"The Revival" is a humorous examination of events and motives that led Jimmy to salvation.
Have you ever stargazed through the thin high altitude Colorado air at two in the morning? Take my word for it, it’s breathtaking. The band of stars known as “The Milky Way Galaxy” is so powerful it dominates everything except the moon. I remember nights when I was in grade school, I laid wide awake looking out my only bedroom window. It faced straight east, and from my vantage point I could see the stars above the blinking lights of my hometown, Nucla Colorado, a few miles distant. I thought about many things during those long quiet hours, but at the top of my short list was salvation, Heaven or Hell. I don’t remember if I was born worrying about Heaven and Hell, or if it was a result of several very loud Baptist preachers and three summers’ worth of Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). Anyway, fear fueled my imagination and competing thoughts raced through my half-baked mind, of a short disastrous future followed by locked pearly gates. What would I do if the angels posted “No Trespassing” signs by a locked Heaven’s Gate? Who would I call? Would I go up or down? How could I reach God when I couldn’t understand the Bible? Sunday school wasn’t any more revealing than my history class. My life was such a confusing blur.
It was during one of my late night mental debates when I saw the unnatural movement in the night sky above Nucla. The objects seemed to be different colored lights, blinking and steady, moving erratically up and down Main Street just three or four hundred yards above the unsuspecting town. They would hover, go forward and reverse, then when apparently satisfied they’d disappear into the Heavens in a flash. I’d tried to tell my dad about these night specters, but my sentence never reached the end of the first description before he’d laugh me into silence. So I quit trying to share my observations with anyone. And I wondered, was this another sign of my lost condition? I saw the lights more than ten times so it wasn’t a farce. Were the flying objects angels or demons or Martians? Was I seeing things that weren’t really there? Was I, Jimmy, going crazy? Now you can see how UFO’s and playing out afterlife scenarios overrode my sleep cycle. By the time I was ten or eleven years old those serious debates of the heart kept me awake some nights long after my parents and three siblings were asleep.
I’ve found that fear can become a perverse game. We twist our dark memories until they become part of our personality. Some fears become our oldest companions when we are unwilling to get rid of them. Even at such a young age, the fear that haunted me over and over was this: there would be an accident, an unfortunate event that would take my life and I’d find my unsaved and unforgiven self in front of a vengeful God who would cast me into the lake of fire, where all good-for-nothing, lying, lazy boys went.
I remembered something about Jesus from VBS. He was some sort of a Man-God the church kids talked about, who routinely saved Hell-bent people like me. But the only ones who got the Jesus nod were older girls; usually popular teenagers who made peanut butter sandwiches, carried Bibles, and taught puzzling classes about love. At that stage of my life I was allergic to girls and love. And the Bible…well…it was way over my head. Third grade was a full challenge. I was struggling with “Dick and Jane” readers and “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain,” in music class. And there I was in VBS where everyone expected Jimmy to read and memorize Old English Bible passages. I felt like it was another failure in God’s eyes. Instead of finishing the two weeks closer to Him, another page was ripped from Jimmy’s book of life. I was still only one car wreck away from Hell.
I’m not trying to say that it was an obsession that occupied every waking minute. It’s just a snapshot into my mind during my youth so you will understand that I was a searcher. In my heart I always longed for a relationship with God and to make Heaven my reality. In fact, I’m still a searcher today at 56 years old. Having a searcher’s spirit is a good thing if guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. But later my search changed into a party hunt that led me into bad territory. That’s when my spiritual train fell off the Christian tracks and I started to accumulate consequences. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…let’s go back to Junior High.
I was now in seventh grade, October 1969, in Naturita Colorado. Now, one has to understand the time frame to appreciate my narrative. This was before cell phones, computers, DVD’s, and even color TV’s. So high school sports, the Uranium drive-in theater, and the annual county fair and rodeo was as good as it got. And anything new or unusual really caught our attention. One day there was a lot of talk around the Junior High lockers about the ongoing Trinity Baptist Church’s revival. All the guys on the wrestling team were excited about the guest speaker. He was an ex-pro wrestler, who called himself Gorgeous George Grant, a mountain of a man who had an electrifying story to tell. My good friend Buck told me that Gorgeous George had came by wrestling team practice and said if the team would show up for the next day’s revival, that he’s show them some wrestling moves like the sleeper or the choker. So Buck caught a ride with another family and checked it out. He said it was unlike any church service he’d been to before. Trinity Baptist was packed to hear the evangelist tell his amazing story about incredible places and wild people we’d never heard of before. Buck excitedly told me how he went forward when they did an altar call and the Holy Spirit baptized him. He was saved and going to Heaven! No more worries about Hell for Buck!
