Thursday, December 20, 2012

Whistling Tea Kettles and Popcorn

It was June of 1986. I was a high school graduate. My future was brighter than ever, and I was ready to take on the world. I was eighteen years old, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a music teacher. I was intelligent, motivated, and had all the makings of a true success story. “Local tuba student plays Carnegie Hall!” I had a PLAN! MY plan! It was a brilliant plan. I couldn’t wait for fall to arrive so I could begin my studies at the University of South Carolina, which I was attending on, ahem, a FULL music scholarship.

Fast forward one year. It is now 1987. I no longer want to be a music teacher. I dropped out of college, lost all scholarship funding, and began taking classes at the local Technical College (where, ironically, I now teach). Twelve years, three kids, two states, and three colleges later, I earned my Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies from Southeastern Baptist College in Wake Forest, NC. My plan, which was doomed from the start, became God’s plan, and worked out far better. I still had much to learn…much, much more to learn. I have since pastored three churches, rediscovered a passion for writing, watched my children grow up, finally became a teacher, married the love of my life, and somehow made it to 45! It was not an easy journey, me being stiff-necked and all, but it is a huge milestone for me.
Even though I still have much to learn, I believe I have learned (the hard way) a few life lessons I would like to share.  These are all born out of mistakes, poor choices, and total flops on my part, lest you think I fancy myself a guru or so called “life coach.” I am neither. Here goes:
Lesson One: God’s Grace is built into everything!
That sounds like an obvious statement. It is. When you have lived a solid, well-balanced life, you may not see grace as clearly as someone like me. I have messed up pretty badly over the years. In Luke 7:40-43, Jesus tells of two men who owed debts. One owed five-hundred denarii (five hundred days pay), and the other owed fifty. When both men were completely forgiven their respective debts, Jesus asked, “Which one loved the moneylender more?” The obvious answer was the one who had the largest debt forgiven. That's me! Some sing “Amazing Grace” out of habit, while others of us sing it through tears. The reason? At our very worst moments, God’s grace is there, and it is always sufficient. It didn’t always feel like it, to be sure. There were times when I was convinced that God had long given up on me. I was wrong. Over the years, I have seen our gracious God love me when no one else would or could. Maybe you have been there, too. On the authority of God’s word, I assure you that no matter how dark your life has been or might be right now, there is no place on this earth where God’s grace cannot reach you! That’s why we call it “amazing;” grace is built in to everything God does or says. If only we would learn to treat one another that way!
Lesson Two: True ministry begins at home
Like most young pastors, I had aspirations of building a great church, serving as President of the SBC, and maybe having a theme park named for me. In my quest to change the world for Christ, I often neglected the spiritual growth and nurture of my family. That is not to say I didn’t have family devotionals and say prayers with the kids every night. I did that much. What I didn’t do is far worse.
This is hard to admit, but, the man I was at home and the man I was at church were not often the same person. I talked the talk, but failed to walk the walk at home where it mattered most. After a long day of putting on my pastor face for the rest of the world, I was too tired to shepherd my very own flesh and blood flock. The church had my best, and my family had what was left. There is so much I wish I could do differently, but Dr. Jay Strack once reminded me that, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.” It is never too late to start doing things God’s way.
Lesson Three: The Little Things Really Do Matter
A smile; a card; a letter (yes…snail mail); a phone call; a text; being on time; doing what you say you will do; holding the car door for your spouse; eating dinner together; showing affection; saying “I love you;” meeting for coffee; walking in the park; watching the sun rise/set; compliments freely given; spending quality time; snuggling; tickling; laughing out loud; playing board games; talking about deeper subjects; remembering loved ones; the list could go on and on. The bottom line is that the little things in life really do matter.
I am not the world’s best at this one. I am a “big picture” thinker. I look at life in terms of the bigger cause and effect of it all. I don’t sweat the small stuff. My wife Laura is diametrically opposite. I find myself amazed at the little things that excite her. The whistling of the tea kettle always makes her smile, for example. She also lights up at the popcorn popping out of our air popper. Little things. They matter. I will admit that I don’t see the excitement of the popcorn popper and tea kettle. I sure do love to watch Laura take it all in, though. A pastor friend once encouraged me to, “celebrate the small things!” Pop some popcorn and watch it pop. Make some tea. Call someone you haven’t talked to in awhile. Then celebrate! Yes, celebrate it! 
Lesson Four: You Don’t Have to Have All the Answers
One week ago today, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Newtown, CT and murdered children and adults before taking his own life. Tragedies like this one cause us to pause and reflect and try to sort it out and answer the ever-elusive, “Why?” People also like to use the aftermath of calamity to champion their various opinions and causes. When the dust settles, we still don’t know anymore than we did. That’s okay. We don’t have to. We are not meant to. The Bible spells this out clearly, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 NASB)” I don’t know about you, but it is quite a relief off of my shoulders that I really don’t have to have all the answers, all the time.
I once ministered to a family whose thirteen year old daughter was killed in an auto accident. She was the only one of four in the car who was sober and wearing a seatbelt. She was also the only one who died. I went to the family after hearing the news. On the way there, I prayed that God would give me something to say to encourage them. He gave me the same scripture verse many have been using in light of the Connecticut tragedy, Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” Sounded good to me. I went in, armed and ready to comfort the family.
Then the hard questions began to fly. “Why did this have to happen?” “What is God’s purpose for taking our daughter?” No doubt we have all been asking the same questions this week thinking of twenty children gunned down by a murderer. I had to look these grieving folks in the eye and say, “I just don’t know.” I didn’t know then, and I really don’t know now. I just know what God’s word tells me. The rest is not for me (or you) to know just yet. We must face the truth that on this side of eternity, we will not have all the answers. The good news is that this is okay. The family was grateful to me for just being there and loving them. Sometimes that is all we have to offer, and it is enough.
How about a cup of tea and some popcorn?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lesson Learned, Value Added

