Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What a Thrill to Connect to Old Friends!

As mentioned yesterday Claire and I both bit the bullet and created (with much help from Isaac Serafino) Facebook pages this past weekend. Our motivation was to use them to expand the ministry of this blog, our Vital Signs Ministries site, and eventually the other cyberspace outreach which we have under development: Exposition 101 and our Russian-language site, VSM Resources.

What we didn't expect from our Facebook launching were the immediate (and really wonderful) blessings we received as we contacted with old friends and colleagues we hadn't heard from for years. It was great.

In one case we were reminded of how powerful the simplest acts of kindness and respect can be as we made new contact with Rick Lee, who I hadn't seen since he was a kid maybe...what...35 years ago? Back in those days, we used to play football in the park after church and Rick, who was just a junior high kid (perhaps even a bit younger) wanted to be a part too. Of course, kids want to be in the game and they yearn for the rites of passage where their worth is noted by the big guys.

Well, I really liked him and he was a very good athlete for his age. He kinda' reminded of my own youngest brother Richard who still lived back in Colorado. Anyhow, I used to always make sure he was on my team, picking him before I would any of the other adults. When his name came on my Facebook screen, those days came back to me in a rush. And they must have done the same for him. Rick wrote: "Denny, You were the most encouraging breath of the Spirit in my life. I always remember you believing in me as a person. Just by throwing me a pass in a game meant so much too me."

"Just by throwing me a pass." Let's remember today how significant are those moments, seemingly simple and transitory, when we authenticate the young people around us. They are looking to us more than we realize (maybe even more than they realize right now) and our noticing them, honoring them, involving them means so very much.

There were many others to whom our new Facebook pages connected us from across the years but none quite so heart-warming as Norm Rempel. Norm was a truly significant person in my life. Not only because he was smooth and smart and joyful and very engaging but because, much like what happened in the football story above, Norm was kind enough to notice me, to take time to be my friend. In a way, Norm picked me to be on his team.

Now I'd better point out, Norm had an awful lot of people on his team! He was a philosophy and psychology prof at Grace College of the Bible here in Omaha who also taught apologetics. He was extremely popular because he was so bright and personable and funny. He was well-read and cosmopolitan but he carried none of the somber trappings so commonly associated with academia. Norm Rempel was an all-round standout guy.

I never had Norm for a class. In fact, I only attended Grace for one semester. But I knew him from sitting in a few lectures with my friend Dan Hauge. And from several years of conversations at the college snack shop where I often dropped in. And from an awful lot of pick-up basketball games. And eventually from attending the same church. (When Norm asked me to take over his adult Sunday School class for a summer I felt like Rick must have when I picked him for my football team!)

In these various ways, Norm Rempel mentored me. He probably didn't think of it that way. He wasn't a whole lot older than me and I'd certainly been around the block. But he was a Christian man I (and my wife, Claire) greatly respected, a man whose knowledge and character we both appreciated and wanted to emulate.

Perhaps more than anything, what Norm did for us was to model what a Christian apologist should be. I mean, here was a guy who knew Greek philosophy and was well-versed in Socratic techniques. He read Augustine and Lewis and Schaeffer and Chesterton and Rushdoony and the rest of the gang. He could cut through the fog of the cults. He was quick on the take and had the ready answer, the clever comeback, the closing line that smoldered in a person's conscience.

And all that was important. You had to know your stuff. You had to do your homework. You had to be confident enough and skilled enough to be a bold (and thus effective) witness for Jesus Christ out in the public square.

I had been schooled already in these things. First with Young Life...then the rough and tumble of the Christian Brotherhood...meeting the L'Abri team (including the Schaeffers) in 1971...reading incessantly in Lewis, GKC, Montgomery, McDowell, et al...working with IVP when I went back to university and grad school...witnessing on the job...and finally our early engagements in pro-life activism. So yes, we were experienced in evangelism and discipleship and street-level apologetics -- experienced enough to know we would always need more education, more stimulation and coaching, fresh inspiration and encouragement.

And no one around fit that bill better than Norm Remple.

Because Norm wasn't only a book guy. He wasn't just good in the intellectual give and take. No, he understood that the most powerful apologetic of all was a life well lived -- a life that was winsome and engaging and kind. Though he was an intellectual powerhouse, one wasn't overwhelmed by him. He was extremely courteous, generally interested in others, and a conversationalist who could draw in just about anyone. He held his sword and, if needed, he could wield it with dramatic force. But usually, you saw just the gentle, jolly, personable Norm Remple who drew you in and showed you how warm and secure and hopeful was the Christianity he offered.

He taught us much. And he encouraged us much. And he did this as long as he lived in Omaha. For instance, Norm accepted my invitation to go with us to the very first meeting of the Omaha Christian Action Council, a meeting that would, of course, dramatically change the course of Claire's and my life. And in those early days when so many other Christians were stand-offish, even scornful of our activist strategies (For crying out loud, they picket abortion clinics!), Norm was a enheartening, fortifying friend and ally.

Norm Rempel is a Christian apologist of the first rank, one who emphasizes the crucial importance of Bible knowledge, learning in other branches of knowledge, and apologetic technique. But these skills are nothing without humility, gratitude, joy, holiness and love.

I've learned a lot from Norm Rempel. And getting in touch with him after more than two decades (he's been teaching and serving as Registrar at Fresno Pacific during these years) means I've got the opportunity to learn a bit more. For instance, Norm's body has been invaded by MS and he's bedridden almost all of the time nowadays. Yet he's as cheerful, as mentally lively and as other-directed as ever. So we've got conversations ahead of us about suffering and patience and relationships under pressure and heaven...and I'm sure a whole lot more.

So, am I glad Claire and I jumped into Facebook? If it were only to hear from Rick Lee and Norm Rempel, I'd consider it an overwhelming success.