Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Blog Has Moved!

Thanks for following my old blog, "this, that, and the other." I moved to Tumblr.

Here is the link. I hope you will follow my new blog, "777 Words Or Less."


Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 4 - God

I remember the day well. I was 7 years old. It had stormed the night before at our farm in Hillsboro. It wasn't just any storm. It was the kind that only came around every once and a while. The kind that did things to the land that previous storms failed to do. For instance, while we were all huddled around the fire place for warmth and light that spring night after the power went out our biggest and oldest oak tree was struck by lightning - splitting it to the bottom. It fell with an earth-shaking thud - just missing our house. We heard it and felt it - and could see it for split seconds at a time with each subsequent lightning strike as we looked out the window . But it wasn't until morning that we really saw the damage. We were thankful it missed our farm house. But we were sad our mighty oak had been struck down. I personally had spent many hours up in that oak tree. But for me the sadness lasted briefly because that fallen tree turned into a paradise of recreation. I could run the length of it, climbing it - this time horizontally and not vertically. I made it a make believe plane or a pirate ship. My imagination was endless and I spent hours playing there until it was sawed up and hauled truckload by truckload to are larger wood pile. No doubt we burnt it during those winters there. But as with all things on the farm that tree provided a hiding place - a refuge during my own personal violent storms caused by my drunken step-dad. Whenever it was about to get bad I would run to that tree - to the fallen part where the most branches were the thickest with the leaves that remained and I would disappear. Sometimes though I went there after things already got bad. And there I would cry and wish it would all go away. Nobody could see me there. And they certainly wouldn't find me right away. But on one day in particular I remember doing something extraordinary - and not in a good way. It is my first remembrance of communicating to God (but not my first exposure to Him - I fondly recall my public school first grade teacher, Mrs. Bobb, giving me a book called "Little Visits With God". I don't remember much about the book except the cover - children playing with Jesus by a babbling brook. But I do remember her kindness toward me in giving it to me. There's something to be said for that.) But my first communication to God came after another painful and difficult episode with Bob. I ran to my tree and got as high as I could in it even in its fallen condition and I looked up to the clouds where I thought God to be and I raised both fists to Him and I flipped him off. And I cursed Him. Now I don't think that's a common thing that you will find with most children that age, but my first conscious thought of God was one of hate and blame. I blamed God for all that was happening to me. I never questioned whether there was a God. I guess it's because I needed to believe that Someone had to be responsible for allowing this and I wanted nothing to do with that Being. Not a good way to start out thinking about God, but it's how I felt and what I believed deep down on the inside.

Shortly thereafter my mom became a Christian followed by my sister who is six years older than me. Things changed for us in very dramatic ways. For one thing, my mom took us to church every chance she got. And she wanted very much for me to become a Christian. I don't remember a whole lot about that first Baptist church there in Hillsboro. But I do remember the pastor and his family and the associate pastor and his family. The pastor had a daughter that was my first crush. And I remember going to a Christian camp up north somewhere. It was there that I nearly drowned when a big kid jumped in the pool on top of me - pushing me under. I lost my bearings and freaked out. I could swim like a fish, but I might as well been deep in the ocean with no way up. That's when the lifeguard got a hold of me and took me to safety. There are scattered memories here and there from that time. I also recall the time that me and the associate pastors son got run up a tree by an angry bull. Behind the church property was someone's land and we jumped the fence one day messing around back there - not knowing there were bulls on that land. That is, until one came charging us. We just made it up. It hung around a while and then slowly walked off. Once it was out of sight we jumped down the tree and jumped back over the fence to safety. We never did that again but it was exhilarating. But you would think that all the time I spent in church during that time that I would have "become a Christian." But it didn't happen at the church. It happened on a Saturday. At home. I was watching Looney Tunes and my mom decided she wanted me to listen to some guy talk about God. She changed the channel and we watched it together. I remember thinking the man seemed nice. And I liked the way he talked. He didn't talk like anyone I knew. But what upset me was the fact that there was this telephone number on the bottom of the screen and it wouldn't go away. It was distracting. So I asked my mom about it and why it was on the screen and why wouldn't it go away. She, in her early Christian zeal, took that as an opportunity to help me "become a Christian." This was done, of course, by calling the number. She dialed it and put the phone to my ear and I talked to some nice lady who told me she was with the Billy Graham evangelistic team. I guessed (and correctly) that the man on the television was Rev. Graham. She asked me if I wanted to go to Heaven. I wasn't sure about that because I knew enough about things to know that God was in Heaven. That's where He lived and, as you can gather by what I said above, I wasn't to fond of God. But everything else she said sounded pretty good. And I figured Heaven had to be a big place. Maybe I wouldn't see God when I got there. Kind of like I never really saw the mean man who owned the grocery store. But that didn't keep me from going and getting a tasty freeze. So she asked if I wanted to go to Heaven. I thought, "Why not?" She told me to repeat to her the words that she said to me. It was easy. After we were done I said, "That's it?" She said, "Yes. You are now on your way to Heaven!" Incredible! If only it was that easy. Of course, my mom and sister were happy. Everyone was happy. Everyone but me. I was no more a Christian then I was Billy Graham! But I know everyone meant well and I don't blame anyone. They were all doing the best that they could.

