Category: Culture

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman


There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.

Scars, stars, bazaar: The Greatest Showman rocks our imaginations

Forget everything you know about P.T. Barnum. The Connecticut-born son of a tailor who so coveted high society that he swindled and cheated his way into mass fortune died 126 years ago. All that remains of him is the name of a circus.

The P.T. Barnum depicted in “The Greatest Showman” is a fictitious character, an energetic, benevolent man whose blind ambition led him to make occasional mistakes in his relationships.

Portrayed by Hugh Jackman, P.T. Barnum whisks his love, Charity, away by imploring her to use her imagination, adding that the world is what they make of it. A running theme throughout the musical is how they can change their stars, and create their own world, being limited only by their own imaginations. His love, dreams and enthusiasm lights the hearts of his wife and daughters, and inspires his followers, a rag-tag group of misfits including the bearded lady, the world’s smallest man, a theatre director and even a world-renown opera singer.

The movie maintains a happy tone, even when the characters deal with very difficult situations, ranging from rejection, personal pain, and hopelessness. The darkest of times are quickly abandoned for the next adventure, and the next song.

The ongoing theme of “The Greatest Showman” is that of acceptance. P.T. Barnum struggled to gain the acceptance of high society, while his cast of odd characters struggled to accept themselves, and struggled to gain acceptance of mainstream society.

Having gone from pauper to prince with the financial success of Barnum’s Circus, Barnum enlisted the help of a popular theatre director to “win the high brows.” This resulted in an audience with the queen of England, which connected Barnum to the famous opera singer Jenny Lind, with whom Barnum strikes up a partnership for a North American tour.

Regardless of all that happened, Barnum never really gains the acceptance of high society. He is then reminded of the true value of the friends he has, and learns to quit living to impress people that he doesn’t really like in the first place.

The cast of odd-characters struggle throughout the movie. Rejected not only by their own mothers, many had trouble accepting themselves. Throughout the course of the movie, they learn to accept themselves, and to see their oddity as a gift. They also find comfort in each other.

I came away from this movie inspired and happy. I was reminded to dream big, to be myself, and to love those around me. And for that reminder, I give the movie a thumbs up!

Not because it’s right, but because it’s trending

Photo: Bob Beecher

I was on the phone with a publicist for a movie production taking place in Texas.

“This is big,” she said. “Oprah has reviewed our script, decided she likes it, so the film will be produced by The Weinstein Company.”

Back when this conversation took place, The Weinstein Company was nothing more than a “W” logo that flashed on the screen at the beginning of a movie trailer or at the end of the movie credits. I didn’t know who they were or what they did. I did know who Oprah was, and I thought it was really cool that she had taken on this particular project.

There’s a lot with which I disagree with Oprah. I think her daytime TV talk show is overly emotional. Her politics lean left, mine lean way right. I still haven’t forgiven her for thrusting Dr. Phil upon us. Then again, I can blame the Texas beef industry for that. Had they never sued her over her show on “Mad Cow” disease, she’d have never gone to court in Amarillo, and would have never met Dr. Phil.

On the other hand, I have to respect a woman who went from absolute poverty to the billionaire she is today. She accomplished her success through hard work, good decisions, and by creating a product that, even if I don’t like it, is adored by millions.

Still, her speech at the Golden Globes the other night went all over me. While I agree with the message she spoke, I wondered how she must have felt delivering the message.

I don’t think Oprah engaged in inappropriate behavior with Harvey Weinstein. She has too much dignity and class. I don’t think she knowingly helped him, or was complicit in any specific encounter he had. She has a moral compass.

Yet, everyone in Hollywood, Oprah included, knew what Harvey Weinstein was. Go back and look at the Seth McFarlane joke on YouTube. Read or watch the jokes about the entertainment industry, and how Hollywood execs, including Weinstein, behaved themselves. What was going on was common knowledge, and had even become the punchline of a twisted cultural joke.

So, when she stood on stage and proclaimed that a new day was coming when powerful men would no longer be able to prey on young ladies, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you said anything before now?”

As long as getting along with Harvey Weinstein was good business, Oprah did it. Now that Weinstein has been revealed to be the pervert that he is, good business dictates criticism of him and the entertainment industry that allowed him to thrive.

But that’s all it is. Good business. Oprah’s speech, and the “Time’s Up” pins worn to the Golden Globes amount to nothing more than a social media post designed to get page views because the right hashtag was used. And therein lies the problem.

