Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Don’t You Quit?

I love Jazz. I love listening to the sweet sounds of gifted artists like Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Grover Washington, Jr. and Wes Montgomery. One of my favorite musicians is the legendary Gene “Jug” Ammons. The first time I heard him was in a lounge in Chicago. The D.J. played a cut called “Ca’ Purange (Jungle Soul)”. I had never heard anyone play the tenor sax like that before. Some time later, I heard other records of his, such as Angel Eyes and Canadian Sunset. I was an instant Gene Ammons fan.

At that time, Ammons had just been released from prison after serving seven years of a 15-year sentence for narcotics charges. Shortly after his release, he put out a new album titled, “The Boss Is Back.” The number one tune on the album was a cut named, “The Jungle Boss.” Although I liked that tune, my favorite was a cut titled, “Why Don’t You Quit?”

Like many jazz artists of the 50s and 60s, Ammons was addicted to heroin. Even with all of his success in the music industry, and his two stints in prison, he was still unable to kick his habit. This is purely speculation on my part, but some of his friends and relatives probably kept asking him, “Why don’t you quit?” Well, speaking from experience, that is easier said than done.

I was addicted to heroin and cocaine for more than twenty-two years. During that time, many of my friends and relatives were asking me that same question. “Why don’t you quit?” I was never so tired of hearing any one question in my life. I can only imagine how tired Ammons was of hearing it. That is probably why he took that question and made a record out it. Why don’t you quit?

There are literally thousands of people that are strung out on something; drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, pornography, etc. To those who are on the outside looking in, the solution seems simple. But to those who are caught up in their various habits, it is a different story.

Different people were able to turn their lives around by using different methods. I can only tell you what worked for me. It was the power of God through Jesus Christ. The problem is, people want to put God in a box. They think He only works in certain ways. The truth is, God works in many ways.

God has miraculously healed many people from deadly diseases through prayer or the laying on of hands. Others had to spend time in hospitals or undergo surgery. Likewise, He has delivered a lot of people from drugs after they gave their lives to Him. Others had to go to treatment centers. God uses doctors, hospitals, treatment centers, 12 step programs, or the power of prayer to heal or deliver us from our situations. Sometimes He uses prison.

I don’t know why God works the way that He does. When you get to heaven, you can ask Him. Maybe He has already told us. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”(Isaiah 55:8-9)

One day, Oprah did a show called, “Why don’t they quit?” It was a very interesting and informative look at drug addiction and the inability of addicts to kick their habits. Part of the program was very technical, dealing with different parts of the human brain and how it functions. The discussion made some people realize that quitting is not always that easy. I’m not just talking about the drug culture. It amazes me how many people have smoked cigarettes for years, knowing the damage that they are doing to their bodies. But as hard as they have tried, they are unable to stop. Many of them knew what the dangers were before they started. But they look at the person who is struggling with a drug habit and they say, “Why don’t you quit?”

They might argue that cigarettes are legal and socially acceptable. So is alcohol, and look how it has devastated the lives of so many people. I don’t know if we will ever find an answer that we can all agree on. But there is one thing that I am convinced of. As long as there are drug addicts, there will always be someone who will look at them and say, “Why don’t you quit?”

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Way

A fly was trapped inside of a house. Everyday, he looked out of the window and saw all of the other flies just flying around and enjoying themselves in the nice warn sun. He decided that he was going to get out of that house and enjoy the fresh air too.

He flew towards the daylight only to bump his head on the windowpane. Again and again he tried to break through, but again and again be bumped his head on the cold, hard glass. He looked in the window seal and saw all of the flies that died trying to escape through the window. He was determined that he was not going to end up like them. He was going to make to freedom. But after days of trying, he eventually joined all of the other flies that lay dead in the window seal.

The sad thing is, he did not have to die there. Just a few feet from the window was a door that was standing wide open. If he would have chosen the door, he could have flown safely through. But he lay dead in the window seal because he was determined to do it his way.

We are often unsuccessful when we try to break free from situations in our lives because we are determined to do it our way. What we don’t realize is there is a door nearby that is standing wide open. Jesus is that door. He is standing there with his arms wide open. He is saying, “I am the way” (John 14:6)

Lets stop trying to do things our way, and trust God to work things out His way.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lost In The House

My wife and I just purchased a house last week. Although it is nice and beautiful, it is also big and confusing. There are a lot of rooms, doors, twists and turns. I don’t know how many times I was going to the hall closet and ended up in the garage. Or I was going to the basement and ended up on the sun porch. One time, I just stopped in the middle of the kitchen and started turning in circles. My nephew, who was helping me with some things, started laughing and said, “What’s the matter? Are you lost?” When I said that I was, he said, “How can you get lost in the house?”

