Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Man Who Cut Woman’s Throat Becomes Successful Preacher

That sounds like a headline from The National Enquirer, but I am not making this up. I read in the Dallas Morning News, last Sunday (different headline) about Maury Davis. Davis is the very successful pastor of Cornerstone Church in Madison Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. Their church has over 6000 members who are deeply devoted to Davis. Davis hosts a Sunday television show that is followed by over 125,000 viewers. He has been married for 23 years and is the father of four children.

Tragically, one morning in 1975, he killed a woman named Jo Ella Liles. And when I say he killed her, I don’t mean that he knocked her over and she hit her head on a rock and died. He slit her throat.

Davis had abused drugs such as LSD during his teen-age years. As an 18-year-old, he committed this violent crime under the influence of drugs. From the beginning, Davis admitted his guilt and expressed no remorse. The article describes in detail how Davis was sentenced to prison and his testimony about how he became a Christian.

While in prison, J. Don George, the pastor at Calvary Church in Irving began to visit him. The following really impressed me concerning George and the people at his church. They had the guts and the fortitude to reach out to Maury Davis and teach him how to become a disciple of Jesus. In time, as he earned their trust, they gave him more responsibility. George saw the potential for ministry in Davis. With his encouragement, and many others, Davis ultimately went into fully supported ministry and wound up in Tennessee, becoming the preaching minister at a church.

Our congregation has members who have served time in prison and have since been released. All of them honor God. I am proud of them and proud of our church. I have to admit though, we have never been stretched like the people at Calvary Chapel. They passed the test. Many lives have been blessed through the years by Maury Davis.

One life that has not been blessed has been that of Jo Ella Liles’ son, Ron. He is a bitter man. While people who have admired Davis through the years and look at him as “a trophy of God’s amazing grace”, Liles sees him as “Satan’s angel.”

Davis has never tried to hide what he has done. This is not Robert Duvall’s character in the movie, The Apostle—a man who committed a violent crime and then tries to hide it. Davis has freely and authentically shared his story through the years, albeit in a tasteful and tactful way. He has carefully offered Liles’ family members space, while at the same time standing ready to meet with them personally to share with them his deep sorrow over the pain he has caused them. Ron Liles has always refused.

I find it interesting. Maury Davis served his time and was released from prison. Sadly, Ron Liles is currently serving his 34th year in prison—a prison whose walls he has constructed himself, brick by brick. For you see, Ron Liles serves time in the prison of bitterness. Currently, it appears that he will not be released anytime soon.

“Flatliners”—One Spiritual Movie

I saw Flatliners back in 1991 or 1992. I don't remember being particularly enthusiastic about the movie, but it seemed okay. A few years ago, one of the deacons, at the Church in West Texas where I preached, mentioned he had seen the movie and it really made him think. That caught my attention. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed it was playing on TV, so I decided to record it. Last Monday night, I watched it with my wife and my two oldest daughters. (Actually, my wife remembered how the movie scared her years ago, so she did a lot of chores around the house!)

This go around, I found the movie to be extraordinarily profound. It's about premed students, who have been studying those who have supposedly died, experienced the afterworld, and then been brought back to life. The students decide to, one by one, orchestrate their deaths using medical technology. After a few minutes, they used that same technology to bring themselves back to life.

The fascinating part is the imaginative aspect of the story. In the afterlife, each person comes in contact with an event that is rooted in past sin. Because the cosmic breach has been broken, each person faces consequences on this side of the barrier, after their lives have been restored. For example, Kevin Bacon's character is haunted by a girl he made fun of as a child. The movie implies that these events are real, although it never says these are NOT hallucinations.

The fascinating thing to me is how each character is traumatized by their past. The cast begins to speak of "atonement" and "making amends." Although, this movie is not explicitly Christian, it makes a strong case for the need to have someone make amends and atone for our sin. (Hum, I wonder who that could be?)

Lately, our church has been looking at the themes of reconciliation and forgiveness in passages such as Philippians and especially, in the book of Philemon. That's why one character in this movie stood out to me. Her “sin” was her inability to forgive her father for committing suicide, and her inability to forgive herself as she carried much guilt.

