Friday, June 1, 2012

The Real King

"The Hillbilly Cat"       "The Memphis Flash"       "The Pelvis"

Whatever you call him, there's no denying that Elvis Presley is the King of Rock 'n' Roll. 149 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, of which 114 were Top 40 songs, 40 were Top 10, and 18 went to #1. Over a billion records sold worldwide. Over 150 different albums and singles certified gold, platinum, or multi-platinum. Even now, 35 years after his death, Elvis' popularity continues. Over 600,000 people visit his home, Graceland, each year. Last weekend, Amber and I visited both the Graceland mansion in Memphis, TN and the tiny two-room house in Tupelo, MS where Elvis spent his early years.

Visiting Graceland

Obviously, as I mentioned last month, I'm an Elvis person. I've been a fan for as long as I can remember. I used to sing Elvis songs for my friends in elementary school. I impersonated him once for a church talent show. I've even dressed up as Elvis for Halloween a couple times!

There are several reasons I'm an Elvis fan. For one, my dad is a fan, and we've spent a lot of time singing along together and talking about Elvis. Just as many fathers and sons bond over sports, we've bonded over Elvis. I also love the whole rags-to-riches / "American dream" story: how Elvis rose from utter poverty to the top of his profession. Besides that, I just genuinely enjoy the music and movies Elvis produced - especially his Gospel music, which earned him three Grammy awards. And I appreciate the fact that Elvis was known for his genuine care and generosity. There are tons of stories of Elvis giving away cars or helping friends in need. As we toured Graceland, one of the things I found interesting was a huge plaque given by the city of Memphis to commemorate the fact that Elvis regularly gave to more than 50 charities.

Lincoln Elvis gave away in 1976
Lincoln Elvis gave away in 1976 - On display in Tupelo, MS
Elvis wasn't perfect. He had his flaws just like any of us. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, NIV). It's terrible that his life ended the way it did, but perhaps his death helped people to understand better the dangers of prescription drug interactions, chemical dependency, and the need for places like The Betty Ford Center (which sadly did not exist at the time). Still, despite the rough ending, there's a lot to like about Elvis, and I think he's a much better role model than many of today's celebrities.

Incidentally, while he didn't mind "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", Elvis didn't like to be called "The King". In his book, Elvis: My Best Man, George Klein tells of a time when Elvis was giving a concert in the '50s, and at the end of a song, a group of college students stood up and stretched out a banner reading, "Elvis, You're the King!" Without missing a beat, Klein says, Elvis stopped and said, "No, Jesus Christ is the King!" A similar event happened in 1974, and a low-quality recording of what Elvis said there can be heard here.

In the 1950s, Elvis took the world by storm, but by the mid-to-late 1960s, his popularity began to dwindle. Music began to evolve, and the civil rights debate (among other things) was splitting the nation, but Elvis was locked into contracts, making cookie-cutter low-budget movie after movie. With his creativity stifled, Elvis began to grow restless and tired, but in 1968, everything changed when he began working on a TV special for NBC. What started out to be a Christmas special turned into Elvis' opportunity to show the world that Rock 'n' Roll was not dead. He lost weight, gathered his old band members together, and poured everything he had into the program. The special was originally simply called "Singer Presents: Elvis", but fans have since dubbed it "The '68 Comeback Special".

At the end of the special, the King of Rock 'n' Roll donned a white suit to sing a brand new song written just for the occasion. Reflecting on the message preached by another king - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - whose assassination in Memphis earlier that year had deeply stirred Elvis, he sang one of his most powerful anthems: the Gospel-infused "If I Can Dream".

Despite the abolition of slavery, the advancement of civil rights, and the end of widespread segregation, racism is far from dead in America. Hate crimes still abound. And while advances like the Internet have created an increasingly "globally-minded" world, this seems to have done little to end the tensions between nations. Wars and threats of war continue constantly. But like Elvis and Dr. King, I too dream of a day when the lines that divide us will be blurred and peace will prevail.

The Scriptures tell us that's what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. The Old Testament prophets often foretell of a time when the people of the world will stop fighting and come together to worship the Lord (e.g. Isaiah 2:1-4; Psalm 22:27-28; Psalm 86:8-10). The New Testament continues the theme of God erasing divisions (Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:26-28).

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, 
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, 
 standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
 robed in white, with palm branches in their hands."
- Revelation 7:9

As servants of Jesus - the King above all kings - we should see these words not only as a promise of things to come, but as instructions for how to live today. If we already recognize him as our Lord and King, we should go ahead and begin living like it now. You might say we're called to take care of business for God's kingdom here on Earth. In fact, living by God's standards is an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2; Isaiah 58:6-10).

It can be difficult to keep the faith when we look at the condition of the world around us. More and more people are turning away from the Church. Between the state of the economy, the constant threat of terrorist attacks, and worries over nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran (among other things), it's easy to give in to fear instead of maintaining any hope of improvement. We know there will always be hatred in the world until Jesus returns. There will be wars and rumors of war until the day when Christ comes in final victory and puts an end to it. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stand up for what's right, and it doesn't mean we can't make a difference.

Dare to dream of a better day. If we all give up and give in to our doubts and fears, the devil wins. But it doesn't have to be that way. We can hold fast to God's promises - that he loves us, that he has a plan for us, that he can give us peace within and will one day create lasting peace - because we know that God is always faithful.

"For the word of the Lord is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does."
- Psalm 33:4 (NIV)  

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready always to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is within us. Why do you have hope? Why do you believe? Is it because you know God? Is it because Jesus is your king? Because you have seen the Lord at work in your life? Because you have shared in his dream? Because you have learned that he is faithful? I know I have. I have experienced and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt his love, his mercy, and his truth. 

How about you?

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