Sunday, December 09, 2018

Hey, Christians! Start Enjoying Christmas Again, for Christ's Sake!

“Jesus is the reason for the season.”
“Let’s keep CHRIST in Christmas.”
“Christmas decorations take the focus off Jesus.”
“Santa transposed is really S-A-T-A-N.”
“Happy holidays…, uhm Merry Christmas.”
“Keep the holy in holiday.”
“It’s Christmas, not Xmas.”
“Season’s greetings.”

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. Christmas is a close second. My wife, Laura, was obviously raised by elves. You can tell by the way she festoons our home inside and out. Think Clark Griswald, but with very good taste!

Every ornament on our tree has a story or special meaning behind it. She puts decorations in places I would not have thought of. The outside is full of festive decorations and lights. In fact, we just tell delivery drivers that they “Can’t miss us.” Yes…we are that house! We love it!

Why can’t other Christians enjoy Christmas? Must we correct every expression of the holiday and boycott anything that falls short of our baseless beliefs? Why are we conditioned to make so much of something that, honestly, is no big deal?

Conservative Evangelical Christianity (hereafter and heretofore referred to as CEC) has filled our minds with a myriad of righteous indignation blasted from pulpits and Sunday School classes. “How dare we say, ‘Happy Holidays’ and spit on Jesus’ empty grave?” Picture Jesus standing there with his arms crossed looking totally disgusted as we completely ruin his birthday with our paltry carelessness. And we had better bring that tithe into the storehouse, or he will take it all away from us (another topic for another time).

Biblical scholars have suggested Jesus was most likely born in April and not on December 25th, as so many of us have believed, though no concrete proof exists. The Christmas that we celebrate was a compromise by the Emperor, Constantine, who declared December 25th the birth of the Lord. No one is certain why he did this.

Either to unify his empire, or to make converting to Christianity easier, Constantine sought to blend Christian and pagan traditions. At that time, two prominent pagan winter festivals were celebrated. The first, starting on December 17 and lasting seven days, honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. The second, starting on December 25 and lasting through January 1, commemorated the birth of Mithras, the Persian god of light. Constantine merged many of the traditions from these festivals with the Nativity story in the Bible and Christmas was born. From its beginning, Christmas was a holiday (or holy day), gifts were exchanged, families and friends gathered to feast, and a birth was celebrated; just like in the Roman and Persian festivities. 

The first mention of December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth is found in an early Roman calendar from A.D. 336. To this day, no one knows for sure when Jesus was born, and there is no historical record of anyone celebrating the nativity until the fourth century.

So, Christmas was invented over 300 years after the birth of Jesus. This is all documented in available ancient texts. Yet we proceed with the belief that on December 25th, in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus laid in a manger with all the animals and magi in attendance and we propagate that year after year.

It is not really a problem, and here’s why. Celebrating the birth of Jesus, and/or a holiday filled with joy, hope, cheer, and goodwill to all is what it’s all about!! God knows, our world could use more cheer and goodwill. You celebrate your way, and I will celebrate my way, and it will be a true celebration! Because of God’s great grace, you can have your version of Christmas without criticism! Why? Because God actually celebrates YOU! Scripture teaches that God, “Dances around wildly at the thought of you (Zephaniah 3:17)! Why would we not want to celebrate this marvelous truth 365 days a year instead of just at Christmas?

Tradition is what sometimes gets in our way. “We have always celebrated Christmas this way.” There is nothing wrong with tradition. My family didn’t really have specific traditions, unless you count my father getting plastered every year as we decorated the tree. I liked not having traditions. I enjoy the spontaneity of not knowing what would happen each year. Where are we going? Who is coming over? Being non-traditional can be fun. Being traditional can also be fun. It can all be fun! 

Having traditions is not bad; worshipping the traditions over the joy of the holidays is where we get ourselves into trouble. For example, you may have just read the Constantine story and you’re thinking, “I don’t care what this guy says, that ain’t my Jesus OR my Christmas.” It’s only history, and it is not binding upon you to change how you celebrate. People act and react based on the information they have. All I am trying to do is get more information out to the masses.

The bottom line to all of this is let’s just have a ball this season! Eat, drink, be merry! Surround yourself with people who love you and rest in the knowledge that God does NOT care if you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. His wish is for you to just enjoy it all! Maybe Constantine was on to something. Enjoy it all! The manger, Rudolph, Snoopy, Cousin Eddie, all of it. God made this stuff for us to enjoy! So, enjoy it, and have a blessed holiday season!

