My Faith Journey

It felt a little strange preaching a testimonial sermon.  It’s not that I mind telling my faith story, it’s just that it seems the sermon time should be built around a text of scripture with personal stories used as illustration.  I think it’s fair to say that that should generally be true.  However, building the entire sermon around my story today seemed a fitting way to conclude the series. 

I was reminded of a poem I heard back in college: The Gospel According to You.  It made the point that people need to see the gospel at work when they examine your life.  God communicated through paper and ink to Israel, however, when God wanted to communicate at the deepest level he sent his message clothed in human flesh in the person of Jesus.  We need to teach and preach what God has give to us in written form, but for people to really catch the vision of what it means to be in relationship to God, they need to see Jesus living in us.  They need to hear our stories of struggle and growth.  They need to hear, not just how God worked in the life of Abraham, Joseph, and Saul of Tarsus; they need to know how he has changed your life and mine.  Now that you know my story; what’s yours?

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Byron FikePreaching Minister

Byron has been the preaching minister at Clear Lake since 1999. He and his wife have three grown children, who have also devoted their lives to serving the Lord. In his personal time, Byron likes to read books, watch movies, and play with his little dog Willie. He also is an avid follower of Alabama football, having grown up in Tuscaloosa during the glory days of Bear Bryant.

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4 Responses to “My Faith Journey”

  1. avatar tommytwotoez says:

    I knew that this Sunday was to be our last of the Faith Journey series. I didn’t know however that it was to be a personal testimony. I’m glad I didn’t know. It made it that much more of a surprise! And what a blessing your personal story was. I think your right in saying that we can not only learn a lot from scripture, from pen and ink, but we can also learn a lot from each other’s lives. Looking to the Gospel of Mark’s version of the Greatest Commandment, we understand that it’s important to see the incorporation of the word into our lives or even the lives of those who lead us. We should not only hear and listen and read what is written, but we also learn how to apply it. And what better way than to see how others are participating is the Gospel message.

    Now, I did say that I was glad that today’s sermon was a personal story sermon. Why? Because yesterday I was also drawn into personal reflection. This is normal for me on 9/11. I’m sure that everyone has a 9/11 story to tell. Much as the older generation has a story to tell about when Kennedy was assassinated or when the space shuttle Challenger tore apart during midflight. But for me, my 9/11 story is more spiritual, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

  2. avatar tommytwotoez says:

    This is my story:

    I grew up what I call old school conservative COC. There was a lot of talk about earning salvation but nothing even mentioned about grace. There were rules to answer for but no questions ever being asked. I followed these rules to the tee. Mostly out of fear. Hardly out of love. This was my practice up until my teenage years, or my rebellious years, as I like to call them! I still went to church every Wednesday night and both Sunday services. I took communion and sung the ole hymnal songs. But inside my heart was cold. I grew more and more resentful of the church and what it stood for. I couldn’t cope with this version of salvation and so as the years went by and I graduated from High School and I moved out of my parents’ house (a more complex story there!) and pretty much stopped going to church. The weight of all the rules became too much of a burden for me to bear and because legalism was so much a part of how I identified with religion, I couldn’t bring myself to go to any other church or any other denomination. In my mind it was either all COC or nothing at all. Their way or the highway. So I traveled the wide road of the highway.

    During the last bit of high school and continuing during my time on my own, the lure of sin and depravity became very much the style of life for me. So much so that if I continued on that path there is no doubt that my fate would have met one or all of three things, homelessness, jail, and/or death.

    Now I can’t be sure when, but I think God at some point touched my heart. Maybe He saw something in me I never could see. Maybe He knew that I had been running long enough. Whatever the case, a year after the departure from my folk’s house I knew I needed a change. I didn’t like who I was and where I was going. So I tried moving back in with my parents. They let me in of coarse but there was a lot of animosity between my father and me. I think there was a lot of disappointment. Whenever I tired talking to him or just even looking at him he’d look away. When I looked at his face all I saw was anger. I realized I couldn’t stay at home. I’d gone too far in my little teenaged rebellion and there are something’s in this life we can never really fix or mend or repair (or so I thought). To a degree of coarse this is true; memory is a huge constant in a family. Needless to say I needed a way out. I couldn’t trust myself living on my own anymore and I couldn’t stay at home. Kind of like that old bar saying, “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here!” This was the great crossroads of my life.

