I grew up the middle of three boys in a little town no one has ever heard called Peachtree City Georgia. My childhood, in many ways, was very similar to yours. I grew up loving baseball, and playing with friends, we loved to fish, almost everyday we would be down at the creek or over at huddleston pond hoping to land the big one. We rode bikes, and we were always on the go. From the outside looking in it seemed like a great life, and at the time, in the moments as they passed, it wasnt all that bad. I mean, we were just kids, im sure its normal to go to 5 different schools in 6 years. Right? I love my family. We all stuck together to the best of our abilities. We always had christmas, and birthdays, and thanksgivings together, All families struggle, we were no exception. But what I didnt know as a child, in my innocence, was that drug addiction was absolutely rampant throughout my family. Whether it was alcoholism, or hard street drugs, this was the reason for my parents, my aunts and uncles’ constant struggles in life. And us kids suffered dearly as a result. I love my parents, and extended family very much, i know they did the best they all could. Theyre not bad, they were sick at the time.so I always struggled to feel a real bond with them, with the exception of my brothers and cousins, as we were all the same ages, or close to. I knew that I “had Love” I knew that I “was loved” but because of all of the insecurities that we all faced, whether it was: food insecurities, or heat, water, school, or validation securities- I always felt different, Like i didnt belong. Like i didnt have any real purpose in life, Like i was an accident. And then we moved up to valpo, splitting us three brothers up, on another one of our “fresh starts” but nothing changed, i sure didnt. Same old same ol, more struggle, more insecurities with myself and home….And then I followed suit, I found something that would make it all better. I finally found what I thought i had been searching for my whole life. Something to take the pain away. Drugs. Chemicals. Alcohol. Anything that would change my mind or mood and help me forget about everything. And that time in my life which started at the ripe old age of 15 didnt end until i was 29, and led me to the darkest days I could ever imagine.
September 16th, 2011. I sat in a hospital room not far from here, in Hobart, at Saint Mary’s. I sat in a recliner in the corner of our hospital room and stared down into the eyes of my newborn son, Lucas David. My Dad was there and my son’s mother laid on the hospital bed recovering from giving birth to our boy. They had him wrapped up in the tiniest little clothes and hat, He looked like one of those little “glow worm toys” from the 90’s where, you would squeeze its belly and its face would light up. He was so tiny. I remember just holding him and gazing down into his bright yet dark blue eyes, the same exact eyes that were staring down at him. He was beautiful. He was so innocent. He was my only born child, and still is to this day. I remember feeling like time had actually stopped for us, to hold this moment forever. And believe me I will. You see, this was supposed to be a very happy and joyous day. Filled with pictures and family, and little baby clothes. It was supposed to be a day of great celebration. But it was anything but. Time had indeed stopped for us to hold on to this day, And as I stared down into the eyes of my son, and he shreiked and cried, and vibrated in agony, I was faced with the emptiest, darkest, most brokenness I had ever felt in my entire life, because My son was born without a name, we named him later, he was born homeless, and he was born into this world in horrible pain because he was born addicted to Heroin.
My name is Herb Stepherson, and this is (the third talk of banquet)
The banquet’s opening Talk Challenged you all to discover or rediscover your priorities. The second talk- Presented to you the possiblility of a Grace-based relationship with God. This third talk, I hope, Will challenge you to go farther still, To deepen your relationship with God, By participating in the fellowship and ministry of the Church.
This talk is anchored in 3 basic truths:
1)The world is not living in the fullness of Gods Grace
2)Jesus alone is the answer to the worlds Problems
3)The Church is the Primary means by which God brings Jesus to the world, Introducing People to Christ is the church’s Most important ministry.
As I was writing this talk, I was flooded with so many thoughts, inspirations, and examples of how this talk has applied to my life. It is unreal how these three basic truths I just listed – I relate so much to. Another Thought that I was having as I was writing this was” Why does God allow suffering”?I truly hope that I am able to to adequately express these things in the moments to come.
