I learned last night that one of my favorite professors from seminary, Merlin Hoops, died yesterday afternoon. It is hard for me to measure the impact that he had on me as a Christian and as a pastor, but it was enormous.
Dr. Hoops taught New Testament. But more than anything, he was a Christian encourager. He saw the best in others, even when they (I) did less than their (my) best.
My first class with him as the professor did not go well. In fact, I flunked and had to repeat the course. I thought that I'd never take another class with him.
But my final year of seminary, there was a New Testament option requirement I needed to fulfill and a seminar class led by Dr. Hoops was all that would fit my schedule. It was on the New Testament book of 1 Peter.
Dr. Hoops' passion and insight into the book was tremendous. First Peter is a book written by Peter the apostle to encourage Christians in their suffering. Without saying a self-pitying word, Dr. Hoops' own experience of suffering gave the class and his words about it particular power. I realized then that he wasn't just a scholar, he was also a humble disciple of Jesus, a pastor in the best sense of that word.
Amazingly to me, I passed the course with flying colors and as we were registering for classes for the next quarter, Dr. Hoops asked if he could speak with me. "Mark, I was wondering if you would take a class I'm teaching next term, 'Theology of the New Testament.' It's a seminar too and will have underclassmen in it. I find that having some upperclassmen like you in a class of this kind helps get the discussion going. And you're good at that."
I was honored. Though I didn't need the class to graduate, I, of course, enrolled in the class and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that, although my GPA was mediocre at best, Dr. Hoops urged me to do graduate work in New Testament studies. That was not to be. But I appreciated the encouragement...especially from a man whose first impression of me had to have been that I was lackadaisical about my work and downright disrespectful to him. But the man, so grateful for the grace of God given to him in Christ, always treated others with incredible grace.
I have many other wonderful memories of Dr. Hoops. One summer while I was in seminary, my brother Marty and I had a lawn-mowing business. Dr. Hoops was recuperating from surgery and asked us to include his lawn in our work. He and his wife were so gracious to us. I remember the two of them bringing out lemonade for us as we worked.
In the decades since I got my Master of Divinity degree and became a pastor, our paths would occasionally cross and, as I'm sure is true of all his former students, Dr. Hoops was always gracious and encouraging, always full of questions about my ministry and my life. That's just who he was with everyone.
A high school classmate of mine who knew Dr. Hoops through her work in the field of developmental disabilities has occasionally given me reports on how he and his family were doing. We would pass greetings to one another through her. He was just a dear man, a wonderful example of Christian faithfulness. I loved and respected him. His insights, stories, passion for the gospel, and witness for Christ have shown up repeatedly in my sermons, Sunday School classes, and Bible studies over the years.
But it's his compassion, his forgiving spirit which I experienced so directly, and his unflagging encouragement that I cherish most. Once, he said to us as we sat in that class on 1 Peter, "I shudder when I think of the sacrifices some of you will be asked to make for Christ." And then he made it clear that he prayed for every one of us.
Knowing something of his prayer habits, I'm sure that he prayed for hundreds of people regularly. Those prayers offered by a righteous man in Jesus' name most certainly have made a difference in hundreds of lives. His prayers for others were the ultimate act of self-denial and encouragement from a man whose life was characterized by these expressions of faith in Christ.
I look forward to seeing him again one day in eternity. May God grant comfort and encouragement to his family and friends as they mourn his passing.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]