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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Rev. Dr. Rob Rayburn’s 20th anniversary (speech: Faith Presbyterian Church)

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
May 22, 1998

I know this is an evening to honor Rob and Florence Rayburn, but a bit of honesty is in order as well. Tonight you’re going to hear some very pleasant things about Rob, but I want to tell you the rest of the story. When Rob called me last fall and told me of his plans to put on this celebration for himself commemorating 2 decades in the pastorate at Faith, I could tell he was concerned. He told me he had talked with several senior members of the presbytery (men like John Hookstrate, John Pickett, Doug Lee, Steve Leonard – Rob’s brother-in-law), and none of them would help him celebrate. So here he was calling me, an old seminary buddy, asking (almost pleading) for me to say a few kind words about the old days, the before-Faith-days.

He said, “Bob you’ve known my family for almost 30 years. You could add something more about me that might be missing from the remarks of those I’m asking to speak on my behalf from the congregation.”

In his voice I could detect the Robby Rayburn that I first met in the early 70s at Covenant Theological Seminary when he was a first year seminarian and I was a graduating senior. We all knew that little Bob was at Covenant Seminary due largely to big Bob having founded the place and being its president. We also knew he “barely” made it out of Covenant College for pranks performed on the mountaintop. I remember an incident from those days. In the winter of 1973, the real Dr. Rayburn, the Big Kahuna, asked me if I would chaperone his kid and two other Covenant College graduates, all freshmen, on a recruiting trip for the seminary to Covenant College. This was just what I wanted to do: leave my wife, leave my studies, drive 500 miles wet nursing 3 freshmen on a 3-day trip to some fundamentalist college in the backwoods of Georgia. However, when the Big Man spoke, I jumped and so I went along. That recruiting trip was such a disaster with these 3 recent Covenant College grads, led by young Rayburn, that the seminary didn’t get any Covenant College graduates for years! The attitude must have been, if Rayburn goes west to Covenant then we’ll go east to Westminster!

So, as much as I wanted to help Rob, I knew I had a difficult task ahead of me if I were to say something pleasant about him concerning the old days, and the feelings of the family, because:

*I knew the real Dr. Robert Rayburn. You know, the Rob Rayburn who founded colleges, seminaries, who wrote books, who was an accomplished musician (he’s the one whose name is in our hymnal), the one who was a combat chaplain.

*I know Bentley Rayburn, who was in my church in Colorado Springs as a student and then in Phoenix as a pilot and who is a patriot and a military man like his father. Now Bentley, “General Rayburn” to Rob, knows Rob skipped the military to spend his time in the Scottish highlands, traipsing through the heather.

*I know that Rob’s mother, Laverne, one of the first ladies of the PCA, was embarrassed that Rob couldn’t get a major pulpit in the heart of PCA country 20 years ago, that the only church that would take him then was a small, struggling congregation out in the piney woods of Washington; That he has been stuck out here in PCA purgatory since then. She had such high hopes for her pastor-son.

*I know that his older sister Bronwyn who was out here first with a major congregation at Green Lake Presbyterian in Seattle was disgusted that young Rob had to follow her out here for security. I remember Bronwyn telling me that the only thing fruitful about Robbie’s ministry was Florence.

*I know the Roskamps–you know, Rob’s in-laws. They’re biggies in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I know for a fact that they believed Florence married beneath her station in life when she hooked up with a non Dutchman, after all, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.” And I know that Florence’s father hears perfectly, it’s only around Rayburn that he feigns deafness so that he won’t have to listen to all the same old jokes and stories.

*And, we all know why the Rayburn girls can’t wait to get out of that house. They all skip a grade and then go to France for a year (and they don’t even speak French when they go), all because they’re so anxious to get away from Rob and his mealtime sermons. You ought to read our letters from the girls asking for our help to get them to Europe.

Needless to say, knowing all this, when Rob called and asked for my help, I was perplexed. What do I say? How do I help an old friend celebrate when everyone outside Faith Presbyterian Church whom I know, will not go public with any statements?

But what can you say about Rayburn’s Faith Presbyterian ministry?

*Where else can you worship today where the elders pass out sackcloth and ashes before the sermon?

*Where else can you worship today where the hymn of the day is always “No longer Lord despise me, nor in thy wrath chastise me” (#511)?

*Where else can you worship today where the pastor challenges you in a sermon that if you deign to think that you are a good Christian (greater than John the Baptist, Matt. 11:11), he personally will set you straight?

*Where else can you worship today where the pastor will use 1 John 5 in a sermon for an excuse to tell you that he even has doubts about your salvation?

*Where else can you worship today where you are pastored by “Rev. Feel-Good” who pastors God’s sheep with a happy face on his brightly tie-die colored robe and a “don’t-won’t’-be-happy” attitude about the Christian life?

————–

You know, one of the insights you gain when you have been a pastor is how easy it is to be a hypocrite. You realize how easy it is to talk about Jesus and not walk about with Jesus.

I know men who now occupy evangelical pulpits whose personal, private life is different than their professional, public life.

I know men who now occupy evangelical pulpits who faint from telling the sheep what they must know for their spiritual security and godliness. They tickle the ears of the sheep so that their numbers will grow along with their reputations; their sheep are dying of spiritual and intellectual malnutrition because of ministerial milk.

But, I know a man who occupies an evangelical pulpit who is the most extraordinarily gifted Bible expositor I’ve ever heard, but who teaches me more Christianity in his home life than he does from his excellent church life. His personal life adorns his professional life. He is better in private than he is in public. This man has taught me more about being a Christian husband than I have learned from any other man, and most of it has been by watching him.

I know a man who occupies an evangelical pulpit who provides intellectual and spiritual cover for me, week in and week out; who through his weekly flights of Biblical oratory, transports me to the very throne of grace to behold my blessed Savior and King in startling and fresh ways in order that I might worship and love and serve my Lord more deeply and genuinely.

I, like you, know Rob Rayburn.

But I also know Florence Rayburn, and I must say a word about the extraordinary and godly help-meet our Lord has given Rob. Florence Rayburn is an astonishing woman. Ever feminine and ladylike, she raises 5 children, leads a music ministry, runs a bed and breakfast out of her home and can engage any theologian in sophisticated conversation.

Rob and Florence, may the King of Kings bless you and your family and your ministry at Faith Presbyterian Church, and may He call you here for 20 more years.

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