As I write this post, I am at a new place in my psyche. I have been taking stock for the last year. Asking myself this question: How did I end up here? “Here” is not a pretty picture in some ways. As I write, I am 44, broke, twice divorced, and alienated from my two daughters. Now, to be fair, it’s not ALL bad. I am happily remarried to the most amazing woman I have ever known. For the first time in 25 years, I am happy and hopeful. I am moving forward. I have learned, however, that in order to move forward, it is good for me to know what I have done wrong, and look backward, so as not to repeat any mistakes. That is very good for me because I have made some big ones. My many mistakes all stem from a lesson I learned very early in life. I now know that the lesson I learned was wrong in so many ways. Yet, it has defined my entire existence until now. I have burned some very good bridges and lost many wonderful friends because of this one lesson I learned as a young boy. 

This lesson shaped my philosophy in life for thirty-four years. This lesson was taught to me by the most influential people in my life at that time, my parents. I’m not blaming them, mind you. At the time, it was what was working for them. No, my mistakes are MY fault and MY responsibility. It was this lesson that caused me to make the choices I made, not my parents. My father died with nothing to his name because of this lesson. My mother is not the same angry person she was back then. She is happier now and enjoying her life. I’m so glad. However, the lesson still resides beneath the surface and rears itself now and again in her words. My mother spoke the words of the lesson to me as a young boy, and my father lived the lesson by example.

So what was this lesson which so shaped my early philosophy and habits? Here it is: “Todd, no matter what, you always have to look out for number one.”

There are the thirteen words that were ingrained into my impressionable mind, and spoken to me by a woman who had been married for seventeen years to an undependable alcoholic. She was bitter when she said that; I understand that now. She meant well; I really do believe that. She had been hurt by someone she trusted and depended on. He failed her. He failed us all. She was forced into a place where her only defense was to depend on herself and not my father or ANY man. As I said earlier, I am not blaming her. I understand her now more than I EVER did.

I did take the lesson to heart those thirty-four years ago. Put yourself first. That is really easy to do, especially for a child. Me first, everyone else second. I will spare you the detailing and outlining of the many mistakes I've made and the many people I have disappointed and hurt through the years. The list would fill volumes. Suffice it to say, I am now reaping what I have sown. Big time. I had it coming, though.

I do not recall the exact moment, but I know it was recent. In this moment, I was brought face to face with all the damage I have caused by putting myself first and everyone else second.  Fortunately, there is another lesson I learned much later in life: It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters most. The last ten years have been the most difficult. I caused a lot of it. I reacted badly. I was hurt badly. I became bitter. Being hurt is inevitable. Being miserable is a personal choice. In choosing misery, I alienated many people, including my children and my lifelong best friend. Having that mirror held to your face is more humbling than I can express in words. I will simply leave it at that. To write it all out would fill more volumes.

I have been on the road to redemption this year. Redemption has not been without its challenges. I remarried way over my head to a woman who was sent straight to me from Heaven! I have never been happier! Laura makes me want to be a better man. A few weeks ago, during a routine CT scan, cancer was discovered on Laura’s right kidney. The pain was on her left side. The surgeon said that the unrelated pain on the left side that she was being seen for had saved her life! It was a very deadly cancer and it was spreading fast. They were thankfully able to remove all of it. My own health has been an issue as well. Financially, this has been my most difficult year ever. We are not destitute. We are just broke. Too much month left at the end of the money. We are working on a strict budget and plan that I believe will help us make it.

