Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Tribute to my Uncle Jerry

My family growing up was Christian. It was my father who kept our family's religious commitments together. When my father had a downtime spiritually, we would go weeks (months?) without attending church. When my father was feeling reinvigorated, we would find a new church and stick with it for a long time. I am quite convinced that my father was the spiritual center of my family, and even though he was a profoundly imperfect man, he still loved God and prayed for his children. He brought us up the best he could, and he sought to share his love for God with me as well.

When I was about 14 or 15, I had an experience at church camp where I was essentially forced to speak in tongues and I subsequently faked it because of the pressure that was put on me. After that experience, I drifted from God and became a self-styled atheist and skeptic. Around 17 or so, I started to study cosmology and history, eventually I devoted my life to Jesus and came back to the Church.

It was during these early and formative stages of my life that my Uncle Jerry came in and played a very important role in my spiritual development. Early on, during my atheist years, Uncle Jerry and I bonded over our love of Michael Crichton's technothrillers such as Sphere, Jurassic Park, and The Terminal Man. I felt him a kindred spirit who loved science and truth as much as I did. He was not an atheist like me, however. After I became a believer, the first thing that I remember my Uncle doing was that he gave me a book by J.I. Packer, Knowing God. I read the book, and it became basic and formative for me in my understanding of who God is and why He should matter to me. Every book that I read was built upon the foundation of Knowing God, and I have my Uncle Jerry to thank for laying that foundation by encouraging me to follow God, and not simply experiences of God. My father was much more experiential and charismatic in his spirituality. He loved to sing worship songs and to travel around to churches providing the special music in the middle of the service. In this respect, I am a near opposite of my father. Whereas my father was highly emotional and open to "movements of the Spirit," I am a skeptic by nature and distrust experience for the most part.

It is because of these differences between my father and I that this book from my Uncle was of such value. I was used to seeing authors like John Bevere and Bob Larson around which emphasized defeating the devil and overcoming demonic forces. What I found in Packer's writings was an emphasis on God Himself - the person of God. The next book, which I still read to this day, is John Stott's book Authentic Christianity, which is a collection of extended quotes from Stott. As before, this book took me to the next level in my commitment to God - yet in a way that did not primarily emphasize experience. I was grateful for the God-centeredness of Packer and Stott. I didn't know it yet, but it was the God of Packer and Stott which I was missing in my Free Methodist theological education I was getting. It was only years later when I found the writings of R.C. Sproul did I once again recognize the great and sovereign God which I had first encountered in the writings of these two books.

Throughout my life, my Uncle has been a spiritual inspiration to me, and I will never forget the special interest which he seemed to take in me during those formative and important years of my life. I only hope that when my nieces and nephews are at the right age, their uncle Adam will be remembered as a blessing and not as a nuisance (history is against me on that one, though!).

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