1 Samuel 17.29; 1 Cor. 9.16; 1 Thessalonians 2.19-20
A Word of Thanks
“This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
With those words, I have opened worship services of two churches and I planted and one great historic congregation I served as senior minister. And I begin tonight with those words. Let God be glorified and let us all be happy in Him.
Occasions such as this one are filled with preachers. And now I get my turn. I want to give some thanks, read the Scripture and then give you a brief message about my vision for the seminary.
I want to speak, first, about my family. I want to honor my wife, Mae, for her faithfulness through almost a quarter of a century as my wife and most of that following, with me, God’s call to minister the Gospel wherever there was a need and we could fill it. She is the quiet power that nudges me to preach, the woman of my life who supports me in prayer, and my best friend and help mate who encourages me and yes even corrects me when I need it. She is the spiritual strength and the soul of our marriage and family. “Mae, I rise to praise you and honor you tonight.” Our son John Michael is the joy of our lives and has made us proud as he, too, follows the Lord. He is just returning from a Boy Scout river rafting trip. I hope he doesn’t fall asleep during my talk! Our Troop here is Troop 413, named for Philippians 4.13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That is a verse that is well suited for my son, also. Through every move, every adversity that comes with it, he has grown in grace. For all of his years until now, Saturday nights meant listening to Dad’s sermons that would be preached the next morning. “Tonight, Son, I want to say thank you for listening and not only listening and encouraging me each and every week of your life since you could talk, but then seeking with all of your heart to live out what we have learned together from God’s Word.”
Once upon a time, many years ago, God brought two single parents with children. Tonight I want to thank God for our adult children, scattered around the nation, whom I pray for each day in my devotions. “You bless us with your lives of faith. We are proud of you.” I am also very thankful for my sister-in-law, and my brother-in-law from Knoxville. “You honor me with your presence.”
The presence of Mrs. Stultz and the choir of my beloved First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga humble me. Thank you also for all of you who made this trip. Many of you are from First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Our hearts overflow with love and thanksgiving for the saints there. You engraved my name on a plaque in your church. But I have your names engraved on my heart forever. I will never have a higher title than the one you called me as I brought Word, Sacrament and Prayer to you in worship, as I married you, baptized your children, and buried your loved ones, laughed and yes cried with you: the title of “Pastor.” Thank you. I thank God also for the churches I founded and the saints we love at Kirk O’ the Isles of Savannah and Redeemer Presbyterian along with Westminster Academy. I thank God for churches that nurtured us, sent us, trained us, like Olathe Presbyterian Church of Kansas, and Coral Ridge and IPC Savannah and all of the believers whose prayers continue to give us strength. I thank God for the US Army chaplaincy which has given me the privilege of praying with privates and counseling Generals, of preaching Christ freely all over the world, and all of that just as a reserve chaplain. Thank you. And I love all of you with the heart of one who dreams that one day there will be multitude of souls safe in the arms of Jesus because of your faithfulness in the Gospel. And I would be remiss if I did not thank God for my mentors in the ministry. Dr. D. James Kennedy is now with the Lord. But there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of his optimistic vision of the kingdom of God and that through sharing Christ, “we can change the world.” And I thank God for my pastor, Robert E. Baxter, of Olathe, Kansas, now in Dothan, Alabama, who discipled me in the Gospel of grace and then lived it out before me. Like each of you, I am also the living legacy of those who have gone before. And I thank my Aunt Eva who is with Christ for taking me up in her lap and letting me hear her heart beat, literally, as she read the Scriptures to me daily, and who laid her hands on me and prayed for the anointing of the Holy Spirit. For all of you, my family, in marriage and in the Church, I thank you.
I take the time to give these thanks because it is the right thing to do at such an occasion as this. Being a minister and preaching the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ is an honor that no man chooses for himself. And being called to be the president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte is a high honor that is undeserved and unmerited. But is an honor and a privilege that we believe has come from the Lord Himself through you.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman and members of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Cannada, fellow presidents and administrative officers of our other great seminary campuses, faculty, staff and students, I am grateful for your trust and your prayers. I am humbled by your call. I am honored to labor with you for the cause of the Great Commission, though I confess that I am weak of my own strength, and totally dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit to complete this task. But by God’s power and with all glory to Him, I have accepted this call and will seek with all of my heart to continue to preach Jesus now as your president. I thank you.
