When the Holy Spirit is truly moving in the hearts and minds of men, not only do they find their sins to be INTOLERABLE, but they also find the memory of them to be UNBEARABLE. Out of that necessary misery comes the true marvel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
God’s promises never assure us what His Holy Spirit cannot produce for and in us. The apostle Paul declares that we can forget the things that are behind and press on to that which God has laid out before us. We read the divine imperative of Philippians 3:13,
“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of
it yet: but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind,
and pressing forward to what lies ahead.”
As Brother Ben Haden says again and again in his radio and television gospel ministry,
“GOD DEALS IN FUTURES, NOT IN PASTS.”
How awesome it is that, through the blood of the living Christ, we do not have to relapse into sin, either into its reenactments or its remembrances.
Would you believe me if I told you that Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, can make the most powerful sins and temptations expire into nothingness? Would you believe me if I told you that Christ, through His Spirit, can rub out the memory of the most awful past? You are about to meet all of this and more in the true stories of CHURCH HYPOCRITES, A DRUG ADDICT, AND A MAFIA MONSTER.
I. KNOCK! KNOCK! CAN WE PLEASE GET SAVED NOW?
I once heard the story about the young couple who were involved in a church where there was a lot of shouting and clapping and jumping for Jesus. They were both trying to convince their beloved grandmother that she should attend their church as well.
The young man said to the grandmother, “You should have seen it, Grandma! The Holy Spirit was really there!”
Grandma continued rocking in her chair and didn’t say a word. The young woman said, “Grandma, you should have heard the preacher! He was screaming at the top of his voice, and the people were popping up like popcorn to praise the Lord. It was unbelievable!” Grandmother kept right on rocking in her chair.
Finally, the young man said, “Grandma, don’t you like our church? You never seem to say anything about it.” Grandmother finally spoke. She said, “Honey, let me put it this way to you. I don’t care how loud they shout, and I don’t care how high they jump. It’s what they do when they come down that counts.”
THE ESSENCE OF REVIVAL
We hear so much today about the need for REVIVAL. What is REVIVAL? The definitions of revival would fall into two basic camps. Is the Holy Spirit first of all interested in demonstrating visible signs or bringing the conviction of invisible sins? Does the Holy Spirit major in EXTERNAL POWER or INTERNAL PURITY? What are the evidences of revival? Bouncing in the aisle or brokenness at the altar? Falling over backwards under a power or falling on our knees under holy conviction of sin? In those couplets lies the answer to discovering the key to true revival.
Grandma was right, you know. Without the purity of heart and the sanctity of life, all of this dancing and dazzling is nothing but dress and disguise, paint and varnish, blow and show. Hear it:
“REVIVAL IS NOT HOW HIGH WE JUMP BUT HOW HOLY WE LIVE.”
Jumping is fine, but when we come back down, do we stand on the Rock or fall right back into the dirt? It is not outward piety, but inner purity that makes revival true and lasting.
The prophet Isaiah put it this way in Isaiah 29:13,
“…because this people draw near with their words and honor Me
with their lip service, but they remove their hearts
far from Me…”
“WHEN GOD HAS THE WHOLE HEART HE HAS THE WHOLE PERSON, BUT WHEN
HE HAS A JUMPING JACK, HE ONLY HAS A JUMPER AND YOU NEVER
KNOW WHERE JUMPERS WILL JUMP TO NEXT.”
WE BOTH NEED TO BE SAVED RIGHT NOW!
As was my practice before worship services, I would spend time in PRAYER on my knees in my church study. The congregation seemed to know this and did not intrude upon that HOLY HOUR.
Surprisingly, one Sunday morning there was a firm knock on my study door. Before me stood a young married couple whom I admired greatly, and who had endeared themselves to my heart. Along with their young children, they were a model church family indeed.
Instantly apologizing for their interruption, this husband and wife went on to explain why they were intruding upon that sacred time. They said, “Pastor, can we please come in? We can’t go through another worship service. WE BOTH NEED TO BE SAVED NOW.” I had been praying for people to be saved during the service. Now they were coming to be saved before worship began or the altar call could be given.
I welcomed them into my office trying to hide my surprise. After all, they were both outstanding members of the church, vitally involved in ministry. In they came, and the forcefulness of their knocking was now being defined by the urgency in their voices.
Though they had attended church for years, they confessed to me that it was nothing but a pharisaical show. In the more private environment of their home their lives were a totally different story. They confessed that behind their own locked doors they fought, they argued, they shouted, they screamed, they swore, as every public characteristic of their church behavior disappeared. They confessed that they were not GOOD PEOPLE, just GOOD PERFORMERS.
