Jesus Loved the "Hell" Out of Me
My dad and mom pastored a full gospel church in West Columbia, Texas for more than 50 years. The Christian Center has grown to be the largest church in West Columbia and the largest Full Gospel church in the area.
When my parents first moved to West Columbia, I was only a year old and my older brother, Mike, was four. Mom was sick and mentally tormented for the first two years in West Columbia. Dad not only pastored the church, but also had the pressure of all the family responsibilities. Dad began to have heart trouble. During this same time, while playing outside with Mike, I stuck my thumb into a bicycle chain and cut off my thumb. I don’t remember ever having two thumbs! The church was small and struggling, and we were poor. It was a tough time for us.
However, in the middle of this struggle a man gave my dad some books on the authority of the believer, the integrity of God’s Word, and who you are in Christ. Dad began to read and study the material and gained a new understanding of God’s Word.
Dad began to speak the Word to mom and had her repeat it after him. She began to say, “I am who God says I am. I have what God says I have. I can do what God says I can do!” As my parents saw who they were in Christ and spoke the Word, faith arose in their hearts. They knew that victory belonged to them in every area of their life.
My Momma Runs
As I grew up in church, there were some unusual services. Sometimes while we sang, Mom would begin to praise God rather exuberantly and shout, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” With glory and joy on her countenance, she would shout “Wooooo!” and run around the church! Dad was a little more dignified. After Mom ran, Dad would say, “Now, some of you don’t think that is necessary. It’s not necessary, unless it’s necessary!” While the congregation tried to figure out what Dad had said, Mom and others who had joined her would finish their rejoicing!
When I became a teenager, this was very embarrassing to me. When we were encouraged to bring visitors to church, I would say, “I’m not going to bring my friends to this church...I would never live it down.” One day a friend of mine showed up in our church. I certainly hadn’t invited him! As soon as I saw him, I went and sat by him and began to pray, “O God, please don’t let this be a wild service, and please don’t let my mother run.” That’s a dangerous prayer!
About that time, people began to sense the power of God and started rejoicing. The Holy Spirit fell on the entire place. My friend’s eyes got big. I tried to comfort him and tell him everything would be all right. Then my mother began to say, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” I thought, “Oh no, she’s revving up her engine.” Sure enough, I heard a “Woooooo!” and she started running around the church. I put my head down, and my friend asked, “Who is that woman?” I said, “I have no idea! We get all kinds of unusual people in here!” I made sure he never came to my house. I was ashamed of the power of God and had little understanding or appreciation of the pit my mother had come out of.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God... Psalm 40:2,3
I did not understand the magnitude of my mother’s deliverance, until I was seventeen and running from God. I had an automobile accident coming home from a party with a backslidden friend that totaled several cars. We walked away without a scratch. My backslidden friend said, “If your mom wasn’t praying, we would have been killed.” I agreed.
When I got home, Mom was sitting in a rocking chair. She spoke the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, “...Satan hath desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” Luke 22:31,32.
Although good changes had begun in my life, not long after the automobile accident three friends and I ended up in the county jail. I called Mom from the jail and she said, “Your dad has church tonight (it was a Wednesday night), so just prop your feet up and stay a while!” Dad and four deacons came to jail after church and put up bond for me so I could go home. After that incident, I sold my ‘55 Chevrolet and that sobered me up for a while!
Arrested By God
One Sunday God had a surprise for me. I was sitting on the back row cutting up, and God “arrested” me. An unannounced guest speaker, F.E. Ward, came to church that Sunday. Brother Ward was a big, stocky preacher. You never knew when he was going to show up, and that Sunday I was not prepared for what was about to happen.
Since our church believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, the supernatural was often in manifestation. Sometimes preachers would call someone out and give them a Word from the Lord. Usually, I knew when they were coming, and I would repent of all my sins in the foyer before I came into the auditorium. I knew the Bible said that if we asked God to forgive us, He would forgive and even forget our transgressions. I thought, “If God forgets it, then He can’t tell that preacher, and that preacher can’t tell the whole church.”
But that Sunday I was sitting on the back row with my backslidden friends when Brother Ward went to the platform and said he felt led to do something. He pointed to the back and said, “I want the pastor’s son to come to the front.” I was shocked! My friends made a comment, “You’re a dead duck now!” As I got up and headed down the aisle, I began to repent under my breath: “O God, forgive me of my sins! Please don’t tell that preacher what I’ve been doing. If You tell him and he tells everybody, my dad will kill me.”
All the blood drained from my face, and I was afraid and embarrassed as I stood in front of the whole church. I was only seventeen, but I thought my life had come to an end! I fully expected God to bring out a giant flyswatter and squash me in front of the whole church. I expected a voice from heaven to say, “Let this young man be an example to the rest of you in this church. Put twelve stones on this greasy spot and tell your kids about it!”
Instead, I heard the voice of F.E. Ward say, “Sit down on the altar.” As I sat down, he began to speak to me under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As he spoke to me about God’s plan and purpose for my life, the presence and love of God overwhelmed me, and I began to cry. I surrendered my life to Jesus again, and my heart was changed by the love of God.
Brother Ward then took an offering for me so I could spend the summer in Africa. Believe me, my life took a dramatic turn from that moment!
Within a few months I was in Tanzania, East Africa with missionary Ralph Hagemeier. How that happened was a mystery to me! I had a desire in my heart to serve God and to one day do mission work in Africa, but I seemed to stay in trouble. (Some say preachers’ kids are so bad because they hang around with deacons’ kids!)
I’ve often thought I should write a country western song called, “Jesus Loved the Hell out of Me.” I don’t mean to be crude or irreverent, but that is exactly what happened to me. I like to say: I went to school, and they tried to educate the ‘hell’ out of me. I went to church, and they tried to preach the ‘hell’ out of me. I went to jail, and they tried to rehabilitate the ‘hell’ out of me. I went home, and Dad tried to beat the ‘hell’ out of me. I went to Jesus, and He loved the ‘hell’ out of me. I am a living testimony that the love of God is the greatest force on earth.