Category: Faith

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman

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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.

We never meant for this to happen, but we can still help

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nIn 2003, I was sold on the Iraq invasion. Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people in order to put down rebellions, and was possibly colluding with terrorist organizations who planned on carrying out major attacks against the American homeland.

If the above statement seems ignorant to you, please forgive me. I, like millions of other Americans only want to see our nation secure and our people prosper. In the aftermath of 9/11, neither could be guaranteed as terrorist organizations in the Middle East had not only stated their intent to destroy America, but managed to kill thousands merely by hijacking airliners.

What we were told leading up to the invasion of Iraq was that we would (a) be neutralizing a direct threat to the American homeland, (b) eliminating stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, (c) disrupting terror operations and (d) liberating an oppressed people.

We were warned that the war would be a prolonged effort to establish a free and democratic nation in Iraq, and that the culture change would take at least a generation. The cost would be high, the sacrifice would be great, but once successful, Iraq and Afghanistan would become beacons of freedom and hope to the Middle East, which would result in people being liberated from dark totalitarian regimes.

That’s what we were told. I believe that President George W. Bush was sincere in his desire to effect lasting change in the Middle East, but that didn’t happen.

In the aftermath of the invasion, the country destabilized. Al Qaeda set up operations in northern Iraq and immediately began persecuting Christians. When the Obama administration pulled out of Iraq (to fulfill a campaign promise to end the war), ISIS went on the offensive, essentially conquering the northern part of Iraq and increasing the persecution of Christians and non-Muslims.

This morning on my radio show, I had the opportunity to visit with Juliane Tamoorazy, the president and founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. Tamoorazy discussed the plight of Christians in northern Iraq, and hoped that Vice President Mike Pence would visit with them upon his trip to Iraq scheduled for January.

While Tamoorazy blames American policy for the problem in northern Iraq, she doesn’t blame Americans, emphasizing that Americans have good hearts and want to help people. She noted that, even in Iraq, the people blame the politics, and not the American people.

It was a difficult interview for me to conduct, because I couldn’t help but think about what the situation would be like if it were my house that were marked for persecution, if it were my family kidnapped and sold into slavery, or it was my time to be killed, all for believing in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

On my show, we debate policy. We discuss political ramifications of legislative or executive action. We discuss what’s happening in the government. Today, I couldn’t have that conversation.

So, I asked, “What can Americans do for our Christian brothers and sisters who are enduring persecution in Iraq?”

She thanked me for the question, indicating to me that she doesn’t get that question very often, and told me that the Iraqi Christians need blankets, heaters, air conditioners and basic needs for living. Of course, her organization is putting on a drive for those products.

Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

To remember them in bonds, to remember the persecuted Christians, means to keep them top-of-mind, the way God remembered Noah in Genesis 8:1. We are to be mindful of them as if it were our very own in bondage, because, when you think about it, they are our very own. We are to remember them the way we would want to be remembered if we were enduring that persecution.

And, we are to remember them “which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” This means that when some of us suffer, we all are affected.

2018 promises to be a good year in American life. Let us not be guilty of enjoying the good times while our Christian brothers and sisters suffer. Let us remember them, and as we have opportunity, do good unto them. This can be done through a number of organizations, including the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, Open Doors, or Voice of the Martyrs.

The time for silence and complicity has ended. It’s time to help.

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.

Pixar has us coo-coo for Coco

Coco_(2017_film)_posterToy Story. Finding Nemo. Cars. Up. Wall-E. Iconic Pixar movies that defined the childhood of a generation, and gave parents precious memories with their kids. These films moved us in theaters, and babysat our children once released to home video.

With each classic Pixar released, it was hard to imagine that a better film could be made. Then, without fail, Pixar’s next movie would elevate the theatrical experience to the next level. Their latest release, Coco, is no different.

The film centers around Miguel, a 12 year old boy growing up in Mexico who dreams of being a famous musician, even though his family forbids music after his great-great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a music career. Miguel idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular film/music star of the early 20th who died years earlier in a tragic stage accident. De la Cruz hailed from Miguel’s hometown, furthering the young boy’s fantasy that one day he could be as famous as the Mexican film/music icon.

Through a series of sordid events, Miguel comes to believe that he is the great-great grandson of De la Cruz, and when the local talent show begins at the town plaza, he tries to borrow De la Cruz’ guitar from his grave site. That decision sets off a chain reaction that lands Miguel in the Land of the Dead during the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos, the one day the dead can return to the land of the living to visit their descendants.

The adventure sees Miguel reunited with his ancestors, separated from his ancestors, and reunited with De la Cruz, where he learns what is truly important to him. His adventure changes the Land of the Dead, as well as the Land of the Living forever.

Coco is Pixar’s best movie yet, because it touches people of all backgrounds. There are characters with which kids, adults, and seniors can identify. If I could have taken my dog, there would have been a character for her. The movie relates to career successes, sacrifices for family, hopes, dreams and fears. There’s not one part of the human spirit, save for a connection to God, that this film doesn’t touch.

