Matt Stoltzfus – Lead Student Pastor
I’m on a journey, and for me it has been a crazy journey to this point. A journey of many highs and many lows and without it all I would not be here at Central today. I grew up in a very conservative home (I was Amish till I was four years old). At twelve years old I told my parents that I wanted nothing to do with God. I always thought I had to be perfect to gain God’s approval. I thought that I had to pray a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way and if I didn’t God would turn his back on me.
Just as I was about to turn sixteen my uncle invited me to his church. This experience changed my life. For the first time I experienced a God who loved me unconditionally, a God that expected perfection but provided it through Jesus. I realized that it wasn’t religion God was looking for but a relationship. My mind was blown! My life would never be the same because someone invited me to experience God in a different way.
A few years later I meet a beautiful woman, Karen, and I fell in love, we fell in love. We met and married in eleven months’ time. Three years later, after a series of really bad financial choices and an almost two year old boy our marriage was falling apart. We were barely hanging on. I remember the day I was talking to my brother and I told him that I was giving up. I remember the words that he said to me like it was yesterday. He said, “Don’t you dare give up, you are almost there.” These words would again change the direction of my journey. These words from my brother would give Karen and me the courage to do what we needed to do to save our marriage.
It was at this time that we both decided to start serving at our church. My journey in student ministry was just beginning. Little did I know what God had in store for us. Karen and I were finally feeling good about our financial situation. I had a great job and Karen loved her job as well. But I began to feel like maybe just maybe God was calling me into fulltime ministry. But would God really ask us to leave our comfort zone after what we had been through?
I believe that there are four influences that impact our journey. None of these are original to me. Until this week I have been a part of a church in the Northeast called LCBC. Over the past nine years, six as a volunteer and three on staff, I have had the opportunity to work alongside an incredible team of very smart people. They are the folks that came up with these four influences.
1. Circumstances: such as the family you were born in, the amount of siblings you have, a death in the family, a sickness, a promotion, layoff. All of these circumstances impact your journey.
2. Choices: I think we all know how choices impact our journey. Who we choose to be friends with, who we choose to marry, and what we choose to do with our money and our time. Every choice impacts your journey.
3. People: people will also influence your journey. Maybe it’s a mentor that you have looked up to and respected for many years. Maybe it’s something that someone said to you that changed the direction of your journey. Maybe you surrounded yourself with people that influenced you in a negative way now you are paying for it.
4. God: the ultimate influence is God. What you do with what God has done for you through his Son; Jesus will determine the direction of not only your journey but will determine your eternity as well. But God didn’t send Jesus just to save us from hell. He sent Jesus to give us life and give it more abundantly.
So again I ask, would God really ask us to leave our comfort zone after what we had been through? Yes, he would and he did. Again, my journey was forever altered. I didn’t feel ready, I didn’t feel equipped and I wasn’t sure I would be good at it. But we decided to dive in and that was one of the greatest decisions of my life. A decision that brought me to this point and a decision that has brought us to Central. Karen and I now have 3 amazing kiddos; Connor (9), Payton (6) and Isaiah (4) and are so excited to be joining the Central staff!
So I look back on my journey to Central and I look at how circumstances impacted my journey. I look at how good choices and poor choices impacted my journey. I look at the people that believed in me even when I didn’t and I look at how God changed my life and I am humbled by it all. Humbled that God would use me in spite of my failures and humbled that God could use my journey to impact another’s.
We are all on a journey and God will use it if you will let Him!