My Calling to Bible College
Yahweh said to him, "Who made man's mouth? Or who makes one mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Isn't it I, Yahweh? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall speak." Exodus 4:11-12
This story begins in the early 2000s, when my life was not in a good place. For many years I'd been following a mixture of different varieties of new-age spiritual practices. But around the time, it was gradually dawning on me that I should abandon these, and become a Christian.
There were a number of significant events that led to my conversion to Christ. I'll write more about those in the future. Interestingly, two major influences were both Buddhist in origin. One was a book by the Dalai Lama. It said that, unless someone has a really strong personal reason why they couldn't possibly manage to do it, his advice was that most people with a Western background and family history should become Christians.
The other book said something like the one who wishes to become a spiritual master (I forget the exact term it used) should first sample and look into many different spiritual paths — and then choose just one of them to follow, to the exclusion of all the others. The book then gave an example of an eagle flying high, surveying the landscape, which then picks out one animal and singles it out, focusing on only it. That image stayed with me. (I'll try to remember the title of these books sometime. I don't have them anymore).
Choosing One Path — Is it God, or Money?
So around this time, the idea was growing on me that I should just choose one path and try to stick to it. I was very heavily into the books written by Tom Brown, Jr. at that time of my life. About the last thing I did before I became a Christian was to consider this path (that Tom Brown describes in his books) as the best one for me to follow for the rest of my life.
Yet even this ended up pointing me towards Jesus. Tom's books include a few stories about Jesus and about Christianity. One which stood out in my mind was from the book "Awakening Spirits". The story was of Grandfather, Tom's mentor, in his younger days meeting a man named Moses. It begins on page 80. Moses lived alone, digging for gold in a mine a long way from human settlement. His arm got stuck in some mining machinery, and Moses was unable to free himself. In his isolated spot, he did not expect to ever be found, nor to escape, and he was about to shoot himself. Grandfather rescued Moses from the machine and nursed him back to health.
Moses had become obsessed with trying to find riches in his mine. My own health had collapsed — from a combination of factors. A big one (and probably the biggest one) was overwork as a freelance computer programmer.
I began this work in 2001 while living in North Sydney (including a lovely view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so close that it that filled most of the window I looked out of from my desk). Due to some relationship issues and other reasons (which I'll elaborate on later), I "temporarily" moved back to the Blue Mountains, where I grew up. I ended up staying in the mountains a lot longer than I'd intended to.
One unexpected effect of this move was that I never got a single good new business client again. Location really did matter (plus I was quite new to the industry, which no doubt made it matter even more). I really only had one good long-term client left, so I felt quite dependent on them. The project I was doing for them was about half finished. The parts that I'd completed were already online, and being used by their staff and their members as the main system they used to run their organisation. It was working quite well, and they were very happy with me.
I was billing my time at $80 an hour (in 2002 dollars) though I was actually working many hours for every one that I billed. My competitors were mostly small companies, with an office, a few programmers, a boss, a secretary, and perhaps a salesperson and a hardware person. I was just me, working on my own. I figured if I kept at it long enough, eventually I'd build up enough of a code base (of software that I'd written) that I could do many more projects with much less effort. I had very low overheads compared to a small office-sized company, so I could undercut just about anyone. All I had to do was keep up the pace of the workload.
The Big Carrot
The big, big carrot with this particular client (other than them being my only good one after moving away from the city) was that their organisation had about twenty "sister" organisations around the world — and they all wanted what I was developing for the Australian organisation. There would have been minor changes for each one, but overall their organisational structure was very similar (and also quite unique overall, so there were no off-the-shelf solutions available for them). While only a verbal agreement, they said it was definite that they wanted to buy my product, once it was finished. It would have netted me around $100,000 times twenty. In 2002 dollars. For 2-3 years of work. For the first time in my life, I had the legitimate opportunity to make some real money. It was sitting right in front of me, glistening like gold.
All I had to do was finish the product.
Needless to say, trying in desperation to keep up with the deadlines, I worked myself almost into the ground. And literally onto the ground — specifically onto the hard cold tile floor where I woke up after sitting at the computer late one night, suddenly feeling a pain in my chest like I'd been shot, and then staggering around for a while fighting to stay conscious. Fifteen years later (almost to the day), that pain has never left me. Though now it's largely managed with presecription medication.
Occasionally I try to reduce my dose. That last time I did that in any significant way was a couple of years ago. I thought it was going really well until the shot-through-the-chest pain came back suddenly and strongly while playing guitar in church one morning. I had a break from playing during the sermon, but I really wanted to finish my set of songs at the end of the service. My first thought was that I'd heard how Frank Sinatra passed out on stage, so I figured if it was good enough for him, then I shouldn't let a bit of intense pain deter me from playing. Not long after that it was clear I wouldn't be able to go on stage. I went outside to the bathroom, expecting to vomit. I didn't vomit, but I did end up unconscious on the ground. An off-duty paramedic called an ambulance for me. When I came to, he told me I'd turned blue and had a minor fit of some kind. I was fine several hours later (with plenty of the medication I'd been gradually cutting back until then), and they let me out of hospital that evening.
