- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 And then he explains how Jesus actually does this for us. AMAZING! I really had no idea that I had been so selfish until I realized that my spiritual attitude was all about MY FEELINGS. I determined to put those feelings aside and make Christ first in all of my life. I became a servant. This did not happen in a night. It took time. But I did come to believe that the more I gave myself away to others, the more on purpose my life would be. I am ever so thankful this process began long before December 9, 2009, the day Brenda had her major stroke.
- “One thing I do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 I am certain I would not want to live with someone who continually reminded me of my failures. And I am ever so grateful to have a relationship with my heavenly Father who is able to forget what I once was. What is more, I am looking forward to what can happen next as I continue to learn and grow in faith.
- “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 It took me a long time to learn the source of this secret. I tried to have this in my own power and failed when the circumstances changed. So I began to trust that God is faithful with His words. Trust in Him and lean not on your own understanding. Do not allow your circumstances to own you. Instead give it all to God.
And I thought the darkness had fled. And for a good many years, I believed God cared about me. Life is strange that way. I caught a break. But you know as I do, this too shall pass. Months turned to years. I married Brenda for better for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. We had two wonderful children, Matthew and Ashley. I was at the top of my class at Princeton and all was right with the world. God had finally given me what I deserved, a blessed life.
By now I was a pastor in the United Methodist Church. Then my baby got sick, really sick. She was in and out of the hospital dozens of times, specialists, nurses, doctors, insurance companies, bills! It was so overwhelming and I fell back to the path I once knew, “Why?” This one was not going to just go away. Long walks, trying to get away, unable to turn and face it, I relapsed. Growing “grim about the mouth”, I found myself again hiding “a dark soul and foul thoughts.”
As a family we decided we needed a huge change of perspective, a breath of fresh air. So we moved to Florida to launch a new church. “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.” (Jimmy Buffet) It worked. We enjoyed years as the spirit of God empowered us to new relationships. The Word began to really come alive and I could not get enough of it.
One night I was in Virginia visiting my parents when the phone rang. “Ernie,” Brenda said, “Ashley is in the hospital and they cannot stop her seizures. You need to come home.” I defiantly threw the phone and cursed at the God I believed hated me and dared Him to take me on rather than my daughter. My God-loving sister heard me and came in the room to correct my perspective. She told me I had no right to be angry with God. BIG MISTAKE.
My life in the cave only lasted about seven years this time. Only…. Seven…. Years! Each week I was able to share a message with teens and their parents and the church about God’s mercy and forgiveness, his great love for creation. I again focused my attention on the people God wanted to change and eventually was able to see beyond the circumstances. Actually, the circumstances did begin to change and that allowed hope to begin to creep back into my heart.
All along I was visiting and learning from a student, Nick, who began to unfold for me the truth behind the Bible. He talked about how I could have a relationship with God that was alive and not just understanding words on a page. But I had retreated deeply. I was a LONG way from the island. Turning me would take more than words. Nick planted the seed, though he never saw the flower of faith bud, he did his job.
The real journey of faith is not the journey of salvation, rather the steps we take once that glorious truth is realized. My steps to holiness encompass more than the removal of small pebbles of behavioral change. I really had few behaviors that spiritual mentors saw as unbecoming. Others struggled with their sexuality, or drinking, or smoking. My struggle was WAY bigger than that. The first thing I had to do was decide whether or not I hated God. Strangely enough, I never doubted the existence as some of the cowards at college chose to do. No, I chose to fight the battle.
Was God “malicious” and “indiscriminate” and “inscrutable” as Melville described him? I have to say, that was my starting point. As I looked through my young life, it seemed the divine organizer had lost sight of me. Either He did not care or He hated me as much as I hated Him. So the first thing I had to do was decide if God really cared about me. When I focused on my circumstances, I concluded a resounding no. Words on a page or poetry in a song did not have the power to change that. I attended Campus Crusade for Christ get togethers on Fridays and even led small groups. Something different was needed. God chose to use my defiant nature to His advantage, at times against my desire. I became the resident defender of a faith I was not sure I had. I began to argue for God instead of with Him. I asked professors for a time to openly debate in class. I launched an open forum at school to receive every challenge against faith someone had. I received the very barbs I had delivered to others. I kept telling people the only reason they could not believe was that they were afraid. It was not their mind that had to be converted; it was their heart. And I got to see lives begin a path to transformation. It was exciting. I read and I read and I read. This time I was reading the Bible and all things related to it.