A Tribute to Dad
By Ken Riggs
When my mother, Winona Riggs, died in March of 1999, my dad Raymond asked me to preach her funeral. In that message, I stated she had enjoyed a full life, exhibited a faithful love, and extended a fruitful legacy. I easily can say the same three things about my dad. However, something else needs to be said. My dad is one of five men who had a profound influence—and continues to have influence—on my life. I am not telling the names of the other four, but I do want to tell you the characteristics they shared with my father.
The first influenced me by his character of godliness and dignity. He was always godly. He carried himself in such a way you knew by looking at him that he was a man of God. You knew there were certain words, jokes, or gestures you dared not use in his presence. Dad was the same. I cannot remember ever hearing him use a curse word. In fact, when I was a boy, he did not even permit his children to use the words gosh, gee-whiz, golly, or darn. By today’s standards, those words may seem mild, but they were not permitted. You knew Daddy was different by the way he carried himself, not different in a way that made others uncomfortable, but in a way that demonstrated he was a true believer.
The second man influenced me by his conviction the Bible is the true Word of God. This man used to say, “You need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” He gave me a Bible as a Christmas present. It was a copy of the One-Year Bible arranged to read on a daily basis, so that in one year, you have read the entire Bible. I received that Bible in 1990, and from that time until now, I have continued to read the Bible through every year. Dad was a man of the Bible as well. I have seen many of his sermon outlines and even shared mine with him, and he with me. I never heard him preach a sermon that wasn’t based on the truth of Scripture. While faithful to read commentaries and other helps, Dad’s main source for preaching and teaching was the Bible itself.
The third man influenced me by his refusal to retaliate against those who did him wrong. He was a denominational leader who was unafraid to think for himself. I worked for him for a time and heard the criticism he received from fellow brothers. While he was not an ordained minister, he was a spiritual giant in my eyes.
For a time, I served as a board member for this leader, and I saw firsthand his refusal to criticize others. On one occasion, I wanted to retaliate for him. He calmly admonished, “Ken, don’t stoop to that level.” Dad was the same. He did not like religious politics or denominational manipulation. His attitude was, “You can trust Free Will Baptists to do the right thing.” I questioned that at times but always discovered Daddy was right. Carrying a grudge was too heavy a burden for him. Getting even was not his style.
The fourth man who influenced me was not a Free Will Baptist. (I’m not even sure he was a believer.) Still, he taught me a valuable lesson. I was a student in a doctoral program and had to take a course in statistics. Because I had a weak mathematical background, I waited to the very end of the program to take this class.
To my surprise, on the first day of statistics, this professor made the class simple. He showed me a method of teaching I soon adopted as my own. He taught me to make difficult things simple. Daddy was the same way. He could take a difficult passage of Scripture or complex theological concept and make it understandable. Perhaps he is most famous for his message on the relationship between faith and knowledge. He said faith and knowledge are so intertwined they cannot be separated. To illustrate his point, he said, “Knowledge is my wife knowing she has six children. Faith is me believing they’re all mine.”
After the congregation got over its shock, he followed up with, “That’s a good illustration because I have faith in my wife that I am the father of all our children.”
Evidently my mother wasn’t too happy with the illustration. Later that night, when they retired for the evening, Dad hugged my mother and said, “Goodnight, mother of six.” My ever-witty mother replied, “Goodnight, father of five.”
Godly dignity, dedication to the truth of Scripture, refusing to retaliate, and making difficult things simple are four characteristics every preacher should possess. The four men I described had these qualities. Dad had all of these and one more I believe topped them all. In 1966, Daddy asked me to move to Norfolk, Virginia, to work with him as he began the first Christian school in the Free Will Baptist movement. With my deep interest in education, I told him I would come. What I did not tell him was I had another motive. I wanted to know what attracted others to him. What made him such a powerful influence in the denomination? Why was he invited to preach so many revivals? I thought working with him would reveal the answer.
I was not disappointed. I soon discovered his secret: he had a genuine love for people. That was it. And people knew he loved them. It made no difference their status in life, color of skin, political party, which side of the Free Will Baptist “fence” you straddled, or on which side of the Mississippi River you lived, Daddy knew how to love. During tense moments on the floor of the National Association, I watched him calm the crowd with words of wisdom. I saw him give an invitation after another’s mediocre message, where people responded. A dear friend told me on several occasions if he ever backslid, he wanted Daddy to give the invitation because he was sure to come back to the Lord.
Daddy’s love for people cannot be learned in a classroom. It comes from being in the closet with God. It comes from not being afraid to get your hands dirty, from the cotton field to the factory. It comes from getting in the grease pit in a gas station or a hog pen with a farmer. It comes from sitting with someone in the hospital or watching someone die. It comes from experiencing life with all kinds of people.
During his funeral, someone noted his death was the end of an era. While I believe that may be true, I honestly pray it is wrong. Please God, give us people who have godly dignity, commitment to the truth of the Bible, a refusal to retaliate, the ability to make hard things simple, and above all, people who truly know how to love others.
About the Writer: Dr. Ken Riggs has served as pastor, educator, and denominational leader. His dad Raymond was the first full-time director of IM, Inc. (Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions).