So here is a trivia question:
It was 1977 and Elvis Presley was 42 years old. A mere few months before he would overdose on a cocktail of prescribed drugs (morphine, demerol, chloropheniramine, placidyl, valium, codeine, thinamate, quaaludes, and a barbituate) a certain world famous minister made an appointment to speak with him. Upon the arrival of said minister to the lobby of the hotel where Mr. Presley was staying, Elvis denied access to the minister. Apparently, Elvis was so completely “messed up” on his prescriptions that he was unwilling to be in the presence of the minister.
So the trivia is: who was the minister?
Let us back up a bit…
You could say Elvis Presley was a religious man. Not necessarily a ‘Christian’ in the strict sense (read: ACTUAL sense) of the word, but indeed, ‘religious’ in a secular sense. And it began in his childhood.
Evidently, Elvis grew up attending the Assembly of God church. He was quoted as saying:
“Since I was two years old, all I knew was gospel music. That music became such a part of my life, it was as natural as dancing. A way to escape from problems. And my way of release.”
During the height of his drug abuse (late 1960’s and the 1970’s) he had won 3 Grammy awards for his gospel music contributions. These would be his only Grammy award trophies. Throughout his life—in the recording studio, in private, or after concerts—Presley joined with others singing and playing gospel music at informal sessions. The ‘church’ part of his upbringing really had an abiding affect on his religiosity.
So we had Elvis philandering and purposefully feeding his addictions while testifying of his belief in God and performing renditions of his favorite gospel music, while winning highly respected awards for the same. (I personally believe Elvis’ rendition of ‘How Great Thou Art’ is the touchstone of any of its previous recordings.)
And you know Elvis wasn’t the only one to grow up in the church and make it big as a recording artist: Janis Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimi Hendrix could make the same claim. Others include Axl Rose, Eminem, Katy Perry….actually this could be an extremely long list…
Back to Elvis and the dichotomy of his religiosity.
What an interesting situation: the man grew up in the church, knew the gospel message and with his confessions he showed it respect. The man constantly worshiped God with his lips while living a life of complete disregard to the holiness of that same God and what the New Testament would describe as authentic Christian behavior. And he lived in that state for the majority of his short life.
Why did Elvis have such a disconnect between his confessions and the choices he made? Between what he spoke and how he actually lived?
Could it have something to do with the environment in which he grew up? Although he and his family attended church regularly, both his mother and father did not live a sanctified (holy and respectable) life. From what I could find out, his mother was an aspiring alcoholic and his dad did time for check forgery and had escaped prosecution for bootlegging by moving to a different state.
Maybe his parents were struggling to lead a Christian life, at least they were attending church, right? Or maybe they attended church to assuage their guilt, or maybe to possibly lead their child into a better way of life than they were leading? Whatever the cause it taught Elvis an invaluable lesson: how to attend church while living a life contrary to the example of Christ and still sleep at night.
What a dangerous and frightening place to be. As if merely attending a church service and mentioning Jesus in an acceptance speech would be sufficient in the eyes of God.
Jesus loves us, YES indeed. Jesus understands and extends us Grace, ABSOLUTELY. But there comes a time when the individual must grow up and comprehend that the loving Jesus holding the lamb on the wall of your Sunday school classroom is indeed the Transcendent Creator God, whose holiness we could never hope to approach, who demands our complete heart and not only the words from our mouth.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
< Matthew chapter 7, verses 21-23 >
To be a Christian is a LIFE decision, my friend. A decision that TODAY in the 21st century is a death sentence in some parts of the world. A death sentence where our brothers and sisters in bonds would joyfully enter into rather than depart from Christ.
SO WHO WAS THE MYSTERY MINISTER?
It was a young Assembly of God evangelist who was just beginning to make a name for himself: Jimmy Swaggart (yes, THAT Jimmy Swaggart). You see, his cousin was the musician Jerry Lee Lewis who was a friend of Elvis Presley. Elvis was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a concert and Jimmy Swaggart had contacted him so that they may visit with one another. Swaggart’s intention was to counsel and pray with him, giving Elvis one more opportunity to rectify his life wholly for Christ; to give Elvis a choice to allow a life of true transformation in Christ.
But Elvis never allowed Swaggart passage from the lobby into his hotel room.
A few months later Elvis died in his home, in a pool of his own vomit after collapsing off of the commode.
“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” < James chapter 4, verse 14 >
~ Daniel Gabriel
It does not escape me the irony of Jimmy Swaggart being the protagonist of this story, with his own very public moral failing highlighting his decades long career of serving the cause of Christ. TWO THINGS: thank God for His Grace which extends throughout our lives AND God indeed demands a life of striving towards holiness…with no individual escaping His demand.