Monday, May 15, 2017
A Note about Legacies (in loving memory of Bobbie Percer, Jerry Falwell, and Ray Newcomb)
A little over a year ago, I wrote the post below after attending several key events in the lives of some important folks in my life. I want to reprint the article today for a very special reason. Today, August 11, 2009, would have been the 77th birthday of Dr. Jerry Falwell. He was a man of great influence and even greater dreams. His life and ministry cut a large path across this country and had an amazing effect on thousands (no, make that millions) of people. I used to listen to the Old Time Gospel Hour on the radio shortly after I became a Christian. I was even a Faith Partner in his ministry. I wanted to play football at Liberty, and although that never happened, I still felt as though Jerry Falwell was in some ways my pastor and teacher. I read his sermons, I joined his first Moral Majority, and I genuinely appreciated his life and influence on me as a young man trying to figure out what God wanted me to do.
I watched Jerry Falwell's ministry from afar until August 2004. That month two very important things happened in my life: My father passed away, and I moved to Lynchburg, VA to begin a great adventure teaching at Liberty University. Dr. Falwell became a larger than life part of my adventure. I only had the privilege to meet the man face-to-face a few times, but each time he remembered me and details of my life. He revealed such a genuine concern for me and my family that I began to think of him (to some degree, at least) as my second father. I remember once as he walked through the seminary offices, I could hear his booming voice as he talked to folks. As he passed my office, I heard him say, "Wait, I need to stop by and say hello to Leo." He not only remembered my name, he wanted to come into my office to check on me. His leadership and his kindness still inspire me. Oh that every pastor or leader could be a little bit like Jerry Falwell!
I hope that I live up to his legacy and expectations. I miss him, and I wish he had remained with us. At any rate, here are my thoughts on legacy, presented on this day in honor of a man who profoundly influenced my life: Dr. Jerry Falwell.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.
Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.
Recently I have experienced several occasions that caused me to think seriously about the idea of legacy. Recently I attended Liberty's graduation, in which I watched several students and good friends walk across the stage to receive their degrees and launch into their ministries. Then, on May 15, I paused to remember the life of Dr. Jerry Falwell who passed away several years ago. May 17, 2009 saw the retirement of Dr. A. Ray Newcomb from 33 years of being a pastor at First Baptist Church, Millington, TN. Then May 21, 2009 witnessed the high school graduation of my nephew, Ethan Percer. All of these events reminded me of beginnings and endings, but more importantly they reminded me of the impact a legacy can have on people. In the next few paragraphs I'll try to explain.
I'm not sure how much we think of the impact of our lives. As I watched the high school students graduate with my nephew and the graduate students walk the stage in VA, I couldn't help but think about what I may hear about these people in the future. Some of them have already made an impact, some of them have a future impact to make. Most of them have no idea what the end of their lives will be, they only have dreams and hopes and (perhaps) plans. I remember holding my nephew shortly after he was born. Ethan seemed so tiny to be the first grandchild born to my parents, and as I held him in my arms, I prayed that God would grow him into a warrior, a man of God who is willing to help others and to serve God no matter the risk. I had forgotten that prayer, to be honest, until one day I heard a story about my nephew tutoring other students in school and going out of his way to help others when it wasn't necessarily a popular thing to do. He has laid a foundation for a legacy that will not fade. I received an e-mail from his high school principal that said, "I would be proud if all of my students were like Ethan." Ethan is building a legacy.
Some of the seminary students who walked across the stage recently have begun their legacy. Many of them left homes and nice jobs to pursue a degree at the seminary. They said "no" to "success" as the world measures it so that they would have the opportunity to labor for God. Some will labor in obscurity, some will never have "the largest Sunday School in America," some will never make the "big money," or write the most impressive "how to" book for other pastors. I know their lives, their hearts, and I know that their legacy will be greater than any can imagine. Does anyone remember "James the Less"? He was one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, but even church history and tradition have trouble determining who he was. Yet, he was one of the twelve, one of the original disciples, one of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Not as famous as James the son of Zebedee, this James nonetheless left enough of an imprint on history to be regarded as one of those individuals who "turned the world upside down" with his life and preaching. We no doubt graduated a lot of these individuals, folks we may have a hard time identifying who will nonetheless make a great impression on many they will bring to Christ or love in God's name. "Less" may describe the knowledge of them, but it will not define their impact on those to whom they minister. I bet there were people in the first century who didn't think of James as "the Less" because of what God did through him. Nonetheless, James built a legacy, and like him, many of these graduating seminary students are building a legacy.
