Thursday, October 18, 2007

27 Reasons Why I am a Conservative

1. I do not believe that Socialism can work in a fallen society.

2. I do not believe the government's IQ is sufficient to operate socialized healthcare, nor is there Constitutional provision for the government to operate healthcare.

3. I believe that Capitalism, though not perfect, is the best system for a fallen society, for it gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, and imposes no mandate to donate wealth to the less fortunate, but still allows for philanthropy out of one's own conscience.

4. I do not believe in the concept of a government mandated and controlled collection and redistribution of resources in a fallen society.

5. I do not believe in imposing higher taxes to fund easily-exploitable government programming that (supposedly) cares for the less fortunate.

6. I believe in limiting the government programming available, except for the sincerely sick, disabled, and for senior citizens.

7. I believe government programs creates as many victims as it helps.

8. I do not believe in governmental interference into private industry.

9. I believe that all civilians have the right to both own, and carry, civilian firearms, including models used by law enforcement as well as obsolete military models, and legally use them in self-defense. I do not believe civilians have the right to own or carry firearms engineered and developed for modern military use.

10. I believe the influx of illegal aliens from our southern borders is forcing more and more U.S. citizens out of work, and gradually into poverty conditions.

11. I believe the influx of illegal aliens is detrimental to the economy since the greater percentage of the earned wages of an illegal alien is contributed to Mexico's economy.

12. I believe the apathy toward illegal immigration by past presidents has resulted in industry's dependence on cheap labor. Consequently, imposing strict laws on illegal immigration now would force more and more industries to seek out cheap labor elsewhere, probably overseas in China, in the form of outsourcing.

13. I believe all borders should be closed and monitored during war-time.

14. I believe those who sneak across our borders, regardless of reason or motivation, ought to be deemed a threat to national security.

15. I believe abortion is murder, and injustice to the unborn, and consequently it is detrimental to the over-all health of our society, and should be illegal on a state level on par with its respective state's murder laws.

16. I believe in imposing a swift, cruel, and lifelong penalty for those who break our laws.

17. I do not believe a single taxpayer dime ought to be spent in attempting to rehabilitate criminals. (I do not believe in the death penalty, which is a non-Conservative position)

18. I believe the government should have very little influence in domestic life.

19. I believe that we should commence with the domestic drilling for crude oil in an effort to wean us from depending on the middle-East for our energy.

20. I believe the government should devote resources into developing a fuel alternative, and then provide their research to private companies, instead of just patting the auto-makers on the back and spurring them on.

21. I believe global warming is speculation at best.

22. I believe the mainstream media spins their stories with political significance so that Conservative policies falsely appear to have a negative impact on American society, and that depicts Liberal policies as the most beneficial to society.

23. I do not believe in student testing as a means of determining a school's efficacy.

24. I believe the way to improve on public education is to demand conformance of the teachers (not the students) to vigorous and rigid standards, and then make them rich by properly paying them the wages they deserve. In summary, good teachers equals good students.

25. I am not a pacifist, and believe war is an accepted and effective way of dealing with the unruly and destructive behavior of another country, after all other diplomatic methods of finding a resolution have been expended.

26. I believe that prisoners with information that can possibly circumvent a destructive attack where multiple lives may imperiled, may be tortured in an effort to extract this information. But the commanding officer ordering the procedure should be held accountable if the information retrieved is faulty or incomplete. I do not think we should have signed the Geneva Convention.

27. I oppose a New World Governance, or the joining of any union, or otherwise anything that threatens United States sovereignty.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

5 Christian Paradoxes

There are a few things in Christianity that I cannot understand. Listed below are five of them.

1. Job’s three friends: One quickly finds that the sin of Job’s “miserable comforters” was their accusations of Job. They wanted Job to confess a sin, apparently a sin heinous enough to warrant such a stiff punishment as Job was experiencing, and then all his trouble would miraculously disappear. When this tactic failed, it switched to accusing Job of being a hypocrite. Job had apparently helped many of the afflicted of his day, and now that he was the one being afflicted, it occurred to his friends that Job might not have the fortitude he had urged from so many others. And then, and this is the stickler, they tried to tell Job that God was God, and that his ways were past finding out, and for him to just sit back and pacifistically take these blows on the chin.

The church is like this. Every time I try to express any trouble I am experiencing to a fellow Christian, their advice is some variation of what Job’s friends said. The problem was sin’s reward, God allowing me to suffer so I could better identify with others in their suffering, or God doing something in me that I couldn’t comprehend, and I should just sit back and let it happen.

So the striking similarity between the comfort of Job’s friends, and the current Christian doctrine for dealing with various trials, prove to me to be mutually exclusive. How can such advice be contemptible in Job’s time, and perfectly orthodox in our time?

2. Job’s answers: God quickly asserted that what Job had said was the truth concerning God (42:7). But deeper study reveals that Job said a few things that the church would reject if a Christian said them today. Consider if a Christian said the following things today…

“I wish I were never born.” (3:1)

“God is trying to kill me.” (6:4)

“I wish I would die.” (6:9)

“Why should my life continue?” (6:11)

“My life is worthless.” (7:16b)

“I cannot find God.” (9:11, 23:8-9)

“The strong hold the weak in contempt.” (12:5)

“God blesses the unrighteous.” (12:6)

“God has given me to the ungodly.” (16:11)

“He has shook me by the nap of the neck and has made me a target to shoot at.” (16:12-13)

“My cries go unheard by God.” (19:7)

“God considers me one of His enemies.” (19:11)

“God blesses with wicked, and there is no benefit in serving God.” (21:7-17)

If Job’s answers, which are paraphrased above, were given by any Christian today in a trial, it would be viewed by the church as a lack of faith in God, and the unfortunate Christian would probably be declared anathema in the hearts of many of their fellow Christians. And yet, God’s own testimony says that Job said what is right about God. This is an irresolvable paradox to me.

3. Sanctification: Another process that has always bothered me is the work of grace that holiness, charismatics, and Pentecostals regard as sanctification. Oh, I believe in it well enough, but the progression, as defined by the church, seems to me out of line.

The church tells us one of the benefits of getting the baptism of the Holy Ghost is that you will receive power to live the holy life demanded of the Christian. Then cometh the paradox. One must be living a holy life before they can obtain the baptism.

Okay, this is similar to the money problems of high school graduates. How does one make money without an education, and how does one get an education without money? From a Christian perspective, how can I achieve true holiness without the necessary power to do so, and how do I obtain that power without achieving holiness first? In the same sense that, in the past, higher education was only available to those young people who were born into financially elite families, it truly sounds as if the baptism is only offered to those who were fostered in religiously elite atmospheres. Of course, today, every child goes to college. Financial means to go without actually paying, like credit, has made it easy. But God isn’t a bank, and he doesn’t give out grace loans. God has requirements, and the fact that these requirements must be met before he actually gives you the grace to meet these requirements is a paradox indeed.

4. Disproportional Teachings: Every church, it seems, teaches certain things disproportionately to other things. Some churches disregard eschatology, and lean almost entirely on evangelism. Some churches are so hung up on eschatology that they neglect to prepare its members for the end-time events they enjoy predicting so much. The same works with Christian disciplines. After eighteen years of church attendance, I just heard last Sunday, for the first time, an entire sermon given on the necessity of intense Bible study. Compare this to the hundreds and hundreds of sermons I’ve heard given on the necessity of church attendance, tithing, and other more “showy” forms of obedience. In fact, of all the disciplines of being a Christian, by far, the ones most emphasized are the ones performed in the corporate sense. Private disciplines, like personal, in-depth Bible study, closet prayer, personal emulations of Christ, sacrificial love for our fellow human being, and personal attempts at piety outside the church, are emphasized far, far less than the necessity of corporate prayer, corporate worship, church attendance, ministry support, and (this is the one that always pushes my buttons) religious extroversion.

And the shocker of it all is the church thinks it is okay in such practices. It leaves me speechless.

5. Without spot: Conservative churches tend to teach that the Christians that will inhabit Heaven will be the ones whose garments are without spot and without blemish. And of course, they dovetail enough scriptures together to assume that this means absolute moral and ethical perfection.

But who can say that? Even those who do seem to live such holy and pious lives around us, do they never have an evil thought, or an evil desire. Is every ambition and agenda in absolute perfect alignment with God’s perfect will? If not, behold, a spot, a blemish.

