Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: What a year!

A year passes and you look back at all the things that have happened and sometimes it’s a regular passage of time with few changes or challenges other than coping with the change of the seasons and growing another year older. 

2015 was not one of those years.  I reflected on my year and my journey today and was brought to tears of joy and was shaken by the unbelievable experiences that I had in 2015.  As David Bowie sang,  CH- Ch-Ch-Ch Changes, (turn and face the strange)….. CH –CH- Changes just gonna have to be a different man. 

The most significant change in my life is that in March I decided to pursue and surrender to Christ to the point that I decided to stop drinking and go into recovery.  I know that sounds strange but that really is what happened.  Granted after attempting to quit drinking in the fall of 2014 on my own and failing, I entered into a pretty low period of regular drinking and hopelessness wondering why if I was a born again Christian for four years I was still caught up in this viscous Jekyll & Hyde cycle where I knew drunkenness and my faith didn’t compute.  I had reveled in the forgiveness I felt after being saved but I fell into sin in some ways worse than I ever did before I was a Christian.   Much to my shame, I used my forgiven status as license to sin.  So in late 2014 and earlier this year, I sort of hit rock bottom.  I hurt others, myself, and my relationship with Christ. It was at this point that I didn’t care what anyone thought about me or my reputation.  I reached the end of my rope and was all in for Christ. I was going to put down the lust of the flesh and pick up my cross and follow Him. 
So I initially went into recovery for religious reasons.  I didn’t have a problem. I could quit drinking.  I was giving it up for my relationship with Christ.    BRAVO!!!  

You see, that was sort of a cop out.  “I wasn’t like the rest of these drunks and addicts who ruined their lives.  I have a job, support my family, and even go to Bible College. I’m trying to get closer to Jesus. I’m really more of a social drinker but I am willing to lay that down for Christ. ”  

You see this is denial.  Although I had the illusion of control over my “bad habit”, I soon learned that I was in fact “powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing”.  I could hold out for a while; just have a few drinks and stop here and there but that TENDENCY to get good and drunk was coming sooner or later.  I had a million reasons to drink: holidays, weekends, to celebrate virtually anything, to reward myself, to blow off steam, to deal with stress, game’s on!, etc.   The TENDENCY loved these reasons. It was my recognizing the TENDENCY that made me able to admit that I was powerless over my addictions and compulsive behaviors and that because of this my life (although sometimes organized, systematized, and regulated) was unmanageable.   

So I came out. I announced to the world I was in recovery and amazing things happened. 

I saw the presence of the Holy Spirit at work right in front of my eyes one night at recovery.  We had been at it for a few weeks and an older gentleman in our group (“Stan” age 70ish) was showing up but wasn’t sure about all this Jesus stuff.  We were getting started in our small discussion group and just going over the first couple of principles.    Principle 2 is “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.”  Stan wasn’t so sure about this but he let me continue to read the next one.  Principle 3 is “Consciously, choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control”.  To which Stan, said he wasn’t there yet.  We said that we respected that and continued along.  In attendance was “Brian”, a stereotypical addict, tattooed, intense, ex-con in his early to mid-20’s.  Brian, although his father was reportedly a pastor, had aspirations of being a heavy metal musician but had spent his life in addiction and incarceration.  Everyone took turns sharing their struggles.  Brian was discussing his girlfriend and how she suffered because of him and how he loved her. At one point Brian lamented how he wanted to quit cigarettes but couldn’t do it.  He said “If Jesus could just reach through the veil and tell me to quit. I could do it. “Breaking group guidelines; old Stan says something to the effect of “Son… you just…  (At which point Stan sort of brings his hands together and pulls them away from each other in an opening gesture)… let go and let God.”   This seemingly tame gesture hits Brian hard and has me saying “Stan… that’s exactly what we were talking about in the principles!”  Whether or not my comment was heard is hard to say because the next thing you know “Brian” is out of his seat and standing in front of Stan and says “Stan, you say you don’t know whether or not God cares about you but I’m telling you HE does! And we are going to pray for you, and you are going to pray to ask Jesus into your life!”   Stan hesitates for a second but quickly pulls himself out of his chair and starts praying to ask Jesus into his life!  The guys rise, join hands, lay hands on Stan and pray. Brian starts praying in tongues.  I reach out and lay hold of Stan and pray.  Meanwhile the group leader, my sponsor and Spiritual mentor Bob Costello, is in the other room dealing with new comers.  He’s been working with Stan from the beginning and Stan gets saved while he’s in the other room!  Stan is in his 70s and was in a bad place in his life.  He grew up on a farm and the tales he told of his childhood described a struggling existence where joy and love were not expressed but that night in the basement of Rock Solid Church he knew the love of Christ!  He was washed clean by the Holy Spirit and he was in awe of the power that had come over him.    Stan was struggling financially at the time, in danger in losing his farm.  Since coming to Christ though, Stan is no longer in financial difficulty and has started a foundation to help veterans that are struggling to readjust to civilian life after combat deployment. 

