I turned twenty-one on June 2, 1991. At the time, I had been a professing Christian (whatever that means) for ten years. I do not remember a time in my life when I did not attend church services. My parents had me in church the week after I was born so it is no exaggeration to say that I grew up in the church. Even now, at the age of forty-five, I can honestly say that I have spent my entire life in the church. There were moments when I wasn’t sincere and there were moments when I had serious doubts, but through them all, I continued to go. It was the only thing I knew.
I was baptized in May of 1981, a few weeks before my eleventh birthday. Thirty-four years have passed since then and the memory has nearly faded away. The truth is, I remember very little about my childhood. There are photographs and stories shared by my parents, but I have few genuine memories of my life between birth and around age ten. The one thing I distinctly remember is that church was a huge part of my life during those years and it continues to be so up to this day. We didn’t miss church for anything. I am sure that there were some Sundays where sickness may have prevailed but for the most part, church attendance was non-negotiable.
Not only did this apply to Sunday School and Sunday morning service, it extended to Sunday evening service and Wednesday night Bible study. I know that there were lapses over the years when situations arose but regular church attendance was the norm in our home. I learned that early on and never really challenged it. I knew better. The one time I do remember was when I was in sixth grade and the movie Poltergeist had just come out. A friend of mine was going to see it on a Sunday night and invited me along. I begged and pleaded for just one night off, to no avail. My parents didn’t have an objection to the film but they made it very clear, we go to church on Sunday. It wasn’t until I was sixteen and had a job that any exceptions were made. Even then, my boss knew better than to schedule me on a Sunday morning. I would not be there.
I realize that many people may feel that this was a bit extreme. There were plenty of times during my pre-teen and teen years where I definitely did. It is easy to sit here now and pick things apart. I can look back and realize that all of those church services did not make me a Christian. They didn’t forgive my sins. They didn’t earn me a golden ticket to heaven. The truth is, I would have probably been okay if I had missed a lot of them. But, and I truly believe this, they did help lay a foundation that I desperately needed later on in my life. It set a precedent that I continued to follow, even during my darkest times.
The idea that church attendance is crucial is the reason why I was around sincere believers during most of my spiritual struggles. Even when I was openly rebelling, there were Christians all around me, reaching out and trying to minister to me. When I had doubts about my faith I had mature believers guiding me along. When I was mad at the church and wanted to quit, I saw genuine people loving me in spite of my anger and resentment. Even when the church wasn’t perfect and messed up, which it did on many occasions, I still saw the love of Christ being lived out in the lives of sincere Christians.
One of my earliest childhood memories is from 1978. I was eight years old and had just started third grade. Mom was expecting a baby so we were all excited. However, school did not get off to a good start. Up until that point I absolutely loved school. I liked my teachers and I got along with most of my classmates. School was a pleasant experience. I don’t know what happened or why it escalated the way it did but my teacher that year (I will let her remain nameless) was not very nice to me. I admit that I had trouble being quiet in class. I would finish assignments before every one else and then would have to sit there bored while others finished. I can understand how that might frustrate a teacher but after having three children of my own, I know that restlessness is just part of being a kid.
This teacher would consistently embarrass me in front of the class if I were to get squirmy or talkative. It happened several times before my parents went down to the school to talk to her. That meeting did not go well and it ended when the principal had to come in the room and intervene. I don’t remember the specifics but I know the teacher got nasty with my father and he ended up raising his voice at her. This made her mad and she got loud too. Like I said, it was not a productive meeting. The only thing that came from it was this woman giving me grief for the rest of the year. She even told the teachers in the next grade that they should hope they didn’t get that Modlin kid.
I was eight years old and didn’t understand why an adult would be mean to me. To further complicate things, the baby that we all had been waiting for was stillborn. I have experienced a lot of things in my life but I can honestly say that October 1978 was the absolute worst moment of my life. I still can’t imagine what my parents felt. Our family was shattered but that was the moment when I first experienced the love of Christ as expressed by His people. I can remember the minister at the time, a wonderful man named Rod Kasler, and how he came over and spent time with us. He didn’t try to give us answers, he just listened to us and he loved us. I will forever be in his debt. He is one of the reasons I am in ministry right now. I saw the love of Jesus in him and I wanted to be like that.
I have already said that I had moments in my life where I wasn’t very faithful. That is true. I started drinking in high school, especially during my senior year after my grandfather died. I had a job where it was easy to get and I had adults around me who provided it. I do want to point out that my parents didn’t drink or smoke so I wasn’t getting that influence at home. My grandfather did smoke right up until he died and I have vague memories of him having a beer or two when I was growing up, but it wasn’t like I was exposed to raging alcoholism. That came from my friends at school and at work.
