were at. So I made my plan to get there first and to come in from a back way. I snuck through security and was coming up from behind him. He, and his bodyguards were facing the main doors with their backs to me, waiting for the thousands of teens to make their way into this large room. I was so excited to meet him that I was shaking. I must have looked like a psycho as I came lunging at him almost yelling, “I’ve been waiting for a long time to do this!!!” In a flash his bodyguards were all over me and had me pinned against a wall. They thought I was a hit man or something. But I was just trying to meet Dr. Falwell for the first time. When I explained that I had gone to Liberty he said, “Get off of him guys, this is a Liberty boy!” He then threw a big painful bear hug on me, signed my book and sent me on my way with a hearty laugh.
While some of you reading this may not have the most positive mental image of Dr. Falwell let me assure you of one thing…he believed. I am convinced that he had full faith in God and was living in line with that great faith. There is a powerful line in the movie Braveheart where Robert the Bruce, speaking of William Wallace, exclaims, “He believes. I want to believe like he believes.” The same can be said about Dr. Falwell. He believed. I want to believe like he believed.
And to the best of my knowledge he lived what he believed.
Maybe some of your political or theological views are different than Dr. Falwell’s. But may we all have the integrity to live what we truly believe like he did.
Goodbye Dr. Falwell. Thank you for the impact you made on me.