Friday, September 9, 2016

How has God blessed you in the Last Year?

I always think of this time of year as the beginning of the year. Probably because this is when school starts again, and summer is ending. So I’d like to share with you the blessings I’ve experienced over the past year. What’s amazing is that Jesus not only removed my sins and gave me eternal life, he’s not done with me yet! He’s actively at work in my life, our living savior.

So over the past year, wow. Just wow. Let me tell you, when I first began the moving process from Wausau to Escanaba I was terrified. I was petrified. I thought my goodness how am I going to do this. How can I handle all the challenges that will be ahead? It’s much too much for me.

I have these issues in my life, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, recovery from addiction, and lots of fear. This is just too much. And I’ll be leaving all my friends behind in Wausau. All my friends at Wausau corps. All the people I love and my family.

But what happened as I moved here and as I started working was this: God made possible what had been impossible. My part was to step out in faith and believe He would go before me. God has blessed me in so many ways. 

I used to be the worst of the worst.  Believe me!  One account in the scriptures relates specifically to my past struggles.  And his whole world changed when he encountered the Son of God.

The word of God says: "They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”" -Mark 5:1-8 (NIV)

Madness! He wandered about graveyards and tombs, and catacombs. The truth is, that was me. I was the lost, hopeless man wandering the tombs. Self destructive.

God’s blessing to me first and foremost is that he took a hopeless drug addict, someone caught in so many snares and webs, someone wrapped up in so much sin it seemed impossible to escape, someone who’s body was crippled, someone whose soul was darkened, someone who had lost all hope for a brighter future, at the age of 27, and God took him, me, and put a Bible in his hands, and put a song in his heart, and the Gospel of John before him, and then in darkness, near death, this hopeless junkie fell on his knees near the fire place at his mom’s old house, and cried out from the depths of his soul, a literal verbal cry desperately flying to Jesus Christ the son of God for salvation, mercy, and freedom from destruction.

Jesus heard the call and answered it completely. The ground shook where I knelt, I’d been afraid to share that part for years because I thought people would think I was crazy, but I don’t care, the ground underneath me shook and I was terrified. The cry went out, and oh how the heavens must’ve rejoiced at that moment, a sustained shout of joy of every angel in heaven, as this awful sinner fled to Christ and found total redemption in the blood of the lamb.

It’s true, it’s real, Jesus Christ still saves sinners, even today. He saved me. The light shined in the darkness of my deathly parade. Shining all the brighter to today.

Since I’ve come to Escanaba I’ve grown and matured a lot, into a man of God. One year ago, the greatest blessing is when I first walked in those doors. And I was so scared. I didn’t know if you were all a bunch of jerks. But Major Ralph encouraged you to shake my hand and welcome me. And you could’ve snubbed me. But you didn’t. You welcomed me, warmly. Incredibly warmly. I got about 20 hand shakes that day, and the warmest welcomes.

And from that day until now, I’ve had the strangest feeling. Like when I came to Escanaba, to this church, that I’d come home to a family I’d never known. I felt like I’d come home to people I already knew. You were already family, that I hadn’t seen in a long time. That was the first blessing.

Next, there was Major Ralph. He took me under his wing. He’s taught me so much. He’s been a leader that I can look up to. What Major Ralph has taught me is how to work hard. It sounds simple, but it’s very profound. He’s taught me to work, and to work, and to keep working and to never give up. And I appreciate his example.

Next, there was Bev. A few months into my move, I needed surgery. She came to the hospital with me. And sat there with me. And encouraged me. She was like a mother to me, when I was afraid.

Another blessing was through my friend Rick. He was one of the first people who came in asking me about Jesus, 1 year ago. He said he felt he wanted to step up and join a church. And he started coming here, started volunteering at the kitchen, coming to Bible study, and today he’s a vital part of this family. That’s a real blessing.

Another blessing was Stanley. He’s helped with so many random projects. And got me involved at Bishop Noa. He’s one of the few people in my life who were willing to help out in just about any situation. Most times with people you can expect the answer to almost always be “no” when you ask them for help or to step up, and with Stanley, it’s “yes.” It gave me confidence that I could lead & people would follow.

Another blessing was working with boys club and vacation bible school and finding a passion for working with kids.

So many blessings. Yet I’ve also been so tired at times, and so sick at times since I’ve been here. Yet that also turned out to be a blessing. God gave me a message, a theme verse for this time in Escanaba. 

 It goes like this: "Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint." -Isaiah 40:30-31 

I didn’t realize it at first but God was telling me that I would have to wait on him for the next few years. God was saying that I would be weak, tired, and weary, and that I would stumble and fall. But that I would also hope in Him. And that eventually my strength would be renewed. And I would soar like the eagles. And run and not be tired. 

Sometimes in life we have to wait and wait and continue waiting. And hope in the Lord, when we aren’t where we’d like to be, when we’re single, we don’t have many friends, we’re tired everyday, overweight, we’re depressed, we’re anxious. And we have to wait on the Lord. And keep a steadfast daily hope in Him. 

God has taught me to rely on Him. He’s built up my spiritual muscles, the maturity of my soul, and my ability to persevere through difficulties. He’s taught me so much over the past year… to make pasties, to wax floors, to count kettles, to hand out food, to work long hours, to lead bible studies, to do home visits, to visit nursing homes, to counsel those who struggle, to pray the hurting, to stand up for what I believe in, to carry his gospel, and to serve His people. 

God has blessed me over the past year. I’ve grown so much. Now I’m wondering about you. How has God blessed you in the past year?  Take some time and write out a list of the ways you've seen God work in your life in the last year.  And post that list on your fridge or somewhere in your home, or at work.  We must always remind ourselves how God has blessed us and how he has worked in our lives.  When we recognize our blessings we recognize God's sovereign presence in our lives.  We acknowledge his greatness when we look back to the blessings, and we invite God to work in the future.  God is great.  His blessings are many.  

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