By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

Swartz Creek, Mich. – A number of years ago I was working on a book, a three-part biography of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, and country music superstar Mickey Gilley, who all are first cousins to each other. A friend offered me his unused condo in Montgomery, Texas, to get away for research and writing one summer. Since Lewis lived in Mississippi, Swaggart in Louisiana, and Gilley in nearby Pasadena, Texas, it made geographical sense.

Once settled, I took out the Yellow Pages to chart the location of Assembly of God churches for all the weeks ahead, intent on visiting as many as I could. East Texas was in every way new to me, and I wanted to experience everything I could. I was born in New York City… you get the picture.

Well, the first church I visited was in Cut and Shoot, Texas. That’s the town’s name; you can look it up. A small, white frame AG church was my first stop that summer… and I never visited another. For one thing — coincidence? — I learned that a member of the tiny congregation was the widow of a man who had pastored the AG church in Ferriday, La., the small town FOUR HOURS AWAY where, and when, those three cousins grew up in its pews. She knew them all, and their families, and had great stories. Beyond that, the pastor of the church in Cut and Shoot, Charles Wigley, had gone to Bible College in Waxahachie, Texas, with Jerry Lee Lewis and played in a band with him, until Jerry Lee got kicked out. Some more great stories.

But there was more than that kept me there for that summer. In that white-frame church and that tiny congregation, it was, um, obvious in three minutes that I was not from East Texas. Yet I was treated like family as if they all had known me three decades. It was the Sunday before July 4, and a fellow named Dave Gilbert asked me if I’d like to go to his farm for the Fourth where a bunch of people were just going to get together and “do some visitin’.”

On the Fourth I bought the biggest watermelon I could find as my contribution to the get-together. Well, there were dozens and dozens of folks. I couldn’t tell which was family and who were friends, because everybody acted like family. When folks from East Texas ask, “How ARE you?” they really mean it. There were several monstrous barbecue smokers with chimneys, all slow-cooking beef brisket. (Every region brags about its barbecue traditions, but I’ll still fight anyone who doesn’t claim low-heat, slow-smoked, no sauce, East-Texas BBQ as the best) There was visitin,’ after all; there were delicious side dishes; there was softball and volleyball and kids dirt-biking; and breaks for sweet tea and spontaneous singing of patriotic songs.

I sat back in a folding chair, and I thought, “THIS is America.”

As the sun set, the same food came out again — smoked brisket galore; all the side dishes; and desserts of all sorts. Better than the first time. Then the Gilberts cleared the porch of their house. People brought instruments out of their cars and trucks. Folks tuned their guitars; some microphones and amps were set up; chairs and blankets dotted the lawn. Dave Gilbert and his brothers, I learned, sang gospel music semi-professionally in the area. Pastor Wigley and his saxophone, later in the summer, opened for Gold City Quartet at a local concert. But everyone else sang, too. In some churches, in some parts of America, you’re just expected to sing solo every once in a while. You’re not only expected to — you WANT to. So into the evening, as the sun went down and the moon came up over those farms and fields, everyone at that picnic sang, together or solo or in duets or quartets. Spontaneously, mostly. Far into the night, exuberantly with smiles, or heartfelt with tears, singing unto the Lord.

I sat back in a folding chair, and I thought, “THIS is Heaven.”

Recently I came across a video that very closely captures the music, and the feeling — the fellowship — of that evening. A wooden ranch house, a barbecue picnic just ended, a campfire, and singers spontaneously worshiping, joining in, clapping, and “taking choruses.” There were cameras at this one, this video, but it took this city boy back to that Fourth of Ju-lye, finding himself amongst a brand-new family, the greatest barbecue I ever tasted before or since… and the sweetest songs I know.

Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is:

By Rick Marschall
Special to ASSIST News Service

The words of our Savior in red,” some Bibles say on their spines. But what about the words printed in black? I recently posted a picture on Facebook of a tattered Bible, opened to no place in particular, but the two pages looking like a Technicolor spectacular, with notes, revelations, and reminders in its margins. Bookmarks and Post-It notes splayed forth from many spots. Many people mark verses and passages that speak — or shout — to them in their Bibles.

Accompanying this picture I found was the quotation by Charles Spurgeon, “People whose Bibles are falling apart usually lead lives that aren’t.” It reminded me of the country song whose title warned listeners against “dust on the Bible.”

There are some devout people who think that any notes or marks we make in the Holy Bible is a form of desecration, but I am of the

Rick Marschall

school that thinks that scripture, the Holy Word, is also God’s User Manual for Life. I suspect it pleases Him when we are touched by a truth… want to revisit things easily… find ways we can organize the wisdom, commands, and promises… and know it all better.

In a way, margin-notes and color highlighters are not all that different from the old-fashioned versions of the Bible, those “Red Letter” editions. On the spines or title pages, sometimes, we read, “Jesus’ Words in Red.” Just so. Easy to find; quicker to, perhaps, memorize.

Certainly there is utility in highlighting Christ’s words. But even when a kid I used to wonder whether that would suggest to some people that the rest of the Bible was NOT the inspired Word of God, or not AS inspired. If God caused scripture to be written; if the Holy Spirit inspired every word, should not ALL the Bible be printed in red letters? “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the servant of God may be perfect, thoroughly provided for all good works” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Again, just so. Jesus is Savior, but we must resist the temptation, when highlighting only His words, to think that the rest of the Bible might (as many in the world think) “merely” be the thoughts of good men, or well-meaning legends, or less than Holy.

I have been blessed enough to visit some of the world’s great cathedrals, and it was brought to my mind, despite the memorable majesty, that God does not dwell only in grand churches. In fact, we go to church to worship God, not really to meet Him. I have also been profoundly moved in some of the world’s humblest chapels; and, so, I am sure, you have been too. Plus, we are reminded that our very bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, like Bibles we mark and underline, our worship-temples are not remote: they come with us, they are part of us. A fancy Bible can prompt reverence, just as a mighty cathedral can remind us of God’s grandeur. But if it stops there, we sadly are left with counterfeit experiences.

The Bible is, instead, a lamp unto our feet. And when we enter the Temple of Life, so to speak — not some New Age cliché, but in the reality of God’s habitation of every aspect of our lives — then we can experience many “red-letter days” God intends for us.

Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography and children’s books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals; co-author of The Secret Revealed with Dr. Jim Garlow. Marschall is a former Director of Product Development for Youth Specialties. He is recipient of the 2008 “Christian Writer of the Year” award from the Greater Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, and produces a weekly e-mail devotional, “Monday Morning Music Ministry.” His e-mail address is: