Remembering Robert H. Schuller

When I knew Robert H. Schuller from afar I judged him negatively. I was writing a thesis paper on integrating Christian spirituality and psychology and I criticized the “Self-Esteem Theology” of the famous television preacher and author.

A few months before I finished that paper and graduated from college I was shocked to learn on my first date with Kristi that she knew Dr. Schuller personally and her grandfather and father worked for him in his church! I gave her an inquisition in the middle of dinner! Despite the fact that she was the mostly lovely, godly woman I’d ever dated, I actually considered not going out with her again because of her family’s association with an “unbiblical” pastor.

Instead of thinking the best about a fellow Christian I judged him.

Less than two years later, Robert H. Schuller married Kristi and I (assisting Kristi’s uncle). I came to know him on a personal level and went on to work with him at the Crystal Cathedral megachurch for twenty years, including as College Pastor, Executive Director of the New Hope Counseling Ministry, and Spiritual Formation Pastor.

Over the years I watched Dr. Schuller bless countless people who sought his attention from around the world. I saw him being kind to poor, elderly widows. I saw him take time to bless strangers. I especially appreciated that even though he was a world famous leader he took time to listen to me. He prayed for me and encouraged me many times. He believed in my ideas for his church and empowered my ministry.

I Thank God for the Ministry of Robert H. Schuller

Today millions of people around the world mourn the recent passing of Robert Harold Schuller on April 2nd of 2015. But many people judge him as I once did. Sadly, that became even easier to do at the end of his life when the world watched his ministry meltdown.

Although I continued to disagree with some of his teachings and approaches to ministry, I thank God for his servant Robert Schuller and testify that he ministered Christ to me and wonderfully shaped my life and ministry for the better.

Smile! Jesus Loves You!

Dr. Schuller helped me to see the friendly smile on the Lord Jesus Christ’s face. I saw it in his sermons, the Bible statues on the church grounds that he commissioned, and his smile that he loved to flash. “God loves you and so do I,” he liked to say. For forty-five years he showed millions of “Hour of Power” television viewers around the world that he meant it.

The radiant smile of God is not a mere sentimental thing — it’s a profound Biblical truth. Jesus was known to be “full of joy” (Luke 10:21) and he prayed that “the full measure” of his joy to be in us (John 15:11, 17:13).

I’m thankful that the smiling televangelist was an enthusiastic proponent of singing the great Christian hymns in church. I especially love that he began every church service by having us sing “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” a hymn from 1901 by Henry van Dyke. To this day it is my favorite hymn:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

Today Robert H. Schuller is joining the angels and saints in heaven singing this happy hymn of praise to God. I wish he could sing it with us on earth again in the Crystal Cathedral.

Never Put Shame on People!

One day in a church staff meeting Robert Schuller led us in a devotional on “Don’t Offend the Dignity of God in Other People.” He taught that every person was created in God’s image and so to bring shame on them was degrading God’s creation and was harmful and unloving. He talked about how he overcame his own struggles with low self-esteem and pleaded with us never to put shame on people, but always to see the good in them and to encourage them.

I believe that this is a true ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Even for someone who has not trusted in Christ or the believer who sins, shame is not helpful (no matter how deserving it may seem) because it moves us into isolation and depression and leads to more destructive behavior. The Apostle Paul calls the true conviction of the Holy Spirit “godly sorrow” because, unlike “worldly sorrow” it draws us to come under the wing of Christ to find divine mercy (2 Cor. 7:10).

Whatever bad, destructive things you’ve desired or done, I pray that you would see the hand of mercy reaching down to you from heaven and take hold of it. God shows us the undeserved love of Christ in living words and actions on every page of the Gospels, and especially on the cross at Calvary Hill where Jesus died to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God our Father.

Finding Meaning and Joy in Suffering

Drawing on the teaching of the famous Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Dr. Schuller sought to bring inspiration and meaning to people who were suffering. How do we transcend injustice, hardship, and pain to live in the joy of the Lord? How can we let God turn our hurt into a halo? Robert Schuller’s messages and ministry constantly dealt with this theme.

