Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to realize Jesus is exactly who He says He is. He wants a personal relationship with us that invades every single part of our lives. After his own rock bottom experience, Michael DiMarco came to the beautiful realization that Jesus is supreme—no person or thing is greater.
Be a Good Boy
Michael was the youngest of six kids born to a draftsman and a school teacher in Eugene, Oregon. Along with his Italian and Irish heritage, he was brought up to be a devout Catholic—a “good kid” who believed in God and feared Him. His mom had a dream for him to one day be the Pope. Others had even mentioned he should be a priest or pastor someday. He heard about a personal relationship with Jesus for the first time as a senior in high school. It made sense in his mind, but it did not penetrate his heart and definitely not his will. After “accepting” Jesus at 17 years old, he continued trying to live the good, moral life he was brought up to live. Although his life looked good from the outside, internally, he knew he was really living life for himself. This continued through his 20’s and early 30’s.
good at gambling
After a decade of living for himself, burning through relationships and careers, Michael turned to gambling to fill the void in his life. He was attempting to find peace with God through other means than God Himself. At some point, he stopped caring and began to take money from his employer to further his gambling habit. He vividly remembers one gambling venture during a lunch break, sitting at a blackjack table in a casino, with US$1,500 of bets in front of him. He prayed, “God, I don’t care what you do, get me out of this.” He ended up losing all three of those hands. He had reached the end of his rope.
Michael drove back to work. At this point, he had been gambling with work’s money for nearly two years, and the public university where he was employed caught on. The university filed a police report, and Michael was arrested and booked in the local county jail. The amount of money he had taken was enough to be filed as a Class A felony.
Be my Lord and Savior
The first night in jail, he found himself alone in a cell with only a worn pillow, small towel for showering, and a well-worn Gideon-placed Bible. Michael closed his eyes, picked up the Bible, and pointed to a verse. The verse his fingers happened to fall on was 2 Corinthians 5:17 which reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”At that moment, Michael dropped to his knees and prayed, “Jesus, I accepted you as my Savior when I was 17 years old, but I never made you Lord of my life.” The Word of God had saved Him that night. He realized that he had previously prayed a prayer of fire insurance, not actually a prayer to surrender his life to Christ.
After his arrest, it was hard to find meaningful employment. When asked in job interviews, “How did you leave your last job,” he would reply, “I left my last job in the back of a police car.” This ended many interviews for him. In God’s providence, he was offered a position at a Bible software company. He accepted a customer service position, helping customers activate and use Bible software. He soon moved from customer service to publisher relations, finally landing in the ministry relations department. In ministry relations, he traveled and trained Bible teachers and seminary professors on how to use the Bible software program. He found the resources he was in front of on a daily basis to be a huge discipleship help in his spiritual journey.
While traveling with the company, he met his wife, Hayley, who was also in Christian publishing and an author herself. In 15 years of marriage, God has done incredible things in lives of the DiMarco’s. The once addicted gambler is now a married Christian author and publisher. Michael and Hayley have one daughter (Addison – age 13) and four dogs. Together, Michael and Hayley have published over 40 books (including four Bible studies and two devotional Bibles available in several translations and languages) and have sold over 1.5 million books.
Today, Michael DiMarco is the lead pastor of Friendship Community Church, in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He has been leading this congregation for two years, and the congregation averages 600 in weekly attendance. From his mom saying he should be the Pope to youth and college leaders saying he should be a pastor, Michael is amazed at the hand of God in his life.
Pastor Michael says one of the greatest challenges of leading an organization or congregation is focusing on a specific approach or method, which often leads to not recognizing the difference between effectiveness and faithfulness. It is important to keep a clear vision and purpose of loving God, loving our neighbor, and pursuing the Great Commission. “We tend to become closed-fisted with what God has entrusted to us instead of open-handed—in reality, God owns it all,” says Michael. “We have to remember to hold everything with open hands of faith, not just with the things we have but in how we accomplish things.” His desire is to lead his congregation to not be about excellence as much as being about faithfulness.