Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Call to Sensibility

People in America need to realize that minority/majority discrimination extends to much more than white, black, and all the shades in between. I’m talking about ethnic conflict.

We’re diverse enough here that it’s quite obvious when there’s racial tension going on, and it goes on a lot. But look at the rest of the world: our accusations of racism towards each other seem quite petty when compared to the genocide that goes on elsewhere for more subtle ethnic reasons. All of even the most violent hate crimes in America do not compare in magnitude and body count to the unimaginable atrocities committed under the orders of men such as Adolf Hitler, Jozeph Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein, among others.

Here in the United States we live lives that are typically free of the fear of tanks rolling down out streets and death patrols coming to take us away for being slightly different than the ruling party’s definition of “the norm”. Here we have freedoms. We have time to pursue lives in which the daily routine does not consist of eking out a meager survival in a bombed-out neighborhood while dodging rockets launched by either side.

And what do so many of us Americans do with these blessings? We squander them on juvenile squabbling and finger-pointing.

Living here in this great nation, many of us become so insulated from the outside world that we pay no heed to the suffering of our brethren abroad. Yes, I know sometimes the prejudices get out of hand, but it has never been as bad in the States as it has been in myriad war-torn places around the world. When I look at Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central and South America, and certain parts of Europe, I feel like I have *nothing* in my life to complain about compared to what those people have to go through on a daily basis.

My fellow Americans, please, put aside your differences peacefully. You can be the one on whose end the heated disagreement ends. Don’t always feel that you need to “prove yourself right” on a personal scale. There’s so much good that we can do in our country and in the world if we stop turning out backs on each other and stand together. As a unified front, we can show the world that there is a spark of goodness left in humanity. We can bring the world back from the brink of annihilation and restore sanity and compassion to the human race. The world needs a role model to show it how to heal. What nation but the United States of America, the “Great Melting Pot” is better suited to this role?

As a nation that has experienced much strife but even more triumph, the duty falls to us to use the blessings that we have been given to not only better our own lot, but to show the world what humanity can one day become. So let us now come together, not as racial groups, political parties, or economic classes, but as Americans, and together change the world for the better.

A Personal Testimony

Here’s the story of how God saved me from one of the darkest times of my life, and then used that experience to make an impact for His kingdom. In case any of you are wondering, this is a true story, retold to the best of my ability to remember the details.

The first part of this story deals with me being deceived by the forces of darkness, and consequently, me becoming obsessed with the occult.

As I recall, I was in about the 6th grade at the time. This was back when I was still going to Prairie Heights. The “Harry Potter” phenomenon was just picking up at the Middle School.

*NOTE*: This is not an attack on the Harry Potter books specifically, but a warning to beware that which might lead you away from God’s straight-and-narrow path.

Anyway, at first I thought it was just another fad that would quickly pass, and that I might as well ignore it. But then some of the people whose opinions I (somewhat) respected (teachers, relatives, etc) said that they read the first book and recommended it highly.

So I finally meandered over to the “New Releases” shelf, and checked out a copy. To say that the style in which it was written was captivating would be an understatement. But you see, that was also the problem – it was so captivating that it led me down a false path of darkness, and away from God. My mom started noticing the problem around the time that I was going through the second book. She prohibited me from bringing the books into the house – but I snuck them in anyway, thus disobeying her and God. I finished book #4, the thickest of the books at the time with approximately 475 pages, in 2 days.

But the core of my problem was not simply me reading a best-selling series; it was where the series led me. I had become completely obsessed with all things occult, arcane, and magic. The only books that I would read were ones that dealt with witches, mages, sorcery, spellcasting, thaumaturgy, divination, curses, etc. The obsession didn’t end at reading materials, however. I had also begun to research my own spells and create astrology charts for the purpose of divination. I was drunk on a sense of power and mystery, and Satan kept buying me more rounds, so to speak.