I cannot understand how a preacher can stand in the pulpit and say that God requires holy and perfect people to inhabit his land, and then fifteen minutes later say, “I’m not perfect, none of us are.” It is yet another paradox.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

7 Illegal Immigration Arguments

These are various arguments put forth to support illegal immigration here in the United States, along with my personal counter arguments. The illegal aliens in question are primarily Hispanics immigrating across the U.S. / Mexico border, but could be applied to any nationality immigrating to the U.S. illegally.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: Illegal aliens are doing jobs that citizens do not want and are not willing to do.

Counter-Argument: There are two counter-arguments. First, anyone who lives in industrialized areas know that only a small percentage of illegal aliens are working in third-rate jobs and they are, in fact, seeking out temporary employment agencies that will place them in factories, which were previously filled with hard-working American citizens before the offer of cheap labor by these temp agencies.

Second, if these jobs were left vacant, and the criteria to qualify for government programming were more stringent, it would amaze us at how many citizens would “want” and would be “willing” to fill these jobs. When we get hungry, we’ll do these jobs. American Citizens were doing these jobs in the seventies and the eighties, and if we desire to eat and have any kind of quality of life, we can do them in the twenty-first century. Where did we get the idea that these jobs were beneath our dignity, only to be delegated to illegal aliens? “Pride goeth before destruction…”

Illegal-Immigration Argument: Illegal aliens provide cheap labor for America’s industries, reducing their production costs and increasing their profit margin.

Counter-Argument: And who is going to purchase the products produced by the cheap labor? American citizens are the primary patron of America’s industry. Industries that put citizens out of a job in favor of cheap labor are taking money out of the pockets of those purchasing the very product they’re producing. If Jim, who works for GM, is replaced by an illegal alien because the illegal alien is willing to work for $3 per hour less than Jim, then Jim will not be able to buy a GM vehicle, and the illegal alien who displaced Jim will most likely not be interested in buying a new vehicle at all. This will lead to decreased sales of U.S. made products and will eventually lead to the abolition of the American middle-class; consequently all legal American citizens will either be financially secure (a.k.a. rich), or living in poverty.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: Illegal immigration can be humanely curbed by enforcing the laws already in place on the companies hiring the illegal aliens.

Counter-Argument: This is what I call the “sour-the-milk” strategy. Eliminate the reason illegal aliens are immigrating to begin with and they will stop on their own. The theory is, if companies are faced with real, substantial penalties for hiring illegal aliens, they will stop wanting to hire illegal aliens, and the immigration will eventually stop. This has been circumvented in the past with the idea that illegal aliens were hired through a temporary employment service, making the temp service, not the company actually working the illegal aliens, liable. With such a demand for cheap labor by America’s industry, the intuitiveness and intelligence of the companies will perpetually be able to find ways to stay under the government’s radar and will continue to hire illegal aliens. Souring the milk is a good idea in theory, but would be difficult to implement in the objective as there are always legal analysts working on ways for companies to evade liability.

Therefore I believe the enforcement of stringent laws with stiff penalties on the illegal aliens themselves, not the companies hiring them, is the only viable alternative. It is only when the risk of penalty outweighs the benefit of illegally immigrating to the U.S. will the incursion of illegal aliens be slowed or stopped. Once they realize that a company’s supposed promise of immunity from more stringent laws (and their enforcement) is only rhetoric laid out as bait to attract them, and that the bureaucratic nature of the American company has little interest in the well-being of any particular employee, especially those that are a liability and very expendable to begin with, will Hispanics who are considering immigrating illegally no longer see the risk worth the benefit.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: Illegal aliens are acting out of desperation and on their natural self-preservation instincts, since they are leaving a nation stricken with poverty and a low quality of life compared with the U.S.

Counter-Argument: Very few illegal aliens flee their country to work in the U.S. based true poverty conditions in their own countries. Most realize that a month’s wages in the U.S. will feed and clothe their families in their native country for a year or more. They are essentially making their native families rich by wiring most of their income back to their native home. Many illegal aliens who have been here working for years are happy to be deported, since the money they’ve sent home will sustain them well into the future.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: The presence of illegal aliens in our work force stimulates our economy.

Counter-Argument: Illegal immigrants tend to hoard or electronically export their money to their respective native homelands and with the exception of the purchase of minor trivialities (i.e. clothes, food, jewelry, or used vehicles), and usually make few or no substantial purchases on U.S. soil. This transfer of money into their native country stimulates their native country’s economy, and contributes near nothing to our own economy.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: Illegal immigration is only a misdemeanor, and should only be treated as such, therefore more stringent efforts to curb it, including making it a prominent political issue, greatly suggests racism against the Latino population.

Counter-Argument: This is spin. Most spokesmen against illegal immigration have friends and acquaintances that are of the Latino race. An act of immigration law enforcement against an illegal alien is no more an act of racism against the Latino race than the arrest of a Caucasian criminal is an act of racism against the white race.

Illegal-Immigration Argument: We do not need to exhibit animosity toward illegal aliens within our borders.

Counter-Argument: If someone breaks into my home in the night without my knowledge or permission, regardless of his circumstances which may indeed be desperate, I am going to regard the intruder as a threat, and take every action and precaution to neutralize that threat, even if it necessitates the use of physical force, before they can bring their intentions (whatever they may be) to fruition.

If federal law restricted me (and all homeowners) from being able to neutralize that threat, and we were forced to welcome with open arms those who have broke into our homes, the natural human emotion from homeowners would be animosity towards those who exploited such relaxed laws (as well as toward such asinine lawmakers).

What is taking place on our southern border is the same scenario taking place on a much larger scale. The U.S. is our home, and outsiders are sneaking in. The U.S. wants us to lay down our arms and welcome them. What can we exhibit other than animosity towards illegal immigrants, as well as toward our lawmakers who are introducing glorified amnesty bills that are in direct contradiction to the desires of the majority of the American population?

In conclusion, when our lawmakers enact laws that are contrary to the opinion of the majority of the citizens, is our government still to be considered a democracy? The popular (and excellent) novel by George Orwell, Animal Farm, suggests that laws made under such conditions indicate a Communist society where the government officials, instead of a “public servant” installed to enact the will of the people, consider themselves to be “elitist” who understand the issues better than the general public, and enact laws contrary to the opinion of the nation.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Small Biography

Like Hawthorne, I am disinclined to talk overmuch about myself. And yet, again like him, I feel compelled to lay down a simple, to the point, biography. It isn’t that I believe that my life is something one might find interesting, but rather I feel that I am always on the threshold of losing the memory of my childhood. And though many woes and sorrows that have plagued me would cease with a loss my childhood recollections, I find myself reluctant to let go of those memories. There were numerous happy times, but I am not convinced that a desire of their memory is the source of that reluctance. And of course, nothing brings memories to the forefront like attempting to put them on paper in written form.

Please, you would be wrong to think me introspective. I am not. Though analytical beyond what is healthy, I am not one to sit and analyze my own life. There were, and are, lives out there more worthy of analysis than my own, and it is inadvisable for anyone to waste their mental facilities in trying to draw conclusions from a life so impotent and lived so superficially as my own.

I was born in 1974, and like most, I do not remember my infancy or early childhood years. My parents informed me that I spent the first two years of my life in a small suburb in Morristown. They financed a new home and moved in upon its completion. They have photographs, so I suppose it must be true.

Ironically, upon moving out in my adult years, I have moved into the house adjacent to this home, directly across the street. But that comes later.

My father apparently became weary and rather bored of the near maintenance-free life in the suburbs, and wanted to live where he could expend his aptitude for the mechanical and the arduous. So when I was two, my mother and father bought an old, roughly 500-600 square foot, four room house in Rutledge. The home had no bathroom, and limited indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse in the back yard, adjacent to an old storage barn, about one-hundred feet from the house. This house was extremely old and drafty. My mother used to tell me stories of drinking tea or coffee in the living room on cold winter evenings, and the liquid freezing right there in the cup.

Shortly after moving in, my father and some uncles built a bathroom and rear porch on to the house. The bathroom was a welcome addition, but the house’s floorplan necessitated that one must walk through my parents’ bedroom to get to it. My father also built a quant little workshop in front to work to store his tools.

