Summary: Today marks our fifteenth year as a church.

Today marks our fifteenth year as a church. We call it Ebenezer day. The name was chosen because of what it means in scripture. Look with me at 1 Samuel 7:10-12 NASB. "Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. {11} And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. {12} Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

No matter where a church or individual Christian might be in their journey of grace they must declare with Samuel, "Thus far the Lord has helped us." He has protected us from all the enemies of our soul. "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

I wish to speak to you this morning about my own personal journey in grace which in the end includes all of you.

I do not know when my mother began to practice her Pentecostal faith but I do know that I was practically born and reared on a church bench. There were hundreds of nights when I returned to our home with vertical stripes on my face from sleeping on the crude slatted pews that filled our church.

For eighteen years I went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and most often mid week. I did not want to go to church because I was not a Christian. There were times when I thought I had been saved but then I would loose my salvation shortly there after. That sounds strange to us but believing one can be truly saved and then lost was and remains consistent with Pentecostal theology.

On the Sunday following my eighteenth birthday my dad intervened with my well meaning mother. "Johnny doesn't have to go to church any more, he said. He is eighteen now and can make up his own mind." That was the end of my church attendance for a good number of years. At last I'd been set free from the restrictions imposed upon me by organized religion. I was set free from the pretending it took to look like I was a real part the church.

Now I would see who I really was and so would the rest of the world. I rebelled against any and everything I could think of. I was, I thought enjoying my new found freedom. Grace would one day reveal that like all unbelievers I was not free at all but a slave of sin, self and Satan.

After high school I went to College for a time. I also continued the pursuit of my high school sweetheart, Shirley. We were married 25 years ago this coming December sixth. A son of Adam and a daughter of Eve united in something much less than Holy Matrimony. We married for the satisfaction of our lust and knew nothing of love, nothing at all.

In those early days we weren't able to deal with our own passions, sensitivities, and prejudices. Neither were we able to cope with relatives who sought to control our lives. The first four years of our marriage included drinking, smoking, and physical violence between Shirley and myself. There was an attempted suicide which had as its goal escape from the pain of day to day existence. Once Shirley chased me with a shotgun and I deserved it. There was a time in those early days when I planned the murder of those who added to our pain by seeking to control us. Each day promised only chaos, hatred, confusion and pain. We learned to dread the rising of the sun.

During those four years we lived from week to week, sometimes day to day with the threat of divorce or separation looming over our heads.

There was no love, no joy, no pleasure, no happiness, no reason to go on. But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made Shirley alive together with Christ. This is how God brought it to pass.

My dear wife had begun to prepare for the day when she would have to support herself and our son alone. She returned to college to finish a nursing degree and there she met up with Kitty, a Christian lady, an instrument in the hand of God. She invited Shirley to church. It wasn't long before I had a new wife. God, in grace and mercy, removed from her breast a heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. Shirley was born again. She was a new creature from the inside out and the change was immediately evident. I lost my fighting partner and in her place was a strange and gracious lady.

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