Bright Blessings,
Todd


Saturday, December 08, 2018

Redeeming Donald Trump's Twitter Feed

This past week, America bid a fond farewell to George Herbert Walker Bush, best remembered as our 41st President of the United States. I liked President Bush, personally. His economic policies backfired, but I will never forget the interruption of my TV program in 1991 when President Bush confidently informed us that we had begun Operation Desert Storm and were now at war with Iraq and the inhumane regime of Saddam Hussein. A lot of my friends were there, fighting in what we now call, “Gulf One.” I remember having great respect for our President during that difficult time. He didn’t apologize or make excuses. He laid it out for us Americans. I will never forget that.

Yet as we paid our respects, there are many who took to Social Media insulting the late President, his policies, and his legacy. Why do we always default to hatred? A family lost their father and grandfather. We can't respect that or consider the family during their grief. Where does all this collective hatred spring from? I mean, there will always be critics. That is their job, to criticize. Why would they do anything less? But I am talking about the bitter, raw, troll bait  hatred that appears all over comments on every social platform. Here is an example:

“The news is in. At the age of 94, he is dead and in Hell. This man is not a Christian. George Bush Senior or Junior, they are not Christians. They worship the lower case g “god” of this world, the devil. Lucifer. They acknowledge Moloch. They participate in the wicked sacrifices that go on at Bohemian Grove. Thank God that George Bush Sr. is dead and thank God that he is righteous. Thank God that God Himself is righteous enough to cast him into Hell forever.
George H.W. Bush died at the age of 94. And he will spend eternity in hell for rejecting the God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. the creator and the savior.”

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

What on earth gives this person the gumption to proclaim something so sickening and hateful?

Simple. For many years, Conservative Evangelical Christianity has given social “permission” for Christians to proclaim judgement and assign sin as if it were from God almighty. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard and even spoken such madness throughout my 30 years in ministry. The list of hell goers was long and distinguished.
  • ·         Mormons? Hell.
  • ·         Jehovah’s Witnesses? Hell.
  • ·         Men with long hair? Hell.
  • ·         Women who wear pants? Hell.
  • ·         Lutheran’s? Hell.
  • ·         Episcopalians? Hell.
  • ·         Catholics? Straight TO Hell.
  • ·         Criminals? Hell.
  • ·         Homosexuals? Under Hell.
  • ·         Muslims? A special Hell (post 9/11).
  • ·         Hindus? Hell.
  • ·         People in areas where the gospel has never been preached? Hell.

And the list went on and on and on. Why? Because the Bible says so, which is the marching mantra of Conservative Evangelicalism. God said it, that settles it, and I believe it. Sheesh. Now I know and have served with some of the finest Conservative Evangelicals on the planet. They are kind, loving, and caring…but firm. One of my seminary professors stated, although sadly, that unreached people groups would go to hell, even though they have never had a chance to hear the gospel of grace. These helpless people are condemned to a Milton-inspired hell that coldly beckons, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

No hope? Jesus suffered, Jesus bled, Jesus died, Jesus rose again! That is the purest of hope! According to Romans 6:14, the Paul the Apostle (who, right behind President Trump, is the poster boy of Conservative Evangelicalism) writes that we are no longer under law, but under GRACE (emphasis mine). This same Bible says that Jesus did this, and I quote, “Once…for ALL (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 10:10; 1 John2:2 Isaiah 53:6 emphasis mine again)."

God said it. That settles it. And I believe it. Truly.

The threat of “hell” has been removed from the equation. Grace applies to everyone without condition. We cannot earn it; we cannot get rid of it; we cannot stop it; we cannot lose it. We can simply allow ourselves to be plunged into grace that says you are loved and you are accepted by the God of the Universe. We can also give grace away to others. Maybe if we did, people like the “friendly atheist” quoted earlier may think twice about what they choose to say and how they choose to say it. Because of grace, we can infect the world with perfect love!

Speaking of hateful comments, I suspect that some who read this post would like to rip me a new one and hang me on the heresy tree. That’s okay. You would only be making my point. I am not here to argue theology. You and you alone must deal with what you believe and why. However, I challenge you to ask yourself, honestly, just once, “What if I have it wrong?” I admit that it is a hard question, because if indeed you and I have been wrong, it could undo centuries of creeds and councils. Seminaries would buckle. Churches would close their doors. It would change the religious world dramatically.

And that, my friends, is why Conservative Evangelical Christianity will not change. They will continue their quest to exclude and marginalize the people who really need their ministry. They will continue to elect Presidents. They will continue to boycott anything or anyone who disagrees with them. It must stay this way. Business must not suffer. After all, it is what we all grew up learning as Conservative Evangelical Americans. I am 51 years old with 30 years in the ministry. Why in the wide world of sports would I abandon everything I have known?

