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A Tribute to Kris Boring: A Godly Servant-Leader (September 2, 1998)

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August 1997: The fall semester was two weeks away and I was getting desperate. As most of you know, I had been quite ill for over six months with some sort of viral encephalitis. I was not able to finish the last two weeks of the spring semester because of this virus. I had already spent over three weeks in various hospitals, was largely confined to a wheelchair, and had absolutely no energy. I needed to sleep at least 14 hours a day. And I was forgetting things, little things, like my wife’s name and where I lived. I intended to teach my classes in the fall, but my health was simply not coming back as quickly as I had hoped. Still, I thought that I could fulfill my duties—provided that I got a lot of help. Students who lived close by had already volunteered to drive me to school every day. But I needed assistance once I got to campus, too.

So I prayed that the Lord would provide someone who could be my feet, someone who could grade papers, run errands, tutor students, and basically do damage control in the wake of all my miscues.

Even though I had asked the Lord for such an assistant, I could not in good conscience directly ask any student for such help. Normally I have a few interns every year—students who sign up to work 400 hours in close contact with a professor, learning what the academic life is all about. Remarkably, students even pay for this course! We call it the DOULOS program—the “slave [labor] program.”

But this last year was different: I couldn’t offer students any real mentoring: I could not train them, I could only need them. I simply could not ask any students to work with me this past school year; I could only ask the Lord.

Two days after my prayer of desperation, Kris Boring called up. He wanted to be my intern for the year. Kris had taken some Greek courses from me before; I knew he was sharp and quite capable. What I did not know at the time was that he came from a godly family that is a model of charity and hospitality. I did not know that he had graduated cum laude from Rhodes College, nor that he had majored in die Mutter Sprache—German—and had even spent his junior year in Tübingen University, studying that rich and complex language. I did not know of his passion for missions and evangelism, that he had gone on several home mission trips with the Baptist Student Union—to such tough mission fields as East St. Louis, Atlanta, and New Orleans. I did not know that, in college, Kris took a year of koine Greek in the midst of a heavy German curriculum, nor that his non-Christian professors at Rhodes thought so highly of him that they recommended him for Dallas Seminary without any reservation at all. I did not know any of this when Kris called.

At the time, I knew that he had been one of my best students in the Greek classes that he took from me. I remembered that he sat on the very back row in my classes, though I did not know that he always sat in the back row of all his classes. That’s an unusual place for a good student to sit. As you all know, the back row is normally reserved for students who are lazy, goof-offs, or all-night dock workers who need to catch 40 winks. It’s also the row for the grumblers to congregate. But Kris never complained. And his papers kept coming up with high marks: A... A+...A+. Why was he back there? He just didn’t fit the pattern. He was a mystery man.

Every once in a while I would hear a low rumble of a whisper—one with a trace of a Tennessee accent—and the back row would start to laugh. Then I’d see Kris’ smile and the twinkle in his eye. He was the instigator! He had a dry wit and he used it every time he heard me say something silly. The back row was laughing a lot! He had that rare gift of taking his studies seriously, but not himself seriously—and not his professors seriously, either.

This is what I knew of Kris Boring when he called. He wanted to be my intern. But I hesitated simply because I could not offer him anything. Still he persisted. I warned him about getting very little out of the internship. In the early weeks of the semester I was spending as much time in the emergency room as I was at school. Kris knew about all my liabilities. He knew the risks. Yet he wanted to do his 400 hour internship with me. I had prayed that the Lord would send an assistant; Kris listened to the Spirit of God and responded. Here was a young man who had both a sharp mind and a soft heart—a student at this school, facing his senior year, who had not compartmentalized his studies from his service to Christ. Very rare indeed!

The 1997-98 school year would have been a disaster for me and my students had it not been for Kris. I came to know him and know him well this past year. I want to tell you about the Kris Boring that I knew.