“NOTHING IS MORE TRUE THAN THAT THE CUSTOM OF SINNING TAKES
AWAY THE SENSE OF SIN, AND THE SEEING OF IT TOO.”
“THE CUSTOM OF SINNING NOT ONLY BRINGS A HARDNESS TO THE CONSCIENCE,
BUT ALSO A MIST AND FILM UPON THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL EYES.”
“CONSTANT SIN CASTS THE CONSCIENCE INTO A DEAD SLEEP, AND
THE SINNER IS NOT ABLE TO OPEN HIS EYES TO LOOK EITHER
INWARD OR UPWARD.”
All of this, combined with drinking and smoking, was being carried out in the presence of their children. Their little son and daughter were now beginning to act and talk just like their daddy and mommy.
To this very point in their history, after all of their years of church hypocrisy, they had not learned TO LOVE GOD ANY BETTER OR HATE THEIR SINS ANY WORSE.
In the church enviornment they were like ZOO LIONS and CIRCUS TIGERS being led through their paces. But in their native habitat, their home, the wild animals in them were let loose.)
But now their hardened hearts were miraculously being made tender and soft by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the Sunday to Sunday preaching of the WORD OF GOD’S KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. All of their sins were now attacking their renewed consciences like large bricks falling upon their heads. The Holy Spirit was turning the lights on and now THEY SAW A TERRIFYNG SCENE.
With tears in their eyes and sobbing in their voices, they humbly asked if I would lead them in the sinner’s prayer and bring them to Christ. The deluding of self and the deceiving of others was now over. Salvation had come to their home! It was one of the rarest and most glorious moments in my now 48 years of ministry.
I was so very proud of this young couple and their brokenhearted, transparent honesty. After all, they had an IMAGE to uphold. He was a successful businessman and a prominent member in our church orchestra. She was a registered nurse. They were talented, respectable people, and in such cases PRIDE generally would not have allowed the drawing back of the curtains.
There has been a principle of PRIDE working in the hearts and minds of men ever since our first parents’ fall! Plus, this couple has become successful and prosperous which always enlargers pride. Hear it:
“VERY FEW PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE THEIR HEARTS SWELL WITH THEIR
SWOLLEN BANK ACCOUNTS.”
Come on now, when the sun shines, the peacock displays his fanned feathers. Like it or not:
“THE RICH MAN’S FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS IS TO FORGET GOD
AND THEN HIS FRIENDS.”
But this couple, by the SOVEREIGN GRACE OF GOD, now had determined what was valuable and what wasn’t. Why should they lose their souls and their family for the sake of a reputation or appearance?
(Revival was finally beginning to happen in our church, though the beginning was small. It is said of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8 that,
“He…will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.”
Holy Spirit engendered conviction of sin is much more than a passing admission, it is a pressing, deep, painful awareness. But these three –CONVICTION OF SIN-RIGHTEOUSNESS-JUDGMENT – were not coming in stages. They were happening simultaneously and powerfully all through the church. That is how you know the Holy Spirit is at work and revival has come. The altars were from that day on becoming DAMP WITH TEARS OF CONTRITION.
In other words, the sinner never realizes his sin so convincingly as when he sees the righteous God with one eye, and his rotten self with the other. Hear it:
“THE PERSON WHO HAS NEVER SEEN THE DAY HAS NO REASON TO
DISLIKE THE ONGOING NIGHT.”
Add to that the sudden persuasion of eternal judgment, and then the total experience is overwhelming. No one truly arrives at the gates of Heaven without having first seen himself dangling over the abyss of hell. When the Holy Spirit begins His convincing work in triplicate is when people will knock down church doors everywhere and beg to be saved even before the church service begins.)
II. THE WEED WAS GROWING EVERYWHERE
While REVIVAL is the longing for new, righteous life in Christ, REPENTANCE is the decision to leave behind the old life in Satan. REPENTANCE is the foundation of all REVIVAL in the individual, in society, and in the church. Repentance must come first! Without it, the beginning of new life, the flickers of revival anywhere and in anyone, will soon die.
The first message of Jesus in Mark 1:15,
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Or as Peter preached in Acts 3:19,
“Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order
that times of refreshing [revival, new life] may come from the
presence of the Lord.”
Repentance is the leaving of the old, while revival is the coming of the new. You cannot have the latter without the former.
(REPENTANCE is the GREAT SALVATION TRUTH deposited by God Himself into the hands of the church. Sinners cannot be expected to TURN AWAY FROM SINS when the church no longer preaches against it, and in many cases now condones.
