In the early years of our ministry, Gloria and I would be talking with someone and they’d mention a certain city and say, “That’s the worst place in the world to preach. It’s so spiritually dead no one can have revival there.”
Gloria always knew what my response was going to be. Before I could even open my mouth, she’d say, “Well, I know where we’re going.”
I’m still that way. I was reminded of it recently when I was telling some people about the first time I preached in Las Vegas, Nev. I could almost hear what they were thinking. Sin City? You held meetings in Sin City?
Yes, I did, because that’s where the sinners are!
I didn’t hold the meetings in a church, either. Although these days I do preach in churches there, back then my venue was the Sierra Hotel and Casino. I chose that location because of a phone call I’d gotten from my friend Wayne Cochran. He’s a preacher now but he was once a major rock ’n’ roll star. (If you’re old enough you may remember his band, the C.C. Riders.)
For years, Wayne had the longest running show in Las Vegas and he practically lived in the Sierra Hotel. After God got hold of him and changed his life, he led the owner of the hotel to The LORD. Right before Wayne called me, the owner had called him.
“Wayne, now that I’m a believer, I want to do something for God,” he’d said. “But I’m stuck in this hotel! Do you think Brother Copeland would come and preach a meeting here?”
Wayne told him he was certain I would—and, of course, he was right. I was thrilled at the thought of preaching the gospel in a casino. The whole reason I’m on earth is to bring the good news about Jesus to people who need it. Taking His light into the darkest of places is what I was born again to do.
If you’re a believer, the same is true of you!
God didn’t save you and then leave you here on this sin-plagued planet just so you could sit around and complain about how spiritually dark it is. He didn’t save you so you could sit here waiting for the Rapture and wishing all the sinners would leave you alone.
No, you and I and every other believer have been called, equipped and sent by God into this world for a specific purpose, and in Philippians 2:15-16, the Apostle Paul told us what that purpose is: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.”
“But Brother Copeland, you don’t understand the kind of darkness I have to put up with!” you might say. “When I go to work every day I’m surrounded by people who cuss and act ugly and make fun of me for being a Christian. It’s too much for me to handle.”
No, it isn’t. You have the same Holy Spirit living in you the Apostle Paul had living in him, and Paul not only handled more dark situations than you can imagine, he overcame them.
Not Just in Church, but on the Battlefield
Do a background study on the book of Philippians sometime. You’ll find that when the Apostle Paul wrote it he was locked up in prison and surrounded by wickedness at its worst. This fact sometimes puzzles believers. They look at the great victory and deliverance Jesus provided through the work of redemption and wonder why Paul had to go through such hard times.
The answer is simple: Jesus asked him to do it.
He showed Paul, before he ever went into ministry, the things he would suffer for Jesus, and Paul agreed. (See Acts 9:16.) He willingly took on the assignment of proving the New Covenant would work, not just in church services and places that are full of the light and presence of God, but out there in the places of deepest darkness, places absolutely steeped in sin.
It’s interesting, really, that Paul was chosen for this assignment. He hadn’t experienced what the other apostles had in his day. He hadn’t known Jesus in the flesh and watched Him minister for three and a half years. His intimacy with The LORD had to come through The WORD and by revelation. Yet, he was the one called to write most of the New Testament—and he had to do it on the spiritual battlefield, in the heat of battle.
It’s no wonder Paul had such a clear revelation of the armor of God and the rank and file of satan’s forces. He had to put on that armor and face those demonic forces every day. That’s why he was able to write in Ephesians 6:12-13: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
Paul also had to contend with more condemnation than anyone else in his day. He had to live with the knowledge that before he was saved he had killed Christians. He had persecuted Jesus personally.
There was nothing easy about getting over the guilt he felt about those things. But he did it anyway. He put his faith in the blood of Jesus, and believed God meant it when He said, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
Years ago when I was just a baby Christian, I was reading the Bible one day and I came across 2 Corinthians 7:2 where Paul said, “Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” Initially that statement shocked me. Now wait a minute! I thought. How could Paul say he hadn’t defrauded any man? When he was a Pharisee imprisoning Christians, he took lying letters into their midst, pretending he was one of them, and then turned on them. Doesn’t that qualify as fraud?
Without thinking it through any further, I pointed to the verse and cried out, “Oh God! I’ve caught this man in a lie!”
