|2007-06-30: Pastor Don Baron's Keynote Speech at Banquet of
BIH (Bible Institute of Hawaii), which he founded 35 years ago
For a long time I wondered why I was having such a hard time preparing for this talk
– until I realized that it’s the first time in my life that I’ve been a banquet speaker.
And banquet speaking is different from preaching a message in a church. For one
thing, you’re supposed to start off by saying a few funny things, and I’m terrible at
that. However, so as to fulfill all righteousness, I will read you two little things that I
hope you’ll politely laugh at. I’ve been carrying them in my wallet for quite a few
years. But one of the nice things about getting old is your jokes are so ancient that
no one has heard them before. (jokes)
I want to acknowledge the joy I’ve had getting to know Director Mike Engfer. Ada
had emailed me about him while we were still in New Zealand, and she spoke so
very highly of this bloke (that’s a good New Zealand word) that I was a bit afraid to
meet him. It took only a few moments to discover Mike’s outgoing personality and
warmth, and I found in him a truly great brother – a beautiful gift from God to BIH.
And I love him even if he is a Baptist. I didn’t learn to know any Baptists in depth
until I had one as a roommate at Gordon College in Boston. Dick Horner was from
London, Ontario, and belonged to a very conservative group called the GARB. I
thought that those letters stood for General Association of Regular Baptists, but
Dick cleared that up for me. He said it stood for Grand Army of Rebellious
Baptists. He taught me some Baptist history, too. For instance, he told me that
the first Baptist was Abraham. That surprised me, and I asked Dick how he knew
that Abraham was a Baptist. He said the proof was in a statement Abraham
made. He said to his nephew Lot, “Whichever way you go, I’ll go the other way.”
|Pastor Don Baron' Keynote Speech: 2007-06-30
Now that I’ve spoofed the Baptists, I’d better tell one on the Lutherans, just so that you know I’m not prejudiced. Joe died and went to heaven and was met at the gate by St.
Peter, who said, “Follow me and I’ll lead you to your mansion.” Peter let him down a long, long hallway, with many doors on either side. Then, as they approached one of
those doors, Peter told Joe to tiptoe by and not say a word. After they had left that door behind, Joe asked Peter why they had to tiptoe by that door. Peter replied, “Well, you
see, the Lutherans are in there, and they think they’re the only ones in heaven.”
I thought I would call my talk tonight, “Reminiscences of an Old Guy Who’s Over the Hill.” Now that’s not as morbid as it might sound at first. Because you have to go over
the hill before you can ever arrive at the best of all worlds. In Christ, the best is yet to be, right? I’ve had the gift of eternal life since I was a teenager. Yet that gift
becomes so much more real when you’re over the hill, and you re-read Paul’s words about how his “desire is to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”
Well, as you go over the hill, you also have an awesome opportunity from that height to look back over the landscape of your life and see the big picture in perspective. On
the one hand, you’re able to intensified thanks to God for the precious milestones in your life, special God-events that determined your future in time and eternity. From age
6, I had been involved by some neighbors in the Sunday school of the cult called Christian Science, though fortunately I learned nothing. I rebelled at age 12 and followed
some buddies on my block to the Lutheran Sunday school and found myself signed up for 2 years of confirmation class where I had to learn such gems as Luther’s
explanation of the Apostles’ Creed that went, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten by the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who
has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver but with His
holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death – that I might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness,
innocence, and blessedness, even as He Himself is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns to all eternity.” And that’s how I met Jesus my Savior.
But on the other hand, from the top of the hill, you also get to look back and see with much greater clarity your ugly old nature lurking in every corner of your life and you see
the mischief that old nature has done to yourself and others over the years, so that you fell far, far short of what you were intended to be. You recognize that even the best
things you’ve done are tainted by the ego. And so as you age, you are driven to the rich experience of re-discovering God’s Grace at a depth you never knew in your younger
years. And you sing the words of that hymn with far greater understanding than ever before: “Nothing – but NOTHING - in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”
And Bible verses jump out at you that were always there but which grab you and surprise you with new joy, such as Paul’s words in Colossians One that I’ve been dwelling
on for weeks now, that tell me that, in Christ, I am “without blemish and free from accusation.” Who? Me? Yes! (repeat) Wow. You want to fall on your knees and
worship. And you choke up when you sing of the day you go Home and stand before the Father: “dressed in Christ’s righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the
For just a few minutes, this over-the-hill guy would like to reminisce with you about BIH’s beginnings 35 years ago. (Is there anyone here tonight besides the 3 Barons who
were in touch with BIH 35 years ago?)
