I grew up in the Church. From the time I was a baby I’ve been in Church. I’ve been taught the Bible my entire life. As a preacher’s kid I sat and listened to my dad preach every Sunday. I remember as a child sitting in Sunday School and being captivated by the flannel graph stories (look it up, it’s a real thing). I would see the picture of the ark, and the different animals gathered 2×2 going into the ark.
I still have my first Bible. It was an illustrated children’s Bible, it had a zippered case. I read the Bible stories and enjoyed looking at the pictures. When I was six my mom taught me to say the 66 books of the Bible in order. It made it much easier to follow along and look up verses. I could also easily win the “sword drills” a kind of contest to see who could look up various verses the fastest. I even learned to memorize some verses. John 3:16, Psalm 23 and John 11:35 were some of my early favorites. I like John 11:35 because at church camps they often had you quote a verse from memory as you were in the lunch line. John 11:35 was the shortest and easiest verse in the whole Bible to memorize: “Jesus wept.”
I was baptized when I was eleven and I began to take my Bible study more seriously. I would read whole chapters and whole books of the Bible. I became aware that not all people read the Bible exactly the same way. The Church I attended came to certain conclusions about what the Bible said, and people of different denominations came to different conclusions. Sometimes their conclusions didn’t make sense to me and I wondered why they didn’t see things the same way that my Church did. I puzzled over this for many years.
When I graduated from high school and began college my goal was to become a doctor. I wanted to help people, and make a decent living. Doctors checked off both those boxes. But while I was in college I got a part time job working in a Christian bookstore. I had some friendly discussions with my boss who was a Christian but from a different denomination. As I shared with him what I believed he shocked me by saying that he didn’t think what I believed was right, and he wasn’t convinced that it was Christian. Now I had a job on my hands. To show from the Bible that what I believed was indeed Christian. He and I spent the next year debating the Bible. Literally, he would make a premise and give his defense. I would read it, and write my response. Then I would make a premise and give my defense, and he would read it and give his response. Over the next year we traded hundreds of pages. I found myself staying up late every night pouring through the Bible looking up verses (this was long before internet searches). I was thinking about the Bible day and night. So much so that I wasn’t really spending much time reading the class material at college. Somehow economics, biology, philosophy, psychology and sociology just weren’t as interesting to me as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
One night I realized that what I really enjoyed doing was studying the Bible. Then I realized that if this was my passion then it didn’t make sense to study to become a doctor, I should study to become a pastor. I made my decision to leave the university and to attend Bible College. (By the way, you don’t need to become a pastor in order to make the Bible central to your life. We need good doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, mothers and ditch diggers who immerse themselves in the Bible as well.)
As I was getting ready to leave for Bible college I said my goodbyes to my friends and co-workers. After a year of studying and debating the Bible with me my boss said, “You haven’t convinced me to believe as you believe, but you have convinced me that what you believe is Christian.” I felt I had achieved a small win.
For more than 30 years I’ve been reading, meditating upon, teaching, preaching, writing about, and counseling others with the Bible. It is the foundation of my whole life. I’ve read small passages slowly and repetitively so they could sink deeply in (lectio divina). I’ve read large portions quickly to see the grand sweep of God’s story. I once read the entire Bible in a two week period of time. (8 hours a day for 2 weeks and you can read it cover to cover). It was amazing!
Do I regret choosing to be a pastor instead of a doctor? Well, I make less money as a pastor than I would have made as a doctor. But I realize something very important. Doctors are very important but they don’t have all the answers. This came to light several years ago when I became a hospital chaplain. One day I was called in to sit with a young mother whose husband had been in a serious accident. The doctors were trying to save his life. She was in the waiting room with two small children hoping that he would survive. I sat with her and prayed with her. Eventually, two young doctors came into the waiting room. They were residents, which means they were young in their practice. They stood before the woman and told her that they had done all that they could, unfortunately, they couldn’t save her husband. They then looked at each other, and then looked at me and said, “We’ll leave you to talk with the chaplain” and they left the room. I realized that this was what God had called me to be. The one who people turn to when all else had failed and their world has fallen apart and not even the best of science and technology can fix it. When all that humanity can do comes up short, we are left with God and God’s Word. And that is by far the most powerful thing in all the world. God’s Word Never Fails. A passage of the Bible that has been important all my life comes from Isaiah 55. God’s Word will accomplish what God desires. May you immerse yourself in the only truth that can truly save.
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
J.Jeffrey Fletcher, MDiv, BTh, CSD, Chaplain, Valley Health