From Hopelessness to Hope - Al Gascon's Story

From Hopelessness to Hope - Al Gascon's Story
Side B Stories
From Hopelessness to Hope - Al Gascon's Story

Mar 29 2024 | 01:14:07

Episode 0 March 29, 2024 01:14:07

Hosted By

Jana Harmon

Show Notes

Former atheist Al Gascon rejected God in light of his life struggles. His study of science further convinced him intellectually of what he felt personally, that God did not exist. Now, Al works as a pastor who spends his life helping others know that God is real.

Resources mentioned by Al: 

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:02] Speaker A: And I remember taking a world religions class. We went through all the world religions and I remember sitting in there thinking every single one of them is wrong because there is no God. And you know, atheism certainly didn't help the depression. Certainly it didn't help the suicide. It just, it almost justified it. If there is no God, then my life is truly meaningless. [00:00:33] Speaker B: Hello and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to cybe stories where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of our stories on our Cybey Stories [email protected] or on our YouTube channel. We welcome your feedback and comments on these stories on our Facebook page and YouTube videos. You can also email us [email protected] we always love hearing from you. If you've lived long enough, you've experienced disappointment in life. For some, that disappointment can lead to deep depression and hopelessness. If you've ever known life without hope and meaning, you know the palpable darkness, loneliness and emptiness that comes with it. It can leave you wondering if life is worth living. In our story today, Al Gascon rejected the reality of God, especially in light of his struggles in life. For him, God was simply not there. He was not real. Al's study of science further convinced him intellectually of what he felt perfectly personally, it was the nail on God's coffin. What could ever bring him not only to a place of belief in God, but now living as a pastor who spends his life helping others know that God is indeed real. I hope you'll come along to hear his amazing story. As a reminder, our guests not only tell their stories of moving from disbelief to belief in God and Christianity, but at the end of every episode, these former atheists give advice to curious skeptics as to how they can best pursue the truth and reality of God. They also give advice to christians on how best to engage with those who don't believe. In this episode, you'll hear some very heartfelt advice, not only from Al as a pastor, but as someone who has experienced great darkness in his own life. I hope you're listening to the end. [00:02:42] Speaker C: To hear him speak from his wisdom. [00:02:44] Speaker B: And experience as someone who has once been an atheist, but who is now a believer. [00:02:51] Speaker C: Welcome to Cybey stories. Al, it's so great to have you with me today. [00:02:54] Speaker A: Yeah, it's great to be here. Thank you for having me. [00:02:57] Speaker C: Perfect. As we're getting started, why don't you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about where you live, the kind of work that you do, maybe a little bit about who you are here. [00:03:07] Speaker A: Yeah. My name is Pastor Al Gascon. I am the senior pastor of Christ Church of the Valley in Bakersfield. No affiliation with the other big ccvs in California and Arizona. I have a wonderful wife, a nine year old daughter, and a long break because we have a one year old son, so restarting everything all over again with him. And we love it. We do. The only reason why I am here is because of the grace and mercy and blessings of God and for no other reason. [00:03:42] Speaker C: Wow. Yeah. I mean, it does pique the curiosity, wondering how an atheist could be sitting in the chair where you are as a pastor. There must be some amazing story here. So let's get into that, Al. Let's start at the beginning of your life and your family. Tell. Talk to us. Paint a picture for us about what that looked like, the home you grew up in and where that was. Was God a part of any of that at all? [00:04:11] Speaker A: Yeah. I grew up in southern California, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles in the inland Empire, a very, very small city of Marino Valley. I had a normal childhood. You know, it was. It was the nineties. We actually played outside. We played with our neighborhood friends. We took our video game consoles over to each other's houses and then played outside. But everything was normal. Had a normal, typical childhood. No, nothing, you know, no major glaring issues. No, I wasn't scarred as a child. Everything was pretty normal. A lot of great friends growing up. And, you know, I had two very loving, very wonderful parents, a younger sister. God was not in the midst of our home, though. My parents, all I have, all my relatives, grandparents, they all have a catholic background. None of that really translated into home life. We would go to church maybe five times a year, maybe ten, if I can recall. We would go to a church where they still spoke Latin. And then my parents switched churches, and then it was a church that spoke Spanish, so I don't speak Spanish either, even though my parents do. So either way, I couldn't understand what the priest was saying or what the deacon was saying. I was taught to pray every night before bedtime, but that was about it. That was the extent of any sort of spiritual life in my household. It was just praying at night before bedtime. It wasn't praying the rosary. It wasn't praying the ritual prayers. It was a real prayer asking God for protection for blessing, for help. And I knew that there was a creator, but I didn't know him personally or anything about his son, anything about salvation, anything about the cross. All that wasn't there in childhood. [00:06:16] Speaker C: So you had some touch points of faith, I guess you could say, if you were praying every night to God. I presume that there was a childish belief in, like you say, the God who made the world or whatever. But so did that belief sustain at all as you grew out of childhood or talk to us about that? [00:06:44] Speaker A: No, I think when I would pray, I would know that there was this being called God who made everything. I don't know what he. I didn't know what he thought of me. I didn't know. I didn't know a lot about him. It was like I just knew of him, but I didn't know him personally. I don't think the spiritual aspect stayed with me or I know it didn't stay with me at all. I mean, even as a kid, I had this very, very weird phobia of death, of everything ceasing, of everything ending and there just being nothing. I would wake up in the middle of the night, I would say once or twice, maybe even more a month, and, you know, in the middle of the night, my parents and my sister, everyone would. Would be asleep. And I would just sit in the hallway, you know, on the top of the stairs, just thinking to myself, all the experiences I have, all of the joy that I have, all the laughter that I have, it's all going to be over and it's just going to end, and I'm just going to be in the dirt with no consciousness, with nothing, which is a weird thing for a 910 year old kid to think of, but without the promises of God, without the promises of eternal life, that death was. I thought about death a lot as a kid and that being the end of everything. And as I grew up going into middle school and high school, if I were to pray, it would be rarely. And even if I could say, if I could remember that I prayed during those years, there was no. There was no effect that it had on my life. The spiritual aspect of having a relationship with Christ and knowing and calling upon the promises of God, knowing and just diving into any sort of scripture. It wasn't there. I didn't even have a bible until I was 22. [00:08:34] Speaker C: So did you go through. [00:08:36] Speaker A: It wasn't there. [00:08:37] Speaker C: Did you go