As I mentioned last week in my blog, Judy and I went into the New Hampshire State Prison to minister this past weekend, and from all we can tell, God did a wonderful work in our midst. So, if you prayed for us, thank you, because God allowed us to experience the answers to your prayers!
Judy and I started our first of 9 sessions by sharing our testimony and how God brought us into full time ministry. I talked about my high school years at a private boarding school and how God protected me, often in spite of myself. I even asked one of the inmates to come and share how he tried to kill me during high school and how God miraculously saved my life.
Judy and I shared how God brought us together, then we started to tell them how God’s Grace guided us through life. We talked about how God took us to Bible School with only $100 and met every need that we had. How God has blessed us beyond measure and how we have been able to do things, go places and meet people that we could never had ever dreamed! How our children are not only walking with God, but are raising their children to walk with God.
But we also shared examples of how God over our 45 years of marriage brought us through some very difficult times in ministry, times of betrayal, times when we went without pay, times when we were falsely accused, times when we were taken advantage of. How my dad losing the family business because of embezzlement, how my family being escorted out of our own church, but not before the pastor had said that our first-born son would be born dead: this was all part of the path God would have us walk to get us into full-time ministry. We even told the story that eventually led us to a town we never wanted to come to, to pastor a church we never wanted to pastor. A church by the way, where we have been for 18 years!
I have to admit as we shared, there were times of tears, because although behind us, the pain and scares of some of these experiences are still close to the heart. Yet through it all, through the pain, through the difficulties, through the times we did not see God; through the times we had to walk by faith, because we had no other choice; though all those situations, we can look back and see God’s amazing grace.
God’s grace has made us into the people we are today. And although it was painful at times, although we wanted to quit at times, we would go through it all again, because we are better for it, and so are my children and grandchildren as well as the people God continues to bring into our lives. It is very easy to get caught up in our world, to be so engaged with the present, that we forget how God has walked with us in the past. We can easily forget how God’s Grace has not only saved us but has sustained us over the years.
We can easily forget that for a Christian, life is not made up of what I can achieve, but what God can achieve not only in me, but through me… And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to him—and all along he knew who would—should become like his Son, so that his Son would be the First, with many brothers. And having chosen us, he called us to come to him; and when we came, he declared us “not guilty,” filled us with Christ’s goodness, gave us right standing with himself, and promised us his glory. Romans 8:28-30 (TLB)
So let me encourage you this week: although it might be painful, although it might require time out of your busy life, take time to look back at God’s Grace in your life, rehearse the path that God has walked with you, remember how He has worked during your darkest nights, how He saved you from hell, how He has been there for you, even when you have not been there for Him. Write it down, and then share it with your children, your grandchildren, with your friends, and allow God’s Amazing Grace to encourage you this week.
Here is someone who wrote down his story of grace, and it is still impacting our lives after all these years…
I was born in 1725, and I died in 1807. The only godly influence in my life, as far back as I can remember, was my mother, whom I had for only seven years. When she left my life through death, I was virtually an orphan. My father remarried, sent me to a strict military school, where the severity of discipline almost broke my back. I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I left in rebellion at age of ten.
One year later, deciding that I would never enter formal education again, I became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to step into my father’s trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship. By and by, through a process of time, I slowly gave myself over to the devil. And I determined that I would sin to my fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had gone out. I did that until my days in the military service, where again discipline worked hard against me, but I further rebelled. My spirit would not break, and I became increasingly more of a rebel.
Because of many things that I disagreed with in the military, I finally deserted, only to be captured like a common criminal and beaten publicly several times. After enduring the punishment, I again fled. I entertained thoughts of suicide on my way to Africa, deciding that would be the place I could get farthest from anyone that knew me. And again, I made pact with the devil to live for him.
Somehow, through a process of events, I got in touch with a Portuguese slave trader, and I lived in his home. His wife, who was brimming with hostility, took a lot of it out on me. She beat me, and I ate like a dog on the floor of the home. If I refused to do that, she would whip me with a lash. I fled penniless, owning only the clothes on my back, to the shoreline of Africa where I built a fire, hoping to attract a ship that was passing by. The skipper thought that I had gold or slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised because I was a skilled navigator. And it was there that I virtually lived for a long period of time. It was a slave ship it was not uncommon for as many as six hundred blacks from Africa to be in the hold of the ship, down below, being taken to America.
I went through all sorts of narrow escapes with death only a hairs’ breadth away on many occasions. One time I opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk. The skipper, incensed with my actions, beat me, threw me down below, and I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for an unendurable amount of time. He brought me above to beat me again, and I fell overboard. Because I couldn’t swim, he harpooned me to get me back on the ship. And I lived with the scar in my side, big enough for me to put my fist into, until the day of my death.
On board, I was inflamed with fever. I was enraged with the humiliation. A storm broke out, and I wound up again in the hold of the ship, down among the pumps. To keep the ship afloat, I worked alone as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding, diseased, I was the extreme example of the degenerate man.
I remember the words of my mother. I cried out to God, the only way I knew, calling upon His grace and mercy to deliver me, and upon His Son to save me. The only glimmer of light I would find was in a crack in the ship in the floor above me, and I looked up to it and screamed for help.
God heard me. Thirty-one years passed, I married a childhood sweetheart. I entered the ministry. In every place that I served, rooms had to be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the Gospel that was presented and the story of God’s grace in my life. My tombstone above my head reads: Born 1725, died 1807 – A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he once long labored to destroy. I decided before my death to put my life’s story in verse. And that has become this song.
My name is John Newton and the hymn is “Amazing Grace.”
I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.
Enjoy your walk with God today, rehearsing His amazing grace!