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    Shaped by Grace

    How I learned there was nothing I could do to stop God from loving me. March 15, 2016 by Major Raymond Braddock
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    I was raised in a Salvation Army family, but it wasn't until the age of 15 that I had a personal encounter with God. My spiritual journey has had many twists and turns and, regretfully, many detours down some dangerous trails and tempting spur lines.

    As I look back on my life and ministry, God's providence has been the dominant theme of my journey—from that Thanksgiving-Sunday salvation meeting at the Lisgar Street Corps in Toronto when I first responded to God's voice, until today as a chaplain at Toronto Harbour Light Ministries.

    I attended that meeting because my scoutmaster said he would take away my patrol leader stripes if I didn't come back to church. I would have done anything to hold on to a position where I could tell people what to do.

    The faithful saints of that corps sustained me through many immature moments in my life. Without their positive influence, my spiritual life would have hit a dead end many years ago. I can still remember their testimonies, both spoken and lived.

    It was in the home of one of those families that I first witnessed a family altar, as we all kneeled at our chairs around the supper table—a vivid image that has stayed with me over the years.

    I have a godly heritage from this extended family that continues to provide a strong foundation for who I am as a Christian. After all these years, I am still able to draw strength from these experiences.

    I am the proud father of six children, five of whom we adopted. The story of how each son and daughter became part of our family demonstrates God's providence. His hand was evident in arranging events and circumstances to show us his will for us and them. That he entrusted us with these precious ones assures me of how much God loves and trusts us to “feed his lambs.”

    Those who know me best are well aware that this was only possible because of my wife, Caroline. She exhibits God's unconditional love in many practical and spiritual ways. God led her to me at a crucial time in my life.

    For several years, I was separated from my eldest daughter due to wrong choices I made. But even in this situation, the grace, mercy and love of God has blessed us as a family. He is the God of second chances.

    My family and church family have been the driving force behind my 35 years of active ministry as a Salvation Army officer.

    It has been my privilege to serve and work with so many dedicated and committed Christians in each of our appointments. I am grateful for the many ministry opportunities I have had, but I do cherish the corps and community appointments most of all. My leaders are tired of hearing me say that God called and equipped me to be a corps officer.

    As I reflect on my years of ministry, I think of the saints/characters that have influenced my spiritual journey. I revel in the laughs and tears we have shared. I am not sure of my influence on their journey, but I praise God for their influence on mine. Their stories, lives and journeys were integral in the formation of my story, life and journey. God is a relational God and he uses us to influence others through relationships, producing a contagious Christianity. As pastor and author John Maxwell says, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

    As a young Christian, I imagined God with a long white beard sitting on his throne in heaven, with a pencil and eraser. He would write my name in his book, and then erase it when I did something wrong. Believe me, there was a lot of erasing going on in the heavenly realms.

    But—I love the “buts” in the Bible—then I learned my name is engraved on the palm of his hand. I learned that nothing—absolutely nothing—could separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. I learned about God's amazing grace and his unconditional love. I learned there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop God from loving me.

    My present spiritual journey is best illustrated by Bramwell Cole's great hymn:

    How can I better serve thee, Lord,
    Thou who hast done so much for me?
    Faltering and weak my labour has been;
    O that my life may tell for thee!

    Here at the cross in this sacred hour,
    Here at the source of reviving power,
    Helpless indeed, I come with my need;
    Lord, for thy service, fit me I plead.

    Dull are my ears to hear thy voice,
    Slow are my hands to work for thee,
    Loath are my feet to conquer the steeps
    That lead me to my Calvary.

    Strength for my weakness, Lord, impart;
    Sight for my blindness give to me;
    Faith for my doubtings, Lord, I would crave,
    That I may serve thee worthily.

    Major Raymond Braddock is a chaplain at Toronto Harbour Light Ministries.

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