What is a church? Is it a shiny steeple with mezmorizing bells that charm every hour on the hour? Is it a well renovated building with an awesome band and a coffee shop out front? Is it the dusty old baptist building in stars mill Georgia, Like the one i went to with the smelly old hymnals? Is it even a building? I will leave you to ponder on that as we go from here, but what I believe today, is that youre the church, were the church. As outlined in this talk, “The church exists whenever and wherever christians meet in Christ’s name.” This is church.
As I pointed out in Truth number 1, the world is not living in the fullness of Gods Grace. I wasnt living any where close to that. I always “Knew” “who” “Jesus was”- ya know, I prayed that “simple prayer” and I was “saved” in second grade. But i, along with so many others, Thought that that was it. That Being saved was all about this like magical parachute that I had in my book bag and I would just pull this magic jesus out and pray when I was in trouble and no matter what I would be forgiven. We call those types of prayers in recovery “Fox hole Prayers”- The ones that I only said when I was sitting in a jail cell, or a cop car, or when I was going through the horrible pain of heroin withdrawl in the garage of an abandoned building. You get the idea. But my point is, So many of us, we just take Gods amazing grace for granted. We think that its all about “knowledge of God” When its really about experiencing the beauty of his grace, mercy, love, and a relationship with him. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, and Our hearts are changed. There is nothing like it. It STILL DOES NOT SEEM REAL. I shouldn,t be standing up here today men. I was one of those Lost Cause drug addicts.
Now I want to point out truth #3: The church being the primary means by which God brings jesus to the world- Introducing people to God is our most important ministry.
I dont even know where to begin on this one. There are some men in this Banquet community who STILL MAY not have any idea the impact that they had on me when I attended IDGB#87 Table of luke. Or even before that. You see, I used to resent “church people” I used to think things like “Those perfect people with their perfect lives, and their perfect God” “Must be so nice”… I was very spiteful and hurt – as a result of my upbringing, my obsession with drugs, which i used to deal with my childhood traumas, and the horrible choices that I made. I was angry with God, That He allowed me to become a Drug addict, That he allowed me to suffer for all of those years. And I would judge so harshly all the while just wanting to experience some Grace and relief of my own. I thought that these Happy Church folks were so chipper and positive because nothing terrible ever happened to them, they never felt what I felt. And I couldnt have been more wrong. For when I found Myself Contemplating suicide in porter county Jail, ready in my heart to take my own life, facing almost 4 decades in prison, it was those very “church folks” who stood in the gap for me. I was in my darkest hour of my life, ready to just end it, i was in my own eyes: a worhtless, unlovable, forgotten, Junkie. And the world would be better off with out me.
Thank God that saved people save people.Thank God that he sent his son Jesus who is alone the answer to the world’s Problems( TRUTH #2) God uses broken people like you and me, to save- to Bridge the gap between broken people like you and me. We are called to be the hands and feet and just when I needed him to show up. He was there. HE sent People- to stand in the Gap between God and the world. He sent others who have been saved, to show me some light, and to show me some love. HE sent humans to reach their hands down, and touch my heart, and call me back home.
And in my Darkest hour, in his own time, and with his own Methods, and people; GOD called the Church. He called on his own people to reach out, To be the hands and feet. To show me that “flimsy Reed” and save me from myself. He sent an attorney, a sheriff, a judge, and a prosecutor. Imagine that. He used Humans, he used, the church. To show me some true to life grace. He worked a mircale in my life, through the lives of other human beings, who had experienced in their own ways- Grace, Mercy, and someone standing in the Gap for them-SEE how we all make ripples:Someone stood in the gap for me, and someone for them, and so on and so forth, but it all leads back to Jesus, who stood in the gap between God and the world for all of us, and just like now, it is my humble honor to share myself with you, it will soon be your challenge to do the same for so many. It is the church’s most important ministry, introducing people to christ.
