I hold the old Bible and see with surprise that the skin of my hands look almost as tired and worn as its cracked cover. I can see pale fingerprints worn into the rich, chocolate-brown leather of the Book. I can only hope that my ministry has made a similar imprint on the souls I have encountered over the past 46 years.
I remember the day Rachel’s eyes danced with excitement as she handed me a white tissue-wrapped box. Inside was a new Bible, with the words “JAMES P. STEELE, God’s Minister” embossed in gold letters on the cover.
She saw my happy look turn suddenly to worry. I had recently graduated from seminary, and we were watching our nickels and dimes.
“It’s been in lay-away for six months at Mr. McDaniel’s bookstore,” she whispered, and my heart swelled with love.
Within days of my graduation, I received a letter from the First Congregational Church of Taylorsville. They were without a pastor—would we come? So, with our new son and our few belongings, we moved to the beautiful mountains of northwest Georgia.
The community welcomed us with a potluck supper and helped us move into our new home. We loved the old farmhouse with its hardwood floors and wraparound porch. Morning-glory vines gracefully climbed a trellis near the back door.
Across the clay road from the house stood the church, and all 14 pews were filled that first Sunday morning as I stepped into the pulpit. I felt perspiration running down my sides. Rachel had washed, starched and ironed my shirt last night. I pressed my arms to my sides and hoped she wouldn’t be embarrassed.
I looked down at my open Bible and began to read:
“...and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
Shaky nerves and a stained shirt no longer mattered as the Holy Spirit took control, and I became the vessel God intended me to be. When the altar call was given, three souls in faded cotton clothes came forward to accept the gift of a new life.
There were joyous times—weddings in the church, souls growing close to God, families reunited, answered prayers, neighbors helping one another. And God blessed Rachel and me with two more sons.
There were sorrowful times as well—sickness, loss of loved ones, sons and daughters leaving to serve our country.
The years passed quickly, like pages turning in the wind. Sometimes my mom would phone and say, “James, stop what you’re doing and read Psalms 118.” Each time she called with her new favorite scripture, I made a small notation in my Bible.
One day I saw my Bible with new eyes. It had become tattered with age and use. Years of underlining and highlighting scriptures, writing notes in the margins, and taping loose pages had taken a toll. It was time to retire the Bible Rachel had given me to the bookshelf.
New Bibles were bought over the years, but I never took the time to have them embossed. As they became worn, they too, were retired to the bookshelf.
Books are fragile, and so are we.
As I wrote at my desk one fall evening, fighting a mysterious fatigue that had plagued me all day, I noticed a dull ache in my elbow, and then a flurry of sharp pains radiating from my chest and down my arm. In the hospital, Dr. Malone, confirmed it—I had suffered a heart attack.
“Your next heart attack could be fatal,” the doctor said sternly, as Rachel held my hand tightly.
Yesterday, as I sat in my favorite chair in our cozy family room, Rachel and our sons—now grown with families of their own—joined me in a little celebration.
I took the tattered Bibles from the bookshelf. As I handed each of our sons one of the old Bibles, I said, “My prayer is that you will seek in these pages the gifts that God has chosen especially for you.”
The last Bible, the most tattered of all, I placed in Rachel’s hands. Time had not faded the gold embossing, “JAMES P. STEELE, God’s Minister.”
Romans 10:14-15 (KJV)
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