My father didn’t enlist me to help with any of the potentially dangerous chores until I was near a teenager, but I did what he thought I was able. The winter was the worst. We heated the home with a small, Warm Morning stove. Every fall, he would fell one or two of the many tall pines surrounding the house and cut them up into small logs. He would then bust it with an axe and I would help stack it. He wouldn’t let me bust wood myself until I was nearly a teenager. Every Saturday, we carried adequate wood in to heat for the entire week. My primary job was to re-fill the kindling box with kindling. My father worked at a furniture factory and brought home a truck load of ply-wood scrap during the fall of every year to replenish our kindling bin in preparation of winter. We also burned coal on occasion.

The house’s front porch was wood and terribly deteriorated. My father set to work and replaced it with a concrete front porch within the first few years.

My mother worked off and on. I remember distinctly that the domestic financial situation, though never completely sound, was always more tolerable when she was working.

I remember hot summers and cold winters. As a child and young adolescent, I frequently spent every daylight hour outside wearing only shorts and shoes during those hot summer days. Living in the country was a sheer delight for me. And though, at the time, I often envied some of my city dwelling cousins of the temporal conveniences that city life affords, I am thoroughly convinced that I was the more fortunate. I had acres and acres of clear, rolling hills and woods to tromp through. Much of the cleared land was set-aside for cattle grazing, so after their morning feeding, these fields seldom saw human activity. In fact, during my childhood, I’d wager these fields saw me more than their owner. I was moral about it, and never did anything to harm the cattle that grazed the hills.

I remember catching minnows, tadpoles, and crawdads in the creeks. I also enjoyed watching the Terrapins soak in little pools of the creek on the hotter days. I came in contact with nearly every type of wildlife that can be found in Appalachia.

I did not always enjoy these amenities alone, however. I had a first cousin very nearly my age that lived directly across the old gravel road. Though he was more inclined toward materialism, for I knew any materialistic inclinations on my part would be profoundly futile and consequently resolved that fact early in life, we shared the same love for the freedom associated with living in the country. We initiated community softball and football games in various neighbors’ yards. We rode our BMX’s up and down the gravel road. And we trampled through the woods together, in search of anything of interest. Outside the obvious inclination for mischief, which I myself did not have, we were a picture of old Tom and Huck themselves.

In fact, curiously enough, my cousin and I were never really competitive until we started gaining more and more neighbors. And, of course, the competitiveness stemmed from the fact that some of these neighbors were girls our age. We were both to young to really experience physical or even emotional attraction to the opposite sex, but we intellectually comprehended that girls and boys were meant to share some type of exclusive relationship, and that for the boys, this relationship sometimes denoted status definition. So when the local girl was courting me, I was consequently the proverbial alpha-male of the neighborhood, and likewise my cousin, when said girl undulated away from me and conspired with him, assumed the crown and all the rights and privileges thereof, though I cannot recall what those rights and privileges were exactly. I will digress here, for I do not wish to badger you with the details of this undulation. Suffice to say that it often drove wedges between my cousin and I, and it wasn’t until she moved away that our friendship regained some of its former glory.

My cousin and childhood friend was killed in 1993 in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He had driven his girlfriend home late one night, and was killed on the return trip. He would have been 21 the following December.

Quite often, I would spend time with my grandmothers in Morristown where I would interact with some of my other cousins. Here, I tapped into the inferior joys of city life. We attended a public swimming pool within walking distance. Things like stores were well within walking distance too. Being from the country, I foolishly thought that they had it all with so much close at hand. Both my grandmothers had cable television, which produced a clear, color picture that made the black-and-white picture from our old antenna look pitiful. I was amazed and envious at the conveniences city life offered.

School days were extremely torturous for me. I suffered tremendously from “Tom Sawyer” Syndrome, where I longed to be running outside, and was locked indoors for the majority of the usable daylight hours. School recess brought some relief, but ultimately only whetted an already bloated appetite for freedom. To add to my frustrations, I frequently forfeited my recess time through mischief, though I myself will admit that my mischiefs were not really malicious, but the result of a young boy who was used to unencumbered freedom trying to adapt to 6-plus hours of being cooped up in a room and being made to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

During my early childhood, neither of my parents was religious. My father frequently drank alcohol, and though my mother seldom took part in his indulgences, she did nothing to deter him. My earliest memories of my parents are not fond ones. In the summer, we frequently spent the weekends camping with my father’s family. I enjoyed this, for I was with my city cousins in a more primitive country setting. We swam in the lake, sat around the campfire, fished, boated, and basically did everything one typically does when camping. At the time, I was just at home in a tent on the lake as I was in my own house. I miss camping, and wish that it could be done today the way we did it then.

I was around 7 when my parents succumbed to the evangelistic efforts of my cousin’s father, who pastored a Baptist church, and we, seemingly overnight, became faithful, church-going people, and though I myself never developed a fondness for corporate church experiences, my father advanced to leadership positions within the local church and was eventually ordained as a deacon. This meant that Sundays typically spent on the lake were now spent in church. For a young boy whose only ambition was to be under the big blue sky, this was a serious problem. I equated it with making me go to school on the weekend. This probably contributed to my surviving distaste for church, as well as nearly all things corporate.

Around 9, I perceived and comprehended most of the principles of the Gospel and was consequently saved. But retarding the influential “Tom Sawyer” Syndrome proved impossible. I was saved during a revival service, and went to school the very next morning. I, being then extroverted beyond what I had any right to be, walked right up to my third grade teacher and announced, rather loudly, that I’d been saved. I had also resolved to give a bloody nose to the first person who said anything condescending about the whole idea. To this day, I am not sure how the Lord would have felt about my following through with this resolution, for in the scriptures, pedantic zeal of that sort is regarded as both virtue and vice, but I digress, yet again.

My fourth grade year was my most trying. Corporal punishment in schools, in the form of “paddling”, was then permitted. And my teacher was the one with the notorious reputation of over-using the freedom. This was also the first year I was introduced to the cruel punishment of “writing sentences” as well. Every offense, regardless of how trivial, provoked him to mentally flip a coin whether to deliver a paddling, or to assign the redundant writing of sentences. I received at least two paddlings a week throughout that entire school year, and I was forced to write innumerable sentences. Sometimes just merely looking at the student beside you would incur this teacher’s wrath. He was a hard man, and he stifled what little motivation I had to learn at that age. This is why I am against whippings in schools, though I am stringently for it in the home. I have never been able to adequately shake the feelings of betrayal by my parents for not taking some type of action to condemn this man, who was known to have received threats, even death threats, from other students’ parents. If a teacher treated my child the way I was treated during that year, I would have been in school board meetings breathing fire and brimstone.

Sadly, I never fully recovered from that experience, and though my desire to learn has recovered, my ability to learn and retain knowledge suffered irreparable damage during those formidable years.

The year after that was a welcome one, but became the first full year of school where I became acutely aware of the presence of peer groups and the establishment of status within those groups. Since I had no ambition to impress my peers, I quickly became a loner, with usually only a single, patronizing friend. But, to some extent, my fifth grade year also became my salvation. Though I had a television at home, and understood the idea of storytelling, I had never read a book. Hence, the only time I’d spent in the school library was when there were group activities that I was part of going on there.

That year, my school teacher read to us Where the Red Fern Grows out loud for the first 15 minutes of class. I was amazed. I looked forward to that time every day. After she read that book, I promptly went to the library and checked out another to read for myself. I couldn’t believe it. For so long I had missed being outdoors, and with this little item, it mattered not whether I was cooped up. With books, I could run through the forests again, or sail the open seas, or I could even interact with mythical creatures right there in the confines of the classroom.

A world was opened up to me that I never knew existed. Occasionally, we had a RIF day. RIF was an acronym for Reading Is Fundamental, and RIF day meant we could attack a table full of books and pick out one we wanted to keep. Needless to say, RIF day was joy unspeakable to me, who was unable to buy books then. We also had a flyer that circulated that allowed students to buy books fairly cheap. Sometimes, my parents would hesitatingly permit me to buy books from it. But we never had much money, so I wouldn’t approach them about this often. I was content to borrow books from the library.

Through my remaining school years, voracious reading was my primary pastime, especially during my free time at school itself. And to this day, that teacher stands as my favorite teacher for this simple reason alone. In fact, only one other teacher read to us, but made the critical mistake of reading us Greek mythology, which is a no-no in a small town comprised mostly of conservative Baptists. She was terminated shortly after I graduated high school, much to my dismay. But alas, it was my fifth grade teacher that fostered in me an undying love for books, for which I am eternally indebted.