Of course, while I wallowed in that abyss that I carved for myself, there were people who saw what was going on, realized it was a serious problem, and were praying for me. One person in particular was my mom. She was working as a freelance writer at the time, writing book reviews and devotionals for Christian magazines. One of the books she was reviewing at the time was called “Really Bad Girls of the Bible”, by Liz Curtis Higgs.

Now I have always been an avid reader, so one day as I was walking through the house, thinking of what new kind of sorcery to look up, I noticed this book laying on our dining room table. Being curious, I picked it up with the intent of briefly skimming through it. As I glanced at the table of contents, I noticed something about a witch. My curiosity was piqued; I immediately flipped to the indicated page, and proceeded to read about the witch at Endor (not the Star Wars planet), and how God prohibits any practice of magic, since it’s source is from demonic powers. When I was done reading that chapter, I felt like I had been splashed with a bucket of ice-cold water (in a spiritual sense). I realized what a fool I had been, neglecting the power given to me by God’s Holy Spirit in exchange for a false semblance of earthly power that was corrupting my soul. I immediately returned the occult books to the library and burnt all my home-made occult material. I also prayed a prayer of repentance, asking God to forgive me for going astray and disobeying His commands.

That seemed to be the end of that story at the time, but in several years, I found out that was not the case…

It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was sitting in the sanctuary of Fairview Missionary Church, the church that I was attending at the time. I felt an itch in my throat, so I went out into the foyer to go to a drinking fountain. Now Pastor Norm had said that if anyone needs to leave the sanctuary for any reason, to come back in only at an appropriate time. Since people were up on stage in the sanctuary giving some sort of announcements at the time, I decided to stay out in the foyer for a while, and maybe drift over to the library, as I had often done.

This Sunday, however, was different. I meandered out to the main section of the foyer, and I noticed a kid sitting at one of the small tables there. He looked to be about a couple years younger than I, and he was laying “Magic the Gathering” cards out on the table. Now I had seen the game played before (though I’ve never played it), and it did not look like he was playing a game with the cards. In fact, as I was watching him place the cards on the table, it looked more like he was doing some sort of tarot reading with them.

I casually walked up to the table, sat down at the chair opposite him, and struck up a conversation. Eventually, I got around to asking him what was up with the cards. He started telling me that he had powers to do magic and tell the future. By talking to him further, I deduced that he was going through a similar obsession with the occult as I had several years ago. I retold him my story, of how God had freed me from my own spiritual oppression.

I believe that the Holy Spirit has blessed me with the gift of discerning spirits, meaning that I can, at times, tell what sort of spirit emanates around a person, place, object or event. I sensed that this guy had a dark spiritual influence around him, a spirit of deception and clouding of judgment. I continued meeting with him in the church and talking to him over the course of the next few weeks. There seemed to be a definite spiritual battle going on in his soul. He told me that when he tried to read the Bible, that it did not make any sense to him, and that the magic was the only thing that he saw clearly. I had talked to one of the assistant pastors about this issue, to see if he could lend me any council. He said to continue praying for my friend. He also said that when he had tried to speak to my friend about the magic issue, that my friend refused to listen. Apparently, I was the only one that this guy would listen to, and one of the factors of that was probably that I had told him about me going through a similar episode, and he could relate to that.

Eventually, I had started to get through to him about the fact that magic and the occult are evil, and definitely not what God wants for him. He even started to listen to what the pastors had to say. Things started to look like they were going uphill from here. Of course, when the Spirit of God leads a soul out of the darkness, Satan tends to get displeased, and often fights back. Such was the case with this young man.