Our culture has become one of “hashtag activism.” You don’t actually do anything, you just post about it, and people congratulate you on your compassion for being able to type 140-280 characters.

When you log onto Facebook, look in the right-hand margin. You’ll notice a few topics that Facebook says is trending. On Twitter, that list is to the left. Make any post, add a hashtag that aligns with the word or phrase that is trending, and presto! Page views, comments, likes and shares.

When Weinstein’s accusers came out, the #MeToo hashtag began to trend. When that happened, accusations came out against multiple Hollywood celebrities and executives. Justice for sexual harassment victims trended, which is why Hollywood added the #TimesUp pins, and Oprah gave her speech. They are merely following the social trend.

Next year, this will all be forgotten, and another social cause, environmental cause, or political cause will take its place. Hopefully, more will have been accomplished than a few elite personalities going viral on social media.

In the meantime, Oprah can bring about a lot of healing, to her industry and reputation, by apologizing for her associations with Weinstein and vowing to create an entertainment industry where young ladies will be able to sell their talents, not their bodies.

When Rome falls


You find the most interesting things on Facebook.

Scrolling through my news feed this morning, I came across this gem, comparing the distraction most Americans enjoy via the NFL with the distractions most Romans enjoyed via chariot races, gladiator “games,” and the Olympics.

And while the Roman government deliberately built elaborate stadiums to distract the masses from the crumbling empire and human rights abuses, in America, we distracted ourselves.

Now, I’m not bashing sports, or the NFL. I enjoy watching football, and even have been able to attend a few Big-12 College Football games, and one Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game.  I will probably continue to enjoy watching sports for the foreseeable future.

But for some reason, seeing the above-posted meme on Facebook was kind of an eye-opener for me.

Do you know why the NFL protests were so controversial? And subsequently, why the NFL protests have, at least in part, played a role in the decline of NFL ratings? It’s because, once the players used their platform to advance a socially conscious agenda, they reminded us of the social problems that remain in America.

Whether you agree with Colin Kaepernick or not, seeing he and his followers take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner reminded you that the reconciliation we thought we had accomplished hadn’t advanced us as far as we had thought. Having that bubble burst, watching football became a reminder of the deep-divides that remain in American society. Once that happened, watching football wasn’t as fun as it was before.

And that’s why the NFL protests were so controversial. People don’t like to be reminded of their problems as they try to escape them. So, we had the controversial debate over the past two years, and we quit watching football.

The good news is that we can use our newly raised awareness to make good things happen. True change will not come through legislation, political action, or by socially-conscious NFL players. It will come through the small, daily decisions made by each individual. So, to borrow a phrase, “be the change.” Extend random acts of kindness to others, and let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven.

And Go Bulldogs!

The one thing that has challenged my faith

13350239_624569961040640_8092507861845382051_oA stranger knocked on my door one day.

“Hello, Mr. Acker. My name is Brother Turnbow.”

The elderly preacher was doing what he had spent his entire ministry doing. He was knocking doors to share the Gospel. I welcomed him to sit with me, told him I was also a pastor, and discussed with him the scriptures and the state of the world today.

The year was 2011, and I had just moved into my new house. Bro. Turnbow had gotten my name from the list of new water accounts opened with the city of Early. My heart had been heavy that week thinking about the rise of sin, and the animosity toward Christianity in society. Sin is taking our country down the hill of destruction, but the loudest voices in our society blame Christianity for the downfall.

That’s why a certain stanza from Marc Schultz’ song, “I have been there,” resonates with me:

He’s been a pastor 20 years, but tonight he sits alone and broken-hearted in the corner of the church.

Trying to change a fallen world, with his words and with his wisdom but it seems like it is only getting worse.

“Bro. Turnbow,” I asked, “Do you ever feel obsolete?”

Bro. Turnbow smiled and said, “As long as you preach God’s word, you are never obsolete.”

The problems of the world all come from unbelief. People distrust God, so they sin against Him, which causes all kinds of problems. It has been that way ever since Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because they thought that God was holding out on them. Since then, the world has been in disarray, suffering from the effects of sin.