In the fourth grade, I tried out for football, but quickly realized the discipline that would be required to be a competent player was more than I wanted to invest in such a whim. I decided to quit, and I regret that decision. I would give anything to have played football from my first opportunity to my last. I did play 2 ½ years of baseball. I say ½ years because halfway through my third year, my team had not yet even acquired uniforms, and I grew weary of their neglect and quit. The very next year and I would have started high-school baseball, had I stuck it out.

I have nothing significant to say in regards romance during my high-school years. I was thoroughly convinced girls did not like boys who did not have money, nor were they interested in boys whose company could not contribute to their own public image, and since I had neither money nor eminence, I didn’t bother trying. In spite of several advances by various girls, I was convinced that no girl would enjoy my company due to my financial shortcomings, my obscure interests, and my total inability to assimilate, so I either ignored them, or, politely as possible, turned them down. I was rather soft-hearted during my high-school years, and some of the more popular girls exploited that attribute to get me to give them rides home from school to avoid riding the bus. Since the area was primarily rural, bus rides were terribly uncomfortable due to poor road conditions. And, like everything else, whether or not a student was constrained to ride the bus became one of the many criteria that defined status and popularity, thus girls had no problem approaching me with their ardent requests of getting a ride home. The one time during my entire high-school era that I attempted to woo a girl was met with the predictable rejection I’d anticipated, so I suppressed any romantic notions until my mid-twenties.

Though I remember not having much money, when I was around nine or ten years old, my father was able to trade around and commandeer a dirt bike for me. I ripped woods up with that thing, and it too fostered in me a thriving love for all things racing, particularly motocross and supercross.

As I said earlier, during my fourth grade year, my academic constitution suffered irreparable trauma and crippled my ability to learn. But in my high school junior year, I was strangely faced with the sobering reality that my livelihood could be affected by this, so, all too late, I started to be more diligent in my studies, at least, as diligent as I could be. But even my best efforts only returned failing, or barely passing grades.

A close personal friend of mine was active in a local rescue service. He petitioned me to join and I did. After taking the first of the required classes, and realizing that advancement in this field did not necessarily require academic proficiency, I chose this field. I wanted to be an Emergency Medical Technician, and hopefully go on to be a Paramedic. During my senior year, I heard about a scholarship where two students were going to be sent to E.M.T. school. I did everything I could to earn that scholarship, and lo, I did. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that the awarding of that scholarship had nothing to do with merit, but rather was to be awarded to students whose family was too financially encumbered to pay for the class on their own. I was most displeased, for I had done much, believing I was meriting the award instead of simply being patronized for being “poor”.

In fact, during my entire stint in high school, the only honor I was able to achieve was that of being featured in the paper when supposedly “outstanding” students were honored. I generated a 10-page computer program on an Apple IIe that would perform linear programming, a concept taught in what was then their Algebra II/trigonometry class, in less than 2 seconds. This was pretty impressive since it took your average high school student 3-5 minutes to complete the same problem on paper. My algebra teacher, another one of my favorites, noticed this and was mesmerized. A typed manuscript of the code revealed that hundreds of calculations had to be made and maintained in order to complete this. She never understood how I could do something seemingly so advanced, but barely pass her class in spite of hours and hours of tutoring.

This honor was quickly offset by the school mandating me to attend another class. When I walked into the class, I saw my thoughts written on the faces of every student present. Apparently, students had been evaluated, and the ones that were high risk to be “blue collar” factory rats were all huddled into this class to learn about work ethic and how to perform when doing non-skilled labor. Ironically, they removed me from my computer class, a class I was genuinely interested in at the time, to attend this utterly useless and boring class.

At any rate, after high school, when I started attending E.M.T. school, my curse returned in all its original fury. E.M.T., like nursing, is a course requiring state licensing. At the time, to qualify for state license testing, one had to average 69.5% or greater on four tests given throughout the course. Surprisingly, with my inability to learn and retain knowledge, I was able to score in the high 70% to the low 80% margin on the first three tests. These test scores may seem mediocre to my readers, but to me, they reflected hours and hours of diligent study. But when I should have been studying and preparing for the fourth and final test, I suffered a car wreck, and was also visiting both my grandmothers who were hospitalized at the same time. And their hospitals were on opposite ends of Knoxville. And I also lost my job at this time.

I knew I was going to blow this test, and I did. But I didn’t figure it would be low enough to knock my average below 69.5%. It did. I averaged an even 69%, and the instructor was adamant about not letting me make up that other ½ point required. He said there was nothing he could do, that the state defines the criteria and he could not deviate from it.

I was devastated. Everything I had invested in the last five years was gone. There was no way neither I nor my parents could afford the $500 required to re-attend the class.

My work life continued to be unending frustration as well. I had acquired a job in a local hospital during my senior year of high school as an orderly. Money, though a nice perk, was not my primary motivation for getting this job, but thought this job would contribute to my getting the scholarship. Soon after graduating, and over ¾ into E.M.T. school, I lost my job at the hospital, as I mentioned before. So my current job was lost and my hopes for a job were also lost. I had to work temporarily at a Farmer’s Co-Op during that following summer, still in shock from having my entire future stripped from me.

From there, I fulfilled my school’s prophesied destiny for me, and got a job in a furniture factory. I worked there not long and moved to another, much larger furniture factory, where my father worked in fact. In nine years, I worked my way up to being in their design and engineering department. But I hit the ceiling of any advancement. So I went to trade school to learn technical and engineering drawing techniques. I had briefly worked with AutoCAD before and found the program interesting. I earned four technical certificates in drafting, AutoCAD, 3-dimensional drawing, and Parametric modeling techniques in Autodesk Inventor. I am currently working for yet another furniture factory as a CAD technician.

In the mid ‘90’s, I met a man who was a Pentecostal preacher. In appearance and attitude he was everything I did not like in a potential friend. He was stringent, dogmatic, disciplined, and worst of small, extremely intelligent. I was not in the will of God at the time, and did not want to be around him to remind me of that fact.

Well, God must have had other plans. At the time, the department I was working in had people working in teams of two. My partner and this preacher’s partner conspired and went to the boss wanting to work together. He agreed and the preacher and I wound up a team. The man I was working so hard to avoid became my working partner for a full eight-hour day, or rather night, since we worked third shift at the time.

To make a long story short, without sounding judgmental or condemning, this Pentecostal preacher led me back to God’s grace, and subsequently became my best friend. We have spent numerous hours together helping each other through some of life’s most trying times. He has since moved to Texas, but we still talk on the phone and e-mail.

I became a little narrow-minded early after my rededication, and soon saw this as an impediment of Christian maturity. So I asked God to lead me to teachers that would impart, not just doctrine, but His very heart to me. As a result, I found myself saturated in Puritan and Fundamentalist teachings, including John Bunyan, A.W. Tozer, T. Austin Sparks, and David Wilkerson. I also found myself deeply attracted to C. S. Lewis’ writings and philosophies, and esteem him as my father in the faith to this very day, following the pattern of Paul and Timothy. I own over thirty of his books. Through him, I was introduced to the intellectual feast contained within Christianity, and I became a student of allegory and metaphor, and enjoy this over all types of Biblical interpretation and study.

I began re-reading some of the books I had read as a young man, but this time with new eyes. In a Lewis documentary I watched, they said Lewis thought that the literature he read as an atheist was read, “…with the point left out.” the point, of course, being Christ. Was it coincidence that the mythologies and literary works of nearly all cultures involved a god becoming incarnate and dying, only to conquer death in the end? I wondered if I was guilty of the same mistake. And indeed, I discovered that I was.

I began asking myself, “How did I miss it before?” I took books like The Lord of the Rings, a personal favorite of mine, and thought, “No wonder the hero of the story just happens to be physically the weakest character (2nd Corinthians 12:10b). No wonder I enjoy the story of a man who was King by hereditary right, but chose instead a life of humility to fight and prove his place on his throne (Phillipians 2:7-11). ” I had met these elements before in the pages of Scripture. I will certainly digress on the profound metaphor given to me in Narnia, and its primary character, Aslan. I haven’t the room, and the reader probably hasn’t the time for that lengthy discourse. Suffice to say a door that was already open was re-opened for me.

