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.

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