I still remember how it happened, one of the most intense spiritual battles that I had ever experienced. It was a hot July day. I don’t remember what the exact temperature outside was, but it was probably 80-something. My family had parked by the church gym, as we almost always have done. The doors to the gym were open so much that day, that even with the air conditioning, it wasn’t that much cooler in that part of the church building. I saw my friend standing near the side of the gym opposite the entry doors. I walked over to him to talk to him, as I had in the past few weeks. Now here comes the scary part. As I walked within 10 feet of him, I felt like the temperature had suddenly dropped to 20. This was no natural feeling of cold, as there were no external signs of below-freezing temperatures. I knew almost instantly that this was definitely something not of this world, for it an aura of spiritual darkness that chilled me to my very soul. Like I said before, I have been blessed with the gift of discerning spirits, and I could sense there were one or more demonic beings tearing at my friend’s spirit. Now let me tell you something: when one comes into sudden spiritual contact with pure demonic evil, it can be quite startling. After silently saying a quick prayer for courage, I turned to my friend and told him to immediately follow me. I led him to the youth pastor’s office, and the youth pastor called the assistant pastor in, and we all prayed that God would lift the evil spirit from my friend’s soul. The supernatural cold emanation was still there at first, but no one but I could feel it. Soon, however, as we prayed, I started to feel the aura of evil that had manifested from my friend waver and disappear completely – the demons had been banished. We gave thanks to God, and asked my friend how he was feeling. He said that he did feel like dark shroud had been lifted form him, and agreed to destroy his occult material.

Soon after this happening, my friend was transferred to a different group home, and I was unable to contact him. However, looking back on these events, I’m glad that God allowed me the opportunity to make a positive impact on my friend’s life.


On November 30, 2008, at The Hill , the message was about forgiveness, and what it means to truly be forgiven and to truly forgive others. The central passage used was Matthew 18:21-35 (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant). To say that the sermon was thought-provoking, what I needed to hear, or meaningful on a personal level to me would be an understatement.

True forgiveness is an issue that many people (myself included) struggle with on a daily basis. I would imagine that most anyone who feels a normal range of human emotions, and has gone through experiences of broken trust, hurt, or betrayal has had to face the emotions that come afterward. This is not a very pretty list, because for many, it includes feelings such as anger, wrath, bitterness, vengeance, guilt, cynicism, hate, vulnerability, indignation, and depression.

Yet God commands us to forgive.

I know firsthand, how hard that command is to follow. I’ve had a many hard times in my life, and at various times, it seemed like there was no lack of people who would go out of their way to do something hurtful to me. Throughout my life, I have been ostracized, mocked, abused (physically, emotionally, and mentally), lied to, rejected, had possessions stolen from me, beaten up, cursed at, falsely accused (and unjustly punished), humiliated, insulted, threatened, and betrayed. Many of these acts were perpetrated by those that I trusted.

With a laundry list like that, it’s very easy to justify an emotional response, and to play the victim. It’s also very hard to forgive – hard, but not impossible. That list, or anyone’s list, pales massively in comparison to all that God had to endure for us and from us. The Bible reminds us that since we are all servants in God’s eyes, all wrongs are committed not against us, but against Him. Also, it is He alone that has the authority to pass righteous judgment, not us.

With so many things like those in that list having happened to me, it’s clear to see why I would have some struggles with the process of forgiveness. I remember one incident from my life in recent years in particular, which would serve to illustrate some of the points I have presented.

There was this guy that I had become friends with back in high school. While I had a few friends during high school, this guy had almost none. I was his friend when no one else would be. We soon became very good friends, even best friends, or so I thought. Honestly, I don’t know how much of that was genuine friendship on his part (at first), and how much was just him using me. All seemed to be going well between us, until around the time of my second semester of my freshman year of college. I noticed, around that time, that he seemed more and more distant, so I had tried to talk to him about it. These efforts were met with closed doors, unanswered calls, and poor excuses. Finally I decided to confront him about it, for better or worse. He responded with hostility, rejection, and threats. He told me (with much profanity) to get out of his house, and out of his life. Even as I left his house to walk back to my dorm, I was filled with rage and thoughts of revenge. Now let me tell you something about “revenge”: it’s only sweet in the planning; the aftertaste is quite bitter. Getting back at him, in the small way that I had, did not make me feel any better about the situation. In fact, it made me feel as if I needed to do more to bring wrathful judgment against him. The rage, bitterness, and thoughts of vengeance consumed me; they became an obsession, a parasite that would gnaw at my very heart. This syndrome of unforgiveness, from this one incident, poisoned my life for over a year. I eventually forgave him, but the process leading up to that point was definitely not instantaneous.