In late 1999, my mother approached me about meeting a girl that she knew. My mother was working at a bank at the time, and this girl came to her window on regular occasions. This girl had reluctantly agreed to meet me, but now getting me to jive with this conspiracy was going to be the tough part for my mother, for no man wants to be fixed up on a blind date by their mother. I had nearly written off women at that point, though not willingly, and flat denied my mother’s request. Then she said something that changed my mind. It turned out this girl my mother wanted me to meet attended a church in Morristown known for its rigid disciplines. I found this curious, and I had always wanted to meet the man who served as her pastor at that time. This man and this church were notorious in the community as hard-nosed, long-faced holiness. The pastor was always on the front-lines fighting to oppose the legalization of liquor-by-the-drink when it was on the ballot. He never hid behind the walls of his church, but stayed in the community eye as an ambassador for Christ. I was an admirer from afar.

Long and short of it is that this girl and myself met November 5, 1999 and married May 5, 2001. I admit that this girl was exactly what I wanted in a spouse, but was unsure about the ethical ramifications of it. Should I introduce to someone else the misfortune that has plagued me all my life? Do I really want to ask someone to suffer my curse with me for the rest of my life? These reservations made me delay my proposal for months. I knew I loved her, but was having a hard time justifying this move. Ironically, I am now having the same reservations about having children, for my greatest fear is that they inherit this dysfunction. Before I finally gave in to these reservations and proposed, I made her aware of fate’s vendetta against me. We married and purchased the house directly across the street from the house I was born in, and to this day, she is still beside me… suffering.

Interesting note, the preacher who married us was the man who built the house in the 70’s, and is also the man our street is named after. He also happened to be the pastor of the church I was attending at the time.

Finally, in 2002, after throwing my shoulder out paying softball, lab work revealed I had too much calcium in my blood. My doctor wanted to remove two of my parathyroid glands in order to regulate the calcium metabolizing in my body. When they performed the surgery, they discovered a tumor that had consumed most of my thyroid gland. They removed the tumor and the entire thyroid, and I was diagnosed as a Thyroid Cancer patient that day. Residual thyroid tissue, along with any remaining molecular Cancer cells, has since been ablated using radioactive iodine, and this procedure constitutes a radiation treatment. I have now had three radiation treatments and am hoping and praying that Cancer will no longer rear its ugly head in my life.

In 2005, I lost my mother to Lung Cancer. She had always been a heavy smoker, and I knew that her years on earth was purely God’s grace as it were, so it was somewhat expected. But that made it no easier. My father has since re-married, moved out of the little house he and my mother bought when I was two years old, and has sold it.

For the sake of brevity, I have omitted most of the minute details of my past. The task of recounting those would be tedious, and far too boring to justify the effort. There are both happy and sad times to be recounted, but would require a much larger medium than can be found here. I am not even sure I could recall all the events.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Eternal Security

Among the many disputes between Christian denominations throughout the years, there has been one that has superseded all others as the primary dispute. It isn’t eschatology or ecclesiology, but rather salvation that I speak of. The endless debate on whether one can forfeit their salvation through neglect, after it is once attained.

Many evangelicals, such as Baptists, hold that eternal security, the idea that salvation once attained can never be lost, is the correct idea. While the more conservative evangelicals and protestants, like Pentecostals and Holiness, as well as many liturgical churches, like Catholics and Episcopalians, and some Independents maintain that if salvation once attained is neglected, and one does not exhibit the necessary disciplines of a Christian, then the person in question stands in danger of forfeiting their salvation.

When I am asked this question, my answer often takes my inquisitor off-guard. I remain unconvinced on either side of the debate. You will excuse me if this sounds like a rant. This will not be in-depth, and strictly speaking, is only my opinions, humbly offered, of course. I just want to bring some clarity as why I do not yet swing to one side or the other regarding the argument.

I will start with idea of eternal security being true, and that salvation cannot be lost.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I was raised in a denomination that believes in eternal security. While in attendance to this church, I noticed a great discrepancy, and indeed what some might call hypocrisy, regarding the idea of eternal security. When the subject came up, and examples were set forth of those who once lived a life of faith, but now walked in their own ways, the church’s explanation was, “If they were truly saved, then God will bring them back at some point.”

Now in principle, this makes total sense. What father, if he was able, wouldn’t make his child aware of the vice associated with abandoning family, and make pellucidly clear the consequences of such actions? Therein lay the problem. In the real world, this doesn’t always take place. I know people who were saved, backslid, and were killed in that condition. And any belief that they came back to God’s grace before their death is pure speculation, and certainly had no external reflection if they did. The formula failed. They weren’t brought back. They died in a backslidden condition, apathetic about God and his ways.

The odd thing is that as soon as this happens, these churches go back on their previous statement rather quick. I have seen the, as supposed, “backslidden” on their death bed tell visiting deacons and pastors that they were saved when they were a child. There was no inclination on the dying person’s part for renewed repentance or rededication, only an assertion that they prayed the sinner’s prayer in their adolescence. Amazingly, this gives the deacons and pastors a sense of comfort that they promptly pass along to the dying person’s family, usually with the statement, “They said they were saved, and that’s all we need to know.”

Even only a child, I stood appalled. What father is such a pushover to let someone trample his name during their entire lifetime, and then allow them into his inheritance without any question, based on the actions done during their adolescence? Would God hold him in no way responsible for this person’s lack of dedication given to the God they now professed to worship?

In fact, I have known many people personally from churches where eternal security was taught. These people were partaking in some gross sin, and when confronted the response was, “God knows my heart.” As if the effects of the sin doesn’t contaminate the condition of the heart, and that the heart remains pure and sincere in spite of gross sin on the behalf of the individual. Of course, this cannot be, for the heart is intrinsically combined with the soul and the body, and what one components does effects the other two components.

Many of these churches will also use the rationale that God will take their lives early if repentance is not demonstrated by the backslidden. Of course, this makes no logical sense to me. Paul makes it clear that, to a Christian, death is gain. So if backsliding brings about an early death without fear of additional consequences, then let’s all backslide. To suggest that the backslidden still go to Heaven, but shortens their earthly life, then it is exactly the same to me as God saying, “You have dishonored me. You have trampled my name and my grace. So as your punishment, I am going to give you your inheritance and reward early!”

That’s truly asinine.

Now many of these denominations will also say that if one’s salvation doesn’t bring about change, then salvation was never imparted to begin with. But if so, then that is, in essence, exactly the same as believing that salvation can be forfeited, only asserted differently. This also fails the “real world” test. For I have seen with my own eyes, those who come sincerely to God with a broken, repentant heart, maintain a standard of Christian discipline for decades, only to fall away at the end.

So, to summarize how I feel about the idea of eternal security being true, the answer is an emphatic “I cannot believe it.” I can never believe that God would save a child of seven years of age, watch this boy grow into a man who lives their life doing what they want to do, giving no thought to God or His ways, never practice any spiritual discipline, never take part in the Church sacraments and ordinances, never study Scripture, never exhibit restraint from sinful inclinations based on the fact that such activity hurts God, and still expect him to waltz into Heaven, no questions asked, upon his death. I could never believe that. In fact, if ever I thought this to be true, I would cease to be a Christian…

I wouldn’t want to worship a God that is such a pushover.

Now onto the idea that eternal security is not true, and that salvation can be lost.

Many conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, and liturgical churches believe that salvation once attained can be lost. Very few of these churches would agree as to how salvation would be lost. Many of the more conservative churches would say that unresolved sin upon one’s death would forfeit salvation, while many liturgical churches, like Catholicism, would maintain that leaving the church itself is synonymous with forfeiting salvation.

Ironically, among the churches that believe that a certain standard must be lived in order to procure salvation, if asked, each one would probably give you a different standard of living, under the pretense, of course, that their own standard is the Biblical prescription, and that looser standards means a loss of salvation, and that a tighter standard is fanaticism akin to cultism.

And besides all that, what standard? The only standard defined in the New Testament is in the person of Jesus Christ, and if our salvation if dependent on living just like Christ, then Heaven will be a lonely place indeed. How many people you know who can say that they, “knew no sin”?
Even the churches disagree on what the salvation-forfeiting sins is? These churches are quick to point out that Christ’s bride will be without spot or wrinkle. But are they aware that this not only includes sins that manifest, but every thought, every motivation of every activity? If anything is done for selfish gain, SPOT. If any attraction is acquired for anyone except one’s spouse, SPOT. Merely thinking of something ungodly, SPOT. If not only can you say that you have no sin, but you can say you have no inclination to sin, then you can say you are without spot, and only then can you say it.