My second "profession of faith" came in the sixth grade at my Christian school. My mom had put me in a Christian school when I was in fourth grade. I had no business being in a Christian school. I was one messed up kid. When I was in sixth grade I was up to the same old tricks. On one occasion I talked a kid into taking his metal art scissors and sticking them in a light socket. I promised him it would be fun and that he wouldn't get hurt. I was wrong. He did it and it blew him backward a good five to ten feet into a row of empty desks. I thought I killed him, but not quite. I remember the lights flickering off too. Nobody every found out about that one. The fear of God was firmly planted in that kid's heart by way of me and he wasn't about to tell anyone. But then there was Bucky. He was a head taller than anyone, and if memory serves me he was at least two grades behind. But I felt confident I could handle Bucky in any format. He liked to brag and I liked to prove him wrong. He swore he could hold his breath longer than anyone. I swore I could hold mine longer than him. We decided this needed to be settled - and in front of everyone because he told everyone. So the teacher was called down to the office via the class intercom and that's when we chose to stage this little contest. But here's the thing. I knew I would win because I knew I was going to cheat. So on the count of three, Bucky and I gulped in air and the game was on. Now we walked up toward the front of the room to do this so everyone could see. There we were - both of us with a cheeks swollen with air as we held our breath. One of our fellow students had us on his stopwatch. But while Bucky was sincerely holding his breath, I was ever so slightly breathing - just enough so as not to be noticeable but enough to get the job done. All of a sudden Bucky started turning different colors. Meanwhile I was cool, calm, and collected. Bucky's eyes started to gloss over. He started swaying. And then it happened - he lost the time and staggered head first toward the classroom door. He fell hard into the metallic door frame and banged himself up pretty good. He didn't feel a thing. He was out cold. Well, you can imagine, all manner of panic set in. Me, I was in bad trouble. He was too, but not as bad as me. He recovered just fine, but when he did it was time for us to give an account. So, being smart Christian school kids who knew the drill - we came up with a scheme. We both went to the same Baptist church. Our disciplinary meeting was going to happen on a Friday morning. We went to midweek service on Thursday night. So Buck and I decided we would walk the aisle and get saved. That's right. You read that right. We were going to go forward and repent of our wicked ways and accept Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and Savior. We were no longer going to be rebel hellions bent on our wicked ways. And that's what we did. We did this to get out of trouble. Not because we were led to by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. We made quite a splash with this. Got baptized and all. Got our names written down in the book on the front row. We were full-fledged born again, baptized Baptists. And, of course, we got out of trouble. At least the trouble we were in at the present time. Now if eternity depended on that decision - let's just say I would have been in real trouble. I was no more a Christian then I was the Guinness book of world records breath holding champion. But I don't think anyone knew that at the time. Maybe except for Bucky.

Years past. I learned to tow the line. Getting in constant trouble got old. I began to outwardly conform and became quite the good youth group member. Everyone had high hopes for me. In high school I became the president of the student body, the year book editor, the president of student council, the basketball star, made it to homecoming court - everything. You name it I achieved it. I had my pick of Christian schools to attend but chose the one my best friend at the time went to. I went there for that reason and that reason alone. But during my high school years especially I was a mess on the inside. I knew I was lost but everyone thought I was the best young man in the Christian school and the youth group at church. I went to one of the most prominent independent fundamental Baptist churches in the world. The pastor to this day remains legendary in those circles. Who on earth could I talk to about my eternal soul? I would have very real fear every time I got in my car to go home from basketball practice or a game. What if I crashed? I would die and go to Hell! Many times I thought about checking out the easy way like my real dad Ed, but I knew I would go to Hell and that fate was much worse than what I was experiencing then. I remember being at an invitational basketball tournament my senior year of high school. After we had played a game to land us in the finals while everyone else from my team was in the stands awaiting our game I was in the locker room throwing up. I was sweating profusely and trembling. I wasn't sick in my body. I was just completely overcome with fear. And I kept praying over and over again, "If I'm not saved, Jesus, please save me!" I was frantic. While in that condition I didn't realize that someone had come in to the locker room. I don't remember now who it was, but I told them I just got saved. We went together and told my coach who just looked at me. We won the tournament. I won tournament MVP after notching a double-double in points and rebounds. And when accepting the tournament trophy and MVP trophy I announced that I had just become a Christian. Of course, this was exciting news to everyone. Everyone but me. It was all emotion and fear. And after some time it was determined by older and wiser people around me that I was already saved. I just needed assurance of my salvation. But I know now what I knew then - I wasn't a true believer. I was just a kid who was completely messed up by the past of my childhood and the present of my extremely religious surroundings. Of course, everyone meant well. But I had to get away. And I did. 

Strangely it would be during my freshman year at an extremely conservative independent fundamentalist Baptist Bible college that I would become a Christian. I say strangely because I had to get out from under the familiarity of my Christian school and church for this to happen. And it was a process. It happened in January of 1993. God the Holy Spirit was doing a work in my heart of showing me - not just that I was lost (I knew that!) - but that I needed to be saved. He used faithful friends and professors to aid with this and I could write much about this but God used something extremely key in my life to reach me. His Word. Now I had spent years secretly in my own heart hoping to find something wrong with the Bible. I wanted a way out. I still had so much baggage from my childhood and new baggage from legalism that had made me a complete wreck on the inside. But over the course of time I developed a respect and even belief in the authenticity of the Bible. It appealed to me on a lot of levels scientifically and historically. Biblical prophecy - both the prophecy and the fulfillment of thousands of prophecy's - impacted me greatly. I began to understand that there had to be something to this Book - written by at least 42 people in three different languages over a period of 1500 years on three different continents. There was harmony and consistency throughout and try as I might I couldn't find the fault that I wanted to find. In fact, just the opposite started to happen for me. The Bible began to speak to me in a very specific and profound way - a necessary way - for me to understand more about God. You see, God used what Jesus went through on this earth to really speak to me. As I read through the Gospels for class my freshman year of college I was constantly struck by how Jesus always referred to God as the "Father." He was about His Father's business, etc. I don't have the statistics in front of me but Jesus refers to God as Father almost exclusively throughout His earthly ministry. And then you see Jesus praying to the Father in the Garden. And you read about His suffering. And always He's talking to the Father. And then you read His seven phrases from the cross and He mentions the Father. But there is one profoundly key moment when He is hanging from the cross that He does not call God "Father." It's when He cries out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" I remember with stunning clarity how reading that phrase and pondering on the fact that Jesus does not, in this moment, call God "Father." And it all became clear to me. And I needed to have this clarity because of the dad's I grew up with. Jesus lost His Father too. Right there on the cross He fully understood what it meant to be forsaken. He knew that pain! He knew my pain! And the reason why He was separated from God the Father is because He chose to take sin - my sin - upon Himself on that cross. He became a sacrifice for sin - my sin. And God couldn't look upon that. Jesus tasted death and separation from God so that I wouldn't have to. And that is what God used to reach me. I went over to a professors house late one night and we talked about this. He reminded me that I knew the Bible better than most of his students. He said one verse to me - John 6:37, "All that the Father gives to me (Jesus) will come to me, and he that comes to me I will not cast out." My professor said to me, "Why don't you come to Him today?" And on that day I did. And from that day to this I've always believed that I was truly a child of God. I was God's child. I no longer saw God as an enemy out to get me and harm me. I now understood that He was working through all of my life's circumstances to bring me to Himself. And the beauty of this is - He's not just my God now. He's my Father. Even more, He's my "Abba Father" - which means "Daddy." I have a Father in Heaven. And as blessed as I am on this earth to have Charlie Valentine as my earthly father, that is a small thing in comparison to the fact that I am a child of God and that He is my eternal Father. 