As if man needed help to avoid REPENTANCE! Listen:
“RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING IT WAS THE PATTERN OF THE PARENT OF ALL
SINNERS, ADAM, FIRST TO HIDE, AND THEN TO EXCUSE HIMSELF – TO
WRAP THE APPLE IN LEAVES, AND TO GIVE HIS SIN
A GLOSS THROUGH BLAME.”
The church today is in fact doing the same. She in regard to sin and repentance is following the PATTERN OF THE FIRST ADAM, and not obeying the PRINCIPLES OF THE LAST ADAM. As a result:
“SINNERS ARE BEING MADE ‘CONVERTS’ AT AN EASY RATE, AS SIN IS NO
LONGER BEING DECRIED, AND THEREFORE HOLINESS IS
NOT BEING DEVELOPED.”
“THE APOSTLE PAUL TELLS US THAT THE OLD SINFUL MAN MUST BE CRUCIFIED
WITH CHRIST ON THE CROSS, BUT MODERN PREACHERS DON’T WANT
THEIR PARISHIONERS TO HURT THEMSELVES ON THE NAILS.”
“REPENTANCE IN THE MODERN CHURCH IS DEALT WITH AS CASUALLY AS THROWING
A PAIR OF EXTRA SOCKS INTO A SUITCASE WHICH ARE NEVER WORN.”)
THE MEANING OF REPENTANCE
Repentance literally means,
“TO CHANGE YOUR MIND.”
The English word REPENT comes from the Greek word METANOIA. Metanoia comes from two other Greek words, namely, META which means “AGAIN,” and NOUS which means “MIND.” Literally, “AGAIN MIND!” Or, if you will, “A CHANGE OF MIND.”
CHANGE OUR MINDS OF WHAT? By nature we all think that we can live without God. We don’t need God. Thanks for the offer, God, but no thanks. Then, apart from God, mankind sinks deeper and deeper into sin.
It all seems so delicious at first, exactly what our carnal appetites desire. Listen now:
“WHILE WE HAVE A TASTE FOR SIN’S INITIAL SWEETNESS, WE DO NOT
HAVE AN ANTIDOTE FOR SIN’S ULTIMATE POISON.”
We grow sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker, lonelier and lonelier. I have often wondered what happened to the kids in my class who like me attended church under parental imperative. There was Seth the Spitter, Vaughn the Nose-Picker, Andy the Biter, and Marlene the Class Nymphomaniac. Did they ever go through the mandatory REPENTANCE EXPERIENCE? Or did they become like Donna who is on her 4th marriage, and like Benjamin who shot his mother, and like George who stole his aged grandmother’s social security checks?
Like the prodigal son, the Holy Spirit must bring us to our senses. That is the beginning of REPENTANCE. We change our mind! Suddenly, that which we once craved now becomes nauseous. That which we once disowned becomes our longing. We DETEST what has become of our lives and we HUNGER for a new life. We thought we could do without Jesus Christ; now we desperately need Him to save and forgive us.
(It is a critical moment and, if done sincerely, repentance for salvation should only have to be done ONCE IN A LIFETIME. There is a GREEK VERB TENSE CALLED “AORIST” – WHICH MEANS THAT A VERB IN THAT TENSE IS DONE ONCE AND FOR ALL. For instance, in Mark 1:15 where Jesus tells us TO REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL, the verb REPENT IS IN THE AORIST TENSE.
“IF A PERSON HAS TO KEEP ON CHANGING HIS OR HER MIND, THERE IS
SOMETHING RADICALLY WRONG AND TRUE REPENTANCE HAS
NOT YET TAKEN PLACE.”
Hear it strong:
“TRUE REPENTANCE SHOULD BE AN EARTH-SHAKING MOMENT IN THE SINNER’S LIFE –
AT LEAST 7.0 ON THE SPIRITUAL AND MORAL RICHTER SCALES.”
You really can’t live through it more than once. REPENTANCE is like the earth opening up and swallowing the old sinful YOU and the old sinful life. It is the first step in the old sinful man dying, when in fact just when you think you will perish forever, in Christ you are made alive forever.
WILLIAM C. YOUNT MD of Hagerstown, Maryland captures the extreme drama of REPENTANCE in this way:
“VIOLENT REPENTANCE WILL SHAKE THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH RELEASING A
‘SPIRITUAL’ WORLD-WIDE TSUNAMI OF GLORY.”
If you will:
“REPENTANCE IS WHEN YOU FULLY SEE YOUR AWFUL SINFULNESS, AND JUST
WHEN A HORRIBLE DARKNESS SWALLOWS YOU, A GLORIOUS LIGHT
And that LIGHT IS CHRIST. Hear me:
“ONLY CHRIST CAN CHANGE THE HORRORS OF REPENTANCE INTO THE
HALLELUJAHS OF SALVATION.)