The story has two scenes, one on the east coast, one in Hawaii. For three years, the Baron family served a congregation near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a call they had
accepted, sight unseen before returning from the overseas mission field. Upon arrival, they had discovered that the town of Margate was about 80% senior citizens, and
that percentage was reflected in the church they served. It didn’t take long to learn that many people that age aren’t interested in anything new or exciting. It didn’t exactly fit
the passions of their pastor, who was only 38, and whose wife was only 29, when they arrived. After two years of knocking my head against a brick wall, I was so
discouraged that, not only was I thinking of moving elsewhere, I was seriously considering leaving the pastoral ministry. I decided to put out feelers to see where God might
use me. Without any preparation whatsoever, I took the U.S. State Department’s foreign service exam – and missed being among the allotment of people they needed by
two points. President Nixon had just opened up China, and I contacted a number of corporations that might want someone with Chinese language skills to represent them
in China. No response. I remember one day saying to Ia Mei, “You know there’s one place I would really love to serve; that would be teaching at one of the Lutheran Bible
Institutes around North America.” But, although I had studied at LBI in New Jersey before seminary, I now knew no one in that system, and no one knew me. And in those
days, you didn’t seek out a call; you waited for the call to seek you out. So, in bewilderment about the future, we waited.
Scene two is in Honolulu. The late sixties was the age of hippies and flower children and many were flocking to Waikiki. Pastor Norman Hammer was pastor of Prince of
Peace Lutheran Church on Lewers Street, also known as the Penthouse Church because the sanctuary was on the 12th story, and the church basement was on the 11th
floor – highest church basement in the world. Pastor Hammer was responsible for bringing out Bob Turnbull, a Hollywood type who had come to know Christ and who
also knew the street jargon. Bob, in turn, founded the Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy, a ministry that was responsible for many young guys and girls turning to Jesus as Savior.
The growing problem was that some of these young people were converted on Wednesday and were leading a Bible study on Thursday. Lots of zeal, no knowledge. They
desperately needed Bible training.
Pastor Hammer decided to turn to the Seattle Lutheran Bible Institute and say, “Come over and help us.” President Conrad Lund and his board became intensely
interested, and soon it was simply the question, “Whom shall we send?” I suspect it was Pastor Hammer who may have dropped my name. Ia Mei and I had been East
West Center grantees and we were an east-west family, and we seemed to fit.
Back in Florida, I went to the mailbox one day and I was shocked to find a letter from Seattle LBI. I came back into the house with this incredulous look on my face and Ia
Mei wondered what was going on. It was an inquiry as to our openness to a call to the LBI faculty, with assignment to Hawaii to begin an extension teaching program. To
make a long story short, it wasn’t long before we were on our way to Hawaii.
That first year was quite primitive. I was director and faculty wrapped up in one. Later Jean West, a lovely Canadian Christian, came aboard as administrative secretary.
Her equipment was one used electric typewriter and one “holy roller” – i.e., mimeograph machine. We had a hole-in-the-wall in the Prince of Peace Church’s 11th floor
basement. The first class was held there, too, with 40 people signed up for the course called “How to Study the Bible.”
And there you have BIH’s humble beginnings. 10 years later BIH’s crisis broke and we found ourselves cut off from Seattle, depending on God alone for support.
