James Ryle: God Is a Promise Keeper
By William Wiegman
The 700 Club
"This was a place that no kid should ever be put. I’m just glad honestly that my mother didn’t know how bad it was."
James Ryle’s mother left him at an orphan’s home in Dallas after his father was sent to prison for armed robbery. He was only six years old.
"There were a lot of angry people that worked out there and there was a lot of very disturbing abuse that took place on their watch and by their hands," James tells The 700 Club.
The most cruel method of punishment was a ritual called the “belt line.”
"The belt line was when all the boys in the dormitory lined up in the hallway, and you had to lower your pants to your ankles so you couldn’t take large steps and you couldn’t run. You had to shuffle down the hall while they hit you with belts."
The Bible was mandatory reading at the orphanage, but that wasn’t really a good thing.
"It was more used to manipulate and control and create a sense of fear that God is going to send you to Hell if you do that again."
At 17, James left the orphan's home. The year was 1969.
"That was the crazy apex of the whole hippie thing that was going on in the '60s, and I fell right into the mix of that and ended up having some seriously bad choices that led to my life taking a different direction."
While driving all night with a friend over Labor Day weekend, James fell asleep at the wheel. He wasn’t hurt in the crash, but his friend died instantly.
"Talk about standing under Niagara Falls," he confesses. "Just an overwhelming sense of guilt, fear, shame and terror."
James was arrested and charged with negligent homicide. He was desperate to get out of trouble, so he started selling drugs to raise money to hire a lawyer. Within two months, he was arrested for sales and possession of marijuana and faced the possibility of up to 20 years behind bars. As he sat in the Dallas County Jail awaiting trial, James remembered a Bible verse from his days at the orphanage.
"The verse was Romans 8:28: For we know all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. I realized that God was saying, 'Look, you can keep doing things your way or you can do them My way. Your way, you got what you got. My way, I can work these things out in such a way that it will astonish you.' So, it was one of those no-brainer choices. And so I remember saying, 'Okay, here’s what’s left of my life. You can have it.'"
A few days later, a public defender met with James and told him that he had worked out a plea bargain for a jail sentence of only two years.
"For them to offer me the absolute minimum was just shocking. I stared at him just absolutely stunned that he said two years. I said, 'Well, okay, I’m guilty. I’ll stand on my head for two years. Are you crazy?'"
From the moment that James entered prison, he knew his life was firmly in God’s hands.
"Being this aware of God’s involvement in my life drew me back to the Bible. I just had this remarkable education download by the Holy Spirit where the Bible started making profound sense to me. During that whole process, Jesus became very real to me. This whole truth that all things work together for good just anchored my life rock solid."
A year into his sentence, James prayed for an early parole. He opened his Bible and read these words in the New Testament.
“Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you. When I read that, I knew two things. Call it the gift of faith or whatever. One, I’m getting out, and number two, I’m supposed to tell people about what the Lord has done. I had no power to make this happen. All I had to do wait and see."
James didn’t have to wait long. One week later, he was called out of his cell and put into a pre-release program.
"On December 22, 1970, I was released from the Texas State Penitentiary, and I knew God did this. So, that sequence of all things work together for good, go home to your friends, and it happening pretty well sealed my faith into this place that God is real and I can trust Him. He means it when He says that He will work things out."
James returned home to Grand Prairie, Texas, to share his story and the timing couldn’t have been better.
"The Jesus Movement was happening, and it gave me a ready-made peer community to step right into right out f prison and also a ready-made audience. They all wanted to hear my story, and when I started telling them, it just went in a chain reaction to where the word started getting out. That really did begin the first phase of this ministry of telling others of what good things the Lord has done."
That ministry eventually brought James to Boulder, Colorado, where he was appointed the pastor of Bethel Fellowship Church in 1982.
Several years later, he became Chaplain of the University of Colorado football team. He formed a close friendship with the team’s coach, Bill McCartney, and together, they launched a Christian men’s ministry known as Promise Keepers.
Today, James is a best-selling author and public speaker. He continues to tell people about the freedom that comes from giving your life to Christ. He says, "When we call upon the Lord Jesus and say, 'Help me. I’m in a situation that I cannot get out of' – and that’s how I was in the Dallas County Jail, but I was really bitter about it. Even in my bitterness, He bypassed all that and He said, 'I’ll work all this out if you hand your life over to Me.' I did and He did. You can trust the Lord that He will do His work in your life and you will be so glad that you did."
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