Because I believe the legalistic gospel no longer works.I believe it never has. Unless it's purpose is to hurt people. I recall the many times I told couples in pre-marital counseling with me that I could not perform their ceremony because they planned to have alcohol at the reception. I remember the disappointment on all the faces as I boldly stood on “biblical authority” and evangelical arrogance indoctrinated to me in college and seminary. I remember refusing to dedicate newborn babies born out of wedlock. What can I say? I had a rep to protect. I remember pounding the pulpit against cigarette smoking as I saw the smokers in the congregation self-flagellate right there in the pew. My heart breaks at all the scorched earth I left behind my arrogance. It wasn’t worth it, and so many people have been hurt by me. Good people. Really good people.

Conservative Evangelical Americanized Churchianity will go on praying the prayers and walking the aisle and dunking in the baptism tank, pushing tithing, and preaching freedom in Christ, unless you are gay, tattooed, long-haired, and so on. God loves you as you are, but loves you too much to leave you that way. What a crock of pooge! God loves and accepts us. Period. He loves YOU, not the preferred version of you that Evangelicals want to see.

Maybe I am exaggerating. I have been known to do that more than once. But when I preached grace and new covenant living in my churches, I was accused of being new-age. When I welcomed African-Americans into our church, I had my life threatened twice. One of those threats came during the altar call. That is a true story.

Conservative Evangelicals don’t want to hear about grace or inclusion. It’s bad for business. Grandma and Granddaddy didn’t donate the steeple so we could have blacks in our church. Let that sink in. It is a direct quote.

Once when I was a Youth Minister, a lady spoke up at a church conference and said, “I’m afraid we are getting too many of the WRONG kind of people in our church.” You see, I had been reaching out in the neighborhood surrounding the church, and some of our newer teens had long hair and a couple of them were Latino. Even I wore a long-haired mullet in those days (I have a picture to prove it!).

The Mullet of the Ages!
I stood up and said confidently, “Ma’am if there is such a thing as the WRONG kind of people for a church, you would find me at the top of that list.” But because of grace, God accepted me and my mullet as well as my teenage posse. Why? Because He chooses to and for no other reason.

God has loved me since before I was conceived. God has loved you too, my friends. He loves you for no other reason than that He chooses to do it. Now there is a message worth spreading! Grace covers all of us.
  • ·         George H. W. Bush? Yes!
  • ·         Osama bin Laden? Yes!
  • ·         The Pope? Yes!
  • ·         Homosexuals? Yes!
  • ·         People with piercings? Yes!
  • ·         People with tattoos? Yes!
  • ·         People with anti-religious tattoos? Yes!
  • ·         Donald Trump? Yes!
  • ·         Donald Trump’s Twitter Feed? YES!

We are ALL covered by grace. All of us! Why would we want to share any other message to the world? The gospel I grew up with culminated in me walking forward during church and praying with my pastor, after which I was whisked to a room behind the sanctuary where a scary older man (I was 16 at the time) made me read aloud a tract called “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Then I was signed up for Sunday School and baptized two weeks later (it was a Southern Baptist church). For the first few months after that I felt so alive and free. Jesus exchanged his righteousness for my sin. His beautiful for my ugly. I talked to him and he talked to me. I had never been so happy in my life.

Until…

The same old fellow who made me read the tract pulled me aside one Sunday after church and said, “Now Todd, do you think Jesus is pleased that your hair is so long (a flowing mane back then!)?” I shrugged my shoulders. “And He is not pleased that you wear blue jeans to church.” Imagine a big balloon suddenly being pierced and the air flows right out. That was me that day. I had been doing it wrong. I had two pairs of jeans; one had holes and one didn’t. I wore the non-holy jeans to church and the holy ones to school. Is that where I missed the mark? I thought me and Jesus were cool, and I had been wrong the whole time. He was disappointed in me. I had failed him.

Fast forward to 2001. I had been trying for 18 years to make up for being a failure in God’s eyes. I left the Baptist church for the Neo-pentecostal-charismatic-third-wave movement where I was told God would empower my ministry if I spoke in tongues and raised my hands during worship because if I act ashamed of God, He will be ashamed of me, so the Bible says. The problem was that I am a laid back worshipper/introvert. Once again, I couldn’t measure up and God wasn’t going to bless my ministry. I was still a major failure and would never be accepted in God’s kingdom.

It was at this time that I discovered a book by Dr. Steve McVey called Grace Walk. From the very first pages I realized that this guy was telling my story as his own! The burnt out Christian Pastor stuck on the legalistic treadmill. That was me! As I read Grace Walk, I was also introduced to Classic Christianity by Bob George who wrote that same story about going from legalism to grace. These books absolutely changed my life from that point on! 

Over the years, I have shared those two books with nearly everybody I counseled who struggled with not being “good enough” for the Lord. I bought extra copies and gave them away. Everyone who read those books had that look on their faces. I had that look on my face, too. It’s that look of relief that, “I am not a failure in God’s eyes after all. I am loved and accepted by God because He chooses to do so and for no other reason.” I love that look, and I love to see it in others. Jesus gave us that look, at great expense.