This doctrine hardly holds theological water as well. Does it really make sense that salvation would be attained through grace and faith, without works, but retained and maintained through works and merit? If the acquisition of salvation isn’t through works, then how can the retention of salvation be through works?

Now if you not only never let sin manifest through your body into physical action, but are also never inclined to sin, are only motivated by the purest motivations in everything you do, aren’t prone to humanism, never hold angst for anyone, even for those that are trying to hurt you. If you only think of Christ, and how you can benefit His kingdom, if you are never anxious about circumstances surrounding you, nor are you ever depressed, but are always jovial and kind to your fellow man. Unless you completely lack worldly ambition, and you’ve completely dissented from everything even potentially evil in this world, which includes practically everything surrounding us, unless we have completely separated ourselves from the world we live in, with never no hope of anything ever laying hold of our heart and claiming the area of it that rightly belongs to Christ alone, we are then, and only then, without spot and without wrinkle.

How many people can say that? Not I, and at the risk of sounding judgmental, anyone bold enough to say they are truly morally perfect, I am betting that a little introspection into their life would reveal a spot. No one on this side of the grave has “arrived”. Even Peter had to be rebuked.

Now there are those that say whether or not salvation is forfeited has to do with the heart, and that whether or not salvation is forfeited doesn’t really depend on the sum of sins committed, but the level of sincerity in the heart of the person in question. That the actual sins aren’t what’s measured, but the sincerity and resolve in the heart of the convert. But in my view, this is exactly the same as what I said earlier about salvation bringing about change. Different linguistics used in an assertion of the same principle. Either the bride is, or isn’t, without spot. If I am dirty due to an activity conducive to getting dirty, regardless of my sincerity and resolve to get clean, I am still dirty.

Now regarding these two extremes, there is also a type of relativism to take into consideration. We have to consider what kind of raw-material we are saddled with before passing judgment. It is easy for a preacher who grew up in a wholesome Christian atmosphere to condemn alcoholism as a soul-damning sin. But the man who grew up in a domestic atmosphere ravaged by alcoholism may be exhibiting more restraint by restricting himself a single drink every night in the name of Christ, though he still gets hammered out of his skull, than the preacher has ever exhibited in his lifetime. In this case, based on merit, who is more worthy of Heaven? As Lewis said, if a man has an irrational fear of spiders, letting a spider crawl over his hand may require more courage than shown by many Medal of Honor recipients.

This relativism translates into the fact that the wino who acts based on a spark of conviction may be exhibiting more holiness and merit in the eyes of God than a preacher or elder who is never tempted to the vices that tug so hard at the heart of the wino.

So, for far more fundamental reasons, I must also reject the whole idea that salvation can be forfeited based on a lack of merit by the convert.

So where do I stand? Well, until I get clear revelation regarding one or the other, I am going to live somewhat more stringently than what is considered normal by most Christians today. The conservative view is always the safest when trying to protect long-term investments (but even that reasoning sounds disconcertingly humanistic, which, of course, disqualifies me for salvation, according to some, since humanism is indeed a “sin unto death”).

And besides that, I am nearly certain I will not receive any type of enlightenment as to which
argument is correct, since I am convinced by plain reason that neither idea is correct. I am sure the objective truth lies hidden between these two extremes. As Lewis said, Satan always sends doctrinal errors in twos, and will use your biases against one error to swing you into making the opposite error on the other end of the spectrum. Remember Luther's story about the drunk who fell off the left side of his horse. When he got back on, he tried so hard not to fall off the left side, that he fell off the right side.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why There Must Be a Hell

This was a question I was curious about as well until I got into a debate about God’s “benevolence” with a Zoroastrian on a message forum once.

He believed his God, Ohrmuzd, was a truly benevolent God because their doctrine taught everyone makes it to Heaven in the end. Nobody has to undergo what he called, "The Christian idea of eternal punishment."

I asked this Zoroastrian, "If I have spent my entire life rejecting Ohrmuzd, essentially sending Him the message that I do not want anything to do with Him, then how is His forcing me to spend eternity in His perpetual presence a reward and a sign of benevolence?" I do not want to spend eternity in the presence of Ohrmuzd. So how shall his forcing me to do so considered Heaven?

Keeping my reply to the Zoroastrian in mind along with thinking about the predicament the God of Christianity was in when the angels, and consequently, humanity rebelled, it is no wonder He created a Hell. One-third of the angels made it clear that they didn’t want anything to do with God, outside of usurping His throne, of course. So our God, in his benevolence, essentially gave them what they were asking for. He gave them an existence where they ruled and that was completely absent from God’s presence or influence.

And of course, we call it Hell, which term also bears strongly the weight of an undesirable circumstance "Out of the belly of Hell cried I...". But, as been stated before, any existence void of God or His influence will not have a source for joy or happiness or contentment of any kind. For God is the source for all these good things. That is why Hell is associated with pain and suffering. Outside God, that’s all that can exist.

Now, as to the question of why humans who reject God must go there, there are logical answers. First, Heaven and Hell are the only two places one can spend eternity. There is no third place. There can only exist two places. A place where God is, and a place where God isn't. Second, humans who reject God are essentially telling God they do not want anything to do with Him. God is essentially giving them what they’ve spent their entire life asking Him for, that is, they’ve been asking Him for separation from Him. The fact that Hell contains pain and suffering is a corollary. It is God’s benevolence that proves to be reason people go to Hell. Yet, ironically, agnostics and non-Christians say that, according to Christian doctrine, God’s lack of benevolence is the main reason people go to Hell.

So Heaven and Hell aren't defined by the level of hostility, or euphoria of the environment. And on a subjective level, how can any place which has God's presence not be Heaven? How can any place that lacks God's presence not be Hell? I think, as Lewis did, that those that go to Heaven will find they've always been in Heaven, and those that go to Hell will have always been in Hell.

So, in concluding, God sends no one to Hell. God gives everyone exactly what they want. If you spend your life longing for God and wanting to be in His perpetual presence, then that’s what you get. If you spend it rejecting God and wanting an existence where He, or His influence, is completely and utterly absent, then that's what you get.

That’s true benevolence.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Morality, but not Righteousness

I would like to start with a small introduction regarding “feelings” and their obvious over-emphasis in the contemporary church.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not one to emphasize feelings when it comes to our Spiritual walk. I have many reasons, but the primary one is that I’ve seen many well-meaning Christians do some seriously damaging, and even ungodly, things based on the whole ideology of having “felt” led of the Lord.

But on the whole, I think any practicing Christian can and will understand that feelings do indeed have their place in a Christian’s life. My sentiment is for those who make feelings their divine guidance system for their Christian life. The Scripture and the clear, precise leading of the Holy Spirit are the only two things that can be used for that. And incidentally, The Holy Spirit will never ask anything contradictory to the Scripture.

Now, I am as close to being as Stoic as a Christian can safely be without denial of the grace of Christ. I take Jeremiah’s Proverb very literally when it says that the heart (the emotional center of one’s life) is very deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). And I have to question anyone’s sincerity who bases something as important as their salvation on something they claim to “feel in their heart”. For feelings are very fickle, and one’s salvation must based on something much more stable than feelings.

Indeed, the place for feelings in a Christian’s life is the understanding that faith may (or may not) produce feelings, but is not a feeling in and of itself. I mention this because the devotional feeling of faith makes an intrinsic part of the subject matter of what I want to write about.

Now I want to address an issue that has bothered me for some years.

When I first gave my life to Christ in my early twenties, I soon stumbled across a series of sermons by Pastor David Wilkerson from Times Square Church. The messages were ideal for my current season of spiritual growth, which urged me to search out more of his sermons. For around five years, I essentially saturated myself with this man’s teaching. And in spite of the majority of sermons I heard from him being about having faith during various trials, that really wasn’t the thing that drawn me to this man’s ministry. It was, for a complete lack for a better word (and believe me, I’ve searched for a better word), the feeling this man’s ministry instilled during his “hard” and “fiery” sermons.

I remember the first time I heard Pastor Wilkerson preach a sermon on sin and repentance. I had been putting it off for a while. And I was intimidated before I pressed Play on the tape deck. I had heard so much about how Pastor Wilkerson was one of the few preachers left that wouldn’t hold anything back during a sermon on righteousness and holiness since the sermons of the old Puritans and Fundamentalists who led the great revivals. I thought, “Well, I expect to walk away from this sermon with only intimidation and thinking that God despises me.”