Let me read from three little powerful Scriptures and share some thoughts from these texts about this time.
I read from: 1 Samuel 17:29; 1 Corinthians 9:16; I Thessalonians 2:19-20
This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the Living God:
I read from the King James, 1Samuel 17.29:
And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?
And from the English Standard Version, I read from the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 9.16 and 1 Thessalonians 2.19-20:
“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1Corinthians 9.16)!
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1Thessalonians 2.19-20 ESV).
“…The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever…”¾(1Peter 1.24-25 ESV)
I believe that a holy burden is the power that drives vision and transforms history.
A few years ago I read David McCullough’s brilliant biography, John Adams. The thing I tool away from that book was that this lawyer-farmer’s quite life New England was high-jacked by a burden for justice that became a vision for freedom. We have seen his same burden in the lives of the other founders. We have this burden arise again in our nation. Abraham Lincoln was a burdened man and he was burdened for a union and for the human rights of our fellow Americans. Our fathers in World War Two were burdened for a cause when these 17,18 and 19-year-old boys set sail for Normandy to liberate a continent and literally save the world. Study the life of David Eisenhower or Winston Churchill, or Roosevelt or Truman and you see the hearts of burdened men. In our generation, we have seen the life of a man like Ronald Reagan burdened for basic human rights in a world gripped by dictatorial Communism. In 2001 when America was attached the President of the United States became burdened. And we are grateful, and have been safe, in part, because of that burden.
Giants are slain and people set free where there is burden in the heart of a man or a woman. In the New Testament reading, St. Paul was burdened to preach the Gospel. In the Old Testament reading, David had a burden to see God’s enemies defeated, God’s people established, and God’s name exalted.
Burden for a holy cause is the power that drives vision among God’s people.
I believe that seminaries must be burdened, and therefore seminary presidents must be burdened and faculty and staff and students and supporters must be burdened, or we are not a part of the glorious burden of the Gospel that is embedded in the Church: a burden that is basic to our faith, that people without Christ are in sin, need the Savior, and that we must pray for laborers and train them and send them, and go ourselves, so that the nations are reached with the Gospel. The way that a seminary becomes a proverbial Ivory Tower is not that it loses its burden, but exchanges one burden for another: a burden for self, a burden for fame, a burden for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. That is not our heritage at RTS. And that must not be our future.
And as I enter this new stage of ministry, I want to outline three burdens that come from God’s Word and are on my heart.
First of all, I am burdened and I pray we at RTS Charlotte are burdened with the mission in the world around us.
There are giants in the land. And there is also an open door then for the glory of God to shine in our world like no other time in history.
David lived then. Paul lived then. Augustine lived then. Calvin lived then. Edwards lived then. Martin Lloyd-Jones lives then. Our founders of RTS and even, increasingly, of RTS Charlotte, lived then. We live now. There were different giants, but the same enemy: oppressive forces of darkness that held human beings captive under the power of the flesh, the world and the devil. And through the preaching of Christ there is the opportunity to “overcome evil with good.”
Today, our mission field before us is three fold: the dying sun of the Western Christian culture, the continuing conflict of the ages with Islamic extremism, and the rising sun of the East, revival brewing in China and India and perhaps soon in the Middle East. These Goliath challenges breed insults from even those, like David’s brothers and countrymen, who are close to us: that “The west is too far gone;” “The Islamic fundamentalist movement cannot be converted;” and “The Eastern religions are too many and too entrenched to allow for Christ to transform the culture.” But in each of these areas, we know the truth: Goliath must fall. People must be free. The Kingdoms of this world must become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
Jesus Christ established and defined our mission, to go out and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them whatsoever He commanded.
RTS Charlotte must be burdened with the mission in the world around us.