Amazingly, local support quickly replaced the subsidy we had been receiving from Seattle. And it was only then that things really took off. It was about that time that God
gifted Hawaii and us with a lovely lady by the name of Ada Lum with her exquisite Bible teaching gifts, and she has been the major sustaining factor in the life of this ministry
lo these 20+ years. Alongside her, we have had others whose teaching goal, like hers, was to be solid and sound guides into the deep gold mines of the inspired Word of
God. And God has blessed us richly with wise boards and hard-working staff as well. Great is His faithfulness.
And here we are, after 35 years of God’s blessings. Where do we go from here? What guidelines shall we follow for the next 35 years? Would it be too simplistic to say,
let’s do more of the same? Not because we’ve arrived at perfection; far from it. Not because there won’t be more breath-taking leaps of faith to take as He calls us on;
there will be. But because the original thrust of the LBI movement, of which we are heirs, was right on: that is, through systematic study of the inerrant Word of God, to
assist local churches in equipping the saints for their life and ministry. No need for sensationalism or razz-matazz, no pandering to the short attention-span and
shallowness that is so widespread today; just intense dedication to serving people who are serious about disciplined discipleship and mission. That’s BIH’s unique nitch
in this state; that’s BIH’s calling.
As we launch into BIH’s next 35 years, may I suggest a motto? It’s not original with me. It grew out of the passion of Dr. Alvin Barry, late president of the Lutheran Church –
Missouri Synod. It was this vision that directed him as he led this evangelical church body of 2 million people. Just 8 words: Get the Message straight; get the Message
1. Get the Message Straight
I feel very sad when I hear of Christians who have picked up the spirit of the age which poo-poos matters of truth, and who have incorporated it into their faith in a very pious
form. “Oh, I’m not interested in theology; I just believe the Bible.” Or, “Forget about doctrine; I have Jesus; that’s all that matters.” And so, instead of seeking truth, they
seek thrills, and don’t realize how conformed they are to the age in which they live. But as a matter of fact, the moment you open your mouth about your faith, you are talking
theology. The only choice you have is whether it’s good theology or bad theology that comes out of your mouth. During Sunday school one day in Florida, I walked by a
circle of children led by Pat the teacher. One of the boys was acting up, wouldn’t remain seated, and was disrupting the class. Poor Pat, in her frustration, blurted out to
the boy, “Johnny, come this minute and sit down, or God won’t love you any more.” She didn’t know it, but that was theology; bad theology.
Bad theology also happens when what is believed and taught no longer focuses on the two foundational biblical themes of sin and grace - as if Christians don’t need to
hear the old, old story just as much as the unconverted. William Gladstone, British prime minister, attended church on Sunday where a young vicar preached. After
worship, the young clergyman approached Gladstone and asked him if he had any comments on the sermon. Gladstone replied, “You had many interesting things to say,
and your delivery was good. But you left out the cross of Jesus, young man.” “But sir,” he replied, “the Bible text was not about the cross.” “Young man,” said Gladstone,
“don’t you know that in England, all roads lead to London? And in the Bible all texts lead to the cross.” Now that’s good theology.
It’s not to be taken for granted that people know that with any depth – though many think they do. As a result individuals and even entire churches are looking for something
new to focus on, and there are a hundred very attractive, spiritual-sounding detours and sidetracks and movements beckoning them. Even back in the First Century, John
had to warn people in his 2nd letter: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God.”
BIH’s mandate is: Get the Message straight! The simple Message that is at the very heart of Scripture is this: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not
counting their trespasses against them” (II Corinthians 5:19). Behind the simplicity is a profundity that I need to hear afresh every week, because the more I know myself,
the more incredible it seems and the more desperately I need it! That’s why Paul wrote, “I’ve decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified”!
And that’s why Luther wrote these words:
“The Gospel is the Christian’s highest wisdom, in the study of which he remains a humble student all the days of his life. But there is this peculiarity about the Gospel, that
nothing seems easier to learn. The result is that, as soon as a person has heard or read something of it, he imagines that he is master of the subject, and is quite ready
for something new.”
And so Paul urged Timothy to “correctly” handle the Word of truth (II Tim. 3:15). The Greek word Paul used is stronger than the word “correct.” It literally means “to cut
straight” It means to “handle accurately”…without deviation, undiluted, straight.