  3. avatar tommytwotoez says:

    Soon after I decided to join the army and after that my father started talking to me again. There was still a lingering odor of disappointment but at least the anger had resided. Several months after signing up my ship off date was September 11th, 2001. Ten years later I still reflect on this bit of my history as the turning point of my faith. Now I was no saint in my time in service. Not at all! In fact I view my years in the army comparatively to Israel’s time in the desert. Full of ups and downs, small rebellions, sin, and smaller leaps of actual faithfulness. During this time my prayer life only existed during moments of great fear or hardship. I always prayed before going to bed (so as not to die in my sleep with sin!) or during combat patrols in Iraq. But despite the legal quality left in my faith, it was at least alive. God wouldn’t ever leave me or abandon me. Even when I didn’t want Him, He knew I needed Him.

    Almost seven years later (fast forwarding a little!) and I’m back on my own. But backing up a few paces, I want to mention when I had met the most important person in my life. I met my wife Kaia, which was before my last tour in Iraq on a blind date. We didn’t know it then but we would each play a huge role in each other’s lives, not just the getting married bit but also spiritual. I cannot account for Kaia’s story but I can account for her effect on my story! Reflecting on our relationship and us being introduced together I can recognize how this is another huge part when God was really at work, but for some reason at the time I didn’t know it.

    However after leaving the army my mind and body and soul were exhausted. I went through a bad spout of depression and guilt. Why did I survive and so many didn’t? What’s so special about me? During my tours in Iraq my battle buddies and I joked so much about the possibility of losing a limp or an eye or something that when it never happened (at least to me) that we were left confused. Why didn’t this happen? The first couple years out of the army (and sometimes still today) the feeling of survivors guilt rings the cold iron bell of my heart. I’ve at times cried out to God, “Why didn’t I die?”

  4. avatar tommytwotoez says:

    But Kaia never left me. She stood by me during all this and encouraged me to get better. I literally owe her my life. I’m not really sure how much she knows how much she positively effected my direction. But I plan on showing her how grateful I am for her, for the rest of our lives together! Amen! There is a quote I’d like to share from a TV show called Dexter that I think fits with how I was feeling during these moments of depression:

    “I’m not sure what I am…I just know there’s something dark in me, and I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it but it’s there. Always… this dark passenger… and when he’s driving, I feel alive— half sick with the thrill…complete wrongness. I don’t fight him. I don’t want to. He’s all I’ve got. Nothing else could love me. Not even, especially not me. Or is that just a lie the dark passenger tells me? Because lately, there are these moments where I feel connected to something else, someone… It’s like the mask is slipping and things, people that never mattered before…are starting to matter. It scares the hell out of me” (Dexter, Waiting to Exhale).

    The year of 2008 is when my spiritual veil was lifted. I had found Clear Lake COC, but wasn’t really connected yet. Without the full support of my wife, I doubt I would have ever been. I can’t say for certainty when “it” happened, but at some point near the end of 2008 something clicked on inside me. A light bulb had started glowing bright and the warmth from it began to melt the ice around my heart. This is what it must feel like when Christ answers the door. And the longer the bulb glows and the more it heats up, the more I want to be involved, the more I want to grow, and the more I want to profess my faith of God’s life saving grace. Though the lure of putting the mask back on is very tempting. It’s easier hiding behind some false façade. But when we can truly be transparent is when we can truly allow God to heal us from our self-inflected wounds. I don’t want to be in control. I want Jesus Christ to be in control.

    So here we are. Ten years on a long journey of faith. Ten years since I took that turn towards rebuilding my love for Christ. This past Sunday morning I had been reflecting on this very same journey. And on that Sunday morning you gave us your story. I was asking myself during that moment of reflection, “Where God do I go from here?” During our time together on Sunday, God led Daniel Quigley, who happens to be homeless, to our church. I can’t say for certain what Daniel was seeking (maybe just someone to talk to, maybe just to get back with God) but I can say of what he brought with him. Dan brought me a blessing from God that morning. While my prayers had been asking my Abba Father where I was going with my spiritual life, my Father responded by sending Daniel, the older brother of Sergeant Brian Quigley, a fellow battle (soldier) in my squad, from my first tour in Iraq. The connection between my old life and my new life was not lost on me. God had blessed me yesterday by showing me a connection to my old service and my new passion (homelessness). God reminded me yesterday why we can never give up, because He never gives up. I never thought I’d ever make it out of that pit that I’d let myself fall into. But there is no deep abyss that the light of Jesus Christ cannot reach.

    My faith journey isn’t over yet. There are still more roads to travel and people to meet along the way. My wife and I are still growing spiritually with each other and I’m excited to see where we end up. She really does encourage me to be a better man, a better husband, and better friend! I just hope and pray I can be the same for her. Even though I didn’t know where I was heading back in 2001 on September 11th, I know now through reflection where I ended up. Back in the loving arms of God. My Father knew what I needed and how I needed to get there by. Even if I didn’t.

    Thank you for encouraging me to share this story by sharing with me yours.

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