Perhaps the best way I can close out this blog series on my four fathers is to quote from my favorite passage of scripture - Romans 8:14-39. It is a long passage and it will make this blog post even longer but it is well worth reading and considering. And no matter where you are at in your life and no matter what type of father or fathers you have had I can honestly say that I know of a Father who would love to be your Father too. And if He becomes your Father then that makes us family. And there is nothing better than family. 

Romans 8:14-39:
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Happy Father's Day, God.

From your son, Lance.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 3 - Charlie

By now, if you've followed this, you've read about my first two dads. The first one - Ed - I never knew. The second one - Bob - I wish I never knew. After Bob went away to prison my mom sold the farm to some very nice people. I'm happy to say that the same family owns it after all these years. They've taken such good care of it. In fact, they've improved upon it in every way. That means a lot to me. From time to time Erin and I drive there and visit. They are kind enough to allow us to look around. It takes me back to a bad time but a good place. It wasn't the farms fault what happened. If it wasn't for the safe haven of the farm to take me away from it all I don't know where I'd be today. But the farm was too much for my mom, my sister and I. So we moved to a tiny double-wide on the exact opposite side of Hillsboro even further out from town. I think we all needed that distance from everything that happened. I guess we were there for the better part of two years. They were good years. Me and the neighbor boy got on real well. I learned to ride a three wheeler, a four wheeler, and a dirt bike while living there. He and I raced all over the country side. And back behind the corn fields that separated our properties was a deep woods with a much bigger creek than what I had on the farm that ran through it. That's where I spent my time - fishing, swimming, and skipping rocks. In fact, while looking for rocks to skip we came upon a lot of arrowheads. So we went from skipping to collecting those. It was like looking for treasure. I could write more on those two years but I'll save that for another time. Our time was short there in Berrysville. Milford was to be our next destination. Back to the suburbs. This time Cincinnati instead of Dayton. To this day I'm still trying to figure out how to get back to the country.

My mom had put my sister and I in a Christian school. I was in fourth grade when this happened and I'm quite sure Miss Miles, Miss White, and Mrs. Prinzing will attest to the fact that I was not like most of the other kids. I was a troublemaker. I sought to fight anyone and everyone. And whoever I couldn't whip with my hands I whipped with my words. It wasn't because I was all that tough. I was just scared to death inside so I acted tough to compensate. When my mom moved us to Milford to be closer to the school she found work at a Bible printing ministry on the same campus - both associated with the same church. My mom couldn't handle me anymore. Whenever she tried to discipline me I would laugh at her. She told Mr. Bragg - the principal - that she needed help. She told him I needed a man to straighten me out. After a while he knew the story about how I had come up. I wasn't a typical Christian school kid. And I certainly wasn't a Christian. I cussed and fought and everything else. He had no choice but to paddle me - almost daily - and my mother encouraged him to do so. This was back when a kid could still be disciplined at school. Whenever I got sent to the office he would call my mom over to witness the discipline. I was struck by the man. He did his job (and well I might add), but he got no joy out of it. Three swats to the butt and a prayer on the verge of tears from Mr. Ed Bragg (accompanied by free-flowing tears from my mother) started a course correction deep inside of me. It would take years to see it all the way through. But I knew something for the first time - there are men who aren't bad and who care. I still got in trouble, but not as much. But Mr. Bragg wasn't the complete answer for me. Not by far. But he was one of many necessary people in my life. But not the most important. That's where Charlie comes in.

Mom worked at the office of this printing ministry. Charlie was the head pressman. He had been printing Bibles and sending them all over the world for years. He felt called to it. At the time I didn't understand it - being called to something. But I do now. But Charlie was a single man. He had three sons - one of which still lived with him. His name is Jamie. My mom and Charlie kind of hit it off from the start. Now this was briefly problematic for Jamie. Jamie and my sister, Tonya, are the same age. And they kind of ever so slightly liked each other - which is a bid deal in high school. But they both realized that mom and Charlie were getting serious so that ended that. Don't worry - there are no Jerry Springer episodes on this. It wasn't that big of a deal. Actually the whole thing was a big deal to me. I had no interest whatsoever in my mom being with another man. I had no interest in another dad. So quite unfairly - I wanted nothing to do with Charlie Valentine. So far he hadn't done anything wrong. It was just the way it was with me. Despite my best efforts, Charlie stuck around.

Charlie married my mom on August 11th, 1984. I was 10 years old. This happened in a private ceremony at the Baptist church we all attended at the time. It was just the pastor, my mom, Charlie, my sister, Jamie and maybe two or three others. There's a picture of us in front of the church afterward. My expression belies what was happening inside. I was awaiting the inevitable. He was bound to be a bad man. I just knew it. How could he not be?

