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Be A Witness

Jim's Testimony

Isaiah 48:10
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
NKJV

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. The only clouds were in the far distance, but even from a distance they appeared dark, ominous, threatening. Yet they moved like a snail, their ever-approaching power sneaking like a thief, ready to steal at a moments notice. This was yet another bad August thunderstorm resembling many others. In the past week ten days it had rained mightily, the wind had blown and caused considerable damage throughout the metropolitan area. There was nothing to distinguish this storm from the others. All the damage we suffered had been a few loose branches blown about the yard.

Lightening flashed in the distance. Thunder followed, my wife jumping at the sound.  I admit that I chuckled over the reaction. After all, the lightening was still a good ways away. The next sound was like that of a mighty explosion. It sounded as though it came from the center of the house, although it couldn't have for that was where we were standing and there was nothing to be seen. But it was a safe guess we had been struck.  The shock had yet to wear off. My wife grabbed her purse, car keys and our four year old and we all headed for the back door, ignoring the shrill cry of the alarm system. Electrical circuits were not functioning as we opened the garage doors, getting the two of them herded into the car and out of the garage.

Foolishly grabbing an umbrella, I ventured forth into the pouring rain in an effort to inspect the exterior of the house. The portion of the chimney above the roof had ceased to exist. In appearance it resembled scenes from war torn countries, Berlin in World War Two, modern day Palestine or Israel.  It gave us a brief glimpse into other peoples’ lives, but only a glimpse. For this day we were lucky. There was no fire, no other serious damage. The masonry could be repaired and the fireplace would work once again. It was just another little hurdle in the scheme of life.

So why relate the incident at all? Peter tell us that "...though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Peter 1:6). This was just another little test, more of our reactions and emotions than our faith, but still, one more little test on the road to everlasting life. We took as it comic relief.

The house was already lost. Through sin and disregard on my part, I had placed my family in a position where we were about to lose all. 

May 12, 1992 —

I had the usual “Christian” upbringing. We went to Church every Sunday.  I went to Sunday school and I obviously learned something, for I remembered most of the Bible stories although little of the Bible. I know in Sunday school that we got stickers for memorizing the verses, the Twenty-third Psalm, the Beatitudes, and so on. I learned all of those at some point and dutifully received my stickers. I must have been somewhat of a brat though, because I also remember memorizing a bunch of other verses that I would proudly stand and recite. I am sure the teachers didn't know what to do about that. I clearly memorized all of those exciting verses for the wrong reasons, because there is little of the Bible that I could have recited by memory that day in August, thirty-plus years later.

I was the kid to whom all things came easy. School was easy; grades came with little or no study. I was active in sports. I was elected senior class president in high school without having participated in student government before then. It all gave me no sense of what life was really like. I grew up in a home where religion was a practical necessity, church most weeks, some Sunday school, the kind of upbringing that does not stick.

College was the same as high school. I “fell” into becoming manager of the varsity basketball team as a freshman and this set the course of the next four years. While my early efforts to become a chemist were blocked by physics and German, once I changed majors to business administration, life was once again easy. In a school of 5000 men and a couple of hundred women, I could, for at least part of the time, claim a girl friend.

Like all of us I went off to college only to lose my religion, or at least lose the practice of my religion. I vividly remember driving into the middle of the woods along the lakeshore and talking to God about what a rotten word it was. The occasion was getting dumped by “that girl.” I don't remember a real answer to that conversation, other than life went on and I moved on, but somehow I still missed finding a real God. I did read the Bible some; in fact, I had gall bladder surgery resulting in six weeks of recuperation. One of my projects was to read the entire Bible, in order, cover to cover. I enjoyed doing this and I remember marking a lot of passages, but it didn't teach me to pray more, or to go to Church more, or any of those other great concepts that flow from this wondrous Book. If only I had taken the time to listen then instead of later.

Law school was not as easy, although I finished the first semester with an A average.  Then, temporarily, real life got in the way. I was drafted in the Viet Nam era. Due to having had my gall bladder removed following my junior year of college, however, the Army decided it did not want me. So, six weeks into the second semester I returned to law school. My heart was not in my studies, though, and I never put forth the effort to catch up.  From then until graduation, I did enough to not finish last and graduate, but I was done worrying about where the grades fell. This was probably good, for during my second year of law school my father passed away and I missed first semester final exams and the start of the second semester. 

Graduation came and once I found my place in private practice of the law, success returned. I was a successful lawyer having a great practice in trust and estate law, initially in an old local, seven partner / fifteen attorney firm and then in one of the larger regional/national law firms in the state of Virginia (130 lawyers). I was managing partner of the first and partner in charge of the local office of the second. My clients adored and trusted me, even as I abused that trust by embezzling from their trust funds. I would practice law for 21 years, teach at seminars, collect accolades, and be the measure of “success.”