From then on, I preached grace as never before! As I said earlier, I was accused of being “new age,” “preacher of cheap grace,” “preaching half of the gospel,” and for telling people they didn’t have to serve in the local church. What I had preached was, “You can do nothing in the church and God will still love you and give grace to you.” I understood where they were coming from. This was the generation that worked together to rebuild America after WWII. This is how they rolled. Generation Xers like me don’t put that high of a premium on getting volunteers. I fought that battle for years.

I finally left the pastoral ministry in 2016. No church I ministered at saw any significant growth or changed lives. The smokers still smoked. The gossipers still gossiped. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. It felt like all I did was appease the senior adults because they are the faithful tithers and workers. I had to keep them happy so we could “keep the doors of the church open.” Also, I was once told by a Deacon to “Get control of my wife.” What the heck???

My last church asked me to resign. I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t what they needed, and they weren't what I needed. They gave us 30 days to vacate the parsonage. We were out in 10. I had been recovering from a severe mental breakdown that I had had just a several weeks before. I was hospitalized for three days and assigned to Intensive Outpatient Therapy for two weeks. I needed to focus on Todd for a while, and I finally realized it was okay to do that.

The therapy was amazing! Being in a group with 20 other people who understood my plight and that I understood theirs was liberating. I have struggled with Severe Anxiety and Depression for most of my life. I was finally getting it under control. During therapy, I had a moment of clarity. I was to begin a ministry to people like the ones in my group. Some of their churches had cut off contact with them. Others had no belief in God at all. Even more others were deeply struggling with their sexual identity. Sadly, in the not-too-distant past I would have simply quoted Bible verses telling them they were wrong. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, right? After meeting these precious people and hearing their stories, I changed my tune immediately. These are very real people just trying to be happy and accepted for who they are. I spent most of my adult life seeking that for myself as a husband, father, and minister.

Back to the present day. I couldn’t be happier with my life. My wife and I are so close and in love. My adult children are amazing! My work greatly fulfills me. Ministry will always be a part of my life, and the details of what I am specifically to do next are working themselves out. My mission in life is to spread grace, show grace, live in grace, and enjoy grace any way that I can!

Bright blessings,
Todd

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Dyszippera

I have had a condition since childhood. It is a condition that afflicts only the male of the species. I first noticed it as a young lad in Monona, Wisconsin. One day my Aunt Karen Vick said, "Todd. you better close your barn door before your horse gets out." I was puzzled. Did we have a barn? I have never seen a horse in our suburban back yard. She could read my young bewilderment and explained that my zipper was down. My five year old eyes lit up as I realized what was going on. The barn door was my zipper; and the horse (more like pony in my case) was...well you know. That.

Over the next 45 years this condition would flare up, usually at the worst possible moments. Working math problems on the board would create snickers among my classmates as I realized my zipper was down and probably since I left home that morning. Through my teen years, I managed my condition somewhat better, save for the occasional miss. My most notable zipper malfunction was discovered while I was in my marching band uniform, during the halftime performance. On the field. Nowhere to run.

There is a name for this condition. It is called Dyszippera. It is especially common among men aged 50 and over. The most dramatic of my Dyszippera flare ups was while I was preaching at a funeral in Walterboro, SC. After my part was finished, another minister took the podium and asked us to bow in prayer. As I bowed my head I realized my barn door was WIDE open, and had been since the funeral procession. Fortunately, I was able to adjust while every one's heads were bowed and eyes were closed.  


I admit there have been times when I would feel bad about myself. I mean, what kind of knucklehead forgets to zip up before a funeral? What was wrong with me?

After some intense research, I have discovered what is wrong with me: nothing. 

Welcome to the club, all men, over 50, and crying for help.

I can accept that gravity takes over in some areas. There will be puffy eyes, hanging jowls, sagging love handles. But an open zipper? Surely not!

I know the act of zipping should be a simple, automatic task. But for some reason the ‘auto’ section of my brain — which controls the draft intake at my crotch — decided at age 5 to shut down.

It’s awkward, and downright embarrassing, putting you in strange positions at work, at home, on a plane, crossing the street, waiting on line at the supermarket. The list goes on and on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to the restroom at work to discover my zipper had been down since I left the house that day.

My biggest fear? My barn door is open and my baby mouse pokes out in front of my female co-workers.

What would my excuse be? Your honor, I’m 51 and there’s something wrong with my zipper? This problem could land you jail time, man!

And it's not just me! Dyszippera has afflicted many of us middle-aged men!
So what can we do? We could invent some sort of breeze alarm that goes off when the barn door creeks open. We could only buy button down slacks or sweat pants. Or, we could just stay indoors. Forever. And ever.

Or, we could just laugh at ourselves!