Charlie was a quiet man. He spoke quietly. He laughed quietly. He had a subtle sense of humor. And he could do anything. Before he decided to serve God full-time as a Bible printer he had been a union man down south - a pipe-fitter. He worked jobs everywhere but God saved him and put him on the straight and narrow. God put the Word of God in his heart. He felt called to preach. But life circumstances changed that. A divorce happened that wasn't his fault. He believed that a divorced man was no longer blameless, therefore he believed he could not be a preacher. But then someone came to his church in South Carolina and told about the Bible printing ministry in Ohio and their need for skilled men to work the presses. Charlie answered the call. He took Jamie with him and no doubt in his life ministry of thirty plus years of printing scriptures he touched God knows how many people with the Word of God. Certainly more than he would have had he been a preacher. He was a faithful Sunday school teacher for decades. Everybody knew Charlie and loved him. Except me. I kept waiting to see the real Charlie. I watched his every move. I waited for him to yell at me. Curse me. Punch or kick me. One time we came home from Church. We had stopped at the grocery for some milk and other items on the way home. I carried the bag of groceries inside and I stumbled and fell walking into the kitchen. The bag busted open and everything fell to the floor. The milk jug burst and milk went everywhere. Instinctively I half curled up in a ball against the wall. Now the real Charlie would come out. He was bound to set it on me now! Look what I had done! I'll never forget the look on his face. It wasn't one of anger. It was one of compassion mixed with sadness. He quietly went and got some towels and told me he would take care of it. He said, "Lance, it's just spilled milk. We don't cry over spilled milk in this house." And he grinned at me. That was his way. Always making quiet, funny jokes. I went and grabbed a towel too and I helped clean up my mess - both of us on the floor side by side. That was a key moment for me. He was starting to win me over, but I still kept fighting it. I continued to say very little to him. I just kept watching him.

Charlie had a habit that many would do well to have. In fact, he still has it to this day. At night he would see us all to bed. He would just say goodnight to me at my door. I wouldn't let him get any closer, and he seemed to understand. I would, however, ask him to keep it cracked. I didn't like the dark. I always wanted to see what was going on around me in case something bad was coming. After we were all to bed he would go to the living room and turn on the light by the couch. I could see him through the crack in my door. And there he would sit every night and read his Bible. After he would read, he would turn the light out and then he would lay down on the floor face first and out loud but very softly he would pray. He was never in a hurry. And I heard every word. And I would listen to him pray for my mom, and my sister, and Jamie, and his two oldest sons Chuck and Randy (each with difficult lives), and then he would pray for me. I could hear the heartache in his voice. He wanted very much to be a dad to me and said so to God. He would pray for wisdom on how to do it. He would pray for the words on how to say it. He would pray for the patience to wait on me. But what he didn't know was that I was watching him. And he didn't need any of that at all. All I needed to do was to watch him - night in and night out - reading, praying for me. In my damaged heart and mind I began to realize that this is what a good man is. And not just a good man but a godly one. Now I didn't fully understand what godly meant back then, but I definitely knew something was different about Charlie Valentine. I knew I had a choice to make.

I remember the night like it was yesterday. My heart was racing. My throat was dry. I watched him sit down and start reading his Bible. I was nearly 11 years old when this happened. But that night I opened up my door and walked out to the couch and sat down next to Charlie. He didn't say anything. He just kept reading. He was waiting on me. I guess he figured I came out for a reason. After a time of silence sitting there with him I began to speak. I said, "Mr. Valentine, can I ask you something?" He said, "Sure, Lance. Ask me anything." I said, "Mr. Valentine, I was wondering if I could...if I could call you dad." He paused - long enough to almost make me dart back to my room wishing I'd kept my mouth shut. But after a few moments he said, "Well, Lance, you can call me dad on one condition." I said, "OK. What's that?" He said, "You can call me dad if I can call you son." I thought long and hard on that - probably longer than what he did. I said, "OK, Mr. Valentine. You can call me son." And he said, "Then, Lance, you can call me dad." And we shook hands on it. And I went back to bed. This time I shut the door all the way. And I've shut my door to go to bed every night sense then. Because I was no longer scared of the dark. I felt safe. I had a dad! And from that day on I've not only called him "dad", I call him "daddy." I'm 37 years old, but if he walked into the room right now where I'm writing this, I would say, "Hey, daddy." And he would hug my neck just as hard as I would hug his.

In all the years I've known him - 27 to be exact - he has never - not one time - called me a horrible name. He has never raised his voice to me. He has never raised a hand to me in abuse. He has been a dad in every sense of what a dad should be. And he is my hero. People are shocked to know he's not my real father. I talk like him. I walk like him. I grin like him. I laugh like him. I have inherited his corny jokes. I try to treat people the way he treats people. He's a gentleman and so very kind and loving to my mother. I try to be the same for my wife. I call my wife the same pet names he calls my mother. People think I'm from the south, but I was born north of the Mason-Dixon line. It's just that my daddy - Charles Valentine - is from Mississippi by way of South Carolina and I lived in North Carolina in my twenties for almost nine years. Plus there's the farm. So you get a mixed up Yankee in me. But I'm OK with that just as long as people think that Charlie is my dad. There's only one person in this whole world that I want to be like as a man and you now know more about that man.

A few years ago on Father's Day I went looking for a card to give him. I couldn't find one that said anything right. So I bought a blank one and thought on what I should say. I settled on this brief sentence, "Daddy, Jesus saved my soul, but you saved my life. I love you. Your son, Lance."

And that's the truth.

Happy Fathers' Day, Charlie - A.K.A. - Daddy.

From your son, Lance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 2 - Bob

My mother did her best for three and a half years to take care of my sister and I after my dad's suicide. But he left us with nothing. She was a single mom barely getting by but doing the best that she could. But she couldn't do it alone. Her family helped out, but it became obvious that she needed a husband. I still had no clue what had happened to my dad. He was simply gone and we were alone and struggling.

I don't remember when Bob came around. I was only five years old. I don't know how they met. I never asked and I never will. But the next thing I knew they were married. I don't recall any wedding. Maybe there was one. All I do remember is it seemed like one day we were living in the suburbs of Dayton and the next day we were on a farm in Hillsboro. It was a new beginning to be sure. I took to the farm as if I was born to it. It was a small farm. We had 18 acres of corn fields, soy bean fields, and pastures. We had our own woods and a creek. We had numerous out buildings - including one of the oldest barns in Highland County. The farm needed work when we got there but we all dove right in to get it done. Bob brought a much older son in his early 20's to the marriage as well as a daughter my sisters age. I honestly don't remember things being that bad at first, and maybe they weren't. Maybe they were, but I was too busy becoming a farm boy. To this day I will always claim being a country boy even though I was born in the city. The farm had that much of an impact on my life even though I only lived there for just over three years.