It is tempting to watch the demise of western civilization and conclude that, the end time is here, and Christ will soon return. He very well may, but to give up on the calling God has placed on your life is not only a dereliction of duty, but it expresses the same lack of faith shown by the generations before who “gave up” because of the changes in society, saying “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

I was reading Luke 5 in my personal devotional time the other day, and Luke 5:17 struck me.

“And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”

The power of the Lord was present to heal them. Heal who? The Pharisees and doctors of the law who sat by, watching in unbelief as Jesus taught the word of God and ministered to the people. These people were diametrically opposed to the message Christ brought, and his rise among the people. He was a threat to their influence and lifestyle, so they opposed Him.

Yet Luke 5:17 seems to indicate that the Lord had the power to heal their unbelief. And if the power of the Lord can heal the unbelief of some crotchety old Pharisees in the first-century AD, imagine what he can do for a world blinded by the selfish pursuit of pleasure.

Where my faith has fallen short in the past is that I failed to believe that God is the one who reaches people, convicts them, then redeems them. My faith has fallen short in believing that God can do that, and that He will do that. My faith has fallen short in believing that God WILL save, not just that He can.

That unbelief is in my past. I have repented from that sin, and now I am looking forward to seeing God move in mighty ways.

My wife once said, “True faith is realized when you no longer have to be the solution to the problem.” It would help us Spiritually, psychologically and emotionally to remember that the battle is the Lord’s. He will be the One who effects the change.

Our jobs are the same as the Apostles in Acts 5, who were told to “Go, stand and speak the words of this life.”

So, share the Gospel. Defend the faith. Preach the scriptures. But remember, the results are not up to you. Once you realize that, you’ll more fully understand “freedom in Christ.”

May God bless you in your Spiritual walk today.

Why I celebrate Christmas with toys and trees…


It was 10 p.m. last night, and the Walmart parking lot was still full. My wife and I had already hit the Heartland Mall looking for gifts for our seven children. Having loaded up on several gifts, we went to Walmart looking for toys to fill out the space beneath the Christmas tree.

Even at 10 p.m. in a small town like ours, traffic was heavy with holiday travelers and last minute shoppers. The shoppers had filled every store in town, dwindling the gift selections and extending the checkout times. Every year, this happens. Every year, I get caught up in the holiday rush, and every year I promise that next year will be different. I promise myself that, next year, I won’t wait until the last minute to buy my Christmas gifts. Then, every year, I do.

Those who know the true meaning of Christmas know that it has nothing to do with trees, Santa, or gifts. The true meaning of Christmas is remembering God’s promise to send us a Savior, His only begotten Son, who is Christ the Lord.

God stated that promise in Isaiah 7:14, when He promised that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a Son, and His name would be Immanuel, which being interpreted means “God with us.” He stated this promise again in Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Isaiah 9:6-7 promised that this child, God’s only begotten Son, would bring eternal peace and prosperity to us. This would be accomplished by redeeming us from sin (Isaiah 53) and by delivering us from the pain of this world, and healing us (Isaiah 61).

Scripture records how God kept this promise in Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2. Christ was born, went to the cross where He purchased our redemption, rose again to defeat death, and sits at the right hand of the Father advocating for us until the day God sends Him back to earth to establish His Kingdom and complete the promises of eternal peace, health and prosperity.

With that being the true meaning of Christmas, why was I in a supermarket checkout line last night with a buggy-load of Christmas presents, tired and exhausted from a long day? After all, my kids know the true meaning of Christmas. We could forego the tree and gifts, honor the birth of Christ by scripture reading, and then send money to less-fortunate people overseas. We could do that. The kids would go along with it. Instead, I have to ask myself what my true motivation in doing that would be.

Christmas was the defining event for the year in the house where I grew up. The entire family would converge on my grandfather’s house on Christmas Eve. It was a small farm house designed for a family of three, not to entertain dozens of guests. Still, every year, my mom and dad, uncle and aunt, great grandparents and great uncles and aunts, cousins, siblings, in-laws and even friends of the family, would come over, enjoy a Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, ham, mashed potatoes, macaroni, etc etc etc and pecan pie, and celebrate the holiday.

Then, we exchanged gifts. Following the gift exchange, a televised basketball game, and some hilarious yet sentimental conversations, we’d all retire to bed. You read that right. This was a giant sleep over for adults and children. There were sleeping bags and fold-out couches. Sometime early on Christmas morning, before the sun rose, someone would loudly announce that Santa had come, and the gifts were out. We would then see what the jolly fat man brought us, collect our gifts, enjoy a breakfast of sausage, biscuits and dinner leftovers, and go home to recover. Those were good days.