Life passes us all by. In my case, my father died, I got married, had three children and got divorced, all with a little prayer, but not much else. Yet I would have told you that I was a Christian, I just didn't practice organized religion. Should I have found that "second birth" during all of this? I don't know, there were certainly a lot of opportunities but I guess I wasn't looking for it. Yet, there it is in John, in two places, "You must be born again" (John 3:3, 7). To date I had had no major appearance of God or any angels.  Life was good to me, if not great. The death of my father was unexpected and to this date I am not sure that I have come to terms with it. Two of my three children were born with medical problems and I remember praying about it at the time. Those prayers were answered, my sons are fine, healthy young men, but looking back I wonder if it was my prayers or someone else's that helped guide the doctors hands to assist the miracle of healing.

In fact, unknown to my wife, friends or family, my life took a tremendous downward turn. I was unhappy, envious, and jealous of all of my contemporaries who had more that I did. No matter how I approached my career, it didn't seem to ever quite make it, to pay for itself. So in a moment of greed I gently "borrowed" from a client's account. Not much, as I recall, but on the other hand, there was no blessing on the transaction from the client and no paperwork to document to "loan". But, I did not get caught. So the next time, it was easier, and easier, and easier, and easier....

And I was getting ready to face the biggest emotional hurdle of my life, a marital separation. I was ill prepared to undertake such a task. Somewhere along the line my wife and I had stopped talking to each other; at least, we stopped communicating. I had nowhere to turn for comfort and so I turned to work. Things went from bad to worse. I had a few dinner dates with other young ladies, and while I remained sexually faithful to the marriage, emotionally I was dead. Divorce followed, as did a new wife, Debbie.  But the old sin of taking client funds remained.

Debbie was always, to me, and still is, the true Christian. Perhaps she did not always follow the ways of the Bible, but she read her Scriptures and dragged me off to church. One of her conditions of marriage was that once married, we would return to regular church attendance. While she was raised Baptist, I had always attended EUB/Methodist churches. In the end, we agreed upon a Methodist church, a choice my wife did not like but was willing to live with.

While Debbie was always interested in Bible studies, I felt that such studies were wasteful unless one covered the entire Bible. In the late 1980s, the Methodist church developed the “Disciple” program. This intense, 32-week course studies the Bible from cover-to-cover. Since its coverage was of the entire Bible, when Debbie expressed a desire for us to attend, I was backed into a corner with no easy out. As the result of her prayers and faith, and close to the conclusion of this study, I was ready to submit to the power of the Holy Spirit. Looking back now, I can see God working His wonders at softening my heart throughout the sequence of this study.

All of this leads to a bright, beautiful day in May when my world feel apart. The pressures and tensions of keeping my sin and guilt to myself snapped some thread in my inner being. 

It was not to be a hard day at work. None of the appointments related to clients, but rather to personal or administrative matters. Yet in the deep depression of the time, in the mist of the cloud that fogged my mind, I never made it to the office. I wondered instead until I ended up in the state park on the banks of the river. The weight of my sins was too heavy upon my shoulders. Although the successful lawyer, I carried a streak of greed, envy, or something similar but indefinable. I was never successful enough.  I had compensated for this fault by stealing from the various client funds that I managed. This went on for a considerable number of years. The amount of embezzlement ran to close to three million dollars. 

So, instead of going to the office I ended up in a park by the seashore with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. I sat at the picnic table and read the Bible and the two remaining lessons of the study. I don't think I could have told you what I read or the over all importance of those final two lessons. I went back and read Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in ;your anger or discipline me in your wrath.  Be merciful to me, Lord, far I am faint: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How Long, O Lord, how long?  Turn,, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.  No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?  I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. the Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace. (NIV)

for it had become my constant prayer, perhaps not literally but in spirit, for I two felt torn apart by the sinful cycle I had placed myself in, felt that I was calling out to God in a grief struck fashion and received no answers.  I felt alone, for while I feel my prayers had been answered in terms of allowing me to get from one day to the next, the overburdening problem that existed had not been addresses, and certainly not resolved

Several times during the course of the day I placed the clean, shiny barrel of the gun in my mouth and attempted to pull the trigger. Was an angel guarding me? Did I not have the strength to kill myself? Was God stronger than the Devil? To all of these I say "yes and yes again". The struggle ended that day with an inner peace, a knowledge that God would take care of me as I commence to destroy my life and then to put it back together. 

The waves caused by the tide gently lapped on the small beach of sand that ran along the inlet. Through the course of the next six hours walkers with dogs, boats and a sea plane, practicing landings and takeoffs, would all visit the area, slowing down the devil driven passion within me giving God and his angles an opportunity to show me the resolution I had so long sought.  Sitting against a fallen tree, worn smooth by the waves and the weather, I held a Bible in one hand and a Smith and Wesson 357 magnum in the other.  It is a beautiful gun, new, with the blue steel barrel glistening in the sunlight. Perhaps a shade to heavy, slightly sticky with the original oils placed on it by the manufacturer to keep it in mint operating condition.  It had a hair trigger, or something close thereto. I am not that familiar with handguns, although I have shot them before, but at some point I laid the weapon down on my leg, and apparently forgot to release the cocked hammer. As my weight shifted, the gun feel to the sand and the impact set it offer sending a loud thunderous noise through the inlet. The sand flew where the bullet entered, just inches away from my foot. My heart raced, was this my answer? Yet, no one came.