The next day I got permission to attend the revival from Dad and Mom. In those days neither of them went to church nor had much use for it. So I was a little surprised that I got to go, but with what I know of God today I’m sure the Holy Spirit was softening hearts. I don’t remember how I got to Naturita but I did arrive early enough to get a seat on a pew, next to Buck on the right side about half way back. More and more people came and the church filled to over capacity. It seemed like half the junior high school was there. I even saw the teenage girls who taught summer VBS classes. Deacons were bringing out folding chairs and the center isle became a narrow walkway. The inside air was so stale that they opened the windows and doors, hoping the cool Colorado evening air would freshen the overheated sanctuary.
The service began with introductions, prayers, and songs that everyone seemed to know except us sinners. Then the ushers came, passing around polished mahogany offering plates for money. I searched my pockets in a mild panic and found a forgotten dime from last weekend just in time to drop it in the offering plate as it went by. Mr. Burk, a friend’s dad gave me a smile as he passed the offering plate on down the pew. Good grief, I thought, am I always a day late and a dollar short? Buck leaned over and asked if I was ready to go forward tonight. I told him that I might, but everything seemed overwhelming right now. Then Reverend Newkirk introduced the evangelist, Gorgeous George Grant and everyone applauded as he went to the pulpit. The evangelist didn’t pull any punches, and he went right to telling about a life of drinking and drugging, whoring and fighting, the ugly side of professional wrestling with its raw deals and big money lost. He preached Jesus beginning to end, the cross, resurrection, repentance, and forgiveness of sins as only someone who’s been there could. If you didn’t believe that Hell was real or that Satan was alive and well on earth before, you did when he finished. Sweat poured from his forehead and through his shirt as he delivered the message with passion and conviction. I swear you could feel the heat from his fire and brimstone preaching all the way to the fifth row of pews. That’s when the “come to Jesus moment” happened, the altar call.
“Now is the time!” The Evangelist yelled, “Not tomorrow!” The congregation bowed their heads in prayer and the choir started singing.
“Just as I am…without one plea…but that thy blood was shed for me.” They sang the piercing melancholy hymn looking right at me!
“And that thou bidst me come to thee.” The notes were haunting me…relentless pressure.
“O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” It melodiously pulled at my heart, trying to wrench it away from the old sinful condition where it had beaten for twelve years. But I couldn’t let go, it was too hard. I didn’t have the willpower and could only stand and watch as Buck (his second trip) and other classmates went forward to do the right thing. They had power, they didn’t hold out. Why wasn’t it hard for them kneel at the altar? Why couldn’t I turn loose of my knotted up soul? I stood frozen in indecision gripping the back of the pew so tight that my knuckles turned white.
“We’re going to sing the altar call one more time. This may be your last chance to be saved. What if there’s a car wreck, what if there’s a heart attack? There may not be a tomorrow. The time is now.” Then the choir continued, “Just as I am…waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot.”
I watched until no one else walked the isle and the evangelist waved the choir to stop. Once again I was the nervous spectator unable to act on God’s invitation to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There was no happiness here for me. I was emotionally drained, like I’d just run an emotional gauntlet. I felt isolated and alone even in the middle of dozens of happy Christians, because I wasn’t one of them. And I feared that another page was torn from Jimmy’s book of life.
I caught a ride home and there were few questions about the revival from Mom and Dad. I was thankful that everyone wanted to leave the topic alone. That night, like so many nights before, I lay in bed watching the sky above Nucla, thinking about God, about me and my friends, about the revival. Buck was right…it was unlike any church service he’d been to before. But why did I freeze up? I was in a rut, a slough of despondence and couldn’t seem to break out. Oh Lord, help me find you before it’s too late. Sometime in the waning hours of that night while I slept, God must have tweaked something in my soul, in that secret place where ideas originate. Because by the time I’d finished my farm chores the next morning and climbed on the school bus, I knew what I had to do that evening. One way or the other I was going to make it back to the revival and this time I was going to go forward during the altar call. Never again would I have deal with my personal demons about accidental death and lost eternity. This time I was sure that I could do the right thing and become a Christian.
