And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
EZEKIEL 36:26 NLT
The van pulled over to the side of the road, and Bernie and I ran ahead to get in. Once inside, the driver asked where I was going. “Into Charlotte,” I said. “I’m going to find this group of Christians and serve God,” I told him. “C’mon, man,” he said; “You don’t want to do that. Why don’t you come with me to the park where we can score some drugs?” In my own heart, there was no interest in doing that with him. I politely told him “no thanks,” and we just drove on into Charlotte, North Carolina.
All the while, I was so anxious to get out of the van. It seemed to me that the devil himself was driving that van and tempting me to sin. For years, I had lived for pleasure and would never have turned down an offer like the one being made to me. But now, I wanted nothing to do with it and with the old life. I was changing, day by day; it seemed like minute by minute. God was at work in my heart and life. You see, He promises to give anyone who will come to Him through Jesus Christ a new heart and a new spirit within them — just like Ezekiel the prophet said in the Bible. The offer still stands today. He will take your heart of stone and give you a new heart … one that loves Him and wants to know Him and follow Him and serve Him.
There is something I forgot to say in the last chapter. When Mr. Piper was talking to me about Bible school and all, and where I should go in Charlotte, etc., I was not only not interested in that course of action but was afraid to go to the place he mentioned. “Lamb’s Chapel,” he said. “There are people there who can help you.” “Well,” I thought, “they are probably like Mr. Piper: into school and the like. I am not going there. What I’ll do is find some people who know God, people I can relate to.” “Hare Krishna’s,” I thought, “They are people who have come to know God and who have a background like me. I’m sure there is a Krishna house in Charlotte. I’ll find them and start my new life knowing God and serving God with them.”
You see, being saved did not in itself make me wise in the things of God or knowing much of anything as far as truth and error in the spiritual realm. My heart was pure in the sense that I no longer wanted to live my old life, but I did not know anything about false doctrine and the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. I only knew that I was changing within and had new interests having to do with God, and the old things and the old ways were no longer of interest to me.
Traffic in Charlotte was busy. It was around lunchtime, and an officer whose last name was Temple was directing traffic right there in the middle of a busy intersection. It was loud and congested, and he was moving his arms around, telling cars to go, stop, move, etc. “He would know where a Krishna house would be,” I thought. (These are the folks you see with shaved heads, beating tambourines and asking for money at airports and elsewhere; they worship the false god, Krishna.) So I approached him at that intersection and said, “Do you know where there is a Krishna house?” “Yes, I do,” he said. “Go wait on the corner. I’ll be right with you.” “Great,” I thought. “I’m on my way; things are working out for me.”
Minutes later he came over to where I was standing and said, “I’ll give you a ride to the house.” Fantastic! “Thank you,” I said. Sgt. Temple (and I remember that was his name because it was on the nameplate officers wear above their shirt pocket) was a kind man. He began talking to me, and I could see he was genuinely interested in our conversation and in me. “Temple,” I thought to myself; “God must be with me because He sent me someone named Temple to help me.” And furthermore, I was going to a Krishna Temple (I thought). “Wow! Things are working out just fine.” Well, little did I know, but found out later, that when I said, “Do you know where there is a Krishna house?” (due to the noise of cars going through the intersection, and the closeness in sound between “Krishna house” and “Christian house”), he thought I had asked about a Christian house. God was watching out for me. So here I was, thinking I was going to the place I had asked about, in the hands of a man named “Temple.” “All is well,” I said to myself.
Drugs mess your mind up, and mine was more messed up than I knew, for on the way to the Christian house, and as Sgt. Temple was describing it to me, I began thinking I was going to a drug rehab place. Television shows had been made about people on drugs and how they would go to these places and try to get their lives fixed up and back on track. So, in my own mental confusion, having asked to go to a Krishna house, being personally transported by a man named Temple and actually on my way to a Christian disciple house named Shiloh (The Shiloh Ministry, I came to find out shortly, was part of Calvary Chapel in Southern California … more about this later.) only to start thinking I was going to a rehab organization, I started coming up with a plan.
Stories of men who had come into these places, advanced through the program, joined the leadership team, and then in some cases risen to the top to become the leader of the place, filled my mind. That’s what I thought I would do, and that’s what I thought would happen to me. Sincere as I was, I was so misguided and lost in a fog of mixed-up thinking, from those years of living the way that I had.
The police radio called out for Sgt. Temple, and he had to change plans. “I’ll let you off right here in front of the house,” he said. “I can’t go in with you, but God bless you; I’ve got to respond to this call for assistance,” he said. By the way, he is another person I’ll be looking up when I get to heaven. You see, he shared with me in the car that he knew the Lord, also. So if you know Christ, when you die, you go to heaven. I’ll meet him someday and let him know what happened after he dropped me off at the Shiloh House, the one I thought was a drug rehab place, but I had originally asked for a Krishna house. My, my … what a wreck I had made of my life. Guess what happened that very night.
