Jim's testimony "Testimony 1201" on 11/25/2016, 7:54am...
LOST & FOUND
This is my testimony:
“I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch, like me.
Through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come.
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
(lyrics from the song, Amazing Grace)
In the safe recesses of my memory is that time so many years ago cuddling on my mother’s lap while she read to me the classic children story, “The Little Engine that Could,” by Watty Piper. I would have her read it every night if my way prevailed, and sometimes mom would read it two times in one sitting: “Again, again,” my young voice pled. It was such a monumental struggle for that little engine to pull those cars full of toys up that mountain for delivery to the children on the other side. That captivating thought flooded my mind: “I think I can, I think I can.” Despite its size, the little engine triumphantly pulls the train up that mountain. Would it? Could it? The image was real and I sensed even then that life at times could be a challenge and a true struggle. As a mere child of four, I began to grasp this lesson that life may at times be a struggle reaching the other side to that place of joy and victory.
Two decades later, in my early twenties, I found myself singing in a Christian band. Often we sang this somewhat country classic, “Life is Like a Mountain Railway.” In this song the lyrics warn, “…we must make the run successful from the cradle to the grave. Watch the curves that fill the tunnel, never falter never fail; keep your hands upon the throttle and your eyes upon the rail. Blessed Savior there to guide us, Till we reach that blissful shore, And the angels there to join us, In God's grace…, forevermore…” I see a thread and theme from early life. Many years from those moments that single message of struggle I have surely known. Yet, the Savior of my soul has never left or forsaken me, though at times I had strayed, wandered, and taken my eyes off the rails, He has always kept His eyes upon me.
I learned early the fallacy of believing that once you confess Jesus as your personal Lord, and personally accept His sacrificial crucifixion, that life will be an effortless and pain-free endeavor. No, it has not been that. I learned a phrase when acquiring my pilot license. This phrase was a seasoned pilot’s definition of flying: “Flying,” he said, “are hours of boredom, broken up by moments of sheer terror!” Christian life might be like that too.
Another analogy which helps explains how I experience life as a Christian is to recall the two years spent in a war zone. A variation to the old pilots’ thoughts was an enemy strategy of deliberately leading us into a state of lethargy. Days would go by, weeks, and maybe a month and his presence seemed to vanish. There would be little or no confrontations. The enemy would lay low, hide, retreat, allowing the thought to develop in us that he was either beaten or uninterested. Slipping into relative peacefulness you never saw hell dropping on top of you. In the middle of a fitful sleep, the sky would explode with light and fire, concussions of rockets knocking you from your bunk. Noises of confusion as people ran yelling orders, weapons rattling as everyone scrambled for orientation, the smell of sulfurs and fears all combined in that dark. For days following such attacks, we would again become hyper vigilant to movement, sounds, and imaginations. You had to realize that the enemy was unpredictable and ruthless. No matter the seeming peaceful state you enjoyed, in a war zone you had to always remain prepared.
Clearly, a harsh reality was to know that though many people loved you at home, there were well-armed people very close by who hated you for simply being you. This was a hard concept to embrace emotionally – that another living person actually would kill you without any regret or regard. Over the two years in that place I had to be reminded on many occasions this was a war zone and blood could be spilt at any moment. Today I am reminded that Christians may struggle with the idea someone hates them and labors to harm them. We mostly tend to see ourselves as lovable, kind, sensitive, and peaceable; why would anyone hate you or desire your ruin?
I became a Christian one year after I was discharged from the U.S. Army. Although I’d never known the true Gospel or the acceptance of Jesus’ personal gift to me, memories of childhood are full of a consciousness of God’s existence and even His presence. I believed in God, I simply didn’t know His Word or just how deep and profound was my need for His righteousness and acceptance. By His plan I was led to hear the Gospel of Jesus preached, and my heart opened to ‘hear’ the Truth. With a faith, only gained as a gift, I was willing and able to call out and ask for forgiveness and acceptance, embracing Jesus’ sacrifice and the provision of His eternal life indwelling me daily. At twenty-one, my feet and heart were set on a new course. The Word of God was coming alive in me, a passion and gratefulness washed over me. I was free from guilt, free from wandering in the darkness of life and given a purpose and qualification to pursue my Heavenly Father and Lord Jesus, with the help and power of the Holy Spirit. I began to run.
