(Note: I shared this at the Christmas Eve Service on December 24, 2018. It includes some of the thoughts that I had written in a previous Blog Post “Steve” )
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23
I didn't know Steve very well. I remember him as the guy who use to bring my brother home on weekends from Bible College. He lived in a small city about 45 clicks north of us. He stopped in a couple times. He was a nice guy. He loved Star Trek which put him in my good books immediately. He was finishing Bible College just as I was beginning.
I never had a conversation with Steve about his dreams and aspirations. He was at Bible College. I assumed he was there because he had a desire to live for God and to proclaim the gospel to some part of the world. I don't know if he was contemplating pastoral ministry. I think (I don't remember) he graduated with a Bachelors of Religious Education.
That is where our road divides. It was in the days before social media. So if you wanted to remain connected it had to be intentionally. He was a nominal connection so I let that relationship slip away.
With the onset of social media. I received a Facebook friend request from Steve. I had to go deep in to the vault of my memories to recall him. It had been almost 30 years since my last interaction with him. I even wondered if maybe the request had been intended for my brother. But I'm not choosy or selective and I knew who it was so I accepted. People have differing philosophies about friends on social media. If I know you or if we have a friend in common, I generally think that you are a friend of mine.
He was new to Facebook and his posts were gut-wrenchingly honest.
Steve posted on January 29, 2013
‘Good I was a little lonesome at verse and over the past 7 years I have had terminal cirrhosis of the liver and spleen and in need of a transplant which has been put off since i could not maintain sobriety for eve six months too get on the transplant list but since i have been clean and sober for 3 months I feel pretty good despite i have been thru and all i have been thru. I was suppose too die in 3 too 6 mos but “I AM STILL HERE” AND HAVE RENEWED MY COMMITMENT TOO GOD AND JESUS CHRIST AND HIS HOLY SPIRIT. Spiritually WOWed.”
Later the same day he posted this: “Good I am at Southridge Community Church's shelter in St. Catharines. Ont as I was discharged from Wayside House over two weeks for being late by minutes and seconds too one check-in, one exercise period and one in house committee meeting bu i now like it better at the shelter and have seen God use me again in a different setting too help lead others too Jesus. Really Cool.”
Two things struck me as I read these posts. First, is that Steve's life had tanked since he had left college. His marriage had failed. He was a recovering alcoholic, he had been kicked out of a men's shelter and was living in another. He was very sick.
The second was that he had come back to faith. God was doing something in his life .
Fast-forward to 2018. I noticed in my notifications that it was Steve's birthday. I knew I hadn't seen Steve on Facebook. I was about to type in a generic birthday message, when I felt led to click on his wall. I noticed another friend from Bible College had posted, “Happy Birthday Buddy!” But beyond that pretty much silence. A scattering of birthday messages spread over five years. I began to think that maybe something was wrong. I went on google and typed his name and included the word “Obituary” in the search. My heart sank as the search very quickly revealed that Steve had passed away in October of 2013 at the age of 53. He is survived by four children and two grandchildren.
I paused for a moment and reflected. He was a young man, just like me, heading off to Bible College, head in the clouds, full of passion and visions of changing the world. Yet, his journey seemed to be crooked, twisted, and full of turmoil. Promise that turned into addictions. Potential dashed in the storms of life.
In many regards My wife's brother Jeff is a similar story: When I married Jennifer in the summer of 1987. Jenn's brother Jeff was already the wayward son of the family. A negative experience with church leadership had left a bad taste in his mouth, this coupled with a bad breakup and the call to independence, he left his childhood faith. He lived fast and he lived hard. After his marriage fell apart, he landed in the city of Kingston. His greatest gift had always been his people skills and he very quickly was hobnobbing with some of the famous people who lived or cottaged in the area. He became friends with the band the tragically Hip. He hung out with local professional athletes like Kirk Muller. He would become buddies with John Candy (before his death) and Dan Akroyd. Dan would actually invite Jeff to his home in Hollywood for a visit. Jeff was always connected, he always knew somebody. Even when he would come home for Christmas he would often only be around for a while because he was always connecting with someone.
Jeff's life direction took a turn for the worse, when he got into an accident on highway 400 south of Barrie, His car was totalled, and he had survived. But he hurt his knee and he hit his head. Sadly, Jeff was never the same again. He was unable to work. He was not the same guy physically and mentally. In the midst of his recovery, in order to deal with the pain, he was prescribed Oxycontin. This wonder drug soon became his demise. He ended up in jail for forging prescriptions. He compounded his problems by intentionally crashing his bicycle into a moving car, in order to get this drug. In this new condition, all his rich friends abandoned him. His health and life deteriorated.
We had always prayed that Jeff would return to faith. In August of 2014 we received a call. It was Jeff – he told Jenn three things
- He loved her
- He was proud of her
- He had given his life back to Christ.
Almost a month to the day of that call we received another call. Jeff had had an asthma attack and was on life support in Kingston Hospital. He was taken off life-support later that week. He passed away at the Age of 53.
I am thankful that in Jeff and Steve's last year of life, they discovered again the grace of God. God seemed to keep them both alive so that he could once again know His power and healing. God had “Wowed” him and to quote Psalm 40 “lifted him out of the pit”. I don't know why God didn't continue to restore both Jeff and Steve, so that others could know of God's great work in his life. Maybe in God's mercy, He took them home to remove them from the difficulties of their lives
As I have reflected on both Jeff and Steve. I have become absolutely convinced of one thing. God was with them all the time. Even in their darkest moments God was with them. God was waiting until they both were willing to acknowledge him. They both discovered the promise of James 4:8 “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”
They discovered Psalm 139:7-12.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
God promises us that he never leaves us, he never forsakes us. Three thoughts I want to, quickly leave you with. Never stop praying for those that have wandered away – that If you have wandered away from faith, you need to know that God has been there all the time. And he is waiting patiently for you to return. No matter what you are going through the promise of Christmas is that God is with you. Always! Always!
You are never, ever alone.