The pastor of the Shiloh House (who, by the way, is in heaven; he was later killed in an accident) was named Gary Drake. He met me at the door in answer to my knock. He later told me that his first thought when he saw me stand- ing there was along the line of “Oh, my, this person looks terrible and may not make it in the program here.” But God had other plans, for which I’m so thankful. Gary later became a dear friend and was a good pastor to me in those few months in Charlotte.
It’s important to realize that this was my fourth experience with Christians. Although raised in the Catholic faith as a boy, I had not actually been around anyone who had been born again, but here I was in a house full of people who were following Jesus Christ, and really intent on Him, and interested in Him, and professing that He had changed their lives, as He had mine.
That evening, I attended my first Bible Study. Having never been to one in my whole life, this was very interesting to me. The room was packed out with a couple of dozen people there; most lived in the Shiloh house, but some were visitors. Pastor Gary played the guitar and sang an old gospel tune, “I’m Going to Take a Trip on the Good Old Gospel Ship.” Well, this just about did me in. You see, I kept hearing the “take a trip” part of the song, thinking that he was talking about taking a trip on LSD. “Tripping,” as it was called back then, was something I had now done many times since that first time when I had asked if this would turn me into one of those hippies. Almost all of the trips were bad. I’m not sure, to this day, why I ever kept taking them, but I did. So I became very edgy and nervous, thinking that this was heading in a direction I was not interested in following.
Then, something else happened that seemed so strange to me. Pastor Gary opened the Bible up to one of the pastoral epistles, as they are called, written by Paul, the apostle, to a pastor named Timothy. The intent of the epistle was that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in the church and how to deal with various problems and issues that had come up, and what the qualifications were for a pastor.
Pastor Gary went on to explain to the group that night that he was the pastor of this Shiloh House. He explained what that meant, and how he was responsible to lead the group, etc. Well, in my mixed up mind, I was sure he could read my mind. I was sure that he knew that I was not only going to go through the program but would eventually become the leader of the group. So I was thinking that Gary was trying to “head me off at the pass,” so to speak. I became very, very nervous sitting in the study that night.
Following the study, we had a time of fellowship, sitting around and talking with one another. One of the ladies in the group, who I found out later was a member of the group and had been a Christian for some time, asked me who I was and where I was from. This was next to impossible for me to answer. My mind was such a blur; I was not able to respond. Furthermore, I had lived in so many places in just the last few years that I could not even think how to answer her.
The next morning, bright and early, we had a Bible Study. Then the group headed out to work for the day. I was asked to just remain in the house for at least two weeks — not to go outside — and was told I did not need to go to work. Pastor Gary asked me to just hang around the house and help out throughout the day.
Weeks went by quickly, and my mind was starting to clear up. One thing I knew for sure was that I was so interested in Jesus Christ now. There was nothing I wanted to do more than to serve Him with all my heart and with the rest of my life. I began reading the book of Revelation, and it scared me to death … the tragedies that were going to come upon this world. “Jesus Christ is coming back,” it said. “The world lies in the hand of the wicked one; use your time wisely,” the Bible said. “Tell others about Jesus.” How exciting this was to me, and how thrilled I was to be serving the Lord there in that Shiloh house.
Soon I heard about the Bible school back in Eugene, Oregon; for those who were interested and serious about growing in Christ, they were welcome to go back there and start in the Bible school. “I want to go, Pastor Gary.” “OK”, he said. “Let’s work toward that goal.” Funny how now I wanted to go to Bible school when, just weeks earlier, I’d had an aversion to it. You see, I was starting to grow in Christ and get a little grounded in the Word of God. My love for Jesus was growing, and my whole sense of destiny with Christ and for Christ was developing within my life.
It came out that I had once been a pilot, having that commercial rating and that multi-engine rating, and that I had experience working in politics, and so on. Well, this got back to the leaders of the Bible school in Oregon, who were just now looking into buying a small, twin-engine airplane. Well, you can see where all of this was headed. They thought, and so did I, that maybe flying for Jesus was going to take place soon.
Funny how God works in a person’s life! The only thing that I thought I could do for Jesus seemed to be materializing; and the one thing I didn’t want to do, i.e., go to a Bible school, now was becoming a desire in my heart. How exciting all this was!
Well, how to get to Eugene, Oregon, was the question. And, what about my dog, Bernie? Remember, hitchhiking was common in that day. And there were Shiloh houses all across the United States. In fact, at the height of the ministry, there were 60 or so. I was given $5, a few sandwiches, and a list of Shiloh houses. Another Bible school prospect and I stuck out our thumbs and began heading west … oh, yes, and Bernie, also.
We would go on routes that took us to cities where there was a Shiloh house and spend the day or night at the house, shower, wash our clothes, and get a little bit to eat, and then keep heading west. How exciting those days were, and how blessed we were to pray for a car to stop and pick us up, and to pray for a meal, hoping that someone would offer us food to eat. Each step of the way was an adventure. It took a week or so to get there, but finally, we saw the signs on the high- way telling us that Eugene, Oregon, was not too far up ahead. What a blessing! Little did I know who I was going to meet there and the different doors of opportunity that were going to open.