Joe sat on the steps at the front of the sanctuary, the second service over and everyone gone. He’d told Jerry, the groundskeeper, to go home; assuring him he’d lock up.
Closing his eyes, Joe could hear the echoes of worship, could still feel the Holy Spirit’s warmth encircling him. For a moment Joe wondered if the Lord always left when Jerry locked up, or did He too, like to stay after and remember the morning’s worship?
Joe looked down at the worn book in his lap, fingered the place on the cover where gold letters used to read, “Holy Bible.” Mangled by years of ministry and held together by duct tape, Joe’s Bible was a subject of constant ribbing. Every week, congregants asked, “Don’t ya think it’s time for a new Bible, Pastor?” Joe would smile and reply, “No, this one’s still good.”
Yesterday, Joe had turned fifty. His congregation, understanding his aversion to being the center of attention, hadn’t thrown him a party. They had, however, showered him with gifts, one being a generous gift certificate to a Christian bookstore. The envelope read, “For a new Bible.”
Today, Joe had to admit it was time. During his sermon, he had attempted to refer to a verse in John. When he flipped to the page, it had come out and fluttered to the floor. His congregation laughed along with him when he said, “I guess it is time for a new Bible.”
Joe sighed. Though thirty-two years had passed, it seemed only yesterday he’d gotten this Bible.
In 1973, Joe was a hippie, a dropout and a drug dealer. Like many others, he had left the east coast with nothing, and headed for sunny California. He was hitching his way west when a van full of “Jesus freaks” picked him up. They said they’d take him to Hollywood and give him some “living water,” which Joe figured was the name of some new acid trip.
He soon discovered that his new traveling companions weren’t into drugs. They claimed to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
“Whatever, it’s a free ride,” Joe reasoned.
By day the van rumbled west, the hippies singing praise songs. At night, they had Bible studies.
By Colorado, Joe had been through all four gospels with them, learning about Jesus. That’s when the van broke down. They spent a week reading Acts and waiting for a transmission part.
Reading about Paul, Joe knew there was hope for him. If God could take Paul, and turn him into a preacher; surely he could do something with a hippie named Joe. He realized that “living water” was something that would satisfy him like no drug ever could.
The van’s driver, Jonah, prayed with Joe and presented him with the Bible saying, “Hey man, this is your daily bread.”
After that, Joe couldn’t wait to get home and tell his friends. He laughed remembering the reactions people had when “loser” Joe came back from California preaching Jesus!
Joe, Bible always in hand, had shared the gospel wherever he could. The Bible study he started quickly outgrew his tiny apartment and a church was born. Twenty-five years later, the church was still growing.
Joe touched a hand to his face. The skin on his cheeks was beginning to wrinkle like the pages of his disintegrating Bible.
“Guess I’ll need replacing soon too.”
Something caught Joe’s eye- the torn page he’d dropped. Retrieving it, Joe read the passage from John 15. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you…” God spoke the words into Joe’s heart. “My words abide in you, not in that book, Joe.”
“Yeah. I know that, God.” Joe let peace wash over him.
He kept reading. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me… bears much fruit…”
“You are a fruit-bearing branch Joe, just like Paul was, but this harvest will continue after you’ve gone. I am the vine. Think of all the fruit.”
Memories flooded Joe’s mind: college students kneeling to receive Jesus, a divorced woman on an airplane, a grieving father at ground zero… God reminded him of people he’d forgotten and of the salvation stories he’d never know until Heaven.
“Thank You Lord,” Joe whispered, humbled again that God had chosen to include him in His kingdom.
Joe tucked the page into his Bible. Standing, he thought he heard God whisper one more thing. “Go get a new Bible Joe; you’re only fifty.”
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