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Witness to Impact and Power of 

Spiritual Readings in One’s Life

Victorious Living - Spiritual Foundation 

for Healthy Living and Coping

By Jim Messina, Ph.D., CCMHC, NCC, DCMHS-T

Witness given January 17, 2010

Note: This talk was given at St. Mark’s Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in New Tampa, Florida, to the Men’s Christ Renews His Parish Retreat given by the CRHP team 4 in which I had shared with 17 of my brothers in a six month formation process prior to delivery of our retreat. The verses in the talk come from the Holy Bible: Good News Translation, 1978, American Bible Society, New York.

Song: Our God is an Awesome God

Before you read this witness you might want to visit YouTube to see Michael Smith sing this song:

Or watch the scripted version of the song at:

I attended the First Promise Keeper’s Stadium event in Tampa Bay. As I stood with over 50,000 men and my son Steven in the Thunderdome, now known as Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg that August 1995, I heard these words sung for the first time:

Our God

Is an awesome God he reigns

From heaven above

With wisdom, power and love

Our God is an awesome God

These words along with other themes and topics shared that fateful weekend moved me to grasp the message which God was sending me: “Come follow me in a closer walk by embracing my word in Scripture and make it alive in your life.”

I said: “Yes, Lord I will follow you more closely and embrace your Word contained in Scriptures-The Holy Bible and learn more about what it was you wanted all mankind and now me to know about YOU and the mission you wanted us to live here on earth."

I heard Christ’s call to me that day which he had proclaimed in John 5: 39-40:

You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life. And these very Scriptures speak about me! Yet you are not willing to come to me in order to have life.

Yes Lord,  I have always taken your word in a very reverential way and never really listened to the messages intended in what was in the Bible. As a cradle Catholic I would hear the Word proclaimed on Sunday Mass and think that was all there was to the Scriptures. I was trained in Catholic Schools since fifth grade and only tangentially was the Bible or Scriptures touched on as important to my walk on my path.

Oh Lord, When I entered the Seminary and become a Franciscan for seven years,  yes I daily sang the psalms in choir and read the gospel and other readings at mass and at other events but they were only read superficially and I never heard Your heart or direction for my soul. Yes I even studied the Scriptures in the Seminary and learned how to do “exegesis” of the Bible as to who wrote what and why but never took the messages to heart. I went on like this until I was 50 years old and then you shocked my heart You Awesome God with your wisdom, power, and love.

I told my wife and my son that I needed a new way to connect with God which was more scripturally based and that weekend began a 6 year journey which ended up with me joining St. Mark’s Parish in January 2001. 

Since I left the Franciscans in January 1970, I was a good guy who:

  • Went to church on Sundays
  • Got my Doctorate in 1973
  • Got married in the Church to Connie
  • Adopted my daughter Melissa
  • Did my post doc at Gainesville
  • Helped Connie to have our son Steven
  • Worked in Pensacola, then Johns Hopkins, then FMHI in Tampa, then in private practice where I was that fateful July 1995 evening
  • Had a spiritual revival in 1985 when I discovered that I was suffering from Low self-esteem due to my being raised in a grossly dysfunctional family and needing to gain everyone’s approval but my own in the process. Through this miracle with God’s Hand in it, I was able to write over a three-year period a series of books called the Tools for Coping Series for people to use to heal themselves from their own low self-esteem.

But was I walking in the Light? Was I feeling the Spirit of God in everything I did? Was I filled with the Joy of knowing that I was alive and well because my Savior Jesus Christ had come to earth was born and died a horrible death on the cross for me and all my fellow humans? Did I really feel that I was walking with Christ on earth as he wanted me to walk or was I walking along doing what I felt “obligated to do” because that is what good Catholics do? I was a lost puppy and God found me that July night in 1995 and said come follow me and walk along beside me in my Words contained in Scriptures so that you will know the promise, hope and love that is waiting for you as you take this Journey with Me!

