Tomorrow will mark the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the Christian ministry. I’m grateful and repentant and amazed and tired and exhilarated.
* I’m grateful to God for calling me – and I recall it very clearly when I was a small boy at tiny Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kokomo, Indiana. Pastor Youngdale was preaching on the dangers of neo-orthodoxy and the need for fidelity to the Gospel. I was ten, and I heard Jesus say, ‘You will contend for and preach the Gospel too.’ I was not surprised or shocked. It seemed as natural as anything. I’d always loved God’s house. I’d always loved God’s word and the story of God’s work in history. This was where I belonged in the world.
* I’m grateful for God giving me Christian parents, Jerry and Dolores Cassidy, and the most amazing wife, Toni, along with our children – Sean (now married to Jacquelyne), Claire, and Anna.
* I’m grateful to have served Christ in congregations in Oxford, London, Paducah, Austin, and Franklin, as well as a whole host of settings in various churches and ministries stretching from Israel to South Africa and Zimbabwe, to Guatemala, and in just about every country in Europe. In every place, and especially in the churches I pastored, I learned more of what it meant to follow Jesus. The members of these churches have been my greatest teachers. I am thankful for their patience, prayers, and kindness. There has been a lot of pain – there always is in ministry and much of mine has been self-inflicted – but the joys have outweighed the sorrows.
* I am so grateful for the Pastors I’ve been privileged to work with over the years, especially in the PCA: men like Jack Smith, Danny Shuffield, Greg Ward, George Dupere, Ken Leggett, Charles Johnson, Mike Smith, and Casey Cramer. I am grateful for the elders who walked with me in these churches too.
* I am so grateful for my friends in the ministry like Ray Cortese, Mike Khandjian, Ray Cannata, George Grant, Nate Shurden, Matt Bradley, Scott Sauls, Matt Ballard, Mark Bates, George Robertson, Jeff Shulte, John Singleton, Alex Afriyie, Sean Blackman, Kevin Twit, Jim Thomas, Andy Lewis, Irwyn Ince, Jay Kyle, Eric Landry, Tim Frickenschmidt, Steve Ottolini, Diana Batarseh, and so many more I admire so much.
* I am grateful then for the love that has been given to me by those I’ve been called to serve. In his sermon commemorating the anniversary of his own ordination, Augustine said, “For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian.” In the end, that is all that I am – a Christian, and not an especially good one at that. Yet I have been loved. Loved of God and loved by many of his people (though positively disliked and disdained by some). In this Kingdom where all the shepherds are sheep, I remain simply the baby crying in the minister’s arms at Trinity Lutheran in Mt. Morris, Illinois almost sixty years ago: a sinner saved by grace.
* I am repentant. I taught some very unhelpful and errant things; I was an immature and unhelpful Pastor and person; I was impatient – and I still am. I am saddened by my sins and failures as a Christian and especially so as a minister. I stand only by grace and mercy to this day. Luther was right when he wrote in the first of his 95 theses that to live in Christ is to live in perpetual repentance. I promise to seek to do this more effectively in the future. I wake daily saying, ‘I will arise and go to my Father…’, just as the prodigal said. In the end, it is what we shall say; we might as well become well-practiced in the art of heading home.
* I am repentant of my impure motives. As a child, I overheard men I respected say that they didn’t think Pastors worked hard. I wanted to prove them wrong and drove myself to exhaustion and despair by my sinful, prideful efforts. I saw the way ministers routinely beat the stuffing out of each other, especially in Reformed circles. I determined to never do or say anything that would put me in some kind of spotlight. That wasn’t humility, but self-preservation and cowardice. I feared ignorance because I foolishly took a course in life that led away from Seminary rather than into it. I devoured books, reading voraciously to try to make up for what I perceived to be lacking, and again found myself exhausted. Because there is always something more of himself God would have us know, I could’ve approached my emptiness with joy and adventure; instead, I was afraid and weighed down. How sad.
* I am amazed that Jesus loves me. I am amazed God lets me live another day. I am amazed he’s given me so many beautiful experiences of his presence and joy. I am amazed that I’ve met so many amazing leaders and that they’ve given me treasures by their friendship and counsel. I’m amazed I’ve been able to live in some of the most beautiful and exciting places in our world, and some of the most beautiful and quiet too. I am amazed by the Gospel more than ever.
* I am tired. No one told me how tired I’d be after forty years. No one told me how heavy some of the burdens are that Pastors carry, how hard they were to leave with Jesus. There have been so many funerals, tears, and shipwrecks. Too many divorces, the pain of which often eclipses the joy of the weddings. Church splits, friendships interrupted and demolished, anger…disappointment… unrealized expectations… No one told me that even if I desired to preach until I die (and I do), that there would be days I didn’t feel strong enough to do so, that I would feel far more deeply the emptiness of crucified self-sufficiency than the zealous passion of envisioned youthfulness. I did not know – though I heard it from others – how much my heart would break and my body become brittle and a very unfaithful servant to the cause. May God have mercy.
* I am exhilarated by the summons of Jesus to follow him every day, by the wonder of his word, by the challenge of bringing the Gospel to our world, by the need to help leaders in other countries, by the need to train Pastors, and by the call I have to Christ Community Church in Franklin.
* I am exhilarated by the text of Scripture and the riches it continuously yields up to my heart.
* I am exhilarated by the opportunity to tell, as one starving beggar to others, the treasures of God’s word I stumbled across.
I can close my eyes and see godly leaders who have helped me… my dad and mom, Pastor Youngdale, John Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Arthur Wallis, David Filson, Charles McGowan, Metropolitan Kallistos, Roger Forster, James Jordan, Jeff Meyers, Gerritt Gustafson, Gerald Coates, Graham Perrins, Terry Virgo, Charles Simpson, and Scotty Smith. I’d have been lost without them. I was delivered from other leaders, and for this mercy too, I am thankful.
I can see the friends who came alongside me when hope was gone. I see you Johnny and Pam, Steve and Anna, Wayne and Vickie. I still see you Nicole – and so many miss you so much.
I can see again the moments when the presence of Jesus was so potent that what I was experiencing was beyond description. I have also felt the deepest pits of God’s sensible absence, the times when I despaired of life and wondered if I would ever see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
And what of the present and the future? Augustine again:
“The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”
There is work to do.
At the end of the day, I am excited that tomorrow morning I will wake up and go to worship the Triune God with his people. I have done so my entire life. I am excited that I will get to open the Scriptures and expound them in their company and with them rejoice in God’s grace given to us in Jesus through the power of the Spirit. I get to do this with an amazing team at C3… what a joy for any Pastor to be able to work alongside such gifted servants among such generous people.
I have an inkling that, if God lets me live, I will still feel the same when the fiftieth anniversary rolls around. May he be pleased to sustain me and help me to count my life as nothing so that I might finish the course and testify fully to the Gospel of Jesus and the whole counsel of God.
See you Sunday.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer bought
With His own precious blood.
I love the Church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of heaven.
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