There are a lot of people who are faithful church members, but they are lost. Some of them sing in the choir. Some of them are ushers. Some of them are deacons. Some of them are even preachers. They are in the church house every Sunday, and they do their jobs well. But if the truth were told, they are lost in the house.

Contrary to popular belief, everyone that goes to church is not saved. Did you read the story of the prodigal son in the 15th chapter of Luke? His brother, who never left home, got mad when his brother repented and went back home. There are some church members that have the same attitude. They don’t want certain kinds of people in “their church.” Gang members, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, ex-offenders or anyone who is not like them are not welcome. But they don’t realize that those are the people the Jesus died for.

Most people that don’t attend church do not have a problem with God, the Bible, or the church. They have a problem with church members. The reason that some people don’t go to church is because of the way they were treated when they did go. You have not been hurt until church folks have hurt you. Let me tell you something else while I am on the subject. Some people don’t go to church because they see how people act that does go. They are in the church, but the church is not in them. In other words, they are in the Lord’s house, but they are lost in the house.

God loves you. No matter what you have done or what you have become, you are welcome in His house. But you don’t want to be lost in the house.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

"It Is Finished" excerpt from "He's Only A Prayer Away" by Rev. Burton Barr Jr.

On Good Friday afternoon, in 2004, I sat in the back of Scruggs Memorial C.M.E. Church in St. Louis listening to my pastor, Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Bobo preach one of the seven last words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was the same word that I have chosen to conclude this book with. “It is finished” (John 19:30).

As he was nearing the end of his sermon, I felt my cell phone vibrating. When I peeked at the caller I.D., my heart sank. I recognized the number because I had called it many times during that week. It was the number to Forrest Park Hospital, where my mother had been in hospice care for several days.

As Pastor Bobo talked about how Jesus’ earthly mission had been completed and how the suffering and the pain of Calvary and the cross had come to an end, I thought about my mother. I thought about all of the sacrifices that she had made while raising my brother and me.

I thought about all of the pain and suffering she had endured over the past few months while she was in a nursing home. I thought about the gut wrenching cries and moans that tore my heart to pieces when I’d visited her on the previous day. Then, I heard my pastor say, “It is finished.”

Although I politely waited until the seventh and final word of our Savior had been preached and the benediction was given before I stepped outside, I didn’t hear anything that anyone had said. All I remember was standing on the steps of that church and listening to the message that had been recorded and left on my phone’s voice mail. It was the nurse saying, “Mr. Barr, I am calling to inform you that your mother, Mary Jane Barr, has expired.”

I thought to myself, “It is finished.” Her work down here on earth was completed. Her commitment as a loving mother, a faithful wife, a dedicated worker, and a loyal friend had come to an end. It is finished.

As sad as I was on that fateful afternoon, I was also encouraged because I knew that because of the finished work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I would see my mother again. It is finished.

My friends, when Jesus spoke those powerful words while He was hanging on that cross, they were not words of defeat.
If you notice, He didn’t say, “I am finished.” He said, “It is finished.” You need to hear that. Those were words of victory. It was not only victory for Christ, but it is also victory for all of us who choose to follow Him and to know Him as our Lord and Savior. It is finished.

Here is another thing. I don’t believe that those words were whispered. No I don’t. I believe those words were shouted. I believe they were shouted because Jesus wanted Satan and all of his demons to know that the battle was over. Satan had been defeated. Jesus had successfully completed His mission, so, before He took His last breath, He shouted, “IT IS FINISHED”. It is finished.
Let’s examine the words of Jesus, “It is finished.” Exactly what was it that was finished? When He received the vinegar and uttered those famous words, what was He saying?

Over the years, I have done a lot of research on this subject. I’ve read a lot of books and utilized the Internet.
One of the things I learned is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished”.

First of all, it meant that His life on earth was finished. Although He is God, while He was here on earth, He was a living, moving, breathing human being. He ate. He slept. He walked. He wept. He preached and He prayed. When he uttered those words; all of that was finished.
His holy hands that had healed so many, given strength to the lame and sight to the blind would soon be cold and motionless.

His feet, which had walked on so many missions of mercy, would soon become rigid and unmoving. His voice, that had spoken countless words of grace and love to so many, would soon become silent. His body, which had carried Him through three decades of life, would soon become lifeless. It is finished. Yes, Jesus’ human life had come to an end.

