Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Larry was a jerk...he admitted it. When he first came to see me, he was quite proud of himself and his selfish playboy lifestyle. He was a yacht broker, drove a late model Corvette, flew his own plane, and had a couple of girlfriends on the side. I first heard of Larry through his ex-wife – she was a member of our church in Connecticut. Larry had divorced her and as a result, she and their two children were living in the basement of her parents’ home. She was a woman with a solid Christian faith, involved in the life of the church. She was also remarkably free from bitterness. Larry had noticed this and came to see me. He said, “I have been a jerk to my wife and kids, and yet she has an inner peace that I just don’t get.” I have all this stuff – the perfect life – and yet I am missing something. I have no peace whatsoever. How do I get it?”
That was quite a question and he was so arrogant that at first, I wanted to shout at him in good prophetic style, “REPENT AND TURN FROM YOUR WICKED WAYS!”
But then I had second thoughts and decided that might not be the most effective response. I suggested that we start slow and take a look at one of the gospels and see what the perfect life really looked like. I suggested that he get to know the person of Jesus as he is actually described in the Bible and get away from the rather childish images of Jesus that many people have. I also encouraged him to join one of our small groups, where he could listen to others talk about their Christian faith and the way it had transformed their lives. To my surprise, he agreed to do all this.
Weeks later he came to see me – he told me that he had become convinced that Jesus is the answer and that he had prayed to receive him into his life as Lord and Savior. I was about to congratulate him when he continued: “But since then I have lost my job as yacht broker, the plane went as well, the Corvette was side-swiped and totaled, I am about to lose the apartment – and the girlfriends have all gone.” I held my breath, wondering what could possibly come next. But then with a smile, he said, “But the peace that I have found is worth it all. I am a new man. JESUS IS MY LORD.” This was true repentance –but it didn’t stop there.
Years later we moved to New York City where I was called to be the Rector of All Angels Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Somehow Larry heard about it and phoned me. He told me that he was now working as a personal chauffeur for the chairman of a major insurance company in New York City. His assignment was to drive from the chairman’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut, to the office in midtown and then wait outside just in case the “big man” wanted to go somewhere, and then take him home at night. Larry laughed as he pointed out that he had moved from the back seat of the limousine to the front seat! He also told me that he had checked with his boss and been given permission to help us out at the church as long as he was not needed elsewhere. Larry helped us get settled in our new home with all of the usual errands and would park outside the church for whatever else came up. It wasn’t long before he used his waiting time to witness to the line of homeless men and women standing outside the church. Once they heard his story, he had immediate credibility. Larry was even able to lead several people to faith in Christ.
True repentance is far more than an apology or feeling remorse – it involves a radical turn from one way of life to another. When Jesus calls us to repent, he invites us to make a personal, absolute and unconditional surrender to God. Repentance is also infectious. It inspires others to do the same.
One of Pittsburgh’s most life-changing exports has been the 12-step recovery program. Sam Shoemaker was Rector of Calvary Church, New York (1925-1952), and Calvary Church, Pittsburgh (1952-1962). He was also head of the US headquarters of the Oxford Group and through one of its local chapter meetings met Bill Wilson and later Dr. Bob Smith. Together they codified what we now know as the 12-step program – described more fully in the “Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous). True repentance is at the heart of the program now used in almost every country around the world to treat not only alcoholism but a range of addictive behaviors. The anonymous nature of the program makes it hard to compile accurate statistics, but there are claims that one fifth of AA members have been sober for over two decades.
My son-in-law, Jonathan Hartiens, married to our daughter Helen, built and now directs the Mountaineer Recovery Center (MRC) in Kearneysville, West Virginia –near Martinsburg. It is in the heart of Berkeley County, which has one of the nation’s highest death rates from opioid addiction. MRC has a 48-bed residential facility and is completing an extension for women and infant children with 12 apartments. In addition, they provide outpatient care for more than 200 men and women each week. The 12-step program of true repentance is at the heart of their mission and ministry and they are seeing thousands of lives transformed:
Charlotte S. is a 28-year-old single mother of two who dropped out of high school already pregnant and with a serious drug addiction. She had a second child and, as her life fell apart, lost custody of both children. She was admitted to MRC in February 2020 where she not only found freedom from her addiction but also discovered a new life in Christ and was baptized.
After completing the residential program she has stayed in close contact with MRC as an outpatient. She has now joined a church, got a job and recovered custody of her two children. Christmas 2020 was their first together and when asked about sharing her story she said that nothing could make her more proud.
Their slogan is that MRC is “Where hope becomes a reality,” and it is exciting to see the lives of so many people like Charlotte filled with hope and set free from bondage –it really is GOOD NEWS! I invite you to check out their website at https://www.mountaineerrecovery.com. You will be blessed!