The academic internship usually involves grading, research, academic meetings, gophering, and a little teaching. Kris did all this and more. He was my legs. I spoke and he acted. He would check on me every day, just to see if I needed anything. He brought me coffee, did my photocopying, took back my overdue books to the library, passed out handouts to students when I had forgotten them. He even took some late items to Kinko’s just in time to distribute to the class. And he tutored the students that I couldn’t.

Even with all this, I was surprised when he asked if he could cook a meal for my family. He knew that my wife had been working way too hard, taking on the roles of both father and mother. Kris’ offer was not just good intentions. I let it go; a couple of weeks later, he brought it up again. I let it go; and he brought it up again. And again. He would say, “I’m not doing this as part of my internship; I’m doing it because you are my brother in Christ; and I simply want to serve you and your family.” So Kris cooked and brought a four-course meal—including steak as the main entree. The Wallace family (which includes four teenage boys) took two nights to devour the meal!

Kris came to our house fairly often—and offered to come even more. His desire was always the same: to make me look good in the classroom, covering the bases when I forgot materials, or was disorganized, or simply was too pooped to do a proper job. He even took me to the airport at an unspeakable hour of the morning—and then promptly went to the seminary to teach  my class.

Repeatedly, Kris would ask if there was more he could do. We had dozens of conversations in which he offered his services in any way I needed them. When I would protest that such things were outside the scope of an internship, he would simply say, “I don’t care what the job description is; my desire is to help you get through this school year and help you regain your strength. It is my pleasure to serve you.” Kris embodied Jesus’ words: “The one who wants to be great among you must be servant of all.”

One major perk in all this was that Kris got to teach fairly extensively—simply because I missed so many classes. Some of his classroom efforts were videotaped. We reviewed them together. Kris was an excellent teacher, a skillful communicator. He mastered the material well—a rare feat for a student intern, especially when he was on call all the time, and often had very little time to prepare. He also connected with the students. He would tell me that he had been nervous, but it didn’t show. His dry wit brought instant rapport; he was quietly confident, a natural teacher.

Kris’ classroom performance actually helped me to recover: He kept showing me up! I had to get better or I’d lose my class!

Kris was especially effective in teaching second-year Greek. Some of you were in that class and remember the great job he did. The textbook we use is an 850-page tome, filled with depressingly small point type. Some think the author should be flogged for his insensitivity to students! Each student has to read 75 pages every week, then get quizzed over all the material that they are supposed to memorize. I figured that I knew the book pretty well and that I could communicate it clearly enough. But students complained and complained. And complained. They just weren’t getting it.

The first time Kris taught the class, he closed the book and marched through the material in a remarkably clear way. I couldn’t believe that he had mastered the chapter as well as he did. He would make a point, and I would have to look up the reference to see if he was right. Frankly, I did not know the material as well as he did—which is all the more significant since I am the author of the book! Kris was so effective that I changed my own teaching style because of him. Not only did he gently show me how to teach my own material better, he had the courage to do so! I have learned much from Kris Boring.

That was Kris in the classroom. Later in the school year, I saw another dimension to this fine young man. As many of you know, a number of biblical scholars have been working for the past couple of years on a new translation of the Bible. This work—the New English Translation, or the NET Bible—is intended to be readable, accurate, and elegant—in short, the most faithful translation ever done, with comprehensive aids for the reader. It has more extensive notes than any other study Bible ever produced. The New Testament alone has more than 15,000 notes—and over half a million words in those notes. It is our hope and prayer that this translation will be used of God in a mighty way.

Kris worked on it. Part of his internship was to proofread portions of the New Testament. His first assignment was to proofread Revelation. Kris did such an incredibly meticulous job that it honestly reminded me of the work of the great Herman Hoskier—a Greek scholar whose careful work on Revelation seventy years ago was called ‘almost supernatural’ by Sir Frederick Kenyon. Kris not only proofread, he also made several judicious editing suggestions, almost all of which were followed. After his internship was over, Kris’ skill was so crucial that I called on him again to proofread more sections this summer. His work, though not completed, is a monument to his devotion to the Scriptures.

