Well, Here it is, as promised. This is the essay that I wrote that I said I would share as soon as it was graded. Feel free to let me know what you think.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in church on a Sunday morning with my parents and grandparents. All these memories are good memories and, though I grew up in the church, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I know that I truly began a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I do not recall the specific date that it happened, but the circumstances remain vivid in my mind. On the banks of the Alabama River in south-central Alabama, I know that Jesus became my Lord and Savior. It was at that moment, not the years of being raised in the church as a child, that formed and truly initialized my biblical worldview. In the years since that night in late September of 1999, I have read through the Bible many, many times. I have also read many books about the Bible and different doctrines found there. It has been more from my study of scripture over the years than my reading of books about scripture that has developed my biblical worldview. I know, without a doubt, that God is actively involved with his creation. I know even more, if that is even possible, that God has an active role in my personal life. With this thought in mind, I would like to explain more thoroughly how I know this is true. There are three essential thoughts that I would like to share. First, I know that God is involved with me as a person; Second, I know that God is involved with me and my family; Third, I know that God is involved with me and my ministry.
In September of 1999, my life had gone farther down into the depths of despair than I would hope anyone would ever go. As some people have described it, I hit absolute rock bottom of a pit so deep, there was absolutely no way out; at least not on my own. The brief background story is that I had gone to Alabama to take what I believed would be my dream job as a police officer. Even though my wife and I had been fairly recently married with a young daughter, I made some foolish, selfish, immoral decisions that would take me so far down, God was the only answer. Because of my own personal choices, my wife had decided to move back to Wisconsin with our daughter and at nearly the same time, it was suggested that I resign my position as a police officer and look for law enforcement employment in another location. I had lost my job, my wife and my daughter in a very short time. In my despair and desperation, as well as trying to soothe my pain, I turned to alcohol.
The few weeks near the rock bottom, I would spend drinking and trying to find a reason I shouldn’t use my Glock 21 service weapon to end my life. I even had a special cartridge that I had colored black with a permanent marker that set on my dresser while I stared at it night after night trying to find the courage to end it all. One night, in late September of 1999, I had enough. Probably because I had grown up in the church and knew the plan of salvation, I not only took my pistol, I took a Bible to the bank of the Alabama River.
Sitting on the bank, late at night, with the pistol and Bible both still in the front seat of the truck. I finally broke down and asked Jesus Christ to take over what was left of my life. I had nothing left to give Him. At least, that is what I thought at the time. After praying on the bank of the river, there are two verses that I had memorized as a young boy that kept coming back to me. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John. 1:9, King James Version) That verse is one that I had to cling to and repeat to myself many times in the next few months and years. I know that because Jesus Christ died for my sins and that night I confessed them all to him, He had a purpose for my life. The other verse that I clung to that made the immediate impact on my life was 2 Corinthians 5:17. This verse I had also memorized as a young boy. This verse says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17, KJV)
That night after receiving the gift of salvation, that I knew about from a young boy attending church with my parents, I went back to where I was staying and began reading God’s word. I read those two verses and then started reading in the New Testament. I’ve been reading the Bible on nearly a daily basis since then. There were other truths that I knew that night, but it would be a while before God would show them to me in his Word.
I know that God has continued to work in my personal life on a daily basis because I have seen the results of Him working in too many ways to explain in a single essay. He has and continues to protect me, provide for me, guide me, encourage me, strengthen me physically and spiritually and even work in ways that I can’t even quite put into words (Rom. 8:26-27). I know that it is God working in my life and that it is not, unexplained natural causes, coincidence or some other unknown force or forces. In many, if not most of the ways that I have seen the hand of God at work in my own life, there simply is no other explanation.
I know also, that God is involved with me and my family. My sweet wife Julie, in the thirteen months that we were separated, never ceased to pray for me and for our reconciliation. Even though others told her to divorce me and move on, she never considered the thought. After our full reconciliation in December of 1999, the Lord has blessed us with six more children. We absolutely believe that children are a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127). Even before our second daughter was born, we decided that together, as a family, we would always seek the Lord, Jesus Christ and his desires and plan for us first, as our continual guiding principle (Matt. 6:33). I believe that it is because we have sought the Lord Jesus Christ first, following the teaching in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that the Lord has continued to bless and be actively working in our family life.
