As we follow God’s path, sometimes it’s helpful to pause and reflect on the journey so far – to consider the milestones. It’s hard to believe that the Hazelwood ministry is now a full twenty years old. The world was a very different place when the New Year of 1998 was ushered in. The World Trade Centre’s twin towers still dominated the Manhattan skyline and "social media" was not even a concept. A few months earlier, on July 13th, 1997, I had come face to face with my Lord and Creator and I was still wondering what it all meant when a "Help Wanted" appeared in the Sunday Bulletin – some things haven’t changed – saying, "Anyone interested in helping with the production of Good Gracious, contact..."
Something resonated in me and I realised this was an opportunity to give back for the gift I had received. I responded saying, I’d love to help and right there, I became the "layout and production manager." It was January 1998 and with the initial layout almost complete, I realised I was one column short of a full newsletter and decided to pen a "filler" article. Every article needs a title and "Hazelwood" is what came to mind. Little did I realise how the story would unfold.
The gist of that first article was simply to use your talents and gifts as God had intended. Simple as it was, several people commented on it and each one asked about the title. I knew I could not tell them the whole story without completely losing my composure so I deflected their question by saying I’d explain it all in my next article – and with that glib comment I was committed to a path to write what has now become a regular part of the Good Gracious publication.
My next article outlined what happened at Hazelwood Lake and I must say there were more tears on the keyboard than words on the screen. Even today when I share parts of that story I am overcome by the enormity of what Jesus has done for me – an undeserving sinner. I am sure some of you have noticed.
I decided my articles should be based on my journey through the wilderness, seeking to come to a closer and more personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Over the past twenty years we have shared a lot of stories – just over 200 in fact – and it still amazes me that God faithfully puts something in my path that needs to be shared; although I would have preferred that some had been different.
On September 11, 2001, the world changed; the World Trade Centre’s towers no longer dominated the Manhattan skyline and I lost a good friend when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon where he was working. Many of my writings since have been influenced by the events of that day and my subsequent involvement in elements of what became known as the "Global War on Terror."
Almost every time I sat to write an article, I would experience a strange sense of calm and peace, and then the words would simply flow. Bible study, once a foreign activity, was becoming a regular part of my day as was reading Biblical commentary – it was during this time that it first met Mathew Henry. It was, and still is, a joy to use this medium to share how God has affected my life. But God had something more in mind.
In the summer of 2005, Teresa and I found ourselves moving to the United States for a three year attachment to the US Army. We found a wonderful neighbourhood, a mere 20 minutes from my office, and made it our home. Just down the road was a small rural church – Cranford United Methodist – and it was love at first sight. A few days after our first service, the Pastor came to visit and welcome us to the area. Pastor Hill was a massive man who had served with the US Navy and played football during his college time; we hit it off right away. It wasn’t long before he asked me to do the occasional Bible reading during the service – this was a first for me. I should also mention that the United Methodist Church has an amazing program for the education and development of the laity and I was drawn to take advantage of this opportunity. On July 13, 2007, after a few courses and plenty of mentoring from Pastor Hill, I preached my first sermon – it was my 10th birthday.
In the ten years since we returned to our Grace Church home, Pastor Dan has also graciously provided me with wise mentorship and the opportunity to preach. It has been an honour and a privilege to share God’s word and how He continues to work in, and through each of us. I look forward to the next milestone whatever it may be.
The January 1998 article concluded with a note of encouragement about sharing your gifts and talents and I’d like to conclude with the same words, "Each of you has a talent that you can share. Don’t bury it. If you think you have heard God’s call, listen carefully and answer. Step out and get uncomfortable, it’s kinda fun."
We never know what lies beyond the next rise, but with faith we can climb the hill and perhaps see a bit more clearly. As the journey continues, it’s sometimes interesting to look back – but only to see how far we’ve come. The most exciting part of the journey lies before us.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3: 12-14 (NIV)