I was about 11 years old when a local pastor walked up to me and some other dudes at the local playground and asked us if we knew where we were going when we died. My parents had never baptized me, and we didn't attend church anywhere, so I had no idea. The pastor said that if we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we could go to be with God and Jesus in the afterlife, otherwise things were going to be pretty grim for us in The Other Place.
We all gave each other a look like, "I hope the rest of the dudes don't think I'm totally lame" as we began to recite the Sinner's Prayer in unison. When we were done, the pastor told us that we were now "saved," and that the mark of the cross was upon our lives. I wish that I could remember who got saved with me, as it might be interesting to see what happened in their lives after that day...but let me share with you what happened in mine.
It was not long after that I began to drink and do drugs. There was a horrendous amount of abuse and pain in my life, and numbing myself with booze and chemicals seemed a good alternative to putting a gun in mouth and turning the pain off forever. I didn't intend to become a junkie, but that's how it happened, leaning on the crutch of booze & dope, trying just to survive. So began a nightmare that lasted 14 years.
During that time, I walked away from many accidents and incidents that should've killed me. Once, I fell about 50 feet out of a tree and landed right on my head; with the exception of a mild concussion, and some stitches in my scalp, I was fine. The doctors couldn't believe that my neck wasn't broken, and my skull wasn't shattered. I got shot at, and was beaten nearly to death, and I survived numerous overdoses, car-wrecks and many of the terminally-weird mishaps that befall someone who insists on pumping near-fatal amounts of toxic chemicals into their body on a round-the-clock basis. I watched a lot of my "friends" die by various violent means, and some by plain old-fashioned overdoses. Some went away to prison. (Bob, a childhood friend, is sitting on death-row in Marion, Illinois as I write this)
Back then, I thought God hated me or something, that He was the reason my life was so screwed up. On more than one occasion, I cursed God and dared Him to kill me, to put me out of my misery. But when I reached the point where no amount of drugs could deaden the pain of living the life of a junkie, I broke down and called out to God for help...and He answered.
I still marvel at the experience to this day, but I felt God's Spirit come in and fill the terrible emptiness within me, like some warm, thick, gooey substance that filled every nook and cranny. God filled me with His love until I thought I would burst, and in less than a minute, I was stone cold sober, and a lifetime of pain was gone. His perfect love healed my brokenness, and there remained only a calm stillness, and the certainty in my mind that I would never drink or drug again.
In II Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells Paul, "My grace is sufficient, for power is perfected in weakness." Looking down the backtrack, I can clearly see God's grace upon my life, and on April 4th, 1998, I celebrated 10 years Clean & Sober. Thanks be to God!
Though I can't ever repay the gift of grace which was paid in full when our Lord surrendered Himself to the cross, I feel the need to give back for what I am so blessed to receive. Without grace, I would be just another dead junkie, like my friend Jimmy who lies in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetary...without grace, I would never have met my wonderful wife Theresa, who is also my best friend...without grace, so many wonderful things never could have happened, because I wouldn't be here.
Being conscious of God's grace and love in my life gives me an attitude of gratitude, and it's gratitude that makes me glad to give something back, by tithing and by reaching out to others to share the blessings of the Lord. When time or finances are tight, or I'm just feeling selfish, I need only remember where I was when the Lord delivered me, and suddenly, I have all the time and money in the world. Lord, as You have blessed me, let me in turn be a blessing unto others.
In closing, I want to say to everyone in my worship family at Calvary Lutheran Church, that you all are among my greatest blessings, because I can't see Jesus in person, but I can see Him in your lives, and I can see His love and unconditional acceptance shining out from within all of you. In that way, I can see Jesus all around me.
Surrounded by Jesus...I can't think of a better place to be.
Go in peace, serve the Lord.