As I began my journey into Scripture I heard Paul clearly where in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, he said to his faithful disciple Timothy:

 And you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures; which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

How true these words in my life. Connie and I immediately began attending a new Pentecostal non-denominational church which was “scripture based.” It was the home church of a family whose husband and son we met that fateful day at Promise Keepers. Thirty days later the son was killed in an auto accident and Connie and I stayed in the church to support this couple Jack and Karin. At Christmas time my son attended the church with us and he begged us to get out since it seemed to be a bit loony. We agreed it was a cult and we moved over to Idlewild Baptist in January 1996 where we remained until January 2001. While there I attended the Tampa Campus of the Southeast Theological Seminary and after 40 graduate hours became immersed in the study of the Scriptures. On Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings we were exposed to the Bible and the lessons contained within. We fell in love with Christ again because he was our Lord and Savior! We loved living and working in the Scriptures. We became enamored with daily bible reading, bible study and walking the walk not just talking the talk. 

Then life took a turn for the worse but as Paul says in Philippians 4:13:

 I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.

In 1997 Connie was diagnosed with Stage 4 Uterine Cancer with a 5% chance of survival it did not look good. However, I knew that God had led His Chosen people into exile for 40 years and he never abandoned them. I knew that Christ had had doubts about his own mission on earth and in the garden of Gethsemane the day prior to his death on Calvary he told God in Matthew 26:39:

  He…threw himself face downward on the ground, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible take this cup of suffering from me. Yet not what I, but what you want.”

I knew that if I was walking with the Lord he would help me prevail no matter what the outcome He had in store for Connie and me. That year and half are a blur to me but the faith community of Idlewild was fantastic. We had meals the entire time. I had support constantly. Connie was prayed for over and over. We were led by the Holy Spirit to get a second opinion at Moffitt where we got the worse news but at least they held out hope for her.

Connie did survive and is now 13 years (in 2010 and in 2017 it is 20 years) clean post treatment from that cancer. We believed strongly that only through our renewed faith in God and Jesus through our embracing a solid journey with him through his word did we survive this crisis. 

However, once we stabilized we began to realize that something was lacking in our faith journey. We needed to get back to our Catholic Roots because we were hungering for the Bread of Life we read about in Matthew 26:26-28:

 While they were sitting, Jesus took a piece of Bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. “Take and eat it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God and gave it to them, “Drink it, all of you,” he said, “this is my blood, which seals God’s covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

By 2000 we knew that Peter was the rock upon which the true church of Jesus Christ was built because we believe what we read in Matthew 16:15-19:

 “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” “Good for you, Simon son of John!” answered Jesus. “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven. And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my Church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

We never lost our belief that the Roman Catholic Church was the one true church which Jesus had begun with his 12 apostles and we strongly believed in the Eucharist as the living body and and blood of Jesus offered in every mass within the Catholic Church. Connie’s and my heart longed to be back within the confines of the Catholic Church but we were so busy now in Idlewild that it took all of 2000 to discern the decision. We knew we were coming home but we needed some assurances from the Catholic Church that they were 

(1) ready for us Bible “toters”

(2) That we were welcomed back completely and fully with no restrictions on our pursuit of a Scripturally supported Faith Walk

(3) that we would be able to begin in a parish which would allow us to be active in a ministry from the day we arrived

(4)That we would be able to be in a parish which supported Bible Study and had an active Bible Study program going in the parish.

We found a parish which met all of our needs and it was in our neighborhood to bout! We came onboard to St. Marks in January 2001 and thanks to the Diocesan training office were Eucharist Ministers right off the bat. We also immediately became members of the Little Rock Bible Study at the same time. The pastor and other ministry leaders in the parish welcomed us with no hesitation from day one. 