The sad thing is that I never really saw a problem with it. I had no trouble drinking and smoking underage and then going to church and playing the role of the good little Christian boy. I didn’t yet understand the concept if hypocrisy, at least not in my own life. I was able to look at some of the adults at church and think that they were a bunch of fakes and still do things that I knew were wrong. It’s not as if I thought it was okay. Let me make that clear. I felt guilty when I did it. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing those things. I did them anyway and then sat around waiting for God to strike me down.
That was how I understood my relationship with God. By the time I graduated from high school I smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day and got drunk at least twice a week. I still went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. I did get a pass for the night services when I was working, but if I was off, it was not an option. I learned how to live two contradictory lives and fool many (not all) people in the process.
Another thing happened in high school that affected me later in life. I had my first girlfriend. We started off as friends and eventually ended up dating for almost two years. She, like myself, was a professing Christian (there’s that term again). We were from different flavors of Christianity though. I had been brought up what is commonly referred to as the independent Church of Christ. Some members call them Christian churches. The confusion comes because it is part of a larger group that split a few times over various issues. One group became the Disciples Of Christ and they are commonly called the Christian Church. Another group split over the use of musical instruments (among other things) and called themselves the Church of Christ. Our group was distinct from both but different congregations used different names. At one point our congregation was calling itself Church of Christ (Christian) to distinguish us from others. Looking back on it now, it all seems a bit ridiculous to me.
My girlfriend went to a Church of God. That group is part of the charismatic movement. By that I mean they claim to practice many (if not all) of the miraculous gifts that Jesus and the Apostles performed. The most common is the gift of speaking in tongues. This (in many charismatic circles) is the evidence that someone has been saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. There are many different explanations concerning this phenomenon but my experiences with those who claim to posses the gift have been less than convincing. Let’s just say that I remain a skeptic who is still open to God doing whatever it is He chooses.
Outside of my experiences with my best friend in sixth grade (who was Roman Catholic), she was the first Christian I personally knew who held radically different beliefs than I did. I had friends who were Baptist and Methodist but on the surface, we all believed the same thing. There was no speaking in tongues, slaying in the Spirit, or running around the sanctuary. These things were foreign to me and in my mind, they were insane. I went to a revival with my girlfriend once and it was the last time I set foot in a charismatic church for nearly ten years. It was loud, it was chaotic, and it didn’t appear to have anything in common with what I understood church to be. I got into many heated discussions with my girlfriend over religious things, especially when she condemned the Christian rock music I had just discovered.
She had no problem listening to whatever was on M-TV or the radio, regardless of the lyrical content, but would then say that bands like Petra and Stryper, who openly sang about Jesus, were Satanic. That made sense to me at all and it was a wall the remained throughout our entire relationship. It further reinforced the idea that my Sunday morning life was separate from the rest of my life. I was able to live one way six days of the week and then shift gears on Sunday. That was the norm, or so I thought.
I extended that thinking to sex as well. I already drank and smoked so it didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time. I was able to tell myself that I really loved my girlfriend and that we were going to get married when we got out of school so it was okay. God didn’t care because we REALLY loved each other. It didn’t happen a lot but it did happen. I do believe that we both felt the tension there. We did have conversations about the Bible and about morality. Even when we were doing things that we knew were wrong, we discussed the reasons why we shouldn’t keep on doing them. It may sound crazy but it is true.
Our relationship ended on a rather negative note during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. At the time I was angry with her and didn’t care if I hurt her feelings or offended her. In fact, I was that way with a lot of people. Up until that point I had been friends with a group of African American girls in my homeroom class. I didn’t think much of it, even though there had been traces of racism in my upbringing. I was real close to these girls and then when my senior year rolled around I started hanging out with some guys who were…well…racist. I had known one of them for my entire life so it wasn’t like they were a new group who just happened to appear on the scene. I have always had trouble resisting peer pressure. That is why I was drinking and smoking when I was seventeen. People around me did it. Well, these guys didn’t like black people and because I was too much of a coward to say anything, I dissed those girls who had been like sisters to me.
I will be honest. Out of all the nasty things I have done in my life, that one will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. It was ugly and hateful and at the time, I didn’t care. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to reach out and apologize to one of them in the last few years. It still hurts when I think about it though. I can come to grips with the drinking, the smoking, the sex, and the foul language that used to dominate my speech. However, knowing that I was hateful to people simply because of the color of their skin, it bothers me. Even though I am not like that today, it still bothers me. How could I have been so filled with hate?
I think this is a pretty good place to pause and take a break. My life really transitioned after I graduated from high school and it is probably best if I think through how I am going to address certain things. I could continue to just write whatever comes to mind and hope that it comes out coherent, but I really want this to make sense. I want readers (if there are any) to be able to follow along without getting too lost. So, with that, I will close this particular chapter.