In fact, it was at the Hill, earlier in the summer of ‘08, that I had some realizations that would bring me to the point where I could get over it and forgive him. You see, I had known in my mind about the Biblical stance on forgiveness for some time, but to understand it in my heart was a totally different thing. I realized that when I forgave someone, especially someone who did not ask me for forgiveness, I wasn’t showing weakness by granting them pardon. The only person whom I was doing a favor for was myself.

I further realized that since Christ had forgiven me all my sins and paid my death penalty, that holding this grudge was something that I didn’t need to do, and in fact went against what Jesus teaches.

When I finally unshackled myself from this burden and handed it to God, the feeling of freedom was amazing. No longer was I burning with wrath against this person. No longer would I sit up at night plotting revenge. My life and relationships with others was no longer polluted with bitter memories of him.

Does this mean that I forgot completely what he did, or that I condone his actions? Of course not. First of all, I am incapable of simply erasing memories like a computer can delete files. The lessons that I learned from that incident are now part of my accumulation of life experience. Second, my forgiveness of his actions does not make them right. He will still face God’s judgment for what he did. But isn’t a big part of forgiveness the fact that we hand the case over to God, and put it under His divine jurisdiction?

God forgave us every sin that we committed against Him, and pardoned us from death and eternal torture. He showed us mercy and grace where we deserved only judgment and punishment. Christ tells us though, that if we do not forgive our fellow humans just as freely, that God will likewise withhold his forgiveness from us.

The process of forgiveness is not an easy or painless one, but it is necessary. With all the grace and mercy that Christ showed us, who are we to withhold it from others?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I believe that to truly find God, we (as individuals) need to remove the "window dressing" of organized religion from our spiritual lives and not allow "church" to get between us and God. We -are- the church. But in order to have a true relationship with God, I believe that we must take that relationship back to the primordial stage. In the Garden of Eden, there was no "religion". There were just people (Adam and Eve), and God. That's it. Sure, God gave them commands to follow (one of which they broke), but in essence, it was just the purest form of communication between humans and God; they talked.

In the Garden of Eden there were no churches to attend on Sunday, no priests, and no confessions to make to them, no singing along with hymns you didn't like, no icons to pray in front of, no holy days to observe, no Lent to give things up for, no denominations bickering among themselves, no Protestant/Catholic rivalry, no crusades or holy wars, no nitpicking over the details of things like baptism, no wearing of crucifixes (or arguing about whether or not Christ should be depicted on them) and no ridiculous non-Bible-based doctrines such as "Purgatory" or Adam having another wife named "Lilith" (don't get me wrong, I'm not saying these are necessarily bad things, just lower on the priority list).

The way I see it, "religion" is a mostly artificial, human-made invention done to formalize people's relationships with one or more higher powers (whether those higher powers include God the Father, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, or Allah, Buddha, nature & ancestor spirits, fertility goddesses, idols, demons, the entire existence of the universe (or any part thereof), or simply the self.)

God created people; people created religion.

Now I understand that after the fall of humankind, God had to impose more rules on people to replace the ones that they broke. I also understand that throughout history, God has given even more rules to people to give them more specific guidelines about living the life that He wants them to live. But what about the rules people impose on themselves? Like the Pharisees making their own interpretations of the Commandments. I understand that in times past, religion gave a semblance of order to society. The church would enforce laws that even the king would (theoretically, at least) get in trouble for breaking.

But what about the civilized world of today? Theocracies are a thing of the past (with the exception of a few unfortunate backwater countries, like Iran). But seriously, now--the moral "majority" is unfortunately no longer at the forefront of the decision making in America, let alone the world. Now don't get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of the "One Nation Under God" ideal, but reality is what it is.

What I am suggesting, is not the abolition of organized religion, much less Christian churches, but getting our priorities in order. The church serves as a support network for the faithful, however, God should come before religion to us, not through religion.