Archive for June, 2009

My Testimony

June 30, 2009

Warning: The following discusses some mature topics. Skip to the next entry if you’re easily offended or young.

I was recently asked several questions about what I believe about Jesus. The short and sweet version is that I believe Jesus is God, that he died to pay for my sins, which are the highest possible crimes against God: treason and rebellion. The more interesting question, however, is how I came to believe this, and what else I believe.

I feel a bit of conflict about how to tell my story. I have been advised in the past to not mention specific denominations of churches when discussing personal experiences. On the other hand, I think it is quite relevant. So, I will say this as I start: I will be talking about specific churches, specific pastors, etc. However, I think that there is a chance that some people may read what I have to say and recognize that there is a possibility for improvement.

I was raised from a small child in an Episcopal church. I don’t remember a lot about growing up. What I do recall was that the services were the same every week. Literally. They’re in the Book of Common Prayer. As a child, this quickly became boring, especially when most of the service was memorized. Unfortunately, I cannot recall learning what it was that made us Christians. I knew Jesus had died and been resurrected, but I didn’t know why. By around age 13, I was not sure God even existed.

At around this time, my parents also got divorced. I started going to church less often. I got exposed to Tarot cards, numerology (silly), and I Ching. Tarot was fascinating to me. Soon, I didn’t go to church at all, but instead was going to college. I majored in math, and minored in philosophy. In other words, I majored in logical thinking with a minor in logical thinking. In my third year, I started investigating religion again. I was fascinated by Native American totem worship. It seemed fascinating.

My first girl friend, in my second year of college, was into using “power” for combat. She was into the occult. Some variation on paganism. I started playing with it some, but couldn’t tell whether it was in my head or real. I didn’t have a way to test it.

Later, I also got involved with BDSM and got a new girl-friend. In the course of masochistic play, I experienced some animalistic thoughts/reactions. Pain will do that to you. It occurred to me to wonder if this was some sort of spirit. After a while, I was conversing with this “panther spirit”. Yes, “WingedPanther” is partially a result of that. At this time, I started seeing auras. The were related to health, and could be manipulated. I conducted some experiments with my girlfriend and was able to confirm that the manipulations did affect her. Moving pain around, relieving it, things like that. From there, I explored further. By the time I graduated, I was hanging out with self-proclaimed pagans and wiccans. We talked slightly differently, but were all doing the same things.

Being in the occult is a heady thing. You feel like you have this special power that most people don’t have. It makes you feel special, knowing that you can do things no one else can. At the same time, I was getting my monthly torture session to deal with how rotten I felt about myself. Power didn’t make me feel happy. At this point, I believed I was channeling a totem spirit, dueling imps, and generally “big man on campus” in the spiritual realm.

As I moved into grad school, I started to realize that I wasn’t in control of the spirit I was dealing with. By November of that year, I felt trapped and wanted to have no more dealings with that spirit. It wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t force it away. I didn’t have any power. On night, when I tried to make it go away, and failed, something else drove it away. I had the impression of a white light. I concluded it was God.

A friend lead me through the sinner’s prayer and told me I was saved around Christmas. It sounds great. There was a problem, though. I didn’t believe in Jesus, just some abstract God. On the following Palm Sunday, I felt prompted to go to the church across the street. They did a special drama about the sacrificial love of God. I wanted that love and came to the front of the church during the altar call. Again, I was told I was now saved. Again, I didn’t believe in Jesus, just a God that could love me.

During the year I was in that church, which was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, I was praised for what an inspiration I was and the remarkable growth I had shown. I got baptized after a year, and eventually came to accept that Jesus was real, and was the son of God. I left that church because I could not bring myself to witness during a witnessing campaign on campus. You see, I still wasn’t a Christian, and I couldn’t bring myself to witness.

Instead, I went back to the Episcopal church. I learned that whether the church is flashy with speaking in tongues, or reserved with ceremony, a church could feed its flock. I got my masters and moved. Things didn’t go well and I quit going to church. I got back into BDSM. I got angry at God. I wanted to get into the occult again, but knew that was a bad idea. Instead, I started running into Christians in weird places. At work, in BDSM chatrooms, just about anywhere. Don’t ask why they were in these places, but they were.

