It all started with a box of Cracker Jacks.
I don’t remember much from my fourth-grade year at Toney Elementary in 1960. I recall Mrs. Jakes was my teacher. And I remember a box of Cracker Jacks. Our principal, Mr. Grady, announced over the speaker one Friday afternoon that anyone who came to Sunday School the following Sunday at Glenwood Hills Baptist Church would get a free box of Cracker Jacks. Apparently, in 1960, such announcements could be made in a public elementary school. As it happened, the local Baptist Church, located across the street from my school in Decatur, Georgia, used the school’s classrooms for their Sunday School classes.
I took the bait.
I got more than expected when I showed up the following Sunday. Oh, I got my box of Cracker Jacks. I also received my first Bible when Mr. Grady personally gave me a red-letter edition of the King James Bible.
I also got embarrassed.
During that first day of Sunday School, the teacher asked each student to share their favorite Bible verse. Starting with the first student in the first row of desks, each student began to quickly quote chapter and verse of their favorite biblical passage. Having just received my first Bible, I panicked. A quick count of the students ahead of me indicated 15 students, 15 quotes before it was my turn. Recalling that the red letters were supposed to be the words of Jesus, I frantically scanned the red-letter verses. None stood out as quotable to this biblically illiterate 9-year-old. The number of students ahead of me grew fewer in number. My eyes continued their desperate search. Was that a clock ticking inside my head? Geez, there were a lot of red-letter words. My frenzied search continued. I certainly didn’t want to admit here in the buckle of the Bible Belt that I had no favorite verse, or worse, that I had never read the Bible.
Those Cracker Jacks suddenly didn’t seem to be worth the trip.
When my turn finally came, I arbitrarily selected a verse that had little or no meaning to me. But it was in red letters, so if Jesus said it, I reasoned, it must be important. I detected a slight pause in the room. A few heads turned towards me. Apparently, fourth-grade Sunday School students had no appreciation for randomly selected red-letter words in Scripture.
Despite the embarrassing episode, I returned the next Sunday. Maybe in hopes of more Cracker Jacks, maybe in hopes of getting through a class without embarrassing myself again. But for some reason, I returned. My parents were not regular churchgoers, but they did not object to my going to Sunday School. Over the following years, my soul was peppered with grace; by that, I mean the grace that comes from hearing God’s Word. I didn’t realize it then, but my soul was yearning for truth, searching for meaning and purpose. The seeds of Scripture found fertile soil in the heart of this seeker.
But it would be a few years before those seeds bore fruit.
In the summer of 1969, I started my freshman year at Georgia Tech. I pledged a fraternity, fully embracing college life. Through a series of events involving my college fraternity and a televised Billy Graham crusade, I committed my life to Christ. (That’s another story.) Soon after my conversion, I came across two verses in Jeremiah. They were not in red letters, but the words grabbed me nonetheless. I kept returning to those verses. The words lingered in my soul, whispering their call. Here was Truth. Here were meaning and purpose.
Fifty years later, these verses still gently nudge me forward.
How much does this passage of Scripture mean to me? When I purchased the gravestone for my late wife, I purchased mine as well. It displayed my name, the date of my birth, an empty spot for the date of my death, and a Bible verse.
The Scripture engraved on my tombstone is Jeremiah 9:23-24.
“Thus says the LORD: “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts, boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.” (NASB)
And to think it all started with a box of Cracker Jacks.