through catechism and confirmation and all of that through the church? [00:08:44] Speaker A: Yeah, eventually we stopped going to church. I want to say around middle school, when I was in middle school, I believe we stopped going. I remember going early on when I was around third grade, and before I remember going, but I don't remember anything after that. We had stopped going. And the only reason why I had gone back to catechism is I was dating this girl, and she just happened to go to a catholic church. So I figured, okay, I'll go with her. I went through catechism. I remember doing the report on my personal saint. I don't remember anything about Jesus. I did not know my personal savior. And after confirmation, still nothing really stuck with me. [00:09:31] Speaker C: As you were reading through that or going through that training, did you question, were you skeptical of that? Did you have doubts about what you were being taught? [00:09:42] Speaker A: I can't even say that I remember that anything really hit me or anything spoke to me. It was. It was as if there was just a. I was. My mind was just veiled, and I couldn't receive anything. I couldn't know or perceive anything. I can't recall ever, ever remembering any sort of story about the Bible through catechism. And when I started reading the Bible for the first time as an adult, it was like every story really was the first time. I mean, the only story that I can honestly remember when I read the Bible was, you know, the story of Moses. But the only reason why I remember that story was there was a cartoon called rugrats that went through a few jewish things. And I remember watching that as a kid, but I didn't recall anything from catechism. I didn't question anything. I didn't really receive anything into my mind or heart either. [00:10:41] Speaker C: So you're just kind of going through the motions. There was a girl you liked, you went through the motions, and. But after that, you kind of left it behind, I presume. [00:10:52] Speaker A: Yeah, I left it behind eventually with that relationship. I thought that that was going to be my relationship for life. I thought that was going to be us having the story of being high school sweethearts and getting married and having a family, all of that. So all my eggs were in that basket. And eventually, after a period of time, that relationship ended. And unfortunately, I didn't really sew in the area of friendships. I had a lot of friends in middle school and in high school and beyond and all of those friendships while I was in that relationship, because I spent so much time again putting all my eggs into that basket. When that relationship ended, it was as if it was just the perfect storm, and I didn't really have any sort of structure around me. I didn't have any friends around me at the time, and I had friends that I knew I could call upon. But eventually, you know, I was. I was very heartbroken over that relationship. And then loneliness came upon me, and eventually depression, which, after years and years, led to a plethora of suicide attempts that I can't even count. But, you know, all of that just from. From one relationship that. And it wasn't even after. After a while, it wasn't even that I was still heartbroken. It was the loneliness. It was feeling like you didn't belong on the earth, feeling like you didn't matter. Feeling like you didn't know who you were and that nobody really cared about you. I felt like nobody cared about me. And I still had. My parents are still two very, very loving parents at the time, but I didn't feel like I could receive love at that time in the midst of depression and suicide and all of that. And I knew I had a few friends from childhood that I could have called upon, and I know they would have been there for me. It's just at that time, you know, life seemed gray. I didn't feel like I had any joy in my life. And eventually, all that depression eventually caused me to drop out of college. I literally failed a final exam in English because I didn't want to get out of bed, because I just didn't care. I didn't care about myself. I didn't care about life. I didn't care about my future. I felt like my life was worthless and meaningless, and it would have been better had I just, in the words of job, had I just not been born. It would have been in my mind. That was the ultimate truth, even though it was a lie. [00:13:39] Speaker C: Yeah, it sounds like a real strong period of darkness. For a few years during that time, because of the pain and the loneliness and depression, did you reject the possibility of God's existence or how did God appear to you or intellectually or perceptually during that time? [00:14:03] Speaker A: During that time, I think I can remember praying and asking for help every now and then, but for the most part, at that time, I was just casting blame on God that he didn't deserve. And, you know, everything about that time, I don't think there was any sort of spiritual aspect about it other than, you know, me believing the lies that were being whispered into my mind, whispered into my ear. It would just be, you know, a whisper of your life doesn't mean anything, you don't mean anything, and you're nobody. And I would believe it. I would believe it. It would instill into my mind, and it would instill into my heart that I'm nobody and I don't belong. I remember after dropping out of college, I had started working for foot locker, and I was doing that eventually, part time, full time management. So I was climbing up the ranks of the corporate ladder. But I hated my days off. I hated because work was a great distraction, but that's all it was, was a distraction. And on my days off, I was back to being alone. When I lived with my parents and when I moved out, I was alone. I would try to get myself to go out and do something with the nobody I remember. I would go to places. I would go to parks. I would go to malls. I would go shopping. I would go do something, and I would just see people with other people, whether they were old or young, whether they were family or friends. I would see people with other people, and it would just remind me that I'm alone. And. And I believe that nobody cared about me. And it wouldn't help. It definitely wouldn't help. I would. I would drive to work and I would want to crash into the median, and then I would think, oh, I could honestly, I could hurt a family of innocents if I did that. So there'd be times where I drive to work and I would think that about five to ten times. I could just crash right here and end it all. I would. I would stand at the top of mountains and I would look down into the chasm, and I would just stand at the edge and I would look over and I would just say, just, you know, a few feet and all this pain would be over, you know, self harm, you know, holding pills in my hand. It was. It was. It was a constant thing where ending my life just seemed like the best. The best thing to do. And, you know, I think, again, I don't even think my family could have helped because they eventually found out, because they found me. Or they got a call from me in a psych ward, and my parents, that's how they found out, was they received a call that I was in a psych ward. And you would think that would have straightened me out, you know? And it didn't, because I was in the psych ward, and I saw people who really had mental health problems who really weren't. They weren't just going through pain like I was. They really didn't have. They didn't have any idea of what was going on in reality. There were people, you know, guarding the windows, you know, wondering what's going to come in and what's going to go out. There were people, you know, running around in circles and people tied up to beds. And I just remember sitting there and thinking, you know, why am I here? I remember there was a nurse that for some reason in southern California, had a southern accent, but there was a nurse that came up to me and just looked at me and was tending to the wounds that I had given myself. And she told me, you