Meanwhile, my personal life was getting worse. I was broke. Someone I thought was my friend was extorting money from me. My food budget was $10-$20 dollars a week. Finally, I cried out to God for help. There was no doubt in my mind that He was real. This time, a Christian I met in a BDSM chat room lead me to Jesus and made sure I knew what I was praying. This was in early spring of 1999.

At this point, most people’s testimonies end. Mine doesn’t. I moved from Minnesota to South Carolina to start a new life. I floated between a few churches, all variations on Baptists. I also started reading like crazy. Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Kingdom of the Cults, and The Bible. I spent the next few years studying, learning as much as I could about Christianity.

I had faith, but I was in a form of Christianity that is not very appealing. What did I get? I got to go to church every Sunday morning. The only real advantage, from my perspective, was that there was teaching. I was learning about the groundwork of Christianity. One thing that I didn’t really learn about was the activities of the Holy Spirit.

That changed when I married my wife. She was raised in a Pentacostal church. She was used to seeing people get healed, speaking in tongues, etc. I had never seen anything more impressive than what sounded to me like babbling. Not long after we got married, our church fell apart. It’s still there, but the church got ripped in half with internal strife.

We spent a lot of time trying to find a new church. Methodist, Baptist, anything that looked vaguely sane. Finally, we saw a taped preaching and went to that church. It was similar to Pentacostal, and the teaching was sound. We went there for a few months. It was a church where anyone could walk in and be welcomed. We got revitalized and reminded that the Holy Spirit is real. Then we got invited to a Vineyard church. There, we found a strange church. The preaching was similar to a Southern Baptist church, but the expectation was that the Holy Spirit could and would act.

At the Vineyard, we learned more. We learned, and experienced, God acting in supernatural ways. I have had the honor of praying for my wife and friends and seeing them experience healing. Nothing major, but more than I would have every believed. I have heard God tell me things that I could not know, and show me visions of the future that I could not of predicted.

If someone were to ask me, how do you know Christianity is true, I could not point to anything but personal experience. However, when I read the book of Acts I see things described that correspond with my experiences. There are a lot of books on explaining why Christianity is true, and they are worth reading. I am a Christian because God called me. He called me for years. I studied the reasons to become a Christian AFTER I got saved.

There are intelligent men and women who know all the reasons to believe in God and Jesus, and manage not to. There are people who are firm believers, and could never begin to explain a rational reason to believe. When I was an atheist, I didn’t want to believe, but knew the Bible was special. I couldn’t read it, though. I saw arrogance and anger in it. Now I read peace and love.

If you believe there may be a God, pray to him and listen. Investigate, ask questions. If you are convinced there is no God, keep your eyes open for weird stuff.

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We’re Broke!

June 26, 2009

By “We”, I mean the United States.  At last check, we owe over 11 TRILLION dollars.  Compare this with the US GDP of 14.3 trillion dollars, and you may realize how big a problem that is.  To pay off our debts to the world in one year, we would have to tax about 80% of everything!

The reality is that the United States federal government needs to tighten its waistband and get serious about getting out of debt.  Just like getting out of personal debt is hard, especially when you have bills, getting out of federal debt will be hard.  If you want to know how you can deal with your own debts, visit Dave Ramsey’s site.  The federal government could follow his plan as well.

Here are a few things I see as immediate steps to take:

