Warren Cook

 

warren cookELEN TODD INTERVIEWED WARREN COOK

Helen: My guest Warren Cook was on his way to stardom in show business, opening concerts for Elvis Presley at the age of 17, but inside Warren Cook was empty, angry, broken, and self-centered. Warren had a great voice and joined a song and dance group in high school called The Young Americans.

Though he did not believe in God, God believed in Warren. He arranged an encounter that changed Warren Cook’s life, career, and even his personality.

Warren: Even though I was a mess, I was having a lot of fun doing big shows and TV. We opened the show for Elvis when I was seventeen years old in Hawaii while my friends were walking across the high school stage to get their diplomas. And I was singing and dancing on the stage in Honolulu with Elvis. But then I got into drugs when I was 19 years old and lost everything during those two years. While I was sitting there doing nothing, I had this thought that maybe God's real. It was a revolutionary thought to me.

Helen Todd: The reason Warren thought this was revolutionary was that he was an atheist. I'm Helen Todd, and Warren is my guest today on this episode of the Limitless Spirit podcast. Warren Cook has an incredible story of being totally transformed by God from a selfish drug-using tough guy to a gentle-hearted loving pastor. He's the perfect person to kick off our new series on the podcast: "Changed Lives Change Lives." Warren was delivered by Christ and went through a radical transformation. His born-again experience was accompanied by a drastic change of lifestyle and personality which helped him help others.

Helen: Well, I'm very excited to share your story today. Warren Cook is Pastor of Friendship Church in San Antonio, Texas, and is a phenomenal spiritual leader.

Warren: I was a mess when I first became a Christian. The passage that I most related to was the woman who was caught in adultery and then the other one, the woman that washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Jesus said, "Leave her alone because this person loves them much." It's a long story. It's kind of hard. Sometimes I start crying when I tell it, but I was raised in a pretty typical home, a broken home. My Mom and Dad were divorced. I was in an orphanage for a while. I kept to myself. I was shy when I was young. I learned that I could sing and started singing all over the place. And people were telling me that I was going to be famous. I was messed up in my head a. I didn't want to be famous. I just liked to sing. But then I got into drugs when I was nineteen years old. I always tell people to be careful who they hang out with because the Bible says iron sharpens iron. That's good. It walks with wise men, he's going to be wild, but a companion of fools and you will be destroyed.

I asked a friend of mine one day, "Hey, would you like to get together and let's start a club at just the two of us?" It was back in the days when Simon and Garfunkel and the Smoother’s Brothers were very big. We thought, "Well, this could be great." They said, "Sure, come on over. I think that's a great idea. Let's do it." He was incredibly talented but much to my surprise, he also was very heavily involved in drugs. He said, "Hey, let's go get loaded," and I did for two years. I was never sober again. And I pretty much lost everything during those two years, almost lost my life three times. Certainly lost all of my clean-cut aspiring friends and the bunch I ended up hanging out with later on with the kind of folks you wouldn't want to hang out with.

Helen: Tell me a little bit more about your singing career. Your musical talent actually led you to sing with some pretty famous people.

Warren: Well, yeah. When I was 15 years old, God started to deal with my life before I was even a Christian. I wouldn't think God had his hand on it. I accidentally interviewed for a group. In other words, I wasn't supposed to go this day that there was an audition. But my friends were going and I was too young to drive, so I had to ride with them. When I got there, they said, "Hey, would you like to audition?" And I said, "No, I'm just here for the ride." They said, "Well, while you’re here, I'll try out." It was a group called The Young Americans. And back in those days, they were very popular. They had just made a movie and won an Academy Award. They went all over the world singing. They interviewed fifteen hundred kids that year. And of those, it's like every high school could send two. Their two best singers could go.

