My father-in-law was the only religious person I knew at the time I decided to go to church so I asked him for recommendations.
“Well, Jim if it were me I’d go to that Apostolic Church down by Timkens. They say that preacher Bob is a real fire and brimstone Holy Ghost filled man of God. That’s where I’d go.”
Austin was a true West Virginia hillbilly and proud of it. He was also the only father I had ever known so I accepted his recommendation without question, even if I didn’t understand any of his religious jargon. Fire and brimstone? Holy Ghost? What the hell is that about?
The following Sunday I drove to the tough side of town and found the small white church. I walked in, carefully checked out the scene, and sat in a pew by myself near the back so I could bolt if I wanted to.
The place looked like it could hold about a hundred max and it was half empty so I’d say there was about forty-five people there. They were all down front chatting it up when Pastor Smith walked in the back door and started to sing, “Jesus is the sweetest name I knowww, and he’s just the same, asss his holy name . . . “
He made his way to the small stage and stood before the podium and continued to sing his song until he was finished. He then welcomed everybody and chatted a bit about church stuff before opening his bible. Once that bible opened though, things got serious.
He read from it for a few minutes, found a phrase he particularly seemed to like and off he went on a long, verbal tirade. He mentioned Jesus a lot . . . and being born again . . . and sin . . . and hell . . . and death . . . and resurrection . . . and the baptism of the holy ghost . . . and speaking in tongues (huh?) . . . and being saved . . . and coming down to the altar . . . and all sorts of other stuff.
At the end of his preaching he had what he called an ‘altar call.’ This was where he sang, cajoled, and pleaded for anyone who wanted to be saved to come down to the altar, get on their knees and meet Jesus. Since I was probably the only new guy in the church I figured it was all for me.
I went. Brother Smith was there waiting for me. He directed me to kneel before the altar, which I did, and proceeded to pray over me about receiving Jesus into my heart, which I think I did. I may have even shed a tear or two while doing it. I was there for quite a while, but when I got up the congregation gathered around me and hugged me and said nice words to me and . . . I was hooked.
At the next meeting I was baptized by total immersion in a freezing cold cement tub that Brother Bob had made himself in the corner of the church basement. I came out of that water a blue, half frozen newly born son of God . . . whoopie! I had arrived.
This world of warm smiles and soft hugs drew me in like a bug to a spotlight. My heart was filled with Jesus and I was loving it! Brother Bob took me under his wings and for a while all was well with the world.
Then the rule book opened and it’s many laws were revealed. To an outlaw this raises a huge red flag. Man, I thought this was all going to be easy till I found out that I had to quit doing practically every fun thing I was doing.
I still needed to get the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues. No tongues, no Holy Ghost. I needed to work on that. I needed to find my gift, and my ministry, and I needed to save the world for Jesus!
I tried to speak in tongues and got prayed over many times for the Holy Ghost, but it never clicked with me. People, even God’s chosen people, get loud in my air space and I get spooked liked a trapped wolf . . . all I saw when they began to hover around me was the back door and my best way out of there . . .
Every time there was a traveling ministry in town Brother Bob would introduce me to them as the druggy hippie he had saved from sin and perdition. It soon became obvious to me that he was using me to make himself look good and I didn’t appreciate it. That was the first real entry into my soon-to-be-growing liabilities column.
In actuality he was having a far more difficult time introducing me to the Holy Ghost then he put on to his preacher buddies, so when I got the idea of coming to church at night when it was empty and trying on my own, he went along with it and gave me the key to the front door.
The following night was dark and rainy and perfect for a Holy Ghost visit. About 1AM I decided to go on down to the church and meet Him.
Once there, I fumbled in the dark with the key a bit, but soon opened the large front door and entered the darkness of the room. I could see nothing at all so I waited for my eyes to adjust before I began to walk down the aisle to the front of the spooky church where the altar was.
I got on my knees at the altar, put my hands in the proverbial folded position and began to pray . . . and pray . . . and pray . . . to no avail. No tongue talking, no Holy Ghost, nothing. Jesus Christ, even my savior rejected me!
Then I shut up and got real silent. I turned off the creaking room around me and began to focus on what I was doing there, and how bad I wanted to be baptized with the Holy Ghost. I remained that way for quite a while, then I began to pray again, but this time I was more intense.
The tingling began in my throat and moved upward to my tongue, weird feeling, sort of like it would feel when my foot fell asleep. I tried to talk and my speech was garbled. I thought I was being baptized by the Holy Ghost. (but I could also have been having a mini stroke I suppose.)
By now I was sitting back on my butt laughing, and . . . walla . . . just like that, talking in tongues! Ha! That’s it! I had just received the Holy Ghost!
I left the church totally pumped, went home and told Patti, but as I had to wake her up to tell her, she, true to form when being awakened, wasn’t all that impressed.
The next day I went to Brother Bob’s house and told him. He was pleased and assured me the visit from God was real and that now I was a full fledged member in the body of Christ.
I soon began to realize how lucky I was to have been led to Brother Smith’s church, because according to him every other church denomination in town were walking in deception. We Apostolics were the true church because we believed in being baptized “in the name of Jesus” . . . that meant a lot to God he said,because without saying those magic words “I baptize you in the name of Jesus” your baptism wouldn’t count and you would miss out when the ‘rapture” came . . . and by damn, I wanted to be in on that air lift, for sure!
I don’t know what happened to me that night at the church as I kneeled there before the altar. There is no doubt at all that I had had an experience of some sort, but was it self induced? Did I actually hypnotize myself? . . . I don’t know.
I do know that from that day forward I was a man on a mission and I had no intention other than going all the way with it. No holds barred, no just good enough. I wanted the golden ring.
I was once an elite airborne soldier, but this time instead of being “all the way!” in the army of uncle Sam . . . I was “all the way!” in the army of God.