  1. No loans to anybody.  We’re broke.  They can borrow it from China, just like we did.
  2. Stop making payments to other countries for stupid things.  Don’t give food to dictators, even if the claim is that it goes to their people.  Don’t give money to dictators, even if the claim is that it goes to their people.  Don’t give money to perform abortions(!), even if it’s supposed to help population control.  We’re broke.  Throwing away money on this stuff is like spending $70/plate on dinners when you can’t afford Burger King!
  3. Now we start getting to the painful stuff.  Things like: get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts.  I know art is important, but if their art is actually all that good, people will pay for it.  If someone like Maplethorpe can’t find buyers, maybe he should consider a career as a stockboy at Wal-Mart.
  4. Stop funding PBS.  I know, I know, we might lose Sesame Street.  News flash: there is SO MUCH educational programming on TV that we can make it.  I don’t hear anyone bemoaning the loss of the Electric Company (now that was great TV!).  Cable and satellite have introduced so many channels that PBS is pretty well covered.  And don’t talk to me about it being “commercial free”.  Every science program seems to be supported by GE, DOW, or some other huge corporation… and “people like me”.
  5. Dismantle the Department of Education.  First of all, there is absolutely NO constitutional basis for its existence!  Education is the responsibility of the states.  Having a Federal Department hasn’t changed the fact that the US performs embarrassingly poorly in education against other nations.  Building the self esteem of an illiterate, innumerate third grader is a waste of time.  Teach the kid how to read and add, and the kid will start to feel better.
  6. Make the unionization of government employees illegal.  I remember a teacher’s strike when I was a kid.  I’m sorry, but if we aren’t paying teachers enough… the teachers can get another job!  It’s what I did.  Paying someone $100,000 per year when they wouldn’t be qualified for more than $40,000 in any other job suggests to me that someone is over-paid.
  7. Now we come to the really painful things.  Things like: gut all federal entitlement programs.  It is NOT the job of the federal government to pay welfare, regulate wages, pay medical benefits, pay retirement benefits, etc.  Social Security is a ponzi scheme.  If it was a private company, it would be ILLEGAL!!!!  We know it’s a failure.  Let it DIE!  Medicare, medicaid, etc. can go right with it.  Let state governments take care of their unemployed.  Let state governments regulate wages if they want.  $8 an hour is a decent wage in South Carolina.  It’s an insult in New York City.  Let local economies determine fair wages.  Heck, then we might be able to compete with illegal immigrants for jobs!
  8. Privatize the USDA.  Heck, privatize a LOT of the federal agencies that do useful work but are hamstrung by ridiculous rules from politicians.  Many federal agencies operate as if they were unionized, with all the ridiculous rules about how to fire someone who doesn’t do any work.  Privatize many of these agencies and they’ll get lean and mean.  The main job of the USDA is to report prices of farm goods.  I’m sure people will be willing to pay for that information if their taxes are lowered.  If not, well, maybe the information just isn’t that useful these days!
  9. Privatize the Post Office.  Maybe it will finish dying.  Then UPS and FedEx can deliver your letters.

At this point, you probably have the idea that I want a radically smaller government.  You’d be right.  The federal government has one main constitutional purpose: to deal with foreign governments through diplomats and the military.  90% of federal spending should be on those two areas.  NASA is cool, but it can either be privatized or made part of the air force.  The FCC does some good things, but we all know how well the digital transition went.   We also know what kind of trash is on TV.

If the federal government tightens its belt, we can get out of debt in a few years.  Adding trillions of dollars in new spending will NOT do that.  I do not look forward to our bankruptcy hearing.  It won’t be pretty.

Ephesians 5: Abused Chapter

June 20, 2009

Ephesians 5: 22-24 is possibly the most abused three verses in the Bible.  If anyone wants to find evidence for misogyny in the Bible, this is generally the first place to go.  The fact that sexist preaching is common with these verses doesn’t help any.  Worse, many people forget to keep reading on to verses 25-33.  Convenient that.

Before discussing Ephesians, let’s go back about 4000 years to Genesis.  In chapter 3, we find Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation.  This culminates with curses upon the serpent, man, and woman.  Gen 3: 16 “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'”  Please note the nature of the curse.  Childbirth will suck, there will be a desire for her husband, and he will rule over her.  The word for desire here suggests a yearning or stretching out after.  Realize that this exists in the context of a curse.  This will be a yearning for something that is resisted or entrapping.  It is only in a cursed state that women are subjugated to their husbands.

Moving back to Ephesians 5, let’s start one verse early: 21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This is the prelude to the discussion of the marital relationship within the context of being Christians.  Further, part of Christianity is being redeemed.  The context for verses 22-33 are found in 21.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Husbands are to submit to their wives.  Wives are to submit to their husbands.  Whatever statements follow CANNOT violate this principle.