I knew right away I’d said the wrong thing. I wanted to take it back the minute it came out of my mouth. But now I’m glad I said it because what happened next marked my thinking forever.
The Spirit of God spoke to me with such force that it jerked me up out of my seat and sent my Bible flying. You watch who you call a liar! He said. The man you’re talking about died on the road to Damascus!
I staggered around the room thinking about that for a while. Then I began to shout, “Yeah! Saul died on the road to Damascus, and my old man died in North Little Rock, Ark., just before 8 o’clock in the evening, Nov. 2, 1962. I’m as forgiven as he is. My sins don’t exist in the mind of God anymore!”
Ever since then I’ve been grateful to Paul for overcoming all the condemning devils he had to fight, and for having the faith to say:
• “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
• “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
If the Apostle Paul could say those things, I can too. So can you and every other believer. We can all forget the past and shine like a light in the darkness, holding forth The WORD of life!
Born-Again Blackjack Dealers
“But Brother Copeland,” someone might say, “sometimes I just don’t feel very shiny. Even if I did, I don’t know where God would want me to go and what He would want me to do.”
Then stop focusing on your feelings. Instead, focus on Jesus who came, shed His blood and put His own light on the inside of you. If you’ve obscured that light by doing things that are out of line, just humble yourself before The LORD and repent. Say, “LORD, it’s not my will to go crosswise to Your plan. It’s my will to obey You, to live out Your plan on earth as it is in heaven. So I’m asking You to reveal it to me.”
That’s a prayer you can be sure God will answer because He said in the Bible that He “worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He also said, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10). So if His will is a mystery to you, you can just pray about it in other tongues and trust Him to reveal it to you.
That’s what I do, and God has always been faithful to lead me. He’s always shown me where He wants me to go and what He wants me to do. That’s how I ended up preaching the gospel in the Sierra Hotel and Casino all those years ago in a city that’s absolutely famous for sin!
Of course, as it turned out, a lot of other believers had gotten there before me. They’d actually beaten me to the punch. One of them showed up just before the meeting started, when I was about to go out and preach. He stuck his head through the curtain behind the platform where I was standing and said, “Brother Copeland! I’m a blackjack dealer and I’m working the floor tonight so I can’t be in the meeting, but I just want you to know a lot of us here will be praying for you!”
I probably looked a little startled. “Really?” I said.
“Oh yeah! A lot of us who work here are born again. We witness and win people to Jesus all the time. Those of us who aren’t working will be at the meeting tonight. The rest of us will be backing you up in prayer.”
I had to laugh! Here I thought I was going in there to break new ground, and God had already invaded the place. He already had people positioned there. Those meetings turned out to be some of the greatest we’ve ever had!
I’ll never forget what an amazing time that was. One day, in between meetings, I was walking through the hotel and The LORD drew my attention to a particular couple, a man and a woman who looked to be in their 30s. I want you to witness to them, He said.
I obeyed Him and right there in the middle of the hotel, after asking their permission, I told them everything The LORD instructed me to say. When I finished, they just looked at me like a dog at a new pan. They didn’t know whether to eat out of it or not. I thanked them for their time and walked away.
Well, that went over big, I thought.
I hadn’t taken more than about three steps when another fellow stopped me. He’d overheard the things I’d shared and wanted to talk to me. “I’d like you to pray for me,” he said.
Although he was so drunk he could barely stand up, we managed to walk over to the restroom where it was little quieter. He leaned against the wall and I laid hands on him. The power of God hit us and I found myself praying all the same things I’d just finished telling the other people. I realized with a shock that God had been talking to this man all along instead of to them.
Why He chose to do it that way, I don’t know. He’s the Boss. I just work here. I just do what I’m told to do. But I can tell you this: By the time I finished praying, that man was stone-cold sober—standing upright, with his hands raised, praising God and praying in tongues. “I want to thank you!” he said. “I’m a backslidden Pentecostal preacher. But I’m not backslidden anymore. I’m back!”
Years have come and gone since then, but I still love having those kinds of encounters. I still relish those kinds of fights: first, because the devil is the one I’m fighting; and second, because Jesus conquered him at Calvary, so they’re fights I can always win.
This is why we, as believers, are here, my friend! To fight the good fight of faith. To swing the sword of the Spirit in the heat of battle and set the captives free. So pray, listen to God and get your marching orders. Let Him send you where the action is—out there in the darkness where you can really shine.