I met Buck in school and we talked about the Gorgeous Georges revival and what we got out of it. He was surprised I didn’t go forward, because he went forward a second time that night. Buck was really into it and was unabashed in his testimony even to our friends who really didn’t want to hear about it. I could only smile and listen. I’ll be there tonight, I said to myself, I missed the salvation bus last night but I’m climbing aboard tonight! The school day and the bus ride home went quickly. I got old Saddle, our family cow, milked and the other chores done. After supper I called Emmitt and Cynthia Johnson, our neighbors, for a ride if they were going. Emmitt said they were going but wanted to know my real intentions.
“Jimmy, is this just a rendezvous with your ornery friends or are you serious?”
I assured him I was sincere and he’d not have to track me down after it was over. I’d be ready to go when he was. So, a little while later we headed to Naturita to catch the last night of the fall revival.
Trinity Baptist was packed even tighter than the night before. By the top of the hour there weren’t any seats left and men lined the walls because even the grey folding chairs were full. There seemed to be spiritual energy in the air as the revival started with introductions and announcements. I felt much more comfortable than the first night. In fact, I was a little excited. Tonight’s the night – I’m going to do it! I don’t remember what Gorgeous George preached in his sermon, although “The wages of sin is death,” would probably be an accurate description. But I do remember the alter call hymn the choir sang. “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling…calling for you and for me.” I had some anxiety, some fear of what my peers might say, but there was no doubt that October night in 1969 was my predestined hour of salvation.
“See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching…watching for you and for me.”
So with a newfound courage I walked the aisle. The Holy Spirit had laid a path before me and given me the emotional courage to stand and walk forward to the preacher, to confess, repent, and testify openly to a room full of people that I accepted Jesus the Christ, the resurrected Son of God Almighty as my Savior.
“Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home.”
“Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!”
Then I was led to a place on the sinner’s pew up front to pray and be prayed over. Watery eyed deacons, my Uncle John in a western suit, and old miners with calloused gnarly hands prayed over us. Many sinners were weeping and others were wailing out loud. Why would anyone cry about their day of salvation? This was confusing because I on the other hand, was very happy. I didn’t want to cry. In fact I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing with joy! The evangelist said the angels were rejoicing in Heaven because we lost sheep have been found. Nevertheless I didn’t want to be the odd or happy duck out so I managed to squeak out a crocodile tear. But mostly I kept my head down so nobody could see my face, and studied my new steel toed lace up work boots that dad had bought me for school. It was a safe place to keep my eyes and mind while waiting for the end of the altar call. After a head count of newly saved sinners and a series of handshakes, blessings, and accolades we found our way out and home. Later that night, I reclined in bed and studied the stars one more time while I reflected on the revival. I was elated! Yes…real salvation! I had to chuckle when I thought about Buck…he’d went forward a third time that evening only this time Gorgeous George remembered his bright red hair. “Son, weren’t you up here before? You only have to be saved, once you know!” I coveted Buck’s unabashed faith that he seemed to have from the very first hour. But I was grateful because hope had replaced my fear of a vengeful God. The grim reaper no longer had leverage on my soul. Eventually I stopped staring out the window after dark so I don’t know what happened to the UFO’s. I don’t remember seeing them later while I was in High School. Were they real or a figment of an overactive mind? It’s nice to think they were real. Perhaps as I grew up I lost the ability to see magic – to see what’s really there in the fourth dimension – to see that the blinking colored lights that hovered and moved above Nucla were really angels tending Jesus’s flock as they slept in peace. Maybe one of them dropped in that night and gave me the gift of salvation.
It would be nice to end my story in a warm and fuzzy glow by sharing with you that my life after October 1969 improved with each passing year, that I grew up to be an upright Christian man that all could emulate. But this sinner’s prayer didn’t spare me from the consequences of living a backslidden life. I lost most of my twenties and some of the thirties too. I can testify that I’ve struggled in my faith more years than not. But the good news is that I have been forgiven and I’ve learned to strive for, in fact look forward to, the finish line.