The Bible teaches in Proverbs 17:22 that a joyful heart is good medicine. I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety and have been on medications that help. What if I could just find more to laugh at in this crazy world? If I start with myself, there would be material for years! 

Take heart, fellow Dyszippera strugglers. You are loved anyway. The cure, then, is laughter and love...of ourselves and others. There are far worse things than having an open barn door in an awkward place. Our esteem is not found in our zippers, my friends, but in our humanity. We are capable of amazing things, and yet we are also capable of forgetting to zip up before a funeral. That is funny stuff!

We must embrace and accept our mistakes, but we must also embrace and accept our wonderful potential to change the world! Zippers up or down! Face it, friend. You are amazing!

And God adores you, zippers up or down!


Bright blessings,
Todd



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A New Day

Welcome to the new and improved blog! The Word of Todd is now Victory Concepts. I want to tell you why.

When my lifelong chum, Rick, passed away in 2013, I reflected on his legacy for quite awhile. He was an amazing husband, father, and social media consultant. He was all about connection and conversation. I, on the other hand, had been a terrible husband, a substandard father, a lousy friend, and I only used social media to rant. Things were turning around, but it had been a hard road with many burned bridges. 

I began to look at my own legacy and pondered what I would leave behind for my children and someday my grandchildren. I began asking myself, "What is Todd Vick all about?" Do I have something to say? Would anyone listen if I did? How would I say it best?

I am a writer. I always have been. Right now I have 2 book projects going on. The first one is something that has been brewing in my heart and mind for many years. The book is tentatively titled, The Renewing of Your Mind, and it is based on Romans 12:2, ...be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The idea for the book started several years ago as a Wednesday night Bible study I was doing when I was a local church pastor. Something started happening to me as I studied and read books about the mind (brain) and how it works. There is a lot of science there and the research is ongoing. In 2001, I was introduced to Dr. Steve McVey's book, Grace Walk. I was very fortunate to connect with NY Times Best-Selling Author, John Assaraf (Having It All). John has worked with top brain scientists all over the world and has brought much knowledge about the brain to the world. I was also influenced by Vishen Lakhiani (MindValley.com) and his book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind. Vishen is a kindred spirit. In his book, he challenges us to basically question everything we have ever been taught. Finally, Dr. Steven Pinker's book, How the Mind Works, was a total game changer for me. There is so much more going on in the world around us than we care to realize.

Conservative Evangelical Christianity likes to keep things simple. Believe this, repeat that, do this, and you will go to heaven when you die. Basically God exists only in this box of ours because everyone else is wrong and we are right. For over thirty years, I propagated this antiquated belief system from within. I was one of them. I noticed very early on as a Christian and later as a minister that the Christianity we keep pushing doesn't really change people that much. Don't believe me? Go outside. Read the news. Go visit a prison. Log onto social media. Don't take my word for it. Conservative Evangelical Christianity no longer works. It is merely a brand, according to my friend and fellow author Chris Kratzer (Leatherbound Terrorism). It is a faith package that you must either buy into, or risk being forsaken by a God who demands more of us than we could ever do anyway. Enter Jesus into the picture. Grace. Faith. NOT works. Mercy, new every morning.  

My book will question a lot of the stuff we are told to believe. It is not asking for you to join a movement, it is merely asking, "What if we are wrong?" It has been fun writing it and very challenging.

The second book project will be a free e-book about Five Concepts of Victory Living (hence "Victory Concepts"). Now this story started back in 2000 at a Pastor's Conference in Hixson, Tennessee. I left this particular conference inspired to start a new ministry about victorious Christian living. The problem, at that time, was that I was NOT living all that victoriously. I had one summer. One. I spoke somewhere nearly every weekend of that summer. Then, nothing. The well had dried up. My ministry of victorious living had come to a screeching halt just as fast as it had revved up. It took me a few years and a lot of therapy, but I realize now why it failed. I was not living like a winner. I had major issues. Life had thrown me some deep curves and I handled it badly. I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety for many years.

After Rick died, I realized that my legacy was not going to be a pretty one. Inspired by Rick and some others, I developed these five concepts over several years to winning at life:


  1. Live Purposefully
  2. Love Deeply
  3. Laugh Heartily
  4. Learn Diligently
  5. Leave the World Better Than You Found It
I work very hard to incorporate these concepts into my daily life. Now I feel that I am at a place where I can finally unpack these concepts for you. The e-book will be free of charge. It will be my gift to you.

Thank you for stopping by! It's been awhile. My blog hit a brick wall a couple years ago. It is now new and improved! A brand new Facebook page is on the horizon. I am also toying with the idea of a podcast (my gosh, there are SO MANY). 

I am delighted for you to come with me on this journey! You are amazing and you are deeply loved! 