The movie experience was so uplifting that I stayed and watched the credits.

Among the many themes found in the movie, the one that really stood out to me was the need to be remembered. According to the movie, (and Mexican legend), on Dia de Muertos, the dead are able to return to the land of the living to visit their descendants provided that those descendants post a picture of them on an ofrenda, and remember them. This ofrenda also includes things the dead ancestor enjoyed during life, like food, or musical instruments.

Those in the Land of the Dead whose families do not post pictures or ofrendas to them are denied entry into the Land of the Living, and are stuck in the Land of the Dead without family or friends.

If no one on earth remembered you, then you also vanished from the Land of the Dead into non-existence. Therefore, it was important to each resident of the Dead to be remembered, and to have their family post an ofrenda in their honor.

Families in Mexico still celebrate this holiday. It speaks to the natural fear of death, the wish for an eternal existence postmortem, and the need to be remembered. It is on these aspects of the human existence that Coco spoke the most clearly. Coco also addressed our desire to remember our loved ones fondly who have passed on before us.

One of the most difficult things to deal with in life is death. It’s hard to face our own mortality, and it is hard to deal with the loss of a close friend or family member. Dia de Muertos is a way Mexican residents have learned to cope with the loss.

However, scripture tells us that we can all have an eternal resurrection if we know Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Scripture also foretells of a day described by African American preachers in the South as “That glad gettin’ up morning.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 says:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

The day is coming when the Lord will reunite us with our loved ones. Moreover, we will be reunited with the Lord Himself.

These promises are made to all who repent and trust Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Have you made that decision? If you have, then the biggest and best family reunion ever planned is coming your way.

Take heart. This life is merely a preparation for the next. Live accordingly.

Merry Christmas, I don’t want to fight this year

Andrew KlavanA secular Jew who loved Christmas, that’s how you would have described Andrew Klavan (pictured right) as a young child growing up on Long Island, N.Y.  Klavan, author of the True Crime series, as well as other mystery/suspense novels, in addition to providing commentary for The Daily Wire, shared in his autobiography how the joyousness of the holiday attracted him to Christmas.

The Great Good Thing chronicled Klavan’s journey from secular Jew, to agnostic, to Christian by detailing the influences that shaped his faith and worldview. He wrote that as a child, he was attracted to the festiveness of the holiday, as well as the presents and the music that made Christmas the splendid celebration we have enjoyed over the centuries.

A friend of the family used to send Klavan Christmas presents, a practice his mother ended. When Klavan protested, his mother allowed him to celebrate Christmas with a Christian family down the street. Even though Christmas was synonymous with toys, Tonka trucks and candy, it was the music and festivities that attracted him to the holiday well into his adult years.

The joy of Christmas is contagious. The holiday spirit spreads like wildfire this time of year. And even though most people celebrate the holiday with the secular traditions of music, parties and gift exchanges, it does provide an opportunity for us to share Christ with an unbelieving culture. The joy of Christmas is a conduit through which we can transmit God’s message of love, redemption and hope, if we conduct ourselves properly.

Over the past several years, we have seen a national debate over “The War on Christmas.” Now, companies should not prevent their employees from celebrating or even acknowledging Christmas. We should advocate for those employees rights.

However, the Christmas war involving greetings or decor in retail locations concerns me. It concerns me that we organize boycotts over a store hanging “happy holidays” in their window, or accost a store clerk for uttering the same phrase to a customer as he checks out.

Often, very little thought goes into saying “happy holidays.” Most of the time, it’s just a catch-phrase that goes with the season. That, or it’s said to include the other holidays of this season, like New Years.

I have said this before, and I’ve been branded an apostate for it, but I do not believe we do the cause of Christ any good when we complain to store managers about “happy holidays” or correct retail employees for saying that phrase. In our battle to keep “Merry Christmas” on the tips of everyone’s tongue, I believe we lose sight of the larger mission to spread Christmas cheer and to re-insert the Gospel into a cultural cornerstone.

If the joy of Christmas can be the starting point for drawing a young secular Jew like Klavan into the faith, imagine what could happen if we let that joy permeate throughout our culture. Imagine how many other Klavans are out there.

So, as we enjoy a wonderful Christmas season, let’s remember the word of God, inscribed in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”

If someone tells you “Happy Holidays,” gently respond with “Merry Christmas.” And if you get a chance to share the Reason for the season, then by all means, do.

When the Light shines, darkness scatters

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Few people positively impacted American culture more than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was propelled by his faith, and his understanding that America could not survive under the racial division, animosity and segregation that defined America in the first half of the 20th Century.

If the land of opportunity, the free nation he knew growing up was to survive the test of time, then the cancer of segregation had to be surgically removed. The danger of cancer treatment, however, is that it can often cause as much damage to the body as the cancer itself.

