When my wife and I moved out to the Midwest we were tired and a bit confused. Our last ministry had left us burnt-out. We were just looking for a place to rest and figure things out. We needed some healing. Little did we know that’s exactly why God led us to Morning Star.
I still remember the first words Bob Bixby ever said to me. “You have a Bible, you must have some Christian background.” Christian background? I had been an Assistant Pastor and Youth Pastor with a Bible college degree. I’d been in church since I could remember. Christian background? From the very beginning God would use Morning Star and Bob Bixby to tear down this arrogant preacher and begin to work in some badly needed humility.
From the very first sermon I heard Bob preach, I was hooked. Here was someone who had done his homework and displayed an in-depth knowledge of the Word. I knew right there and then this would be our new church home.
To be honest, at first I found Bob to be quite intimidating. He was somewhat well-known in the theological circles I once traveled in and his ability to dig deep in the Word was something that caught me off guard. I thought I was quite advanced in my theological knowledge. After all, among a group of isolated fundamentalists, a guy who read MacArthur, Sproul and Piper was hard to come by. I thought this gave me a little leg up on those around me. Little did I know just how ignorant I was. In fact, that’s one of the first lessons I learned from Bob. Know what you don’t know. Realize in which areas you are ignorant and strive to learn more. Soon I began to pick up on some of these things. Listening to Bob week in and week out I was exposed to a level of preaching and theology that few churches have the privilege of knowing. I was humbling and thrilling all at the same time.
What struck me most about Bob was his transparency. I knew pastors were sinners too, but not really. No pastor I knew was so open and honest about their sin, even though they all were guilty as well! Bob would talk about specific sins, from the pulpit! He once even confessed of having trouble in his marriage. Pastors just don’t do that! But he did. That’s what grace does to you. Morning Star had become for my wife and I, a City of Refuge church. We could be the sinners we were and therefore get the help that we needed. The burden of putting on a show for others each week had now been lifted. We didn’t have it altogether, and at Morning Star, we didn’t have to. We felt loved and accepted – and always challenged!
After a while, Bob I had worked up the courage to ask Bob to mentor me. He didn’t say yes, right away. He let me suffer a little bit as he told me about how Tom Brady hired someone just to yell at him and get on his case. I was trying to scare me, and it worked. But, finally he said he thought investing time in me was worth the effort. He kept his promise, by the way. He got on my case quite a bit and never missed an opportunity to get in my face about something. Yet, he also was my biggest cheerleader as well. I always knew I had his support.
Meeting with Bob was a thrill for me. Each week we would meet, usually at Starbucks, and I’d soak up his words of wisdom. He had me reading books and articles I never would have chosen for myself. He pushed me to think deeper and read broadly. He actually took the time to teach me how to read a book to get the most from it, the number one thing that helped me get through seminary. He changed the way I viewed the gospel. He stepped into what was once a struggling marriage and spoke words of truth pointing us to each other and to the cross.
There was one such meeting that stands out above all the others. His wife had been struggling with a health issue which led to Bob handling most of the household tasks. He was tired and exhausted but still kept our regular meeting. When I arrived at his house, I could tell he had no energy. He had me read the book of Titus to him. As I read, he occasionally made a few exegetical comments but I could tell this was more for his benefit than mine. In his time of distress, he desired the Word. It was Scripture that he needed the most. This spoke volumes to me.
Bob invested his life into mine in a way no one else has ever done. By the time he left Morning Star he was no longer just my pastor. He was no longer just my mentor. Bob Bixby had become one my most trusted and precious friends. The man that once intimidated me now brought joy to my soul. During the most difficult moments in my life, he was right there standing with me. Even now, having moved half-way across the country, his texts, e-mails and sykpe calls have brought much-needed encouragement. He gets me and constantly reminds me of the gospel promises I so need to hear. I don’t know what I would have done had God not brought Bob into my life.
Bob, I’m not even sure how to say thanks for all the ways God has used you to help me. But, here’s a shot. Thank you for tolerating my shallow-thinking, but not allowing me to continue to wallow in it. Thank you for getting in my face but always having my back. Thank you for displaying to me the power of the gospel and the role of a shepherd.