I spent thousands of dollars creating an image I had seen in a friend of my father whose home we visited. I was impressed with the stereo system containing a ten-inch reel-to-reel tape recorder. I was in my teens at the time, but I knew I would eventually, one day, have such a system which would fulfill that dream. And, I did. In my family-room was an oak entertainment unit which contained two of everything! Two reel-to-reels, an eight and ten inch. Two amplifiers, two receivers, two equalizers and CD players and two cassette decks, one of which allowed me to load five cassettes and program for playback or to record to another randomly. I cherished this piece of equipment because I had it ordered directly from Japan, one of the first in the country at the time. There were speakers in each corner of the room, about four feet tall, creating a sound I was proud of. In fact, when first listening to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” CD, I turned it off to answer a knock at the door, which I later learned was pre-recorded. My second wife, Louisa, yelled at me when I later added a subwoofer, because it would shake the crystal in the expensive dining room set on the upper floor. Yes, it was impressive. Equally impressive was the satellite receiver and large screen television along another wall, itself having its own entertainment unit and speaker system running through an additional stereo system.
This fancy equipment housed in our five bedroom, three bathroom home, complete with four Corinthian columns in front of our French-styled doors, oversized colonial raised ranch home. Three years before, I sold our first home to invest in this corner lot in the suburbs of New York near Vassar College. Then it was valued at $165,000 and with future improvements, our little empire was valued close to $200,000.
So, this explained why at the age of 30, I was in this room filled with blinking lights, aloud asking God, “Is this it? Is this all there is?”
Already having worked twelve years at the IBM Corporation, my wife, a graduate nutritionist and I earned excellent salaries. My own education, although not having completed college provided me with good financial management skills as an investor and planner. We had three cars, several checking accounts, none of which we ever needed to balance. With a $10,000 overdraft privilege on my checking account, there was no need to ever worry about a bounced check.
My Christian experience seemed to have moved along at this same rapid pace. Accepted the Lord and baptized at 14, selected as youth minister at 16, having accepted, what I believed, was a calling on my life to ministry. By the time I was 22 years old, I was licensed and accepted as a minister within two denominations. My religious experience was not easy and I chose not to conform to traditional methods, but eventually settled at my home church beginnings as an Adventist and served faithfully as a volunteer chaplain with the Department of Corrections for New York State.
I was asked to serve at Wallkill, a medium security facility, where I actually learned the foundation for prison ministry. It was there I learned and made mistakes, later being requested to go to Greenhaven, a maximum security facility, a much more complex and difficult group of men, many of whom would never be released and would die there. My major concern was how I would be involved should the death penalty be ever brought back. It was where “Old Sparky” resided. Thankfully, I never found out.
My involvement with the inmates was very extensive. My ministry did not lend itself to attending monthly or once a week. From the beginning, I instituted a mid-week and a Friday evening service alongside the Sabbath service. Occasionally, I was present on Sundays to conduct either a service or share with another group. I held counseling sessions, where I learned much about an inmate’s personal life, often requested to visit family or court proceedings on their behalf. Very frequently, upon their release, I would drive them home and pick them up if they were going on a furlough. I would speak at their churches when invited by their pastors. Perhaps the most influential or well-known person I met was Dr. Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, Sr., at the time Senior Pastor of the Riverside Baptist Church in New York City, whose son was incarcerated.
As a result of my reputation, I spoke monthly on a radio program, eventually replacing the host when life called her elsewhere, writing, producing and hosting my own version of “Back to the Bible” for 104.7 FM, Poughkeepsie, New York, a 50,000 watt station which could be heard in five states. This enabled me to contract with various record labels for album play and meet celebrities who I would invite on the air, a live hour show on Sunday evenings. This lasted for two years. I had my sights on moving toward cable television since TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) had a local affiliate nearby.
I evaluated taking over a former department anchor store, which had been vacant for some time. I considered giving it a major facelift and converting it into a worship center, childcare and educational facility.
I began producing gospel concerts in our area, contracting through a New York City radio contact. It seemed the sky was the limit. Then various televangelists began their downward and very public, fall from grace, and as fate would have it, mine was soon a-coming!
“Is this it? Is this all there is?” I could not imagine life being more challenging, or for that matter worthwhile, if I had already reached the pinnacle of where I was going to be. It was then I made the following plea to God, which would change my life:
“God, I don’t know You for myself. Sure, I know all about the Children of Israel, the Three Hebrews and the Fiery Furnace, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but I do not know You for myself. God, prove to me who You are! But two things: You cannot touch my health and You cannot touch my wallet.”
God loves it when we challenge Him. He loves it even more when we stipulate and put conditions on Him. My God would prove Himself to me as a God who had a hearing problem because He destroyed my wallet and devastated my health!
And this is how He did it.
If I do not mention anything much about my then wife, Louisa, please understand God used her in a miraculous way. However, the story is about me, and, I was a pretty selfish, sarcastic, egotistical, belligerent, and inconsiderate man. Yes, that should be a pretty good beginning of my description, except I did not know it then. I could see these character flaws in others, but never in myself.
My life began drifting farther away from God than ever before. I began doubting His existence, accepting the notion I had no real belief in Him. This is dangerous, especially for those of us who did believe in Him at one time, in fact, for those who served and worked for Him, it is deadly! Many people who fall into this group never make it back prior to death and will forever regret the choice they made. However, God had His hand on me. He had a prayer to answer.
When you no longer have His guiding influence in your life, it is amazing what might be your life’s experience. The difficulties you will face. It is hard enough trying to live a life serving Him. I cannot and thankful, I choose not to live my life separate from Him. Places you would never before consider going, now whose door you enter casually and with no fear. People who you’d not only cross the street to avoid, but even blocks and whole neighborhoods, now you’re running toward, even walking side by side, calling them “friend”. You take what you want from them and all the while, they take from you, and the Devil takes from all of us, and, He does not give it back. Not without strings attached, he does not.