   So it represented thousands and thousands and thousands of young people that wanted to be in the group. And we went through five levels of auditions, and I got a callback, callback, and callback, and finally, they said, "Yes." Of the fifty that they took out of the fifteen hundred that applied, I got in. I was the youngest singer in the group and many of the group danced and played instruments. They were great dancers, ballerinas, actors that did all kinds of things. All I could do was sing and we performed at the Dorothy Chandler Music Pavilion in Los Angeles which is where they held the Academy Awards. The auditorium could seat three thousand people. And so, what they did is they snuck me on stage, I sat down, did a solo, and then they snuck me back off because I couldn't dance at all. I was there because of my voice.

   So over the next four years, we got to perform with comedians like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, and my favorite, Red Skelton. I got to sing for two Presidents - Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and then also got to do a live performance called “The King of Thailand.”

Helen: Wow. And all this at a very young age had to be very overwhelming for a young person.

Warren: Actually, it was just fun. We got to do big giant shows and do TV. I didn't like what happened behind scenes. During that time period, there was a lot of depression going on in the artistic community. I mean, Karen Carpenter was one of my favorite singers that ever existed. She died of anorexia and not just from depression. Elvis Presley, we opened for Elvis when I was seventeen in Hawaii. My friends were walking across the high school stage to get their diploma, and I was singing and dancing on the stage here in Honolulu with Elvis. But Elvis died alone, drugged; there were so many theories behind the scenes.

   We open one time, I won't name his name, I never will, but a very famous performer back in those days. He was older, he was married, and he was hitting on the girls in the group. It was grossing me out. Some of the things that I saw, she's passed away now, but I used to date a girl, and she went all on. She became very well known. She was one of Stevie Wonder's background singers. She was a black girl. And I'm not black, I'm white. She was black and she went on singing with Stevie Wonder. Her mama was one of the original Ray Charles background singers, and she used to tell me, "You’re going to be a big star."

  Well, for six months, I lived here with my mama. My dad was a little bit prejudiced. He said something about my girlfriend. I got mad and moved out and stuck in my car, and I ended up being taken in by my ex-girlfriend's mama. So I live with her for six months and saw what it's like to be in that world where she would go on the road with Ray Charles and come home, and they just closed the door and stay in her bedroom for two weeks with the blinds drawn. It wasn't a healthy happy life, you know. And when I was about 21, here I've been on drugs for about two years but I was still a functioning human being. I had a computer job. So I worked with this company.

   There is a man, he was about 40-ish, seem old back then, right? Really nice man and he knew what I was doing. I had long hair in a ponytail and a beard. I know I smelled from smoking marijuana while driving my car to work every day. Surely, they knew what I was doing, but he was just so kind to me and so nice to me. He was always the same every day. I figured out that he was a Christian. I even asked him something about the Bible. About I don't know something. He just kind of talk to me real nice in there. He approached me. He never tried to get me to say the sinner's prayer. He just influenced me, and I've said for many, many years when I get to heaven, I want to find and tell him, I've got here because of you.

   I lost my job while doing drugs. I went through a really hard time. And then, I just was sitting there one day. Again, I was raised in a home that didn't believe in God. I didn't believe in God. I wasn't mad about it. I was just a nice, friendly Atheist who thought God wasn't real. It didn't make sense. It wasn't logical. And all of a sudden, I had this thought, well, maybe God's real. And it was a revolutionary thought to me. To make it short, I started reading the Bible by myself for about six months, and I didn't understand it, but I read about this man, Jesus. And there I just wanted somehow to know God. I still didn't know that it was possible for me because I didn't call myself a sinner. I didn't use those terms back then. I knew I was a mess. I was a wreck. I was a horrible person, I thought. I know a few Christians, but I always thought, "Well, I'm not like Christians. Those are good people, but I'm not a good person," and so I never thought to say, "How did you get to heaven?"I didn't know about the life-changing power of Jesus, even while I was reading the New Testament.

    And anyway, long story short, somebody led me to Christ, and then I ended up going to Bible School two weeks later.

Helen: So, I heard you shared this before that once you accepted Jesus into your life, you became a different person, not only in terms of your lifestyle, how you live your life, but even your personality from having a hardened heart, not being perhaps very compassionate or kind for each other. Of all the occupations, you became a pastor, which requires a soft heart, compassion, and understanding. So, that was a change of personality. How would you describe that best?