THE WEED-FREE WIFE
She had been attending our church faithfully for some time. Recently saved herself, she was blossoming into a beautiful daughter of God. She attended alone because she was separated from her husband. Not only that, she was in the process of divorcing him. I tried to persuade her not to, for divorce is never the will of God. GOD HATES DIVORCE – PERIOD! (Malachi 2:16) Her response was that she could no longer stay married to her POTHEAD HUSBAND.
Earlier in their marriage she had smoked marijuana with her husband in order to stay on the good side of him. Since her deliverance in Christ she could not bear the thought of returning to him or that disgusting life-style.
THE WEED-ADDICTED HUSBAND
The husband truly was a WEED ADDICT! He grew marijuana secretly, he smoked it constantly, and he stashed it universally. His wife often commented to me that the weed seemed to be growing everywhere in her life. She found it hidden all over, tucked away in his pants cuffs, and stuffed in every secret place in their home and their car. Their lives were dominated by this DRUG DEMON, and it was keeping the family poor and putting them at risk. He treasured his JOINTS more than his JOB. She saw her husband as deplorably weak and his sin as irreversibly strong.
As I always do, I asked her to FIRE HER DIVORCE LAWYER, and CANCEL THE DIVORCE. I covenanted with her to pray constantly for the Holy Spirit to work His three-way, concurrent miracle in her husband, namely, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
I didn’t doubt that her husband’s heart was hard, but I believed that God could soften it. Out of that ROCK-HARD HEART could flow the RIVER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT that would both drown his marijuana fields and sweep her husband away into a new life in Jesus Christ. After all, as the Bible says in Luke 1:37,
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
We either believe that totally, or reject it completely.There is no middle ground. It is either nothing is impossible to God, or everything is imposssible to God. God will not allow any half-way belief or half-way trust in Him. He is an all or nothing God.
She was not easily convinced. It all sounded too great, too high, too amazing for her to ever imagine. I agreed, but I told her that there was the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit who would do it for us.
To my great delight, she did everything I asked her to do. She fired her attorney, canceled the divorce proceedings, and began a renewed life of prayer. We prayed for her husband day by day. IT WAS THE MIRACLE ALREADY BEGUN.
I then carried it a step beyond. After weeks of praying and giving God the opportunity to soften her husband’s heart, I told her to call him and invite him to church. For her that was like inviting the devil to the Lord’s Supper. As FUTILE as it sounded, she did it.
Weeks and months went by and we both began to wonder whether he had in fact reached the INCORRIGIBLE STATE OF FINAL AND IRREVERSIBLE IMPENITENCE. Perhaps his heart would be eternally hard, and his eyes never moistened by a godly sorrow for sin. Oh God, hang on to us while we try to hang on to You!
FALSE AND TRUE REPENTANCE
Then one glorious Sunday morning when the call of the Gospel was given, a man in the very back row raised his hand and came down the aisle to give his life to Christ. He was a visitor, but no stranger to one woman in the audience. A wife’s prayers were being answered. The pothead was changing his mind, and a HEART OF STEEL WAS BEING MELTED.
Something supernatural was taking place before our very eyes. This was not to be a usual repentance experience. When sin has had such a desperate hold on the sinner, an ordinary repentance will never do. In all my years of ministry, I have never seen such a repentance as that which was about to unfold in this husband’s life. However, it came in stages.
Let me explain:
The morning in which he came down to the altar to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior was an outstanding event. At the next midweek service, however, he was there again and approached me afterwards. He told me that he had a confession to make. He related to me that what he had done on that Sunday morning, he did for his WIFE. He wanted her back, for he still loved her. Now, he went on to explain, he wanted to do it for the LORD.
Do it he did! Dear Lord! We went back into the empty sanctuary to a private altar. As he began to pray, every TEAR was a FLOOD, every BREATH a CONVULSION, and every WORD a CRY that reverberated throughout the sanctuary. I thought that if it continued too long he might expire in the process.
The Holy Spirit was doing His work. I was astonished to see it, as this husband and father saw his deplorable self in the light of a holy God. It would not be possible to restate all his utterances, except to say he was really echoing the words of Job 42:5-6,
“I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee;
therefore, I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”
It was repentance that was too full to be accomplished in a hurry. It was too deep to be done in a moment. This would be a long labor of heaven’s birthing of a new son. Smitten with the great realization of his sins, a few broken sighs, a few tears, a few mournful words would not do.