I have never been more motivated to make some big changes. The late Jim Rohn said that, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” I have really taken these words to heart. You see, I can name many other times where motivation was not lacking, but new habits were. So I have made a commitment to the Lord, my wife, and my children to change some things for the better. For me, this began with some deep, serious soul searching. The first and most important change I have made is in my philosophy of life. It can no longer be all about me. I want to live for others. My hero, the late Bruce Lee said that, “Real living is living for others.” I want that real living! My ultimate Hero, the Lord Jesus, says, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly." I want that too!

I receive a daily email called, “A Minute with Maxwell,” which is put out by John Maxwell, another of my life heroes. In these emails, he always concludes by asking us to share his videos so that they can “add value” to others’ lives. That expression, adding value to others’ lives, has been working its way through my soul. You see, for many years, I proceeded with the philosophy that others added value to MY life. I now believe that was wrong. Now I want to turn it around and find ways to express this concept of adding value to others everywhere I go, and starting at home. There are a number of things that I am doing right now that I am really excited about. Laura and I are doing a couple of home-based business opportunities that we believe will not only help us improve our financial position, but will allow us to add value in others as well.

I am involved in a church for the first time in 4 years. I am not on staff. Not seeking to be. I am just trying to help wherever I can, using whatever gifts I have. I am still teaching at Midlands Technical College. I am back in school this fall to finish my Masters. Those are big external changes. The real change is coming through the practice of several small disciplines that I am trying to do every single day.

If you have been around me for awhile, you have heard all of this before. If you get really bored one day, read through some of my older blog posts. They are usually titled with words like Transitions, New Attitude, or New Beginnings. They were moments where motivation was in ample supply, but disciplines were grossly lacking. A Pastor friend and another of my life heroes, Mike Gonzalez, once told me that I was unwilling to pay the price for what I wanted, and that I had a “what’s in it for me” attitude. I didn’t listen to him back then. He was right though. I was too self-focused to listen to him. I was too self-focused in those days to listen to anyone. I sure don’t want to make that mistake again.

For the last ten years, I have been lazy in learning. I am just being a sponge these days. Reading, listening, pondering, and considering. Another of my favorite life heroes, Rick Stilwell, inspires me to read and grow. He is certainly one who adds value to others.

I am also making goals and seeing small results. Small victories are still victories. They are worth celebrating! Another of my life heroes, Pastor Shane Phillips, once told me to “always celebrate the small things.”

This brings us to today. Rodney Dangerfield summed up most of my life at the end of the movie, "Back to School." “Look out for number one, but don’t step in number two.” I stepped in it a lot over the last three decades. I really don’t want to anymore.

I am cleaning and polishing my shoes, and hopeful for a better tomorrow. I sincerely hope that whoever reads this gets something from it. If all you get is, “Hey, Todd, you were a JERK,” then I guess that is something!  I’m praying for all of you! Here’s to victory…every single day! Blessings!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Second Place Is NOT First Loser

Irving Berlin never learned to read or write music. He hummed or sang his songs to a secretary, who wrote them down in musical notation. His name was Helmy Kresa, a songwriter in his own right. Mr. Kresa's was the first published arrangement of "All of Me," written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons. Mr. Kresa composed the instrumental sound track for Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull" and, with Carroll Loveday, he wrote "That's My Desire," which Frankie Laine recorded. In 1926, Mr. Kresa began working for Mr. Berlin and eventually became the general professional manager of the Irving Berlin Music Company. Obviously, as a composer, he never reached the level of notoriety as his boss, though without his notations, there would be no songs like "White Christmas," "God Bless America," or "There's no business like show business." The question arises: would there even be an Irving Berlin without a Helmy Kresa?  

Here is another question, would you or I pursue great things knowing someone else would receive the credit? Could you be content with someone else receiving all the glory for YOUR hard work? Pride is running rampant in the world these days. Worldly accomplishments, position, financial status, talent, and looks are but a few areas where pride has taken deep roots. However, if someone has worked hard, paid their dues, mastered their destiny, surpassed their peers, and set a higher standard, should they not be allowed a little pride?  

For you and I who profess the Lord Jesus and call ourselves Christian, there is a different attitude which prevails: humility. "The Lord opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34)." Humility is the opposite of pride in every sense of the word. The Lord actually opposes, or assumes a military position against, pride. What you and I have to determine for ourselves is whether we want to face the end of God's barrel. On the other hand, a humble attitude draws God's favor and the blessing of grace. 

Perhaps you have heard the story of the parishioner who received recognition for being the humblest man in the church? They gave him a pin to wear. The following Sunday he wore it and they took it away from him for being proud. One wonders sometimes if humility is like this. As soon as we think we are humble, we are not. 

