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 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.