There was no mourning during Thursday's public funeral service honoring the life of Dr. D. James Kennedy. That was the last thing the widely respected conservative evangelical would have wanted from the thousands who packed his Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The two-hour service, instead, celebrated the legacy of a man who impacted millions worldwide with the message of Christ.
"Jim Kennedy was a great man, the kind that comes along very rarely," said the Rev. Kennedy Smartt, who listed the late Kennedy's name along with such notable figures as John Calvin, John Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, and Billy Graham, in a video message.
"He has left a void that will take many men to fill and even then it will never be the same," said Smartt, whom Kennedy credits for his knowledge on evangelism.
Kennedy died at age 76 on the morning of Sept. 5 in his Fort Lauderdale home. Founder of the now 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Kennedy is most noted for his wide influence through the multi-media organization Coral Ridge Ministries and global outreach ministry Evangelism Explosion.
"He was a bold proclaimer of the gospel and a strengthening of moral and spiritual values in the American life," the Rev. Billy Graham said in a statement read by his grandson, Stephen N. Tchividjian. "Jim had a tremendous burden for evangelism as well as his gifts for preaching and teaching and will be greatly missed."
To many present at the service and watching through live broadcast, Kennedy was a beloved friend, humble pastor and courageous leader who helped them witness to others and defend their Christian faith.
Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, compared him to a "towering oak tree."
"Just when a great oak tree falls, then many of us lesser creatures lose a place of shelter and security in its branches," said the keynote speaker. "And that tree has now fallen, a towering oak tree has fallen."
President George W. Bush released a statement to the nation and to the world this week in remembrance of Kennedy.
"The president of the United States does very few of these things," said Bush's special assistant Timothy Goeglein to the thousands seated at the service, "but I think it speaks to the greatness of Jim Kennedy and the greatness of what he felt was our important challenge in this new century."
"Dr. D. James Kennedy was a man of great vision, of great faith, and of great integrity," said Goeglein, reading the statement on behalf of the Bush administration. "He was also a student of history and successful author who encouraged millions of Americans of faith to exercise their democratic freedoms and put their values into practice. His legacy of grace and personal humility will continue to influence hearts and lives."
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is committed to continue its growth as it searches for a new senior pastor and Coral Ridge Ministries has launched a new vision to spread its reach with Kennedy's messages to 30 million people worldwide in the next five years from the 3 million listeners and viewers it currently has.
"Jim's voice and message is timeless, and I hope that we can continue those so that other people can learn what we learned," said Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation and member of Coral Ridge Church, in his eulogy.
DeVos left the audience with two questions that Kennedy tirelessly posed to nearly everyone he came across. "If you die today, do you know where you're going? And if you think you're going to heaven, why should He (God) let you in?"
Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters and who also grew up spiritually at Coral Ridge, asked the thousands to help honor Kennedy by carrying on the mission that Kennedy had faithfully done for nearly half a century.
As Kennedy had once told Wright, "Lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ. That would help me."
"Tell someone else this week about the love of God that has been offered to us in Jesus Christ. That would honor our dear friend and bring glory to Christ," said Wright.
Following Thursday's service, there will be a private, family-only internment held on Friday.