Three or four times during the course of that event, I placed the cocked gun in my mouth, closed my eyes and tried to pull the trigger. After all, this was the ideal way out. There was plenty of life insurance to give both of my families a running start on the future. Death would save me the embarrassment of having to face my partners, my contemporaries, my clients, my family, my friends, and let them see what a mess I had made of my life.  Sure there would be problems left behind, but wouldn't my family and friend better off if I weren't there to get in the way. After all, I had created all of these problems without their help so what good would I be to them trying to unravel the mess? Besides, after having embezzled several million dollars over a fifteen-year span, I had no assets to show for it. I had managed to create a life style to make the not quite rich and famous envious.  So would it not be easier just to end it all, let the insurance funds be used to unravel the loose ends and give everyone a fresh start without me around to screw it up again?

Apparently not, for God wouldn't let me. Each time that the gun went into my mouth some angel must have floated by my side and placed his finger between the trigger and the trigger guard because I just couldn't pull that trigger.  A force inside of me paralyzed me and prevented the completion of the event. I left the beach and retired to the woods, uncertain of myself, still confused, still mixed up, and still worried about how embarrassed I was going to be, paralyzed over how I would deal with it. Up the little hill, I could look out over the water through the trees, listening to the ducks, insects and birds, wondering if God was going to stay with me all day, or if he were playing with me, and would disappear if I tried to kill myself one more time. 

The gun was raised to my mouth, my eyes were sagging, I was worn out and ready still to call it quits. Up the beach below me came a young lady with her two dogs. How would they react to the gunshot? What if the bullet didn't immediately kill me, would she be able to get help fast enough to save my life? Would I be a cripple? I didn't want any of that, so I decided to wait until she left. 

After awhile, it became clear that she was going nowhere fast, so I went back to talking to God. I started questioning Him about how much protection and strength He would give me if I turned myself in. Somewhere in the course of that discussion, I started to find an inner peace that I had lacked for a long, long time. The minutes passed. The unknown girl continued to throw sticks into the water for the dogs to chase. I removed the bullets from the gun. 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matt. 7:7 NKJV) And find I did, for as the additional minutes disappeared, I continued to ask the same questions of my God, but the answers started to become apparent. The embarrassment wouldn't be as great as I had feared. The pain wouldn't be as great.  The fall didn't exist, for what could be worse then trying to take my own life? What if the hair trigger had set itself off when the barrel was pointed at the roof of my mouth? I wouldn't be sitting there talking to my God, debating my future for there wouldn't be a future. The girl and her two dogs left, and I slowly followed, to commence the cleansing process.

Jesus, of course, won. Having fallen to the bottom of the pit, I gave my life to him. Overcoming the fears of my burdens and the consequences that would follow, I walked from the woods ready for a new life, a life of joy that He promised me that day. My first action was to confess my sins to my wife. I had hidden them all these years even from her. She hired an attorney for me and through him, I notified both of the law firms of my crimes and turned in my license to practice law. The authorities were notified and the criminal process commenced. Jesus protected me in even this. The FBI never interviewed me nor did any local authorities. I never talked to the IRS, never met the prosecutor, except for two brief court appearances, one to plead guilty and the other to be sentenced.

Life since than has been wonderfully blessed as He had assured me, even amidst a period of human consequences. I spent four years, four months in federal prison as earthly punishment for the crimes I committed. But first, God gave my wife and I almost a year-and-a-half of freedom. Since I turned myself into the law firms and the authorities, He blessed me with this free time, a period during which my wife and I reconstructed our relationship, a period of support from church friends, a period of adjustment and growth for my young daughter. Towards the end of this period, my daughter accepted Christ, and, thus, was able to understand at a spiritual level the reasons behind Daddy’s going to jail.

While in prison, I had a hunger and desire to study God’s Word. He blessed this desire with the opportunity for further education as I earned a Masters of Divinity from Luther Rice Seminary. I was further blessed being in a prison camp that was a minor part of a real prison. As the Chaplain’s clerk I virtually ran the day-to-day operations of the chapel, had the opportunity to attend many volunteer Bible studies, and was blessed with the ability to teach on a weekly basis for almost 2 years. I even had the opportunity to preach once in awhile.

That was ten years ago – May 12, 1992. This year, May 12, 2002 is Mother’s Day. Ten years of being in Christ. Ten years of hunger for His Word.  Ten years of ministering the best I can. My wife, daughter and I have just been blessed with the ability to purchase a home, even though it has only been four years since my release. During that time Debbie was forced to file bankruptcy, so a home this soon shouldn’t have been in her future. Indeed, even the two cars we owe should not have happened.  God is good.

During the time between turning myself in and going to prison, God provided me with a wonderful job. This same employer, a systems integrator, hired me upon my release from prison. I can thank them for teaching / allowing me to teach myself about Web pages. This has opened the door to both Jude Ministries and my serving as webmaster for my church for several years as well as for my employer.

My goal is to eventually go into full-time ministry. My true gift is the ability to teach and write about God’s Word. God’s timing will control this decision, but I look forward to it with great anticipation and, at least, a little frustration over it not arriving sooner. In the meanwhile, may Jude Ministries continue to bless you.

 

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