know, in the southern accent, like, child, you know, you don't belong here. You know, you know that this isn't the life that you're supposed to be living. You're not supposed to be here. And just those small little words were some of the kindest words I'd received from a stranger in quite a long time. And I started crying, and I told her, yeah, I. I know I don't. But it didn't change anything once I got out of there. That's one of the things that I have a hard time looking back on, is what I put my parents through, because they really did their best. They did nothing to cause or nothing to drive me further down that avenue. They really tried to help. And at that point, I just couldn't receive any sort of love or any sort of encouragement from anybody. It was just a dark cloud loomed over me every single day, and my life had no color in it. It felt like every time I woke up, everything was in gray, black, white, and gray. But I can't recall God being in the midst of that. Even when I went back to college. I went back to college after foot locker had ended. And for some reason, my. My brain really clicked in college. I started to realize how to retain information and how to study, how I know, how I retain information and how I study. I signed up for college really late, so the only classes that were offered were genetics and health and some other science class that I can't recall. But I just realized I really love science. I really loved, you know, what man understood it about the world around him, what we understood about the body, what we understood about our genes, what we understood about the cosmos. And I really, really gravitated towards it. And your question was, did God really appear at that time? No. When I went back to college and when I started to read in my textbooks, this is how we explain the origins of the universe. This is how we explain the origins of man. This is how we explain, you know, this is how God can be explained of not existing, how we understand how everything works. That is how that's how I really delve into atheism. With every science class that I took, I began to think even more, there is no God because this can be explained. There is no God because we know how this happened. And the more and more I got into it, the more and more whatever faith I had just began to crumble. And I remember taking a world religions class. We went through all the world religions and I remember sitting in there thinking every single one of them is wrong because there is no God. And you know, atheism certainly didn't help the depression, certainly it didn't help the suicide. It just, it almost justified it. If there is no God, then my life is truly meaningless. I am just a blob of chemicals or, you know, I'm just a bag of flesh and bones. That again, confirmed as a kid that one day is going to end and nothing's going to go on from there. So that's what delved me into atheism was the passion that I had for science, which was good, really led to the end of my faith. [00:21:23] Speaker B: If you're listening to this podcast and are interested in growing your relationship with Jesus alongside others who have a deep desire to do the same, I'd like to take a moment to tell you about the CS Lewis Institute Fellows program. The Fellows program is a year of intensive discipleship that leads to significant life change. Since 1999, the Fellowes program has helped transform the lives of thousands of people and has been commended in the legacy of CS Lewis. The Fellows program holistically focuses on discipleship of heart, mind and life and includes directed Bible study, book reading and lecture from notable christian authors and speakers alongside group discussion on what was read and heard. Changing monthly themes center around growth in spiritual formation and apologetics. Each fellow is also supported and encouraged throughout the study year with the help of a personal spiritual mentor who walks alongside all. In the context of a small group of like minded believers. This year long program is designed for those who want to live as fully committed disciples of Jesus Christ who make an impact in the world for him. Now located in 17 cities in the US and in Ireland. If you'd like to see if it's for you, or if it's in your city, city, or to find out more information, go to the [email protected] fellowshiprogram now back to our story. [00:23:12] Speaker C: So, wow, that's a lot there. So you had both, I guess, personal reasons to reject God and that God did not show up for you and that all of that pain that you felt and that loneliness and the depression. But yet then you had something to confirm the lack of the existence of God through your science and through the study. And you're right in that if God does not exist, then there is no real meaning or purpose or value for living and for life. You had, again, the personal, emotional reasons to reject. You had the intellectual reasons to reject. But how did that affect your life from there? [00:23:58] Speaker A: My life from there. I still. I was just taking science class after science class because I loved them. I had no idea what I was going to do in life. Just how work was a distraction for me. I think that's what college was. It was a great distraction. You know, it gave me something to do. I was in the library a lot and spent countless nights studying, you know, microbiology, organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, physics. I spent countless hours in the library just studying those things. I was a student that actually read every single page of the textbook. And you see that a lot too often these days. [00:24:42] Speaker C: Yes. [00:24:43] Speaker A: But it didn't push me forward to, okay, now I have a calling in life. I still didn't know what I wanted to do. And I ended up settling on either becoming a nurse or becoming a physician. I wasn't really quite too sure which one. And I just thought, okay, this is what I'm going to start pursuing. And then I started taking classes, you know, to set myself up to join a nursing program or to join a physician program. It was great. It was a band aid. But, you know, my life and where I was at, I'm still fairly alone, even in college. And towards the end of college, I did find a really good group of friends and they helped me. They did. They gave me the friendship that I had not had for some years. And to this day, you know, I'll do anything for those friends, for the ones who have come to believe and for those who still are living in the way of the world, they really. They helped me in a great time. They gave me the friendship that I had been longing for. I have friends now. I have some sort of direction in life. I am doing well in school. I'm the student that everybody hates because I get an a on every single test, right? Yet the hole is not filled. The hole isn't filled in my life. And every now and then, the depression and the meaningless and that you're worthless still pops into my head. And, yeah, the college and having great friends around me, it helped, but it still wasn't the remedy that my soul needed. [00:26:29] Speaker C: So how long did you live this way? You probably got a job, and you were continuing on, but there was something missing in your life. What happened then? [00:26:39] Speaker A: The depression and anxiety phase. I think that was about five years, and about two years of that, maybe three years of that was college thrown in. It wasn't until my anatomy and physiology class, where really is, like, the. The turning point in my life. It's a year long class. First half is basically anatomy. The second half is physiology. And the first half of the class, there just happened to be one particular girl in this big amphitheater, like, classroom that just catches my eye. And I'm not really all too well with women, but she caught my eye. I never went up, and I never spoke to her, you know, through the first, you know, four months of that class, and during the second half of that class, I believe it was in the spring. You know, she just happened