Bright blessings, 
Todd

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wrecking Wrepentance

I am a huge fan of the late George Carlin. I realize that some may take issue with this revelation. "How can a 'pastor' like such a foul-mouth?"

How can I not?

It's true, Carlin made profanity an art form all its own. Yet underneath the profane, counter-cultural, social commentator, was an extremely brilliant mind. He had a knack for questioning the things of our culture that no one really stopped to consider or had the courage to ask. His remarks on "Time," in 1978, for example, were quite astute, in my opinion. Remarks like, "I have been standing here 'forever'," were scrutinized. Was it really forever? Exactly how long is forever? "Look, Bill, this guy has been standing here forever!" Carlin made us think about stuff that we needed to think about and didn't.

We have a lot of words and concepts in Christianity that need to be re-examined and scrutinized. Religious fluff that we need to think about. The one that stands out for me today is the very first word Jesus used in the New Testament, "Repent." In the modern church context, the word repent is often delivered with pointed fingers at various democratic, socialist, homosexual, anti-gun and progressive Christianity groups. Rather unfairly, I might add. Like they're so perfect because they vote Republican, carry guns, and watch Joel Osteen. Puh-LEASE!

I was once on a mission trip in the beautiful state of New Hampshire. We went door to door in teams of three conducting surveys and when given the opportunity, sharing the gospel (another word that needs to be scrutinized...next time). The other fellow in my group was from rural North Carolina, accent and all. He proceeded to harang a local resident with the word repent. Over and over, he said, "Ma'am, you need to repent. You need to repent of your sins and be born again (another phrase deserving of a revisit...we'll get there)." I vividly recall the look this poor woman was giving him. Between his southern drawl and christianese, he was clearly, "not from around here," in her eyes. I couldn't help but laugh. Well, I tried hard not to. Envision Jeff Foxworthy speaking to Hillary Clinton. It was a comical moment.

You see, most people don't speak christianese. I would also add that most Christians who do speak christianese have no idea what they are saying. Which brings me to why we're here today.

Repent does NOT mean, "Be sorry for your sins (another word that...well you know)." When people scream "repent" to an un-believing, post-Christian culture, they seem to expect people to begin wretching and crying, telling God, "I am so sorry!" This is not repentance...not at all. In fact, emotion, while not evil in and of itself, is not a requirement for genuine repentance.

In the Hebrew language, the word "shoove" is translated as repent or relent in the Old Testament. It is used 1,058 times. It literally means to turn, as in turning AWAY from something and simultaneously turning TO something else. In application, Old Testament repentance consisted of turning away from ones sinful behavior and turning to God and His ways. Repentance that involves tears but no change of behavior is not pure repentance. Feeling bad for having that affair, but not stopping it immediately is not repentance. It is guilt or shame, neither of which come from God. Once again, it is simply a course correction in regards to behavior and habits.

Stop doing _____, and start doing _____. That is repentance in a sentence. God Himself even repents. Joel 2:13 translates it as "relent," but it is the same word. God chooses not to (relents, repents from) doing harm. God, who frankly, could level this planet with a mere thought, doesn't. He turns from harm and turns to pure love that begins and ends with Him.

The New Testament, which was written in Koine Greek hundreds of years after the Old Testament days, uses a different word for repentance, metanoie. Metanoie breaks down to mean a literal changing of the mind. Think about it, Hebrew culture was, and still is, all about behavior.  The Greek culture, on the other hand, was a thinking culture. So much of our Western philosophies and even our politics find their inspiration embedded in the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, and so many others. Paul even quotes two philosophers, Aratus & Epimenides, and the comic poet Menader in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and Titus. To change one's mind in this culture was a powerful act indeed.

In summary, the Bible demonstrates genuine repentance as a change of behavior as well as a change of one's mind that leads to a change in behavior. Shouting it at groups of people may not compel them as powerfully as simply modeling what real repentance is. In Joel 2:12-13, there are three statements that can be made about genuine, real, or true, repentance:

1) Repentance involves the whole heart. God appeals to the people of Judah to, "Return to me with all  of your heart." 99% repentant is the same as non-repentant. All in. Whole heart. Later, God says, "rend your heart and not your garments." Early believers would tear (rend) their clothes as an outward demonstration of inward repentance. We still do this today by wearing crosses, bracelets, bumper stickers, and t-shirts with a Christian tone. God is saying, "This does not impress me. I don't want your advertisement. I want your heart. All of it.

2) Repentance involves a humble heart. "With fasting, weeping, and mourning." There may be some emotion involved here. But like in the previous statement, God is not as impressed with outward displays. Fasting, weeping, and mourning all represent humility. It takes a great deal of courage to say to God, "You're right and I'm wrong." It is quite humbling indeed.

