Coming Home to the Cross
Since the first day I came to Jesus way back in 1995, I have had a compelling desire to see people get saved. I am consumed by it. It is what I pray for and what I teach. It is even what I dream about after eating a load of pasta before bed.
Although I am a pastor, evangelism is still the primary call upon my life and the life of my church.
Regardless of this call, I have to be brutally honest and say that I did not know how to go about it until September 2005. As I lay on the carpet at TACF, the Lord began to show me something missing in my preaching.
For ten years I had tried everything to win souls. I handed out tracts that explained to people that not all Christians are stuck up and religious and that they should try Jesus in their lives. I told some about how much peace Christ could add to their lives. I talked about the “realness” of God. I talked about miracles (ones that I had read about, not actually seen of course).
I gave them scriptures. I pleaded with them to give their lives to Jesus. I pleaded with them to not go to hell. I had even tried making solid, long-term friendships hoping that the door would someday open to talk about their eternal destiny. I simply tried to smile bigger and be nicer to people and “love them where they were.” But even when services in our church ended with packed altars, I was barely seeing any solid, long-term fruit.
Our church was even packed most Sundays, but if I were going to be honest with myself, probably three fourths of the people were still living worldly lives Monday through Saturday, still engaging in certain sins with no conviction to stop, and still looking for how our church or any other church could benefit them. To be dreadfully honest, most of them were not even saved, just American church-goers.
It was depressing, and I was frustrated.
But as I lay there on the carpet in Toronto, God heard my cry out of years of frustration and hunger and began to speak very seriously to me. He began to remind me of another encounter I had had with Him exactly 4 years prior to this date while I was in Ohio.
In a large meeting in September 2001, God powerfully touched me concerning the subjects of repentance and holiness. It completely rocked me. I ran on the fire of that experience for about 14 months.
In the wake of that experience, I had called sinners to repent over and over again and had called our church to extreme holiness. It was a crazy time of miracles and salvations. However, the result was that our whole church fell into a religious bondage to some self-righteous spirit.
I responded to God’s reminder by saying, “Lord, you cannot be telling me to do that again. I’ve been touched by the Father’s love since 2003. I’m gentle now, I love people, and besides don’t you remember what happened at the end of all of that? I can never do that again.” But the Lord pressed on with this for days. After much fighting, I reluctantly told the Lord I would do what He was asking of me. “But” I said, “I already know this will not work and ultimately destroy our church.”
He kept talking and I kept listening.
The Father spoke gently but firmly. He told me how He was not responsible for my getting our church into religion. He also told me that He was not responsible for the period two years later when I began acting like the revelation of His love was a license to worldliness. He let me take the blame for these. He then summed up our conversation with a mandate that He repeated over and over again, a mandate that has been on my heart ever since.
His words were direct and simple, “Cleetus, you must go deeper into the revelation of my love. But you MUST preach repentance.”
It took me three days to admit it, but I knew that God was telling me that I personally needed to know His love and to actually live in that place of intimacy with Him. I knew that to live as His son would cause my heart to stay soft and compassionate toward the souls I was preaching to.
In order to give His love, I needed to keep receiving it. But secondly, he was reminding me of the sobering truth that the lost in this world are in total rebellion against a just God who promises righteous judgment to each of us. This business of souls was important to Him, and He wanted my spirit to remain sober about it.
Since this encounter with the Lord in Toronto, my entire way of looking at the Bible has changed.
The entire Bible is telling the same story: God has loved man so much; yet man has rebelled against God in great wickedness. And since that initial breakdown in the Garden of Eden, God has gone to the ultimate extreme to save a dying world by sending Jesus to die on the cross.
Without the central message of the cross, there is nothing else, and there is no hope of saving a world from sin and damnation. The cross must remain central in our preaching or there is no bridge between God and man. When the cross is not the center, we have only nice programs to motivate people to join our “club,” also known as church.
Now for the first time in a long time, I am seeing a harvest in front of my eyes. My first objective for every person I meet and every congregation I address is to love them through the eyes of Jesus and actually care about the destiny of their souls. My second objective is to shine the light on sin and eternal judgment.
I believe that it is important in every message to show why people can never be righteous without God’s righteousness. The world lives with the lie that it is possible to be “good” enough for Heaven and “bad” enough for Hell. The truth is that we have all ignored our God-given conscience and have personally chosen to repeatedly sin against our creator.
I preach the fact that judgment day will come, and it will be thorough and that on our own we all stand condemned to a sinner’s hell.
Pretty rough, right? Like it or not, it’s true. If you saw a child asleep on a train track and heard the sound of a train approaching, would you place a blanket upon the child to keep him warm or would you warn him by any means?
You would yank the child to safety, even at the risk of hurting him to save him from the 1000 ton locomotive. If we believe that hell is real, shouldn’t we have even more urgency in our hearts when dealing with the lost? If we love them and we actually care if they live or die, we will.
But there is more to the message of the cross than rescuing a person from hell. This same God, who must punish sin, is also the God whose love burns for mankind. This holy God, knowing that punishment had to come for the sins of the world, didn’t just tell us about it, He demonstrated His love.
He decided to give away His most precious gift. He sent His son to die on our behalf. He restrained Himself from rescuing His only begotten son from the “locomotive” of evil men. He did it all for us wretched sinners before we even realized we were sinful. “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Then He defeated death for us by rising from the dead. While we were the worst, He offered His best. This is true love and grace.
What is the proper response?
We MUST see ourselves as sinners that need to be saved. We MUST repent, turn from sin, and lay our lives down before the One that laid His life down for us.
This is the story of the cross, and I am undone by it all. It is so simple, yet rarely spoken of anymore. But it is the power of salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Salvation can never be found in religious programs, quick prayers, worship services or even prayer meetings. It’s the preaching of the cross and nothing else that carries the power to save.
Since 2005, I’ve dedicated myself to constantly preach this message and to live it out in my own life.
Daily I find myself more in need of Jesus than ever before, and I finally understand mercy and grace, God’s undeserved favor. I have preached the cross almost exclusively since that moment on the floor in Toronto and the fruit has been amazing. Not only am I seeing some of the strongest converts of the last 10 years of our ministry, but they are also some of the hungriest people in the world for revival, for the presence of God and daily evangelism.
Now, rather than take any credit for the fruit, I have to daily repent and tell the Lord how sorry I am that I never did this before. He is so graceful and so longsuffering. I praise Him that I have lived long enough to see the harvest that I am witnessing right now, and there is more harvest to come.
It is time for this generation to stand as John the Baptist did over 2000 years ago, calling a society to repent and turn to God, preparing the way of the Lord’s soon return.