This photo is from my graduation from Bethel Seminary 16 years ago! This weekend Keri and I will be in Chicago getting a similar photo as I graduate from Northern Seminary as a Doctor of the Church specializing in the historical context of the New Testament. This moment has been a long time in the making. Like 18 years! I am reposting this story below as I cross the finish line this Saturday and realize a dream 2 decades in the making. Thanks to everyone, especially my MainStreet family and all my professors, who have helped me get here.
Originally posted August 24, 2017.
It was our first Christmas together. You knew it was serious because we would be spending Christmas with each other’s families for the first time. Dun-dun-dun. Do you remember the pressure from all the “firsts” in those early days of dating? First date. First embrace. First time your hands touch. First lingering goodbye at the door or in the car. First kiss. First argument. First make up hug and kiss.
The stakes rise when the “firsts” start to involve a larger circle of people. First time with the siblings. First time meeting the parents. But it all crescendos to the all important first overnight Christmas with the entire family.
That was Christmas 2003.
This also meant the pressure of choosing a meaningful (but not too over the top) first Christmas gift. It’s a big deal. I bet many of you can remember the first Christmas gift you gave and received from your future spouse. Am I right?
I remember what I gave Keri. I think she liked it, but not enough to keep her from losing it! But that’s another story. This is a story about the meaningful gift Keri gave to me and the renewed significance of that gift now 14 years later. Here’s the story. First some boring stuff, then I’ll get to the cute and sentimental point.
I was in my second year of seminary. She was in her second year of college. She gave me my first fancy leather Bible — The New Interpreters Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version). But not just any NRSV. By special request she gave me the version that included the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical books not typically found in Protestant Bibles. These books are not considered inspired Scripture by Protestants, but include many fascinating Jewish writings that illuminate the period of history called Second Temple Judaism (the period between the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in c. 515 BC and its destruction by the Romans in 70AD). I wanted to understand the world that gave rise to Jesus and the early Christian movement and message.
In my fancy new Bible I would read for the first time 1 & 2 Maccabees, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Additions to the Books of Esther and Daniel including Bel and the Dragon, and a favorite of mine called Tobit. (One of our wedding verses was taken from Tobit and probably had both our Baptist and Lutheran families scratching their heads : “Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together” (Tobit 8:7).
Okay, that was the boring part, but a necessary window into my former life as a student interested in history and hoping to continue my studies at the doctoral level after seminary. That was my dream at the time anyway.
Now the cute part and take away.
That Christmas we were young and in love (Keri was just 20). We were naive and dreaming. We didn’t have a clue where our lives were headed. But we believed in each other and we believed we could achieve our dreams together. Keri believed I could go on to get a doctorate degree, become a professor of Biblical Studies, wear tweed jackets with dark rimmed glasses, publish books and grow a personal library with fat books with names she couldn’t pronounce (like Pseudepigrapha).
We’re all taught the importance of believing in ourselves and chasing our dreams. But its equally important we find someone else who believes in our dream and is willing to keep pushing us toward it even when we start to lose sight of it.
The greatest gift Keri gave me that first Christmas was putting my dream down in permanent ink in the front of that Bible.
Dr. Jeremy Berg
It’s been fourteen eventful years since she wrote “Dr.” inside my Bible. But I’ve been pretty much everything but a doctor these past years: a crew supervisor with Tree Trust, a swim instructor, a substitute teacher, a driving instructor, a basketball coach, a youth pastor, a newspaper delivery boy, a church planter and pastor. But its right there, written in ink. Not pencil. She called me Dr. Jeremy Berg.
The inside of a Bible is a horrible place to write down a lie. But its a great place to name one’s dream and give it over to God for safe keeping.
I’ve opened that Bible many times, glanced at that dream and offered a silent prayer up to God: “Maybe someday, God? If you wish.”
Well, 14 years later, 3 kids busier, 3 churches served, and a dozen years of ministry miles under my belt, I’m at last pursuing that doctorate. And what do you think I am studying? That’s right! Second Temple Judaism and New Testament Context with one of the experts in the field, Dr. Scot McKnight.
But I owe so much to the young girl who believed in my dream and kept it alive for me all these years by writing it down in my Bible in permanent ink, not pencil. And God is has been faithful!
How about you? Are your dreams written in permanent ink? Or scribbled haphazardly in pencil? Have you written it down? Is it written on a wrinkled napkin to be easily discarded when life throws you a few curveballs? Or is it written with care in the front of your Bible with God as your witness and faithful support? Also, are you believing in other people for their dreams?
Thank you Keri for believing in me back then, and for believing in me now! There’s no one in the world I would rather be sharing this journey with!
Dr. Jeremy Berg (hopefully in 2021)