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A Tribute to Tim Keller
One of my heroes is dead and yet I'm filled with hope
I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Pastor Tim Keller's passing today. He was a faithful servant of God, a brilliant thinker, a gifted communicator, and a humble leader. He influenced millions of people around the world with his books, sermons, and social media posts. He was also a personal mentor to me even though he never knew it; I met him only once. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his guidance, encouragement, and wisdom through his preaching and teaching.
Pastor Keller had a way of making the gospel clear, relevant, and compelling. He showed me how to preach Christ from all of Scripture, how to engage with culture without compromising truth, how to love God with all my mind, heart, and soul, and how to love my neighbor as myself. He taught me that faith is not primarily a function of how I feel, but living out and believing what truth is despite what I feel.
He also modeled grace and courage in the face of suffering. He did not shy away from the reality of his cancer diagnosis, but he trusted in God's sovereignty and goodness. He did not lose hope or joy, but he rejoiced in the Lord always. He did not complain or despair, but he gave thanks in all circumstances. He did not fear death, but he looked forward to the resurrection. He knew that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. He knew that Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken.
As I reflect on his life and legacy, I am reminded of some of his most quoted sayings that have shaped my own ministry and walk with God. Here are ten of them:
- "To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us."
- "The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope."
- "Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it."
- "God directs his people not simply to worship but to sing his praises “before the nations.” We are called not simply to communicate the gospel to nonbelievers; we must also intentionally celebrate the gospel before them."
- "Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God."
- "Like a surgeon, friends cut you in order to heal you."
- "We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order."
- "The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access."
- "The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less."
- "The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time."
These are just some of the gems that Pastor Keller left behind for us to treasure and apply. I am so grateful for his life and ministry, and I pray that God will raise up more leaders like him who will faithfully proclaim the gospel in word and deed. When I first heard him preach I said, “He’s just being him; it’s not an act. Maybe I can be a pastor after all.”
Tim gave me hope that, despite my protracted prodigal season and disdain for the performance of preaching, I could answer the call to the pastorate and be plain-spoken and exegete, not only scripture but, culture as well. Dare I say, I still have hope to leave at least a sliver of the same legacy with the years I have left.
Well done, Pastor Keller. You fought the good fight, you finished the race, you kept the faith. Now there is laid up for you the crown of righteousness that the Lord will award you on that day (2 Timothy 4:7-8). And I look forward to meeting you for the second (and eternal) time when Jesus returns to make all things new.