Brian never returned to recovery after that night.  Ironically, Brian, the son of a pastor, was used by God to lead an old man to Christ, who upon being saved made it his mission to help young men who are struggling to adjust to society, like Brian. 

Stan and I finished the 16 week recovery program.  Stan went on to do his thing with his farm and the veterans.  I went on to be part of the leadership team when our recovery group, Celebrate Freedom, started up again in the fall.  Three weeks in to the program, I picked up my guitar and lead the group in worship.  Just two songs a week; but man to use my guitar (which I had only played in my basement, alone, and usually under the influence) to give glory to God for what He has done in my life is something I would have not believed 12 months ago. 

Our group is on hiatus for a while but when we start up again, My friend, Bill Hamm, and I will be doing the teaching each week.  

In May, I earned an Associate Degree in Applied Science in Telecommunications Technology from Hudson Community College completing a course of study that took five years, going to school one day a week through my employer. 

Also that month, I earned my Associate Degree in Biblical Studies from Vision Christian Bible College & Seminary, taking classes at night one day a week for the past two years at Rock Solid Church, Hudson NY.  I just completed my first semester of my junior year as I pursue a Bachelor Degree. 

This year also saw my physical body transformed.  I started reading Men’s Health magazine and started exercising every morning.  I get up at 3:30 am and exercise while listening to an R.C. Sproul teaching about God each day. After my work out, I pray thanking God for everything I have and the earnest intension to surrender my will for His will for my life.  I pray for friends, family, and the pastors that have crossed my path. I pray for the persecuted church, those suffer throughout the world for their faith in Christ. I then pray for the lost, for the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin and to bring them to Christ for their salvation.   I then read the Bible.  I then read a couple of prayers out of 2 devotional books I have. Then it’s off to work. 

I know it sounds intense. I share this though because God wants our relationship with Him.  The way to build a relationship is to spend time and to put in effort.  More than once this year the prayers I have made in the morning have been answered in an amazing way. 
I started doing the physical work of a lineman and walking on my lunch breaks during the summer.  In autumn, I start to run.   On September 26, I ran in my first 5k.  I have since run in 11 more.   Through nutrition, exercise, and faith, I have built muscle and have seen changes in my physique.  I have lost 45 pounds this year and I continue to train to be healthy. 

I have had spiritual breakthroughs in my understanding of Christianity and my relationship with Christ that I didn’t think were possible.  It is my goal to glorify and serve the Lord with rest of my life.   I have committed myself to a missionary trip to Africa in February where I will perform humanitarian work and where I will spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am not sure where God is taking me but after a year like this one I know it won’t be boring. 

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to press in to your faith and surrender yourselves to Christ.  I wish everyone who reads this a very Happy New Year!  First Sober New Year for me in 25 years! God Bless You!

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