Life for humanity in this fallen world, Earth, is a race, and we don’t get to choose where or when we start. We aren’t even allowed to choose if we race. Everyone has to put one foot in front of the other because life comes right at us ready or not. And where everyone finishes is already determined by God.
But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first, Matthew 19:30.
Some theologians call that predestination, and I believe it’s true. The only self-determination we have is how we run the race set before us. We get to choose how we run the race. The start and finish was a done deal when we were born but we can make a difference today, we can change and improve ourselves and communities by how we run our daily race. Do I spend time each day in prayer and meditation? Am I the Good Samaritan with kind words, who watches out for his neighbor and is honest in deed and dollar? Do I attend church out of duty or a guilty conscience, or because I have taken ownership and love it as I would someone who saved my life? Has church become a tax shelter or a cooperative to get free cash and services, or do I come bearing gifts, prepared to wash the Saint’s feet? These are the kind of questions that will tell us how well we’re running life’s race, how well we are using our time on Earth. When we die, the only thing we get to take with us is what we give away.
Let us live the second half of our lives with the knowledge that one day we’ll approach God’s Throne to be judged for what we have done with all the decades of time we were given. We’ll have to answer for how we ran the race our Lord set before us. We never know if we have many miles to go or if the homestretch is right around the next bend. So let’s get forget about our past long forgiven, run a good race today, and be grateful we have a tomorrow with unlimited possibilities!
Let’s fast forward over forty years to the summer of 2010. A pair of old friends who haven’t seen each other since 1975 sit in the shade of a grand old elm tree in Fruita Colorado, drinking iced tea. Once upon a time they were Buck and Jimmy, Naturita Junior High School students who grew up during one of the largest Uranium mining booms in history. Today, the twelve year old boys and the mining boom exist only in the black and white pages of old newspapers. But Mike and Jim are still here. They’re thin on top and heavy around the middle and they need bifocals. They’re scarred up veterans of life, they’re survivors. They can talk for hours about the Army and Navy, hard drinking, wrong turns, crazy friends, and lost opportunities. Although they lost touch for many years they’re still friends because they share a common ground. They treasure their lives and family for what it really is, a second chance from God.
The afternoon grows long and their time together short. So before Mike has to leave they review a long mental list of mutual friends and classmates. They’re both surprised to learn how many have died, that others have vanished, and others like themselves seem to have done pretty well. Mike and Jim are grateful to be alive because back in the day they did the same things that killed their peers. So far they have been spared the high cost of low living. Maybe that bill will come due one year but they can’t dwell on that for now. They agree that perhaps the largest reason they’re still alive goes back to that memorable October 1969 revival, when they went forward and took Jesus as their Lord and savior. That night they were sewn together with an eternal thread that cannot be broken by man.
© Copyright by James Cressler, July 2013.
Let’s fast forward over forty years to the summer of 2010. A pair of old friends who haven’t seen each other since 1975 sit in the shade of a grand old elm tree in Fruita Colorado, drinking iced tea. Once upon a time they were Buck and Jimmy, Naturita Junior High School students during one of the largest Uranium mining booms in history. Now the twelve year old boys and the mining boom are long gone. But Mike and Jim aren’t. They’re thin on top and heavy around the middle and they need bifocals. They’re scarred up veterans of life, they’re survivors. They can talk for hours about the Army and Navy, hard drinking, wrong turns, crazy friends, and lost opportunities. Although they lost touch for many years they’re still friends because they share a common ground. They treasure their lives and family for what it really is, a second chance from God.
The afternoon grows long and their time together short. So before Mike has to go home they review a long mental list of mutual friends and classmates. They’re both surprised to learn how many have died, that others have vanished, and others like themselves seem to have done pretty well. Mike and Jim are grateful to be alive because back in the day they did the same things that killed their peers. So far they have been spared the high cost of low living. Maybe that bill will come due one year but they can’t dwell on that for now. They agree that perhaps the largest reason they’re still alive goes back to that memorable October 1969 revival, when they went forward and took Jesus as their Lord and savior. That night they were sewn together with an eternal thread that cannot be broken by man.
© Copyright by James Cressler, July 2013.