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Jun 272021


     Back in 1977 Billy Graham’s Associate Evangelist, John Wesley White, wrote an excellent book about the Devil called-The Devil: What the Scriptures Teach about Him.  In the book he tells of a painting hanging in the Louvre Art Museum in Paris, France.  It was a painting of a man playing chess with the devil!  It is quite an expressive painting. On one side is the devil glaring at the young man sitting across from him. The devil is grinning ear to ear because he has the young man cornered.  The young man has a look of defeat written all over his face, as he leans on his right elbow with his hand embracing his forehead.  Even his guardian angel, watching at the table’s side, looks pretty bewildered!  White says, the young man is trapped and defeated, with the title saying it all-“Check-mate”.

     I checked into that picture.  Is it true?  Does it exist?  Come to find out it is true.  The picture is by a German artist named Friedrich Moritz August Retzch.  Retzch lived 1779-1857.  He was a painter, a draughtsman, and an etcher.  He was also a wine-maker of note.  He was praised by the German writer Goethe.  Goethe and other German writers employed Retzch to illustrate their writings.  This particular painting was an illustration of Goethe’s famous work Faust.  Faust, Goethe’s great dramatic poem in two parts, is his crowning work. Even though it is based on the medieval legend of a man who sold his soul to the devil, it actually treats modern man’s sense of alienation and his need to come to terms with the world in which he lives.  The Faust legend first flourished in medieval Europe and is thought to have its earliest roots in the New Testament story of the magician Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24). During the superstitious Middle Ages, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil to procure supernatural powers captured the popular imagination and spread rapidly. At some point the name of Faust was definitely attached to this figure. A cycle of legends, including some from ancient and medieval sources that were originally told about other magicians, began to collect around him. One of the most widely-read magic texts of the period was attributed to Faust and many others referred to him as an authority.

     The painting, illustrating this poem/drama was actually named “Die Schachspeiler”-“The Chess Player” (not Check-mate).  The painting indeed was in the Louvre until 1999, when it was auctioned off at Christie’s and is now in the possession of a private owner.  Its whereabouts is unknown.  But back to White’s illustration and story…according to White, Paul Morphy, World Chess Champion, was on tour in Europe in 1858. While visiting the Louvre he stopped at the painting and was mesmerized by it.  He studied it for hours.  After a long time he exclaimed, “quick bring me a chess board-it’s a lie.  The king has one more move.”  Morphy had a move, one only mind you, to break the check-mate and steal a victory out of the jaws of defeat!  By the way they tell us that the term “check-mate” comes from the Persian word “shah-mat” meaning the “king is dead”!  The theme of selling one’s soul to the devil is not just a theme that was quite popular in the middle ages-it still is today.  Remember Charlie Daniels song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia? (A number three hit on Billboard 100 for Daniels in 1979) followed by a sequel in 1993 with Travis Tritt as Johnny, and narrated by Johnny Cash, both songs tell the story of how Johnny dodges eternal damnation by winning the match and the rematch with the devil in a battle for his soul.  History is filled with stories of famous people who sold their soul to the devil for riches, popularity, fame and power.  Allister Crowley was spoken of as one who did that. He actually wrote about his relationship with the Devil.  He wrote, “I was not content to believe in a personal devil and serve him, in the ordinary sense of the word.  I wanted to get hold of him personally and become his chief of staff”.   For years it was rumored that Led Zepplin enjoyed success due to the fact that they had sold their souls to the devil. Guitarist for the group, Jimmy Page did practice occultist practices, and bought Crowley’s mansion.  The Rolling Stones, especially after their song, Sympathy for the Devil, were rumored to have done that.  And of course, there is always Ozzy Osbourne!  I think the devil has perpetrated this lie because it hides the real truth.  The Bible teaches he is the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) and the “prince and power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).  I John says “the whole world lies in the lap of the evil one” (I John 5:19).  If he can deceive us into thinking that we are all ok UNLESS we make a pact selling our soul to him, he will keep us in the check-mate of defeat that we aren’t even aware of!

