Memories are snapshots frozen in time that capture nostalgia and regret, victories and defeats, joy and sorrow. Simultaneously, they wield the power to inspire the future or the insidious ability to sabotage the present. They are a steady rock in the midst of a storm or hidden quicksand that overcomes an unsuspecting traveler. Memories flood the soul as a river overwhelms its banks, saturating our existence with emotions and nostalgia that once lay dormant in the recesses of our mind. Songs and photographs, smells and words are delicately stitched together to form the mosaic of your life. Memories are precious. Memories are powerful. In the mosaic of my memories there are select individuals that hold a place of prominence and honor. My wife, children, parents, and grandparents. Beloved souls that have left an indelible mark upon who I am today. Each is held dear to my heart and treasured beyond imagine. These people are sweet reminders of God’s grace which he lavished upon an orphan nearly forty years ago. Within the mosaic of my life and memory, there is one man who casts a significant shadow; Robert Konemann. I will forever cherish that shadow.
The initial memory I have of Robert was while Denise and I were dating at the Moody Bible Institute. She spoke of him with the love and respect one has for a noble father. It was Robert she called in times of confusion and his wise voice helped calm her waves of doubt. It was Robert she called when her school bill was due and there was no money in her savings account to pay for it. It was Robert she called when she cried, when she needed a biblical perspective, or needed guidance on what to make of a particular boy from Connecticut who was pursuing her (a.k.a Home Skillet). He genuinely cared for Denise and the singles of Hillcrest as his own. He comforted them with strong support, passionate teaching, and loving presence. Robert gave of himself that his flock would know Jesus.
The first snapshot in my memory of Robert was on a sun-drenched spring day sixteen years ago when I was honored to meet him for the first time. I remember shaking his strong hand and hearing him introduce himself simply as, “Robert Konemann”. He was an imposing man with broad shoulders, neatly trimmed beard, and dark brown hair slowly revealing an honorable crown of white. He was incredibly strong yet remarkably unassuming. He was never a person to seek the limelight nor draw attention to himself. In large crowds he would often be found off-to-the-side encouraging a person or imparting practical biblical wisdom. He was quick to listen and ever quicker to point a person to the hope found in scripture. We spent the afternoon talking and laughing; the genesis of what would become a Paul & Timothy relationship. Little did I know, that on that brisk Chicago afternoon, the trajectory of my life and ministry would be forever altered.
The next snapshot of Robert was our time at Christ Fellowship. After graduation, and the realization that the cost of seminary was too great, Denise and I decided to move to Jacksonville. Robert agreed to begin the process of mentoring me while we attended Christ Fellowship. 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. Robert’s ministry was marked by service. He became all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. He was a mechanic, builder, mover, treacher, 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. All snapshots frozen in time. Each one a trigger that unleashes a flood of comforting and instructive memories into my consciousness.
Our time at Christ Fellowship was not only a time of found memories but a formative time for my pastoral ministry. If I could sum up Robert’s ministry in one word it would be ‘passion’. Robert has an insatiable appetite for the things of the Lord. He loves his Word, he loves his church, and he loves 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 preaches, and the theological firehose he unleashes when he begins to teach. His prayers resonated as a man who knew God as a friend. They 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.
Yet it was not on the mountain-top where I learned the most significant lessons from Robert. It was in the valleys. No picture of Robert’s ministry would be complete without the scars. His ministry was evidence of God’s grace because of the suffering. When people were petty, ruthless, and self-serving he refused to revile but rather turned the other cheek. Robert chose to trust his soul to a Sovereign God who leads his people in triumphant procession. One of the final sermons Robert preached at Christ Fellowship was from Habbakuk 3:17-19, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.” Robert knew the bitterness of a fruitless tree and empty vine yet he found joy in the God of his salvation. He passionately clung to the rock of his salvation. Christ Fellowship will forever be a haven of sweet rest and a lighthouse for my soul because Robert pointed me toward Jesus, the rock of my salvation. As Robert often says, “Those [days at Christ Fellowship] were good and glorious days basking in the glory of God.”
The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, led Robert to Louisville, KY to study at Southern Seminary. Though our homes were hundreds of miles apart our hearts were knitted together. Speaking with Robert was like picking up where yesterday’s conversation left off. We watched his children marry, welcomed the arrival of his grandchildren, and said goodbye to his parents & inlaws. I was always jealous of the young men of Southern who were graced with his wisdom and soaked up his pastoral insight. Robert did not have the credentials of academic institutions or education from the Ivy leagues, yet his pastoral wisdom, theological insight, and compassionate heart dwarf most who do. I will never understood why he never again ‘received a call’ to pastoral ministry after Christ Fellowship. However, the past six months has revealed an army of men and women impacted by his passion and whose hearts have been ignited for God’s glory. Furthermore, I have seen Robert’s fingerprints in how I handle scripture, communicate God’s truths, and think through challenges of this life. The impact of his ministry has been invaluable on my ministry and the ministries of many other pastors from Jacksonville to Louisville. It is this impact that makes me struggle with his diagnosis yet at the same time find comfort. As in all things of his life, He is not wasting his suffering. He is redeeming his brain tumor for God’s glory. In our last visit he looked me in the eye and said, “Chris, this tumor may very well be the thing that takes me out. I promise you that it won’t go down without a fight.” This brain tumor is apart of God’s sovereign plan and will be used for His glory. Robert is saddling up his horse and riding into this apparent frowning Providence always trusting the God who holds the universe in His hand. The fight is not over.
The lasting snapshot that is frozen into my memory was on a rainy August afternoon as he sat in my home. 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 [the people of Ocean Park] 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.” It was in Robert that I witnessed firsthand this to be true. God is faithful though he moves in mysterious ways. That conversation between Robert and I will forever be etched into the fabric of my memory. I have played it over and over again. It is apart of me.
Robert Konemann is a man with the strength and presence of a lion, yet the compassion and tenderness of a lamb. I will forever be indebted to Robert’s life and ministry as I journey along this pilgrimage of life. His words, laughter, passion, and wounds will forever be guiding lights in my life and ministry. However, outweighing all of what Robert has done for me is the clearer picture of God he has given me. Not a shallow God of health, wealth, and prosperity. Not a cold and distant God who cares little for his creation. Rather, a strong and tender God who is intimately involved in the life of His people. A God who shepherds, provides, and comforts His people. A God who is working all things for good despite the fact that not all things are not good. A God who we can trust. A God who is not a novice. He knows what He is doing.
Thank you my friend for not wasting your tumor. You are my hero.
Soli Deo Gloria