We reach 22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”  If you were to stop reading here, and forget that we are looking for the curse to be lifted, this would seem to cement the subjugation of women to men.  However, verse 23 immediately turns this idea on its head, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”  How was Christ the head of the church?  He DIED for it.  He sacrificed himself for it.  He gave up his dignity, his station, his rights, everything.  The husband is to, as in verse 21, serve his wife.  This is further reinforced in verse 25, “Hustbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”.

Here is the simple reality, for a wife to be a “slave” to her husband is for her to be under a curse, and unloved by her husband.  To enslave your wife as a maid and sex object is unloving.  Instead, you should be looking to serve her.  Doing the dishes, cooking, doing a load of laundry, these are things you can do to help your wife out.  Christ washed the feet of his disciples, the nastiest job a servant could be assigned, so you can certain massage your wife’s feet.

Finally, in verse 33, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”  Men, wives need an emotional bond with their husbands.  You need to cherish her, lift her up, make her feel special.  Courtship doesn’t end when you exchange vows.  Women, husbands are fragile, insecure beings.  The need to know you respect them.  It isn’t enough for you to love them, they desperately need your respect.

It is possible that anyone who has read this far may think I’m full of it (and you know what “it” is).  I’ve been married for six years now, and I can tell you with certainty that my wife’s respect for me is a powerful support.  I care more about her opinion of me than anyone else’s.  I can also tell you that one of the greatest honors in my life is to help my wife.  My wife is a good cook, but I still like to cook for her from time to time.  The chore I enjoy the most, however, is changing the kitty litter.  She has a keen sense of smell, while I don’t.  Further, kitty litter is heavy.  For me, I think changing the litter for her is a chance to save her an unpleasant chore.

Love on your wife.  It’s a wonderful feeling, and she will respond.  Love her.  It’s a verb, not a feeling.  Love her.

Nature vs Nurture: the Gay Debate

June 18, 2009

Ultimately, one of the key questions in all debates about the place of homosexuals in society is, “What causes homosexuality?” If it is genetic, the result of hormonal imbalances in the mother’s womb, or some other natural process, then there is an argument that can be made for some form of “equal rights”. On the other hand, if it is the result of mental trauma, conditioning, or some other reversible trend, then there is an argument that can be made for treatment.

Here’s what we do know. 1) There are several organizations that claim to be able to treat homosexuality with various success rates. They have lists of people who they claim to have treated. 2) The APA has removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. 3) Many homosexuals report being aware of no particular trauma, abuse, or other “cause”, and say they have “always felt this way”.  However there is a high incidence of being sexually abused as a child among male homosexuals. 4) Some mental disorders appear to be genetic/physical in nature, but can be effectively treated through medications and therapy. 5) Many people report having various phobias, anxieties, etc with no awareness of the cause (through repressed memories or other reasons) that can be very effectively treated through therapy.

Ultimately, there are a few problems with the claim that homosexuality is genetic/otherwise physical.  First, the only true evidence we have of it is unusual behavior, and some brain scans.  The brain scans establish a correlation between homosexuality and cross-gender brain structures, but not causation.  That would require longitudinal studies, which do not appear to have been performed.

Second, suppose it is genetic.  With the advances that are being made with gene therapy, fetal genetic testing, etc, it merely changes the nature of potential treatments.  It also introduces the possibility that people might start testing for the “gay gene” and aborting potentially gay babies.

Overall, however, I think it is more useful to look at how fetishes develop.  I suspect many of them develop slowly during puberty.  When hormones take off, it’s natural to start constructing fantasies.  Each person develops their own fantasies, and some of them are more unusual than others.  People can have those fantasies slowly strengthen into compulsions, where they have to indulge in the fantasy to experience pleasure.

Now, if someone notices that the same gender is sexually appealing, and embraces the thought rather than avoiding it, this could become a strong compulsion.  Obviously, I don’t think homosexuality is genetic.  Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, however, doesn’t change the fact that it can probably be treated either now or in the near future.

The question becomes whether acting on homosexuality is healthy or not.  Homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders, but for men, engaging in homosexual sex is not healthy.  AIDS brought an uncomfortable level of awareness of the hazards of STDs among gay men.  The same cannot be said about gay women, for obvious reasons.

