|Joey on the left, Brandon in the middle and team Heart of Texas|
Jesus said as recorded in John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This verse came to my mind while reading the testimony of Joey Kelly. Joey is my wife’s stepbrother’s son. He posted his incredible story on Facebook recently to expound on a story alluded to on the NBC show Spartan: The Ultimate Team Challenge. Joey is competing with his adopted brother/cousin, Brandon, in the competition which is aired on Monday nights. Joey’s sister Ally won the American Gladiator competition several years ago, and turned that into a successful business, Camp Gladiator. So this is a very athletic, physically fit family, made for a team competition like the Spartan team challenge.
During their team’s introduction, the show makes a brief statement that Brandon lost his mother and brother in a fire when he was a teenager. Well that wasn’t totally true and it's hardly the whole story. His mother and brother were killed by his father, John Brickley with a butcher knife and his father set the house on fire to cover up the crime, setting himself on fire in the process. Joey, age12, at the time was there at the house, spending the night with his cousin Mikey when the attack occurred.
It is a miraculous story of how Joey avoided death but also overcame years of pain, heartache, and psychological affliction dealing with the nightmarish experience in which he witnessed his cousin stabbed to death and survived an attack. It beautifully illustrates Jesus' statement in John 10:10.
Joey decided to tell the whole story and he has written beautifully on Facebook about what actually happened and how his faith in Christ saved his life. He writes in detail how his cousin Mikey died and how close he was to dying also. Joey said he watched as the father stabbed Mikey and he couldn’t move. He wanted to save Mikey but perhaps something held him back because he would have probably been killed also if he had tried to rescue Mikey.
Joey wrote, I couldn’t and didn’t move even as John, the father, got up and slowly walked over to me. He slammed me against the wall and I vividly remember thinking “I’m about to die...this is how I’m gonna die.”
I closed my eyes and had my arms up in front of my chest like I was trying to curl up into a ball. This was ridiculously divine as John attempted to stab me in the chest, but accidentally stabbed me through my arm and the knife just barely scratched my chest right over my heart.
Not only was I thinking about how I was about to die, I remember a feeling of complete acceptance of that notion and I gave up even attempting to survive. A grown man had me pinned against the wall and had a knife in me. I just wanted to die quickly. He took the knife out and tried to stab me again. God intervened on my behalf. This is really hard for me to explain, but it’s true. I blinked...and I was gone. I was about 10 feet away from John. I remember opening my eyes and thinking “how did I get over here?”
I know it sounds crazy, but God pushed me out of the way or something...whatever it was, I know with everything in me that it was a miracle. There is absolutely no way I should be alive today.
He chased me downstairs and we went around the bottom floor for a while. It’s hard to judge time in that situation. I don’t know if that went on for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, but I do remember thinking I might bleed to death. I did a lot of begging for my life and he never said anything. He was determined to kill me.
However, I heard him go back upstairs and felt it was my chance to make a break for it. I escaped to the neighbors, told them what happened, and they called the police.
A few minutes later, the house went up in flames. John accidentally lit himself on fire too and was rolling around in the front yard.
In no time police and fire trucks were there, followed by my parents. That is the true, full story. Phyllis and Mikey were stabbed to death, and then burned. I’m also a victim of domestic violence and by God’s grace had my life saved.
Joey goes on to tell how he grew up in a Christian home and gave his life to Christ at the age of 7 but the tragedy pushed him away from God, not understanding why God would allow this to happen.
He writes in his story, In high school, I was also holding on to that bitterness towards God. Considering what I had been through, I felt that I had the right to act out...to go “crazy”...so I did just that. My senior year especially, I chased anything and everything but God. Partying, girls, popularity, etc. I was living life for me and lost sight of my identity in Christ.
Those were the problems on the surface. Along the way I battled a slew of issues...depression, post-traumatic stress, survivor’s guilt, guilt that I didn’t try to save Mikey, and unforgiveness towards my uncle. I chased all of those shallow things to distract me from dealing with all of those issues and to fill the void of not living for God.
At that point, the thief was winning the battle. Satan had stolen whatever abundant life Joey had, but the story didn’t end there. Satan would not be victorious over Joey or Brandon. Joey's turning point was early on in his freshman year in college.
I was attending Grace Bible Church and I can’t even remember the message, but it hit me like a ton of bricks that God had saved my life for a reason and that for the most part, I had been wasting my second chance by living for myself. God wanted me to live for him.
Joey sought Christian counseling, getting the help he needed to deal with all of the trauma, pain and guilt and turn his life around. He started putting his life and faith in Christ, trusting Him, walking with Him on a daily basis, and began to heal. He is now experiencing the true abundant life, fully alive, living for God and sharing his story so that others might choose the abundant life over the redundant life. He explains it this way in his post.
Chasing things outside of what God had for me was pretty much always fun in the moment, but always left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. In a weird way, I’m glad I experienced a lot of earthly pleasures, because now I know for sure that nothing compares to living for the Lord. Ever since turning my life around, I’ve never experienced so much joy and satisfaction. Life is meant to be about loving and serving God and people. I have never looked back.
The apostle Paul wrote similar words in Philippians 3:8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
Paul too contrasted life before Christ with that after his encounter with Christ, and like Joey, expresses that there is no comparison. His other life, of self-righteousness, power and prestige was “dung” when compared to what he is now experiencing. And Paul is writing from a prison cell!
Many Christians today either take for granted the “riches in Christ” they have or just never access them. As Paul says, they are unfathomable, deeper and far greater than we can imagine. Many of those riches can be quantified, and they include purpose, direction, identity, freedom, hope, wise counsel, love, forgiveness, security, comfort, spiritual gifts and the ability to love and forgive. Joey received every one of these as he began to wade into that relationship with Jesus. And the deeper he waded in, the more of the blessings he received.
Joey's cousin and adopted brother Brandon’s story is just as compelling. Brandon was asleep at his dad’s apartment when all this occurred. He was awakened early in the morning by the police and his uncle Neal to be told that his mother and brother had been killed and his father seriously burned in a fire. Brandon seemed to make the transition to his new family (he was adopted after the tragedy by Joey's family), without the rebellion and depression. His faith and walk with Jesus was strong and helped him overcome the grief and pain. Brandon served several years on the mission field and has shared his heart-rending story of overcoming tragedy and evil to many around the world to bring them to Christ.
All of the blessings of an abundant life and more are available to all Christians. But the interesting thing is we cannot realize the abundant life by pursuing the blessings. The only way we can realize this amazing life is if we pursue the Blessed One, Jesus.
Actually, the relationship with Jesus is the greatest blessing. As Max Lucado so eloquently wrote, the cache of faith is Christ! Fellowship with him…walking with him…pondering him. The heart-stopping realization that in Christ you are part of something endless, unstoppable, unfathomable! And that he, who can dig the Grand Canyon with his pinkie, thinks you’re worth his death on Roman cross! Jesus Christ is the reward of Christianity!
It’s your choice, though. Abundant life or a redundant life.
Joey and Brandon’s team, Heart of Texas, won their first challenge and will compete again Monday, July 10 at 9:00 pm on NBC.