We had just about every possible farm animal. I had my own horse, cow, goat, lamb, chicken, and pig. The pig was named Lucy and I remember when she came to our farm as a piglet - in a feed barrel. Bob gave her to me to take care of and I did until she was huge. Then she was gone. I didn't know it at the time, but Lucy - well, you can probably guess what happened to her. She was still with us, just not in the same way as before. I remember whittling a profile of Lucy out of wood and carving her name into it. I hung it on my bedroom wall. I loved Lucy. I also had two dogs - Chip and Lady. I had a beagle for all of a few minutes. She was brought home to me only to jump out of the truck - running out onto the road and getting hit by a car. That crushed me. I don't remember her name. I may not have even named her. Of course, we had barn cats and a lot of them. But as a kid I was allergic to cats so I didn't do much with them. That's hard to fathom now because my wife and I currently have four cats. I outgrew my allergies and I'm glad I did. On the farm we had more than one each of the above animals. In fact we had a lot of each. My sister and I were involved with 4H. We went to the fair each year and showed our animals that we loved. The fair was a place of wonderment for me and I couldn't wait each year to go. I especially loved the tractor pulls. I always took good care of my animals but when the fair was coming around I took extra special good care. We won a lot of ribbons. There was no better feeling.

I had plenty of chores on the farm. I was the "egg-getter" in our family - going to the chicken coop each morning to gather the eggs. I took that task very seriously. I sang to the chickens. They seemed to approve. I can remember the egg production being low for a time. I had told my mom that I liked to sing to the chickens. She asked me if was singing to them during this low production period. I realized I had stopped singing to them for whatever reason. So I started singing to them again and the eggs came in abundance. I don't know that there is any scientific data for this, but singing to chickens seems to help. You can use that. Now that was a typical start to my day followed by a country breakfast my mother would make - just about everything we ate came from our farm. Then I continued my chores - first inside. Making my bed and putting my toys back in the chest. And then I had my outside chores. I milked cows, cleaned stalls, let the animals out to pasture, fed the baby animals bottles - typical farm chores. Once my chores were done it was just me, the farm, and my imagination. We didn't have XBoxes's back then. I played outside. That was what kids did and it was just fine with me. I swam in the creek. I caught crawdads. I caught snapping turtles. I ran with the dogs through the fields - gathering burs and ticks all along the way. I built forts in the hay loft of the barn. I fished. I would make good and bad use of my BB gun and slingshot. You name it - I did it. I was allowed to watch Looney Tunes, but that was pretty much all the TV I watched - that and old movies. I loved John Wayne, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, and Fred Astaire. When I was done watching an afternoon matinee - often with her - I would go out to our massive garden where every possible vegetable was grown and we would gather our vegetables. I would help my mom in the kitchen as she would can just about everything and I would help her carry it all down to the cellar to keep. Then I would go outside and climb trees. Sometimes I went to the woods, but we had some great trees in our yard outside the farm house. And we had fruit trees - a pear tree and an apple tree. I ate plenty of both. I would do this until the supper bell rang calling me in to clean up and eat. Some of my favorite times on the farm were when my mom and I would sit out on the porch in the cool of the evening after supper snapping beans together. You could hear the fly zapper working over time in the distance. Before getting cleaned up to go to bed I would run out into the yard with a large mason jar and catch lightning bugs. I got as many as I could then I would run in and take them to my bedroom and set them on my night stand. I had holes punched in the lid so they could breath and I would fall asleep watching them with utter fascination. I suppose much more could be said about this part of my life on the farm, but this is the good part. And the good is what I try to remember. The bad I try to forget.

I don't think Bob was all bad at first. In fact, I remember a lot of good times. He had a speed boat and we used to ride it on Rocky Fork Lake. To this day I love being on the water and it has everything to do with the excitement and exhilaration I felt in that boat bouncing off the water at top speeds. We were always at the lake. Swimming, grilling, and partying. The best way I can describe Bob is to liken him to the Marlboro man. He was a ruggedly handsome man. He seemed a man's man. He could do anything. And he taught me a lot. He even taught me how to shoot a gun. That was awesome at first but over time became a terror. He drove me on our tractors in the fields with him. He would take me to the pony keg in his pickup truck on his beer runs. I loved that old Ford. He was fine when he was sober. He must have been well off to be able to move us to the farm and set us up the way he did. That had to have been a relief at first to my mother. I know he had at least two businesses. He owned a Schwinn bicycle shop and a doughnut shop - both in town. He brought home my first bike and taught me how to ride it. I took to it like a fish to water and me and that bike were inseparable. And he would take me to the doughnut shop early some mornings to be the official taste tester of the first batch of doughnuts. To this day I am addicted to doughnuts. So far this probably doesn't sound that bad, right? But as time went on the outside of farmhouse became a safe haven for me to escape to because what was starting to happen on the inside was the makings of hell on earth.

