Robert Konemann was a pastor and teacher in Jacksonville, FL and Louisville, KY. He loved the Word of God while living and dying for the glory of a good and sovereign God. May these final words spoken at his memorial service cause us to trust our sovereign God who knows what He is doing. He is not a novice.
Robert was born on October 1, 1962 in the outskirts of Atlanta, GA. Growing up, life was difficult for Robert. To this world Robert was a ‘throw away’ kid. To our heavenly Father he was a precious son, ‘chosen before the foundations of the earth’. Robert’s life bore the inexplicably fingerprints of grace, was guided by the Hand of Providence, and loved by the heart of our Heavenly Father. The journey of His life would take him down many dark valleys before a seemingly frowning Providence. Yet, at every turn it was evident that the grace of God, was guiding and equipping him for his journey. Robert possessed an incredibly fortitude, an unbreakable spirit, and a vivid imagination that would serve him all the days of his life. It was the merciful hand of God that guided his steps even in the darkest days. The hand of Providence was especially seen one cold winter night when Robert was only 10 years old. Driven away by cruel words and heartless punishment he ran away from his home with only a handful of dollar bills. He escaped on a Greyhound bus and hitch-hiked even farther. His aimless journey led him to the bottom of a rock quarry where he collapsed in exhaustion wishing for death. He was a cold, hopeless, and desperate ten-year-old boy. Yet he was not alone. As snow began to fall, God’s hand stirred him to life and moved him to hope. By God’s grace, Robert made his way back home and was given strength to endure the remaining days of his childhood.
Robert’s family moved from Atlanta to Clearwater, Florida and it was there in the Sunshine State where a brilliant ray of light burst into his dark world. Robert found his way to Clearwater Baptist Church and dove in headlong into the youth group. Robert’s youth pastor, Barry Shettel, took Robert under his wing and saw in Robert what no one had ever seen before: character and value. Here Robert’s love for the Word of God began to grow and blossom because someone took the time to love him and value him. The dark clouds of his childhood where beginning to dissipate. Yet that was only the beginning.
One summer afternoon Robert boarded the Youth bus for what he thought was an ordinary day of fun at Six Flags in Atlanta. Little did he know that on that bus he would find a life-time of love. As Robert boarded the bus his eye caught glimpse of the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on; Becky Lapp. It was love at first sight…almost. There was a slight problem. She sat in her seat with a pair of crutches by her side and a broken toe. Inside Robert’s mind a battle raged: hang out with Becky and miss out on the Six flags fun or stay with his buddies and enjoy a day of roller coasters and fried food. He chose Six Flags! Thankfully, this poor choice did not cost him, for on the way home he secured a seat near to Becky. After finding the courage to speak with her he opened up his Bible and read Becky Isaiah chapter 40 and challenged her to memorize Isaiah 40:31. It was Robert’s way of getting a second date…helping Becky memorize scripture. A win-win! It was the beginning of a classic love story.
There have been few love stories written like Robert and Becky’s. Neither Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, Rhett & Scarlett couldn’t compare with their love. Robert’s love for Becky is enough to last her entire lifetime. He loved her with a passionate affection and unwavering commitment. They were simply meant to be together. However, the first time Robert came to her parent home for a date (‘to memorize scripture’)Dr. and Mrs. Lapp weren’t as convinced. Rather than coming to the door, Robert pulled his car into the driveway and honked the horn. Becky waived to her parents and jumped into the car as Robert squealed the tires as he drove away. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best first impression with the future in-laws. However when Dr. and Mrs. Lapp, spoke with Robert’s youth pastor. Yet, much to their amazement, Barry reassured their anxious hearts, “Of all the young men I have ever known, I would want my daughters to marry a man like Robert.” The rest was history. The Lapps embraced Robert as their own son. Their house was a safe refuge for Robert as he went to High School while working forty hours a week busting concrete. Many nights he would come to the Lapps, eat dinner, and crash on their couch for hours. The Lapp’s home was Robert’s home and in the twilight of their lives Robert repaid their loyalty by giving the Lapps a place in his home. They were parents to him and he was a son to them.
Robert & Becky’s love for one another grew deeper and deeper with every passing day. It was inevitable that they would spend the rest of their lives together. One day in the stairwell of the church Youth building Robert looked at Becky and said, “I’m gonna marry you Becky.” She simply answered, “Duh!” There was never a question that they were destined for each other. On the night of Robert’s high school graduation in Dunedin, FL he brought Becky to Valley’s Steak House and asked her to be his wife. Immediately she said, “Yes!” and then promptly spilled her water all over the table. Hollywood couldn’t write a better story that was unfolding before their eyes. On February 21, 1981 Robert and Becky stood before their friends and family and promised their lives to each other. A promise that was never broken.
