I started out life as a Catholic, although not involved at any meaningful level with the church.
When I got to college and began to get exposed to information about other religions, I decided that I was done with God and Christianity. I spent the next 25 years alternating between atheism, agnosticism, mysticism and bringing God into the equation when I needed someone to blame or when there was something I especially needed.
My father passed away in 2004, something that rocked my world and caused me to begin a long, long journey into pondering where he went, where I was, where we came from, whether I would see him again, you name it I questioned it. All the while still blaming God for everything bad in my life and voicing that to Him every chance I got.
In the beginning of 2013, amidst a stream of chaos, family breakdown and intense trouble in our lives, I was sitting in a therapist’s office trying to make sense of it all, when I found myself out of the blue saying “I think I should go back to church.”
Being the guy’s guy that I am, I thought wow if I am going to go back into God’s church I have to be a stand up guy and apologize first. So I went to a little glass chapel at the shrine in Manorville, waited till it was empty, knelt down and said this:
“I’m tired of fighting [you] and I can’t do this alone anymore God, I need help, I am out of ideas. I’m so sorry for all the things that I said and did to you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me and please let Jesus come into my heart and help me.”
All of that without ever having opened a bible and having just barely been involved in even the church I grew up in. I now realize those were the words the Holy Spirit gave me in my hour of greatest need, as God in His grace called to me. As the song goes, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. Amazing grace. Undeserved grace. Wonderful grace. I realized everything He ever allowed in my life was for the sole purpose of pointing me to Him so that He might invite me to believe in His Son. I remember looking at a picture of Jesus in that chapel as I said those last few words and understanding I need Him within me, that’s what I need.
Amazingly around the same time, my wife also had her own experience with the overwhelming love of God after suffering a dislocated shoulder, and was converted as well. I will leave it to her to tell her own story of how God came and called her.
We spent the next year and a half or so bouncing around a local denominational church, trying to figure out how to connect with the God that had called us, not having much success at addressing the desire that was now burning in us to know Him better and what He wanted from us.
In the summer of 2014, being frustrated at not making the Saturday afternoon service and not wanting to get up early on Sundays (!), on my wife’s advice I went to a Wednesday night bible study at “that easter egg church”, South Bay Bible Church in East Moriches, which we knew from having attended a children’s Easter event there the prior year.
Pastor Martin Hawley was running the bible study, and was just starting the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. It was like God lit the pilot light in my soul. Instantly the truth started flowing into my being. I couldn’t get enough.
By the following spring, my wife, children and I had all been baptized and we had started digging into ministry in earnest. We spent the next five years serving the Lord at South Bay, running the Holiday Ministry on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas to provide a family meal to all those like us who had nowhere to go, I sang backup in the worship ministry for four years, my wife and daughter served in the video ministry running cameras and streaming video on Sunday mornings, we joined the prayer team, actually wound up teaching the bible study for two years, helped run many many events and outreaches, and I even got in some geek time doing some programming for the church.
I also wound up teaching another bible study on Friday evenings, and we got involved in the King’s Kids outreach down in Mastic Beach, an awesome organization run by our friends PJ and Catherine Balzer. We began also ministering to many folks who God generously brought to us in their need so that He could touch their lives through us. The Lord had laid on my heart from the start the seriousness of His Gospel, the urgency of His call, and I (hopefully) emphasized this in every study I had the honor to lead.
Eventually, I felt He spoke into my heart that I was not to just teach this but that He also required me to give my life to Him completely. I began the process of becoming a shepherd. Already deep in study, I was able to preach a few sermons at South Bay and another church, and dug deeper into study and prayer.
After feeling prompted to leave the worship team after four years, we began in our livingroom what has now turned into Lamp in the Valley Ministries and led to us calling together a new congregation for the Lord. Pastor Hawley at South Bay was kind enough to release us from our obligations and bless our family in this effort, and we conducted our first service in our borrowed chapel on July 21st 2019. We are eternally grateful to him and the entire South Bay family, who are our family, and to God for bringing them alongside us to embrace us, teach us and love us.
My wife and I try to do everything we can to live by the verses below (as well as of course the entire rest of His Word), following the lead of the Holy Spirit and praying that He keeps us humble by reminding us that we are merely vessels of clay, full of weakness through which Christ can use us and have His strength made perfect.
I truly believe that there is nothing I do in the name of God that comes from me, it’s all Him. And it’s all about Him. What I did before He called me was all me and it was awful. As long as He is able to use me and work through me I will do all that I can to praise, honor and bless Him and obey and share His Word and Gospel with all those who He brings me to meet.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.