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In a sermon several weeks ago I referred to a man I couldnít reach. John was ex-Navy, a heavy drinker and a violent man. He was very personable when you first met him; when he drank enough beer the demons took over. I must confess that, until I met John I always thought people were born with a good nature, and, if they wound-up on the wrong side of things, had just somehow made a wrong turn. John taught me better.
John had married Rosemary only a few months before I met him; it was his fourth time at the marriage license bureau Ė her second. A few weeks after Rosemary joined our church, John came down the aisle also. We baptized him and it seemed they would escape the divorce statistic hanging over multiple marriages. Rosemary thought she could get John to quit drinking; she was wrong. It seems I wasnít the only one who couldnít reach John.
The crisis came less than a month after Johnís baptism. The honeymoon had ended and John began drinking again. One night, late, Rosemary showed up at the parsonage door. She was bruised and scared. Elizabeth and I took her in, and I went to see John the next day. When I drove up to their front yard I was greeted by a strange sight. John had stuck empty beer cans on the end of every branch of the small orange tree in front of their trailer. The sign at the bottom of the tree read: This is for you, preacher man.
John was very drunk but still somewhat coherentÖand very loud. He greeted me at the front door and invited me in. I only asked, John, how can I help? John talked angrily for the next twenty minutes. Finally, he looked at me with a hatred that wasnít his own and said, Iím going to make a minister out of you.
Later that day Rosemary asked if we would accompany her to the trailer to get her clothes. We drove up and I went in first. He was calm and seemed reasonably sobered. He agreed to let Rosemary come in and get her belongings. When she came in he immediately began to threaten her. At one point he went to get his pistol. I urged Rosemary to forget her clothes and leave; it was a bad idea to come back. She was determined to get her clothing. When she went to the closet, John re-entered the room waving a pistol Ė a very BIG pistol! (I must say it looked a lot bigger from the wrong end of the barrel). After several tense moments John allowed us to return to the car where Elizabeth was waiting.
Several months later we got a letter from Rosemary thanking us for our help, and saying that she had settled in another state. Not long after that we heard about John Ė on the evening news. He had threatened people outside a K-Mart store with his pistol, and when the police showed up he committed suicide. A painfully tortured mind and life came to a wasted end.
Was John saved? I donít know; I am not equipped to judge that. He made a profession of faith and was baptized, but his behavior never changed. That leads me to an opinion he never really believed Ė never really trusted Christ. It is only an opinion Ė God knows the real truth. Beyond opinion, however, it is true beyond any doubt that saved people have a Savior; Johnís savior, what he really seemed to trust-in was Budweiser.
Now the point of Johnís story, a painful reminder of my own failure, is that we cannot save ourselves Ė and, without Jesus, Iím just the same as John. Many people would say that the only difference is that alcohol made John do the things he did; Johnís problem was alcohol, not sin. The alcohol only loosened-up Johnís inhibitions to do those things which were already on the inside. The reality is we all have those things on the inside; the doctrine of total depravity teaches us that! Every human being on the face of this planet who has ever lived was/is capable of doing whatever horrific deed you can dream up. This is why we need a Savior.
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