As a 17 year old boy the Lord directed me to Crown College and brought me under the influence of Pastor Clarence Sexton. Little did I know how this relationship would be used to shape me in so many ways. It is not institutions that make the difference, but individuals. When I first met him, he was younger than I am at this time. Now, three decades later, I am deeply conscious that this man was one of God’s gracious gifts to my life.
Though I came from a little different background, he was kind and accepting to me as a young preacher. When I finally settled the matter of assurance of salvation and desired to be baptized, he baptized me. And always, he was teaching. It wasn’t just that he was trained as a teacher – he had the heart of a teacher. Clarence Sexton was a lifelong student of Scripture, a veracious reader of good books, a curious asker of questions, and a diligent learner of truth. Out of the overflow, the student was forever a teacher. He was a 2 Timothy 2:2 man and an army of men behind him can testify to what he committed to us.
Pastor Sexton was that rare combination of a great mind and a great heart. I remember one day saying to him as we rode in the car together, “You don’t think like a normal person.” The look on his face told me that I needed to clarify! He thought on a higher plane than the average person. He was a man with the gift of a great mind. But as surely as his mind soared to great heights, his heart felt very deeply.
Someone asked me recently what was one thing that deeply impressed me from my private time with him. I quickly answered that it was his ability to help hurting people. When people were going through the worst moments of their lives, he was at his best. He had known hurt and he hurt with the hurting. Like His Master, he loved the unlovely and had compassion on the broken.
I have heard hundreds of people talk about Pastor Sexton as a man of vision, and a visionary he was. But his greatest vision was the ability to see people as the Lord saw them. To see potential in the unlikely. To see a gift in the eccentric. To see the wound behind the facade. Yes, he was a man of vision.
In one of his classic messages he explained that the most important vision was the vision of God. I can tell you that Clarence Sexton lived and labored with a high view of God. This motivated his service, overshadowed his messages, and fed his faith. Many times I remember hearing him say, “When I am gone, I want people to say, ‘He helped us know God better.’” Indeed, he did.
When I graduated from college, he asked if I would prayerfully consider coming back for a year to pursue my master’s degree and “help him with a few projects.” That turned into nearly two decades of service under his leadership. In the early days as a junior staff member, I remember saying to my wife that the only way I thought I could stay was if the Lord would allow me to get close to the Pastor and learn from him. That seemed unlikely at the time. Nearly twenty years later, my wife reminded me of that conversation and quietly said, “God answered your prayer.”
It was one of the rare honors of my life to work closely with Pastor Sexton in all of the ministries of the church and college. I remember the night I talked with him about what God had put in my heart regarding evangelism. He was very tender with me, as a father would be, and he spoke very openly about things that matter most in life and ministry. In fact, in that conversation he spoke to me about the day he would go to heaven. I said to him, “We will just all go together in the rapture.” That was not God’s will.
When I began traveling in the early days, Pastor Sexton would tell me that the most important thing I could do in any church was simply be an encouragement to the pastor. “If you help the pastor, you help all of those he ministers to.” For the last eight years I have simply tried to take what I heard, witnessed, learned, and experienced in one great church and pass it on to hundreds of other churches. His legacy is a constant reminder that one man’s life can set so much in motion.
As a 21 year old man I said to Pastor one afternoon, “I hope God will use my life like he is using yours.” After a long pause, he said, “There are two kinds of people in the Lord’s work – those who try to use God and those who let God use them.” Clarence Sexton was not a perfect man, but he was a man who simply let God use him.
It would be impossible to put into words all the truth he taught me. Each week I find myself quoting him or sharing some lesson learned under his example. For the rest of my life I will be passing on what he so patiently invested in me. Now, in his faithfulness to the end, he has taught me one more lesson.
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7).
Our pastor, friend, and mentor has come to the end of his earthly journey. To the glory of God, he kept his integrity and finished well. But the end is really just the beginning. An old Scottish minister, James Drummond Burns, said in his closing moments, “I have been dying for years, now I shall begin to live.”
On Tuesday, December 12, 2023, Pastor Sexton did not die. He could not die; he had eternal life! The Lord Jesus said, “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26). The moment he quietly, peacefully took his last breath here, he began to enjoy life as never before. He can speak again. He can walk again. And shortly we will speak and walk with him again in our new home.
Recently, as I sat in my study trying to process Pastor’s home going, I picked up one of his early books. The Lord is My Shepherd was one of his most popular books and has been a comfort to so many. I flipped to the end and read with fresh interest the final words of the last chapter…
We have a habit around our house. You probably do something like this around your house also. When my mother-in-law or one of my sons or daughters-in-law comes to visit, we say to them before they leave, “As soon as you get home, call me.” We are especially concerned when they have the grandchildren with them, or if it rainy or late in the evening.
So many times the phone has rung and we picked up the receiver to hear the simple words, “I’m home.” We find comfort, peace, and rest in those words. We are able to put the phone down and go to sleep. “I’m home.”
I am going to tell you something, friends. One of these days, it will be a blessed comfort to know we are home. If I die and leave you here, I want you to know something – “I’m home.” All is well.
My spiritual father is home with our Heavenly Father, and all is well at the Father’s house. Soon all of the family will be home – what a homecoming reunion that will be.