The tears from his eyes joined with the mucus from his nose, forming glistening strings to the carpet. How gross, you say! No, my friend, absolutely glorious. As he mourned and wept over his sins, his tears were joined by those of his wife who was now standing next to him and weeping with him.
A double miracle was happening before my eyes – or should I say a TRIPLE MIRACLE! I was seeing the RENEWAL OF A LIFE, THE RESTORATION OF A MARRIAGE, AND THE REVIVAL OF A CHURCH.
(True repentance as just described is not in the sinner’s power to carry out on his own. Left to himself it will never happen. It is not an overstatement but rather a gross understatement that for every man who truly repents, there are a thousand at least who end their days in final impenitence.
Why? You see, this is the fact of the matter:
“EVERY COMMISSION OF SIN HARDENS THE SOUL MORE IN THAT SIN.”
“EVERY COMMISSION OF SIN DISPOSES THE SINNER’S SOUL TO PROCEED
DEEPER IN SIN.”
Listen to it:
“THIS IS THE SINNER’S LOT LEFT TO HIMSELF, THAT THE VERY THING – SIN –
WHICH MAKES HIM NEED THE EARTHQUAKE OF REPENTANCE, HARDENS
HIM ALSO IN THE DANGER OF NEVER REPENTING.”
If you will:
“SIN IS LIKE ALCOHOL, IN THAT DRINKING BOOZE BOTH QUENCHES THE
DRINKER’S THIRST, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME IT PROVOKES A
GREATER THIRST FOR THE NEXT DRINK.”
What are we saying? Simply this:
“THAT TRUE REPENTANCE IS REALLY THE WORK OF GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.”
What I saw and experienced at the mucus-filled altar of repentance was not the act of a man! It could not have been the work of human, sinful nature. It is the express miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as we read again in John 16:8,
“And He, when He comes, will, CONVICT THE WORLD CONCERNING SIN, AND
RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND JUDGMENT.”
You see, man can either yield to or resist the work of the Spirit of God. There is the rub! Most resist and never come to final, true repentance. They love their sin too much to part with it! And be assured of this:
“WHILE GOD HAS PROMISED FORGIVENESS TO EVERYONE WHO REPENTS,
HE DOES NOT PROMISE FORGIVENESS OF SIN TO THOSE WHO RESIST
THE HOLY SPIRIT’S GRACE OF REPENTANCE.”)
A congregation cannot continue to watch hearts bleeding in brokenness without renewing its own repentance. The heart of this little church began to burn hot as she beheld the Spirit’s scorching conviction of sin in the heart of sinner after sinner.
With overwhelming joy I watched as the Holy Spirit applied the healing balm of the Savior’s blood to wounded hearts and lives. Revival was coming through repentance at an ever increasingly busy altar. The parking lot was filling up with cars and the church overflows were being opened and filled. Hear it:
“GOD CAN ONLY SAFELY SEND SINNERS TO A REPENTANT CHURCH.”
MANY CHURCH PEOPLE HAVE NEVER REPENTED IN THEIR LIVES. They think they have, but they haven’t! They are like the elder son in the story of the repentant prodigal; they consider themselves so righteous. We had those in our church as well. They stand in the way of revival. If you realize how bad you are, you will be deliriously thankful for how good God’s forgiveness is.
Jesus said in Luke 7:47,
“He who is forgiven little, loves little.”
As Alexander Maclaren states in one of his sermons,
“He that has little consciousness of sin will have little consciousness of pardon;
and he that has little sense of forgiveness for which to be grateful will have
little glow of love to gladden his heart and to fire his life.”
He is so right!
This is why revival tarries in so many places. In many churches today, including my Pentecostal fellowships, you seldom hear the pastor pray for the forgiveness of congregational and personal sins. Asking for the forgiveness of sins is a thing of the past. They are now too busy CLAIMING THEIR RIGHTS rather than CONFESSING THEIR WRONGS.
And after all, we have gone beyond that period. We not only live with Christ, but we reign with Him and are seated with Him at the right hand of God the Father. WE ARE NOW ABOVE CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE, even though Jesus taught us to pray every day in Matthew 6:12,
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
By proudly lifting our heads, we are shooting revival in the heart. He that has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
III.YES! BUT I MUST FIRST SELL MY BAR AND BROTHEL
Our church parking lot needed resealing and relining. We let the project out for bids and one Saturday morning, a prospective bidder came into the church building asking to see the pastor. I introduced myself and invited him into my office. Before long, I realized that the cracked parking lot was not the reason for this visit. God was about to introduce something awesome to me in the Spirit dimension. Oh yes, he had come to make a bid on the job. We gave him our business, but what I really remember will now be related to you.
