Summary: Actions or works may not create faith but they can reveal the substance and form of a person’s faith. To me, works is our faith made visible. “For just as a body without the spirit is dead” … a corpse … “so faith without works is also dead” … a corpse (James 2:26).
[Put up picture of me on screen.]
Let me tell you a little bit about that man in the photo. He was 40 years old when that picture was taken. He was 20 months sober at the time. Well … “sober” is not the right word. He was a dry drunk” … which means that he hadn’t picked up a drink in 20 months, but his mind and his heart were in as much pain as they were the day he put down the bottle and the joint. And, without his anesthetic, without his daily self-induced oblivion, every day was another day in living hell … and he was hanging on by his fingernails. Everyone in the recovery community were talking bets on how long he could endure such agony before he either went back to the oblivion of booze and drugs … or killed himself.
The man in that photo was me … and I was to the point that I was going to kill myself. I was in the middle of a divorce … living in a tiny trailer in a rundown trailer park on the edge of town … no future … no hope … no drugs … no alcohol … no friends … no point in going on as far as I could see. I didn’t want to drink or drug because it was only a temporary fix. Sure, I’d get relief … oblivion … for awhile. But then I’d come out of it and there would be reality staring me in the face … again … and then I’d have to get high or drunk and check out … again .. only to come out of it … to have the horror of my life staring in the face … again … and getting drunk and high … an endless cycle until … permanent oblivion. So why drag it out?
Suicide seemed my only option … my only way of this this living hell that I had been living in for so long. I had it all planned out. I’d run a hose from the exhaust of my car into the bathroom of my tiny trailer … start the car … get in the bath tub … down a quart of Jack Daniels … pass out … never wake up … lights out … tout fini … no more pain … just eternal oblivion. I had the plan … now all I needed was the courage to follow through and make it happen. I mean, I was right there. I was gonna do it.
And then …
I’ll never forget that day … Friday, March 18, 1994. I remember it as clear as that photo … walking along Archer Road in Gainesville, Florida. It was a clear, cool, blue day. Cars going by. I-75 up ahead … Butler Plaza across the road … a field and an apartment to my left. I was going over my plans of suicide … again … when it happened …
He touched me!
[Sing verse 1 and refrain of “He Touched Me”]
“Shackled by a heavy burden,
neath a load of guilt and shame,
then the hand of Jesus touched me,
and now I am no longer the same.
He touched me,
O He touched me,
and O the joy that floods my soul!
and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole” (p. 367 of the UMC hymnal).
I’ll try to describe what happened to me there by the side of the road, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to capture that moment in words for as long as I live. It was like God spoke to me and touched me … like He spoke to my heart and touched my heart. I felt a powerful sense of His Presence … only I didn’t know what it was at the time. I just felt like I was covered by God … that He was beside me … all around me … in me … I can’t describe it. And then He asked me a question: “Since you’re through with your life … since you want to end your life … why not give it back to me?” And it stopped me right in my tracks!
Yeah! Why not?! Why not give my life back to God? Why not see what He can do with it? He certainly can’t or won’t mess it up as bad as I did, that’s for sure. I remember saying out loud: “Sure, God, you can have it back … it’s a deal!”
I gave my life back to God that afternoon on the side of Archer Road. I felt the clouds part in my soul and light and love pour into me. My heart was so … I can’t describe it … but it felt like God was holding it in His hands and it was going to burst. And I heard Him say: “You’ll never regret it and you’ll never look back” … and I never have!