Bob drank. And he drank a lot. We soon discovered that when he drank he became a mean and dangerous man. He was a full-fledged alcoholic.As time went on abuse set in when we was drunk. He never harmed my sister and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps it's because she was the same age as his daughter. I don't know why. But he more than made up for it with what he put both me and my mother through. I became an easy and helpless target for his drunken rages. I won't say much on this but I will always have with me the marks of this abuse. And it wasn't just physical. In fact, the physical was almost bearable. But it was the verbal and emotional abuse that rained down upon my young ears and mind that affected me the deepest. At times I wondered if he even knew my name because he never called me by it, and the names he used instead were horrible for a child to hear. And he hurt my mom. That was the worst part. I would do my best to help her but what could I do? Most times when I did try to help her at least it stopped what he was doing to her - turning his attacks on me instead. But that was better than seeing her hurt. Things got worse - especially when she became a Christian. A couple of people came by the house and told her about Jesus. The next thing I knew she was no longer the life of the party. She became altogether different. She was always a great mom, but now she loved God. I didn't understand it, but I went along with it. I was just a kid. My sister followed suit. My road to belief was a lot longer and winding and will be talked about later. But almost immediately we were in church and we never missed. Bob never went. In fact, it seemed to provoke him even more. The abuse got worse as if that were possible. And then the cheating happened. Maybe it happened before. I can't always keep the times of it all straight in my mind. But he became a serial adulterer. My mom would always find out and confront him and it never went well for her which meant it never went well for me. He would be gone all night and I would hear my mother crying softly in her bedroom. These were the darkest of dark days for us. He became the embodiment of evil. One day it all came to a head. I don't know what set it off. I only know he called drunk and said he was on his way home to kill us. My mom called the associate pastor of the church we went to at the time for help. He rushed over and thought it best to get the guns out of the house - which he did. But while he was gone Bob came home and brought his last round of hell with him. I remember very little of the episode. I remember my mom running to the bathroom screaming for me to come with her. I never made it. My sister wasn't around thankfully. Mom locked herself inside and I could hear her sobbing as I did all I could to keep him from beating down the door of the bathroom. At some point I lost the time. I think the law came. The sheriff lived the next farm over. I honestly don't know the sequence of things and who came to our rescue. I just know that we found ourselves in the home of the pastor of our church. He put us up secretly in their basement for a period of time. It could have been days, weeks, or months. To date I've not worked with the exact details of some of these things with my mother. It's too much to talk about. But we were safe and unharmed there for a period of time. Then one day came the news that he would never hurt us again. I know he went to jail. That's the last I know of that man and I'm fine with that. Much, much damage had been done and I was a long way away from being OK.

All during this time my mother was my rock. She was my protector and healer. She loved on me - telling me it was going to be OK and I was not bad. None of this was my fault. I know she did the best that she could. Of course, many times during this whole chapter of my life (which lasted just over three years) I would ask where my dad was. Why couldn't he help? It was during this time that my mother sat me down on my bed and told me the awful truth. My dad was never coming home. My how I felt alone! And angry. And scared. So many things. I thought for sure he would come and rescue us. And while this created in me the beginnings of hatred for so many things it amazingly drew me very close to my mother and sister. They were all that I had. My mom's faith certainly sustained her and sheltered us. I would watch her faithfully read her Bible and pray. She was always serving at church and ultimately worked there for a time. She later put me and my sister in a private Christian school. I had no business being there candidly, but she did what she thought was best. I needed structure and discipline because I was becoming a very troubled child. But I have so much gratitude now for what my mother was trying to do for us. She was and is a godly woman and her faith affected me profoundly and ultimately made a huge impact on my life. One of the most precious moments I have in my life was the day when I was in college when my mother gave me her Bible from back in those days. It has become one of my most prized possessions. The first time I read the Bible through I used her Bible. By that time it was well worn. And I could literally see the tear stains on so many pages. And I would read note after note in the margins of the pages where she would cry out to God to save us from Bob. I read pleas that God would take care of me and help me. Prayers for healing. I read her sorrows and I read her joys. And I read how God had become the love of her life. Such sweet phrases of adoration flowed from her pen to those pages and no doubt made a huge impression on me. It took years before I was ready and able to appreciate them fully, but hers was a faith that endured through so much pain and suffering. Yet she never wavered and she's my hero for loving me through those days with a godly, motherly love. I didn't understand for many years just how significant this was, but she's truly my hero and I wouldn't be where I am today without her.

It seems odd to say it but for a while she was both mother and father to me and I couldn't appreciate Father's Day the way I do today if it wasn't for how she helped me survive the man who was father # 2. And I am forever grateful to her. Now as Father's Day approaches I'm happy to say, "I love you Mom."

From your son, Lance

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Four Fathers: Father # 1 - Ed


Yep. That's me. Pooch nose. Slight grin. Blonde hair. I came into the world in the dead of night - kicking and screaming. It's almost as if I knew the darkness that was coming and I wanted out before I was even placed into my mother’s arms. But the picture you see above is proof positive that Ed and Jacqui brought me into this world 37 years ago. Where does the time go?

For years I knew very little about Ed except for the fact that he was my biological father. Any man can be a father. But fewer and fewer men know what it means to be a dad. I'll go one step further - fewer and fewer men know what it means to be a daddy. You see, I don't remember him. Not at all. I only know what he looks like through pictures that are now fading. I have no idea what kind of aftershave he wore. I don't know what his favorite food was. He didn't teach me how to throw a perfect spiral or a curve ball. He didn't exemplify to me how to be a gentleman or how to have a proper work ethic. He didn't start a business to pass down to me. I have no legacy at all from him when it comes right down to it. Most of what I do know about him can just about be summed up in what you’re reading now. For years I knew so little about him. In fact, it's only been in recent years that I have begun to learn more about him. For instance, I now know that he was a sergeant in the Air Force. I now know that he worked on the railroad by occupation - which makes sense because I have pictures of me when I was very little dressed up in little train conductor outfits and playing with locomotive toys. I now know that he loved boxing and was an amateur boxer. Again, I have pictures of me as a small child playing with his punching bag. I now know that he loved to bowl - he was in a bowling league in Beavercreek. I have a wooden trophy he won in the shape of a bowling pin forever recording the fact that he bowled a 237 one night. I have never bowled a 237. I bowled a 212 once but that was years ago and I’ve gotten nowhere near that score before or since. But that trophy is on my chest of drawers. I also know that he smoked - I don't know how much - but I have some of his old lighters now in my possession. My mother is the one who gave these and other things to me. It means more than words that she gave them to me. One of my most prized possessions was his class ring, but I lost it accidentally. Without question that is one of the biggest regrets of my life. I especially love his old school leather toiletry bag. I usually take it with me whenever I travel. I have a lot of his things now and I'm sure there's more that I could share about them but there are more important things to share right now.

