Rev. Thomas William Neal
I was born a sinner on August 10, 1958 in Bremerton, Washington to the loving parents of Kenneth and Barbara Neal of Salem, Oregon. My walk with the Lord was one that I did not realize was even there. I grew up in the Lutheran church and attended Sunday school from an early age through my teen years. I went through Catechism and was confirmed into the Lutheran religion. I served as an acolyte or candle lighter and was active in the church youth program.
In 1976 and upon graduation from high school I joined the Marine Corps. I left all I knew about church behind me in Oregon. During a period between 1983 and 1984 of my Marine Corps career, and as a nine year veteran of the Corps, my NCOIC, who was a Christian was always preaching to me. I did not want anything to do with what he had. 1 Corinthians 1:14 – “But the natural man does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him.” During this time I was also being witnessed to by one of my young Marines, Marty, who was a Christian and studying to become a minister. This one had a gentle charm that soon got my attention. My NCOIC was passionate about Christ, but his approach was very harsh to me. Marty really got me thinking about my life without Christ in it. My wife and children and I would occasionally go to a local Catholic church and sometimes visit a Lutheran church, but I always felt I was missing something. That particular experience did not win me over to Christ. It was actually my brother Marines that led me to Him. For the longest time I always felt I could “get” God on my terms. I was so wrong.
On December 30, 1984 I gave my life over to Jesus and asked Him to fill the void in my heart for something better and bigger than myself. I prayed to Him that I had a deep void in my life and knew He was the only one who could fill it. Romans 10:13 – “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The next working day I went to Marty and told him I received the Lord Jesus in my heart. I started attending the church where he was a member and followed the Lord in baptism by immersion. I was regularly going to Sunday school and services for about 4 or 5 months. But, I was going alone. It was in fear my wife wouldn’t understand because of her strict Catholic background. I chose to leave her alone and not discuss religion with her or attempt to share my faith. I know now this was a terrible mistake and demonstrated a true lack of faith in the Lord. I was too weak or too young as a Christian to examine my faith as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:5 – “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless you fail the test.” My faith became extremely fragile and challenged. Deanna wouldn’t speak of any of what I had been through, nor would I say anything. I was ashamed of the gospel and didn’t know it. I feared the worst and did not heed Paul’s words in Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because of it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” My fear was self induced and not of God. I failed to trust God. 2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us the spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment.” The horrible silence became a wedge between us and our marriage was in jeopardy. It came to head and I would rather leave the church than see my marriage end in divorce. I also failed to love my wife as I am commanded in Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and Himself for her.” And in 1 Peter 3:7 – “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” I did not follow these passages, mainly because I was unaware of them, but they speak so loudly to me now, and if I had to do it all over again, perhaps I would have been more in tune to the scriptures. But instead, I made a choice, albeit a bad choice, to go and live a life on my own; my own way. Since 1985 I walked on my own. I don’t think I ever fully rejected Jesus; He would find a way in my thoughts every now and then. He just wasn’t first in my life. He was way down on my list. Regardless, I returned to my sinful ways; a prodigal of sorts. I considered myself a “John Walton” type of Christian. I did not go to church and tried to keep my Christianity in the closet. I rarely prayed or called on the Lord at all. I was trying to hide my faith from my own life, and my wife, but I realized that sometime later that I can’t hide anything from God. What I really lacked was a fear for God. I knew He existed, and I believed in Him, but did not have a relationship with Him. Matthew 10:26 – “Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known.” And also in Jeremiah 23:24 – “Can a man hide himself in the secret places where I cannot see him?”
Then, on a beautiful late afternoon on August 7, 2004, my life was turned upside down. A tragic accident nearly killed my wife and I was left with a choice – to stay the course I was on or to return to the Lord and begin trusting Him for real. I chose the latter. I felt so hopeless and powerless. My life began to see a change. My now pastors, Ron Thayer and John Gandy, and others were with me and praying and encouraging me with their kindness. It showed me that God was at work in that hospital. The doctors feverishly worked on keeping Deanna alive and I realized that God could have taken Deanna from me anytime He wanted. I believe to this day and am truly convinced that her suffering was the “real turning point” of hers and my salvation. For me, it was a turning point to return to and embrace the Lord, whom I failed to love for so many years. God performed a miracle on Deanna. (For her, He not only saved her from dying the physical death, but He eventually saved her from an eternal separation from Him). I thought God would never want anything to do with me again, but as He promises in Joshua 1:5 - "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Today I stand for Jesus. I am a witness and no longer ashamed of whom I am in Christ. I have dedicated and rededicated my life to Him and have been so blessed in so many ways there are too many to count. My cup is full and runneth over. He has led my family to a church that demonstrates the love of Jesus. He has brought my entire family under the covenant of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and has connected us with a church family that is both loving and caring. He has opened doors for me to exercise the gifts He has endowed me with. He has called me into the ministry and ordained me a deacon and as an associate pastor of His church. It is with a humbled heart that I am so grateful for God’s love for me. I am not worthy of it and only deserve His judgment and wrath, but I am so grateful for His divine grace and mercy. I cannot go through a day without Him and I cannot imagine my life now without Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all things, and He will direct your paths.”
It is my prayer now that all in whom I have contact with will hear God speak through me and see Christ in me and that the Holy Spirit will place them under conviction and that they will not suffer the things I have suffered, but find grace and mercy at the very hand of God Almighty. I cannot understand nor reason with myself why I was so stubborn and stiff-necked for so long. I know I have missed out on His blessings all those years. Thank You Lord for not giving up on me! I now long to do all I can to please the Lord who saved this sinning man. I am not perfect, but I thank the Lord I am no longer the man I used to be!
Thomas William Neal
A child of God and humble servant of the Lord
Rev. Tom Neal
Founder and chief song writer for JCs Project
Favorite verse: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15