One of the many hats that I seem to wear is that of a Bible teacher. I teach in a small Bible school once a night here in Lubbock, and over the last 8 years of teaching one of my greatest delights is connecting with students and watching as God develops and grows them into amazing leaders. I am a teacher - I try to challenge - to help others see God and His Word in truth and perhaps with new eyes.
I love teaching students...and yet, so often I find that in my journey with certain students I look up to realize that in fact, they are the teacher and I the student. This is the case with a student I had a few years ago who became a dear friend.
I’ll never forget the first conversation I had with Izzy Gomez about taking classes through our Bible school. I had known Izzy at a distance - he was the maintenance man at the church, and I had been working there for a couple of years. Izzy was always joyful - a true servant by every definition and a man who obviously had a genuine relationship with the Lord.
He walked into my office with the humility and peace that always seemed to follow him and he timidly asked if there might be a chance for him to start taking classes. I immediately said “Of course!” and then Izzy held up his hand beckoning me to pause as he continued.
Izzy explained that he had not graduated from high school and wasn’t sure if he could handle the academic portion of the program, but then he started to share his heart. The hunger deep inside to learn more about his maker. To delve deeper into Scripture that had become his constant companion, and I was mesmerized. We talked for quite a while that day and came up with a plan for Izzy to succeed in our Bible School.
He would work hard and at times turn in assignments via a tape recorder, and I must say I never once regretted that decision. Even without the education that we so often laud, Izzy was my star student. He turned in assignments early and although the grammar was not perfect, the depth to his papers and the depth to his relationship with God was astounding.
And yesterday, as I wiped the tears from my eyes at the news that Izzy had gone to be with Jesus - the Lord he loved so dearly after a ferocious battle with cancer - I couldn’t help but think of the many ways he truly had become my teacher. Here are just a handful of truths that Izzy taught me...
Izzy taught me that there is strength in humility. Moses describes himself as the most humble man that ever lived, and I realized yesterday that if I had to give that title to any man that I have personally known, I would say Izzy was the most humble man I’ve had the privilege to know. And yet...Izzy was strong. Izzy was a leader. Izzy was a hero. He taught me through his life that humility is strength that emanates from a dependence on the Lord.
Izzy taught me that doing your work unto the Lord really is enough. Whether Izzy was sweeping, fixing a project that I had messed up, or cleaning toilets, he was joyful. He saw purpose behind the tasks he was given to do, and he did them with excellence.
Izzy taught me that ministry can happen in a simple hello or acknowledgement. Around the church, Izzy was never too busy to stop and say hello or even take an hour to talk with someone who had just walked in off the street. I cannot count how many times I would walk down the hallway to see Izzy in a heartfelt conversation or in prayer with someone. At times it was a staff member that Izzy was encouraging and other times it was a lonely soul who had entered our church doors looking for answers...I was always so thankful that they had found Izzy...because he always pointed people simply yet clearly to Jesus.
Izzy taught me that justice should be fought for. I only saw Izzy get angry once, but it was a situation in which justice had been overlooked and someone had been slighted. I learned that being humble and a servant does not mean you have to lie down - that there are moments in which justice needs a voice.
And Izzy taught me that to be a pastor one does not need a title. Izzy was a pastor...a shepherd to so many people. He listened, he comforted, he gave wisdom and guidance, and he loved. He was a pastor even though that title never preceded his name.
And he loved his pastors - he prayed for us. I’ll never forget one day when he came into my office and asked to take a picture of me. I was busy (as is too often the case) so I obliged but didn’t pry as to why he wanted a quick snapshot of me. And then about a month later I was down in Izzy’s office asking for help with something that I had once again botched when I noticed that picture. There I was smiling a goofy smile behind my desk - next to pictures of my dad and another pastor at our church...pinned up neatly on a bulletin board. And above our faces was a simple note card that said “Pray.”
I stared at the picture...and I remember at this moment as tears spring to my eyes...Izzy was praying for ME! And I’m so thankful for those prayers. I’m going to miss those prayers. I’m going to miss the lessons he taught me - not with eloquent words or long lectures - but with a life of humble obedience to the One he knew so well.
I’m going to miss Izzy, but my heart also rejoices because I know now that he is with the ultimate teacher - One who will impart to him all that he longed to understand.
Did Izzy teach you something? Would you take a minute and share in the comments a lesson that you learned from Izzy? I’d love to compile a list for his wife Janie and kids, Fabian & Ivy.