Biblically speaking, personal humility carries the notion of lowering or abasing oneself in such a manner as to attain a place of lowliness. Perhaps the best way to understand humility is attempting to see ourselves through God’s eyes rather than our own. The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as "making a right estimate of oneself." Another noted speaker stated that, "Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you." After World War II, Winston Churchill humbly commented that, "I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar."

In our competitive culture fueled by reality television shows like “American Idol,” or “Food Network Star,” there is a push for each contestant to strive to be the greatest or best. In stark contrast, Jesus said that, “Whoever wishes to become great…must first be your servant (Matthew 20:26).” The concept of lowering oneself to serve others in order to become great is diametrically opposed to the world’s concept of greatness: winning at all costs. Jesus used the word, diakonos, which is translated as servant or minister. The English word "Deacon" comes from this word. A deacon is a servant in the local church. 

The word which the Apostle Paul uses for servant is another extraordinary word, huperetes, which means "under-rower." The apostle's analogy is in reference to ancient warships that were propelled by muscular men chained to their oars below deck. In their part of the ship one hears groaning, men laboring at the oars. It is not like the upper deck, wind-swept, sunlit and fragrant with ocean breeze. Those below deck typify servants, men and women who are unseen, without applause and who are dying to self. The real power of the boat is found below deck.  

This is the killing ground of ego. Self-centeredness dies at the oar. Pride perishes in the pain. It is also here, as huperetes, that one experiences power as a steward of the mysteries of God (see Col. 4:1-3). The death to self that Scripture demands is achieved by surrendering the ego to God. Undergoing tragedy is not necessary to experience this blessed death to self, however self-surrender is.  

If you want real power in your Christian life, seek the same death for which Paul shouted his joy: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). As you serve others, may you find yourself on the upper deck, clothed in the humility of Jesus, swept clean by the wind of the Holy Spirit and able to impart the glory of God to everyone around you.  

When I was a child, I remember being a fan of Batman and Captain Kirk. Somehow during play, I always ended up being Robin or Mr. Spock, the sidekicks and subordinates. In third grade, I came in second place in my local Pinewood Derby. Other kids would tell me that “second place is first loser.” As joint heirs with Jesus, we are convinced that second place is really the best place to be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hole Truth

It was dark and cold in that hole. In reality, the hole was not that deep. However, to a four year old kid, it might as well have been an abyss. I was the four year old kid, and I cannot remember ever being anymore afraid in my life. There was some construction being done in front of our house, and right outside the front door was a hole that was around six feet wide, four feet across, and maybe five feet deep. I had just finished breakfast, and my mom announced that we were going shopping. I remember being very excited (ironically, I despise shopping now), leaping to my feet and running out the door. The next thing I remember is being at the bottom of the construction hole, terrified and screaming. Within seconds, I saw my mom’s hand, grabbed it, and was returned to safety. Had I waited two more seconds before running out the front door, I would have heard mom instruct me that we were going to go out through the garage because of the large hole by the front door.
            I was excited, envisioned a store full of toys, and I jumped the gun. After jumping the gun, I landed in a deep, dark hole of my own impatience. First of all, mom never said we were going TOY shopping. I heard what I wanted to hear. Secondly, by failing to wait and listen to ALL of the instructions, I had sacrificed safety and security. I learned a very important spiritual lesson that day: wait for instructions before running ahead.
            Oh, that we would learn to wait on the Lord before we run ahead of His will! The Bible uses the word wait over 160 times. One of the important exhortations of the Bible is the call to “wait on the Lord.” Even though God promises special blessing for waiting, waiting is one of the most difficult exhortations of Scripture. Why is it so hard? For one thing, we are programmed to take matters into our own hands in today’s society. The world exhorts us to create our own destinies. Yet, over and over again we are told in Scripture “wait on the Lord.”
            So why should we wait? Scripture gives us at least two reasons to wait on the Lord.
Because of What He Can Do
            David very briefly summarizes this thought for us, “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You (Psalm 39:7).”  There is a sense of dependent expectation in David’s statement. We get the idea that David is convinced that God is going to do what only God can do, and doesn’t need his help to do so. My children used to believe I could do anything. One time we were driving home after dark when suddenly a streetlight went out. My then two year old son simply said, “Dad’ll fix it.” Why is it so hard for us to believe in God that way?
            Having financial problems? Dad’ll fix it.
            Having marriage problems? Dad’ll fix it.
            Having health problems? Dad’ll fix it. You get the point.
            Dear friend, if I have learned anything in my life it is that God doesn’t need my help to be God. Oh, I have tried to help Him from time to time. I have run ahead when He said to wait. When I do, I always end up in a deep, dark hole of blunder. The good news is that God is always there to pull me out of the hole. Always!
Because of What We Cannot Do
            We also wait on the Lord because we cannot do what He can do. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that SEEMS right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (emphasis mine).” Jeremiah 10:23 states that, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself, it is not in man who walks to direct his way.” Let’s face it, we may be educated and experienced, but we can never exceed God’s power or outdo His capabilities. He holds the universe in the palm of His hand, and I have been falling into holes for forty years. I can’t fix my life. I don’t have the power. Neither do you.
            Like everyone else, the economy has been hard on my family. I have been working two jobs to do what I can and occasionally applying for bigger, better jobs. My two jobs are by no means glamorous or high-paying, but they do allow me time to be with my wife and my church. Recently, I was offered a job at a large company. Better pay, good benefits, and all the trimmings. Here is the rub: it was a third shift job, and I would no longer be able to spend evenings with Laura or be involved in our church.
            What did I do? Pray about it? Wait on the Lord? Of course not! I took the job. After all, God wants me to have a better income for my family, right? Maybe. Maybe not. What I know for certain is that God wanted me to wait…again. And I jumped the gun…again. After two nights of misery and loneliness from being away from my wife and church, I was in yet another hole. I didn’t see a way out. Two hours before my third night on the job, I received a call saying that the company had over hired and that I would be called when I was needed. My other jobs still needed me, so I didn’t even miss a day of pay! From the hole, God reached in His hand, pulled me out, dusted me off, and reminded me, “Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).”
            There is still more month at the end of the money, but it is comforting to know that my God still supplies all my needs according to HIS riches and glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Not my riches and glory; His riches and glory. I cannot provide what He can provide, and I cannot give what He can give. He is God, I am not. Neither are you. Trust Him! Wait for Him!
            There is a reward for waiting. Isaiah 40:31 promises us that, “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” 
            Friend, I don’t know what you may be going through at the moment, but whatever it is the challenge of Scripture is to wait on the Lord. He is God and we are not. Take care not to jump ahead of Him and His promises, lest you wind up in a deep, dark hole. Be encouraged today, because the sovereign Lord of the universe loves us with a steadfast love and personally cares for us like a father.
             As David wrote in Psalm 103:13-19, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant, and who remember His precepts to do them. The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guest blogger: Dr. Tobin Chase