Warren: Absolutely. I always said that before I got saved you probably wouldn't have wanted me around. It was back in the old days in California. Most everybody I knew did drugs, and we all had long hair and all that, but it wasn't just that. I mean, inside, I was just an empty kind of selfish man. I never thought of it being that way. But my rule was always if it doesn't hurt somebody, it's okay. So, drugs, "Hey, it's okay, I'm not hurting anybody," but really, I got to the point where pretty much everything that came out of my mouth was a cuss word. But everybody cusses. It was just a kind of culture. It was either a cuss word or a lie. And most of the time, I would just assume to fight somebody as if I talk to them. I used to lift weights a lot.

   I had a friend one time. It was pretty rough. And one time, he looked at me and said, "You think you're invincible, don't you?" I looked at him and said, "Try and find out." The devil puts all these horrible thoughts and characteristics in me. When I got saved, I changed instantly. But what happened was I had a brother that wasn't a Christian. None of us were Christians. This is again how thing just happens. He hurt his back very badly. He was young. And then he went to a chiropractor and helped him a lot. So he decided, "I'm going to go to chiropractic school." So he left California and went to Arizona. And it turned out that he happened to get into one of the churches that had the finest pastor that ever lived, Tommy Barnett. And there, he got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. I felt called to go to Bible school.

   So he went to Texas to go to Bible School. Well then, a year later, he came out to California where I was and I was a mess. He tried to tell me about Jesus. I cussed him out and told him, "If you tell me one more thing, I'm going to knock you out." He was a pretty big guy but I was pretty mad. I didn't want to hear about that stuff. You need to change; you need to grow, blah, blah, blah. And I told him, "Leave me alone. Back up, I'm going to knock you out." So he left me alone, but he started praying for me. He got all of his friends. He said, "My brother is in trouble, pray for him." And so they came back a year later, and when they came out a year later by then, everything had fallen apart. I had nothing to do. I was temporarily out of the music business. My friend and I had split up. We weren't going anywhere. We did too many drugs and life was very hard.

   But anyway, he came back out and I had nothing to do. I thought, "Well, they're a choir. I'll at least go listen to them sing." And when I did, I got to talk to some of these young girls. They started saying, "Hey," I said, "I am reading the Bible. But I don't understand it." They explained it to me. That led me to Christ, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Instead, I was saved. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I mean, I felt power come over me. I just started to cry and cry, and I felt so much joy. I suddenly was in love with God, in love with Jesus, and love with people. And they said, "Hey, come out to Dallas and visit us." I prophesied. I didn't even know what I was doing. I was brand new in the Lord. They said, "Come up to Texas and see us." And I told her, "I'll be there in two weeks." And they literally got on the bus, in that parking lot of the church in Los Angeles, and drove off January 14th, 1975, and I stand there all by myself and saying to myself, "Why in the world would I tell them, I'll be there in two weeks?" I have no money. I had been robbing people. I've been stealing money because of drugs. I owed money all over the state come. I had four bald tires and a flat spare. I thought, "How am I going to get to Texas? What am I talking about? Why would I say I'll be there in two weeks?"

   Well, low and behold in about a week, a friend of mine called, and again, he was not a Godly person. He was a drunken friend. And he called me and said, "Hey, Warren, I'm going to go to Fort Worth. Would you like to come with me?" And I said, "Well, not really." I didn't like him that much. The thought of being cooped up in a car with him for driving all the way to Texas didn't sound like fun. And I said, "Well, anywhere near Dallas?" He said, "Yeah, it's right down the road from Dallas," he said, "I tell you what. I've got a brand new car. You help me drive out to see my uncle in Fort Worth. I'll give you my brand new car to drive over to see your friends in Dallas. And then you stayed there for a couple of days, come back pick me up to drive back together.

So we drove to Fort Worth, and he gave me the car to drive to Dallas. I stayed there a few days, and then he called and said, "Warren, I've got a problem. I had an appendicitis attack," and then he said, "I can't drive. I'm going to have surgery, fly back, and you don't have to drive back by yourself. Listen to this; take my brand new car and stay there at that Bible School as long as you want to and come back home when you feel like it." Is that God or what?