We feel at home here at St. Marks but we never have regretted our journey to find the ways to making the Scriptures an integral part of our faith walk. Since 2001 we have been faced with crises but by then we had a firm foundation in our belief in the goodness of God and his generosity towards us: We have come through the following crises:

  • The 4 Hurricanes of 2004
  • Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when Connie and I served with the Red Cross in New Orleans Christmas of 2005
  • Connie having Breast Cancer surgery and radiation in 2007
  • At the same time I had a severe neuromuscular condition which shut down my body with major recovery efforts still ongoing
  • Connie and I being healthy and strong enough to go on our Trip to Italy in Oct 2007 with St. Mark’s Parish
  • June 2009 Connie having emergency eye surgery (3 to be exact)
  • July 2009 right after my CRHP weekend Connie had major Biopsy to rule out Breast Cancer on her other breast
  • Surviving the roller coaster of 2008-2009 of the economic downturn and keeping our eye on God and his mission on earth as more important than how much money we had in the bank

Connie and I now lead a weekly Bible Study in our home as part of the small faith sharing community ministry of the parish. We now use Little Rock Bible Study to guide us. We feel that in embracing the bible study process we have grown in our ability to pray, to witness to others and to walk closer with the Lord.

1. Since 1995, my wife and I have grown in our ability to pray to God in a meaningful and knowledgeable way based on the insights afforded us by better understanding not only the content of the bible but also the context in which the bible was written and intended to be understood. In this way our “saltiness increases” on a daily bases as Jesus stated in Matthew 5:13:

 You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt losses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it has to be thrown out and people trample on it.

2. We have through our Bible Study efforts these past 14 years been emboldened to use Scripture to support us in our witnessing to others about life and living it to the fullest. Helping us to become brighter lights which Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:14-16:

 You are the light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it give light for everyone in the house.  In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

3.  Through our determined effort to incorporate a better understanding of the Scripture to strengthen our faith we have learned how to use the Bible to help us discern what path we need to follow if we truly want to walk the walk which Jesus intends us to walk.

We have learned that we must do all things out of love as Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3:

 I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all the knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains – but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned – but if I have no love, this does me no good.

4. We have learned that we must be able to forgive any and all people who in some way have hurt or offended us as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18: 21-22:

 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked: “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven.”

5. Finally, in our study of Scriptures we have learned that our decisions must be made as “slaves of God” and not as “slaves of Sin” as Paul states in Romans 6:20-23:

 When you were slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. What did you gain from doing the things you were ashamed of? The result of those things was death! But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God. Your gain is a life fully dedicated to Him, and the result is eternal life. For sin pays its wages – death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.   

To bring all of this testimony to a “reality focus” I have one last thing to share. On Saturday December 19, 2009 last month, I woke up struggling to breathe and coughing up a storm. I asked my wife to take me to the hospital even though that day we were to have over 100 people to our house for an Open House. We went to the hospital and I remained there for six days being released last Christmas Eve. 

My struggle to breathe was real and that first day all I could think about was “will I ever be able to speak again and will I be able to give my testimony next month at CRHP?” Well all through that horrible day and week the words of St. Paul in Philippians 4:13 came to mind and became my mantra: 

I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me. 

The King James Version of it is: 

I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me

Indeed, through my belief in Christ and handing this physical crisis over to Him I regained my breathing, my lungs became clear and I have become stronger. Even just this Friday night I went through a sleep study over night to find out if I have sleep apnea. If I do they will put me on a C-PAP machine at night instead of the oxygen which I have been on at night since I came home from the hospital. I tell you through all of this, by my handing my fears and worry over to God has pulled me through.  I owe my healing to the honor and glory of God!

As you can see by my testimony that my life has been blessed a thousand fold by my wife’s and mine embracing the study of Scripture to strengthen our faith walk.

 As Paul told his trusted follower Timothy in 1Timothy 4:13:

 …give your time to the public reading of the Scriptures and to preaching and teaching

I strongly exhort you my brothers to embrace our Awesome God through thoughtful, serious, and persistent use of the Holy Scriptures so that you can become better rooted in the faith which God so kindly offered you through Baptism.