Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Friday, October 25, 2013

The day I became an uncle

   I became an uncle at the age of 26. I was one majorly excited guy. I grew up with two sisters, and had wanted a brother in the worst way, and had even prayed for one until I decided my mom was too old to have another kid, then quit praying for one.

   When I found out my sister was pregnant, I was hoping for a nephew. I figured since I never got the brother I wanted, a nephew would be cool. As the day got closer, the more I anticipated getting a nephew. I made the statement to family and coworkers, that if it was a girl, I was having nothing to do with her. I wasn't going to hold her, wasn't going to play with her.

  The day finally came. October 25, 1995. I joined the rest of my family in the waiting room, waiting for my nephew to arrive...... but it wasn't a nephew. It was a niece. I was bummed. And a little upset. I had even prayed for a nephew. But I had got a niece. Stephanie Marie Giles.

  It didn't take me long to get over being bummed and upset. I was living in a duplex underneath my sister and her husband, and I would race home from work to hold, feed, and play with this little bundle of joy that had made me an uncle. I'd proudly carry her into where I worked to show her off, and be reminded of what I had said... ouch. So much for that.

  Two months later, I spent more money on Christmas gifts for this new little person in our family than I had ever spent on one person for Christmas, ever. I loved being an uncle, even to a little girl, and dove headfirst into it.

   A couple of years after her birth, along came another niece. Two years later, another niece. By the time I got the first of my three nephews in 2001, my nieces had me wrapped firmly around their fingers. And due to my nephews not living close by, I am to this day closer to my nieces than my nephews. I wouldn't trade them for anything. Since I don't have kids of my own, and never will, I probably have a closer relationship to all 6 of my nieces and nephews than some uncles or aunts. It makes this bachelor uncle feel very good when my nieces want to spend time with me, and I love playing games with them, taking them out to eat, shopping etc.

  Kids grow up way too fast. I can hardly believe that little bundle is turning eighteen years old today, October 25. The age we call turning an adult. I find myself a bit misty-eyed. Where have the years gone? That little baby is a confident and talented young lady who is a whiz at her studies. She plays the piano (far better than I can), the violin, viola, and cello. She's a great kid who is respectful and causes no trouble nor gets into any. A young lady I am proud to be uncle to.

So happy 18th birthday, Stephanie. I love you tons, as I do your sisters and cousins, but you are the one who made me an uncle 18 years ago. My very favorite title to wear. Why did you have to grow up so fast?!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lovest thou the King James?

  I have blogged about this before, but had some more thoughts on it. And they may be somewhat inflammatory thoughts, but you'll have that.

  I was raised on the King James Version of the Bible. We used it in church, at school, at home. When I memorized Scripture, it was from the KJV. For most of my childhood and teen years, I didn't know there was any other version.

 I can still remember the time I was in a Christian bookstore around the age of 17 and an employee was explaining the New King James Version differences to them. I felt it was heresy.

 Then I went to Bible College and met the NIV. I had a college professor who was very pro-NIV. I bought one at his urging, and 24 years later, I am still not a big fan of it, but I have gone on to enjoy other versions. I have more than one. My two favorites are the New King James Version, and the one I used the most: The New Living Translation. I believe there are benefits in using more than one translation, especially when reading familiar passages that you almost have memorized in one translation. I never use the King James Version at home. It is still what we use at church, so I do use it there, but that is the only place.

  I have run across a lot of "King James only" people across the years. Some just prefer it, and that is OK. I do thing KJV only people are depriving themselves by sticking to one translation, but that is their prerogative. And then you have the group of people who bug me: the "King James only, and you're a heretic going to hell for using any other version" people. Well, they may not say outright that you're going to hell, but you can almost feel it radiating off of them as they pull their righteous robes around themselves. They scornfully look at even the New King James Version of the Bible and consider you a heretic for using even it.

  I had a Sunday School teacher who spend half of the lesson one time decrying the evils of the NKJV. I was offended, and thought it was out of place. Is it his prerogative to like only the KJV? Of course, but not to tell his Sunday School class what they should or should not use.

