Christian Pastors & Teachers
The men who have shaped me
No life is ever lived in total isolation. Who we become as people has a great deal to do with the people we live in relationship with.
Because of this truth, I want to give credit to the evangelists, pastors and teachers that God has used to bless me and to teach me about real life in Jesus. In addition to Marvin Robbins, God has used a number of other mature Christian men that I’ve known to strengthen and establish my faith in Him. I’m truly indebted to each of these men and I’d like to honor them by listing them and the more significant things they helped me learn.
Actually, the list that follows is a small subset of all the evangelists, pastors and teachers I’ve sat under as a Christian. But for each of these listed, there’s at least one thing they taught that God deeply implanted in my mind and heart. So much so that when I think of these men, the “thing” they shared is the central memory I have of them.
Role: Evangelist, Southern Baptist “Spireno” Evangelism Campaign
Location: Houston, Texas
Timeframe: February 1, 1971
Richard was the evangelist who was used by God—in sharing His Word and gracious plan of salvation—to open my eyes to the gospel story so that I trusted Jesus as my Savior. (The page My Spiritual Testimony provides more specific detail about this story.)
While I never had a chance to know Richard personally, I hope to give him a very warm embrace of thanks when I’m able to meet him in heaven.
Seminary: Dallas Theological Seminary
Role: Associate Pastor, Spring Branch Community Church
Location: Houston, Texas
It was through Dean’s participation in an evening meeting at my old church that I found out about Spring Branch Community Church (SBCC)—which was a blessing in itself.
But, even more than that blessing, I was truly inspired by his obvious command of scripture in his responses to comments and questions directed to him which I witnessed in that meeting. I left not only wanting to visit SBCC, where he was Associate Pastor, but to also learn the Bible like him.
Another subsequent way he blessed me was through a particular sermon he preached at SBCC from 1 Timothy about God’s role for the church.
1 Timothy 3:15
15I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
The church—actually, the members, collectively functioning as the church—are to hold up and defend the truth of God’s Word for a world in desperate need of hearing it and seeing it lived out.
No matter how strongly the world rejects the concept of absolute truth, no matter how much fake “news” is spewed out from fringe left or right-wing news sources and online media sites, Jesus has this to say: There is absolute truth, and it’s found in Me!
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.“
God used that sermon to speak to my mind, my heart and my spirit, “Truth matters!”
(As a postscript, I feel compelled to add that later, Dean got entangled in debilitating sin that caused him to step down from his ministry. I was grieved for his sake because of knowing how much he had to offer to other Christians. After not seeing him for years, one day I had an opportunity to attend a church event where I saw Dean. I approached him and made a deliberate attempt to try to encourage him in his faith by sharing what a great, positive impact he had on my life. As small as that attempt of encouragement may have actually been, I was thankful for a chance to try “give back” to someone who God used to richly bless me.)
Seminary: Dallas Theological Seminary
Role: Senior Pastor, Spring Branch Community Church
Location: Houston, Texas
Joe was the Senior Pastor of SBCC and was one of the church leaders responsible for designing and implementing what was basically a mid-week Bible Institute at the church. The curriculum provided me with a very thorough understanding of all the major Biblical doctrines, as well as the interconnectedness of all those doctrines.
There was also one specific piece of advice that Joe personally imparted to me, which I’ve used ever since.
I’d chosen to not immediately go to college after graduating high school because I was lacking any specific direction about what I wanted to study. During the next year and a half, I worked a normal day job and then spent evenings and weekends focused on my spiritual growth by attending the mid-week Bible classes, various Bible studies, and multiple weekend church services.
But, as I wondered about my future, I remember one day while hanging out at church, specifically asking Joe, “Do you think I should go to college?”
He suggested that I could answer that for myself by looking out 5 to 10 years and thinking about the kind of life I wanted to have. He then encouraged me to plan “backwards” from that end point to see how that would connect with where I was at the time—which would help me see the progressive steps I would need to make in order to wind up at my goal.
The wisdom of setting a goal and then planning backwards was instantly obvious to me. The bottom-line result of that introspection was that I wanted to be married with children… which meant I needed a way to provide for them… which meant it would be wise to attend and graduate from college to be best prepared to realize that desire.
That one interaction with Joe instilled in me the belief that it’s not only appropriate—but wise—for Christians to establish goals that are consistent with what God wants for us in life. Once we have a vision of godly goals, it’s important to then consider any relevant instructions that are offered in God’s Word, and then to act in accordance with those instructions to progress in the direction of those goals.
I’ve continued to use this concept ever since that one day. Now, I look for opportunities to share this with others because of knowing how helpful this strategy is.