There are three instances, which I would like to briefly share as proof of how I know that God has and is actively working in our family. The first is that our second daughter, Rachel, during her 12 month checkup was found to have had a heart defect. The open heart surgery, which we had to trust the Lord to bring her safely through at 13 months old, was considered to be a fairly routine surgery. Even though there was a great probability of success, there was also a chance that she would not make it through alive. The miracle was not that she did make it through the surgery successfully, the miracle was that forty-eight hours after open heart surgery, she was discharged to go home. This rapid recovery had never been observed in any situation before.
There were two other instances where I believed that the Lord probably was going to take one of my children and in one instance, my wife as well. My oldest son at eight years old developed an illness from an infectious tick bite, suffered multiple seizures and was sent by medical helicopter to a larger hospital than the one I initially took him to. He was kept in a medically induced coma for about thirty-six hours, while the medical staff ran test after test. The Lord saw fit to leave Jonathan here as well. When our youngest son, Leslie was born, my wife suffered a ruptured uterus in labor. At the critical moment, I truly believed that the Lord was taking my wife and baby to be with Him and leaving me to raise four children on my own. There is absolutely no doubt that God has and still does work in the lives of me and my family.
I know that God is absolutely involved with my ministry as well. I accepted the position as Pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Neillsville, Wisconsin at the beginning of August, 2016. My ministry began quite some time before that time and involves my family as well. Before I accepted the position as Pastor, I did my very best to seek opportunities to share the Gospel, especially with my fellow Army National Guard soldiers, coworkers and others around me. Some of the greatest blessings I have received have been to share the Gospel with those around me. Almost everyone I have worked with over the last ten years or more have told me that I am easy to talk to. They have demonstrated that by seeking my advice and many times just seeking me as someone who will simply listen or pray with or for them. One of the soldiers in my command told me several months ago, “You know, Sergeant Matthews, you’re pretty much Alpha Company’s Chaplain.” He went on to explain that even though I am not a military chaplain, most soldiers who know me see me in that regard.
One of the greatest confirmations that God is actively involved in my ministry is the way He brought my family and I to Bible Baptist Church. In the summer of 2015, I had contact with Peninsula Baptist Church in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. After preaching there several times, it truly looked like the Lord was leading us in that direction. The winter of 2015-2016 presented us with some obstacles and by the spring of 2016, it was looking more like perhaps Peninsula Baptist Church would not work out after all. Since I was fully committed to God’s plan, the though of not moving to Sturgeon Bay and ministering there, did not really discourage me as I thought it would.
At the end of May, 2016, just a few days before I was to leave for my Annual Training with the National Guard, I received a phone call from the Interim Pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Neillsville. He told me that the Interim Pastor at Peninsula Baptist Church had called and gave them my contact information. Pastor Ben from Neillsville asked me if I would be interested in perhaps coming up to preach once in a while, or perhaps, to consider being a candidate for the Pastor’s position. I agreed, but also told him all of the reasons why they may change their mind. At that time, I was about to leave for two weeks of training, which I would have to complete every year, at least until my enlistment expires in May of 2020. I have seven children and a wife to support. I have not yet finished Bible College and I was about $5,000 or so in debt. Just a couple of days after that conversation, the Lord clearly closed the door at Peninsula Baptist Church in Sturgeon Bay.
After Annual Training, I did preach at Bible Baptist and agreed to be considered as a candidate for the position as pastor. The result was that upon my Candidate Sunday, the church unanimously voted to call me as their permanent Pastor. The passage of Scripture that I continually recall as I look back on how God opened the door to full time ministry as a small church pastor is found in Psalm 37:3-7. In this passage, verse four has a special meaning to me. “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Ps. 37:4)
Looking back on my life, how God protected me, was patient and merciful with me, guided me and used me, I know that He has always been involved. There truly are many, many more instances that I can share, where I have absolutely no doubt that it was God who was working out the best circumstances for my good and for His glory. That is probably one of the reasons I have selected 1 Corinthians 10:31 as the verse I consider my personal verse or “life verse,” as some people call it. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” I try very hard to do my best at everything I do so that I can point everyone to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, and give God the glory.