to be my lab partner for the lab portion of the class. And we've been lab partners, and, you know, we were doing all the gross things. We were, you know, dissecting brains and eyes and skinning things and, you know, working with organs and all that. And, you know, it was about two months in, two or three months in as my lab partner, where just one day, just out of the blue, I don't remember what we were doing. We were in lab, and we probably had some body part in front of us, and she just asked me, hey, would you like to come to church with me? And I probably gave her the biggest no that I've ever given anyone in their life. It was so, such a quick response. And, you know, this is a girl that I thought was pretty, a girl that I did like, and I. Not just because of, you know, she was attractive. She really was a very kind and a very fun, a genuine person to be around. And I told her no. And, you know, from there, it was, oh, okay. But a couple minutes passed, and she had the boldness, and I'm thankful that she did, but she boldly asked me a second time, and, you know, this time she says, hey, I know you're an atheist, and I know you don't believe, but I just feel like I just got to ask you one more time. Are you willing to come to church with me on Sunday? And she gave me all these perks that would come along with it. She said, hey, I'll pick you up, and I'll drop you off. You'll be with me. And she said, you know, and you'll get to meet my boyfriend, which I thought, dang, she has a boyfriend? Yeah, in my mind, in my mind I'm still thinking no. The whole time she's saying, she's saying I'll pick you up, we'll have a good time, we'll go out to eat afterwards. And I'm just thinking no, no, no. And for some reason the very last thing that she said, she, she told me and there's going to be free pizza at this church. I don't know what it was, but the free pizza just put it over the top. That was, that was God knows how to get people into his church. The reason why I went back to church for the first time was not because of the pretty girl though that helped, not because of a good friend that she was. It was pizza that was going to be free and it was delicious. When I went there, it was pizza that got me into the doors of Christchurch for the first time since I guess five ish years. [00:30:10] Speaker C: What was that experience like? I presume was this not a catholic church? It was some other form of church. [00:30:19] Speaker A: This was just non denominational church. I believe we were late, a little bit late. I don't believe we got there in time for worship. But I walked into the halls of this church and I thought, oh, okay, this is different. I sat and I listened to the sermon. It was Pastor Matt Brown who looked like he was straight from the beach, this casual shirt on shorts and was preaching in sandals. And I thought, okay, different than the catholic priests, priests that I'm used to seeing. But I don't think, even though it was a good experience for me to go to a church the first time, I can't say that it did anything for me. I can't say that it changed anything of what I believed about God or the nature of life or anything like that. But we were sitting there at the end of the night and my lab partner, my friend, she asked me again, are you willing to come with me to a different church on Wednesday? And she said, I know you're an atheist. I know this might not make sense, but I just. I relate to this church so much more and I feel like this church is just a little bit better than the one that I, that we went to. She's like, I know that doesn't make sense. That's probably not even the right word to say. But I just want you to come to this church with me. And I thought, I don't know how one church can be better than another. In my mind they're all still false. So I agreed. I went with her and I remember being in worship at the previous church at sandals, but I walked into banging drums, and I walked into electric guitars and a light show and smoke, and it's a mega church. And I remember I walked into people raising their hands and dancing and jumping up and down, and I am like, what did I just walk into, too? I'm sure I'd never experienced anything like that. And I thought it was just so strange. And the first thing in my mind is, am I at a concert? Are we not at a church? Second thing was, if this is a church, is this some sort of cult like church? I looked around, and it was nothing but young, college age people like myself, and it was well over a thousand college age people there at that college ministry at Crossroads church in Corona. And I just remember I went there and I thought she asked me, would you like to come with me again? Again, the message doesn't hit me. Whatever the pastor preached doesn't hit me. Nothing is really penetrating my heart or mind. But I kept coming with her every single week. Every single week. I believe we. I think we had lab that day. So we would. We would do our lab, and then we would both drive home, and then I would drive to her house, and then she would take me or I would take her. Sometimes we live. We lived, ironically, about two minutes away from each other. [00:33:24] Speaker C: So I'm curious, what, as an atheist, what kept drawing you back to the church if there was nothing there for you that was hitting you heart or mind? [00:33:36] Speaker A: I don't know. Because when I went with my friend, you don't really spend too much time with each other there listening to a service and in worship, and I'm there with her and her boyfriend, and they knew people in the church, in that ministry. I didn't really. I really just kept to myself. I don't know what kept me going back. And I even kept going back after she had stopped going, even after she had stopped coming with me. I drove myself 30 minutes to a church and sat in the very back by the sound booth so that no one would see me or talk to me and that I could really just hide out back there. I don't know why I kept going back. I don't believe any sermon really resonated with me because I was still living the same life with my group of friends outside of church, the partying and that sort of lifestyle. I was still. Even though I didn't really do drugs or drink all that often, I was still living that life. My life looked exactly the same. Going to church every single week on a Wednesday. It looked exactly the same. The only thing that really changed anything was the miracle that I experienced. [00:34:58] Speaker C: The miracle. Okay, that's a turn. Okay, let's go there. [00:35:07] Speaker A: Yeah, so I. I believe in. At this point, I believe in things that can only be seen. I believe in the physical. I believe in things that, you know, are only, you know, made of matter and atoms and molecules, which, by the way, makes no sense because we don't know what gravity is made out of. We don't know what material gravity is made out of and other things. But I am still going to church. I go by myself. I remember this particular night I went, and I'm not in the back by the sound booth. I kind of moved up five, six, seven rows, and I'm off to the side on the right, like, right in the middle. I'm not at the front, but I'm not in the back either. I'm still sitting by myself. I still don't talk to anybody in church. I still don't have fellowship with anybody in church. I drive there on Wednesday. Service ends, I get in my car and I go back. I had bought a Bible, and I had read the first few, maybe the first five, six, seven chapters of Genesis. And I'm like, I don't see Jesus anywhere in this, this book, and I don't know what any of it means, so I stopped reading it. But I'm sitting there, and pastor Ronnie Roa, at the time, gives an altar call, and I don't remember what the service was about. I really wish that I would remember what day it was on. I believe it was in May or June of 2011. But he gives an altar call, and the moment he says the words, if God is doing something in your heart, you know, I know it's cliche. I know you know, you hear that a lot in altar calls, and. But he