We knew the true meaning of Christmas. There was a birthday cake for Jesus. There was the reading of the Christmas story. We celebrated in such a huge fashion because we were thankful for the family, friends and gifts God had blessed us with.

If the birth of Christ brought joy and peace, then why not celebrate His birth with a Christmas celebration that fosters joy and peace in our family? Celebrations like the one we will have this year, full of songs, gifts, and, of course, the scripture reading, brings joy and hope to our children, and that’s what I want to give them for Christmas. That’s why I braved the shopping crowds and holiday traffic, and that’s why I emptied my wallet. It’s a small price to pay to give the gifts of joy and peace to my kids, after the huge price the Lord paid to give joy and peace to me.

Merry Christmas. I’ll see you on the other side of the holiday.

Why we love Star Wars

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediMovies succeed at the box office due to effective marketing campaigns. Movie franchises, like Star Wars, the Hunger Games, or Jurassic Park, thrive because they either (a) mirror our lives or (b) speak into our human nature on a deep level.

Jurassic Park thrives because, in addition to capturing our imaginations through the resurrection of the dinosaurs, it poses the question as to whether man has the ability to create life, species, and whether we can overcome the natural order set forth by our Creator. Spoiler alert: We fail every single time.

The Hunger Games succeeded because it captured man’s natural desire to be free, the fact that hope never completely dies, and the lengths to which man will fight to win his freedom. All of that was embodied in the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who struggled through poverty, oppression, imprisonment, torture, and PTSD to lead a rebellion against a powerful overlord who subjugated everyone. Most who watched that series could identify with Katniss on some level, which is why the series succeeded.

The success of both of those franchises, however, pales in comparison to the success of the Star Wars franchise, which has become the definitive movie franchise for three generations due to the fact that it speaks into virtually every aspect of our lives, from our family life, to our professional life, to our philosophical life. Star Wars touches on family drama and pain, captures the plight of characters who are trying to overcome their station in life, and poses the bigger questions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On this level, Star Wars speaks to our entire persona. We are all trying to make our way in this world, battling the elements of opposition as we try to climb the corporate ladder, move into the next tax bracket, or obtain the next level of education. While we fight those battles, we deal with issues at home. We struggle to repair or maintain relationships with our parents, to make our marriages work, to give our kids positive direction, and to keep from losing touch with those closest to us.

This multi-generational family story is laid against a back-drop of intergalactic battles, space ships, and planetary conquests.

In an interview after he sold the franchise to Disney, George Lucas said, “Star Wars isn’t about space ships and aliens, it’s about family.”

Those who understand that statement will understand Star Wars that much better. The franchise follows the plight of a single family, the children of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, as they learn their family history and fight to keep the galaxy free. Skywalker was overcome with rage and a desire to rule the galaxy, so Amidala took her two twins and hid them in separate places with friends and family.

Their circumstantial reunification and new-found purpose became the first Star Wars Trilogy, Episodes 4-6. In order to explain that trilogy, Episodes 1-3 were later released (for better or worse) in the 1990s. Now, we’re working on the third trilogy, which will follow the plight of the third generation of Skywalkers.

You see the family drama at work when Darth Vader is reunited with his son, Luke Skywalker, as well as when Hans Solo and Leia pine for their wayward son, Kylo Ren. Rey is trying to solve the mystery of who her family is, and why they left her on a desert planet, and Finn is the orphaned former Stormtrooper who’s searching for belonging.

You see the quest for betterment as Hans Solo continues his career as a smuggler, as inn-keepers and bar owners struggle to stay in business, or when Rey seeks Jedi training.

And then there’s the forbidden love between Anakin and Padme. Those two had to defy all customs and protocol in order to be together.

The issues that these characters deal with are issues we can all relate to. We’ve had family struggles. We’ve experienced lost love. Our kids have turned on us. We struggle to overcome, and we often feel like we get caught up in world affairs beyond our control.

And that’s why we love Star Wars. We see a little bit of ourselves in those characters, and so we root for them. We rejoice with them, we cry with them, and we die (figuratively speaking) with them.

Right now, critics and fans are debating whether “The Last Jedi” lives up to the hype. If it turns my life into another sci-fi thriller, it most certainly will.