     Since Adam and Eve’s fall all mankind is in checkmate and defeat to the devil.  It appeared hopeless.  But Jesus came, and in one move broke the checkmate and defeated him.  Today’s message is about that very move!  At Calvary, as prophesied in Genesis 3:15, the serpent “bruised” the heel of the Savior, but by the cross “Jesus crushed his head!”  Back to the painting-The King is the most important piece. When he is trapped, his whole army loses. The King can move one square in any direction. The main goal of chess is to checkmate your opponent’s King. The King is not actually captured and removed from the board like other pieces. But if the King is attacked (‘checked’) and threatened with capture, it must get out of check immediately. If there is no way to get out of check, the position is a ‘checkmate,’ and the side that is checkmated loses. Moses and the children of Israel are fleeing Pharaoh. They find themselves hemmed in with mountains on one side, Red Sea in front, and Egyptian army behind-Checkmate.  Our King has one more move! Saul and Israel are cowering before the Giant of Gath.  Checkmate.  But our King has one more move.  Jesus is taken down dead from the Cross.  He is placed in a borrowed tomb.  Checkmate.  But Easter morning our King had one more move and checkmate becomes “checkmate-right back at you”, as He defeated, disarmed, and disgraced the devil.  I recently came across a quote by someone that many thought had sold out to serve the devil.  The truth is, in reality, he has come to know the Savior, and walks in the way of victory over the Devil. I am speaking of Alice Cooper.  He recently wrote, “When you believe in God, you’ve got to believe in the all-powerful God.  He is not just God, He’s the all-powerful God and He has control over everyone’s life.  The Devil, on the other hand, is a real character that’s trying his hardest to tear your life apart”.  Wow!  Most theologians that teach at our seminaries couldn’t have said it any better!  Today’s message is about the encounter that Jesus had face to face with the Devil.  It was a forty-day encounter.  We are given three examples of how the enemy tried to defeat Jesus.  We are shown how our Savior defeated him.  The encounter ends with these words…”Then the devil left him alone…” (Matt. 4:11).  Jesus is the key to our victory.  That is why James, the brother of our Lord, promised us that if we “draw near unto the Lord, and resist the devil, he will flee from us!” (James 4:7).  C.S. Lovett, in his book Dealing with the Devil, says “there is no greater sound than the footsteps of the devil as he turns to flee from you”.  Today we will see how to make that an oft heard sound of victory. 

The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

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Jun 202021

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

     One of my favorite professors was Earl Radmacher.  Dr. Radmacher was the President of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon.  I was introduced to him through my Greek professor/ Mentor Dr. John A. Burns.  Dr. Radmacher, as his doctoral dissertation, wrote the best book ever written, in my opinion, on the Biblical doctrine of the Church.  It is called The Nature of the Church.  One of my most prized books in my library is my personally signed copy given to me by Dr. Radmacher.  In his book Dr. Radmacher lists several metaphors used in the New Testament for the Church.  He listed how the New Testament calls the Church a Body; a Building; Branches; and a Bride.  In his book he elaborates those images in a very dynamic and comprehensive manner.  One of my favorite symbols of the Church, outside the New Testament is by Dr. Howard Hendricks. He said that the Church is like a group of porcupines.  On a cold winter night they have to huddle together to keep warm.  But because they are covered with quills they prick and injure each other.  He said, “How like the Church-We need each other, but when we get close we needle each other!”  (I believe that the Swedish Theologian/ Philosopher Soren Kirkegaard was the first to use this metaphor). Very enlightening image!  But I think I discovered the most unusual image used of the Church, outside the New Testament imagery.  It comes from one of my favorite poets-British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and one of the twentieth century’s major poets-Thomas Stearns Eliot-i.e. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965).  In a poem written in 1920, Eliot likened the Church to, of all things, The Hippopotamus!  Yet his poem has some real points to make about the weaknesses and ugliness of the Church, yet shows how, through the redemption and power of God, she can and will rise to heavenly heights!  Here is the poem:

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus

Rests on his belly in the mud;

Although he seems firm to us

He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood is weak and frail,

Susceptible to nervous shock;

While the true Church will never fail

For it’s based upon a rock.