I have been extremely busy with work and interviewing printers for my "I Survived My Facebook Fast" t-shirts. Since I haven't had much time for blogging, I have invited a good friend and fellow writer, Dr. Tobin Chase, to share with us. -- Todd

My fellow Americans and people of Mother Earth, what in the wide world of sports is wrong with you???

Two days ago, North Carolina poo-pooed on Gay Marriages and Civil Unions. A lot of people are pissed about this. Mostly gay ones.

Before I continue, I think you need to know that I, myself, am not gay. If a dude looked like George Clooney with legs like Katie Couric, maybe. I don't know. He would have to be filthy rich, too. Cigarettes aren't getting any cheaper.

So why all the uproar? Gay people want to get legally hitched. So what??? The religious community has erupted in a mass of malcontent. People of Gawd, listen to me. Gay people are not asking you to rewrite Scripture. They are not asking to get into Heaven. They just want to have the legal right to wed like everyone else. If history has proven anything, it's that bigoted people always get pissed anytime some group other than white preachers and politicians want anything! (I'm not white, by the way, this is just a birthmark)

They made black people eat somewhere else, ride the back of the bus, and use separate bathrooms. They didn't want women to have an identity outside of the one they gave them. They massacred Jews. They scalped gays in college (Mitt Romney). Now they want to cry foul because gay people want to get married. Why are we singling out homosexuals this way? Because it's a sin? So is lying. Liars can no longer get married, then. Watch the divorce rate go up even more on that one! 

Imagine standing at the pearly gates waiting to get into Heaven. Saint Peter looks at you and says, " have committed nearly every sin in the book. Your sin record is long and vile. Why should I let you in?"

You reply, humbly, "Well...I'm not a homosexual."

Saint Peter says, "Well come on in then!"

Preposterous. It's not like that, people.Sin is sin. Why do you champion some (greed, gluttony, bigotry, gossip, lying), and condemn others (homosexuality, pole-dancing)? It makes no sense, and frankly, makes you all look like morons. If you want to be taken seriously, start making frigging sense. That one is free.

Child molesters can get married. Why can't homos? What are you afraid of? You're afraid they're going to ask your church to marry them? God help us, you might have to sit by them!! This is not a church or even a Bible issue folks, it's an America issue. If we don't let these people get married, then we need to rewrite the Constitution, not the Bible. Just throw "inalienable human rights" out with the dirty bath water, and put the Iron Curtain back up.

They just want to get married, people. Not to you. Not to me. To each other. That's all they want.I doubt they would ask your preacher to marry them. They can get a Notary Public or someone at the courthouse. Relax...

