MILL VALLEY, Calif. – My grandmother died in March. She was a devout Christian who lived a full life of service to God and others. Before it was cool, she helped start a church that has grown to be one of the strongest in its area. People at her service spoke of her personal witness to them, her direct way of getting to the point about spiritual matters, and her constant love for those who struggled with life’s challenges. She truly was a remarkable woman.
My earliest memory of her was going to her house for Christmas when I was only 6 or 7 years old. I wanted a watch for Christmas – not some toy, but a grown-up watch to show everyone my budding maturity. On Christmas Eve, grandmother said we each could open one present. I scanned the tree, looking for the smallest box that just might be my watch. Nothing really matched watch-size, but one rectangular box had possibilities. I selected that gift, hopeful it would fulfill my dreams. I opened it enthusiastically.
It was a Bible – about the worst gift imaginable for me at the time. My disappointment was more than evident. Who gives a kid a Bible for Christmas? It was a zippered, King James Version, red-letter edition, with my name embossed in gold on the front. What a nerdy gift, a real downer for my emerging manhood.
Somehow the Bible made it home with me. It sat on a shelf for a few years. In my early teen years, I committed myself to Jesus as Lord. I started reading the Bible, using the one grandmother gave me for a few years. After a while, it went back on the shelf and was replaced by various Bible versions and styles. Now, my Bible is on my phone and tablet, and I can’t remember the last time I carried a print version.
My first Bible survived multiple moves, becoming an important life memento along the way. When my grandmother died, I thought about the Bible she had given me and the prophetic nature of the gift. The Bible changed my life, became the focus of my ministry, and now drives the curriculum of our seminary.
I took that old Bible off the shelf and used it to preach from at her memorial service. Holding it in my hands was a tangible reminder of her love, her vision for my life, and her legacy of Christian faith invested in so many people. A most disappointing gift became the best gift of all!
And yes, on Christmas morning when I was young, a smaller square box was under the tree – a watch. But what seemed timely at the time has long been overshadowed by the timeless gift of the Word of God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. This column first appeared at his website, JeffIorg.com.)