said those words. He said, if God is doing something in your heart. And the only way that I could describe this is using Hollywood as an example. Whenever you watch a movie and there's like a flashbang grenade or a stunt grenade or an explosion that goes off, and there's that high pitched ring that goes on and everything slows down, you know, in the movie, that's. That's kind of how it was. Everything had slowed down around me, and it was almost like everything was. Everything was, like, just blurred outside of just my little bubble that, you know, I was in, everything was blurred. Everything was very, very slow. Everything was just. Time had just almost stopped in that moment. And I. I remember the first thing that happened was my. My breath was just gone. It was almost like my breath was just sucked out of me just right away. Like, you know, there was some sort of cosmic vacuum cleaner that just took my breath away. I went from breathing normally to gasping for air almost right away. And, you know, in high school, I did long distance cross country running for four years. So I can hold my breath for a very long time, even to this day. You know, I have very good lungs, even though right now I'm. I'm out of shape, but I can still hold my breath, and I have good cardiovascular system. But I lost my breath, and I was gasping for air in a moment, just like that. That's the first thing that doesn't make sense, is I'm gasping for air. I'm kind of clutching my chest. I'm wondering, why can't I breathe? You know? I'd had a couple of anxiety attacks throughout the years. They didn't happen all too often. It was more depression and loneliness versus anxiety. But never has that happened to me to where I lost my breath completely. And the next thing that I remember is just panic setting in. I'm wondering why nobody is helping me. Does nobody see me gasping for air? Does nobody see me clutching my chest? And I was sitting around, people in front of me, on sight of me, behind me, I was sitting around other college students. But the next thing that I remembered, and that's not the miracle, either. The next thing that I remember is perhaps the greatest feeling, the greatest experience, the greatest expression of God's love that I've ever felt in my life. The only way that I can describe this is if somebody just. If your ribs were just opened up, if your sternum was busted open and somebody opens up your ribs, and if they just dump ice inside of your chest and then seal you back up. I know that sounds very uncomfortable, but that's the feeling that I had. There was just an extreme coldness in my chest, and it wasn't uncomfortable. You know, it wasn't unpleasant. It was just pure goodness. It was a feeling of pure bliss that was in my body. I don't know how to describe it because I even. 1213 years later, I still can't find the words to say to describe this, but it was just a feeling of just the best way I can. It was just pure bliss. It was a feeling of genuine goodness in every sense of that word. And it was in my body. It felt so amazing, and it felt so good that I began to cry. It was a feeling that brought so much so much pure, just a fear of pure feeling of goodness in my body that I just started to cry. I'm also crying because I still can't breathe at this point, and I'm still panicking, but I am crying because of how magnificent it feels within me. And it was in that moment that I knew that everything that I had thought, every word of blasphemy that had come out of my mouth, every single thing that I had ever thought about God in the negative was untrue. Every single lie that I believed, every single science book that I had studied under. At that moment, I knew that they were all wrong. In that moment, I realized that two important things. First of all, I realized that God existed. He is real. But more importantly, I realized in that situation, and it was revealed to me that not only does he exist, but that he notices me, that he cares about me, that the creator of all things, the creator of who knows how many galaxies, we don't even know how many universes there are, but the creator of every single planet, every star, every person, every living being, the creator of all time and space, somehow notices and takes note of an atheist sitting in a church in a small town of Corona, California. And he cares about me. And I think that along with the magnificent feeling that I was experiencing, that just overwhelmed me. And I just sitting there crying, just sitting there in my seat crying, you know, feeling like such a fool, but at the same time feeling so thankful that that God would, would somehow reveal himself to me. Even as I look back on it today, there is not a single thing that I did in the name of Jesus Christ. There's not a single thing that I did for the kingdom of God. There's not a single thing that I had ever done that could warrant God to look down from his throne and say, wow, look at Al. Look at what he just did for me. Look at what he did for my kingdom, look at what he did for my people, for that person. I don't think there was a single thing that I did. There was a coldness and a hatred for humanity that had grown in my heart through those years. And on that very day, it just. It all ended. Everything just ended. I remember still being mister science in that moment and wanting to figure out if what was happening to me was real or a dream. And, you know, when we get cold, you know, those in, those listeners who live in just colder areas of the world or of the country, those who live in Wisconsin and Chicago and, you know, near the great lakes, and, you know, when you get cold your nose gets cold, and your ears get cold, and your fingertips, your toes, all of your extremities get cold. Your lips get cold. I remember sitting there, and I started to feel my fingertips, and I started to feel my nose and my ears. And every single thing that is supposed to be cold first was warm. Fingertips, warm, lips, warm, ears, warm. Everything was warm. And my chest is just cold. It's just cold. And, you know, anyone who knows anything about the body knows that's not how the body works. Everything in your chest and in your abdomen supposed to stay at a certain temperature. Otherwise you die. You know, it's. It's not such a big deal if your hand is freezing over. It'll cause problems eventually. But if you're midsection, if your sternum, if everything right here is cold, that's where all the important organs are. But my body is warm and my chest is cold. And just as all that is happening, the next thing that I remember, it's almost like I'm back in reality. Like everything, the fog and the high pitched noise, everything had just ended in that moment. And the next things I hear from Pastor Ronnie's mouth is, come to the altar. So in that small frame of time, if we want to call it that, you know, there was. If God is doing something in your heart, come to the altar. [00:44:53] Speaker B: I'd like to pause for a moment and tell you about a new CSO is small group resource, which takes a closer look at one of CS Lewis shortest but most important books, the abolition of man. We've all felt the effects of the loss of truth and the rise of cancel culture against traditional moral values in our world today. Where can we turn to find a way to deal with these cultural challenges? The abolition of man's study course may be a terrific resource for you. It will help you understand and engage others regarding issues of truth, morality and conscience. Through a five part video series, Doctor Brian Holland takes us through each chapter of the abolition of man and helps us understand CS Lewis perspectives while also providing key insights from the Bible. This study course can be easily facilitated, facilitated and led. The entire workbook can be found online free of charge. If you're interested in this small group study, you can find out more information on the CSOs Institute [email protected], dot look for study courses and there you'll find the abolition of man study, along with many other excellent