It also meant that His work on earth was finished. All of the Old Testament prophesies were fulfilled. Death and the grave were defeated. Everything that He had been sent here to do was finished.
Let me personalize this thing for you. When I was nine years old, I sat in the back of the Rose of Sharon Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago and listened as my first pastor, the Reverend James A. Murphy, preached a sermon about Adam and Eve. It was the first time I had ever heard the story; so I sat there somewhat spellbound as he talked about the fall of man and the consequences that we all had to suffer because of the fall.

Although my brother and I were in church every Sunday, I think that was the first time one of Rev. Murphy’s sermons really hit home with me. I loved to hear him preach Sunday after Sunday. It was through him that I first heard the story of the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den.

There were so many sermons that Rev. Murphy preached that made me feel good. The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, and Lazarus being raised from the dead were just a few. I guess you could call them shouting sermons.

But the fall of man was not a shouting sermon, not to me. Because the only thing that my little nine-year old mind could digest was that because of Adam’s sin and disobedience, I was going to die and go to hell someday and there was nothing that I could do about it.
I felt when Adam fell, I too had fallen. I was a sinner. I didn’t want to be a sinner. I didn’t even know what a sinner was. I was just nine years old.
Rev. Murphy didn’t let the story end there. He told me about Romans 5:19, where it says, “As by one man’s disobedience” meaning Adam, “many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one,” meaning the finished work of Jesus Christ, “shall many be made righteous.” Jesus took a sad story and gave it a happy ending.
Because of His finished work on Earth and on the cross, when we repent and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God forgives us for our sins. Man’s problem is that we have a hard time forgiving ourselves.

“It is finished!” was His cry. His work was finished. It was complete. It was ended.

“It is finished,” however, refers only to Jesus’ redemptive work. We know from Scripture that His work as Lord continues.
Christ is in heaven right now as Lord of the universe and head of the church. Jesus is hard at work on our behalf and for our good; preparing a place for us, pleading for us before the Father, defending us, and keeping us safe from the attacks of Satan. It is finished.

Jesus has completed the work that God sent Him to do on Earth. What was started when Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, was ended on Golgotha. Christ’s salvation work was done. It is finished.
This means that Christ’s work of suffering was done. Oh, how our Lord suffered. Think of Gethsemane, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again. Think of the brutal soldiers, the journey to Calvary, the nails of the crucifixion, those three awful hours of darkness when God forsook Him physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Our Lord suffered so very much.

But now it was finished. The cup of wrath has been drained. The wages of sin have been paid. The disgrace and shame, the suffering and the agony are past. Never again shall He experience pain. Never again shall He endure the taunts and the slaps of those who hate Him. Never again shall He be in the hands of His enemies. Never again shall He be in darkness. Never again shall God’s presence be taken from Him. It is finished.

It is finished means that nothing more could be done or would be required to secure the salvation of sinners.

I read the story about a young man that came forward in a Gospel meeting asking, “What can I do to be saved?”

Knowing the man thought he had to do something dramatic to be saved, the pastor responded, “You are too late.”

“Please don’t say that,” exclaimed the distressed seeker. “I really want salvation. I will do anything or go anywhere to obtain it.”
“I’m sorry,” replied the pastor. “You are too late for that. Your salvation was completed many hundred years ago at Calvary. It is finished. All you have to do now is accept it.

In 1975, after my third court martial, I was given a bad conduct discharge from the United States Marines. That meant I didn’t have any benefits. Whenever I filled out applications for employment or was asked if I was a veteran, I had to say that I was not.

In 2008, I went to the veteran’s administration office and got a copy of my military records. To my surprise, I learned that the major charge that I was convicted of had been overturned on appeal in 1979.

Therefore, my bad conduct discharge had been thrown out and I was given an honorable discharge; but for almost thirty years, I had been living with the guilt and shame of a sentence that had been dismissed.

Man sold himself into sin, but Jesus paid the price to redeem mankind. He became a propitiation for our sins; appeasing God’s wrath and judgment; fully satisfying the demands of a righteous God in respect to judgment upon a sinner.

I’m not worried about anything because I’m a child of God. He adopted me a long time ago when Jesus hung on the cross and said, “it is finished.”

It is finished because the Father was satisfied. It is finished because the Son was crucified. It is finished because the Saints were edified.

At last and did my Savior bleed
And did my sovereign die
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I
At the cross – At the cross
Where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith
I received my sight
And now I am happy
All the day

It Is Finished.

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