I grew up in a tradition where Christianity was a heavy, somber matter. Of course, we need to confess our sins and look soberly at our lives and whether we’re on the path of holiness, but we also need to be encouraged along the way. It’s only when we’re wooed by the goodness and kindness of God that we rely on him to change our lives (Rom 2:4).

Robert Schuller’s “Possibility Thinking” messages inspired me to dream God’s dreams for me, put my confidence in Christ, and work hard to be a positive influence on other people. Instead of putting guilt or pressure on us, he stirred our hopes that the divine possibilities made for the best life! Jesus himself liked to say, “All things are possible to those who believe in God” (Matt 19:26, Mark 9:23). He also said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We can rejoice in bad circumstances if we’re living in the presence of Christ who rose from the dead and is present today to love us and work good things into our lives.

Ministering to Pastors

Kristi’s grandfather Wilbert Eichenberger (“Ike”) was Dr. Schuller’s best friend for many years. Twice they traveled the world together ministering to people. Together they started The Institute for Successful Church Leadership which in it’s 45-year history trained over 150,000 pastors! Many of these pastors arrived at the Crystal Cathedral discouraged and burned out and were so powerfully encouraged that they went back to their churches with new enthusiasm to serve God and then saw their churches grow incredibly.

I watched “Papa” Ike and “Nanny” join Robert and Arvella in caring for these pastors and I heard the pastors’ God-glorifying testimonies. In the later years I was honored to teach some classes in The Institute for Successful Church Leadership. I taught the pastors about the centrality of discipleship to Jesus, the psychology of the soul, and how to help people bring their whole lives into the Kingdom of God.

This ministry of Dr. Schuller’s impressed me more than any other. When Jesus gave us his new commandment that we love one another as he loves us (John 13:34-35) he was talking to pastors. For us who are Christian leaders to love and care for one another is essential because it’s a main way that we strengthen our souls in God and it’s our best witness to the world.

Today Kristi and I have devoted our lives to serving God by caring for pastors and leaders in the ministry of Soul Shepherding. Our first inspiration for this ministry was Dr. Schuller and Papa Ike.

Rebuilding the Ministry Robert H. Schuller Started

One of Dr. Schuller’s sayings was, “Don’t look at what you’ve lost — look at what you have left.” He first learned this as a child when his family’s farm in Iowa was totally destroyed by a tornado and his father said, “Let’s rebuild!” So they gathered up all the pieces of wood and stone that could be re-used, even the nails, and built a new farm house!

In Dr. Schuller’s final years Crystal Cathedral Ministries crumbled in bankruptcy. When everyone thought the ministry was dead, his grandson Bobby, Robert Schuller the 3rd, was asked by the Board of Directors to come back to the ministry where he’d previously served as pastor of “The Gathering,” an on campus church plant of the Crystal Cathedral. He served as the volunteer Pastor of the Hour of Power for two years.

Today Bobby Schuller leads Shepherd’s Grove (the former Crystal Cathedral Congregation) and God has helped him and his team to renew the church and its Hour of Power television service. Bobby preaches a strong Biblical message that inspires people to become happy students of Jesus who are learning how to love God and their neighbor.

What a blessing Dr. Schuller left us in his grandson! Bobby has been a friend of mine since he first came to serve at the Crystal Cathedral and I’ve so enjoyed watching God at work in his life and leadership.

Dr. Schuller’s Benediction

There are many other examples of my appreciation for Robert H. Schuller that I could share with you. I’d like to close my tribute the way he ended all of his church services. He composed a famous benediction that is so beautiful and inspiring. I still delight in this blessing!

To really appreciate Dr. Schuller’s benediction you need to imagine yourself standing in the all glass Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA with warm sunlight streaming in from the heavens, fountains springing up with exuberant splashing, two 90-foot glass doors open to people listening to the service from their cars, a breeze blowing into the sanctuary, and birds singing cheerful praises to God.

And don’t forget to see Dr. Schuller smiling with the love of Jesus Christ for you!

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. And may God give you His peace in your going out and in your coming in, in your lying down and in your rising up, in your labor and in your leisure, in your laughter and in your tears… Until you come to stand before Jesus in that day in which there is no sunset and no dawning. Amen.

Robert H. Schuller is standing joyfully before Jesus in that day in which there is no sunset and no dawning.

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