So: BIH – you’re here to help people get the Message straight.
2. Get the Message Out
The challenge for BIH is this: despite the fact that we carry on our work mainly in an academic setting, we must teach in such a way that, unfailingly, the Message merges
into Mission, and penetrates home, market place, and the world abroad.
Corrie Ten Boom made famous the saying, “impression without expression equals depression.” Bible study is impression; reach-out to the lost is Expression. Bible
study without reach-out does indeed result in spiritual depression, for people and for churches.
I can’t remember how many times I have taught Paul’s letter to the Romans. Most Bible commentaries present Romans as being the product of Paul’s desire to write a
thesis embodying his systematic theology. That’s the way I taught it for some years. Then I came across a little book called “The Goal of the Gospel,” a book about
Romans that changed everything for me. I had to throw out my old notes on Romans and begin afresh. The authors of that little book didn’t permit me to bypass as merely
incidental to the letter several statements at the beginning and end of Romans. They insisted that Romans is a “missions sandwich.” The beginning and the end of
Romans cry out with Paul’s passion for getting the Message out in Rome and beyond, and it was this passion that drove him to write the great, straight theology that is
sandwiched inbetween. Romans 1:5 &13-15; 15:20-24; 16:25-26. There you have the very purpose for which Paul wrote Romans. He wanted to draw the Roman
Christians in as partners in his mission to get the straight Gospel to the unreached people groups west of Rome. This is Paul’s book about getting the Message straight
and getting the message out! Paul was never an ivory tower theologian; he was a TASK theologian, yes, by all means straining to express with perfect clarity the message
of the Gospel, but done in the midst of the sweat and tears of his mission. You and I must be the same. BIH must be the same.
It’s not an easy world to get the Message out in. We are suffering currently from the curse of pluralism that absolutely dominates the way people think today. I’m not talking
about cultural pluralism, such as the wonderful cultural and ethnic mix we have in Hawaii. No, I’m talking about philosophical pluralism. But even though most people
haven’t even heard of philosophical pluralism, it has dribbled down, unnamed, thru the mass media where it has unconsciously slipped into people’s outlook and behavior
through sit-coms, dramas, soap operas and movies. The bottom line of this pluralism is that there really are no such things as truth or morals. There are only opinions.
There are no absolutes. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. In such a society, it’s no easy thing to persuade a person to consider Jesus and His Gospel.
A survey done some time ago discovered that 74% of Americans agree there is no such thing as absolute truth. But at the same time, 64% of Americans say they believe
there is only one God, the creator, who rules today. That leaves an overlap of about 40% of Americans who agree to both of those statements. It’s hard to imagine how
anyone can hold both of those views within one mind, but multitudes do. But the good news therein is that a high percentage of Americans have not been so brain-washed
by deathly pluralism that they have been able to leave behind the Christian memory of a Creator God who rules His universe. They may not be aware of themselves as
sinners who have broken God’s Law, but multitudes have first-hand experience of the fall-out from living apart from Him and His will: emptiness, despair, moral
confusions, loneliness in the midst of the crowd, the failure of affluence to fulfill, etc.
That’s where the local church and its partner BIH come in: the nurturing of biblically-shaped, biblically knowledgeable people who embody a reality that at least some
people are ready for.
It’s equipping people who can give a reason for the hope that is in them - not necessarily in terms of logically refuting the latest philosophy, but in terms of the peace and
healing from God in their own lives as a result of meeting the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
It’s building up carriers of the thrilling story that we have been loved and planned for from eternity by a God who personally paid the price to reconcile the broken lives to
Himself, and who crashed through the dark mystery of death and came back to tell about it.
It’s supporting counter-cultural Christians who dare to be hard where the world is soft, that is, on issues of right and wrong – and who dare to be soft where the world is
hard, that is befriending with compassion the marginalized, the sick, the prisoner, the hurting, the seeking - even in far away, inconvenient places.
So, Bible Institute of Hawaii, whatever you do in the next 35 years, please:
get the Message straight…get the Message out.