3) Repentance reveals God's heart. God then reveals that He is "Slow to anger, abounding in great kindness, and relents (repents) from doing harm.

Many years ago, my family and I lived on campus housing while I attended Bible College. We shared a nice apartment community with other students and their families. We shared yard toys, books, recipes, everything. It was not uncommon for my children to wander within the complex to play. They were always visible and we all sort of watched out for each others' kids.

One day I came home from classes to change for my evening job. I was going to tell the kids goodbye, and I couldn't see my girls, who were barely 2 at the time. My son, the oldest, was 4. He rode up on his bicycle and I asked, "Where are your sisters?" He didn't know. He was 4! Within seconds, I exploded into a panic and began thinking of all the things that may have happened and began yelling for the girls while frantically searching for them. Neighbors heard me and saw the panic on my face and began helping me look. In a few minutes that seemed like, ahem...forever, I heard, "Todd, we found them." They were safe. They had just wandered out of sight.

My first thought was, "I am going to spank them both!" After all, they had scared the daylights out of me AND made me late for work. They were gonna get it, and I was going to see to it that this never happened again.

As I approached my beautiful twin daughters, all I could do was cry and hug them. So what happened to the spanking? Easy. My love for them had far overwhelmed my need to punish them. It was a profound moment of truth for me. I chose not to spank them, and they never wandered off like that again.

That's how God is. He could wipe us out, sure. I would even argue that we have it coming. But He doesn't see it that way. Not at all! His love for us far overwhelms the justice of our punishment.

This universal truth completely befuddles our idea of real repentance.

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

National Day of Prayer...Or Politics

I had a very disturbing dream last night. Was it prophetic, or was it because I ate some Goldfish crackers before bed? Frankly, I hope the latter is to blame. Here it is...

We were in a post-apocalyptic world. My family and I somehow survived and were living in a community of other survivors replete with homemade shelters from whatever could be safely scavenged. ISIS was in control, and it was not safe to go anywhere.

The water was poisoned. Food was poisoned. The soil was poisoned. There was literally no way to survive. It was a classic Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario. My hope was in the Lord, but practically speaking, there was no tangible hope in the world I dreamed of. There was nowhere to turn for help. Every second, the potential for capture, death by starvation, or execution existed. This could NOT be happening!

I woke up. I prayed. I hugged my wife as she slept peacefully. I then began to analyze where that dream came from. I am not a hopeless person, I am a "glass-half-full" kinda guy for the most part. Here is what I came up with (disclaimer -- this is NOT a political post. If you MUST render an opinion, keep it civil, please):


  1. As of this week, our two "frontrunner" candidates seem to be Donald Trump, a man who represents the, "Hey, I've got money, so I can do whatever the hell I want," vibe, and Hillary Clinton, who is the focus of not one, but TWO, count 'em, TWO, FBI investigations. What troubles me way more than who the frontrunners are is the nation that cast their votes to make this a reality (assuming our votes somehow DO matter). Not that there was anyone else to choose from in the candidate clown car.
  2. Lately, I am seeing the hashtag, #rejectcapitalism from some young people. I admit I am not entirely sure what this represents, but as a business person and entrepreneur, this platform concerns and confuses me. Philosophically, I believe America is more socialist than capitalist anymore. Don't get me wrong...I like free stuff. Every year I get my FREE Starbucks beverage on my birthday. But it's not really free, is it? I'm not going to wax microeconomics here, but the saying, "There is no free lunch," is unfortunately true whether we like it or not.
It's possible that my subconscious, along with the Goldfish, concocted this dream. I am actually leaning toward that predilection. But what if it was some sort of prophetic apparition? What do I do with it?

Well, I could launch a social media tirade and be ignored or mocked. That is the popular option. I would blend right in with the other gloom-and-doom morons. You know, the ones who said God "had anointed Ted Cruz to be President." Did God change His mind? 

Or, I could simply choose between Clinton or Trump. You know, the "lesser of two evils" approach? Well...that's not gonna happen. 

Or, I could pray. 

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Instead of berating the political candidates with everyone else, I could bathe them in fervent prayer. What if it worked? What if I prayed for America as a nation to come together in agreement that we value our way of life enough to stick together instead of polarizing and boycotting one another. What if that worked? Yesterday, my wife shopped at Target AND used the bathroom. Guess what happened????

Nothing. The world didn't end. God didn't strike her down. She went about the rest of her day being her usual sweet self.

What if we prayed for everyone we disagree with? What if we found every challenge as an opportunity to love God and love others? What if, instead of boycotting Target, we showered it in prayer, even prayer-walking the aisles? Is it possible that God would hear such prayers and be compelled to move?

Well, is it? 

