He's a big reason why I'm grateful this Thanksgiving 2016. Jim illustrates why a Kingdom focus is so important for churches like the one I pastor. The Lord calls us to be transformational, not comfortable. Salt and light, that's who we are. Yet, too often, we preachers are more interested in pleasing people and making budgets than we are in pleasing God and making disciples.
Jim reminds me of the power of God's grace and the transformation through Jesus centered ministry.
7 years ago Jim came to see me. He told me he didn't wish to live. Every day Jim would get up and tell his wife, "Today's the day I'm going to kill myself." His threats were real. He had attempted suicide seven times. When you hear his story, you'll understand why. He came to see me at the request of his wife.
Jim was beaten by his mother beginning at the age of 3. Not spanked; beaten. The physical abuse intensified over the years. At age 12, after his mother caught him at an R-rated movie, Jim was told to remove his pants and underwear and bend over the kitchen counter. His mother removed Jim's metal three-pronged belt from his pants, and she proceeded to beat him with the metal end on his bare buttocks.
She told Jim she would keep beating him until he cried. "I'd been beaten so much by her I was determined to die before I cried," Jim told me. The beating didn't stop until Jim's older sister finally intervened and grabbed the belt out their mother's hands. Enraged that her pre-puberty son had not yet cried, Jim's mother yelled, "You two clean up this mess." It took more than an hour to clean Jim's spattered blood spots from the floors, countertops, and ceilings.
The physical abuse was nothing compared to the sexual abuse. From age 8 to age 11, an older male cousin repeatedly sexually violated Jim. Unless you've experienced sexual abuse, it's difficult to imagine the soul-crushing agony. At the age of 12, Jim's mother began sexually abusing her son too. It would be inappropriate for me to detail how his mom sexually abused him, but Jim's psychosis began around the time he grappled with why his drug-addicted mother crossed over from inflicting physical pain to demanding sexual pleasure.
At the age of 13, Jim began to get in trouble with the law. The police arrested him for setting fires and other acts of vandalism. "I was arrested too many times to count," Jim said. The fights were frequent and fierce. "I once put a boy in the ICU for bashing his head with a brick on our way home from school." Jim's anger was uncontrollable. On those occasions he managed to suppress it and not express it, Jim plunged into deep depression. He turned to drugs and alcohol for relief but found none.
That's when he began to have actual mental breakdowns. "I've been institutionalized nine times. I've been diagnosed as bi-polar. All I know it's been difficult to even want to live." His suicide attempts were frequent and often the cause of his institutionalization.
Seven years ago, when I first heard Jim's story, my heart went out to him. Jim could barely look me in the eye. His voice was so quiet I strained to hear him. I knew he was a wreck inside. I encouraged Jim as best I could. I recommended that Jim begin attending a new recovery program that Emmanuel Enid was beginning.
Fast forward to this evening, Thanksgiving week 2016.
I went with Jim to a local mental health facility that Jim visits each week.
He is no longer a patient. Jim goes every week to minister to patients. Jim is now Emmanuel Enid's recovery minister.
I listened as Jim shared his story of abuse, addiction, psychosis and recovery through Jesus Christ to the patients in the mental health facility. I watched the mental health patients listen intently as Jim shared his story. I mean, they really listened.
Jim captivated them with the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ. One man wore a shirt that said, "Nothing to fear, but the loss of beer." But in listening to these men open up to Jim after, I realized that they all feared so much more. Many of them had been sexually abused like Jim. All of them faced addictions like Jim. These men connected with Jim because he was one of them; the walking wounded.
I too listened intently as Jim explained to the men how he began attending Emmanuel Enid's recovery program seven years ago at my request. Four weeks into the step recovery program participants are asked to pick an accountability partner. The recovery leader at the time asked everyone to stand and look around and find someone to be their accountability partner.
"I ran to the bathroom and hid," said Jim. "I did what I always did. I withdrew. In that bathroom, I committed to taking my life that night. I determined to kill myself, and this time to make it a successful suicide. I washed my face and walked out of the bathroom. That's when two men in Emmanuel's recovery program were standing there in the hall waiting for me. 'Jim,' they said, 'We want you to be our accountability partner. We love you.'"
Jim cried all the way home. "If these men actually loved me, maybe God could love me too." That night, Jim gave his life to Christ. Jim surrendered to Christ everything; his life; his hurts, his hang-ups, and his habits. Jim's recovery was beginning.
The last seven years have been transformational for Jim. "Jesus Christ has worked miracle after miracle within me."
I saw the transformation in Jim tonight. As Jim spoke, he looked men in the eyes. As he shared, the hesitant, embarrassed man full of shame that I met seven years ago was gone. The Spirit of God was now in control of Jim.
It was my privilege to pray with the men tonight as we finished our time together. I couldn't help but get emotional as I prayed for Christ's power and love to transform these men's lives, just as He had transformed Jim's life. The men all hugged Jim and me before we left.
As we were leaving the hospital I said, "Jim, it's absolutely amazing to see the impact you had on these men tonight. You are so totally transformed from the man I first talked to seven years ago."
Jim smiled and said, "We serve a very big God, don't we?"
As an adult, Jim didn't avoid the mom who'd inflicted so much pain. Christ gave him the power to love her, in spite of her sins. Jim's now aged mother recently sought forgiveness of Jim. The power of God's grace in Jim has been seen in his ability to forgive.
When you and I walk the halls of the church building on Sundays, there are many people just like Jim who are walking those same halls. They are unimpressed with outward appearances because everything inside them is falling apart.
I'm grateful to pastor a church who thinks about everything we do, with the primary focusing on being transformational rather than comfortable.
I'm grateful for friends like Jim who continually remind me that the grace of God makes us all "more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
I'm grateful that after 35 years of vocational ministry, I'm finally learning that the measurement of a great ministry is the people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ.
I'm just simply grateful today.