The next chapter of their life took place in a tiny trailer on the Westside of Jacksonville. Married life was simple and life was good at the end of Snellgrove Road. Robert tried several different vocations but was never able to find the right fit. He didn’t care where he worked as long as it was Becky he could come home to. She was his life and his love. The love they shared multiplied with five beautiful children: Melissa, Caleb, Grace, Calvin, and Josh. Robert adored being a Father and loved his children well. He set aside Fridays as ‘family day’ and loved to take the family on picnics in the park or down by the beach, feasting Little Debbie’s, Caprice Suns, and Sunkist as they laughed and played. They were simple days. They were special days. Vacations were spent at Stone Mountain and Crooked River with Dr. and Mrs. Lapp. Robert loved the chance to ‘unplug’ from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life and focus on his family. One of the favorite memories that the children cherished was ‘pajama raids’. Robert and Becky would tuck the children into bed and just as they began to fall asleep Robert would rush into their rooms, flip on the lights, and yell, ‘Pajama raids’. The pajama clad children would squeal with delight as they piled into the minivan and headed for ice cream. Life was simple. Life was good.
Holidays were special times for Robert because it provided him an opportunity to express his profound love for his children and to those he held dear. At Christmas he refused to let Becky do the Christmas shopping without him because he always wanted to be apart of finding the perfect gift for each child. On Christmas Eve, the Konemann’s would bake mountains of baked goodies for church members and deliver them to each home. On Christmas mornings before the gifts were unwrapped, he would read the children the Christmas story and give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ. Robert was deliberate in everything he did. Deliberate to show his love. Deliberate to point his children toward Christ. As the children grew so did Robert’s love for them. Robert loved to watch his children pursue their dreams and found joy in watching them achieve their goals. Whether it was Melissa’s artwork, Caleb’s football, Grace’s dance, Calvin’s cheering, or Josh’s basketball, Robert selflessly would do whatever it took to enable them to pursue their dreams. Robert literally wore holes in his shoes so his kids could have piano lessons, ballet slippers, and football cleats. Robert was selfless and his children held a special place in his heart.
Robert loved Becky. Robert loved his children. Yet above all else Robert loved Christ. Robert’s ministry began as the singles pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church and led him to plant Christ Fellowship. His ministry was marked by a love for the Word of God and a passion for His glory. Robert used his mind for the glory of God and His body for the service of the church. Robert was more than a preacher. He was a friend, brother, teacher, prophet, safety net, and protector. He was there when you needed him. Whether it was physical sickness, the death of a spouse, the loss of a parent, the birth of children, trips to college, marriage counseling, or hospital visits Robert was quick to serve. He became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He was a mechanic, builder, mover, teacher, and most of all friend. He taught us the meaning of love simply by his presence in our lives. Robert was there in the significant moments of Denise & my life: rejoicing with us and weeping with us. He performed our marriage counseling, officiated at our wedding, and rejoiced when our children were born. I still remember turning around to see Robert’s face on the other side of the nursery glass the morning Anna was born. He always found time for a pastor visit. I remember all the bbq napkins he scribbled theological phrases and greek words, the stacks of books he pushed aside whenever I stopped by his office to talk, and the rickety ole’ ‘Hooptie’ truck he drove around town with Caleb at shotgun. Robert truly had the heart of a pastor.
If I could sum up Robert’s ministry in one word it would be ‘passion’. It was never God, Family, Church. It was all God…in everything. Robert had an insatiable appetite for the things of the Lord. He loved his Word, he loved his church, and he loved his people. This passion was manifest as his countenance would light up when he spoke of the treasure of the kingdom of God, the fury with which he preached, and the theological firehouse he unleashes when he begins to teach. His prayers resonated as a man who knew God as a friend. Those prayers were a cup of cold water in a dry and thirsty land. Christ Fellowship was led by a man of incredible intellect and an intensely tender heart sold out for Christ.
When the Hand of Providence brought to a close the ministry at Christ Fellowship it was devastating to Robert and Becky and to all who shared its fellowship. It was as if a member of the family had died. Yet the Lord sweetly sustained their hearts with His Word and prepared Robert for the next chapter in this storybook written by the hand of God. The Konemann’s moved to Taylorsville and settled down in their little log cabin on the hill. It was here they said goodbye to his parents and in-laws and they watched the children grow and begin lives of their own. Robert was blessed with a new name: ‘Grandfather’. He loved his little grandsons: Titus, Levi, and Jentezen, who were the apple of his eyes. Robert began working at Southern and once again found purpose and significance in building and creating. However, despite his title of ‘project manager’ he never replaced his former one, ‘pastor’. Robert loved people and loved the gospel. You could never separate him from his pastoral calling. He shared Christ with whoever would listen, no matter how large or small a role they played on campus. With professors he wrestled with weighty theological matters and with employees he tenderly shared the love of Christ where they were. Robert’s faithfulness was seen in how he treated everyone with compassion, love, and respect. Security guards, window contractors, and custodians loved to work with Robert because he treated them as the image bearers of God they were. Robert possessed a genuine love for the gospel that motivated him towards loving his neighbor. Robert was intentional, genuine, and loving in every everything he did. The man he was at home was the man he was in public.