That brings me to two pastors--one gone and another freshly retired. Dr. Jerry Falwell and Dr. Ray Newcomb may have taken decidedly different paths to ministry, but they have something in common--their lives and ministries encouraged and affected many who now try to follow in their footsteps. Both men gave multiple decades to one congregation (Dr. Falwell served at Thomas Road for over 50 years, Dr. Newcomb at First Baptist for over 30 years), and the dreams and plans they received from God have inspired many to pursue the purposes of God for the love of Christ. Both men played a role in helping me grow as a new Christian, in helping me understand the concept of "call," and in helping me define the ministry to which God appointed me. I do not know where I would be without the legacies of these two men. On his retirement, we had a celebration of the ministry of Bro. Ray. During the singing of "Thank You," the minister of music asked all of us who had become Christ followers under Bro. Ray's ministry to come forward and stand by the stage. It seemed like over half of the crowd came forward to testify that God used this man's life and ministry to bring them to Jesus! There were doctors, lawyers, postal employees, politicians, teachers, and even one seminary professor. I was fine until then, but that scene brought tears to my eyes. Bro. Ray was getting to see his impact in a very visible form. Here were dozens, even hundreds of people whose lives will never be the same simply because he obeyed God to serve at First Baptist Church in Millington. That number doesn't even count the lives that have been touched by those individuals as they went out to emulate their pastor. Bro. Ray and Dr. Falwell built great legacies.
Well, I've rambled a bit. I want to close with one more legacy to bring this full circle. As I watched my nephew graduate and as I participated in the celebration of my pastor's life and ministry, I couldn't help but think of one person who would have been so proud of both of them--my father. My dad, Bobbie Percer, Sr., passed away in August 2004. I have no doubt he would have loved this week--watching people honor his pastor and his grandson--oh, how proud he would have been. But my father's legacy is bigger than his joy at the accomplishments of others. You see, my dad left quite an impression. When my father passed away, my family and I drove to Millington from Waco, TX for the funeral. On Friday night before the funeral on Saturday, we had the traditional "viewing" when people would come to give their condolences to the family. I stood there greeting people in a line that stretched so far outside of the funeral home that the people were literally standing in the parking lot. I met folks I did not know, and they told me things I had not heard. One fellow told me how he came to Christ because my dad gave him shoes and a ride to church. This fellow's family was embarrassed to go to church because they did not have proper clothing. My dad not only clothed them, he gave them a ride to church. Another young man told me that he never would have graduated college if my father hadn't helped pay for his education. A young woman (with several children) told me of how my dad had helped her family and been instrumental in leading her husband and several children to the Lord. That incredibly long line of people marched through that funeral home and praised the life of this man, my father, in ways I could not even imagine. My dad was a great man. No, you'll never hear his name mentioned with luminaries like Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham, but man what a large footprint this one man left in a small town in west Tennessee! Lives were changed (including those in his family), and eternities were determined. He did not even recognize all that he had accomplished, but he continued to love and to serve others because he loved a great God. His legacy is intact because he followed the example of his Lord. Bobbie Percer Sr. was a hero to many, and he is a hero to me. If I can have half the influence on others that my father had, I'll be a happy man. Bobbie Percer Sr. left a legacy and a good name.
I watched all of these scenarios open before me recently, and it made me a bit introspective. What kind of legacy am I leaving? Where will my footprints lead others if they follow me? Who would attend a celebration of my life and what would they say? Would my love for Christ be obvious? Would my love for others be mentioned? God has blessed me to walk with giants (and some giants in training), and I have to admit that I am often overwhelmed by their collective witness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Dr. William L. Lane. I admitted to him that I didn't think I could live up to his example of a godly life and scholarship, and he said to me, "Never covet another person's gift, and never despise your own." He went on to remind me that God had not called me to be identical to Dr. Lane or to anyone else. God had called me to use my unique gifts and abilities for his glory. I do not have to live up to the stories of these giants, I simply need to live the legacy God has given me. No matter how obscure or unrecognized or inconsequential a life may seem, if it is lived for God it will have a legacy. Love God, love people: that legacy will no doubt last. What kind of legacy are we leaving the next generation?
Thanks to all of the men and women who left their footprints in our hearts and lives!
Thank you, dear reader, for reading!