After becoming ‘saved’ my resume,’ so to speak, began to grow and included a number of wonderful activities and accomplishments. I’d become the president of the Christian Fellowship in college, and the co-founder of a contemporary Christian band and theatrical ministry travelling much of New England proclaiming the good news on college campuses, coffee houses, park concerts and churches. Out of that ministry came a radio ministry which I hosted for five years. Eventually I was trained and prepared to launch out on a new church ministry. The church began with approximately twelve dedicated people as we began ministering in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Over the following fifteen years our family at home increased, and the church too grew in new members and growing outreaches. In some ways it all seemed quite successful, with lots of effective outreaches, joys, and progress – perhaps as men judge progress. Though it was understood struggles could and did come, most things were manageable and the enemy seemed at bay and easily contained. In hindsight, and with further spiritual growth, I think too much of our methods for handling conflict were undertaken in fleshly and carnal ways, depending on our human capabilities and gifting. I had thought I was prepared and equipped for a prosperous Christian life and ministry, I don’t believe I ever would have imagined the viciousness and true spiritual battles yet to be faced in life. Though I’d studied ‘spiritual warfare’ through reading books, hearing sermons, and of course studying the Bible, the battles to come would compound beyond my imagination.
Certainly in those years simple and relatively ineffective skirmishes had to be faced. However, the first and most devastating battle and conflict came when my wife and I endured the still birth of our full term baby son, Jedidiah. The agony of losing him was unimaginable. The enemy made a move, he had a foothold. Between guilt, anger, uncertainty, hurt, loss, and unending questions living in my mind, this attack wounded deeply. In further hindsight, it was a harbinger of intense battles yet to be waged.
The toll of poor choices, such as putting other interests before our marital union, including but not limited to inattention, alienation of affections, over commitments to many so-called important activities, including ‘Christian work,’ led to the degeneration and finally dissolution of marriage. While the marriage was failing the church suffered greatly. Eventually, as people began to leave, the ministry came to a close. Not only had the battle raged externally, the inward condition was too troubled to continue reaching out to others. This seemed total devastation, and life began a further downward spiral. I sincerely began to doubt if “I could.” One might wonder if the battles were over.
No, it was far from over. Doubts flooded my soul; how could God let these things happen? How far away from God’s will had I been? Could I ever really hear God’s will and know how to follow? Had I been so unfaithful God simply did not desire my fellowship any longer? I was in a wilderness, it was hard to hear, hard to feel, sometimes hard to care. I questioned my prayer, honestly thinking perhaps I had committed an unpardonable sin (I realize today how this sounds, yet then it was overwhelming). Feeling and believing myself unworthy, with a strong sense of failure, satan was relentless. He knew I was one struggling to stay off the mat, like a fighter pummeled. Perhaps I was heading for the final knock-out. Surely it appeared faith to believe God loved me was being knocked out of me under a relentless flurry of strikes. Not only was I not able to love myself, surely God no longer cared either. Satanic influence was overwhelming. A sad consequence was running from God’s Word. What I began to see in Scripture was condemnation and judgment of so many failures. My mind was being blinded, my eyes shutting under the force of so many punches.
My behaviors reflected this loss. I became reclusive. I was afraid to speak the truth – even to myself. Little did I know, but an incident which occurred a year after the marriage ended, would soon be used as a complete knock-out punch. Not only had I been rejected by a wife, I surely must be rejected by God. Desperate for companionship and acceptance I was now susceptible to even more poor choices. What began as an innocent moment of consolation with a vulnerable woman, lapsed into inappropriate intimacy. This was but a momentary mutual action, and one which did not consummate in other than brief petting, however, it would be more than enough for satan to throw the haymaker and accuse me of behavior which never took place. Seven years later the story had escalated and false accusations were brought against me. I was accused and convicted of an indecent assault.
