Friday, August 24, 2012

What You Don't Know About the Man Who Shot John Lennon

Mark David Chapman has been denied parole yet again. Most only know Mark Chapman as the man who shot John Lennon. But his life has changed dramatically during his years in prison, and his story is one that shows the transforming power of Christ. 

Some years ago, we received a letter from Mark Chapman in response to our broadcast, “The Word And The World”, which aired at the time over WWOG in Rochester, NY. We answered Chapman’s letter, and a correspondence friendship developed that resulted in several visits to Attica by Dave and Bill Breckenridge, who is our ministry’s Media Manager and who also contributes to this blog.

Three years ago, Dave Virkler visited Mark Chapman at Attica Correctional Facility. Following is a portion of a blog entry Dave wrote about his last visit with Mark: 

Entrance was a little easier this time than other visits. I had only one form to fill out because I was already on Chapman’s visitation list. After a lengthy security process, I was locked into a small oblong room that had a black floor-to-ceiling cage about 4’ x 4’ at the far end. A long table just wide enough to reach across and join hands went from the doorway to the wall in front of the cage.
Looking around, I noticed a camera near the ceiling and also a note on the wall about a microphone, so I assumed everything was being carefully monitored. I wasn’t allowed to bring a Bible or anything else except for a plastic pen and some paper, and I scribbled some questions while I waited for Mark.

Few people come to see Mark, and he is not giving interviews to any media people as this is his current leading from the Lord. He can have a radio but no Internet access. At length, Mark came through the rear door, and we warmly greeted each other. He is doing well and rejoicing in the Lord. Our conversation ranged far and wide.

We talked about many things that Mark requested I not share on our radio broadcast or here. When I asked him what I should tell my audiences from him, he simply said, “Know Jesus.”

Additionally, he would like people to know that he and his wife Gloria, who resides in Hawaii, are hoping for funding to get his printed testimony, “The Man Who Shot John Lennon,” shipped to many prison ministries for distribution around the world.

Mark is deeply spiritual, deeply repentant for his actions, concerned about evangelism, willing to stay in prison for the rest of his life and willing to be whatever God wants him to be. He and I prayed together several times, joining hands across the table. He prayed for me, my family and ministry. I prayed for him, his spiritual life, his wife and his literature outreach.

Before being led back out though all those gates at 2:30 PM, I asked Mark to review an interview he did with Larry King back on Sept. 30, 2000. I asked Mark to share the story with me once more, and he did.

Through King’s friendship with then-NY governor Mario Cuomo, he was able to get a live interview with Chapman and sent his crew into Attica. Mark sat in a darkened room with nothing but the camera lens pointed at his face. King could see Mark, but Mark could not see King.

In the interview, Chapman told Larry King, “I became a Christian when I was 16, Larry, and that lasted about a year of genuine walking with Him. Through my life, off and on, I have struggled with different things, as we all do, and at those times I would turn to the Lord. The night of the death of John Lennon I was far from Him. I wasn’t listening to Him. I wasn’t reading the Bible anymore.

“Today I’m different. I read the Bible. I pray, and I walk with Him. He forgives me. He doesn’t condone what I did—and that’s a very important thing—He didn’t like what I did 12 years ago. He didn’t like all the pain I caused everybody, especially John’s widow. But He forgives me and He hears me and He listens to me, and He is the one, all these years, that has brought me out of the abyss, not medications or counseling. I, basically, had to counsel myself through these years, not that it’s not available here, but I’ve been very private about this. This is not anything that’s easy to live with.”

As I had listened to that interview back in 2000, I was stunned by King’s next question. The instant retort by Chapman surprised me, and I thought it might have been rehearsed. Larry King asked Mark how he knew it wasn’t a crutch, and his response was:

“Well, in a way, it’s got to be a crutch, because we all need a crutch. Life is not easy and life, for me, isn’t easy. And, therefore, I think the Lord has a tender spot in His heart for prisoners. He said so. The rest of the Bible says so in many different places. And I’ve leaned on Him—if it’s a crutch, I've been leaning on a crutch, but it’s a crutch made out of the cross, because without that I probably wouldn’t be alive today because I was very suicidal and I certainly wouldn’t be in a well state of mind, not without Him.”

Mark told me that seconds before Larry King asked that awkward question, his gaze was diverted momentarily. Out of the corner of his eye in the darkness, he saw a fleeting vision of a crippled man walking down a lonely road with a cross under his armpit in the form of a crutch. He looked back into the camera and answered Larry’s question.

Our wonderful crutch of salvation is indeed formed by the cross. “The old rugged cross, so despised by the world has a wondrous attraction for me…” It’s the message I preached last week 14 times in six days in two Bible conferences. “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time….” “At the cross, at the cross where I first say the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away….”

Driving away from Attica is a sobering experience. When I left, I said to myself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Salvation is just as needed inside the prison or outside the prison, for Mark David Chapman and for David Mark Virkler.

Dave Virkler

If you would like a print copy of Mark’s testimony or information about his ministry, please contact us.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thrill of Victory & The Agony of Sin

The Penn State fiasco certainly placed a major black mark on the sporting world over the last year or so. But it seems that now that even the most glorious sports event of all, the Olympic games, have witnessed a public scandal as well.

The website stated, "Olympic team leader says eight female badminton doubles players have been disqualified from the London Games after trying to lose matches to receive a more favorable place in the field. The Badminton World Federation investigated two teams from South Korea and one each from China and Indonesia. It accused them of 'not using one's best efforts to win a match' and ‘conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport’ in matches on Tuesday night." Of course, and as expected, the Indonesian team will appeal the accusation.

Meanwhile swimmer Michael Phelps made history when he earned his 19th Olympic medal - more than any other single athlete ever in the games and then added a few more for good measure. After struggling initially, many wondered if the great swimmer was about out of gas while in the water. But it seems that his great talent mixed with his exceptional determination to succeed drove him to two additional victories and to a place that no other in the games has ever reached.

The Bible sometimes uses athletic terminology to make spiritual applications. One such place is Paul’s words to a young pastor and his own son in the faith. In 2 Timothy 2:3-5 he wrote, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

Then in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he again uses phrases associated with sports to speak of the level of commitment often needed to win a highly demanding and elusive reward. Beginning in verse 24 he opens his thoughts in question form, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

It is likely that the disgraced badminton team members at the 2012 will be removed from the competition. If deemed guilty, they will lose their dream of an Olympic medal and the temporary glory that all brings. But Paul’s concern of being disqualified was not about being removed from competition for material gain. Nor was he worried over being banned from God’s eternal team. His fear was only about the unimaginable potential of losing his opportunity of being fully used to serve His Lord, using each and every remaining breath in this life that he would draw.

As one who considered himself the fully forgiven and justified ‘chief of sinners,' this man possessed but one all-consuming goal. His eyes were firmly fixed on God’s finish line – and never on his own. This was a priority that he would not jeopardize in any way or for any reason. And, unlike so many fragile human role models today, this man was a great sinner who had received a greater salvation – a reality outwardly evidenced in a consistent spiritual focus and drive that we can all learn from and strive to duplicate.

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14)

 Bill Breckenridge