June 1, 1986 I preached my first sermon as pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral. My text, which has served countless “first sermons,” was 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. My ambition, while commendable, far surpassed my abilities. From the perspective that 3 decades gives I now realize that I had much to learn about preaching Jesus Christ and him crucified. I still have much to learn, which should come as no surprise when we stop and consider that these are “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
I spent time last week reflecting on the past 30 years, primarily by reading old entries in my journal and reminiscing with Donna. That was interrupted last Wednesday night (June 1) when a surprise “roast” unfolded during what had been announced as an “Anniversary Reception.” It was very well-done and incredible fun. Many of my family members clandestinely traveled to Florida for the occasion, surprising us. Some of our winter residents also traveled back. The church showered us with gifts and expressions of love, including a schedule of just right activities over the next 4 days. The obvious care, thoughtfulness and sacrifice that were on display last week was a reminder of how well-loved Donna and I are by the family of Grace.
Some special guests were invited to help in the celebration. Others sent video and written greetings. My brother, Bill, who pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Owasso, Oklahoma spoke at the roast on Wednesday night. His talk was quite funny, even if 75% of the anecdotes were apocryphal (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!). Tom Nettles, retired Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, spoke at a Friday night meeting. He gave a powerful exposition of Malachi 2:1-9 that was a sober reminder to pastors—especially to me—about the great privilege and weighty responsibility to be in the ministry.
Fred Malone, pastor of First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana, preached Sunday morning on Romans 8:32. He expounded the apostolic logic that extends from the atonement of Christ and showed the implications for pastoral ministry and and church life. Steve Haines, former associate pastor with me at Grace and current IMB worker, spoke Sunday evening on 3 John 4, explaining what the call to “walk in truth” means for pastor and people. Every message and public teaching was excellent and greatly used by God to challenge, convict, encourage and instruct me (and, I am sure, others).
So I come to the beginning of a new week with a heart that is very full. The church that I have been privileged to serve the last 30 years could not be better named. We are people of grace. As I have tried to articulate my thoughts about my ministry here, that is the word that keeps recurring. God has given deep, effectual grace to us through Jesus Christ. That grace had made atonement for our sin and is renewing us inwardly through the working of the Word and Spirit. It is a blessing beyond measure to pastor a people who have experienced and are growing deep in their understanding of that grace.
I recently preached through 2 Corinthians 4. The past few days have been a clear reminder and illustration of v. 1. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” It is only by the amazing mercy of God that any man is called into and sustained in pastoral ministry and that is certainly true in my case. Having been vividly reminded of God’s grace and mercy to me as a pastor, I am ready to set my sights on the next leg of my race. Pray that the Lord will enable me to run & finish well.