He took the stand and apologized.

I was beside myself. He openly admitted to coming to this sermon prepared to, to use his own word, “lambast” the congregation with a strong message against sin. And when he took the stand, was firmly rebuked by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Rest assured he still delivered a strong message that didn’t back down from God’s standard one iota. But for the first time ever, I sat through a message, was thoroughly convicted, and perceived an urge, a “challenge” if you will, to repent, not because we serve a judgmental God ready to fling lightning bolts at us for stepping slightly out of line, but because we serve a Savior whose heart is broken with every disobedient act we commit. By the end of his sermon (and every Wilkerson sermon on righteousness since) I could dynamically sense the pain my sin was inflicting on Christ.

I submit to you that this is rare. I do not wish to stray across the fine-line that makes me guilty of glorifying Pastor Wilkerson beyond that of glorifying God, for I have already mentioned how Pastor Wilkerson was within minutes of making the same mistake the vast majority of ministers make, when the gentle rebuke came to him from the Lord as he took the stand. Were it not for this divine rebuke, no doubt Pastor Wilkerson would have hammered on his congregation so strongly that many might have been permanently lost that night.

But even this isn’t what I want to write about. I want to write about what seems to me an even more dangerous by-product of this “hammering” type of preaching that intimidates church-goers into a moral code rather than leading them to a weeping shepherd who’s heart is broken that a sheep has strayed a little too far from the fold. I submit that one leads to righteousness, and the other leads to legalism.

Though I do not believe in following the feelings produced by our faith, I sometimes enjoy critiquing these feelings and seeing what their implications are. Often, I find myself approaching ministry with a price on my head. The Devil, for whatever reason, has seemingly made me a prime target, and I have caught what seems to be the full blunt of numerous and various attacks by his forces. Ministry ought to be a safe-house, a refuge, a place of rest and recuperation.

But too often, if I feel like Satan’s established enemy walking into church, walking out of church, I feel as if now I have neither God nor Satan as an ally in the great battle. That I am caught in the crossfire, and that neither side desires me as an ally, but just wants to neutralize me as fast as they can as not to be an impediment to their respective side in the war.

This is a source of despair to any who has felt this way. What does a Christian do when they feel God and Satan has their number?

Therein is the danger. A good humble Christian, unless he or she is completely aware of this device, will fall into a moral lifestyle that has nothing to do with righteousness. They do all the right things, not because they love the Lord and acknowledge His love for them, but because they are afraid of judgment. This is plain legalism, and even a special type of Humanism, since the end of this conformance to the Christian moral code is motivated by the Christian’s inclination for self-preservation, and not from a sincere love of Christ.

Sometimes even the preachers are sincere and well-meaning, often even asserting that the use of such tactics is not the way to get Christians to live a separated life. But in the next breath you find them slinging threats of God withholding His blessings, provision, grace, strength, and sometimes even forfeiting salvation if every component, even the minutest, of your life isn’t in perfect alignment with the will of God. The result is a flock of intimidated Christians whose only motivation for pursuing the perfect will of God is either the acquisition, or retention, of the divine benefits associated with being a Christian.

This should not be. Our motivation should be only to please Jesus Christ.

It reminds me of a story. My friend and I were discussing this in some detail years ago. We both confessed of being guilty of the same crime. When we found that we were seemingly losing ground with God, it never appeared to us that it might be God “pruning” his vineyard. We both assumed we were being punished for some monstrous, yet mysteriously unrevealed, sin that has provoked God’s anger causing him to remove blessings from us. So we both went on a demon chase. We went through every possession we had and trashed everything that even might displease the Lord. CD’s, movies, books, all were scanned through, and every one that could even potentially be considered sinful was disposed of.

Demon-hunt over, guess what? Apparently we must have missed something because the “pruning” didn’t cease. God had not revealed to either of us what the problem was, or even that there was a problem, so the clearing away was all guesswork. Books that were just vain works of fiction were trashed, CD’s where perhaps one song was candid enough not to be considered gospel was trashed. Every secular movie, gone.

But look at what we were doing. We were afraid of God. This isn’t what He wants. He wants us to fear Him, in the context of respect. But no father wants his children to be scared of him, and neither does God.

No, I imagine we hastened not our deliverance from the proverbial pruning. We probably didn’t save ourselves one single second of pain by our little house cleanings. In fact, it is conceivable that we prolonged the pruning, since the whole idea that God is like a Greek god ready to relentlessly and mercilessly trample the wicked, is probably not the point He was attempting to communicate to us through the pruning.

So there is a form of godliness that denies the power. A pious life lived by a heart-broken saint and a pious life lived by one who just wishes to meet a bunch of requirements, may look very nearly alike on the outside. But God chooses not to see the outside, but looks on the heart. And He sees that if you are trying to live the life of a saint because you are trying to escape judgment and that this is the divine currency used to buy God’s favor and benefits, I am afraid you are trapped in legalism. But if you are trying to live the life of a saint because you know that you have a savior, a friend, a confidant, and an advocate in Heaven who loves you and whose heart is broken with every sin you commit, then you are closer to Him than you yourself can ever perceive on this side of the great river.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Industry, Education, and the Work-Ethic of Upcoming Generations

In every production-type corporation, there is a small buffer between the development of a product and the production of a product. This buffer consists mostly of costing-engineers, machine programmers, and draftsmen. I am a member of this little group who lives in this tight area. I help bridge the gap between engineering and production.

This position gives me an interesting perspective when viewing subsequent generations of workers. I am constantly hearing the complaints of managers that younger workers are not driven to excel the way workers of past generations were. My own generation seemingly lies right on the threshold of this dysfunction. It seems that those who graduated high school before 1990 are not as susceptible to this attitude.

But I am not sure that all my sympathies lie completely with the industries who are trying to find and separate the wheat from the tares in regards acquiring good employees. Please allow me to explain why.

Growing up, many of us watched our parents roll out of bed five, sometimes six days a week and make their way to their respective jobs. We watched as our parents dedicated themselves to the moment, and gave themselves to their employers. Most of us also watched our parents receive layoff slips from remorseless employers when orders were low. My own generation has watched employment benefits dwindle into almost nothing; even now we are forced to take retirement into our own hands with IRA’s and 401K’s, with no promise of ever getting a return on what we currently pay into Social Security. Health Insurance benefits require 3 months of work at most places now, while more and more companies are adopting the idea of a year’s service before health benefits are offered.

In short, where is the motivation for our rising generations to adopt the work ethic of our forefathers? General laborers now face the daunting task of competing against the low wages drawn by illegal aliens, along with the constant threat of oversea production services promising cheaper labor costs forcing our general labor jobs to go to other countries. This in itself is detrimental, because even though companies pay foreigners less to do the work, domestic citizens are still their primary patron. And by giving the job of manufacturing a product to a foreigner, we take the means of buying our product away from our primary patron. We castrate, and bid the gelding to, “be fruitful”.

I’ve noticed another disturbing by-product of this. In the past, college educations were fairly rare, at least much rarer than they are today. Contemporary high school students all know that the ability to earn, not even a substantial amount of money, but merely enough to survive, is greatly impeded by a lack of a formal education beyond that of high school. A much larger percentage of high school graduates pursue at least an associate’s degree after they graduate.

This influx of college graduates has forced both high schools and colleges to adopt the practice of “drilling” instead of “educating”. When I attended Drafting school, my teacher told me that acquiring the ability to draw was only part of the course; he wanted to instill something else along with it. A good drafter has the ability to effectively communicate with engineers, who often unknowingly communicate nearly incomprehensively to anyone’s intellect but their own.

Higher education shouldn’t involve the mere cramming of one’s mind with facts, but also should mold the young mind to think a certain way. Colleges today are failing to do this, and I think the horrendous influx of students, produced by the dwindling incentive to become part of the industrial world is the cause. We have exchanged quality of college graduates for quantity of college graduates.

Think about it, in the past, only the truly gifted and intellectual superior among us were given the resources to attain higher education. This was no disparagement to those unable to attend higher education, as the means to acquire a decent living was there for the less educated. Professors did not have a “check-off” list to teach by. They taught their students how to think, and consequently the students settled into the area of expertise that seemingly suited their strengths best. For example, everyone knows I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis. Based on all the biographical details of him that I have come across thus far, none of his teachers pushed him toward studying Medieval and Renaissance Literature, but merely taught him how to read and appreciate the literatures of many cultures and eras. His own inclinations and biases drove him to specialize in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Today, his observations on that literary era are still renowned in the Oxford literary community. This is such a high contrast of what’s being done today.

