On October 23rd, the church gave a Pastor Appreciation Dinner for Rae Anne and me (also known as the Glorification of the Worm Ceremony). After the dinner, our Chairman of Deacons, Wally Liechty, made a presentation to me on behalf of the church. He handed me a gift bag containing an insulated coffee tumbler with Isaiah 41:10 (one of my favorite verses) printed on the side. And down in the bag there was a generous gift card for me to spend at the Open Door Christian Bookstore. It was in the amount of $250, in honor of the twenty-five years we have been together as pastor and church.
And I admit that my heart fell inside of me when I saw the gift certificate. The first thing that flashed into my mind was the six stacks of books I have sitting around my study, that I have absolutely no room for on my bookshelves. I thought, “What am I gonna do with more books?”
A pastor has to keep reading new books. If you don’t keep reading, you get stagnant, and your sermons get stale. New books give you new insight into old truths, and make you excited to share the Gospel with different material than you’ve had before. John Wesley said a minister should read five hours out of the twenty-four, or leave the ministry. I’ve never managed to read five hours a day consistently. I doubt if Wesley could have, either, after the invention of the telephone. But I read a lot. I love to read. Sometimes I read for fun, before I go to sleep at night. Sometimes I read to keep from being bored, over lunch by myself somewhere. Sometimes I read in a panic when Sunday is coming, and I have no idea what to do with a portion of Scripture I’m supposed to preach on. For various reasons, I’m always reading.
If you read, you buy books. If you keep reading, you end up with a lot of books, and you need someplace to put them. So, I have bookshelves at home, and at church there are nine bookcases in my study. They are all crammed full. Some shelves have books laying on top of other books. And at my study desk, at any given point in time, I am usually surrounded by stacks of books I have pulled from the shelves to help me with whatever it is I’m preparing to preach or teach on currently.
I’ve often toyed with the idea of installing bookshelves in the Pastor’s Study at church that go all the way to the ceiling. Then I could get one of those rolling library ladders so I could reach the books on the top shelves (and have fun with the rolling ladder). If I would do that, I would do it at my own expense, and it would be my contribution to the church and the pastors who follow me here. And they would rise up and call me blessed…
Then reality asserts itself. The next young pastor after me will probably have more books on his computer and his phone than I have on my shelves. (Actually, I have more books on my computer and in my phone than are on my shelves.) He would probably look at those floor-to-ceiling bookcases and think, “What am I gonna do with all these bookshelves?” And besides, I’m sixty-six years old, I have arthritis in my knees, and probably shouldn’t be playing around on rolling ladders.
So, back to the dinner and the gift card. After a few moments where most of what I wrote above flashed through my mind, an idea occurred to me. I could use that gift card to buy a premium Bible.
A premium Bible is an heirloom-quality Bible that represents the peak of the printers art. Early in my ministry I bought a Cambridge Bible. It wasn’t a premium Bible, but came bound in bright red leather, and I used it for many years. It was called the Concord Reference Edition. It had no study notes, only the King James Version text with center-column references. I used it for many years, until the leather started to crack and fade. I think it cost me $80.
Cambridge University Press, located at Cambridge University in England, is the oldest Bible publisher in the world. Cambridge began publishing 488 years ago, in 1534, with letters of patent granted by King Henry VIII. Cambridge was one of the two centers of the Reformation in England (the other being Oxford). They’ve always printed scholarly books, too, but the first Cambridge Bible was printed in 1591 by John Legate. Since then, a Cambridge Bible has always been considered one of the best quality Bibles you can buy. And some of their Bibles are made with the finest leather covers, printed on the finest paper, with the finest and most legible font available. The binding is Smyth-sown, the pages have art-gilding on the edges, and even the ribbon markers are of the finest quality. These Bibles are designed to last for a lifetime. The truth is, with reasonable care, they can last hundreds of years.
This is the kind of Bible I bought with the church’s gift card. I thought, “This won’t be more books to clutter up my study. This will be something I can always point to, and show people, and tell them, ‘This is what I got with the church’s gift to me for being here twenty-five years.’ And this is something I can show the church as say, ‘Look what you got me!’ “
So, I went to the Open Door Christian Bookstore and talked with my long-time friends there about ordering a premium Cambridge Bible. After much conversation and poring over the Cambridge catalog, I somewhat reluctantly settled on the Cambridge Topaz Reference Bible in the English Standard Version. I say reluctantly because the Bible is a bit bigger than I would have preferred. I looked at the next size down and, ahem, the print was a little too small. It was also, ah, more expensive. It took all of the church’s gift card to me. And an anonymous $100 cash gift, as well. And I made up the last five-dollar difference and paid the tax. (You do the math. My wife thinks it would be tacky for me to tell you the price.)
All to say: with the church’s gift to me I have purchased what will probably be my last preaching Bible. It is bound in soft black goatskin, with a calfskin inner facing. It is an American translation from an English publisher, printed on French paper, with a font designed by a man from Denmark, and printed by the Royal Jongbloed Press in the Netherlands. (If that doesn’t represent the Church in every nation, I don’t know what does!) I probably won’t mark in this one. This is the kind of Bible you hand down to someone else.
It is a premium-quality Bible, but it isn’t a porcelain doll. It’s a working Bible, too. I’ve been preaching from it and carrying it in my bookbag and briefcase. And if you want to see it, I’d be glad to show it to you. You can hold it and look at it. After all, you gave it to me.
And I want to say a deep, heart-felt “Thank you!”
And my intention is to use this Bible to preach and teach God’s Word to you, for as long as God is pleased for us to serve Him together in the Gospel of His Son.
Soli Deo Gloria!