But, God... Transformed!
The Struggle is Real.
It always has been. Later this afternoon I will teach on a radical portion of Scripture in which Paul described his inner struggle with sin. Having established that the Law of God that he had been raised learning, studying, knowing, and loving was what showed him that in fact, he was a sinner, incapable of keeping the very Law he revered. The things he wanted to do, he just couldn’t see through. And the things he didn’t want to do? Well, those were the things he ended up doing!
But then came Christ. Through Christ, he was set free, no longer condemned. Radically transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. from Romans 7.13-8.4 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%207%3A13-8%3A4&version=NLT.
There is nothing comparable to the power of the Gospel to set someone free unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit within the life of that Christ follower to dramatically transform him.
I remember hearing about the Son of Sam years ago. At the time this came to the fore, I was in high school and it was more like a fictionalized crime drama than a real-life event. It was 3000 miles away from me, taking place in a setting I could not even visualize. Many years hence, I heard Pastor Jim Cymbala, Brooklyn Tabernacle, talk about what had happened to David Berkowitz in the now 45 years since he went to prison. One word: amazing. No, two: grace.
Berkowitz or Son of Sam? What is/was his name anyway and why should we care? His is a story that we ought know and in which we ought find tremendous hope!
His story starts like many other serial killers it seems—troubled childhood. An only child, adopted by a New York couple, he was ‘troubled’ in school, sometimes violent, fueled by interest in horror movies and a secret fascination with the occult. Went from bad to worse when at age 14 his mother died. Ordered by the school system to be under the care of a psychologist, nothing helped – and Berkowitz often considered suicide. He managed to graduate from high school and then spent three years in the Army, where he became a marksman.1
Berkowitz then returned to New York City and made some bad choices in friends he met at a party. Turns out the guys were not only interested in the occult, but Satanism as well. “I am utterly convinced that something satanic had entered into my mind and, looking back at all that happened, I realize that I had been slowly deceived. I did not know that bad things were going to result from all this, yet over the months the things that were wicked no longer seemed to be such. I was headed down the road to destruction and I did not know it. Maybe I was at a point where I just didn’t care.”2
First, he set more than a thousand fires in NYC and then he turned violent, terrorizing the City, and killing six people. Berkowitz sent letters to New York newspapers, signing them “Son of Sam,” referring to a demon he believed lived inside the black Labrador retriever owned by his neighbor Sam Carr. Once caught, he confessed, and was sentenced to about 365 consecutive years in prison.
That could have been it. But, God.
Just as Paul was pursued by Jesus Christ, and radically changed from Christian-killer to the greatest missionary ever and most prolific New Testament writer, so too Jesus did not give up on David Berkowitz. Ten years into his prison sentence, in his own words, “when I was feeling despondent and without hope, another inmate came up to me as I was walking the prison yard one cold winter’s evening. He introduced himself and began to tell me that Jesus Christ loved me and wanted to forgive me. Although I knew he meant well, I mocked him because I did not think that God would ever forgive me or that He would want anything to do with me. Still, this man persisted, and we became friends. His name was Rick, and we would walk the yard together. Little by little he would share with me about his life and what he believed Jesus had done for him. He kept reminding me that no matter what a person did, Christ stood ready to forgive if that individual would be willing to turn from the bad things he was doing and would put his full faith and trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross–dying for our sins.”3
And of course, you know what happened. Berkowitz had bought a one-way ticket to Hell, but then, God… His prison yard friend gave him a pocket New Testament with the Psalms and told him to start by reading the psalms. He did, and he kept reading. The unquenchable love of God combined with the truth of the Gospel impacted first his thinking, then his heart, and he gave his life to Jesus Christ.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit to prompt the fellow prisoner to speak to him, to tell him of Jesus Christ, to explain forgiveness was offered to him, and then for the Holy Spirit to open Berkowitz’ mind enough that he would consider the claims of Scripture. In the ensuing years since the Son of Sam became a Christian, (in 1987) the Spirit has transformed the hate-filled man into the Son of Hope.
“I was once a prisoner, but now I’m free!” is the opening line of the website he runs from prison, AriseandShine.org. Your attention: No one is beyond the Hope of God. In fact, sometimes it is when a person has erred grievously, that the door cracks open for the love of God to shine in. To which I say again this week, ‘isn’t that just like Jesus?’
The Struggle is Real. But the love of God is Greater. We know this because of what Paul wrote in Romans 8: there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.4
One day, I will have a cup of coffee with Paul and the Son of Sam--I mean the Son of Hope in Heaven.
p.s. There is room for you at our table too.
Who else? Nicole Mullen: My Redeemer-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QvX4CwSmwY
Holy Spirit, #11
1 – From ‘Son of Sam’ to ‘Son of Hope’, http://thesonofhope.com/?page_id=33