As many of you know, Janet and I made the decision for me to attend seminary when I was in my late 40’s. There were several events that factored into that decision but one of the most significant was the fact that I knew someone rather well who made the choice to end her life with the assistance of Dr. Kevorkian. She was a younger person, someone who worked at the one of the clients I served. What bothered me was the fact that I had no idea what she was thinking before she ended her life and even if I had been privy to her inclinations, I didn’t feel that I was well prepared to be able to help her – or anybody else for that matter. It became clear to Janet and me that I needed to have training – not only in counseling but since most of my interactions with people were in the workplace, I decided that I would elect corporate America as my mission field.
To achieve the education that I needed to make a difference in the lives of others, I decided to attend a seminary that required that I study Greek, Hebrew, pastoral counseling and, of course, the requisite theology. As an older guy going back to school, I was prepared to be the one person in my classes that had made the decision to go back after a life in corporate America. However, as I soon found out, I quickly became friends with a few others who had spent their lives in ministry but now felt they needed more training. Those years became some of the most rewarding and unforgettable years in my life – due in large measure to the environment that Dr. Branine and other dedicated Christian educators created in the seminary.
And Dr. Branine, a theologian in his mid-seventies, was the guy who ended up charged with the responsibility of teaching us God’s word in such a way as to crystalize our theology and prepare us for ministry life in a world where belief in God is on the decline and a high percentage of Americans are Christians in name but not necessarily in action. It’s a scary thing to go back to school and give somebody access to teach you – trusting that they aren’t going to screw you up beyond recognition. That was my greatest challenge and one that I soon overcame as soon as I got to know Doc Branine.
As a corporate leader and owner of businesses, it was incredibly difficult for me to trust Dr. Branine, or anyone else, with teaching me sound Biblical promises of God and the historical context with which to process different theological perspectives so I would not lose my way in a rather liberal world where anything seems to go. The first day of class Dr. Branine walked in and I was deeply worried whether this older gentleman was up to being able to give me what I needed. Boy, was I wrong! I grew to love the man and looked forward to his class that met three times a week… And that didn’t include the tests, papers and theological analysis that he expected from his students.
Throughout more than three years of intense theology classes with Dr. Branine, I was exposed to education and learning opportunities that I still marvel at. A kindly man, Doc Branine was driven to excellence and to serving the Lord with all his heart. He is the most God-centered individual I have ever know and no matter how busy he was, he always had time to answer questions or hold an impromptu teaching session to clarify some confusing verse or Biblical principle. He was humble, never really revealing the depth of his own knowledge so his audience always felt comfortable – but make no mistake, Dr. Branine was a giant in the faith – with a mind to match. I just don’t think I have the capacity to reach his level of understanding of the Word of God – but I was blessed and privileged to have him as my teacher and mentor.
He read incessantly – for the purposes of becoming a better Christian, working on his relationship with and having a deeper understanding of how to serve God. His students revered him – myself included. When I earned my Master of Divinity degree and was invited to start my doctorate, Doc was right there by my side every step of the way. Years later, when I sat for my oral defense, Dr. Branine was part of the group of doctorate theologians who evaluated my project and dissertation. I could never even begin to repay his kindness or the impact that he has had on my life. And he was one of first to address me as “Dr. Toussaint” after the vote was taken on my candidacy. In fact, he asked me to call him “Clinton” from that day on but as I am sure you can tell from my post tonight, that never happened – I just couldn’t do it…
In later years, long after I graduated, I would go down and visit with Dr. Branine, usually heading to the school cafeteria to have lunch together. He was always interested in what I was up to and how I was making an impact for the kingdom of God on earth.
This past Thursday, Dr. Branine left his earthly home and entered heaven. I miss him already. At 89 years old, Dr. Clinton Branine’s heart finally gave out – an issue he has been wrestling with for many years. He was functioning on only about 10% of normal heart capacity yet he wouldn’t retire. He was intent on teaching the word of God until he just couldn’t do it any longer. Still a voracious reader and writer, he was busy until last Monday when he finally found it impossible to finish a class he was teaching. He likened himself to an old car – eventually you run out of replacement parts and there just isn’t anything more that can be done. He died after stating that he had served the Lord his entire life and he had no regrets… he was at peace and I am sure, “ran the good race.” What a testimony to this man’s faith and service… I would love to be able to say that at the end of my life – but I know that I am far from that goal. My life is full of things that I regret to this day – and I have to get past that, accepting the Lord’s forgiveness.
The verse for tonight embodies the life of Dr. Branine. The apostle Paul tells his young friend, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (KJV). My encouragement this evening is that God sends people like Dr. Branine into our lives to help us become more Christ-like. My prayer is that you will have the opportunity during your life to have a mentor and teacher like I had. It’s a rare treat to be able to study under such a brilliant and dedicated servant of God. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace. And, for now, Dr. Branine, farewell until we meet again…