In the movie, she was able to experience reconciliation as her father asked for forgiveness, and she was able to offer that forgiveness to him. She has made amends and she was able to find healing.

I have discovered one of the greatest barriers to a life of joy and contentment has been the inability to forgive someone who hurt them in the past. It has been particularly difficult for those who have been violated by one who is now dead. For forgiveness to be achieved, one has to use her imagination and visualize herself offering forgiveness, and that seems so abnormal, most people are unwilling to do so.

The value of the movie Flatliners is it spurs our imagination to see how we can pull this off. A forgiving spirit is essential for a life well lived. To achieve this objective, we must be able to forgive those who have hurt us in our past.

Prayer Requests and Teenagers

Wednesday night, in the Bible class I teach, we were entertaining prayer requests. I had asked Matthew Blake to lead our prayer.

My wife asked Matthew to pray for the seventh graders from our daughter’s (Abby) school. The seventh graders were leaving on Thursday of this week for a field trip to San Antonio. Matthew immediately responded, "Am I to pray that they don't come back?"

My Most Controversial Sermon Ever

Last week, I wrote about Time’s cover story on the opportunities that our current economy offers, including the opportunity to reevaluate our priorities. In connection with this topic, our unpaid video minister, Mark Hutchins, finished placing, on YouTube, a sermon I preached that had created quite a stir.

I preached it back in February as part of a series we were doing on stewardship called “Spiritual Bungee Jumping.” In this particular sermon, I was attempting to wake up the imagination of those who were of the younger generations. Concerning this goal, I succeeded. I have never received as much positive feedback as this. Unfortunately, with some who were older, the sermon did not go so well. Let me explain.

My purpose was to take Jesus’ passage out of Matthew 7:7-12 and preach it like the prosperity gospel. And I mean I laid it on thick: tell God what you want and you will receive it, God wants you to be happy—all of the clichés. Having been a young man when David Letterman got his start, I have spent virtually my whole life in the realm of satire and irony. Sorry to say, I think there were several who were not used to that. For them, this sermon was a shock.

Add to this, I used heavy irony in a visual illustration that totally threw some people off. (I looked at the video for the first time after Mark posted it; I cracked up because during the first third of the sermon there was total silence. You can feel the shock.) I’m not going to go into extensive details, but my illustration included 700 Hershey Kisses, the Boy Scouts, and feigned sickness. (Ironically,—no pun intended—three of my children and my lovely wife had terrible cases of the flu that week. I spent many hours as a nurse and I wasn’t sure if I had not contracted the flu myself. I had asked John Thompson to be ready to preach just in case. You can imagine his horror as I pretended to be sick. (There would never be a worse sermon to take over in the middle than that one!)

For those who were not on my wavelength, this was an excruciating experience—sort of like watching Loretta Lynn have a nervous breakdown on stage. A few days later, I had one good friend tell me he almost went up to help me because he thought I was having a stroke! One lady, who was a member, got up during the first ten minutes and walked out—and she’s never been back.

Ultimately, I don’t think the visual aids are what bothered the people who were upset. Through the years, I have used many visual aids—from bringing a goat into the assembly to illustrate the sacrifices of Leviticus to mixing up pure water, Seven-Up, tomato juice and milk to illustrate the impurity of adultery—and have never gotten much criticism for it. Most seem to appreciate it. That is what makes me feel so thankful to preach for this church. I think my problem with those who were angry was my use of irony and satire. I have been blessed with the gifts of sincerity and authenticity. In that light, I can easily understand how irony and satire can prove disillusioning to one who has learned to trust in me.

Do I regret preaching this sermon? No. I had been telling folks in my church about how those households that make $40,000 a year, rank in the top 1 % of the world in terms of wealth. (My friend, Jim Hackney, shared with me this stat from his research.) That means most of our church households make more money than 99 % of the rest of the world. Does God intend for us to make ourselves sick on our consumption? Or do his blessings represent a higher purpose and higher calling.

Some have told me this is the best sermon I have ever preached. Not the most polished, but the best. I don’t know about that. I am, however, glad I preached it.