The day I heard the judge pronounce a prison sentence, I certainly knew my life was finally and perhaps mercifully over. I was so alone and afraid. Clearly God must now despise me. I must have been cast out. I had some defect which I may have been unaware and which meant God could not love me. Did I bring this on myself? Nothing was clear. Would clarity ever come to me?
Within the first twenty-four hours of prison, perhaps that which I feared most seemed to face me. I was being confronted by a large African man in a prison cell block, accompanied by a Spanish speaking Porte Rican. The previous twenty-four hours found me plunging into a deep abyss of darkness, fear, anxiety, and despair believing that I would never know God’s love or care again. This seemed the ultimate abandonment, the bottom, a profound loss of hope and self abhorrence; it was a dreadful aloneness. What would become of me? What would my grandchildren think? What about my children, how could they manage this horror?
And there he was, towering over me, a huge man, speaking to me in such a thick African accent I could barely understand. His question, “Are you okay?” “Are you okay?” over and over he asked. He was blocking me and I couldn’t see anything but this giant and threatening looking man. Finally I said, “No, I am not okay!” And then as he looked at me, with what I now know were deeply compassionate eyes, the most amazing sounds came from him. He began to minister wonderful, loving words to me, expressing that God knows where I am, and that He is here with me, that He has never left me or forsaken me. He began to share that through all of this, God had a big plan for me, and He was going to use this to shape me anew….
And then his voice seemed to slip away and I no longer actually heard his continued speaking or the terrible sounds of the cell block. Rather, I seemed to leave that cell block and went someplace in my spirit that was quite, safe and peaceful. There I faced the Holy Spirit One on one. Though my questions were not directly addressed, I knew He was aware, and what He did was fill me with peace, with confidence, and with the assurance of His love and clearly His acceptance and compassionate comfort. Though I realized the answers I needed so desperately wouldn’t happen then, I knew an assurance of His control coming alive in me again. I actually knew the reality was that “all things work together for those who love Him…” Though burdened with guilt, doubts, and a sense of abandonment, and feeling profoundly lost during this season of battle, I now knew He was not going to let me go! I knew more and more would be revealed as I trusted in Him once again, fully and without apprehension or insecurity.
The suffering did not end completely that night, but the awareness I was really no longer in chains, no longer a prisoner to what I could only imagine to be failure, guilt, shame, and to letting my Lord down, began to flood my life, and has continued to this very day. And then, as if awakening from a dream, the awareness of my terrible surroundings came in to focus again and I spoke once more to this man, his name I learned was Adam. I simply said, “I am okay now!” Though still facing many unknowns, there was within a new courage, a sure hope and that certain assurance He was with me through it all.
Is it biblical as a Christian to be touched a second time, a third time, again and again? This is a question you may ask yourself. When we speak of salvation is it a one-time event, or is this an ongoing saving? Though I’ve walked through a deep and dark valley, I have found the battle is won and our Lord’s grace is sufficient for me. What I have found is that “Greater is He which is in me than he that is in the world.” What I have found is that “What (satan) intends for evil, God intends for good.” What I have found is that “When I am truly weak, He is truly strong.” What I have found is that when others forsake and bare false witness, with harsh judgment, He embraces and accepts and walks with you. What I have found is that He has a balm of healing and restoration in which He brings double, triple, and unknown levels of restoration, hope, confidence and love. All of these testify that when He saves you it is an everlasting salvation and one which satan cannot snatch, though he may expend wicked energies and efforts to destroy us at any opportunity.
I have found we really do live in a world of spiritual battles, and unless we stand prepared to engage, with God’s Word, with unwavering faith and without doubt, anyone can stumble, anyone can fall. And there are many biblical warnings that we should never stand proud in ourselves believing we could never fall or let the Lord down. I have found the evil one is paying close attention and he is crouched at the door. But, I have found that though a child of God fall, our Father will not walk past and look elsewhere. He will stoop to our lowest place and with the heart of the Good Samaritan, He will bind our wounds, He will bring us to a safe place, and He will pay whatever the price to see we are rewarded our place with Him in His everlasting Kingdom of love and peace. And finally, for now, I have found that the Callings of God are without repentance (without a change of His heart), and that “what He began in us He is faithful to bring to pass.”