Good morning Sisters & Brothers in Christ,
When Pastor Julie asked me to share my faith story with everyone, I was excited at the prospect of testifying as to the miracles God has performed in my life -- and terrified at the same time.
I was struggling to find a unifying theme until Pastor Julie’s sermon last week. Sometimes, all you need to do is be quiet and listen to earn wisdom. Actually, one of my guiding Biblical passages is from Psalm 46, verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God”. To me, these few words embody Christian life.
My faith journey has been nothing short of miraculous. Just a few years ago, I had lost all hope. Today, I am more blessed than I ever could have dreamed of – mostly through the people that God has placed in my path, always at exactly at the right time.
Through the Grace of God, support of my loved ones (especially my wife of 41 years), and the help of a lot of people society would view as “undesirables”, I celebrated 8 years of sobriety this summer. Little did I know back then, that my disease would become such a blessing. I’ve been given a gift that can only be kept by passing it along to someone else. There’s no thrill like seeing the transformational love of Christ touch another person and bear fruit.
On August 5th, 2010 I had reached the point where I was beyond all human aid. The worst part is I had a soul sickness that comes from being separated from the Jesus The Vine. While I may not have appeared to be an evil person, I certainly felt like it on the inside. That’s what being cut off from the Sunlight of the Spirit does to a person. That day, I surrendered my disease and recovery into God’s care. It was the most frightening decision I’d ever made. But, it was the first time I truly heard that Still Small Voice saying, “welcome home”. I’m forever grateful that God seeks us out in our darkest places and offers healing.
Pastor also shared a story about Doug, who “didn’t feel worthy to be in church”. I was a Doug, and in some ways, I still am. I believe that true healing comes from forgiveness and that it begins with self-forgiveness – which can’t be accomplished through self-will or any known therapy. It comes through an act of Grace. The realization that we’re all children of God was transformational.
Once I was able to forgive myself, I was able to forgive others. It was only when that portion of my faith journey was complete, that I was able to give fully of myself to others. I’ve come to realize that forgiving is essential to giving. To me, that’s what stewardship is all about – showing the face of Jesus through my service to others. I’m still far from being proficient in this. But the Spirit continues to provide those opportunities to me. However, I only see them if I’m listening for that “Still Small Voice”. And, it’s only through the giving of myself through my talents and resources, that I find abundance in return.
I’m not the same man I was 8 years ago. I’m changed and will never go back to the Old Rick – only if I remain connected to the Vine. Pastor Julie mentioned last week that “sometimes God’s gifts come TO unexpected people” – but they also come FROM unexpected people. That’s why belonging to a community of faith is so critical in staying connected to my faith. Left to my own devices, I easily get lost in the noise of daily living. I’ve been blessed to be included in a small group of men outside this congregation. We help keep each other on the beam. Our inspiration comes from James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
The concept of need for community is also exemplified in Ecclesiastes 4:12: “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart”. A couple of brothers in the congregation approached me about forming a men’s group here at St. Matthew. I pray we can get one off the ground over the next few months and grow bonds that bear fruit. I’ve proven to myself over and over, that I don’t have the ability to follow my faith journey on my own – and that there’s strength in numbers.
My prayer for everyone this stewardship season is that we all are given the blessing of hearing that “Still Small Voice” and that God grant us the courage to follow it – so we all may share more fully in His abundance.
Thank you and God Bless us all.