The hippo’s feeble steps may err

In compassing material’s ends,

While the True Church need never stir

To gather in its dividends.

The ‘potamus can never reach

The mango on the mango-tree

But fruits of pomegranate and peach

Refresh the Church from over sea.

At mating time the hippo’s voice

Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,

But every week we hear rejoice

The Church, at being one with God.

The hippopotamus’s day

Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;

God works in a mysterious way-

The Church can seep and feed at once.

I saw the ‘potamus take wing

Ascending from the damp savannas,

And quiring Angels round him sing

The praise of God, in loud hosannas.

Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean

And him shall heavenly arms enfold,

Among the saints he shall be seen

Performing on a harp of Gold.

He shall be washed as white as snow,

By all the martyr’d virgins kist,

While the True Church remains below

Wrapped in the old missmal mist.

     There is much debate about what Eliot was trying to say in this sarcastic poem.  Only he knows for sure.  But the contrast appears to be between the Professed Church that gives a powerful and infallible image, and the genuine Church that is often flesh and blood; weak and failing; sometimes lazy and ugly; but in the end, due to the blood-bought price paid for her this hippopotamus, rises to great heights due to God’s mysterious salvation and power.    

     C.S. Lewis, after his conversion had a low view of the Church too.  He soon saw how much he needed the Church, and how much God has chosen to use the Church, with all her imperfections to accomplish His work.  He wrote in his book God in the Dock

     “When I first became a Christian fourteen years ago, I thought I could do it on my own, retiring to my room…and reading theology and I would not go to Church…I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people, with guite different outlooks, different education, and gradually my conceit began peeling off.  I realized that the hyms, (which really were sixth-rate music!), were nevertheless being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots, in the opposite pew, and then you realize you aren’t fit to clean those boots!  It gets you out of your solitary conceit!”  Lewis went on to become a great apologist and defender of the Church, and how God could use her with all her imperfections!

     Philip Yancey, in his book, The Church; Why Bother?, came to the same conclusion.  He wrote, “As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed.  For whatever reason, God now reveals Himself in the world, not in a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of His Son in Galilee, but through the mongruel collection that comprises my local Church and every other such gathering in God’s name”.  (pg. 68).  But that is who He chose to use to reach the world.  Yancey, in his book, emphasizes that we will never succeed in the power of the flesh.  The arm of flesh will fail us.  But God, in His grace and power, and the fullness of His Spirit, can reveal his Glory through the Church.  That is the message of the Book of Ephesians.  The Church, through the Riches of His Grace, is seated in the Heavenlies with Him, while living out His life-giving power on earth, in the enemy’s territory.  Paul takes the Greek lexicon and empties out all the Greek words for power as He describes how He transforms His Church into the Church victorious.  Yancey goes on to say how we can succeed in our ministry.  He writes, “Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the Church can teach the world how to love…the Church is. above all, a place to receive grace; it brings forgiven people together with the aim of equipping us to disperse grace to others…The Church is…a counter-cultural community-in the world, but not of it-that shows others how to live in the most fulfilled way and meaningful life on earth…rejecting the false gods of independence, success, and pleasure, and replacing them with the Love of God and Neighbor.  Faith is not a private matter or something we practice once a week at Church.  Rather, it should have a contagious effect on the broader world.  Jesus, in describing His Church, and their work in the Kingdom, used images of yeast permeating the whole loaf; a pinch of salt preserving a slab of meat; the smallest seed in the garden growing into a great tree, which in the end can welcome all the birds of the air to come and rest and nest in its branches!”  So what Lewis and Yancey, and the New Testament is telling us is-even if the Church is a flesh and blood ugly and awkward hippopotamus-by the power of God she can still bring God great glory and rise to heights that in the flesh is impossible.  Hippopotamus or nots go be the Church!  You can make a heavy and heavenly impact on this big bad world! 

