“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” says the Spirit. “They will rest from their labors, and their deeds follow them.” Revelation 14:13
Like a child feels who learns of his father’s death, so I felt when I learned of Dennis James Kennedy’s passing this morning. It was through Dr. Kennedy and Evangelism Explosion that I came to understand the doctrines of grace which glorify Jesus Christ. I came to see the wonder of sharing Jesus with another human soul and being able to trust that God Himself would take His Word and bring sinners into the family of God.
He became a hero in the faith to me as a young man, and then I was granted the privilege of being personally trained by him in the Gospel ministry. I served as his pastoral intern, and I was educated at the seminary he founded, Knox Theological Seminary. The hallmark of that school was and remains evangelism and missions. For me the greatest thing about ministry there was seeing how the shadow of the steeple of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church fell over all we did. I shall never be able to repay fully what I gained from him and the people there. I thank God that I was sent out into the fields of Christ with Jim’s vision: an optimistic vision that Jesus Christ will not be denied! D. James Kennedy believed that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. I will also bless the Lord that my wife, Mae, my Aunt Eva, and our daughter Amy sat under his preaching and his ministry. The picture in my mind is fixed: Aunt Eva parked, in her wheel chair, at the front of that great sanctuary, looking up to the high pulpit as Dr. Kennedy preached, my wife standing on a platform and interpreting Jim’s messages for the deaf, and often I would be seated in the assistant minister’s chair taking it all in. I learned so much. It is not hyperbole to say that a great part of my life was shaped by him and his thoughts, words, and deeds.
When my son was born, Dr. Kennedy laid his hands on him and put his arms around Mae and John Michael and welcomed him into the world. The first Lord’s Day that my son spent on planet earth, he spent in the sanctuary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Jim always asked about him. He was not only a great evangelist, pastor and theologian, but he was also a kind, warm-hearted man. The last time I saw him, just a month or so before his heart attack, I reached out to shake his hand. Dr. Kennedy was never much of a hugger. I used to chuckle quietly as I would stand with him after services and watch admirers from around the country stand in long lines to greet him. Sometimes they would reach out for a hug. Jim would rarely oblige. It was just the way God made him. But that last morning I was with him he stood and looked at my hand and smiled at me and said, “Is that any way for me to greet a son in the ministry?” And Jim embraced me. I felt his body as we embraced. He seemed old, frail, and not the robust man I once knew. But in his frailty I sensed his spirit was growing stronger, more heavenly focused, more forward-looking. I believed that the Lord was preparing him for what has now come.
Dennis James Kennedy preached to more people than any other Presbyterian minister in the history of the Church. His theology was decidedly Reformed and he proved to the world that true Calvinism is both radically Biblical and radically consumed with the Great Commission, with winning souls for Jesus Christ. In the later years of his ministry, Dr. Kennedy focused on the moral problems of our nation. He gave a call for Christians to bring the Gospel to bear in every area of life, including government. He was often criticized for this. But will we not miss his voice for the unborn? Will we not miss his tireless efforts to bring morality back to the public square in our nation? Will we not miss his clear call for Christians to take every thought captive for Christ?
And so this morning I am remembering my mentor, my hero, my pastor, and my friend.
The next time we embrace, Jim, we will both be stronger.*
Father, thank You for giving us pastors to equip the saints for the work of ministry. I thank You for giving us James Kennedy. I thank you for how You used Jim in my life and in the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. I ask that You bring healing to his family and cause other able men to take up the mantle of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ. We have lost a “Peter,” we have lost a “Paul.” We have lost a “Knox” for our generation. Will You not, even now, O Lord Christ, raise up a new generation of Gospel ministers to lead Your Church? Please make them to have hearts and voices like Your servant Jim.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
*A great excerpt from a Kennedy sermon:
“Now, I know that someday I am going to come to what some people will say is the end of this life. They will probably put me in a box and roll me right down here in front of the church, and some people will gather around, and a few people will cry. But I have told them not to do that because I don’t want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead. I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living. And I will be alive forevermore, in greater health and vitality and joy than ever, ever, I or anyone has known before” (Source: Coral Ridge Ministries).
To learn more, see the video on his life at this link.