Dr. King understood this. He understood that for America to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement stronger, freer and more prosperous, the Civil Rights Movement had to not only secure freedom and opportunity to the African American community, but also had to foster reconciliation between African Americans and their white counterparts.

You see, one of the biggest hurdles to desegregation in the South was the fear held among many whites that, once equally protected under the law, African Americans would begin to enact Jim Crow style laws against them as a multi-century payback for the sins of the past.

During the 1960s, it was not uncommon to hear someone say, “The day is coming when a white man will be afraid to pump gas.”

And while there was a feudal societal structure in the South, Dr. King understood that the old Confederate caste system could be overturned if he assuaged the fears of middle-class, working voters.  Therefore, he reminded his followers, partners and supporters that “darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Dr. King understood to change the South, he had to change its heart, and that required love.

In a speech given on the subject, Dr. King described the three Greek words used to describe love: eros, which is romantic love, phileo, which is brotherly affectionate love, and agape which describes the self-sacrificial love that regards the need and well-being of the other, rather than self.

This agape love is the love that propelled Christ to the cross to redeem us from sin. And it’s that agape love that Dr. King urged his followers to have toward those who opposed the Civil Rights Movement.

In a sermon entitled, “Love Your Enemies,” preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Dr. King taught how love has a redemptive quality to it. Hate destroys. Love redeems.

Even back in 1957, Dr. King had caught the vision of not only eliminating Jim Crow from American society, but seeing America redeemed to the free and open country envisioned in the writings of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Dr. King did not want to, nor did he advocate, defeating any segment of society. Rather, he envisioned redeeming his adversaries over to his point of view, creating a stronger, unified, just and free United States of America.

Love redeems.

America has had a relapse. The cancer of racism and racial division has returned, and once again a generation has been called upon to treat and remove this cancer.

As we strive toward racial healing, reconciliation and unity, let’s not focus on the sins of the past, nor be distracted by the vitriolic voices that would divide us further. Let’s remember Dr. King’s vision of redeeming our adversaries, as well as each other, through love.

We can do this if we learn to love the sinner, while hating the sin and system he is in. If we speak the truth gently and faithfully, while rejecting responses of anger or violence, we will allow the evil of our day to be revealed for what it is, without clouding the picture with our own indiscretions.

Love your enemies, and do not evil thinking good will come. We’ve been here before, we’ve overcome this challenge before, and we can again. Redemption and reconciliation will come, if we do God’s will.

Because America enjoys a good train wreck

Let’s be honest. America loves a good train wreck.

You may have heard of Amy Winehouse, but have you ever listened to her music? Most who read this know of Winehouse, fewer can recite her lyrics.

You never heard of Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian before their sex-films were made public. Tommy Lee’s fame extended beyond his days with Motley Crue as his rocky relationship with Pamela Anderson kept his image on the front of tabloid publications everywhere.

While Lindsey Lohan had a good acting career as a child, most of her press coverage came as a result of her meltdown as she transitioned into adulthood.

These, and other celebrities plagued by personal calamities spawned gossip column articles, magazine covers, reality shows and movies of the week. So, it should come as no surprise that a movie detailing the saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the run up to the 1994 Olympics will hit theaters on Dec. 8.

I, Tonya chronicles the life of Tonya Harding leading up to the incident where a hit man hired by her bodyguard struck Nancy Kerrigan above the knee, bruising her thigh and taking her out of the USA National Competition.

The movie chronicles the abuse she endured at the hands of her mother, her dysfunctional relationship with Jeff Gillooly, her struggle to rise to the top of the figure-skating world, the attack on Kerrigan and the fallout thereafter.

Previews of the movie show a jaded Harding character, played by Margot Robbie, struggling through life in the brash fashion that got her labeled as “white trash” back in the 1990s. The depiction of Harding in news reports, TV shows, made-for-TV movies and reality shows in the aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan is one of an unsophisticated white trash girl who somehow stumbled into the talent to make the world figure-skating stage.

The goal of each of these depictions is not necessarily to tell her side of the story, nor is it to tell Nancy’s side, but rather to present another train wreck for America’s entertainment. Judging by the trailers for I, Tonya, this next film promises to be no different.

The saga of Tonya Harding speaks to a blemish on America’s culture at large. The culture is content to thrust a person like Harding into the national spotlight for our amusement, with no regard given for her personal healing and well-being. We laugh at her failure, poke fun at her rural impoverished upbringing, mock her tears, and think of ways we could have done it better.

Such a cultural mentality is not only a shame, but falls into a category of evil described in Romans 1:31-32, “Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Tonya Harding was a mess. I’d like to see a revived, redeemed and stronger Tonya emerge. But the fact that we are willing to sit back and find amusement in her demise places us in the same category as those who carried out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. And folks, that’s not where you want to be on Judgment Day.