Friday, December 15, 2006
Not quite nine years ago I went skiing at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin, with three guys--Paul, Steve, and Titus. Paul and I were in our first year of grad school at Maranatha, and Steve and Titus (whom I barely knew at the time) were juniors or so in the undergrad biblical studies program. The details of that evening are still a little fuzzy since I whacked my head pretty good on a mogul (it was in the shadows), but I'm pretty sure back then that Steve and Titus were set on heading to seminary eventually, and Paul and I were desiring vocational ministry but not yet too sure how it was all going to come together.
Two or three years later, Paul had started his MDiv at Central in Minneapolis, Steve and his wife were in China, and we had all completely lost track of Titus. About that time, I made plans to head to Central myself, and I thought Steve would be there in a year or so.
Things changed for me when the opportunity arose to join the staff of a North Carolina Bible curriculum publisher, about an hour from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had virtually no knowledge of the institution, but three or four older and wiser people in my life knew enough to say it seemed like a good option for my situation.
I entered the Southern Baptist world one Tuesday evening in August for a class in church history, and I have to admit that I felt a little anxiety, having no idea what I was getting into. To make matters worse, I showed up later than I intended and really had to hoof it to class. As I used my best trans-BJU-campus walk-run gait to head toward the Binkley Chapel basement, I passed another guy casually strolling along, furtively made eye contact with him, and gave him the standard "how ya' doin' " nod. Then I did a double-take, because the very first fellow-student I had spoken to on campus was that very same long-lost Titus we'd gone skiing with years before. He was heading to the same class, so we grabbed seats in the back of the large hall and probably spent more time that evening catching up than listening to the syllabus lecture. (I think Dr. Hogg forgave us.)
I can't give Titus enough credit for helping me adjust to a world I knew nothing about and for giving me the inside scoop by telling me which classes and teachers I had to take and, well, you can guess the rest. Since I commuted from an hour away, I never really infiltrated the campus culture, so he was my eyes and ears.
Titus graduated three semesters later, but I think it was the next semester that Steve (also from the ski trip) and his wife transferred into SEBTS from another program. By that time I was getting to the point in my program when I could pick off some choice elective classes, and he and I shared several of them. Some of them were tremendously formative, and Steve's presence was another great gift to me since we could compare notes from our similar educational background and talk about how what we were learning fit with what we had learned at Maranatha.
Today, as providence would have it, Steve and I walked across the platform during the commencement ceremony at SEBTS with just one other MDiv grad between us.
Tonight, my heart is full. I don't know exactly what to make of the strange "coincidence" that two of the three guys I went skiing with in 1998 were used by God to sharpen me and make my seminary education immeasurably more valuable than it otherwise would have been. Perhaps the skiing thing is completely irrelevant to the rest of the story, but it's a little spooky that those two guys formed the bookends of my seminary career, and I've talked to Paul a couple times today.
Regardless of all that, it's simply inescapable to me that God has poured out his grace on me once again. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If I were a poet, I might call it something like "the lead of love."
And if that's not enough, I'm also grateful for Dr. Akin's charge to the grads from Psalm 23. One of the marks of a great preacher is the ability to get to the heart of a familiar text in a way that's entirely fresh. You can listen to it for yourself here.
P.S. For the two of you who (pretend to) care, I'll post a photo or two here in a couple days.
UPDATE: Just posted a photo with my sister, niece, and nephew. I think he was still afraid of the man in the black dress and the weird cap at this point. Hopefully I'll get one with Steve and Jason soon too.
Posted by Ben at 12/15/2006