“Ernie, when you lost your job; when you were stripped of your calling, your vocation, your passion; When you were separated from your family, your friends, was I enough? Am I enough? Is My presence enough?”
I’ve given another title for my conversion story, “God Moved(s) In A Mysterious Way” because in my case He most certainly has and still does. That’s also the title of a hymn written by William Cowper. Cowper was a severely depressed man and suicidal most of his life…and yet he saw the hand of God in his life, as mysterious as it was, thus, composed the hymn. It is said that Romans 3:25 was the one verse of Scripture that actually gave him hope.
“God Moves In A Mysterious Way”
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
I grew up believing in God, but as I approached my late teens and early twenties I was slowly, but steadily evolving into an Agnostic. I suppose becoming agnostic is the by-product when your dad is a minister of 40 some years and your mother is a full pledged atheist (at least that was what she claimed). My parents were divorced when I was five and I ended up being raised by my father.
At the age of twenty-two I was living in Topeka, Kansas working for a Hallmark Cards plant. I was making a very nice living, rented a rather large duplex, and basically had the means to do anything, any time I desired, but I wasn’t happy. I woke up. Went to work. Came home. Went to bed. Looked forward to the weekend and partied with my friends. Returned home feeling worse than when I left. Got up. Went to work…….
And then there were my friends. By the age of 24 or 25, most of them had already been married and divorced. Some were alcoholics. Others were drug addicts. Some were both. I met someone I thought was really going to make a difference in my life, that was until she told me how much she cared for me, but wouldn’t give up her cocaine habit for anyone, not even me. It was at this point I began thinking to myself, “If this is all there is…………..and if there isn’t a God…..and it will never change…………..what’s the point”. As I mentioned in the beginning of the book, I wasn’t necessarily suicidal. If you would have held my head under water I would have fought to survive. However, if you could have convinced me there wasn’t a God and that I could take a pill and be eternally void, I believe I would have taken it.
It was at this point, unknown to me at the time, that God was moving in a very mysterious way as He set into motion a life transforming incident that would change the direction of my life and my eternal destiny as well. He put me in contact with my mother who by this time was either 100% atheistic or at best a devout enemy of God.
God Moves In A Mysterious Way
Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
and works His sovereign will.
I had not seen my biological mother more than five times in twenty-one years. I learned she was living in Fort Collins, Colorado and she invited me to pack up my bags and go west. She was married to her third husband, Ben, who maybe wasn’t an atheist, but there certainly wasn’t any love lost between his feelings for a Divine Creator. Once while all three of us were sitting at the kitchen table he looked straight at me and said, “If there is God (then pointing his middle finger up in the air), then _____ you, God!” Both of them were doing their very best to convince me there wasn’t a God or at best He was a God of little use to humanity. However, it was their repeated anti-sermons (if you will) and a major mistake in my mom’s presentation that eventually led to my conversion to Christ.
You should never plan to give your lectures or arguments against the existence of God while immersing that person into the mighty awesome creation of God. Some of her best lectures were given right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was like taking me to a jewelry store with hundreds of watches and clocks ticking, chiming and coo cooing and insisting there was no such thing as a watchmaker. And creation kept chiming and ticking as I observed the awe inspiring view of the mountains, the lakes, the snow fall, the creatures, the stars and the moon that silenced her line of reasoning time after time. I entered the Rockies Agnostic, but left the awesome mountains believing God existed. When she realized her efforts had backfired I was asked to leave their house in the middle of a Colorado winter, knowing no one and with only $200.00 in my pocket. The only acquaintance in my life was a young minister named Mike Rock who had been studying the bible with me………….that led to my decision to follow Christ. On January 20, 1983, I was baptized into Christ………….and lo and behold there was a man named Mike Bridges that so happened to show up at my baptism and offered me a place to live. January 20, 2013 I celebrated my 30th year in Christ.
God Moves In A Mysterious Way
You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.
And God was blessing me with more than I ever imagined He could or would. Late in 1983 I ran into this lady named, Karen Baldwin. Well, actually she ran right into me not paying attention to where she was going after church service. In 1984 we were married and on August 11, 2012 we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. By 1985 the church I was converted in took a chance on a novice Christian who had decided to enter the ministry and offered me a position………for a whopping $200.00 a month. The blessings continued as Karen gave birth to our first child, Krissy on January 20 (my spiritual birthday, mind you), 1987 and our second child, Valerie, on February 23, 1989.
God Moves In A Mysterious Way
His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.
God’s purposes were ripening, but for a while life was becoming quite bitter. Regarding 2 Corinthians chapter four, someone once wrote: Ministry is never easy. It is virtually impossible for a leader committed to ministry to stay the course. The opposition is too strong, the heartaches too deep, and often the progress too slow. In short, spiritual, doctrinal, and moral problems which plague many churches are so serious that one is tempted to judge them not worth a serious effort towards reformation. Yet, as Paul recognized, that which makes the work difficult is precisely what makes it necessary. Or, in Paul’s own words, therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:1).