I’ve always been amazed how someone that I don't remember has had such a profound impact on my life. But it's true. Now, I don't know how far back you can recollect, but my oldest recollection is of kindergarten. That memory takes me back to a day when it rained so much the garter snakes came rushing out of the ground. Recess outside was cancelled and while all of the other kids were inside playing in another room I sneaked out and collected as many garter snakes as I could and brought them back inside and put them in the girls desks. To me, much hilarity ensued. Not so much for everyone else. I had made a muddy mess of the place. I had caused a panic. The girls began to scream hysterically all at once upon discovering the snakes in their desks. And, of course, those same snakes got loose - inside. Not one of my finer moments. Or maybe it was? Anyway, that is my oldest memory. But nothing comes to mind at all about Ed – my real dad – and probably never will. So I have to go on what's been passed down to me over the years, mostly from my grandparents (Ed's parents), my mother, my sister and other relatives.

My sister is six years older than me, but Ed was not her dad. That story is for another time. But the one thing that they always tell me about Ed is that he was a good man. That has always been important to me, but it was also confusing. You see, he was a good man but troubled. He battled mental illness. I'm not sure if he faced any hardships in the service or not, but I do know now that he had moments when he completely isolated himself during the years after his military service. Sadly, mental illness runs deep on his side of my family. I can recall fifteen years ago or so now when my grandpa - Ed's dad (now deceased) - said to me with a tear in his voice about how he thanked God that I didn't get cursed with the mental illness so prevalent in my family. That’s one of two times that I ever saw my grandpa get emotional. The other was when he told me about the space shuttle Challenger blowing up. He was there. He was like John Wayne to me and to see him get emotional when he shared his relief to me about my lack of mental illness – well, let’s just say I’ll never forget it. I have not suffered with any mental illness in my lifetime and for that I am thankful. Mental illness is so very serious. But Ed was not as fortunate as me.

It all came to a head in July of 1975. We lived in a subdivision in Dayton, Ohio. Obviously, I don't recall the place and I've never been back to that house. But this summer I plan on doing so. That is, if it’s still there after all these years. We’ll see. I just found the address to that house - in Ed's wallet which is now in my possession. In case you haven’t guessed yet – it’s the house in which I was born. On that summer day, I'm told it was hot and sunny, and my grandma was down visiting with us (my mom's mother). There was a community pool and we were all going to go swimming. I was just one year old. My dad told everyone he wasn't feeling well and he was going to stay behind. This was nothing new and was getting worse by the day. So away we went - my mom, my grandma, my sister, and the little pooch-nosed handful that was me. I don't know how long we were gone, but it was long enough. When we got back to the house, my sister ran inside calling for my dad, "Eddy, Eddy, where are you?" It pains me to know she found him. You see, Ed took that time alone to make a choice – the kind of choice that you never get back. He died by his own hand that day. It’s believed that a bad mixture of medications prescribed by two separate doctors each unaware of the other seriously contributed to his extremely volatile state of mind. To my knowledge there was no note or explanation. I could be wrong, but I am very delicate with my dear mother whenever we do talk about it, which is so rare. To this day it breaks her heart. Perhaps one day I will know more about it. I often wonder how much more difficult things would have been in my life had I been old enough to find him – to see him in that horrific state. My sister and I have never spoken of that moment that she experienced to this very day. I can't bring myself to do so. And I'm so sorry for her. Now understand - I had no idea what happened then and, frankly, I didn’t know for many years. As I started to get older whenever I would ask about where my dad was I seem to recall everyone just saying that he was gone. Gone where? It took a while to get the truth. I think everyone thought they were being helpful and protective. How do you tell a child about their own dad taking his life and that he’s never coming back? The truth came when I was a troubled boy of seven or eight, but that's another story that I will share later and an important one. But all of what I just described to you is most of what I know about Ed - my real father. And I grew up without him. And I ultimately grew up knowing how he died. And words cannot adequately express how that affected me and, candidly, still affects me even to this day. I will never know him. There is such a heavy finality to that and it is part of who I was growing up and who I am today as a man. It is part of my history.

Every July, I go to the cemetery in Xenia where he is buried. I bring a flag and stick it in the ground above his grave. I pray for him. I salute him. I ask him questions. I get mad. I get sad. I stand in silence. It’s not as lonely now because Erin goes with me. Her support has been so precious to me. For years I did it alone. But every time I am there I wonder about his eternal soul. I'm honored to have the flag from his military funeral in a beautiful case - also on my chest of drawers. I touch it every day. I have his dog tags draped over top of the case. My mother gave those to me as well. I'm proud of his honorable service to our country. I have a framed letter from the President that I hold dear about my real dad. I'm glad he was a good man. I'm sad he was troubled. And all I can do is hope that he is in Heaven. My grandpa called him a Christian. I will only know in eternity. In the meantime, I do everything I can to be a good man as well, and what’s more, a godly one. I still bear his name so I seek to honor the name that he gave to me. I look like him. His blood is in my veins. He will always be the dad I never knew, but he's still my dad. On Father's Day a few years ago I finally found the words to write for a song of dedication to him. Knowing that he loved trains and worked on the railroad, I always wanted to write a song about a train - especially one for him. There have been a lot of great songs about trains, so I wasn't in a hurry. But it finally came to me, and I wrote it down. The music came with the lyric as happens with most of my songs. I put it down so as not to forget it and then I recorded a rough demo of it. It's called "North Bound Train" and every time I sing it I think of him. I wrote it as if he was searching for something here or elsewhere - maybe he found it - maybe he didn't. But it is a song of longing. How could it not be? I will forever long to know the man I never knew. But know this - as hard as this story may be to read I am thankful for Ed - the man who is my real dad. And if he's in Heaven today, I pray he's proud of me and that he knows I'm doing everything I can to make his gift of life in me worthwhile - in this life and hopefully in eternity.

Happy Father’s Day, Ed.