Oh yeah, and in this midst of all this hoopla, President Obama "comes out" and says he now supports Gay Marriage, curiously close to the election, which he just might lose. Oh no! God help us! The sanctity of marriage is now at stake! People, you haven't believed a word this man has said since he took office. NOW you choose to believe him??? Why??? I'll tell you why. Because the media wants you to.

Here's a newsflash: you have a brain. Start using it. Stop letting the media do your thinking for you and think for yourself for a change. You just might like it. I do. It makes me tingle. Here's another newsflash (and you may want to sit down for this one): politicians will say ANYTHING to get elected. They always have, and they always will. Obama may actually be totally opposed to gay marriage, but if it will get him re-elected, he will publicly support it. Hell, so would I! So would YOU!  It's not about right or wrong in politics. It's about winning the blankety-blank election! Politicians don't care if gay people get married; they don't care if you have a job or benefits; they only care if they can champion your misery in order to get re-elected. Wake up and smell the political b.s., America. Use your frigging noggins! After you elect these people, they stop caring about you. They don't need you anymore. They tricked you, They won. I'm giving you pearls here, people.

My friend, and the kindly owner of this blog talks a lot about grace on here. I am not a believer, personally, but I do believe that Christians ought to be the nicest people in this gay marriage ordeal or any public ordeal. Otherwise what you believe is b.s., and I already think it is just by the way you people act. Recent events being no exception.

Todd knows where I stand, and now you do too.

I write because I can,

T. Chase

Friday, April 20, 2012

Facebook fast, Day 20

Has it already been 20 days? I have hardly noticed. I was tempted to get on this past week because I needed to reach a couple of folks to get their mailing addresses. It can wait 10 more days.

This time off has really been nice. I miss the professional connections, but I'm sure they will be there when I come back. I am also looking forward to "seeing" my friends again.

Right now I am gearing up for final exams for my students, reading their papers, and looking forward to my summer class. It's hard to believe I have been teaching for 2 years now. I absolutely love it.

I will also be resuming my own studies this summer. I am looking forward to it.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Facebook Fast, Day 6

All is well. I have had at least three moments where I wanted to take, "just one little peek," but have remained committed to the fast. I need it. Facebook just isn't fun for me anymore. There was too much pressure to post for everyone but myself. When I posted for myself, people close to me got mad. Ahhh, life in the Social Media fast lane...will surely make you lose your mind (Vick/Eaglesism).

In the non-Facebook moments, I have been getting reacquainted with a few people who I have lost touch with. A few close friends and family members, to be sure, but also with Todd R.Vick the writer. I haven't seen or heard from him in quite awhile.

Aside from my blog, I haven't written a word in "Purple Lilacs" in almost a year. I am not sure why. The novel calls to me every single day, "Write, Todd. Write!" I am missing something, though. I used to have a few things which were my impetus to sit down and write. I recently re-read an interview I did a couple of years ago when my writing career seemed to be moving forward quickly. I remembered some of those things that used to drive me to the proverbial typewriter. Silly things, but they worked!Perhaps they will again.

Writing was fun for me at that time. I had a couple of negative experiences with local publications in 2011, and I guess it just stopped being fun for a bit. Moreover, I feel the chances of me being published are getting smaller each day. The voices in my head are telling me that no one wants to read my novel. It's weak. It's lame. It's cheesy (but I love cheese, being from Wisconsin and all).

I guess it has come down to a battle of wits between me and the evil voices in my head. I will prevail, since, "Greater is He that is in me than the evil voices in my head." Slight paraphrase FTW.

Hmmm...maybe I am going to enjoy this Facebook Fast after all!

Write, Todd! Write!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

While Rome Burns

Found an interesting article today. It is short. Read it, and come right back. I will be here.

Welcome back. Pretty thought provoking article, wasn't it? I thought so too.

Lately, I have been spending more time than usual on Facebook. Too much? Maybe. But I am seeing something. I am seeing people who I look up to who are pastors, professors, and Christians. I see them bickering. Blasting liberals. Blasting conservatives. Hating the President. Hating this, that, and the other. Today I posted a verse of Scripture on my FB status. No commentary, just a verse from the Bible, Matthew 8:11. My first reply was a comment from a minister remarking about Universalism. I wasn't making a universalist claim. I don't think that is what the verse stands for. I wanted to engage him in a debate. But I stopped myself. I'll tell you why in a moment.

A pastor who I have admired for many years and consider to be a mentor made this statement on his FB profile. "If the Bible is Pro-Life, Pro-Traditional Marriage, Pro-Economic Freedom, Pro-God and there are 300,000-400,000 "evangelical" churches in America, why is the nation controlled by a media and Democrat Party that is Pro-Abortion, Pro-Homosexual Marriage, Pro-Big Government Controlled Economy and Anti-God?" 