Ultimately, everyone has to deal with an unpleasant part of reality: we can’t do everything we want.  That means we can’t take money from others.  We can’t hit someone just because we’re mad.  We can’t do a lot of things.  Me, I’d really like to be able to live without working.  Programming for fun would be a lot of fun.

Without self-discipline, all of society would fall apart.  Every person has to turn down or delay getting many things we’d like.  Desire does not require action.  If it did, every high school classroom would be the site of a teenage orgy.

Unfortunately, the reality is that people are very good at coming up for excuses for why they should be able to do something they shouldn’t.  People come up with reason for why it’s OK to gamble away their money instead of pay their mortgage, why it’s OK to buy a big screen TV instead of pay alimony or child support, etc.  We convince ourselves that wants are actually needs.

Regardless of what we want, we can’t have everything.  Your ability to want things will always exceed your ability to get things.  If you focus on sex, you will find any variety a ways to want things you shouldn’t have.  We hear too many cases of rapists, pedophiles, and a variety of other people who want sex with people they shouldn’t.  Rape is never OK.  Sex with children is never OK.  The desire doesn’t matter.  Some things are simply wrong.  If a desire is wrong, you have to deal with that by denying yourself.

Ultimately, homosexuality is an affliction of desire, just like many others.  For myself, I would like many things: wealth, more time to read, a better computer, a bigger house.  Ultimately, those things wouldn’t bring me happiness.  I will never run out of books to read.  There will always be a faster computer.  There will always be a bigger house.  If I spend my time chasing those things, I am more likely to make myself miserable than happy.  Self-denial hurts, but indulgence hurts worse.

Country Club Christianity

June 7, 2009

What is the purpose of going to church?  If you ask someone, they will usually pull up a verse about “not forsaking the fellowship of the saints” or something similar.  Churches are a side effect of Christians getting organized.  If you and two friends are reading the Bible together, you are having fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

About ten years ago, I moved from Minnesota to South Carolina.  In the process of making that move, I was introduced to a radical concept: meeting more than once a week for church.  I had never been in a church that met more frequently than Sunday mornings.  However, while this can be a good thing, it is not universal.

A couple years ago, my wife and I looked for a new church.  This was, perhaps, the single most disheartening experience I’ve had in a long time.  We visited several denominations.  The churches we visited varied from the overtly misogynistic to the utterly boring.  We finally landed in a church that breathed some life in us.  It actually welcomed anybody, even those who looked like former bikers.  It was lively and refreshing.

We then found a good church (where we are now) that combines solid Biblical teaching with allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way.  If that sounds weird, we can work against the Spirit.

All of this sets the stage for last week’s murder of Dr. George Tiller.  I think his murder was a terrible thing, and I think the murders he performed on babies who could have survived outside their mothers’ wombs was equally horrible.  Murdering a murderer is still unjustified.  I’d have been happy to see him in jail.

The thing about Tiller’s murder that struck me, however, was its location.  Somehow, this man who performed the most unchristian act possible, was gunned down in a church.  No one seemed to think this was strange.  Jesus was very clear that we are to protect children, not ignore them and definitely not kill them.  Somehow this man, who was doing everything to get him excommunicated from every church in the nation, was a respected member of a church.

You may be wondering what all these things have in common.  It’s fairly simple.  There are a number of churches that have stopped worrying about what’s in the Bible and started worrying about making people like them.  I’ve visited a variety of churches that make no effort to confront people with their sins.  The result is a sort of “Country Club Christianity” that’s like a Kiwanis club meeting on Sunday mornings.  You pay your dues and get to feel good about yourself, then go on a be a jerk the other six days of the week.

Pastors, if you don’t want to confront your congregation about the sin in their lives, please do something useful, like sell used cars.  Jesus said the gospel would bring conflict.  Congregation members, if you are not there to learn about God, please stay home.  Read the book of James, it will talk a lot about things like treating the poor and rich the same, and how to deal with when tough times enter your life.

Church isn’t supposed to be about hanging out with buddies and looking good.  It’s about God.  God is about holiness.  If you are making a lie of your life by going to church, please change your life.  You’re missing out on blessings.  If you want a country club, join Kiwanis or golf.