Though this man only appeared in my life once, he continues to live in my mind in a remembrance of constant awe. Never before in one man had I been exposed to the SEVEREST EXTREMITIES OF SPIRITUAL DEPTHS AND HEIGHTS. When I encountered him, he was like the SUN shining in all of its GLORY. When I discovered how his life had been completely darkened by a total moral collapse, his present spiritual radiance caused me to admire him even more.
A diamond doesn’t have to be set in black velvet to manifest its luster, but when it is, it grabs our eyes even more. When I reflect upon him, I think of Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 60:2,
“For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you.”
THE DRUG RUNNER
Reared in a Detroit, Michigan home, his father was a steel mill worker and his MOTHER A MIGHTY PRAYER WARRRIOR. Early in his adolescence he rebelled against parents and authority and thereby opened himself up to all the assaults of the great enemy of our souls.
As a teenager he became a drug runner for the Mafia. Later on he became vice-lord of his own drug territory. How many people he had shot, he could not count. How many may have died from his bullets, he never found out. As they would say on the streets, he was a “VERY BAD DUDE.”
Swallowed up in the underworld as a young man, he added to his shamefulness the ownership of a bar, above which he ran a house of prostitution. Having sinned himself past all conscience, his idea of a good time was to have two or three of his own prostitutes at one time in a motel with a case of beer.
The worst and ugliest result of the years of drugs, murders, and whoredoms was that he had been turned into an animal without a conscience. As C. M. Ward writes,
“Man without God is an animal.”
He had sinned himself into a kind of SUBSPECIES. Like much of our society today, the Lord characterizes them by these words in Jeremiah 6:15,
“Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not
even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush.”
(I will not share with you all the horror and ugliness of the sinful life that he had lived. Suffice it to say that he WAS ALL WICKEDNESS ABRIDGED INTO ONE PERSON. He had been the EQUIVALENT OF MORAL ROT. I am reminded of the words of Jeremiah 3:3,
“You had a harlot’s forehead; YOU REFUSED TO BE ASHAMED.”
“BY CONTINUAL GREAT SIN THE SOUL REACHES THE POINT THAT IT
THROWS OFF SHAME TOTALLY.”
You see, whoredoms, rapes, murders, torture and the like erase shame very quickly if persisted in. Though people seldom rush into bloody sins at first, yet these vile sins have the power to dispense with shame very quickly. I think of the likes of ISIS and their inhuman LIFE STYLE, or should I say DEATH STYLE. Fact is:
“THE AWFULNESS OF ANYTHING WEARS OFF WITH THE FREQUENCY OF ITS PRACTICE.”
Plus the fact that this fella had been part of the mafia! Enough said:
“HIDEOUS ACTS ARE SELDOM ABHORRED WHEN THE SINFUL AGENT IS ADMIRED.”
The more brutal you are, the more you are advanced up the ranks. In short, he had become AN EXEMPARY SINNER! That is how it works in Satan’s underworld.
We are in this regard quickly reminded of the words of Scripture, such as those found in Isaiah 3:9,
“The expression of their faces bears witness against them. And they display
their sin like Sodom; they do not even conceal it. Woe to them!”
And again, the words of Philippians 3:19,
“…and whose glory is their shame….”)
THE CADILLAC MAN
One would think that such a wretch would never be reclaimed by God without an uncommon miracle and a mighty blow of the Spirit upon him. Never lose sight of the fact that he had a praying mother!
Now approaching the mid-years of life, he was riding past his mother’s church one day in his big pink Cadillac. For reasons he could not explain, his car turned into the parking lot of the last place on earth he ever wanted to visit, a CHURCH.
Unknown to him, the monster in the shameless gaudy carriage was about to be tamed by God. With no rational explanation, this man who had sinned himself past all feeling walked into the church building, and knocked on the pastor’s study door – UNTHINKABLE!
The minister, knowing who he was, invited him in. Another man, a total stranger, a friend of the pastor, looked at him who had gloried in his sins, said to him,
“Don’t you think it’s about time you give your life to
the Lord Jesus?”
Sometimes the DIRECT AND SURPRISING APPROACH is the only effective one. Speechless and defenseless, he looked at this bold stranger and responded,
“Yes, I think it is time for me to give my life to the Lord.
But first, I must sell my bar and my brothel.”
He took the telephone in hand and transacted the sale in a few seconds. He called someone who had recently made an offer on his building and asked him if the offer was still good. The answer was yes, and he put the telephone down.
Then he said,
“Now I’m ready to pray.”
