It is the season of giving.
Yet, in all of the giving, we have often heard, “It is better to give than to receive.” The receiving is where we often struggle, at least I do.
It had been a long week at school. The culmination of events and teaching was the delicious meal provided by Daniel Boone Inn to our faculty and staff. Once the students had all departed, we sat down, and for what had seemed like an eternity, came together as one body, fellowshipping, sharing, and breaking bread together. It was a precious ending to a challenging semester. Afterward, my plans for the day were simple; just do a little Christmas shopping, as much as my meager teacher’s salary would allow, and then later that evening meet with brothers to study God’s word.
As I pulled the door closed behind me and I walked away from my classroom, a thought, or more rather, a command came to mind, “Go spend time alone with Him.” The image of the Christian bookstore down the road instantly flashed in my head, the warm lights, the inviting cushioned chairs, and rows and rows of biblical writings: God. For months I had been hoping to acquire a copy of the 1560 Geneva Bible. But a growing need to have a Bible that allowed me to further study and research the Word in preparation for speaking was becoming more important. So, as I walked out of Watauga High School for the beginning of my Christmas break, my afternoon of relaxation began.
The darkness seemed to come quicker. It was the day before the winter solstice, and as such, nightfall was sooner than I had recalled in recent weeks, or was it more like I was passing time in a manner to which I was unaccustomed? As I pulled into the parking lot of the Cornerstone Christian Bookstore, the warm, glowing lights from within painted a picture of a Thomas Kincaid painting, welcoming me in. From having visited the store many times before, I knew exactly where I wanted to go, but just stepping inside the doors, it was as if I had been welcomed home.
From that point forward, time seemed to slow to a crawl and then stopped.
There was the 1560 Geneva Bible, but the need, or He, pushed me to another aisle, to go where was my purpose that called. There was literally a KJV row, all to its own. “Unbelievable,” I mused to myself. The ancient voices smiled in my heart. As I opened one Bible after another to compare, I made it a point to use the gospel of John; it was important to compare apples, to apples. Like a kid in a candy store, I was surrounded by a plethora of choices, all good, all exciting. Like no other time in the history of what I knew, I could literally stand amongst stacks of God’s Word, all with same words, but all different in their format. Like the students in our classrooms, all different, but all special in their own way. Beautiful covers that protected the insides were as luxurious as were those precious letters within. He was all around me, and I was with Him.
One by one other shoppers passed. At first their presence didn’t break through my focus, but eventually, that voice once more said, “I send you out into the world not to keep my Word a secret, but share, yes, share.” Like a sleeper awakening from a deep sleep, I began trying to talk to those passing shoppers. Cordially they responded, and each began a conversation as if we had known one another for some time, each of us there as one, because of Him.
Time was not in my immediate thoughts, but aware in the back of my mind of my upcoming meeting, I pulled out my phone and checked the time. The display read something, but it didn’t click. There was no focus now for where or what was later. It was as if He was erasing everything beyond the walls of the store; He wanted me all to his own, like a selfish lover, just He and I.
Another shopper, another conversation on the Word before me and soon, I began spilling the truth like hot, fresh coffee for a welcome friend. The lady to whom I spoke last had a connection to one of the men with whom I was about to go meet. In fact, the similarities in our unknown paths quickly made the hair begin to stand up on the back of my neck, and the chill bumps rise on my flesh. Even now in this writing, I can feel that moment once more. It was as if God had placed us there to meet for His purpose. She too was interested in the exact same version that I was beginning to settle on. However, there was only one with tabs, something else that was quickly growing on me.
To understand the significance of this choice, I would have to go back a full year, but suffice it to say, that same man that I was meeting of whom I’ve already spoken, had suggested it one year before. Yet, in my
procrastination to buy it, the name had slipped my mind. Searching my device for the name, for which I knew I had taken note, I couldn’t find it anywhere. So, with a faint feeling of confirmation, it had become my focus. When the lady said that her husband would use it to preach, I demanded she take it, for there was none other like it on the shelf. She insisted no, that there would certainly be another one possibly in their back room. I acquiesced, but begrudgingly, after all, it seemed God had crossed our paths for a reason.
I placed the beautiful new Bible back in its box and in a dream-like manner and walked toward the check-out counter to pay. All of this time, the price of the book had not seemed to register. It was much more than I had available in my budget for a gift. Then there was this unobtrusive thought that had preceded my visit, “You need to get a gift for yourself a reward, if you will, for making it through another semester.” Yet, the unselfish part of me quipped, “It was a gift for me, from me?” Questions that would normally surface seemed to have vanished as I now faced the counter and placed it in the hands of the cashier.