And I went from facing decades in prison, to court ordered to a half way house. Here in valparaiso. Those “church people” That I had once judged so harshly, were now the very ones sticking their necks out for me. And that was just the first “nudge” in my life. I was beginning to see that I was loved. That I mattered to someone, and That i had some good in me, despite what my negative self image was at the time. Someone cared. The church cared. I was blown away. The next and most notable time that the Church stood in the Gap for me was when I attended my Banquet. I was still a little apprehensive, still a little cautious about opening up, and sharing myself with strangers. Especially a town marshall, or one of my previous lawyers. Forget that. Aint happening. (* I was so tough LOL) but what i noticed as I sat through my banquet, is that we all have hurts. We all have done things were not proud of. We all have wounds, we all have pain, and we have all cried. I may not have done what youve done or been where youve been, but at one point or another, I have felt what you have felt. I was now relating to “those church people” “those cops and lawyers”, who at one point i hated. And as our weekend here progressed, I started to see that were all the same. Were all sinners saved by Grace, We all just want to be loved, forgiven, Cherished, celebrated. We all just want to find our place. And the answer all came flooding too me all at once. It was like someone was throwing their hands around me loving me and crying with me and telling me that its okay, youre home now. It was jesus, he was loving me through you. Through Dan, through Mitch, through Kyle,throught the team and the music, and the service and the testimonies. Through all of you. I was home-God used you to bridge the Gap, to bring me home. It was like for the first time in my whole life, everything made since. Every mistake, every tear every night in jail. It all came together in one big mosaic of Grace. A mosaic of Jesus himself. And I knew then why God allowed suffering. So that We can realize our dependence upon him, and so that through his grace we can overcome and reach back and help the next one who is stuck. The next one in line. So that then, We having experienced Gods Grace and love, will be so blown away that we cherish the time when its our turn to give it away. And make christ known to others. And THATS what it means to stand in the Gap for someone.
Ever since I attended my banquet things have not been the same for me. Today, I am a published author, An interventionist- I get to stand in the gap for others on a daily basis-helping other struggling addicts overcome their addiction, A father to four amazing children, and i’m getting married on October 25th.I speak at schools, I work with lawyers, councils, and various agencies to do my part to battle this terrible drug epidemic that faces our great region. And most importantly, I have a Deep, meaningful relationship with My personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As does my fiance. And this is not “good on me”, This is good on you, Church, and Praise honor and Glory to God. I was once a broken lost worhtless dope fiend, and because saved people save people through christ, I got a second chance on life and an opportunity at eternity. I made my decision to not ever waste that amazing grace once i experienced it. And its because my predecessors didnt waste theirs. They were called to be the hands and feet, and the made a difference in my life, and now so many others, it is TRULY UNCANNY. WHAT GOD CAN DO. but you gotta let him.
So, Herb, What Can one person Do? What can i do?
And where do I begin?
Well Ill answer the second question first: because its simple. You start in your own environment. Your home, your job, your family, and friends. Thats where you begin, and just watch the ripple from there. (Im actually getting goosebumps right now.)-writing this**
As far as what can one person do? PLENTY. You can do ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHICH STRENGHTENS YOU. KNOW THAT!
1: be active. We are both called and equipped by the Holy Spirit to bring others to Christ (John:15-17)
2: Accept the role of a servant.
Just as Jesus washed the feet of his diciples, and the servant was the one issued the invitation to the banquet, so we are called by jesus to invite others into a relationship with him
3: Be committed to loving and helping others.
4: Identify and put into practice your spiritual gifts. – NO ONE ELSE ON THIS EARTH HAS PRECISELY THE SAME MISSION AS GOD HAS ASSIGNED YOU.
I want you all to really think about your lives. Think about the Legacy that you can leave behind for others. You really can bridge the gap, you really can make a difference for so many. YOU MAY BE THE ONLY BIBLE THAT PEOPLE EVER READ. Reflect the grace that youve been shown, reflect the love that you have experienced, Reflect the Fellowship that you see here. Take on the heart of a servant. It is in serving that we lead, and it is in loving that we experience Love.
I challenge you All today Men, to truly reflect on your lives. To think about jesus, and how many times you have been spared. How many times others have stood in the gap for you. Think about how others have so freely reflected Christs love for you. And think about how much and how often you experience Gods grace. And once you have truly tasted, and experienced the fullness of Gods Love, to go out and give away what was so freely given to you.
You may be the flimsy reed someone is looking for. You may be the one who was called to change the life for so many others who are desperate and dying and alone. You may be the only bible that people ever read.