  Here is the ironic part, and where I believe these people are hypocrites with a double standard.... or does having a double standard make them a hypocrite? Anyway, they are condemning others for what they are doing. What do I mean? I'll tell  you:

   The NKJV is basically the KJV without the archaic language. The KJV uses words like "thou, lovest," and many others that we don't use. Other than that, it is very close to the KJV. So why is that hypocritical? Because that is what the KJV did. Yes, really. What people hold so sacred is not the original KJV Bible. It was put in more modern English so people could read it better. Sound familiar? It should, because that is what the NKJV did.

  I was shopping at one of my favorite stores the other day, and ran across something I bought as a novelty: a 400th Anniversary edition of the King James Version of the Bible. The original 1611 edition. It was only $3.99, and I will never read it, but it is cool to have. I will never read it because the English in it is 1611 English. Almost impossible for me to understand with my 2013 English. Good thing someone made one in more modern English. Wish someone would do that with the KJV we have now..... oh wait..... they did! Its called the New King James Version!

  I seriously don't have issues with people sticking to the KJV. But they do need to realize that it is what the NKJV is. The same version with more modern English. And no, the KJV is NOT the version the Apostle Paul used.......

Monday, October 7, 2013

Denying ourselves to help others...... or, getting off of our sanctimonious butts and spreading the Gospel

A couple of months ago, I read 4 books by two different authors that have the tendency to be life-changing books. I am in no means putting them on the same level as the ultimate life-changing book, The Bible, but it is possible for other books to be life-changing.

Two of those books, written by David Platt, are majorly convicting books I think all Christians should read: Follow Me, and Radical. Both books stirred a longing in me to truly follow God and be all out for Him, and not have a shallow profession where I seek my own desires than His will. To be willing to be used by Him and truly deny myself.

These books tell stories of people who don't sit around and wait for people who are "called" of God to go out and reach people for God. These people believe that we are all called, and we need to take some initiative, and they have taken it. Some have gone into the ghettos and set up Bible studies. Just in one church, over 100 familes - I think 150 - either adopted or fostered kids who needed a family, and not just to give kids a home, but to reach them for God.

I count myself in with this statement, so if it sounds harsh, I have 4 fingers pointing back at me: Too many Christians are willing to serve God, even give up some things that the world does, as long as they aren't too inconvenienced..... as long as they have time to do what they want and when they want....... and therein may lie the one thing we don't want to give to God: time. We are happy to toss money in the offering plate for the missionary offering, just don't expect us to do anything that will require us using our time for someone other than us.

My church has an offering they take yearly, I forget when, but it is called the "self denial offering." Good idea it would seem. The idea is to give money for whatever it goes for, that you want to use for something else. You are denying yourself of something and can go home smug that you denied yourself and took up your cross........

But here's an idea: How willing would people be to give time? Instead of putting money in the offering plate, put slips of paper with hours of time to be used for God...... whether it be doing some menial job around the church, visiting shut-ins, taking someone out to eat that may be discouraged..... the possibilities are endless. But are we willing to do that?

I had a job at church a few years ago that I didn't enjoy. Our church has two sets of books that we get credit for people reading. There are about 3-4 books and one book of the Bible for each. I was in charge of one set of books. I had to keep track of them, and try to get people to read them. I got so tired of hearing "sorry, I don't have time." I'd think "baloney!" I'd rant to my family about it. "I bet anything if we invited so-and-so over for pizza and games Friday night, they'd have time for that, but no time to read a book?!" At least I am honest about it.... I just tell them when asked that I don't want to...... :-)

Our churches have many hurting people, but not many people will take the time to reach out.... it would take effort and time, so they throw a little extra money in the offering and pat themselves on the back. And meanwhile, their brother or sister across the aisle is wishing someone had the time to ask them how they are doing, and really care about the answer.

Part of  the problem is we are spoiled here in America. We have it way too easy. We have our schedule, the things we want to do, and we don't want that disrupted, but I am becoming more and more convinced that if we truly sell out to God and quit playing church, and quit playing Christians, it is going to disrupt our lives.

And time is just one area we don't deny ourselves enough in. Its all of life. We have lost our vision, our purpose. It isn't to just make it to Heaven...... if that is all our Christian life is about, we have truly become most selfish and narcissistic in our very service to God. We are to spread the Gospel, reach out to people and win them to God. That will take time. That will disrupt our schedule and maybe our very lives. It may be messy and often involve sacrifice on our part..... but if we are simply going to church, raising our families, and making a living......what good are we? If the church is just a place to go and show up to let people know we are still a Christian, but we aren't reaching out to hurting people, winning new people to the church...... what good are we?

