Yesterday, Nov. 22nd, was Paul’s 57th birthday. At first, I thought that perhaps I would pass up the chance to write about him and acknowledge his special day because, frankly, he isn’t into recognition or being front and center. He is a kind, humble man who would rather serve and be in the background than in the limelight, but after thinking about it, Paul is so special to me that I just had to tell you about my friend. So, meet Paul….
I was introduced to Paul the first day that I attended seminary. He and his family were from New York and Paul commuted home on week-ends. It was a long drive, but Paul didn’t want to move his family out here if it wasn’t in line with the will of God. Sure, Paul had “kicked the tires” during summer school when he took a module class on leadership and was almost immediately convicted that God had plans for him in the midwest, but he was still waiting for God to put His stamp of approval on the whole endeavor.
Now Paul and I are as different as night and day. I tend to want to run at the front of the pack while Paul is much more laid back. Please don’t get me wrong – that doesn’t mean that he isn’t passionate, or convicted, but he does have an easier style about him than I do. We both love studying the original languages, but he has a gift for them while I struggled through school. And talk about theology – Paul is incredible in his knowledge of the Bible and how to apply it to our daily lives. He is patient, quiet, deliberate, meditative, prayerful and all the other things that you would observe in a man fully committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom here on earth. He immediately struck me as someone after God’s own heart. He never moved without feeling convicted that God was blessing the effort, whatever it was.
I also just love to tease Paul. It all started many years ago when he told me that I reminded him of one of his best friends – who had died…… He wasn’t kidding, he was dead serious…. After that, I figured that we could become fast friends – and almost immediately, we did. I was more of a prankster while Paul was the “straight man”. We did everything at school together. In fact, I can’t remember a single class in all my years of seminary that Paul and I didn’t attend at the same time – Greek, Hebrew, church polity, Trinitarianism, Angelology, all the rest of the theology classes and yes, several leadership classes. We became inseparable.
Both of us made commitments to our wives that our studies would not interfere with our roles in our respective families. So neither of us would start our homework until our children, and many times our wives, had already headed to bed. Then, either Paul or I would pick up the phone and dial. We would work on our language homework together into the wee hours of the morning – 2 a.m. was not that uncommon. Then, off to bed to be up again at 5:30 a.m. in preparation for our classes. We did that for 3 years – at least three times a week. In fact, last night when Janet and I got home from Chicago, I called Paul after 11 p.m. to wish him a Happy Birthday. I would have waited a little longer, but I knew we would talk for a while and I didn’t want to miss his actual special day!
Aside from his academic attributes, Paul has a kind heart. When I sat for my oral defense while completing my doctorate, Paul arrived with a bouquet of flowers and sat with Janet for more than 3 hours to keep her company while I was in being questioned by the panel. And it is Paul’s wife, Michelle, who makes the wonderful bread that Janet and I just love.
The truth of the matter is that we are very unlikely friends. Yet it really works! I think of Paul as my personal pastor, even though technically he no longer pastors a church. Now, six years after receiving my doctorate, Paul is the president of the seminary that I attended. What a wonderful choice of a God centered man to lead the effort. I couldn’t be more proud of him, or of the board, for choosing Paul to guide the school through its next season of growth. And I have a front row seat…..
Oh, we constantly challenge one another with questions – Paul usually asks me something about leadership and I usually ask him some deep theological question. We keep each other sharp and although we don’t speak as often as we did when we attended school together, we really do keep up our communication, our friendship and our prayer life for one another.
Near the end of one year, we were trying to decide a theme to live by for the next twelve months. We decided that we could both work on our skills as husbands and fathers, so we chose the theme, “The Year of the Family.” In typical Paul fashion, when the discussion came up the following year for our next theme, Paul let me know that he wanted to extend our work in our families for another year – he still thought he had room to grow. And you know what? I agreed with him. So, and this should not come as a surprise, every year since then has been a “Year of the Family” and we both strive to hold one another accountable and to grow as men of God.
In honor of Paul, the verse for tonight is from Proverbs 27:17 (KJV), “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” And so our unlikely friendship continues. My encouragement for you tonight is to seek Godly counsel when you are making important decisions. Try to enlist the guidance of Christian friends to help you make the right choices in your life. And my prayer is that you will find a true friend in your life who will hold you accountable and call you out when you stray from the straight and narrow path we are called to follow. Happy Birthday, Paul. May the Lord bless you and keep you all the days of your glorious life….