Everyone who knows me knows that I have kept my political leaning no secret and that is toward conservatism. It is equally known that I would only call our current president a conservative by the loosest definition of the word I can conjure. His endeavors toward making our schools better have only perpetuated said dysfunction. Instead of government involvement, individual schools should be responsible for hiring teachers that will bring more to the classroom than a mere curriculum, and not be forced to hire teachers who will just ensure good test results. Tests are a farce. The president’s “No Child Left Behind” has put out a test that students must pass, forcing our teachers to alter their curriculum, under the guise of “accountability”. Now our students are being taught what to think, instead of how to think. Our teachers, instead of creating citizens who are culturally aware and flexible to the world’s changing attributes, are simply “teaching to the test” in order to avoid reprimands. Drilling, instead of teaching, is the better word for what’s being done in our public schools today.

These dysfunctions are creating generations of people who want their endeavors, and their consequence to be cut-and-dried. They want their jobs to be on their terms, and the first thing they do when implanted in new positions is to re-wire the job to suit them, instead of adapting and endeavoring to give their superiors what they want. Potential employees want their employment to be on their terms to the extent that few, if any, employers can completely comply. Instead of producing quality, talented workers with the constitution, motivation, intelligence, intuitiveness, and skills to adequately perform their duties, we are creating employees who are self-absorbed and just want to know how their employers can benefit them. The responsibility of this dysfunction lies squarely on the shoulders of the public school system, in my opinion.

When the job market and education learn to disassociate from one another, and when higher-education establishments teach students the art of thinking, instead of just cramming facts into their heads so the next benchmark test will reflect favorably, most of the problem will leave us. Otherwise, things will continue to progress the way they are now. Bob, whose job is now being performed by a Chinaman 7,000 miles away, will not have 5 bucks to buy a gallon of milk, putting Charlie, who works at the dairy farm, out of a job. So now Charlie, who needs a new car, will not be able to go to the Buick dealership and buy new, putting Rick, who works for GM, out of a job. The dysfunction is progressive. The actions of industry, coupled by the inclinations of the public school system will determine the outcome. America’s industry will soon suffer tremendously for it. In my opinion, the cessation of outsourcing for price purposes, along with the constraints imposed on our unskilled laborers produced by this outsourcing, combined with a cessation of government interference into our public schools is the only cure.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Restoring the Ichabod Church to its Former Glory

Genesis 28:10-21, 35:6-7 & 1st Samuel 4:3-5:2

Jacob had already experienced God. Like many of us, he grew up with a religious upbringing. And he even knew what it was like to experience God for himself. As he lay on the stone, he saw the vision of the angels ascending and descending. Awake and trembling, he dubbed the place “Beth-El” which means, “The House of God”. He was, as of this moment, a church-goer, who was acutely aware of the presence of the church. He was no longer just coat-tailing his father’s and grandfather’s legacy. He knew that a supernatural Providence had crashed in on his reality. But he still needed another experience.

Many of us are tempted to let the church be central to our Christian lives. We are especially susceptible to this if fellowship and corporate worship are the things we are naturally inclined to. And to be honest, most Christians are inclined thus. Most Christians place faithful church attendance as a higher priority than regular, in-depth Bible study and quality, isolated prayer-time. Most Christians chisel out adequate time to attend at least one weekly service and the majority of true born-again believers attend every service their respective church offers. And yet, the vast majority neglect to spend quality, and quantity, of time in prayer and the studying of Scripture.

Preachers today even focus on the necessity of church-attendance at the expense of other Christian disciplines. Pulpit rebukes for being inadequately fluent in the scriptures are getting rare, as is reprimands for neglecting to get into the presence of Christ daily. But the quantity and vehemence of rebukes for neglecting church attendance are still strong. But this over-emphasis can lead to something dangerous.

Jacob knew the House of God, but he did not yet know the God of the House. Granted, they are located in the same spot, but different actions are required to acquire the apparatus to see each. The vision of the ladder gave Jacob the understanding to recognize, “… this fearful and wonderful place must be none other than the house of God.” simply because he saw celestial creatures about their business. But when he was fleeing Esau, he called the very same place, El-Beth-El, “The God of the House” in Genesis 35:7 because, “there God appeared unto him.” It is not enough for Christians to see The House of God, they must see the God of the House. You see, the current disproportionate emphasis on the church that is prevalent today can cause what I feel is the largest case of idolatry among contemporary Christians, Worship of the Church.

Before you snap to disagreement with me, ask yourself these questions. How do I inquire if someone is in the will of God or not, or if they are saved or not? Do not most Christians ask, “Are they in church?” as if being “in church” automatically made them in alignment with Heaven’s agenda? But this is not the case. Church attendance, and church participation, is not what makes a man or woman in the will of God. Church attendance is a mandated, and good, practice for Christians. It is the over-emphasis that I hold disdain for.

Jacob’s case is the most direct example I can find in scripture, but there is another that is more subtle. It is in the story of Eli the priest just before the reign of King Saul. Eli neglected to foster discipline and order in his sons, who perpetually plagued him with their indiscretions. Being a priest, he knew the Ark of the Covenant was the manifestation of God’s presence and that when the Ark preceded the army to war, the army couldn’t lose. One day, in Eli’s old age, the dreaded thing happened. The candle (representing the Holy Ghost) went out, and The Ark was taken by the opposing army. At the shock of the news, a blind and elderly Eli fell dead, and a child was given a very morbid name, “Ichabod”. Ichabod essentially means, “The glory of the Lord has departed.”

Shortly after the ark was taken, Saul was instilled as king. Saul obeyed God at first, but never asked God about the ark. He never thought, “Well, now that I am king, perhaps God wants the Glory to come back to Israel. Maybe the first thing God wants me to do is reclaim the Ark and bring the glory back to Israel.” Instead Saul sought the prestige and the reputation commonly associated with being king. He was more worried about feeding his men than obeying God. He let Agag the king of the Amalekites live, and allowed some of the cattle to live in order to feed his army. Those who have sympathy for Saul’s plight must realize that his heart wasn’t right in the first place. He wanted the prestige, and missed the principle.

Keep in mind that in the camp, the sacrifice didn’t cease. The Levitical priesthood went along just as it always did since being instilled by Moses. All the priests did the sacrifices and wore their ordained garments. They washed their hands and feet and burnt the fat. They dipped the blood and carried the coals from the sacrificial alter to the incense alter. But there was no Ark. There was no glory. It was the vain observance of ordinances. All the obedience in the world is useless unless the Ark is in the tabernacle.

This is a remarkable picture of the today’s church. To watch the church, it looks very much the same. Songs are sung, preachers preach, and people go through all the motions. But where is the glory that followed the original church? Appearance-wise, it looks the same, but where is the impact? I do not necessarily mean miracles. When Elijah passed Elisha, he merely got a touch of Elijah’s mantle, and it whetted Elisha’s hunger for righteousness so much, that it led him to ask for a double-portion in the end. Why isn’t the world being touched with our mantle, why aren’t they saying to us, “If I could get a double-portion of what you have, I’ll be satisfied.”

King David had the right idea. As soon as he assumed the Kingdom, he wasn’t concerned right away with conquering kingdoms and acquiring the land promised to his forefathers the way Saul was… No… He wanted the glory back. His priority was getting the Glory of God back into the camp. He knew that Beth-El needed to be El-Beth-El again. He needed the God to be in the House of God again.

Next time you are in church, do this. Look around and ask yourself, how many of these people have a real, vibrant, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ? How many are here based on a sense of obligation or at the urging of family tradition (I was raised in church) How many see this place as Beth-El and how many see this place as El-Beth-El. Don’t do this long, since church is the place where you are supposed to focus on man the least. But take a little time and ask yourself these questions, then ask the question regarding yourself. Why do I go to church? Why do I really go to church? Routine? Family? Friends? Looking for a mate?

Bring the glory back into the camp. The sacrifices and obedience will have no meaning unless the God of the House is in the House of God.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

My Library

This is my library.

An actual listing of my books can be found here.

Here are ten random books from my library.