“If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”

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Jun 132021

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”

     One of the most interesting and convicting authors I have ever read is Mark Cahill.  He has only written two books.  One is the book One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey into Eternity.  It is a disturbing account of how we live with death every second of our lives, and must be prepared for eternity.  His follow up book is on witnessing, titled One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven. In the latter book, in a chapter entitled “If They’re Breathing They Need Jesus!” He tells about a couple witnessing encounters he had with two very famous people.  Mark Cahill went to college and played basketball with Charles Barkley.  He even roomed with Barkley while the team traveled.  They became very good friends, and are still friends today.  On one occasion, after their college days, he was speaking at a Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, where Barkley lives.  Upon arriving in town, he called Charles to see if they could get together, after the conference that night.  Charles said, “absolutely, we’re hanging out tonight at”, (and he mentioned a famous club). Mark asked him who the “we” was.  He said, “Quin Buckner, Alex Rodriguez, and Michael Jordan”.  He of course accepted.  How could he miss an opportunity like that!  When Charles introduced Mark to Jordan, he told him, “Michael this is my good friend from college I was telling you about!” All night they talked about basketball, baseball, golf, and occasionally religion, due to input from Mark.  As they were leaving, they headed out to the limousine that would take they all to their various destinations.  As we walked together toward the car, I said, “Michael, I am speaking in town this week, and I would like to ask you a question”.  Michael said, “Ok, shoot!”  I asked, “Michael, when you die, what do you think is on the other side?  What do you think is out there when we leave here?”  Cahill said that a very serious look came over him, he started nodding his head, and was silent for about ten seconds.  Then he responded, “I think there are those pearly gates, when we die”.  I knew I didn’t have much time; the others were catching up with us.  So, I got right to the point, and asked, “Michael have you ever committed your life to Jesus Christ?”  Quicker than he leaves the floor for one of his famous jump shots, he shot back “yes I have” and quickly asked, “Have to talked to Barkley about this?”  Cahill assured him that he had done that several times.  Michael shook his head as he walked away to the limo.  He later found out that Jordan used to discuss Jesus a lot with Horace Grant when they played together on the Bulls, but after his father was murdered, he just clammed up about his faith, and refused to talk about it any longer!  Even NBA stars need Jesus. 

     On another occasion, Mark was invited to come to Charles mother’s home in Leeds, Alabama for the holidays.  While there he had the opportunity to meet Charles’ family.  He really hit it off with Charles brother Daryl.  Daryl told Mark, “I recently had a heart attack”. He went on to tell Mark that after the heart attack that he had a near death experience.  He said that while in the operating room his spirit rose up out of his body, he saw the doctors and nurses working with his body on the operating table.  He said he went on a journey where he saw burning trees, burning grounds all around the base of the trees, then a lake of fire with people in it screaming for help.  With terror in his eyes he said, “I saw hell!  Then I came back!”  Mark asked, “Daryl, if you would have remained dead where would you have gone?”  Daryl replied, “I would have gone to hell!”  Mark asked, “Do you want to go to hell?”  Immediately he answered, “No, I want to go to heaven!”  “Do you know what you need to do to go to heaven?” Mark asked.  “Yes, committing my heart and life to Jesus Christ”, Daryl affirmed.  “Have you done that now?”, Mark inquired.  “No-I love the things of the world too much to do that right now!”  Mark warned him, that with a bad heart, he was playing Russian Roulette with his soul. Daryl acknowledged the risk he was taking. A few years later, Daryl had another heart attack that took his life.  It was March 20, 2009.  He died young, at the age of 42.  What about his destiny?  If you look up Daryl Shawn Barkley…you see his grave which says, “Deacon Daryl Shawn Barkley”…Did he embrace the faith that his mother taught him, and serve his Lord in his final days?  If so, that near death wake up call changed his eternity.  That is a vision that would be good for all of us to wake up to.  We will never be the same for time and eternity.  What a difference it could make in the lives we touch for Jesus, while there is still time. 

     On a grave in a cemetery near Jackson, California are the following words:

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, you soon will be

Prepare for death, and follow me.

Someone wrote below those words in marker:

To follow you, I am not content

Until I know-which way you went!

Today’s message should encourage us to encourage everyone to know which way you are going while there is still time!