Friday, February 22, 2013

On Finishing Well {What I'm Holding}

Wednesday, as I prepared to leave Bible study, my sister sent me a text message. In contrast to her encouraging photo message the previous day, this one prompted me to step into a dark classroom adjacent to the one where class meets so the first tears could escape in private and I could collect myself to say good-bye and drive home.

Her words? "Our beloved Dr. Howard G. Hendricks went to be with the Lord early Wednesday morning," and the information on the memorial service.

Dr. Howard Hendricks. "Prof" to his students. Anyone affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary can tell you that of the many professors who have opened God's Word to students and won their hearts, there is only one Prof, Dr. Howard Hendricks, who served on the DTS faculty for 60 years. His flagship course was 301, Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics, shared in my day with Dr. Mark Bailey. This required course, intended for the first semester's coursework, laid a foundation of inductive study methodology not just for the rest of the degree plan but for the rest of life and ministry.

301 was my second course of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays that fall semester. Three other unmarried women from my church shared the same morning schedule I had on those days, and even though I was the newcomer to the group, they befriended me from the start. As a new student of the minority gender at the school, it was an unexpected blessing to find a mini-community with whom to sit in those classes, chapels, and lunches.

For at least the first month of our Bible Study Methods class, Prof extended the offer to have lunch with any group of students who wished it. All we had to do was schedule a date with his secretary. Surprisingly, students were slow to take him up on this offer, possibly intimidated by his reputation and energetic teaching style. At some point, the boldest of my little group decided we should do this. She got us on the schedule, and on the appointed day we all brought our lunches up to his office from the cafeteria or from home. Someone brought homemade cookies. I brought him sugar-free chocolates, since he had mentioned his diabetes in class.

My palms were sweating and I didn't know if I would be able to say anything coherent during the lunch, but it was a treat to spend time with this man of God and profoundly gifted (and hard-working) teacher in a more personal setting. His quiet, unassuming demeanor took me off guard. In class he resembled a stand-up comic or motivational speaker. That day he could have been any other septuagenarian if we hadn't known otherwise.

He had invited us to come with questions. I don't remember what the others asked, but I remember mine. "If we forget everything else you've ever taught us--I don't think we will, but saying we did--what one thing would you most want us to remember?"

He paused to consider for a moment before replying, "Finish well. So many of the people in the Bible had moments of great faith and obedience, but very few of them finished well." He's right about that. In fact, on just about any page of Kings and Chronicles, you can find an example of someone who didn't finish well. Even some of the very greatest kings fell away from full trust and wholehearted obedience right at the last.

This man did what he admonished us to do. He finished well.

After multiple battles with cancer which cost him part of his skull and one eye, his earthly tent wore out. This Wednesday morning, he traded it for his "building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Even knowing this, knowing that he was out of pain, knowing believers will be reunited one day with those who have preceded them in the sleep of death, tears continued to come for the better part of an hour after the news, until I had to pull myself together for physical therapy.

Why did I cry? I was just a student in one large lecture class whose personal interaction was limited to one lunch and a conversation at my sister's wedding, where he officiated.

This isn't much of an answer, but I felt in that moment a bit like Scout in the courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird when her father leaves the courtroom and she's told, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing." Awed. Small. Realizing the greatness of a person in a new way. Humbled to have received even one ten-thousandth of his teaching ministry.

I felt sad just knowing Prof would never again say, "For the next session, you will ask and answer the question. . ." or "For the gentlemen here, your first assignment is this: if you don't have a wife, get a wife," or "It's a crime to bore people with the Bible!" or "The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity but to transform your life!" "The world doesn't need another Howard Hendricks; it needs the first you!" or "The Christian life isn't just difficult; it's impossible." (Sad, and perhaps a bit envious, too.)

Prof's passing also brings home to me the weight of responsibility to steward what he entrusted. Beginning to flip through my notes for those Profisms that make me smile has reminded me of how much I've forgotten and neglected. May the Word-seeds he sowed not fall into the ground and die or be carried away by birds. What thorns do I need, with the Holy Spirit's help, to clear out of my heart and life so God's Word can grow and become more fruitful? What farming tools do I need to de-rust, sharpen, and polish to serve more faithfully in the field appointed to me?

His family, friends, and colleagues, of course, have the greatest grief, and I pray God's comfort for them. Mine is the merest shadow by comparison. For the more than 10,000 students he taught in his seminary classes, however, and for the many more he taught in conferences and through his books and video series, the world seems emptier without this man who spent his life endeavoring to start an epidemic of contagious love for God and His Word.

I wish you could have sat in that class, even just for a day. If you have ever benefited from the teaching of Chuck Swindoll, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, or Tommy Nelson, to name just a few, you have indirectly benefited from Prof's service, for he trained all those men.

Still, there's only one Prof. And he finished well, to God be the glory.

what I'm holding today
good memories :: smiles reviewing my course notes and jotting down more Profisms :: gratitude for the chance to share some of that material with women in V--tnam once upon a time :: prayers to finish well myself :: a new physical therapy treatment plan :: mixed feelings about the next uncomfortable but helpful spinal decompression treatment :: hope to be able to read and write with less upper body pain soon :: desire to get back to walking pain-free with Amore and Ebony :: relief that my sister's first week of PT went well despite her anxieties :: concerned prayers for a loved one struggling at home and work :: gladness to have Ebony home again after a day at the vet for a dental cleaning :: a house full of tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes for husband with a cold :: readiness for the weekend and rest (Lord willing) :: a pause for breath between ladies' Bible studies :: honor to those to whom honor is due :: awe at what God will do with one person fully committed to Him

sharing with Amy's Friday What I'm Holding series

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Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.