Look, loved one, this is not a political post. This is a prayer post. Starting with me. I am going to stop participating in the boycotting and flippant remarks. I'm going to stop supporting those who do with a "Like or Share" or a "re-tweet." In fact, I am going to keep my opinions to myself, where they belong. I am going to ask you to consider joining me in this notion of prayer above politics. I want to impact the world I live in in a positive, loving way. I want to reject rejection and show Jesus' true love to a world that needs Him, whether they acknowledge it or not. I know I need Him. I can't fix anything, really, but I can speak to the One who died to fix all of this already. 

It's time to face the hard truth, friend, God loves Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Osama bin Laden, Caitlyn Jenner, Al Sharpton, and even Todd Vick whether you do or not. As the old gospel song says, "When He was on the cross, we were all on His mind." Do we even believe something so radical anymore? Can we? Will our prejudices allow us to? What will we do with this marvelous truth? 

I believe dreams can come true. Honestly, I didn't like my dream last night. If there is a "plan B," I'll take it. A world of hopelessness and death is not what I want. I want my children and someday grandchildren to inherit a world better than that. Now that is a big dream. 

It starts with prayer. Right here, right now. Will you dare? 

The longer you wait, the less likely it is that you will do it at all. 

Pray, loved one. Pray right now. It is very likely our last hope. Maybe, maybe not, but what have really got to lose by praying?

I guess we could trust in politics...since that has worked so well for us.

Friday, April 29, 2016

There Was A Time...A Confession

Sinatra sang that "Youth is wasted on the young." Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not.

Today I read a heartfelt Facebook appeal from my daughter Jenna that she wrote while witnessing a fellow student sharing their faith with another. It was a genuine, heartfelt appeal to all of us who name the name of Jesus simply to love Him and then love others. His way, not our way.

Two things happened to me as I read her appeal:

1) I was so proud that this person who expressed such heartfelt compassion was my daughter. I am proud of all four of my children. No one more than the other. Each of them have their gifts and special qualities. But something else happened here.

2) The Lord spoke to my heart and said, lovingly, not condescendingly, "Remember when you were like that?" I did. I remembered. I was like that. I was just like that. I gave up hours of my youth encouraging others around me. Sometimes I still do, but not nearly as much, and not with the same genuine compassion that Jenna showed today.

When I was in Bible college, Dr. Tom Elliff, a man I respect very much, told of an older gentleman who, with a faraway look in his eyes, reflected on the greatest days of his ministry as a thing of the past. "There was a time..." he said.

Am I that guy now? Is it possible that somehow my usefulness in God's kingdom is over? Have I crossed the threshold of viable faith to "has-been" faith?

God, I hope not.

I hope that there is still fire in these bones of mine. Not to raise up the next big ministry, but to just be so in love with Jesus again that I can't contain it. Below is a sample of my reply to what Jenna said:

"My friend and mentor, Pastor Bob Shearer tells a "fish" story of how all the fisherman gathered at the bait and tackle shop, bragging about their lures and gear. They pontificate about how they are going to catch the most fish. Everyone of them boasts of becoming a great angler. There was only one problem: no one ever went fishing. They never left the bait and tackle shop. This is what general Christendom looks like today. We talk about reaching and helping others find their way. Yet we never leave the church, or the campus, or our very homes to share the hope that is within us. Instead, we boycott anyone and everyone who doesn't love our Jesus the same way we do. We wear our "I HeartMy Church" t-shirts and listen to Joel Osteen. We shop at Lifeway or Family Christian while we ignore the people around us. We meet in coffee shops to have Bible studies, and complain when our coffee is too cold. We don't tip or even acknowledge our servers. We leave tracts. We vote for Trump. We go to "faith-based" movies. We hide behind our PCs and devices, telling the world how it needs to be in order to live up to what we want. We are narcissistic, hedonist political windbags. We are resounding brass and clanging symbols. We will have much to answer for when the Lord returns. "

I used the word, "we," a lot, didn't I? Maybe I should have said "I." Let's face it, I am nothing. Without Jesus, that is. Like everyone else, I struggle to understand and live out my faith on a daily basis. I am quick to point out the things that bother me, but slow to look in the mirror. I am inconsistent. I am up, I am down. My breath stinks. My hair is thinning. I live from paycheck to paycheck. I am impatient and judgmental. I hate my clothes. 

And yet, Jesus spoke to me today like I speak to my children when I hold up an old photo and say, "Remember that day?" "You were so adorable." "I was so proud of you that time." I don't do that to say, "And look at you now...barely a shadow of that." No, no, NO! I am celebrating moments of old and looking forward to new ones all at once. Stop being a proud Dad? Forget it!

Back to where we started. No, I am not the long-haired rebel for Jesus I was back then, I am the overweight, balding rebel for Jesus that I am now. The mission hasn't changed. Love God, love others. That is the same privilege we all enjoy as Christians. 

Sometimes I lose my way, but He always finds me.

Always.