What kind of a student was Kris Boring? He graduated from Dallas Seminary magna cum laude and was a fraction away from summa cum laude. He earned this degree last Friday, August 28th …  Kris was very competent in Greek, Hebrew, Bible, theology. He prepared himself well for ministry and took his task of searching the scriptures—of pursuing truth—very seriously. His roommate told me that he has never met anyone as gifted in the biblical languages as Kris.

While most students would spend an hour or two preparing for a Hebrew quiz, Kris would memorize the material in ten minutes! And, of course, this irritated the socks off his classmates! But Kris was never showy; he had genuine humility. I never once heard him brag about his abilities. In fact, only last week did I learn that he was the valedictorian of his 1988 high school graduating class—a class of 597. He never mentioned it to me.

All of this raises a question: Kris was a bright young man, in the prime of his life, full of promise and hope. He prepared himself well for a lifetime of ministry. He knew his Master, and he fell in love with the young lady who was to be his mate. He was running on all cylinders; he was in his stride. And then, God took him home!

There is an increasing shortage of faithful ministers of the Word, godly leaders who will stand up for Jesus Christ no matter what the cost—men and women who have profound integrity, a passion for truth, and are driven by the love of Christ. Christians who believe that the mind is worth disciplining and cultivating—and who have a servant’s heart—are the rarest of God’s children. Kris was one of them. I have spoken to several students and faculty who were quite despondent over Kris’ death—even those who did not know him. But they knew that he was part of a vanishing breed. Our world needs Kris Borings, lots of them.

Yet the Lord took him home? Why? ... I don’t know; I don’t have the answers. But I know the One who does. And I know that we can trust him because nothing catches him by surprise. God was not shocked at Kris’ death. He is the sovereign Lord of the universe—of space and time. And he is good to his children. We can trust him because our heavenly Father, too, knows pain and suffering. He gave up his own Son for us that we might have life eternal.

Mr. And Mrs. Boring, Scott, Jody, and Mr. and Mrs. Cotton all have mixed emotions right now. They are exhausted from an emergency trip to Ecuador, then back home to Cleveland, Tennessee for a memorial service this last weekend, followed by a long drive down here to Dallas. Their grief is immeasurably deep; they have lost a loved one! But their grief is not permanent, for they too have the hope of heaven. As strange as it may sound to some of you, they have joy right now in the midst of their hurt—for they know that Kris is alive—that the dark and painful door through which he passed has brought him into the presence of his Lord and Savior. And they know that they will see Kris again because they too have embraced Jesus Christ as their own.

If you’ve never done so before, I implore you to take this time to consider the claims of Christ. Some of you’ve put it off until now; but today is the day of salvation. Heaven is no longer some abstract place; you have a friend there! And there is no better time than right now to put your trust in the risen Lord.

With melancholy feelings, I must bring this tribute to Kris Boring to a close. The young man who began as my student became my teacher and my friend. I have learned a great deal from him. In fact, as I prepared for this eulogy, I tried to find out more about the Kris whom I knew only from my perspective.

To be frank, I was relieved that he wasn’t perfect! He had his faults. No, contrary to what I had anticipated of a Tennessee native, he was not a Country-Western fan! But Kris was a bit of a ... procrastinator. He could get away with it in his studies because he was so doggone smart. But leaving the dishes in the sink for days on end was a different matter! Yet even in his procrastination, Kris had his own system of punctuality. I understand that members of his church here in Dallas could set their clocks by when he would show up: always right at the end of the first hymn. But Kris has had the last laugh, he has shown us that he doesn’t procrastinate in everything—he beat all of us to heaven!

Who will take up the call? Who will be the next Kris Boring and say, “Here I am Lord, send me!” My hope and my prayer is that Kris’ death would be the catalyst for many to get serious with God—and to realize that loving the Lord with all our hearts and our minds is a non-negotiable part of the package if we would be servants of Jesus Christ.

Related Topics: Discipleship, Funerals, Sacrifice, Spiritual Life