Helen: Wow.

Warren: I stayed there about two weeks with the people in the Bible school. And I said, "Why would I ever want to go home? All my friends are drug addicts. There's nothing I want more than Jesus. I want to know God." And so, I drove home, visited my parents, turned around, and went back to Bible School, and have been following Jesus ever since. Jesus totally changed my personality. I mean, I used to be rough and tough. I love football. I loved every kind of sport. I turn on the TV one time after I got saved. There was a hockey game and these two guys started fighting. That happens all the time at a hockey game. I started crying. "Why is that guy being so ugly, so mean, so hateful for no reason." I was just like, "The Lord just put a spirit of compassion in me that I just love people." I was a singer and I was the President of that group. I was respected by people, but still, inside, I was always a real loner defending my little territory in my heart. But once I fell in love with Jesus, I received a spirit of joy and peace to this day. I want to do anything I can to help anybody I can. I want to do as much good as I can for as many people as I can. That's really what I live for.

Helen: This is a very powerful transformation story and as just you mentioned at the very beginning of the interview to which much is forgiven loves more. And so, I can't help but think that having been transformed from a lifestyle that was very destructive that kept you miserable and lonely and headed in the wrong direction. And so I'm sure through your ministry as a pastor, even observing you on a mission trip to Serbia with WMA, you have the ability to reach out to certain people like perhaps no one else has. So, do you have a story that you can share with us on this podcast of someone whom you helped to transform their lives, just like Jesus did that for you?

Warren: Paul says, "To rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those that weep." And when I go into a room, I can't help myself and I'm reading people's faces. I'm looking at their eyes. I'm listening to the tone of their voice. I'm watching their body motion. Are they standing tall? Are they happy? Are they excited about something good that's going on? Or maybe is there something going on behind the scenes that they just need an encouraging word? The Bible talks about in Proverbs 31 that she speaks with kindness. I’m always looking for people that I can help and encourage. The Bible says, "Give honor to which honor is due." To lift people because most people need it. You've got the devil that's beating on you, and then just the circumstances of life can really be rough.

   Jesus said, "Be careful that the careers of life don't come and choke out the fruitfulness of the word in your side." Some people have so many careers and I'll tell you about it. And some always looking for someone to brag on to say something nice to encourage, like the word says, "Don't let any corrupt communication come out of your mouth but only such words that are good to edify people, to build people up." A few years ago, there was an elderly couple. They were seeking direction. They had a wonderful ministry in Latin America and South America. They oversaw about 35 churches in Nicaragua. So they reached out to me one day and said, "Would you be willing to take over our ministry in Nicaragua and oversee these 35 churches? You can still Pastor the church in San Antonio but we're getting older and would like to retire. We'd like to hand this over to you." That would be a tremendous honor to suddenly have 35 pastors looking to you for leadership and encouragement training. But I had a check in my spirit and didn’t feel that God was calling me to do this.

   So I told them, "I'll tell you what, I'll come down. I'll look at it. I'll pray about it. And I'll do whatever the Lord shares with me to do." So I went down there. And when I was there, I noticed that their son is not a child and probably in his late 30's. I could see that he really loved the people and knew the language. He knew the culture, and the Pastors respected him. And so I went to this couple and said, "Hey, you know, I prayed about this. I don't think I'm supposed to do it. I'd be willing to do it if God wanted me to, but I don't think I'm supposed to do it. I think God wants your son to do it," and they both just gave a big old sigh. They said, “If only he would."