Baxter Gentry, Sr.
Role: Elder, Spring Branch Community Church
Location: Houston, Texas
I’ll never forget this one evening service at SBCC.
While Sunday morning services were expository teaching, Sunday night services generally included time for sharing and testimonies by the members. I still have a vivid image of Mr. Gentry and his family, sitting close to the front on the right side of the church. That evening, he got up to share and begin to tell a story of a Christian friend of his who—the prior week—had committed suicide.
He then shared the insight that God had provided him about the possible reason why that happened.
He believed that his friend—who was dealing with some difficult circumstances in his life—had ceased to be thankful. (Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 and Philippians chapter 4 are very clear about this.)
1 Thessalonians 5:18
18in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I really don’t want this lesson to sound “overly simplistic.” As though there aren’t many other reasons which can be offered as to why someone would succumb to taking their own life. I know there are probably hundreds of possible “justifications.”
Nevertheless, it’s just plain foolish to try to argue with the wisdom of God’s Word. And He clearly says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, In everything give thanks, because this is God’s will. Not just in some things. In everything!
And then in Philippians 4:6–7, there’s a promise from God offered to those who do give thanks in everything: “The peace of God—which surpasses all comprehension—will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Think about what a lack of thanks reveals. Whenever we stop being thankful for our circumstances, it’s because we’ve stopped believing in God’s sovereignty, in His goodness and in His immeasurable love for us. Which leads us into a downwards spiral away from life and towards death. It’s because we’re more focused on what we don’t have, than what we do have.
I have no idea how to pinpoint the origins of my own perspective and practice of being thankful. So, I’ll attribute it to the broad influence of my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, God’s sovereign design of my soul and His sovereign work in my life. Like in having me attend that one evening service at SBCC, so I could hear Mr. Gentry’s exhortation.
The bottom line from his sharing: Never stop being thankful.
I’m nowhere close to being perfect in the area of giving thanks. But, I’m very thankful for God creating in me a thankful heart.
Role: Teacher, Spring Branch Community Church
Location: Houston, Texas
The first, serious Bible study I attended—on the gospel of John—was in the home of Bill and Eunice Ball, where Bill often taught adult Sunday School classes and his wife, Eunice, was church secretary.
From the very first night at their Bible study, I was able to experience the firm, but incredibly gracious way of Bill.
We obviously started in John chapter 1, and as soon as Bill got to the end of verse 1, I raised my voice in objection. “Oh no, you’re wrong. Jesus is not God!”
The reason I had such a strong reaction was that only one week before, I’d been at home during the daytime and heard a knock on our front door. (At that time, I was just 18 and around 6-months old as a Christian.) When I opened the door, there were two guys who asked if they could come in and speak to me about spiritual things. “Sure” I said, as I was excited to learn more about my new faith. I naively assumed that these two guys would share Biblically accurate truths which would help me grow as a Christian.
I then found out that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that the main thing they seemed to want me to know was that Jesus was not God. He was “less than, and inferior to God.” (According to their doctrine). They proceeded to share Bible verses that—to my young spiritual mind—seemed to support their position.
When they left, I was convinced that Jesus wasn’t truly God. However, that didn’t in any way effect my belief in Him dying in my place so that I could have an eternal relationship with Him in heaven when I died.
So, after I made that statement at the Bible study in my attempt to “correct” him, Bill simply said in a calm voice something to the effect of, “That’s a very serious error in thinking about Jesus. However, you pray about that and continue to read your Bible, and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you into the truth.”
He wasn’t offended. He didn’t take it personally. He offered no argument. Expressed no anger. Showed no frantic looks. Just spoke calm words of encouragement for me to stay in the Word and trust that the Holy Spirit would work in my life to lead me into the truth. (Which itself is an additional truth about the ministry of the Holy Spirit that I would come to learn when we got to John chapter 16.)
13But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
I’m the first to confess that I’ve often failed to show the same grace to others who state error as truth as Bill showed to me. I seem to think it’s my job to defend God’s truth, which, in part, is true. However, Bill also defended God’s truth, but he did so in a gracious way, totally trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal important truth to me when it was the proper time. Since that one night, it’s been my aspiration to model Bill’s grace in my spiritual interactions with others.
Slowly, but surely, I did come to see that Jesus was—and is—God. Just as Bill predicted, because of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
There were other things that I also learned from that study of John. One was the critical importance of Jesus truly being fully God.
If He was not God, He would never have accepted the frequent expressions of worship of Him by His followers. If He was not God, He would have corrected the Jews, who said, “Because You, being a man, make yourself out to be God” when answering Jesus’ question, “For which work do you want to kill Me?”
