Scary Jesus, Crazy Bible Stories, & The Tape Ministry

 In General

DG’s Evolving Faith – Part 1

F

or as long as I can remember I have lived with an awareness that God is present. Now I am not saying that I have always sought God or had God figured out. What I am saying is that I lived with the sense that God is nearby. Why it’s been this way I do not know. I know it’s not because I was born into some super spiritual nuclear family nor was it because I was born right on the church alter. I can’t really say what the reason but my whole life has been filled with an awe and wonder of this unseen God and his work in our world. And I’ve been inexplicably drawn to Him.

My very first memory in a church setting is of my mother playing tambourine in the Spanish language fellowship of which my dad, sister, and ever present grandmother were a part. We had just moved from the McAllen / Reynosa area to Palestine, Texas. Naturally, we gravitated toward a group of other Mexican migrants who were in the area. And our family quickly made friends with the family of a local Mexican pastor of the small non-denominational Charismatic church. It was in that setting that I would watch my mother enthusiastically worship and occasionally be overtaken then fall down during the prayer time at the end of each service.

Late Great Planet EarthI also remember spending a great deal of time in the lobby of the church building. Often, due to teasing my sister, Maria, or being an all around mischievous child, I would get yanked out of a church service to get scolded or worse. After I got what was coming to me I’d end up in a time-out in the church lobby, usually by myself. While there, sometimes I would stare at this painting (see top image) of the resurrected Jesus rapturing the saints. But more often than not I would get lost in thought imagining what was happening in this weird painting on a lobby wall that had Jesus wrecking havoc. All I remember thinking is, “Jesus returning is scary.”

HISTORICAL NOTE: I was born shortly after Hal Lindsey wrote “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970). This best selling book which sold over 20,000,000 copies inspired a pop culture curiosity over the ancient book of Revelation and its very disturbing, dispensational interpretation. Following its success many low budget B movies were produced including the popular “A Thief In The Night” (1972) and its three sequels, “A Distant Thunder” (1978), “Image Of The Beast” (1980), and “The Prodigal Planet” (1981). Movies like these, which happened to be shown in churches I attended helped, furthered mass interest in Biblical Prophecy and anything related to The Last Days.

It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the juice & snacks in Sunday School. I couldn’t get enough of the wild stories of talking snakes, killer floods, arky arkys, smiting enemies with jawbones, beheading giants, and every now & then a miraculous Jesus story like walking on water or killing fig trees. After class, I would march upstairs to Big Church where I would sing with the crowd then sit mesmerized by the excited pastor yelling stuff like “You better get ready; Jesus is coming!”

As our family moved around from place to place I experienced many different types of churches… For a while I was bribed to attend an Assembly of God church on the good side of town. A next door neighbor would frequently see me playing around the yard on Sunday mornings on her way to church services. So one day she decided to stop and talk to my mom and I. After talking to my mom she came to ask if I would like to go to Sunday School with her. I said, “No.” But then she responded, “If you go to church with me we will stop at Dairy Queen on the way home. I’ll buy you an ice cream cone if you come to church with me!” With that she had me. I was hooked. I was a regular church attendee.

DQ Ice Cream
It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the juice & snacks in Sunday School. I couldn’t get enough of the wild stories of talking snakes, killer floods, arky arkys, smiting enemies with jawbones, beheading giants, and every now & then a miraculous Jesus story like walking on water or killing fig trees. After class, I would march upstairs to Big Church where I would sing with the crowd then sit mesmerized by the excited pastor yelling stuff like “You better get ready; Jesus is coming!”

Pentecostalism within the larger American Evangelical framework made a deep impact in my life during my very young and formative years – no doubt. My mother likes to tell a story of me being an excited little guy who would find branches in the yard that I would fashion into little crosses with whatever twine I might find. I’d take those little crosses and stick them into the ground as a sort of mini pulpit. While I don’t recall my “sermonizing” my mother has told me I would preach with great passion.

Then my young life was suddenly unraveled. I remember my dad, Guadalupe, whom I loved, left home. There was no explanations from anyone in the family. Maybe it’s just that you don’t have to explain that sort of stuff to little kids, or maybe it’s just that we didn’t really matter, I didn’t really matter, but whatever the case one day he was there and the next, poof, he was gone. And life went on.