He prayed to Jesus to forgive his sin and to be the Lord and Savior of his life. The pastor and the stranger sensed that his REPENTANCE was real.
(Just like that? Yes, just like that! The Holy Spirit can do in a moment of time what we cannot do in multiplied eternities. What a day that was! A critical day! A singular day! A once in a life time day! I am drawn to Hebrews 4:7,
“He again fixes a CERTAIN DAY, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a
time just as has been said before, ‘TODAY IF YOU WILL HEAR HIS VOICE,
HARDEN NOT YOUR HEART.’”
The fixed time of the Holy Spirit’s speaking to us is called TODAY. Not tomorrow, but TODAY. The day of grace is but a day indeed. It is the SON OF RIGHTEOUSNESS shining in our faces but for a few hours. It often comes in but a MOMENT TIME. Hear it:
“PROCRASTINATION IN TEMPORAL MATTERS IS ALWAYS DANGEROUS,
BUT IN SPIRITUAL MATTERS IT IS FATAL.”
This was the CADILLAC MAFIA-MAN’S DAY. If he would have missed it, it would have been his loss forever. I am smitten with the words of Luke 19:42,
“If thou hadst known , even thou, at least in this THY DAY, the things which belong
unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thy eyes.”
Oh the IMMENSITY AND DESTINY of that day when the CADILLAC MAFIA MAN turned into the church parking and yielded to the Holy Spirit.
Genesis 15:16 tells us about the Amorites,
“…THE SIN OF THE AMORITES WAS NOT YET FULL.”
Implying that there was certain level of sin before which God would not destroy, and after which He would not spare them.
“WE MUST EITHER YIELD IN THAT CRITICAL MOMENT, OR DIE ETERNALLY. IN THAT
MOMENT, ON THAT DAY, GOD WILL EITHER TAKE AWAY OUR OPPOSITION, OR
TAKE AWAY FOREVER THE HOLY SPIRIT THAT WE OPPOSE.”)
THE BICYCLE EVANGELIST
Now that his income dried up, he had to sell his pink Cadillac, and in its place he bought a bicycle. He pedaled his bicycle everywhere to the places and people to whom he once sold drugs. Now on his two-wheeler he distributed gospel tracts everywhere he went.
Authentic conversion? Undeniably! He not only changed his mind, but in the power of the living Christ he changed his life. At great risk to himself he was truly bringing forth fruit that was in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8) How beautiful the pedaling feet of the repentant gospel bicycler who brings Good News.
CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART OH GOD
The best of the repentance was yet to come. For him it was not sufficient that the Mafia’s four-wheeler had now become the Master’s two-wheeler. What characterizes the truly penitent is not just the change of the outer man, but the transformation of the inner man. The cry of his heart had become the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 51:10,
“Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.”
Nevertheless, the RESIDUE OF IMMORALITY was still running through his mind. He had joined a wonderful church and there found a wonderful woman to whom he was now married. While taking the offering as an usher in worship services, the sight of a woman’s kneecap would trigger memories of sexual orgies and would inflame old desires. Joining his wife in sexual union, he would have CORRUPT FLASHBACKS which would defile the union between them. Drinking in the beauties of his new world, part of him was still traveling THE BACK ROADS OF MEMORIES OF A FILTHY PAST.
He could not bear it, for a contrite heart is a tender heart. He cried out to God again and again to be delivered of these rotten remembrances.
Evil memories! Bad flashbacks! So many today in the church who are amateurs in PSYCHOLOGY 101, would recommend another trip down the pathway of memories. They would bring him back in his mind to each scene of SEXUAL DEBAUCHERY and there, on location, ask Jesus to forgive him and to remove the refuse from his remembrance once and for all.
To go back in time for him would be no great challenge, for that was already taking place with the slightest glimpse of a female leg. He didn’t need ministry to turn his THOUGHTS BACKWARDS, they seemed to already be bent in that direction. He had cried out a thousand times for forgiveness and freedom from that DIRTY DIARY OF HIS MIND. Must he once again lie down in HELL in order to wake up in HEAVEN?
Longing for INNER PURITY to no longer be just his desire, but his very nature, the Holy Spirit one day spoke to him in a most definitive moment. The Spirit said to him,
“You must read Romans 12:1-2.”
So he did, and he said, “Yes, Lord, that’s what I want. I want my life to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Yes, God, remove that impure mind of mine that is roving over unclean memories, which then activates an even filthier imagination. Whatever the haunts of these thoughts may be, Lord, give me a new mind!”