30“I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”
If Jesus was not God, His life would not have held the intrinsic value needed to propitiate the wrath of God against sin by offering Himself as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. If Jesus was not God, He would not have been able to raise Himself from the dead.
But, Jesus did accept the worship of Him by others. He did clearly claim to be God. He did intrinsically possess the value to propitiate God’s wrath. And, He did raise Himself from the dead.
That Bible study—with Bill’s leadership—helped me experience the very real ministry of the Holy Spirit leading me into the truth of God’s Word. It also helped me understand the vital truth that Jesus has always been, and will continue to always be God. It also helped me understand and appreciate the interconnectedness of God’s truth. Any error in one truth will adversely effect the understanding of many other Biblical truths.
Role: President, Western Seminary
Location: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
My family and I lived in the small, mountain town of Pagosa Springs for about four years. While living there, we attended a local non-denominational Bible church.
As with many churches, we would often have guest speakers. One who spoke at our church maybe three or four times was Earl Radmacher. The one thing I remember most about his teaching was a simple statement he often made, “Life is all about relationship.”
When you think about it, it makes total sense. It’s completely consistent with how Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” His reply is found in Matthew.
37And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the great and foremost commandment. 39The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
These two “great commandments” only make sense within the context of relationship. Relationship is therefore the proving ground for learning to live out these commandments.
Through Earl Radmacher, God firmly established relationships as one my most valued “treasures” in this life, and as one of the core elements of my spiritual perspective. Now, this perspective about the importance of relationship is also something I’m very quick to share with others.
Role: Pastor, Global Church Bali
Location: Bali, Indonesia
About one year after moving to Bali in 2007, I started attending Global Church Bali, a new, non-denominational Bible church. One of the founding pastors was a young man named Lee Carlson, who happened to be from Houston, Texas, which was also where I grew up.
The church was a mixture of western expats and Indonesian people. And almost everyone there was under 30. Except for me.
Our regular services were always on Saturday nights, and regularly provided energetic worship and authentic teaching which I loved. As in the story about Dean Heatley, there was one particular sermon that Lee preached that not only stuck with me, but which has had a significant impact on my understanding of the core essence of the Christian faith. That sermon was about the ever-relevant nature of the Gospel message.
Up until that point, I would have said, “Sure, the Gospel is important.” But my perspective of it was more as a starting point for the faith. In my own experience, the Gospel was generally something I thought about in the past tense, remembering the night I was saved—February 1, 1971.
But that one night, Lee spoke about how we never “grow out” of the Gospel. That it should always be something we dearly treasure in our minds and hearts.
Since that evening, God has worked in me to continually reinforce that perspective of the Gospel. So much so that now, as I’m writing a book about how to study God’s Word, the summary that I offer for the main message of the Bible is only two words: The Gospel. Beginning in Genesis (the first book of the Bible), all the way through Revelation (the final book in the Bible), the various elements of the Gospel are presented and illustrated.
If the church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (as shared above from 1 Timothy 3:15), then the Bible is the “pillar and support of the Gospel.” 2 Corinthians chapters 3 and 4 both have something to say about this.
2 Corinthians 3:18
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 4:4–6
4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The “mirror” in 3:8 is the Word of God. As we continually gaze into that mirror, what we more clearly see is the “light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ” and the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
God used Lee’s message as a catalyst for the Holy Spirit to refine my understanding and appreciation of the Gospel. From the moment we’re saved, and then continuing throughout all eternity, the Gospel is always to be infinitely treasured.
As a result of that one sermon, the Holy Spirit also help me understand that the more consistently we gaze into—and meditate on—the “face of Christ” revealed in the Gospel, the more effectively the He’s able to transform each of us into the glorious image of God. This appreciation of the Gospel is now also a core element of my spiritual perspective, and one which I share with other believers as often as I’m able.
The Main Point
While the preceding descriptions might seem somewhat random and not all that important to you—the reader—please understand that from my perspective, the contributions these men made in the formation of my Christian perspective of life are great treasures to me.
One of the most important life lessons that God has taught me is that it’s God’s Word—alone—which the Holy Spirit uses to renew my mind and to transform me more and more into the image of Jesus. He’s patiently and consistently worked in my life to develop a love for His Word, using the people in these stories and the spiritual instruction they shared with me.
And, it’s as I’ve abided in His Word that I’ve been enabled to progressively enter an ever-deeper fellowship with Him, which reveals to me more majestic visions of His glory, and which allows me to experience greater joy in worshiping Him as my God.