Back to the early 2000s. Most days, apart from occasional short breaks, I was working at the computer almost nonstop from about 9-10 am when I got up, to around 1-3 am when I went to bed. Eating my meals in front of it. It wasn't so bad at first, but as things ramped up the work got more and more intense. In the end I think it wasn't so much the hours that burned me out but the pressure I felt under, trying to go faster and faster all the time, during those hours.
And finally, back to the story of Moses and his gold mine. By the time I read that story a lot of things had happened to me. And there are more details to the story that I also related to. When I read it, I very much identified with that story of Moses, in his mine, all by himself, trying to become rich.
This is how the story about Moses ends:
Then one day, as Grandfather walked to his sacred prayer area high up in the mountains, he passed by the mine. To his amazement, the mine's entrance was boarded up and all the mining tools were in a neat pile. He knew then that Moses had abandoned all senseless dreams of the flesh and now was truly on a spiritual path. Grandfather knew that Moses would never return to that prison of the soul.
When Grandfather returned to the shack after his daily prayers, he found that Moses had packed up his things and appeared ready to leave. Before Grandfather could say a word, Moses said, "I once had a dream that was almost forgotten. I once wanted to become a minister, for I once was close to God. Now that I can see God again in all of His creation, I want to live that old dream. So now I must leave this place and find the woman who loved me so long ago, for it was her dream, too. I have been such a fool all of these years. I have sacrificed everything for the dream of riches, only to find that riches are but temporary and illusive. Only the riches of the spirit are real, and all else is but an illusion. I cannot hesitate on my journey, dear friend, for I have wasted so many years. I will waste no more. I will always be thankful to you for leading me back to my dreams and to the power of the spirit". With that, Moses hugged Grandfather and left on the journey of the rest of his life.
Grandfather watched Moses disappear into the distance.
I first read that story around 2007. Perhaps sometime I'll look in my Amazon.com purchase history and try to find out exactly when it was.
Last Summer, and Starting Bible College
Now fast forward to the end of November 2017. I'm in Koorong, the local Christian bookshop, checking out the books. Before I was a Christian I spent many thousands of dollars over many years at the Adyar Bookshop in Sydney (when it was a real physical shop). Now, Koorong gets that part of my budget.
I'm not sure why I hadn't properly noticed them before, but on that day, I picked up a Hebrew Bible and started looking through it. Instantly I fell in love with it. Almost immediately I realised I had to learn it, and Greek also. Within a few days I'd purchased Hebrew and Greek Bibles, plus a box set of learning materials for Biblical Hebrew. And shortly after that (and only after because it wasn't in stock, and I had to order it) a box set of learning materials for Biblical Greek.
As last Summer began, I began learning Greek and Hebrew from those materials. I started to think more and more seriously about going to Bible College to learn the languages formally, and many other things about God, and see where this path took me. I also started doing regular daily readings from "The Daily Bible", which I hadn't done for several years.
I went to speak with my senior pastor about my Bible College idea, and he was very supportive and enthusiastic. Being at a Baptist church, he recommended Morling College, where he'd gone himself. It was a Friday afternoon. He said that on Monday morning, he'd be attending a meeting of pastors from local Baptist churches at a place called Greater West for Christ, and would I like to come along and see what it's all about?
So I went along on the Monday, and it was excellent. Again, everyone was supportive and encouraging. In my life up till this point, I'd never really considered myself "good" enough for Bible College. But it all seemed to be falling into place. If I was going to start at Morling that semester, I only had about a week to decide if I was really going to do it, and put in an application for enrolment before the deadline. So I went home to think about it.
That evening I read my Daily Bible reading, which had that specific day of the year printed at the start of the reading. As it turns out, it was Exodus 3-4, where Moses is called (the Prophet Moses, not the character from Tom Brown Jr.'s book).
I especially took notice of these verses below. (This quote is from the World English Bible. The version I read on that day was only slightly different, from the 1984 edition of the NIV — however according to this I don't think I'm allowed to quote it.)
Moses said to Yahweh, "Oh, Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before now, nor since you have spoken to your servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." Yahweh said to him, "Who made man's mouth? Or who makes one mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Isn't it I, Yahweh? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall speak."
He [Moses] said, "Oh, Lord, please send someone else."
The anger of Yahweh was kindled against Moses...
I took this to be a hint that I was meant to go. Plus it reminded me of the story of the "other" Moses, from when I first became a Christian.
So I started looking at what subjects I'd do at Morling. One of the first I came across was called "Ministry Formation", which was about finding your role within the broad field of Christian ministry. It sounded like exactly what I was looking for. In the unit description, there was a list of Bible verses. The first one mentioned was the exact same set of verses I'd already been thinking and praying about, Exodus 3:1–4:17. I took this to be a hint that I was meant to do this subject.
Through a completely unrelated set of circumstances, I'd ordered the book "If God is Good — Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil" by Randy Alcorn, which my friend Darby had highly recommended. It was a Christian book, but about health, and not related to Bible College. Around that time the book arrived, and the first Bible verse mentioned, which is on page 2, is Exodus 3:7, again from the same set of verses I'd been thinking and praying about, where Moses is called.
These events, which all pointed to the same message of Moses being called to serve the Lord, seemed to be a sign of confirmation that commencing my Master of Divinity degree at Morling College was a genuine calling.