So there we were, a small broken family, with my grandma Lucy in tow. Then it wasn’t long before my mom meet this cool guy. He was a gringo. He had a cool white Ford pickup truck with an eight-track player that had the Eagles Greatest Hits Volume 2 permanently stuck in it. He wore cowboy boots. And he seemed to love having Maria and I around. He had a way with me that endeared me to him; I’m sure it had nothing to do with his stuffing my face with his favorite German Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Ice Cream, two of my favorites to this day. One day that man, Darrell, married my mom, on April Fools Day. Seriously! Who gets married on April freakin’ Fools? After the wedding we moved into a little working class neighborhood in Whitehouse, a suburb of Tyler, Texas. And our broken family seemed like it was put back together, even if only for a little while.

We moved in next door to one of those Father Knows Best type families… a couple of boys, a doting mom, and a tall, strong, respectable dad. And it just so happened that one of the boys was my age. His name was Scott. He had a room full of toys, a record player, a BB gun, and every other thing a rambunctious little boy could ever want. We became fast friends. And as friends happen to do they invite you to places. And my friend Scott invited me to church. I said, “Ok!” Then the next thing you know I am a regular on the big white First Baptist Church bus that would drive through our small town each week picking up kids and small families. Scott’s family would take their car to church… but me and him, we rode the bus!

Royal AmbassadorsBecause the church had a ton of stuff to do, I sort of got into it all. The next few years were a blur of fun stuff like being a Royal Ambassador (the Southern Baptist version of a Boy Scout), being on a church basketball team, and also being a little hoodlum. Once I got busted for lighting up tons of multi-colored smoke bombs that I then tossed into the fellowship hall right before the lights were turned on. It’s all fun and games until you get caught. But what I enjoyed the most was the Sunday School classes were I would hear stories from the Bible. One particular Sunday morning while listening to a story, I remember my little heart started to race, I got really excited. I told the teacher and the next thing you know I am being escorted to the Pastor’s office were I was led in a prayer. I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart and not long after I was baptized at First Baptist Church.

Along with my newfound faith, if you can call it that, came a lot of thinking. Maybe the stories in Sunday School became more complex or maybe I started listening even more carefully but I soon came to realize there were a ton of things I didn’t really understand. That’s when I, the insanely curious kid, started asking a ton of questions. I would annoy the hell out of people with a million questions. I remember one of the questions being, “What is the Trinity? We talked about it in Sunday School. I heard it mentioned in church services. We even sing songs about it. Can you explain the whole Father, Son, & Holy Ghost are all God thing to me, please?”

Since my Sunday School teacher couldn’t satisfy my curiosity, I remember asking a deacon. The deacon said he couldn’t really explain it but he did encourage me to just believe it. After asking a few more people I landed back in Pastor Bell’s office.

The pastor’s office had this mystique for me. Books everywhere on all the shelves along the walls. Fancy framed papers that looked really formal and official. A giant polished wood desk and a giant leather chair told me that the pastor was a very important man. So, I was ushered in then the pastor asks me to take a seat in one of the big chairs opposite his. From behind the desk he asks, “How he can help?” I blurted out, “I want to know what the Trinity is all about. I know it’s God; but how? I mean, is God three people? I don’t get the Trinity. And what does the Holy Spirit do?” So the pastor jumps up enthusiastically, walks over to me then literally pats me on the head, and says, “Follow me.”

Cassette Tape MinistryWe both walk over to one of the giant book shelves. He leans down and pulls out a few items. He hands me three things. A brand new black cassette-tape recorder. A blank box of cassette tapes. And lastly, a large empty white vinyl trifold cassette tape case. Then he tells me, “Don’t worry about the Trinity. Tell ya what, I want you to just listen to my sermons. Record them. Then listen to the tapes over and over again. Keep the tapes in the case. And you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know. Is that a deal?” And like that and without any further thought of the Trinity I think I started the tape ministry at my church.

From that Sunday forward I would sit on the front row at church with my little cassette tape recorder and a blank tape recording every word my pastor would utter. Then later, I would listen. But that got old real quick and I started thinking about the Trinity again. Not long after I got invited to another church down the street for some cool event or something-or-another and next thing you know I am hanging out at Gateway Baptist Church on the outskirts of town. Little did I know but my mind was about to get totally blown.

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Owie, owie, owie!The Book of Revelation