D. James Kennedy
“We can change the world.”
Words said by one of our nation’s greatest moral leaders, Dr. D. James Kennedy. I know what you’re thinking: “Of course he said that. Look at what he had: a mega ministry, on television every week, spreading the Gospel through Evangelism Explosion throughout the globe, a seminary, a school …” What matters even more is when he said them. He said those words when he was the brand new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and his congregation had just “exploded” from 45 members all the way to … 17 – and one of those was his wife, Anne. He said people looked at him like he was crazy.
I was privileged to work with Dr. Kennedy for five years as the director of his Center for Reclaiming America from 1997 to 2002. He was an inspiration, a mentor and an example of unwavering integrity.
Dr. Kennedy had faith when circumstances screamed otherwise because he had an inkling about the power of God. His own life was spared when he was young and drove a borrowed sports car 100 miles an hour across Alligator Alley. A car from “out of nowhere” pulled out in front of him and with no time to stop and no lane in which to swerve, he “knew he was dead.” Then, somehow, that same car that was directly in front of him miraculously was in his rear view mirror. God saved his life, and well, now we know why.
Dr. Kennedy did not fall into the trappings of fame and power. Most don’t know how he lived a humble life – not taking a dime from Coral Ridge Ministries, which broadcast his sermons on television and radio stations around the world. Likewise, he didn’t even take a salary from the church, but tithed to it from his book sales. The church actually made money by having him as pastor. He lived in an ordinary home, drove an older, ordinary car and while many of his contemporaries have their own private planes, Dr. Kennedy flew coach.
Dr. Kennedy was different because he understood the power of multiplication. While other pastors are happy with a good turnout at an altar call, Dr. Kennedy wanted more. Last week, a man from Kansas called my Faith2Action radio program who was trained to become a trainer of Evangelism Explosion. He was still multiplying the message of the Gospel with the methods of a man he never even met. His voice cracked as he spoke of the loss.
If anyone could have rested on his laurels, it was Dr. Kennedy. But every Thursday night, he trained ordinary people like me to get over our fear and do what matters: take the Gospel to the lost. For almost 50 years, he personally trained people to ask two questions: “Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven, or is that something you would say you’re still working on?” and “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and He were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?'” Then he shared the right answer, the message of Christ’s love and redemption, to everyone he met.
“I remember one time he shared the Gospel over lunch using his silverware. Pointing to a knife on a napkin representing the letter “I,” he proclaimed, “That’s every religion in the world except Christianity – what must I do? How can I earn my way to heaven? I need, I should, I must …” He then placed a fork over the knife to form a cross and said, “Christianity is the only religion in the world about what God did to reach man and make a way for us to be with Him.”
Dr Kennedy spoke the truth in love – even in the face of adversity. I was once asked by someone if people really picketed my church. My answer: “Of course. You mean no one pickets your church?” Dr. Kennedy often quoted me Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” When you make a difference in the world, not everyone is going to like it. But he didn’t just care about issues; he cared about people. Like the homosexual picketer he invited to lunch. This guy picketed the church for weeks by himself until Dr. Kennedy invited him to lunch, shared the Gospel and developed a friendship.
I’m proud to announce that the historic Values Voter Presidential Debate next Monday, Sept. 17, in Dr. Kennedy’s backyard of Fort Lauderdale is being dedicated to his memory. I know he would be happy to know that his legacy of being salt and light in our dark and decaying culture lives on today.
I also know that Dr. Kennedy came to the point in his spiritual life where he knew for certain he would go to heaven. When he stood before God and He said to him, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” he knew the right answer. And because of his life of significance, thousands were there to greet him when he arrived.
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