“Sir, we would see Jesus.” John 12:21b
I’m one of hundreds of college students who was taught and pastored by Mike. His early years as a pastor were during the days of the Jesus Generation, and there were so many of us brand new Christians hungry to learn. John 12:21 might not have been inscribed on his lectern, but that’s why we came to hear Mike preach. He opened the Scriptures and from them showed us the Lord Jesus.
Mike and Susan came to Gainesville in spring of 1970. I met Mike that fall when he was speaking on campus at UF. I’d only been a Christian for a few months and was so eager to take in God’s Word. I learned more from him than I can ever tell: in his Bible exposition and doctrinal teaching, in his modeling of how to teach, in his freewheeling answers to questions, in his understanding of the work of the local church, in his leading of prayer and music, and in so very many conversations. His teaching was not only a legacy to me, but a legacy of influence continued whenever I taught my children or other women. I know many, many others also continue that legacy of influence.
What a giant among men he was in his love for the Lord Jesus and in his courageous faithfulness. Mike was always aware of the winds of change and as a pastor he fought fiercely at the zeitgeist’s point of attack on the church. He was both a shepherd who protected the flock under his care and an example of courage and love for Jesus Christ despite personal cost. Not only he, but his family, bore the scars of those battles.
In God’s providence I became his first full-time secretary soon after my brother tried to commit suicide. God knew I needed that time and place of safety as I dealt with the strain and the hostility to Christ within my family. I knew Mike would stand for the Lord Jesus without compromise, and in my own spiritual battles that meant a great deal to me and gave me an example to follow: to fight the good fight and keep the faith.
Years later, this time in a church in New Jersey, I saw Mike soon after my brother had died of AIDS. I told Mike he would always be my pastor. The next day in his office I recounted my brother’s final hours and the end of that arduous decades-long spiritual battle. Mike gave me a copy of the poem below that he had written during one of his fiercest and most difficult times standing for Christ at a point of vicious attack.
But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid.
You are not going to die.” Judges 6:23
Sing of the glories of Gideon
Mighty in Israel’s lore
Who pulled down the altars of Midian
And summoned his people to war.
“To death, if death overtake us
With the shield of Manasseh raised high!
Jehovah will never forsake us.
He promised that we would not die.”
The Angel by Gideon’s wine press
Confirmed this wonder of God,
Consuming a youth’s sacrifices
With simply the touch of his rod.
And though Satan sought to inflict him
With penalties rightly come by,
These fell on an innocent victim
So that Gideon would never die.
The shackles of death were broken
Like the spear in Midian’s hand.
The Word Jehovah had spoken
Enabled Israel to stand.
And Gideon saw in that instant
The Promise of Eden pass by.
Through his Savior whose coming was distant,
He believed that he would not die.
At an Abiezerite altar
Under aging Joash’s oak,
Gideon vowed no longer to falter
Oppressed by an alien yoke.
Like Gideon then to battle!
Mind not the enemy’s cry.
Shout above his meaningless prattle,
God’s promise that we shall not die.
For the sacrifice has been accepted!
God’s wrath in the death of His Son
Is turned back through grace unexpected;
Behold what Jehovah has done!
Face the struggles before you,
Though all your hopes run awry,
Though angel or man should abhor you,
Take heart, Christian, you will not die.
I know there are thousands of “Mike” stories. Mike led many of us to Christ. He baptized us, and for some of us he did our weddings. Mike counseled us in our low points of breaking and rejoiced with us. He pastored us.
Early last week while reading Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ, I thought this book is so Mike. I need to find out if he’s read it. He could have written it. He certainly lived it. His pastoring and preaching resonated with the book’s themes of the “fullness of the grace of Christ” and the “freeness of that grace in Christ.” Indeed, Mike offered week in and week out Christ “clothed with his gospel.”1 Of all the things I learned from Mike, this was his greatest legacy: teaching and explaining what it meant to be in Christ. The Gainesville church bulletin once had Galatians 5:1 on the front (in Greek, of course, which was also so Mike).
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”Galatians 5:1
I told my husband, Doug, I always wanted Mike to write more books and that I even once told Mike he should do a commentary on Romans.
Doug told me that Pastor Mike wrote on lives.
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”2 Corinthians 3:2–“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”Daniel 12:3
1Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ (Crossway, Wheaton IL:2016) 42, 46.
Copyright ©2020 Iwana Carpenter