My name is Frank Herrera. I was born in what is known as the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. My upbringing was religious. In fact, my family attended a local Catholic Church and I went to Sunday School at that Catholic church where I learned about all of the neat Bible stories. Many times, it was a struggle to get me to go to church, but I thought I would be okay in God's eyes as long as I kept going. That was what I understood as a child.
Over time, I began to feel that many things didn't make sense to me regarding the Catholic doctrine. For instance, I thought, "Why share my sins with a priest when God already knows them? Can't I go to God on my own?" I started thinking that people didn't need to go to church to get to heaven. God knew all of the people who were good and He knew about all of the bad people too. In my case, I was good and so were my parents so we didn't have anything to worry about. I mean...we hadn't murdered anyone or we weren't criminals. I did lie now and then, but figured that everyone did...so what's the big deal. Lies are worse when you lie about having done something really bad like stealing or killing someone. As I grew wiser (age 14), I finally figured it out. I didn't have to go to church. Religion was bogus as people tried to twist what God would have them do. The motivation of the religious leaders could have been one of the following: to make money, to gain power or social status, or to make themselves look really good. Of course, when religious leaders and their witless followers crossed paths, religious wars ensued that sparked hatred.
I knew better. I knew God didn't go for such nonsense. I didn't need anyone to get me in a good standing with God. I could do it all by myself. So I continued with my high school and college education thinking that I had God all figured out. To me....the wisest were those who believed in God, but didn't follow a standard religion. We were the most open-minded, kind, and non-abrasive people around. Regarding political and social issues...we were moderates and in no way extremists or fundamentalists. In fact, I believed that I myself had figured out a secret that no one knew. That secret...Muslims, Christians and Jews all worshipped the same God! I could almost laugh. And the fact that Muslims and Jews killed each other in the Middle East for such differences was foolishness to me. Didn't they realize that we all worshipped the same God? What about other religions and atheists? I figured that as long as they were good, law abiding citizens...then God would understand and also have a place for them in heaven.
I was generally a nice and smart kid and I had grand plans to correct the injustices of the world. Of course, I figured I'd become President to enact most of my grand plans that would ultimately bring worldwide peace and prosperity. Poverty would be eliminated...medical science would find cures for anything...and religious hatred would stop once I let all religious people in on my little secret. To me the key to peace and prosperity for all lay in uniting religion. That was the way to stop hatred and senseless wars in this world. Once people realized this...the religious leaders who were abusing God to attain power, etc. would be usurped by people who would overwhelm them and their followers in return for peace. I knew that me or someone in the United States had to usher in this grand movement. As the superpower of the world...that was the destiny of the United States.
In an aside, the US was an interesting microcosm to me of what God really intended for the world. That was for all the people of different religions and ethnicities to live and prosper in peace and democracy and freedom. The United States' ability to do just that was what secured our nation as the most powerful in the world. I could see it now...history books hundreds of years from now (1988) depicting the US as the main influential body in uniting the whole world making scientific and political and economic advancements that we only dreamed of. Perhaps my name and picture would be in one of those history books. What the Greek civilization was to democracy, the United States would be to world peace.
Ultimately, I decided to lay down my grand plans and just seek an education in a scientific field where I could make some contribution. I began to learn that it would be too hard to make people understand my secrets and such. Besides, I began to learn that even in a peace process, there were those who would try to squander it to maintain the hate and war environment. The problem was bigger than I figured. And if people were going to be hard headed and not in favor of making compromises for peace, then why did they deserve my work at it? I figured I would just work to have fun in life and make friends and assure that I kept my relationship with God intact. Little did I know, that I had no relationship with God.
After graduating from college and living some of the "Animal House" college experience, I found a promising job as a chemical engineer. I was well on my way to a bright future as a young, single and educated fellow who had lots of friends and knew how to have a good time. I didn't need anything. I had it all...and I knew more was to come. But something sat heavy in my heart and it really began to surface more now than ever. I didn't understand what it was or why it would be surfacing now. There seemed to be an emptiness inside. Nothing could quench it. Friends and drinking myself to oblivion weren't doing much to quench it. In fact, drinking began to get old fast. Maybe it was something I hadn't accomplished. Marriage? No way. More money? No. I just couldn't put my finger on it. Yet, in the back of my mind...I felt the need to go to church. Church?
Wait a minute. I don't need church! I proved that to myself a long time ago. I just need God. Okay. Thing was...I had a Bible I had never opened. I knew that I could study the Bible to fill this emptiness. Going to church...well that would put me in a danger area with witless followers who were really hypocrites anyway. In fact, I knew how judgmental church people were. Did I really want to become a new target for them? Surely my current lifestyle would have them condemn me to hell. Okay. I'll just read this Bible. Question was...where do I begin and how can I figure out what I am reading? I tried once before...and it really didn't make sense to me. My idea was brilliant. I'll go to church and have them help me to understand what to study in the Bible and what books are important and which aren't. In fact...I'll use them, but I'll be careful. They might try to talk me into something...but I'm ready and aware. They won't get me. So, off to church I went.
I decided not to go to a Catholic church as I knew what they believed. I figured I would try a Baptist church and see how that went. I remember thinking to myself..."Careful. They are judgmental people. But I won't judge them because I'm more open-minded and not judgmental. I'll give them a chance because that is what makes me different (and better) from them."
