I never thought I’d be quoting the Scottish folk hero, William Wallace, as portrayed in the film Braveheart. But I was blessed to know such a man who “really lived” on this earth, but who passed over to his eternal reward this past week. There has been so much already said about Pastor James Lee Beall, that my words seem so trivial.
Pastor James was a rock star in Christian circles, invited to travel the nation and much of the world to speak to hundreds of thousands and to teach other leaders; yet I was honored to proclaim that he was my pastor for seventeen years. And in spite of his notoriety, (he had many legitimate titles and could have been called Doctor Beall or Bishop Beall) he preferred simply to be addressed as brother Jim.
The man who gave the farewell address at his home-going spoke of a number of times he was able to glean wisdom from brother Jim over a cup of coffee at the Waffle House. I only had a couple one-on-ones with the Pastor. That was my fault, not his. Because I just knew he could read my soul, and I was terrified of what he might reveal to me.
The first one-on-one was a couple years after we had started to attend Bethesda Christian Church. I had been assisting the Dean of the Bible College and substitute teaching her Old Testament class whenever she took vacation or had to go out of town. At the end of the year she recommended that I take over that instructor’s position full time, since she was over-loaded in other areas of ministry.
Brother Jim called me down to his office. He graciously thanked me for all my service. He told me how wonderful it was to have my family as a part of the congregation. He talked about my kids – since he really did know a lot about each one and how they were doing in the school. Then he explained to me why I wasn’t ready to take over full time teaching of the Old Testament class. And he was absolutely right. I had all the head knowledge necessary – but it hadn’t yet moved down that eighteen inches to my heart.
My second meeting with him was at my request. Three years had passed, and a personal issue surfaced between another family member and ourselves. In the midst of Sandy and I trying to resolve the issue, the other person said they had called Pastor Beall to complain about us. Begrudgingly I scheduled a meeting with my pastor that I thought was now necessary. Dreading the event, and contemplating for hours how I would handle it and what I would say, I showed up at his office. Once again, brother Jim welcomed me with his magnetic smile. He graciously thanked us for all our service and asked how the kids were doing – since by now my daughter had graduated from high school and my oldest boy was attending De La Salle. At some point I began to explain the reason for requesting the meeting. I had barely begun when my pastor stopped me and said, “John – let me tell you the same thing I told the person who called last week.” Then he began to relate in clear English, the guidance Jesus gave His disciples for resolving differences between acquaintances. He shook my hand firmly, smiled and I left – knowing I had the Pastor’s love and support.
Brother Jim couldn’t read your mind, but he could read your spirit – because he was so close to the One who created that spirit. I didn’t always agree with his position, but I always respected it, as he respected the positions of others who were willing to discuss those differing positions in a mature fashion. It bugged a lot of people that he was such a stickler for decent dress and appearance. [He once told a group of young people that they couldn’t attend the Wednesday night youth meeting with purple hair, and that upset several who refused to return to the church.] This was one area that I didn’t agree with his approach; yet I understood where he was coming from. For he saw people as God intended them to become, not as they were – and he was doing everything he could to encourage them to reach that pinnacle of success. He knew that purple hair and certain bad behaviors would hinder that.
At twenty years his junior, I hope that someday I will merit some semblance of the welcome I know he received upon his approach to the Lord’s throne: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”