But I was losing heart. In 1991 I learned in a church business meeting that my services were no longer required and that I should start looking elsewhere for employment. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, but I remembered God’s mysterious ways that He had moved in my life and asked Him to continue to do so. In my prayers the only thing I asked Him not to do was to send me to Texas. It was too hot, too far away and, well, I just didn’t want to go.
Six months later we were packed and heading to our new home, Dallas, Texas. I was going back to school and it just so mysteriously happened that I was awarded a full scholarship and all living expenses paid. Fast forwarding through the years, after graduation I accepted a ministry position in Harlan County in Kentucky, which almost destroyed me and I decided not only to leave the ministry, but maybe the faith as well. I now knew a little bit about how the young evangelist Timothy must have felt working for church Ephesus. In the letter of 1 Timothy Paul had to urge him to remain in church Ephesus. By the time he wrote the second letter, Timothy is considering leaving the ministry and Paul has to remind him that he did not receive a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.
I was completely confused in the manner God was working in my life. I had to leave my family and move up to Lexington to find employment, anything. Karen and the kids remained in Harlan County because she had to finish her teaching contract. Just by chance I had met a man who was building a motel in Harlan, Kentucky and he allowed Karen and the girls to live in his Best Western until they could move up to Lexington…..where I was living, just by chance, in his house while he and his wife moved into their other home in Florida for the winter.
God Moves In A Mysterious Way
Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan His work in vain:
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.
And plain He did make it, but it was over a process of several years of self-examination, countless hours of prayer and a lot of meditation. I had now been fired twice as a minister and the only job I could find to pay the bills was cooking and co-managing one of those 24/7 restaurants, primarily working the graveyard shift. At this point I questioned if God was through with my service in ministry, after all, John the Baptist was considered the greatest prophet of all and his ministry lasted only six months with the benefits of one year in prison and then execution. Who was I to complain? In all frankness, I figured my preaching days were over and was beginning to make peace with the idea.
For the present my whole focus and passion was for God to answer this one question, “Am I learning the lesson You want me to learn?” From 1996 to 1998 I would go on long walks continually desiring to know the answer. I could sense there was something I wasn’t picking up on, but I just could not place my finger on it. I had already learned the lesson of not calling God a liar and deceiver. This intense conversation came in January 1995 at two in the morning. I pointed my finger in the air and said to God, “I have done everything You wanted me to do. I left my home in Colorado, went to school, ministered to Your people and now I’m without a church, my family and my nearest friends are over one thousand miles away. God, You deceived me! You are a liar!” It was at that moment He spoke to me (not in voice but in thought---strong thought!!!) the very words He used when Jeremiah made his mistake of accusing God. In essence the message to me was, “Ernie, I will take you back and you will be My preacher again, but only when you repent and stop speaking worthless words. I sent you out so they would become like you and now you are becoming like them” (Jeremiah 15:15:15-21).
After that discussion and repentance I was becoming much more moldable for God to shape and sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. In that one year crash course in God’s seminary (working at the 24/7 restaurant) I had learned about and met many of the helpless and harassed that Jesus desires to show compassion and grace. There was Lori (not her real name) that was just drop dead gorgeous on the outside, but tormented and twisted on the inside. Her disgust for men and her willingness to be sexually used by them was legendary. There was the assistant manager, Ray, an alcoholic, who always kept a six pack in the ice machine and one day walked out of the store for a quick smoke not to return because the police were waiting for him outside to arrest him. There was Shelia who was sleeping with the manager in order to get the better hours; and who could forget Janie who was contemplating suicide because her husband had left her, NOT for another woman, BUT a for another man. There was Ray’s brother, Bob, who was committing adultery with one of the waitresses; Michelle who abused her body in every way imaginable and what she lacked in destroying in herself her husband made up for in habitual beatings. Several were prostitutes, one a part-time stripper; three were cocaine addicts and so on and so on.
However, there was something I still needed to learn, not merely to get back into ministry if God so chose, but in order to live, survive, and have peace. And then one day it occurred to me as I was studying Psalm 73, (which is what I call a rag to riches to rag to riches story). For all of those years of continually asking God, “Am I learning the lesson you want me to learn?” He in turn was asking me a question and it went something like this, “Ernie, when you lost your job; when you were stripped of your calling, your vocation, your passion; When you were separated from your family, your friends, was I enough? Am I enough? Is My presence enough?” It has now been over fifteen years and I have learned the lesson and continue to do so. Regardless of circumstance or situation, is God’s presence enough? My answer to that can only be a resounding, YES!!! As of September 2012 I celebrate my 27th year in ministry.
In conclusion, may I say that I do not believe I am the only one God asks that question to, “Is My presence enough?” I believe He asks that question to every believer every day, regardless of the blessings we receive or the sufferings we endure. “Was I enough? Am I enough? Is My presence enough?” What is your response to that question?
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast towards you.
Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will receive me with honor.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
God Move(d)s In A Mysterious Way
Site: The Writings From Heavin