Last Thursday morning, I had the privilege to visit Jim Penland in the Elizabeth House here in Hendersonville. Jim had not been given much time to live. I found out later he struggled with health issues for a long period of time, even to the point of not being expected to live through those crises numerous times through the years.
When I arrived with my good friend Brian Gordner, some of the Elizabeth House staff were in the room with Jim. Two other church members were already there—Kemp Newman, a deacon and Sergio Vasquez, a member of our custodial staff and church chef. Kemp and Sergio work closely with Phil Penland and his wife Sue who volunteer as a part of our food ministry team at Mud Creek. Phil is Jim’s son and was concerned about his father’s salvation. In fact, Phil, Sue, and other family members had shared the gospel with Jim many times and prayed for him for years.
Sergio and Kemp told us that Jim believed himself too unworthy a sinner to be forgiven. I only had a few minutes with Jim because the staff had just given him some strong pain medication. But in the couple minutes I did have I told Jim of the thief on the cross next to our Lord who simply asked to be remembered. I assured Jim if he would trust in Christ, he could be forgiven—that we were all unworthy of Christ’s offer of salvation—and that Jim was most certainly not too far from God to be forgiven by Christ. As I prayed, I could sense Jim slipping into a medicated sleep. Admittedly, I left him unsure of what he heard and how much he understood and more importantly whether or not he would respond to Christ.
That evening I received a phone call with the news that Jim had died. However, I was told that before Jim had passed he shared with one of his nieces that he had trusted in Christ. This one simple affirmation gave a hurting family much peace. You see, Jim had not been that involved in the life of his family. He made many poor decisions through life that limited his time with family. His life was full of regrets. His family was not grieved so much over the man they would miss, but over the reality that Jim was on his way to an eternal separation from God for his sins. So when Jim confessed his trust in Christ, years of praying, sharing, and urging were rewarded. I found out later that many others were praying for Jim’s salvation through church prayer chains.
Jim’s story is a beautiful reminder of the greatness and patience of God’s insurmountable grace. God’s saving kindness to sinners has no limits. My friend Brian Allen described it as God’s relentless pursuit of sinners in need of grace. And God relentlessly pursued Jim even to the day of his death. He still does that. You and I are testimonies to the greatness and patience of God’s insurmountable grace. Our sins, our fighting with God, our running from God, our wickedness is no match for the grace of God displayed in the precious blood of Jesus Christ. So, let Jim’s story be a reminder to stop… and thank God for his patient, relentless, redeeming pursuit of you. Let Jim’s story be a reminder to never give up on a straying soul. Maybe that one more minute, that one more witness, that one more prayer will be the harvesting event in the life of that friend, neighbor, co-worker, child, parent, spouse who you know needs to respond to Christ. Certainly, Jim’s story should encourage you to trust even more certainly the God who pursues sinners to save them. All I know is that God showed off the greatness of his grace to me. And I’m humbled and thankful to witness it.