   And so long story short, I told them, well, I'm going to talk to him and pray." And the next day, one of our men from church was there with me, and the two of us got in a truck and drove for two hours to meet the son. We told him, "Listen, we feel like you're supposed to do this and don't say, no, just listen to us. Let us tell you what we're thinking. We want to help you do this." I said, "When you're in San Antonio, I'm the pastor. You report to me. But if I come down here, you're in charge and I report to you. I'll help you," and he said, "You know what, if you would do that, I'll do it." He said, "I've wanted to do it for years. But I can't do it without help." And he said, "Everyone that comes down from America, they say they want to help me. But they really want to take over." He said, "I need help." And so now, here it is. It has been probably seven years or so. And now, instead of 35 churches, it's about 50 churches and has grown to Cuba. Anyway, it has just grown and grown. I feel like God helped me to help someone else. Frankly, that's how I feel with you all. I told you guys privately after I was there with the mission’s conference that I'm praying that more and more pastors will entrust their people to you.

   So many times, pastors are nervous about other churches taking their people or teaching them something they don't want them to. Or just somehow, they're afraid to let people go. I can remember Dr. Cho years ago. His church was a success but not the massive church it eventually became. The Lord spoke to him one day and said, "You need to let my people go." And he said, "Why would you say Lord? That's what you said to Pharaoh," and the Lord told him, "Yes, you're a pharaoh. You're trying to hold all of your people. You need to let them go. Let them grow up. Let them, minister." So I'm praying, I've looked at the ministry of WMA, and everything you do from top to bottom is just excellent. It is well organized, thought through, planned out, and runs so well. And in the spirit of excellence and love and kindness, your focus is always wanting to reach people for Christ and then build up the local churches in these other nations and partner with them. It is just so well done.

   So, anyway, I'm just thankful we're able to help this gentleman down in Latin America. And I hope that whatever we do can help WMA as well. I was tremendously blessed when I went on the trip. I didn't think it was something I was supposed to do because I'm a Pastor. So I thought, "Well, I've got my ministry here, and I could just send some dollars to the missions field." But my wife encouraged me to go. She is like a little Chihuahua. If she wants to do something, there's no sense telling her no. She just keeps after me until I give in. She wanted me to go and start praying. When I got there, it was so wonderful to see how everybody was exalted. Everybody got to step up. Everybody, I mean, it didn't matter if they were a nurse or a doctor or a Pastor, or just a regular person that had a regular old job. Every one of them was transformed on the mission field to really step up into a different level of being used by God. And you just can't be used by God without feeling that excitement, that joy, that purpose in life.

  I used to teach a lesson for years on how God said we're different parts of the body. One person's hand, the eye, the foot, whatever, and every part of that body are important. But I said, "What if you were a nose, and what if the only thing you could do was the smell, but your sinuses kept you from breathing. And you never got to smell a rose or smell of freshly baked bread or something. Once you feel like your life was empty and many Christians go to church year after year. And they feel empty. Well, it's not because the church isn't good enough, their preaching is not good enough, the choir doesn't sing good enough, it's because they're not using the gifts. They're not taking the opportunities that God's give them to use that, to let that anointing flow out of them to help somebody else. And you just see so much joy on that mission field.

Helen: Wow that was an incredibly powerful illustration actually. I really appreciate that. It just sent my mind in so many directions. But another thing I was thinking of as I was listening to you that there two were parts. The Warren Cook 2.0, if you will, after transformation. As you share this story of how you encourage someone else in your place to become the leader and then you're so graciously complimenting our ministry. I saw as such an example of this transformation that God has done in you. Because when you were in the world, in the flesh, so to speak. You were so amazingly gifted and on your path to becoming a star. And that's the career that is all about you where you are in the very center of your universe. And now, as you're sharing about your life after Christ's transform that it's all about encouraging others, building up others, elevating others. That is the example of the inaction of the transformation that the Lord has done in your life. That was just really blessed my heart to listen to you. I am so thankful that God crossed our paths with you and Julie and have been with you on the mission field, and watching how you just continue to impact people. Whether it's for the team members or the people on the mission field and how you leave the flock in your congregation in San Antonio. I can't help but say thank you, Lord, for choosing him, drawing him to yourself, and placing him in that position of ministry.

Warren: Thank you.

Helen: Thank you so much for this interview. I look forward to what the Lord has in the future for us.

Warren: Amen. Same here.

Warren's Hearing His Voice Testimony

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