Christian Living

Spiritual Life

An Ode to King James

My Grandfather came to Christ kicking and screaming.  Despite being weaned on Christianity in the heart of America’s heralded “Bible Belt” it took him a little while to give in to the Holy Spirit’s beckoning, but when he relented he did so in force.  Within days he became a preacher and not the dignified kind of preacher who stands behind a gilded podium dolling out ritualized advice.

He was a mountain preacher who welded a bullhorn on the top of his Volkswagen Beetle so that he could preach on the streets in cities that he was driving through. He was the equivalent of a street fighter who was hell bent on grabbing Satan himself by the throat if he tread on his sacred territory. 

The churches he presided over were tiny and adjacent to parsonages with ramshackle roofs and in desperate need of plenty of repairs. The offerings barely afforded him the opportunity to live without anxiety.  So, of course, he could never hire a second Pastor.  So, he became the worship leader, the preacher, the lawn mower, and the church custodian.

My grandfather was uneducated, mostly poor, and truly faithful to Jesus.  I barely remember a moment in his entire life where he didn’t have a well-worn King James Bible within inches of his right hand.  It was part of his uniform, and he seldom let that sword hit its sheath.  He was wielding it minute-by-minute as he waged war against the enemy in the backwoods of the Deep South. It was his only means to rescue the everyday people that he desperately wanted to save. He was a good, Godly man in the ole’ sense of the word.

I once asked Pa Pa Ray, as we called him, to let me preach.  I was around eight years old.  He wrote a sermon for me in longhand replete with full scripture references in the King James Version.

As if it were yesterday, I can see myself standing on the little wooden box he placed behind the podium (so that I could see over it). I struggled to navigate through the “thees” and the “thous” of the text but as I did I’m sure I felt a sense of authority by speaking words of such ancient power and sophistication. 

There on that box in that country pulpit I learned to preach by simply reading what he had written.  The first verses I memorized remain imprinted on my mind from reading those sermon notes again and again. They are all there in the King James Version. Sometimes I would ask my Grandfather to help me interpret a particular verse of scripture. He would often quote the entire chapter to me to insure I knew the context.  He’d quote verse by verse in that iconic language of the King James.

Precisely because the words were difficult for me to understand, I found myself mulling over them when I read or heard them. It was almost an accidental form of meditation. I would hold the words up and twist and turn them like a jeweler surveying a diamond. The difficult language slowed down my reading, steadied my comprehension, and allowed the morsels of truth to slowly dissolve into my belief system. 

Like millions of others through the ages I first fell in love with Jesus because of the vision of one more unlikely person that God chose to use to bring the Good Book to the masses - King James.

The King James Version was the NIV of its time. Its publication finally pried open for good the long locked door that separated the scriptures from the popular masses.  Mothers and fathers could finally read the Bible to their children, pastors could preach in the language of the people, and the church could once again welcome a kind of incarnation of the Word of God. Of course The WORD didn't don flesh as it had once before, but not since Jesus walked the streets of Galilee was the Word of God more accessible to the people of God.

King James gave God’s word to the regular folk and it would eventually spread within their homes and their churches. Luther and Calvin’s reforms had finally come to full age, and the word was flesh once again.

These days I’m more often to use the NIV, ESV, or NASB to study and to teach the truth of God, but I’m well aware that King James first breached the dam that has flooded populist hearts with the Living Water.  We are all indebted to this peculiar, historical figure that literally changed the world.

Just over my shoulder, sitting on my shelf, are two of my grandfather’s tattered old KJV Bibles. They are in many ways my inspiration.  The margins are full of insights and observations, words are highlighted and circled, and old leather smells of war. 

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