small group study resources. I hope you'll take a look. Now back to our story. [00:46:18] Speaker C: Yes, you know what you're telling me or what you're describing this extraordinary spiritual. [00:46:25] Speaker B: Experience where you're suddenly somehow in the. [00:46:28] Speaker C: Presence of God, or the presence of God is in you. And you're convinced, you mentioned that there is this awareness of all of perhaps your. Those disbelief, your blaspheming the way that you lived. You know, the sudden realization of who you are and how you've lived in not the best way, but yet there is. There's still this love of God, this pervasive beauty and majesty of God in spite of all of that, that you felt a presence and an attraction to God, that somehow he still. He sees you, he knows you and he loves you in spite of all of that. And I think there's this beautiful kind of juxtaposition there that I've heard on more than one occasion on these kinds of experiences, these extraordinary spiritual experiences. So that when you came back to yourself, I guess then that's what you wanted to do, you felt compelled, I guess, to go to the altar. [00:47:42] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:47:42] Speaker C: And not out of. Not out of, I want to say not out of guilt as much as love for. I mean, I would imagine that you were drawn to the altar of God. I mean, it's something you wanted, not like something you had to do. [00:48:00] Speaker A: Yeah. Yeah. I knew in that moment, while all that was happening, there was a swirl of emotions going through me. I knew that I was wrong and I knew that, you know, my gosh, like, I just knew everything that I had done, everything that I had said about God, I knew that everything that I had ever blasphemed, I knew that it was wrong. And I didn't. I didn't come to the altar, you know, because there was a sermon about repentance. I don't remember what the sermon was. I came to the altar because God had drawn me in and I came to the altar because I knew that he loved me. And, you know, the repentance, it did come. But of course, I knew that God loved me, that he cared about me. And in that moment, that was the changing moment in my life. I remember it very specifically. That ministry was really big during that time. I remember every single time someone would come to the altar, someone would give their life. Whenever an altar call happened, I remember people would clap and cheer and scream and whistle. I remember when I went and when I got up from my seat and I walked to the altar, I remember the room was dead silent. And I remember thinking. I remember thinking myself, why is no one cheering for me? [00:49:24] Speaker C: Exactly. Yeah. Well, the angels in heaven, I'm sure, were. [00:49:29] Speaker A: Yeah. And then I remember the next thought in my mind was, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether people are clapping or not, whether there's cheering or whistling or not, you know, because, you know, God know, God just showed you that he's real, and God just showed you that you are wrong and that he cares about you. And, you know, from that point on, I just had a. All that I had put into my studies for science and all that, I was still doing that, but that's what I was doing to the word of God. You know, I was told by somebody, hey, why don't you start in the book of John or in the book of Matthew and then just go through the New Testament? And that was me. I was still taking. I was taking organic chemistry and a few other classes at that time, but I remember I would walk or speed walk or even jog to some of my classes, get there early, just so I could sit down in my desk for three, four minutes and read the word of God. I remember, you know, my professor is late to the class. Fantastic. I'm going to go sit over here, and I'm going to open the Bible. You know, I carried my Bible with me every single day, and at every single moment that I got between having to study for this exam, having to study for this, every single moment, I was there and I was reading it. [00:50:48] Speaker C: A real hunger. A real hunger for. For God, for knowing God, for knowing who he is, I guess, in the word. Yeah. [00:50:56] Speaker A: Yeah. And about, um, I'd say three weeks after that event happened, that miraculous event that it was for me, I can't explain it scientifically. I can't prove it to anyone else. It was a, it was a. It was a miracle that was just for me. But about three weeks after that event happened, I joined a program in the church called basic training, where they taught you the attitude of the servant's heart and taught you how to serve the church, how to find, you know, your gifting, your calling in church, and really just taught you, you know, it was like a discipleship pathway, teaching you how to be a Christian. And I remember about two months in to my being a Christian, I just remember thinking, oh, my gosh, I'm not depressed anymore. Like, I, you know, but it was, it was for real, you know, and I don't know when it happened. I don't know when I went from, you know, being depressed and, you know, even though things were better at that time, the suicidal thoughts were still there even though I wasn't acting on them. I don't even remember when depression ended. It was something that the Lord just lifted off of me. It was gone from the moment that that miracle happened. Whether I realized it or not, depression had ceased. Depression had ended, and as did the suicidal thoughts at that moment. And some months later, it just came to me where I just realized it's been a couple months, where I've been coming to church every single week, where I don't even remember the last time that I felt depressed. And I know that there are some christians that do struggle with it day in and day out. I do feel for them because I know what it's like to suffer from depression. But as far as being depressed and, you know, being in Christ, I don't know what that's like. That was, it was a deliverance for me. And trust me, there are other things that I struggle with even to this day. But depression was. I was delivered from it on that day. [00:53:04] Speaker C: That's phenomenal. Wow, what a burden. Relief. Amazing. How is your life? How would you describe your life now as a christian? Obviously, you didn't go into nursing or you weren't a physician. You are a pastor, are sitting here. So there have been a lot of changes in your life, not only your calling, I guess, but also, I just wonder personally, all those struggles that you had for so many years, no depression, no suicidal ideation. What about the meaning and the feeling of loneliness? Is that part of your walk now, or do you, is that somehow resolved as well? [00:53:52] Speaker A: No, I'd say all of that is resolved now that I'm a husband and father. I'm trying to find some time to get some alone time with myself, of. [00:54:03] Speaker C: Course. [00:54:05] Speaker A: Where I once longed to be around others, now I'm just like, okay, if I could just have ten minutes. [00:54:14] Speaker C: Yes. Any parent will understand that. Yes. [00:54:18] Speaker A: And, you know, it's, it's different. I. The plan. The plan was never to be a pastor. I did not, I did not think that that was the case. It was. It was definitely a gradual calling. I had still planned on becoming a nurse or a physician and being a christian physician or being a christian nurse and, you know, going on missionary trips and distributing, you know, medicine and vaccines and things like that. Like, that's what I thought my life was going to be, was, I'm going to be in the medical industry, in the medical field, and I'm going to be a Christian and I'm going to serve God that way. And God had called me out of that. It's a long story, but I had heard the word hope for about a week. And it just got my attention every time someone said the word hope and the spirit would just stop me. And even if someone were to say, my gosh, I hope that there's, you know, I don't know, there's still some McNuggets left at McDonald's. I don't