"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) How awesome is that?! I just felt led today to share a bit of my testimony, as it shows the wonderful, redemptive power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As a child, my family attended church regularly until I turned 14 or so. It was a beautiful church, seating over 4000 people, in Dayton, Ohio, called "Christian Life Center." I even sang my first real solo at that church at the age of seven, in the children's Christmas musical in front of over 4000. The problem here was that I never really came to know Jesus during that time and, at the age of 15, I turned my back on God and decided I would live my own way. There were many "reasons" I chose to do this, which I would later learn were actually just "excuses." For the next 19 years, I lived "my way," and let me tell you, there was nothing good about "my way." I will spare you the details other than to say that I partied too much, used people for my own gain, and hurt nearly everyone close to me, be it friends or family, and this literally went on the entire 19 years. Not a week would go by that I wouldn't manage to mess something up, and I always did it in a big way. On top of all that, the enemy had settled in to "help" me in my exploits by cursing me with bi-polar disorder, mixed mania, bulimia, and a tendency to just hate life. At that time (ages 14-16), my dad (step-father) had begun to be verbally and, at times, physically abusive, leading to an even bigger chip on my shoulder when it came to God. (We would later reconcile when I was 18, and though he is divorced from my mother, we have a wonderful father/son relationship to this day!) Over those years, I became an ugly, uncaring, heathen of a man, but God had a plan that I could have never seen coming. (Just a footnote to all of this, during those 19 years, I did a whole lot of stupid stuff that should have killed me, but even then God was there protecting me and I didn't even know it; ""Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it." Gen. 28:16) At the age of 34, I made the biggest mistake of my life, but it was one that would change everything for me. Some of you may know this, many of you don't, but at the age of 34, while on probation for attempted fraud (just another stupid thing I did as the enemy's pawn), I lost my job and decided I would leave the state without permission, basically blowing the 2 1/2 years (out of 4) of probation I had completed. While committing the act of probation violation, I also foolishly decided to help a neighbor run away from an abusive father and adult brother by buying a bus ticket for them and finding them a place to stay. After seeking me for two weeks, the authorities found me and extradited me back to the state I had fled for the probation violation. Upon my return, not only was I charged with the probation violation, but I was also charged with, and convicted of "Custodial Interference" for my roll in the neighbor's flight. I was originally then sentenced to a total of 8 1/2 years in prison, 2 for the probation violation and 6 1/2 for the custodial interference charge. Can I tell you, it was the best thing that ever happened to me! Six months after my arrest, on April 11, 2008, at 10:28 a.m., Jesus showed up and I was at that moment born again. A month later, I was baptized by the county jail pastor, and began a lengthy study in God's word. He began working in me, then through me, and was quickly changing my life from one of hatred and anger, to one of love and compassion. Two years into my incarceration, He really showed up and part of my appeal was granted, reducing my sentence from 8 1/2 years to 5 1/2 years...at the time I was still a bit disappointed, though thankful, but I would later learn that I needed those years to prepare for my new life. I studied God's word faithfully 2 - 4 hours daily while in prison, and also wrote nearly 80 songs dedicated to Christ. God also used me to help many other inmates come to know Jesus. The most amazing miracle in my eyes however, is that immediately upon my "born again" moment, I was delivered from bi-polar disorder, bulimia, and life started getting good again, despite the fact that I was locked up in the most horrible place you can imagine...I began to feel more free in that prison than I had ever felt on the outside before because I knew I was redeemed, and free from the enemy's grasp. On August 27 of this year, I was released from prison to complete 9 months of parole. It was, what I thought, the greatest day of my life...until Annie. I met Annie on September 14 and knew that my life was really forever changed...I fell in love with her instantly. Funny how when you finally find the one God has been saving for you, everything you thought was real looks ugly and wrong. She is God's gift to me, a precious angel that I will cherish forever. As you all know, we were married on 10-11-12, and are now moving into an awesome cabin in the beautiful Smoky Mountains! The blessings continue to come every day now...I am studying at Liberty University Online in pursuit of my Bachelor's of Science in Religion, and have already started a small ministry, mostly just devotionals right now, but soon I hope to record the music God has blessed me with and ultimately become a pastor or counselor. The bottom line is, if God can forgive and save a man like I was, He can do that for anyone. Christ came and died on the cross for all of us, and at the end of the day, life is an empty shell without Him. I call my journey in life, "Devastation to Devotion," as the salvation of Christ not only saved my life spiritually, but physically as well. I am at last living the abundant, wonderful life that Jesus promises us, not only in John 10:10, but throughout His word. That doesn't mean I don't still struggle with anything, but now I have Him to lean on in those times of hardship, and I can tell you from much experience, He always comes through and brings us out of every trial better than we went in. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) We are each called according to His purpose, but it is up to us to answer the call. If you're struggling with anything in your life right now, and you don't have a relationship with Jesus, I would invite you to just have a talk with Him and ask Him into your heart. My life's journey is proof of His redemptive power, and without Him, we are just lost drifters in a sea of enemies. While I was actually dreading sharing this testimony and actually a bit embarrassed about telling anyone I had messed up so bad in my life, God insisted that I share this with anyone who will read it...it is a true testament to all He can and will do when you trust Him and place your faith in Him. I encourage you to accept Jesus today and start living the life God intended for you...if you're ready, just pray this simple prayer..."Father in heaven, I admit that I am a sinner and can not obtain salvation on my own. I repent of my sins. I believe that Your Son bore my sins on the cross and rose the third day, offering me the gift of salvation. I accept You, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior, and I surrender my life to You. Come into my heart and cleanse me of all unrighteousness; make me the person You want me to be. I receive this precious and wonderful gift of salvation...I thank You for my forgiveness and this new beginning, in Jesus name...Amen" Now, praise the Lord for all His goodness, and begin to enjoy the peace and joy that only He can offer!
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