If you are interested viewing that sermon on YouTube, you can do so by clicking on the following link. It is divided up into three parts to fit YouTube’s guidelines. Just push the “Control” button on your computer and, while holding that button down, left-click the following link.

Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. I had a chance this week to drop off some old books in exchange for cash at a Half Priced Bookstore. Of course, it was my moral duty to scour the store for good books or good buys. I found some too. I know this is weird to 99% of the population, but I enjoy doing that as much as I do going fishing, playing golf, attending a professional sporting event, or going hunting. In a sense, going to a good bookstore is like hunting -- treasure.

2. Saw where someone asked the actor Michael J. Fox how he stays optimistic in the face of living with Parkinson's disease. His answer was classic. He said he did not have a choice about whether or not to have Parkinson's, but he did have the choice about how to react to it. Some Christians could take note of that attitude.

3. Finished 90 Minutes in Heaven this week. One of our members loaned it to me. Don Piper wrote it telling about his experience of dying in a car crash and remaining dead for over 90 minutes. While dead, he recounts that he was taken up into heaven and given the opportunity to experience it. Obviously, I cannot verify whether this was true or false. However, whether or not you believe Piper did indeed experience heaven, you could appreciate his experiences recovering from a horrific auto accident. His account is raw, authentic, and brutally honest. I found this refreshing.

4. I’ve been watching NBC’s broadcast of the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and the Cardinals. What a classic series. It was the last year that MLB had the high pitching mounds. They lowered them the next year in response to the “year of the pitcher.” I crack up every time I hear a talking head complain about the World Series being broadcasted at night. They say the kids can’t watch the games. What are they talking about? I missed the ’68 Series because they played all of the games during the day, while we were in school!

5. Love Hurts by Nazareth—over thirty years later and still a great song. I think one of the best songs of all time.

It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming

Have you ever seen a football player with eye black on his cheeks with the scripture citation “Phil. 4:13”? Guys that I admire and have great affection for have worn this. I think many times the intention is noble. The reference is to these words from Paul, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The idea is that our athletic goal is very difficult, but we can achieve it because of the power of Christ. I have used this verse for this purpose as well from time to time.

Here is the problem. Using Phil. 4:13, in this way, is taking the passage way out of context. Paul is not saying that if you want to win the national championship, you can do it because of Christ’s power. Paul is not saying that if you run 100 meters in eleven seconds, you can reduce your time to ten seconds because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. He is not saying that if you have a small business, you can build it to be a Fortune 500 business because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. No.

He is talking to two women in a church who are fighting. And he is writing to a church that is divided. He is saying to the one who does not think she can forgive, yes, you can. To the one who is being bitter and thinks he cannot escape from that bitterness, yes, you can. To the one who is discontented and thinks that he will always be a complainer, Paul is saying you can be content because you can do this through the power of Christ.

Maybe, Paul would apply this to a wider area. I don't know. But I do know he applies this to our spiritual lives, in our church relationships, and even our relationships outside the church.

You want to know what gets my goat? What really bothers me is hearing this verse applied to a number of areas where Paul did not; however, these same people would never dream of applying this to a spiritual facet of their lives—as Paul intended.

Phil. 4:13 is not a rabbit's foot. It is not a four leaf clover. It is not a genie to get us what we want. It is a challenge and a message of encouragement and hope that we can be what Christ wants us to be. And, more importantly, it is a message of encouragement concerning the number one goal in our lives: growing to be like Jesus. Paul is saying, YES, you can achieve this goal.

I cannot promise you that you can someday make the salary of your dreams. I cannot promise you that you can someday live in the house of your dreams. I cannot promise you that you will score a touchdown on Friday night and have Suzie Q. escort you off the football field. But I can tell you, those attitudes and beliefs and those feelings of contentment and joy that you think you will get from having Suzie Q. walk you off the field, I can promise you, you can experience those through Jesus who will give you strength.

11I am not complaining about having too little. I have learned to be satisfied with [whatever I have. 12I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. 13Christ gives me the strength to face anything (Phil. 4:11-13 CEV.)
Have a great weekend!

1 comment:

bullcbull said...

How after spending my entire life in Tennessee just outside of Nashville How have I missed this story this gave me chills!!!!