So I stepped through the doors of Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin, MO...and my life would never be the same.
I remember the pastor came up to preach. I sat at the back pew where I could observe, but not be observed. It was a big church and I was uncomfortable being around so many people I didn't know. Worse...they all were religious people who probably had strange ideas about God. No matter. They were nice greeting me at the door, but I knew that was a ploy. Their twisted, convoluted fanaticism would surface soon enough. I'll just get what I need to know and be on my merry way. I also felt safe because with so many people, I could probably hide better. Plus I was dressed nice so most might figure that I was religious in some way or another.
The pastor was set to preach. I could just hear his sermon now just as I had seen in the movies and TV. He would start yelling and screaming, "Begone Satan! Repent of your sins! Confess your sins!" Then I thought..., "Oh man. Why did I come?" No matter. It would all be over in about an hour.
The pastor began to preach. Funny. He started off with a very funny story. He was young too. Plus, he wasn't yelling or screaming. In fact, he was making sense. Whoa! As he kept talking, I kept listening. I began to realize that I had been wrong. These people weren't fanatics. In fact, the pastor's interpretation of the Bible wasn't fanatic at all. It made sense. This ancient book actually made sense to my life today. Unbelievable.
I left church with a good feeling in my heart. That was what I had been missing...church. I would come back, but I was still wary. I knew one church service wasn't representative of what else I might encounter. At the welcome desk, a lady approached me about Sunday School. Sure. Why not? Let's see what this facet of church was like. I would be watching for anything that I knew was wrong. Once I spotted it...I would be gone never to return.
Sunday School was a class of 20 with people about my age (24) and single with careers. I could tell most were religious, but they never acted like they were holier than thou or perfect. Interesting. Not what I expected at all. Their Sunday School teacher was in Ghana that first Sunday I went. Who would want to go there? I didn't know. When she returned...I saw she was nice, caring, without pretense and there was something different about her. It was religious, but it wasn't. And as she led the class, she was open about some of her past and current mistakes in life. No what I expected at all. Throughout, I learned more about the Bible and the applications many of the verses had for my life today. I couldn't believe it. So on Fridays and Saturdays I partied and on Sundays, I went to church if I wasn't hung over. I felt that I was doing the right thing. Going to church was what I had been missing in my life. I lived this Jekyll and Hyde life for about 8 months. I let some of my new friends know about it, but they still didn't judge me. Very interesting indeed.
About that time, I met Dianna. She was new to the church too. I had only been there about 3 months at the time. We became good friends quickly and hit it off. Through her, I began to learn more about what the Bible said. Sure enough, I learned that the Bible clearly pointed out what it took for someone to get to heaven. The great mystery was about to be solved.
"For by grace, you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
I couldn't believe it. God didn't set up works or goods things we do as the measure of how good we were. He made it simple. Faith was all we needed. Faith in what? Faith in Jesus.
Why faith? As I studied more at home and in Sunday School I began to realize that God sees us all in the same perspective. We are all sinners...imperfect. In fact, all the good deeds we try to do whether for other people, for God, for families, or for ourselves were for naught. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. In fact, our pastor himself acknowledged that he was and is a sinner...imperfect. It was because God loved us and Him that He gives us a gift to escape His wrath. The thing about a gift is that it has two parts. It is given (in this case by God), but it also has to be received (in this case, by people). I also learned that God meant this gift to be for the whole world.
What is the gift exactly? The gift was Jesus Christ, who is God's only Begotten Son...who gave up the glory of Heaven to come to earth and live among people as a man...that He might establish a personal relationship with us. He also died for our sins...He took our punishment for our sins...for my sins. Why? Because God loves us all so much.
I was heartbroken. I knew that I was a sinner. I knew all of the bad things I had done. No, I hadn't murdered someone or stolen stuff...but I had been imperfect. I wanted God to forgive me...I wanted to apologize to Him...and I really wanted to go to heaven. But how does one receive a gift that was set in motion about 2000 years ago?
"If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9
I had to talk to God about some things. I had to tell Him that I knew I was a sinner...that I knew Jesus was His Son who had died for my sins, but who was also raised from the dead 3 days later. I surrendered my life to Christ. I turned it over to Christ. I decided that I wasn't going to live in sin anymore...and that I would accept the gift of Jesus Christ. My attitude changed. My heart belonged to Jesus and to God.
Now I had a relationship with God. It was uplifting and a joyous event. It filled that emptiness in my heart and gave me a peace that I never knew one could have. God wasn't about hate and factions. God wasn't even about having people earn their way into heaven. He did it all for us. He made it so easy that I almost missed it. The other thing was God gives us freedom to choose. To accept His gift or to refuse it. I accepted it.
Since, Dianna became my wife over a year later. We just got married four months ago. I continue to grow spiritually and seek to share this message with others who don't know. Hey! I was sure people like myself were fanatics responsible for hate and wars. Now I know that isn't true and I strive to share the Good News with friends and others who don't know. It hasn't been easy getting to that point. In fact, I still lack a lot of courage in sharing the Gospel and taking advantage of the opportunities that God grants me.
I just seek to continue to grow and bask in the grace and love of God and I will seek to tell others so that they may know and share in that love, should they choose to do so.
Praise be to God in the Highest!