Reality is catching up with us, fellow Christians. We have wasted so many years debating and arguing and vying to be right that we have lost our credibility to the world. And why not? It seems we would rather shoot our own wounded and alienate them rather than lead them to grace, forgiveness, and restoration. We have created and perpetuated a narcissistic theology of trying to receive "God's best" and forgetting to help others in need.

"Who has time to help others? We have a church to grow."

God help us, before it is too late, to rise up and be what you have called us to be: salt and light. It seems we have become more like castor oil and strobe lights instead. We are sickening and confusing the world we are called to reach. They come to church for answers, and they find even more confusion.

Who am I to point my fingers, you may say? I am part of the problem. I have eighteen years in the ministry arguing, debating, condemning, immersing myself in "church growth," seeking financial "blessings," and shirking anyone who stood in my way. Believe me, I am reaping what I have sown. Believe me. Very little remains from the life I once had. Except for a great deal of pain and burned bridges.

Because of grace, I am being given another chance. My main prayer is that I don't royally screw it up this time around.

You can have your debates and political hate fests. I am focusing on the things that matter: loving God, loving others, and sound biblical preaching. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35 (emphasis mine).

When people look at us, do they know we are His disciples? When they look at me, do they know I am His disciple? Based on the article we read, it would seem not.

I pray that going forward, they will. 

By God's grace, they will.

They will know.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

No Sunshine When She's Gone

Today I said good bye to my sweet Little Miss Sunshine. She passed away this morning. She was old and tired, and it was her time. I miss her already. My animals really get into my heart; they always have. Sunshine was no exception.

In 2008, my family and I rescued her from a very neglectful situation. For most of her life, she had been used for breeding. When she passed the fertile age, she was simply turned loose. During her time alone, she was hit by a car. A family I knew had found her and nursed her from the brink of death, but they couldn't keep her. We took her in, even though she was still in bad shape. Sunshine had a tumor the size of an orange on her kidney. She lost the kidney, but remained vibrant and sweet. I am happy to say that she lived like a queen for the last 4 years of her life. She was deeply loved, spoiled, and pampered. She knew it, too.

Her health had been failing. I made an appointment to take her to the vet this morning, but she had passed away by the time I woke up. Now she is with the Lord and at peace.

Sunshine, thank you for brightening our family with your sweet little face, your cuddling, and your snoring. I will miss you terribly, but I am glad you are no longer in pain. I love you and will never forget you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"And some sweet day..."

It was 1982, and I was sitting in the youth section of Trinity Baptist Church in Cayce, SC. It was the first night of revival. I had been invited by a good friend, and I had no idea what was to come. Sitting at an upright piano in the middle of the platform was a man who looked just like someone out of my Mom's high school yearbook. He began to play and sing. He had such an amazing presence on the stage, I thought. For a moment, I could have sworn that the upright piano had started dancing! I didn't fully understand what this guy's deal was. He was happy and radiated a joy unlike anything I had ever seen. I had to know who he was.

In the printed program, the name of this captivating man read, Rev. Lloyd F. Brewer, Jr. I had no idea that I had just been introduced to the man who would literally shape most of my own ministry in the years to come.

For eleven years to follow, Lloyd Brewer was my Minister of Music. It was he and his equally amazing wife Joan who coaxed me out of my shell and convinced me to sing in front of the church. He played and sang at my wedding and reception. In the thirty years I knew him, he never changed. He was the same person in 2012 as he was in 1982. He was steadfast, and everyone who knew him became better.

He was a true keyboardist. I never heard anyone who could make the piano sing like Lloyd could. When he sat down and began to play and sing, it was a glimpse of heaven. I am sure of this. One time when Lloyd was singing in church, the sun shone right through the church's sunlight and right onto Lloyd as if God Himself were smiling down on what he heard. I sang in youth choir, adult choir, and anything else Lloyd directed. He was amazing to watch and had such a nurturing ministry presence. He was a musician extraordinaire with the heart of a pastor. You just had to love him. You couldn't help it.

In 1990, I accepted my first position in ministry as Minister of Music/Youth at a local church. Everything I did for these folks had been learned by watching Lloyd all those years. I was nowhere near the caliber of Pastor Lloyd, but he inspired me all the same.

In 2002, I had the privilege of serving with Pastor Lloyd at a local church. It was there that the dynamic of our friendship sadly changed. I will always regret how we ended things. I saw him now and again over the next 10 years, but it was never the same. Despite this unfortunate turn of events, Pastor Lloyd still inspired me as a Christian, as a minister, and as a man.

Today, Pastor Lloyd went to heaven. He had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks in the ICU. While I mourn the loss of this wonderful man, I am grateful to have known him. No man on this earth had as big of an influence on my ministry. I loved him very deeply and admired him right to the end. I always will.