know. Whenever someone would say that word, it would just. I would be drawn to it, whether it made sense or not. And, you know, come to find out that, you know, hope is an actual university in Southern California, christian university, Hope International. And that's where I ended up going. But the, the calling to be a pastor, even when I was at hope, I did not think that that's what I would be. I. I didn't know what God had for me. I have gone through. I was a youth pastor, you know, I worked at teen challenge and I was a counselor there for a while. I was a PE teacher, substitute teacher. There was a lot of avenues that I went through and I did not know that, you know, like I had always thought, okay, maybe God would desire me to be a teaching pastor or a pastor of discipleship, a pastor that is over the, you know, the, I don't know, the study of the word for a church, you know, an in depth study. I didn't think it would be senior pastor. I had never thought that that was going to be me. And, you know, Brian, the head of the elders who actually suggested me for this podcast, even when he told me, probably not a smart thing to do, but even when he told me, hey, we want to offer you the senior pastor position. After all the interviews and all that, I still told him I still have. [00:56:47] Speaker B: To pray about it. [00:56:50] Speaker A: Everyone else, I'm sure most people would have said, I'll take it. Thank you. I still wanted to pray and ensure God. Is this really what you desire for me? And I probably left them sitting, left him and the elders sitting on their hands for, I want to say about a week, but I needed to pray and to hear the voice of God tell me, this is my will for you. And it was. [00:57:15] Speaker C: Yeah. You know, it's interesting to me you described in your childhood a God who, if he was there, was distant, you know, but yet here as a man, as a man of God, you're talking about someone to whom you go for guidance. And there's obviously a personal relationship that he sees you and he loves you and that he guides your life. I mean, what a beautiful transformation that is. Al, as a pastor and as a man of God, a Christian a former atheist, you've stood in a lot of places and, and I'm wondering for those who are skeptical or atheists or just those who are so lost in their life they cannot find a way out of depression or meaninglessness or hopelessness, that they wish that they believed in God like you did, but they don't. But maybe they're like you, that they would be willing to go sit in a service and be open to whatever that is. How would you encourage someone who is open and willing to open that door to see what's behind it? How would you encourage them to take that step or that next step? [00:58:44] Speaker A: Yeah, well, I think God is close enough to where if you want to discover him, you will. And he's hidden enough to where if you don't want to have anything to do with him, you won't. For I'll speak to the skeptic first. For those who are in the midst of skepticism, and this is, I know this isn't the definition of an atheist. This is just my personal definition. I don't consider most people atheists if they only study one side of the issue. I just don't. And I know that's not the definition of it. That's just my personal definition. If you're only studying the evidence and the side over here against God, I don't consider you an atheist because there's evidence on this side as well, a plethora of it, a lot of it. And I would encourage the atheist, the skeptic to, you know, look at both sides. There's, with social media, with YouTube, there are so many, so many apologists, so many pastors. There's so much information just at your fingertips. There's no greater question than is God real? The second one being, does he love me? I don't think there's any two greater questions than that. But that's the greatest question, questions that you can ask, not, you know, how did the universe form and all that. Not anything about politics or anything about climate change or the future of the earth. All those questions, every question gets wrapped up into those right there. And there's so much out there for you to study. Don't just study one side, you know. And the funny thing is, even if you do study all the evidence on this side, well, I'll just put it this way. You're not going to be able to study all the evidence on this side. You do have to take into account miracles such as the one that I experienced. You have to take those into account miracles, especially documented miracles that are now starting to arise. Books that are starting to be formed and books that have been written about actual medically documented miracles that have occurred, you have to take those into consideration. You can't just focus on one side. But if you go onto that path, and if you go onto the path of studying the, the evidence for God, the evidence for Christianity, for Jesus, you do have to have an open mind. If you already know, or if you already feel you know the answer right away, if you're just going to do studying to prove your side over here, you're not going to get anywhere. And there's one thing that is going to hinge on, on you studying this evidence, you reading the Bible, you're going to have to, at least for the time being, set aside your thoughts on the supernatural, set aside your thoughts on naturalism, on things that only can be seen. You have to set those aside and you can come back to them later. But that bias, that type of mindset, you can't strictly go into it with that mindset without open, openness to change. You could say, hey, I believe in things that are only seen. I'm a naturalist. But if there's evidence that I am wrong, I'm willing to look at it for the person that is going through depression and anxiety and suicide, whether you believe in God or in church or not, I can tell you that you, your life does matter. And I'll say it again, because it is important. Your life does matter. You are created in the image of God. Your life matters to God. And no matter where you're at, I believe that we do have a God that shows grace to anyone in any single circumstance, no matter what they've done, no matter how far they've delved into darkness, how far they've delved into sin, how far they've delved into evil, whether they, you know, perform witchcraft or whatnot, God can save anybody. And for those in anxiety and depression, your life does matter. It really, really does. And even when you feel like I have nobody in my life that loves me, normally, you do. And a great quote that I've heard on suicide. A lot of times when you're in the midst of suicidal thoughts and really contemplating or about to end your life, you really do think, number one, it's going to be better for me to end it all, but you also think it's going to be better for everyone else or nobody's even going to notice when I'm gone. And normally that's not the case. And here's the quote. Suicide is not just this event that just ends your life and everyone just moves on. Suicide is an event that's almost like a grenade that goes off in the midst of the people that love you. And even if you think nobody cares and nobody will care when I'm gone, suicide, if you go through with it, you will hurt people that maybe you do care about. You will hurt people that you think didn't care about you. They'll be affected by it. And, you know, there are. There were some times where that type of thought did save me from ending my life. And I would encourage you. Your life does matter. People, whether you see it or not, do care about you. Maybe you're in the midst of something where you don't. You like. You're like me, and you can't accept any love at this point. You can't accept any care. But you do have a God who cares about you. You have a God that formed you in your mother's womb. You have a God that gave you your personality. You have a God that gave you your eye color, hair color, a God that gave you so much. A God that was there when you were born, a God that was there when you took your first steps, when you