“Can I get my name engraved,” I asked. Years earlier I had purchased another Bible here, and the purchase included name engravings.
“Certainly,” she smiled.
“Do you happen to have another copy like this one, with tabs in the back,” I continued, “There was a lady over there that wanted one for her husband, but this was the only one we saw on the shelf.”
“I can check,” she said and stepped away returning shortly, “No, that was the only one.”
“Okay,” I looked down at the floor, and the words from the lady returned, “It is God’s will that you have it.”
Before she began ringing it up, she asked how I would like my name spelled on the cover. After she wrote down my response, she then continued putting the purchase into the computer. I pulled out my wallet and decided upon the piece of plastic this would fit. That faint feeling of guilt began to surface.
“Should I really be doing this?”
Before my logical side could answer the voice behind the counter said something and began to walk away with the Bible to the back to get it engraved. The words she used didn’t make sense. I stood there unsure of what to do next. I looked back down at the credit card that was pulled out, then back at the counter where the empty box lay. The world in that moment seemed to stop, there was no sound, no music, nothing.
The voice repeated in my head, “It’s taken care of.”
“Did she mean it was rung up? But I don’t recall handing her my credit card, or did I?”
That feeling of losing control mused with one of fear, apprehension of not understanding, all spiraled around me while I stood there dumbfounded at what to do next. People in line at the other register continued on like their world had never changed. Soon enough she returned and was carrying the empty box to the gift as she reached to continue the transaction on the screen before her. I presented my credit card toward her, and she said, “It’s been taken care of.”
“It,..it what,” I stammered in an odd questioning tone?
Time passed, her demeanor changed, and she became that Kindergarten teacher trying to reach a child who just doesn’t get it.
“Sir, your Bible has been paid for.” She smiled, and my heart melted
It was as if the hand of God reached down and lifted me up at that moment. Years of struggle, the voices of those ancient martyrs, the dark valleys through which we have trod, all came rushing back. I felt myself wanting to fall to my knees, but something kept me upright. I stumbled toward the side of the counter. “I must reach a chair soon,” I thought to myself, “or else I’m going to make a scene.” Pausing at the opening to the check-out, I gurgled through welling eyes and choked throat to the cashier, “I’ve..got…to…go…sit….down.” Before I could reach the chairs by the fireplace, tears were streaming down my face faster than I could wipe them away.
“This is not happening.”
“I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy,” were the words that came again and again. The questions flowed like the river from my eyes, but there were no answers.
“Get it together,” I told myself, “Come on kid, you’ve got to receive, …you’ve got to receive.”
We hear of people paying it forward. Those lines in the drive-through where you go to pay and someone behind you or in front of you had already paid for your meal. But this time, this was much more than a meal. This was many more times the value of any Happy Meal. This was beyond the food for the body; but rather, food for the soul.
One of my pastor friends once told me, “In our walk, we must also learn to receive as well as to give. We become a blessing to others, as well as to ourselves.”
But then again, in our walk of becoming Christians, we must also learn that part of our salvation in Christ is that we receive Him.
The greatest gift of all is receiving Jesus Christ into your heart.
There I sat, weeping uncontrollably as He once more came into my life.
“Yes, thank you God,” I whispered, as the gift was given.
Eventually, I regained control of my emotions enough to stand and recompose myself at the water fountain. Not wanting to make eye contact with anyone, I looked at anything inanimate, trying to keep my mind off of this moment as much as possible.
“Come on, get it together,” I kept telling myself.
There was movement to the side of me, and here she came, the cashier with the Bible in her hand. She didn’t speak, but held it out before me, and looked up. It was then I could see her eyes filled with tears as she spoke, “Here it is.” She placed it into the box and put the lid on, then handed it to me.
She began sobbing.
Once more I lost control as tears began streaming down my cheeks. We hugged and began thanking God together.
“This will be a wonderful Christmas,” she whispered through her crying.
“Thanks be to the Lord,” I tried to reply.
As we walked to the door, it was all I could do to recompose myself enough to find the entrance. As we said our goodbyes, the last thing I can recall saying was, “This is truly a Godsend.”
She answered, “Amen.”
As I walked into the coming night, it was apparent why He had sent me to the bookstore. It was never meant to be a gift from me.
It was a gift from God.
Thanks be to God.
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his Glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bared witness and cried, saying, “This is He of whom I spaketh, “There is one who has come after me, he was preferred before me, for He was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”-John 1: 14-15