There were chapel services every day of the week when school was in session at Concordia Theological Seminary. The Springfield, Illinois campus did not have a fancy chapel, but we did have a large room dedicated to worship. It included a large pipe organ and held as many as 150 people. It would be pleasantly full most days.
One day in particular sticks out in my mind. Classmate David Stecholtz was the organist on that occasion. After he finished his pre-service music nothing was happening, so he played some more. Still no chapel leader or preacher appeared. He suggested we sing a hymn, which we did. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a chapel service at CTS or Concordia Seminary in St. Louis do so. Sem students and professors sing with inspiring gusto!
Toward the end of the hymn Dr. Henry Eggold walked in. He was a long, tall, lanky fellow who taught practical classes like pastoral theology, and homiletics (preaching). he strode to the pulpit and preached a really fine and edifying sermon based on Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
His message was meaningful to me because I was experiencing my own challenges (suffering seems a bit over-expressive) during those early seminary years. Finances were a challenge. Figuring out how to relate to each other as husband and wife was still new to us. Then there was Greek and even the need to grasp the basic narrative of the Bible! I took Old Testament and New Testament Bible as pre-sem classes – even though I was a fully-accepted student at the sem.
One recommendation really made a difference to me. It was an encounter with another Sem 4 student. It was recommended that I take a remedial reading course, and the seminary arranged for the content of the course as well as a student to shepherd me through the learning experience.
The first time we met I took a reading comprehension assessment. Terry allowed me to finish then scored the assessment. He pointed out that I had zoned out during a large portion of the essay I had been reading. I had failed to answer correction a whole section of questions that covered that portion of the essay. He helped me recognize that tendency on my part. He also taught me some tricks of the trade so to speak. Scanning the table of contents to get an idea, leafing through the book looking for key words and ideas were but two suggestions he offered.
It helped a lot. I began to read with better comprehension. I was able to read more and faster. I recognized when I zoned out and would go back and re-read that section. Never once did he chide or shame me because of my level of skill or failure to comprehend. He simply helped me get to a better skill level, and achieve a greater comprehension level.
On one other occasion this same student even helped me study for a test. The professor was notorious for asking for obscure factoids, and lists of data that had to be expressed in just the right way. I wasn’t sure his way was the only way to answer some of his questions correctly, but if I didn’t express it just as he wanted it, my way of saying the same thing (correctly no less!) would not pass muster.
I was very anxious about that and Terry noticed. He was actually in that same class and pointed out what the prof would be looking for on the tests. He gave me tools to memorize lists of facts or key words that would trigger a correct response on my part. Again, all this without condemnation.
He was living out 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “ Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” He was reflecting our good and gracious God who never upbraids or reproaches us when we ask for wisdom (cf. James 1:5). He stood in stark contrast to the sweat-on-his-upper-lip Sem 4 first encounter.
On that day in Chapel when Dr. Eggold spoke about God working through suffering, I had little idea of the implications of that truth. As I have experienced suffering of various kinds, God has been working in my heart to make me stronger and more confident in faith.
I suspect that Dr. Eggold had been no stranger to difficulty and hardship through his Christian walk. I asked him about that chapel sermon later that day. He admitted that he had not been prepared to preach, and that whoever was supposed to show up failed to do so. I expressed amazement at that drop-of-a-hat preparedness, and he said, “Well, you have to have one of those up your sleeve for times such as that.”
We would like to think that we can grow, mature, and become more effective in serving Christ’s kingdom, as a natural and easy process. Many who have walked the hard road of suffering, struggle, and hardship would tell you that key to their inner strength and faithfulness was God’s refining work in them through those difficult times.
James says, “Count it all joy when you face troubles of various kinds…” (James 1:2). That will be our focus tomorrow.