"Only one book in the box turned out to pique my curiosity, and I've sometimes wondered if this was one of those moments when the Holy Spirit initiates a beautiful, life-changing thing in a person's (even a child's) life? Taking the book from the box, I examined it. It had a deep maroon cover, and the title embossed on its face in large golden letters read: "Bible Stories by Elsie Egermeier."
"When I thumbed through the pages, I soon discovered that Ms. Egermeier's book recounted every Bible story in chronological order from Genesis to Revelation. Many of the stories were accompanied by black and white illustrations. On one page was an illustration of Joshua at Jericho. On another: Jesus pacifying the storm on Galilee.
"Now, I was not yet able to read the stories on my own," I told the publishers, "but I was captured instantly by those illustrations. In the months that followed, I taught myself to read (with some help, of course) and finally reached the time almost a year later when I was able to read every story in Elsie Egermeir's book.
"Thanks to this book, my core knowledge of the Bible took a quantum leap, and my nascent Christian faith began to form around those stories."
I went on to point out that while there are those who build their understanding of the Christian life around the propositions in the Pauline letters, mine was built around the stories of disparate people who, through the biblical generations, obeyed or disobeyed God.
"What does it mean to obey God?" I asked the audience. "For me the answer springs from the story of Abraham ascending a mountain to offer his son back to the Heavenly Father.
"And how to you define faith? I came to understand it from the adventures of Gideon, David and Goliath, and Elijah on Mount Carmel.
"How does God call people to his service? You'll find the answer in Moses' moment at the burning bush, in Esther's challenge from Mordecai, and in Mary's response to the angel when she was told she was to be the mother of Jesus.
"Prayer? You learn about it from Jesus in the garden or from the small group that interceded all night for Peter in prison.
"Compassion? Watch the father of the Prodigal son, and imagine the efforts of the Good Samaritan.
"Courage? Zoom in on Stephen. Integrity? Read about Daniel. Failure? Observe Solomon going downhill as he becomes full of himself.
"Grace? Listen to Jesus restore the humiliated Simon Peter at the shore of Galilee.
"Stories! How they lodge in the deepest parts of a person's soul like haunting tunes that will not go away. How inter-generational they are: fascinating to the inquiring child, assuring to the adolescent, a source of wisdom and grit for the adult who finds him- or herself in a daily battle for spiritual direction."
Then my speech to the publishers reached its crescendo.
"The most influential book in all of my life? It has to be that collection of Bible stories Elsie Egermeier compiled in 1922 and that I discovered when I was exiled to my room for misbehaving in 1944. That book had a greater impact—proportionally!—upon the course of my life than anything else I have ever read. It caused me to define reality according to biblical specifications."
In all my years as a preacher, I have rarely ever constructed a sermon that did not reach back into one of the great scriptural stories for its foundation. As a father, I tried to make sure that our children were well-acquainted with the principles of life as illustrated in the Bible's heroes. In all my years as a Christ-following man, I have tied my personal perception of faith in God to those events where he is described as being utterly faithful and redemptive.