The Hand of Providence once again moved in Robert’s life and led him to Fisherville Baptist Church. Fisherville needed Robert and Robert needed Fisherville. It was at Fisherville where Robert found a place to teach alongside a like-minded partner in ministry, Brian Payne. Robert & Brian shared a pastor’s heart, a love for God’s word, and a shalom that brought balance and perspective to one another’s ministries. They shared a special bond that will last for eternity because it is founded on the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet while Robert was serving at Fisherville the Hand of Providence took a most unexpected turn. A brain tumor. A diagnosis with an almost certain doom. Lesser men would have turned inward, would have cursed God and died. Not Robert. Through the tears of sorrow and grief Robert praised His good and sovereign God. “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” These were not empty platitudes but the bedrock he built his life on. As in all things of his life, He refused to waste his life nor his death. Robert chose to redeeming his brain tumor for God’s glory. On the eve of his surgery Robert was asked by his brain surgeon, “What is important to you?” Robert answered, ‘My love of the Word of God and my love of the church. I have spent the better part of my life studying the scriptures and trying to articulate the truths therein. That is very important to me!” The word of God was a balm to his soul. He clung to it and he called him family and friends to cling to it with him. I remember one afternoon he sat in my house, his strong hands weakened by the stroke that would have rendered lesser men helpless. A newsboy hat covered the bald head where he once proudly wore a thick plume of white hair. He called me to his side, looked deep into my soul, and with tears in his eyes he said, “I want you to tell your people that the Word of God sustains you. Tell them that Psalm 119:50 is true! [‘This is my comfort in my affliction, That your word has revived me.’] I want you to tell them because I know it’s true.” There was no hesitation. No doubt. No bitterness. His words were infused with the confidence that only first hand experience can provide. He assured me that our suffering is not meaningless but in the midst of suffering there is something cosmic going on. Something eternal. Something glorious. “Suffering teaches us to lean into the Lion of Judah. To trust our Heavenly Father when he says, ‘I will not fail you’. One thing that I want you to know Chris, is that is that I believed and trusted Christ. He has never failed me.”
We all watched Robert and witness the promise of scripture to be true. God is faithful though He moves in mysterious ways. Robert was confident that this brain tumor was apart of God’s sovereign plan and will be used for His glory. The words of William Cowper’s hymn faithfully reminded him of God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea; And rides upon the storm. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” The smile of God’s grace never failed him. Robert saddled up the horses in God’s word and rode with courage into a frowning Providence, always trusting the God who holds the universe in His hand. He boldly declared "Our God is not a novice. He knows what he is doing!" Over the last eighteen months Robert’s body slowly began to fail. But His God never did. Morning by morning new mercies Robert saw. Encouraging verses via texts and facebook posts. Daily visits from friends, coworkers, and church members. The laughter of silly jokes. Sugar free strawberry trifle. The Great Hymns of the Faith that soothed his weary soul. But most of all, the faithful love of Becky who never left his side. These were mercies of God poured out lavishly upon Robert as his body was ravished by cancer. Robert would ultimately succumb to cancer but because of the his love for the gospel, death was no longer a cruel taskmaster but rather a humble servant that ushered Robert into the presence of his Master and Lord Jesus Christ. August 1, 2016 was not the end of Robert Konemann. It was the beginning of eternity. The great evangelist D.L. Moody once told his congregation, “Some day you will read in the papers, 'D. L. Moody is dead.' Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.” This couldn’t be more true of Robert. Because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, Robert is alive. Because Jesus Christ took the punishment for his sin on the cross: Robert is alive. Because Robert trust only in the work of Christ by faith: Robert is alive. Because Christ has clothed him with a righteousness that is not his own: Robert is alive.
The hand of providence has brought us here today. To celebrate Robert’s blessings and victories, to recognize the disappointment, but most of all to celebrate the triumph of grace that was accomplished in all his life. Robert had a deep and profound ministry in Jacksonville and Louisville. However, I do not believe that it can compare with the profound impact of his death for the gospel. In his death he showed the world the value of Christ. Jesus is more valuable than eyesight. Jesus is more valuable than the ability to walk. Jesus is more valuable than life itself. The legacy of Robert is that he infused a love for the gospel into countless men and woman. Every Sunday pulpits in Jacksonville and Columbia, Green Cove Springs and Orange Park, Louisville and Fisherville, Jacksonville Beach and Nocatee, Singapore and Germany resonate with the passion he imparted into the men who proclaim the Word of God. May God alone be glorified in Robert’s life and death.
Soli Deo Gloria