I met Sam fifty years ago. My home church recruited us—a couple of newly minted high school graduates—to help with a church plant in Sechelt, British Columbia. Sam, the pastor, was a retired missionary; a Scotsman by birth who had served for much of his life in Africa.
Yet he was still up to planting a church, even in his retirement. “We moved here,” he told us, “because it’s such a great location. But there isn’t a sound church to be found in twenty miles. So we knew we had a job to do!” His reference to “we” included his wife of fifty years.
By July 1966 the young church they launched needed a place to meet. That’s where Steve and I came in: we were there to help with the construction. But there was more than a church building to be built. Sam was actually a relay racer in line with Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:2, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
With Sam I was the much younger man, ready to receive what he had to offer. His real gift—as I’ve shared in an article on the Bible Read Through (available on the Spreading Goodness site)—was his easy familiarity with the entire Bible. He knew the Bible like I know my own neighborhood. And it was something I wanted for myself.
Yet there was more: I mostly wanted to have the bond with Christ I saw in Sam. He loved God. So when I pressed him about it he mentioned his habit of reading through the entire Bible between two and three times each year. He had been reading at that pace since he became a Christian at age twenty; and he was seventy when I met him that summer. So he had gone through the Bible between 100 and 150 times by then. And it showed. His relationship with Jesus was obvious in all he did.
I now see that summer as the passing of a baton—he handed me a treasure. So I started my own Bible reading that July, fifty years ago, and have been averaging three Bible readings each year since then. It takes about thirty minutes of reading each morning, often with my iPod audio Bible playing at double-speed, as I underline the text on my lap. It’s my time for companionship with the Lord as he shares his heart with me. And after the reading I pray in response to it.
Do I now have what Sam had? No. His obvious intimacy with Christ and his undiminished appetite for more still invites me to grow. I’m too flawed to offer myself as a model of faith to others. But I at least know where to turn in the face of my weaknesses. And I know enough to abide in his word and in his love as I ask for my soul to be washed. So I get to bring my weaknesses and celebrate Christ’s grace each new day.
I’m writing this—in my anniversary month—with a prayer that some young reader will take the baton I took from Sam. So that in another fifty years—if the Lord doesn’t return—a reader or two will carry Sam’s gift forward. So starting with July 2016 he or she will, in July 2066, offer this invitation to yet another era.
Once again, it’s the greatest gift—after my salvation—I’ve ever received. Please take it, carry it, and discover for yourself the joy that comes with abiding in God’s word. And then pass it along.