were there at your first day of school, when you lost your first tooth. You have a God that was there when you. When you shed your first tear, when you went through your first breakup. If you've gone through that, you have a God that was there through every single major life event that you've ever faced, good or bad. You have a guy that was there with you. Twenty four seven, and he cares about you. He loves you. And I want to. I want to break through the lie that nobody cares about you, because God does. He cared about you when he sent his son to die on the cross. He cares about you to this day, no matter how you're living. And for the Christian and for those who are still struggling with depression, I know it's hard, and I know not everyone is going to go through a deliverance like I did, where it's just gone one day. What I tell people here in my congregation is to just focus on the word of God, focus on the promises of God in the midst of that. Because depression always spawns hopelessness in yourself. It always spawns, first of all, a feeling of unworthiness, but it always spawns from a sense of hopelessness. I don't have hope. I don't have anything to look forward to. You have the promises of God. You have a city, the new Jerusalem. That is never to perish, never to have darkness in it. You have your name in the book of life. If you believe and focus on the promises of God, let God be your joy. Go out of your comfort zone and meet people. If you were like me, and if you didn't like to go out, if you didn't like to talk to people, if you sat in the back of church like I did, I go out and meet people. And for those who aren't in the faith, I know that there's a God who delivers from depression. I've experienced it firsthand. I know many people that have experienced it from firsthand. There is no disease. There is nothing that is out of God's hand. That's not me saying that. God is this vending machine that you push a button and you get whatever you want, but he will be the one that guides you through the waves. He'll be the one that takes you from the fire. He'll be the one where the flood waters of depression come over you. And he tells you, do not fear. He tells you that the waves will not, you won't succumb to the waves, that he'll keep your head above the water. And that would be my encouragement to you, is to call out to God in an honest way and to ask him, please help me, whether you know him or don't know him, to call out and to say, lord, just help me in this moment, and God will respond. And he's always faithful, too. I think that's how I would sum up all of that. [01:07:45] Speaker C: That's beautiful. It's no wonder you've been called to be a pastor, not only a teaching pastor, but a pastor of hearts and souls. So it looks like you tend that well. Thank you for that wisdom and that compassion, really. And for those of us who are Christians, who understand what life and life, life in Christ can be, you know that it is full and it's. It's being known, but yet being fully loved. And we want others to know that as well. I think of your lab partner, who was so bold, not only after she asked you once, but even after refusal, she asked you again. Just so bold. How can we as Christians, best interact with those who are skeptical or who don't believe? [01:08:45] Speaker A: Well, as this is my opinion, I know it's shared by many, but as the world gets colder, as the human hearts of everybody grow a little bit dimmer in this world as we continue to go forward, I think that the love of the Christian should be the most attractive thing in this world. Obviously, outside of the love of Christ, the love of the Christian should be drawing people into the church. I know it's a lot of times we're seen as those who judge, but it should be the love of the Christian. Every single person listening to this, you all have a sphere of influence. You all have family and friends and coworkers and acquaintances that, you know, don't believe, and I do too. But the love that we have for them should be the one thing that gets them past the hey, maybe his life isn't all that bad, even though he's doesn't get to watch football on Sundays and do all that. The love that he has for me and the love that he has for others, maybe there's something to this Jesus person that I should probably look into. The love of the Christian should be the driving force for the world to come into the church. And I know the world is going through so much skepticism right now for the Christian. If you feel called to know the deep answers of, you know, skepticism, go for it. There's plenty of resources out there for you, this podcast being one of them, I'm sure. And for those of you who, you know, who feel like I don't know enough, I don't know enough to evangelize, I don't know enough to go out there and to tell people about Jesus, every single one of you has a story, first and foremost, that you know better than everyone else, but also every single one of you can love. Every single one of you, if you're in your word and if you know the love of God, you know how Jesus loved people, you know the love that he showed even to the Pharisees at times, you know that love, replicate it towards others. And when those hard questions come up, say, hey, I don't know the answer to that question. Let me see if my pastor knows the answer to that question and I'll come back to you. Or maybe I'll research that question and I'll see what I could discover and maybe we could go through this together. Go out and love. Because every single person knows somebody that they would want to be sitting next to them in church. Go out, ask them, even if you feel like you're pestering them. Because if that, if my friend had never asked me a second time, I don't know what my life would have looked like, and I'm sure God would have found a way. But if my friend doesn't ask me a second time, none of this might have ever happened for me. [01:11:35] Speaker C: Yes, I love that. Yeah, we are called we're known by our love. The scripture says so. I love your advice there, Al. It's just been an amazing experience sitting here and listening not only to your wisdom, but to your story. I am so taken. One of my favorite names for God is Elroy, the one who sees. And it seems like that is the God that you have found, the one who sees and that you have become the one who sees those around you and that you are wanting to give the love that you have found. And it is a beautiful testimony. I just want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and sharing your wisdom with us today. Is there anything else you'd want to add? [01:12:31] Speaker A: I'm thankful for having this opportunity and thank you for this ministry that you guys have. I didn't even know this podcast existed, so I'm definitely going to be listening to it from now on. [01:12:43] Speaker C: Ah, terrific. We have another listener I want to hear like myself. That's fantastic. Yes, yes. Well, thank you Al for coming on today. We appreciate you so much. [01:12:54] Speaker A: Yeah, thank you, thank you. [01:12:56] Speaker B: Thanks for tuning in to cybe stories to hear Al Gascon's story. You can find out more about his ministry and contact links in the episode. Notes for questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email. Again, that is Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former atheist or guest with questions, please contact us through our email and we'll get you connected. This podcast is produced through the CS Lewis Institute and our wonderful producer Ashley Decker and audio engineer Mark Rosiera. You can also see these podcasts in our video form on our YouTube channel through the excellent work of our video editor, Kyle Polk. If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll follow rate review and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward. [01:13:47] Speaker C: To seeing you next time where we'll. [01:13:48] Speaker B: See how another skeptic flips the record of their life.

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