Pastor Lloyd once said something that has never left me. He said, "Todd, I don't know about you, but the Lord means everything to me." That statement challenged me then, at 16 years old, and does so to this day. If you had the privilege of knowing him, you would know that what he said was true. Jesus was his life. Then his family. Then the music he devoted his life to sharing with us all.

He sang because he was happy, he sang because he was free. I would like to believe that upon arriving in heaven, Lloyd was greeted by the Lord he loved, who then showed him to the podium where he lead the host of heaven in a rousing chorus of, "Come, Praise the Lord with Me."

Pastor Lloyd, I'm sorry our friendship was tainted, and I know you have forgiven me. If I may ask a favor of you, sir, it is that you would play, "No One Cared For Me Like Jesus" when I get there.

Goodbye, my dear friend and mentor. I love you and I will miss you.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Big Hug From My Father

Ever just need a hug? too. More often than I am willing to admit. I will admit this, however, I really needed this one.

It all began during my last post, where I likened myself to the prodigal son. If you have ever read the story, you know how it ends. The father sees the son coming home, runs to greet him, then lavishes love and acceptance and restoration. My story got as far as me coming to myself amidst the pig slop and deciding that I wanted to go back. So I started back home.

My first stop was on New Years Day. I went to my good friend Dan's church and made a public recommitment of my life to Jesus. To do this with pastor Dan was very special for me. He has nurtured me through two failed marriages and a lot of other things and never failed to tell me what I was doing wrong. Once upon a time, I did the same for him.

The journey back home continued with some personal inventory. There were things in my life that were dragging me down emotionally. Long story short, I made a hard decision, took a step of faith, and the Lord confirmed it that very day with some unexpected money in the mail. I know some people don't understand why I had to make the choice I made. Some people were hurt. I deeply regret that, and perhaps I could have handled some of it better. What's done is done, and I now pray for restoration and healing.

Continuing on, I reached out to some old minister friends and was so happy to reconnect and fellowship with them. One of them pointed out something that I should have posted about in my previous blog. He said, "From what I see (on FB), you have an amazing woman at your side." He was right. I do. Maybe for the very first time. I first met Laura when I was her pastor at White Knoll. She was a struggling single mom who somehow found time to be VBS Director! I respected her and her dedication. After a time, she sort of vanished from the church and I lost contact with her. Nearly 10 years later, a woman walked into Jamestown Coffee while I was at the register. She looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't recall where I had seen her from (not as sharp as I used to be). When she spoke, I immediately recognized her, except she was 130 pounds lighter than when I had last seen her! To my utter surprise, I felt butterflies in my stomach when I saw her. She was absolutely (and still is) beautiful! I'm not sure what I said first, but it wasn't long before I said, "So, uh,  are you married? Seeing anyone?" She said no, and so I less-than-smoothly gave her one of my business cards, and told her we needed to "catch up" sometime soon. I am SO not a ladies man! But I am certain that it was love at first sight for the first time ever in my life. Laura's love for Jesus was a big inspiration to me and she has been key in helping me get my head straight for the first time in a long time.

Back to the big hug. So far all of this wonderful stuff had been going on, but there was still no hug. The father had not run to me. Or if He had, I sure missed it. One thing I have learned over the years is that God never does things the way I expect Him to. Never!


This time was no exception. I recently picked up a book from my stack of books that I "keep meaning to read." It is a book by Steve McVey called, A Divine Invitation. Dr. McVey recounts a story of a man who had gone into the wrong part of town with his wife. He knew that the men in this place would want his wife. So rather than fight for her, he asked her to go with one of the men. She did. He waited. McVey then asked, "Would you trust this man as a spiritual leader?" Hmmm.

Then McVey let the cat out of the bag. The story was about Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 12. Then I read the following paragraph,
It's an amazing (and sometimes confusing) aspect of God's grace that He will indeed use a man like Abraham. Not only was he used by God, but in Hebrews 11, as if He has completely forgotten that He already gave us the lowdown on this man in Genesis, the Holy Spirit lists Abraham as a hero of our faith. Most people wouldn't even recommend Abraham as Husband of the Year, but God lists him as a man of great faith. Apparently there is something about the way God judges people that is very different from the way most of us view others or ourselves. He looks PAST behavior and into the heart more readily than we can even imagine (page 27).
Then came my hug from the Father. His embrace was tight and hard. I didn't hear Him audibly, but I heard Him speak this to my heart, "My Todd, welcome home! I'm so happy! You just don't know! I know you have messed up, but I am NOT finished with you. All is not only forgiven, but forgotten. As I did for Abraham, I have done for you! The best is yet to come! I WILL finish what I started with you! I love you soooo much!"

He has yet to release that hug, by the way!