I reached a milestone last night.
With the conclusion of my class on New Testament History, I marked my 10th year of teaching the Bible on the collegiate level. I first taught for Bryan College on several local campuses, and for the past five years I have had the privilege of teaching for Belhaven University in downtown Chattanooga.
And please know: I never graduated from high school.
Yes, I am telling the truth. I never graduated from high school. By the middle of my senior year, I had 11 of the 21 credits required for graduation. I simply did not care about my education. Additionally, no one was holding me accountable. My parents were too busy with “making ends meet” and my siblings were too busy with their own lives. For much of my childhood, I was on my own. High School ended up becoming the place I would learn where the parties were going to be and what girls were going to be attending. And so–when graduation day arrived in May of 1984–I was not to be found on campus. In fact, I had planned to sleep all day that Saturday. Instead, I received a phone call from my brother asking me if I wanted a full-time job at a local factory. With no other opportunities on the horizon, I jumped at the chance. I thought I’d be employed at Screen Process Specialists in Plymouth, WI for years. That was not to be the case.
If there is a pot at the end of the rainbow, it was in Texas (so I thought). I heard through my mother that my sister and her husband in Arlington, TX were making great money and they invited me to move there if I was interested. “Why not?” Life was about making as much money as possible (so I thought). In early November, I packed up all of my belongings and moved. Funny thing, though, the pot at the end of the rainbow was a myth. The reason they were making so much money was because they were not claiming their tips. And the jobs I found paid very little. After being fired from one factory job in Grand Prairie, I joined the Army. That was early December of 1984. My path to learning and degrees began two years later when I was stationed in northern Japan.
During those highly impressionable years, I very much looked up to the men who taught me the Scriptures. After spending time with several, I learned what steps I would have to take in order to follow in their footsteps. I would need to graduate from seminary. To do that, I would have to graduate from college. And–in order to reach that distant goal–I would need to pass the G.E.D. One baby step would eventually lead to a master’s degree–IF I continued the process.
The baby step. With the assistance of one of my fellow soldiers, I was able to pass the G.E.D. (God provided a Mormon man named Ken to tutor me in basic math skills). Shortly after that initial success, I registered for my first college class: Fundamentals of English (University of Maryland). I clearly remember my sweet, Christian instructor and how challenging I found the course! That sweat, however, did not discourage me from my path. My plan remained to leave the Army and attend college full-time. As December of 1987 approached, God clearly revealed to me that He wanted me to attend Bryan College in Dayton, TN. I began in August of 1988.
I’ll never forget the morning I drove into Dayton and up “Bryan Hill.” It was a foggy, Saturday morning and my life would never be the same. I would meet my amazing wife on that hill, grow greatly in my Christian life and learn more than I could have ever imagined. Bryan was exactly what I needed! I graduated in 1992 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies and minors in Greek and History. One semester I even made the Dean’s List! Prior to my graduation, I had been accepted to Reformed Theological Seminary. Jodi and I moved to Orlando, FL following her graduation from Bryan in 1993.
When we arrived in Orlando, Jodi went right to work as an English teacher at a private school. I began attending classes at the seminary in August. My time at Reformed Seminary was very helpful for me as I began the arduous process of learning how to think, not merely the continuation of collecting facts about God, the Bible, church history, philosophy, etc. I did learn a lot about these important subjects, but the maturation I experienced during those years was far more important than the content I acquired. Overall, our time in Florida proved to be difficult and rich. We experienced quite a few trials, but made some wonderful friends. I graduated with my master’s degree in Theological Studies in 1996.
That which commenced with a baby step in 1986 concluded with a graduate degree ten years later!
Last night I shared my story with my students. I wanted them to know that they can accomplish much with God’s assistance and their perseverance! I didn’t tell you that I failed my first attempt at my G.E.D. The math section was my downfall. However, I simply refused to allow that initial failure to stop me in my tracks. I dug in, got help and passed on my 2nd attempt. College wasn’t easy for me, either. As expected, graduate school was even more difficult. But quitting never really was an option. Unless halted by the Lord, I was determined to hold a master’s degree in my hand. To His glory, I did just that!
After serving in pastoral ministry in Las Vegas for several years, I found myself back in Dayton, TN. That’s when God nudged Bryan College to consider me for their degree-completion program. I began teaching for them over ten years ago. When their program began to slow, God had Belhaven reach out to me. Now I only teach for Belhaven and I love to do so. They are keeping me busy teaching courses I love. Next week I’ll be as busy as ever, beginning two Old Testament History courses and one entitled Doctrine and Practical Implications.
It’s still hard for me to comprehend the graciousness of God regarding all of this. I deeply desired to be able to study and teach God’s Word. I had hoped to be able to do so as a career. For a while, I did just that. Now I am able to do so on a part-time basis without a lot of the baggage that accompanies pastoral ministry. I love my day job and love my night work as well. Like those men in Northern Japan (Ray Hauser and a group of Protestant chaplains), I have been blessed to be able to spend considerable time studying God’s Word and great books and then communicate my insights to my students.
For ten years.
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3; New American Standard Bible