Second of all, I am burden, I pray we are RTS Charlotte are burdened, with the methods in the Word before us.
As David rejected the armor of Saul, our seminary rejects the weak armor of the flesh that would seek to slay giants in philosophies of men from a sort of graduate school of religion. That is not what we have been, not what we are, not what we have been called to be. We are a seedbed for pastors. We are a community raised up for the vocational and spiritual formation of future preachers of the Gospel. And as we reject the that divide heart and mind, whose passion is internalized, whose goals are localized, and whose vision is fossilized, we want to pick up our smooth stones of ministry. Those stones were first picked up by our founders who believed in 2 Timothy 2.2, of committing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” And we believe that the ordinary means of grace, Word, Sacrament, and Prayer, are enough to slay any giant, guard the people of God, and advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ throughout the world today. We believe that one man or woman, one church planter, one missionary¾one pastor, who is faithful to preaching the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God, has enough power at his disposal to transform human souls, redeem a fallen culture, and establish the kingdom of God that will one day usher in a new heavens and a new earth. We believe that if we teach that the tools of our pastors are not just the Day planner and the Briefcase, but the Bible, and the Bread and the Cup, the basin and the towel, and the prayer closet, we can change the world.
RTS Charlotte must be burdened with a method that is God approved, Christ-centered, grace-saturated, and kingdom focused.
And if we know the mission, are committed to the methods, then…
We must all be burdened for His majesty in the lives among us.
David was burdened that the giant be defeated because he was burdened to see the glory of his God and the good of his people established on the earth. We are burdened that men and women and boys and girls come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are burdened that all of our theology and Biblical studies and church history and languages and pastoral studies go in to the top of the funnel, but at the narrow end, there is one servant-leader standing, equipped with a mind for truth and a heart for God, and taking on giants. But what we also need to remember is that the giants are often living in the lives of the people that God brings into our churches. God is calling us to distill our theology with love and give hope to a single mom with no idea where she will get the money to pay for her children’s education, or the 12-year-old child who is struggling with making her parent’s faith her own, or a retired couple who wonder where God is as their bags are packed and they close the door behind them and go into a nursing home.
This is where our theology meets life. This is where I have lived as a pastor. It is where our students will live, whether in Charlotte or Shang-hi or Delhi or Des Moines. The giants are out there, stalking, making fun, and people need courageous spiritual leaders to face them and give them a Word from God.
I learned this best from one of my theology teachers: Mr. Lewis Gross. No, Mr. Gross was not a seminary professor, at least in the way you would normally think of such, but make no mistake, Mr. Lewis taught me theology. He is one of the finest men I have ever known. He was the man who seven years ago volunteered to pray with me before the worship services of the day at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. And then, without fail, he rose early on the Lord’s Day and joined me in a prayer room, with others, and asked God’s Holy Spirit to come down. He would often put his strong hand on my shoulder as he prayed. And as he prayed for the supernatural work of God to come down upon the sanctuary, he would pray for the Church scattered all over the world. He would pray for Christ to be honored. And he would pray for souls to be saved and lives to be transformed. He never went to seminary. He is not ordained. He is just a humble Christian who believes that God deserves glory and that He gets it when sin is defeated and human beings are set free through the Gospel. Mr. Gross reminded me throughout my ministry there, and here, that we must be burdened for people to hear the Gospel. His burden led him to the Word and to Prayer, and to encouraging his preachers to go out there and preach the Word of God.
Mr. Lewis’ vision lived out incarnationally with a strong hand on my shoulder, and a prayer for the salvation of sinners and revival in the Church sent me out each Sunday to face the mission of Christ, and to do so in the methods of Christ, and to expect to see His majesty.
That is a great burden. And that is a glorious cause. And I have no other vision than that.
I close with the prayer that God gave me this week through some readings:
“When I am tempted to think highly of myself,
grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy;
Help me to stand with wary eye on the watchtower of faith,
And to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord;
If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness,
And when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace,
Keep me humble, meek, lowly.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Authur Bennett, editor, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, 1975, 2008 edition), 161.