From your son, Lance

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Four Fathers: An Introduction

Recently, I had the privilege of writing a book review for a book entitled "The Sword of the Lord: The Roots Of Fundamentalism In An American Family" by Andrew Himes. While reading the book Andrew and I corresponded numerous times. In our latter correspondences we communicated less about the book and more about...me. Andrew told me how much he enjoyed my blog and watching my video testimony on the blog called "A Story Of Four Fathers". He encouraged me by saying that my story needs to be heard and that he believed a book was in me somewhere. Now, I've thought about writing books before. I have numerous ideas for fiction and historical fiction books. Many of my friends and family have encouraged me to write a book of short stories about the unique and often hilarious things that have happened to me in my life. I've thought a lot about that. I am a published song writer and over the years I have written hundreds of songs. That has been my biggest goal and I am slowly (emphasis on slowly) working on that. For instance, I have a song that I wrote called "Resurrection". When I wrote it I heard Alison Krauss singing it. I think it's a hit (what songwriter doesn't, right?). She just doesn't know it yet! :) Maybe one day. Ah, well. Anyway, I've written a lot of other things going back even to my childhood. I actually still have a short story that I wrote when I was in fourth or fifth grade about an adventure I have in the middle east discovering the 67th book of the Bible. It's pretty funny to read it now. But as far as writing my own personal story, I hadn't thought much about it. I have certainly chronicled a lot of my story in songs, which are their own short stories. And I have shared my personal story dozens of times to children, teens, young adults and church congregations via speaking engagements. But I don't recall ever thinking, "You know, I should write a book about this." I can't say that I have the largest following for my music and my blogging as it is. It's been slow getting both off the ground since it's not my full time gig yet. I continue to plug away. But Andrew's encouragement really resonated with me. Someone of his stature reaching out to me to say that to me. He certainly didn't have to do it and it struck a chord deep within me. So I've decided to start working on it. A few weeks ago I sat down and essentially outlined the book and was shocked to find that I might just have too much material. So I don't know when or how, but I'm going to start writing it. Now when it gets finished is another matter. :)

My story centers very much on the four fathers that I have had in my life and the profound influence they had on me both for good and for evil. As we approach Father's Day, I wanted to practice writing about this through my blog. The ideas will start here and I'll see where they go and grow from here. I could just about put a book together on my blog posts alone anyway, so I decided over the next few days to post a blog entry - five total - centered on the story of "My Four Fathers". This one is the introduction to the Father's Day blogging exercise; and then four others about Father #1, Father #2, Father #3, and Father #4. So here it goes. I hope that my story will strengthen and encourage you. At times it will be sad and difficult I think to read. It certainly will be to write. But it's true. It's real life. And ultimately it is joyful.

Thanks for reading and following my music and my blog.

Grace and Peace,
Lance Brewer

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Negative Return

Not so long ago at work me and some colleagues gathered around a computer monitor and we witnessed the live lift off of the space shuttle Endeavor as it embarked on its final mission to space. As I watched the countdown and lift off of the Endeavor something struck me as it continued to climb, leaving earth behind and making its way on its intended mission. At one point mission control said the following:

Mission Control to Endeavor: Negative Return
Endeavor to Mission Control: Roger. Negative Return

As the mission continued the commentator on the video explained that this meant the Endeavor had reached a point where it could no longer return to the Kennedy Space Center. I was struck and fascinated by this phrase, "Negative Return". For the shuttle to return to where it came from would produce disastrous consequences. My mind immediately made a faith correlation best described in the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Colossians. In chapter 3, the first 17 verses read as follows (ESV),

"1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self  with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

I love the phrasing in verses 1 and 2 about seeking those things that are from above and setting the mind on things above - and NOT on the earth. And as I read this passage and thought on the phrase "Negative Return" I came up with a simple diagram that is helping me as a Christian. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

1. Deliverance - verse 1 - "If then you have been raised with Christ..." As a Christian I have been "raised with Christ" which speaks of being delivered. From what? So much! But specifically as it pertains to this passage - sin. In all its forms found in the earth. More on this below.

2. Direction - verse 1 again - "...seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." As a Christian I have a certain direction that I should be focused on as one who has been delivered - and that direction is toward all things above - where Christ is!

3. Determination - verse 2 - "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Just because, as a Christian, I have been delivered and I have a new direction doesn't mean it happens automatically. It takes purpose to pursue things above and not on this earth. It requires a "Negative Return" perspective. I can't go back. I am on a mission that is leading me out of this earth. But even determination isn't enough to accomplish this.

4. Death - verse 3 - "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." I think this perspective escapes the Christian far too often. I know it does me. I have died. To put it differently, as Corinthians does, I am a "new creation." And as a new creation I may be in the world, but not of it. I am in pursuit of something eternal. Old things are passed away and all things have become new. I must be dead to self.

5. Destination - verse 4 - "When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." There is so much here. My life is no longer my own. I have been bought with a price. Christ is now my life. He bought me with His life. Now He is my life. And I will have a destination with Him in glory forever. This changes everything while I am making my way from here to there.

6. Distinction - verses 5-9 - "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..." As a Christian there are certain things that need to die in me. I cannot return to them. These are things that are distinctly of this earth:

* sexual immorality
* impurity
* improper passion
* evil desire
* covetousness
* idolatry
* anger
* wrath
* malice
* slander
* obscene talk
* lying

These are things that pertained to the old life and the old self. They are distinctly of this earth and I need a "Negative Return" perspective on these things. To return would produce disastrous consequences. And just as the list above is distinctly of this earth, the passage goes on to list things that are distinctly not of this earth but are things from above and are traits of God's chosen ones who are holy and beloved (verses 12-15):

* a compassionate heart
* kindness
* humility
* meekness
* patience
* forgiving
* loving 
* peaceful 
* thankful 
* unified
* wise

The list is not exhaustive but these traits are indicative of one who has "put off" the things of the earth and "put on" the things of Heaven. So, daily, for me and for you, it all comes down to one thing:

7. Decision - verse 10-11,  16-17. Each day we must, "put on the new self" and be "renewed in knowledge..." We must resemble our Creator, Savior, and Lord. We must seek to be "free" - letting Christ be our "all." We must let the "Word of Christ dwell" in us "richly." We must sing, praise, and pray. And everything we do we must do "in the name of the Lord Jesus." When He is our Lord, and these things are true, and we decide to put off the things of the earth - never to return - and put on the things that are from above then we will know what it means to be Christian. And the world will know what it means to be Christian. And the world could use a little more of that as we try to make our way out of it.