These X-RATED, instant replay, stop-action pictures caused chaos and condemnation in this man’s soul. There is no escaping it. The Bible is so clear. It says in Proverbs 23:7 about man,
“For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”
The more he cried out for this renovated mind, the more frustrated he became. The STAINED SUBSTREAM of his thoughts did not clear up.
The Holy Spirit spoke to him a second time, and told him that he had missed the key to it all. Said the Lord,
“You desire Romans 12:2, but you must fulfill Romans 12:1 first.”
There he read,
“Present your bodies a LIVING AND HOLY SACRIFICE, acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual service of worship.”
The dialogue continued. He asked of the Lord,
“What does all of this mean?”
The heavenly exegesis came back,
“It means that you are to lay down your body in sacrificial service to others
and I WILL REPLACE YOUR BAD MEMORIES WITH GOOD ONES.”
The divine directive became even more explicit. He was told to do something loving and special for his wife, his family, and for others each day for the entirety of his earthly life.
Then the Lord told him that at the completion of ONE WEEK he would have SEVEN NEW AND HOLY MEMORIES. At the end of ONE MONTH he would have THIRTY ONE PURE AND SWEET REMEMBRANCES. At the end of ONE YEAR he would have THREE HUNDRED SIXTY-FIVE RIGHTEOUS REFLECTIONS.
Each day for the rest of his life he was to lay down his body in some special act of sacrificial service for others. He was warned that if he did not, on that day or for that length of time, he would lose ground and his MIND WOULD REGRESS AND REMAIN UNRENEWED. If he was obedient, God would do the rest.
On that day I was to become his good memory as he took me out for a wonderful dinner. It became a good memory for me too, particularly since he picked up the tab.
(This same principle can be applied in many ways. I have used it often in MARRIAGE COUNSELING. Many times I have counseled those who are being unfaithful to their partners and are thinking about divorcing them.
There is the man who is having an affair with the other woman – sexual intimacy, secret phone calls, little gifts, and all sorts of gestures of affection. In the meantime, his wife is left in a wasteland of howling abandonment and loneliness.
The man explains that he has asked THE LORD TO TAKE AWAY HIS FEELINGS for this other woman. Because THE LORD HASN’T TAKEN AWAY THOSE FEELINGS, he then assumes that he must leave his spouse, marry this other woman and thereby break up two homes.
I always tell such a one that GOD HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH GIVING HIM POSITIVE FEELINGS FOR THIS OTHER WOMAN, and GOD WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH TAKING THEM AWAY. I inform him that he created those feelings by the things that he was doing with this woman, and the things he was giving to her.
If he wants to be freed of those feelings, he must leave the other woman; stop doing what he is doing with her, and TURN HIS ATTENTION TOTALLY UPON HIS WIFE. Serve her, attend to her needs with daily deeds of kindness, and invest his entire being in his bride.
Then, and only then, the feelings and memories related to this other woman will fade. God will bless him with new feelings from his heart for his wife. Do something special for her every day of his life and these HOLY MEMORIES will crowd out the UNHOLY MEMORIES. He will be a free man.
As we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling before God, so we have to work out our marriages also. Too many Pentecostal Christians want complete deliverance; they want it now and too often they want it easy. You hear it all the time,
“Pray over me in tongues. Lay your hands upon me. Give me the Pentecostal massage.
Say the right words so I can have instant healing of bad memories and
removal of evil desires.”
The passionate PURSUIT OF HOLINESS is a healthy vital sign, but we must not overlook the means. You don’t eliminate bad memories without creating good ones. Hear it:
“WE DO NOT ESCAPE THE PAST WITHOUT A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE.”
The ex-Mafia brother in Christ had to lay out a plan for each week a day at a time, a special act of love for someone every twenty-four hours for the remainder of his life. In so doing his mind was being renewed and he was going from glory to glory, but he could not bypass the means of grace. One of the reasons that so many cannot get HELL OUT OF THEMSELVES is because they think that they can GET HEAVEN INTO THEMSELVES FOR NOTHING. Present your bodies in sacrificial service and God will renew your minds.)
How reassuring, as I talked with this ex-Mafia marvel over lunch, to hear that his mind indeed was being renewed. The luring voices of the past were being silenced, and not only were the pornographic photographs in his memory being erased, but it would seem that the negatives of those photographs were destroyed as well.
Now, loving service to others in Christ’s name had become the NEW ARTIST IN HIS MIND, drawing pure and beautiful works of art to hang on the walls of his renewed mind and memory.
Above all, he even saw Jesus more clearly! But of course, only those who become true servants of righteousness find that the image of the King of Righteousness is being gloriously stamped on their hearts. Amen!