Christianity is more than a check list of things we do to feel we are doing all we need to do to please God: pray, read our Bible, go to church, and the list goes on. Nothing that costs us anything, but only things that let us coast along in life.

There is a passage of Scripture that we tend to breeze past and not make much of, but it seems to be one we should all spend more time thinking on, praying on, and letting it affect our actions. Matthew 25:35-45:
35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' 37 "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' 40 And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!' 41 "Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, 'Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons! 42 For I was hungry, and you didn't feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn't give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn't invite me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me no clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn't visit me.' 44 "Then they will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' 45 And he will answer, 'I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' (NLT)

   It sounds like we are going to be judged for what we did to help the hurting....but if we can't help the hurting in our own congregation, how can we ever manage to help those outside of the church, and it sounds like it is pretty important to God that we do so.

  I have a friend who shall remain nameless, who does not go to my church. He deals with an issue that is very difficult to deal with, and has been open about it. He has mentioned to me on more than one occasion how he wishes people in his church would do more to help and encourage him. I try to make excuses that people are busy, and yes they are, but if we are too busy to be about God's work, whether it be taking time out for someone in our own church, the next door neighbor, or anyone else God might bring across our path..... we are too busy.

Jesus was all about people. He went around healing and helping people. Thank God He wasn't too busy..... and we are to be like Him, but how much are we? If we can't make time to reach out to people, to help them, point them to Christ.....how much like Christ can we be? Which message will we hear from the above Scriptures?

I know there are exceptions to every case, and that there are people who do more than their share, and like I said, I put myself in the category of not doing enough. How many of us would dare ask God to bring someone across our path to help? Or are we afraid to do so. Are we too busy to handle what God might bring our way......

Back around 1999 or 2000, I took what was a bold step for me. I enrolled in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program. I didn't necessarily do it for religious reasons. I did it because I wanted to be there for some boy who didn't have a dad. I am not an egotist. I had no grand ideas of majorly changing some kid's life. I just wanted to be there for one. And I was. For four years, I did what may be the most unselfish thing in my life. I spent time at least once a week with a 12-year old boy who grew to be a 16-year old young man when I left the program. That kid is now a 25-year old man, who has turned out to be a great man.

It involved sacrifice. I had to promise to spend at least a few hours one day a week with him, so I had to set aside time. It cost me money.... against his mother's wishes. I'd take him out to eat and she'd try to pay me back. Over and over, I can still hear her "I just want someone to spend time with my son. I don't expect you to spend money!" And I'd stick the money she gave me under a lamp and leave.

It involved discomfort. Unless you know me well, you cannot understand how much I loathe sports. Jason was into basketball and track at school, so me, the sports hater, went to some of his games and track meets. Did I enjoy it? Not really, though it felt good to be there for him, but did I feel comfortable in a setting where guys were playing sports..... something that caused me no end of trouble in school? No, but I loved the kid and wanted him to know I cared, so I went and sat in a high school gym and cheered for the skinny kid down on the gym floor.

And don't get me wrong. I don't regret any of it. I'd do it all over again. I enjoyed spending money on him, whether it be eating out, mini golf, a play, or other things we did that cost money. I don't even regret going to his basketball games. The point I am trying to make, is it cost me something in my efforts to be there for a young boy, to let him know he mattered to me. And not long ago, I got my "reward". His mom said right on Facebook for the world to see that she credited me with his turning out so well. I cried. Well, I am almost crying now.

That may not sound like a major thing to you, but that's what its all about. Being there for someone. Spending time and maybe money. Getting out of our comfort zone, putting aside what we want to do and doing something for someone else.

Its time to quit playing church and playing Christian, and time to quit with the busy excuse and start reaching people. It sounds harsh, but I for one am tired of it being all about me. I want to do more, be more, to let God use me to help someone else in any way my insecure little self can. When we do, when we love others outside of our family and cliché....... when it costs us something to reach out to others, that is when we will actually start to be like Jesus.