Thank you, Carlos

A few days ago I saw blog post worth mentioning and posting a link to here. Carlos Whittaker, posted about his struggle and treatment of an anxiety disorder that includes a generic form of the drug known as Paxil. The courage to post this can not be told in words, but many of us in the Christian community are very happy that someone like Carlos is willing to talk about this and help educate people to the medical realities and need of psychiatric care… especially since so many people in protestant evangelical churches shun those who would seek this kind of help.

http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/2012/06/anxietydepression/

The problem is that many people seek help from counselors and doctors who have studied and become experts in the conditions in which they suffer and get no support from people in their own church. In the last 15 years, I have met many people who suffer the long-term side effects of an earlier life of drug and alcohol abuse while others suffer from the psychological damage that comes with childhood sexual abuse. Of all the people who I have known, my heart has been broken for those who were born with inherited mental chemical imbalance conditions that allowed them normal and healthy childhoods, but manifested as bi-polar disorders and schizophrenia during teenage and young adult years.

My compassion does go out to all who struggle with these since in my small struggle with ADD, I have been able to learn certain disciplines and coping mechanisms to live and work while many people have no choice but to seek medical advice and must use medication as a part of treatment for conditions much more severe than my mind can imagine.

While legitimate medical doctors and universities have published sound research for more that 60 years and many in this field have helped thousands, many people in church, especially pastors will refer to some mythical great storehouse of knowledge about the corruption, misdiagnosis, and pagan ways of psychological science.

While there are cases where incompetent doctors and counselors do harm to patients, this is true in any field of medicine.  However, it is rare that a pastor would try to convince a church member not to take a statin medication when his or her cholesterol levels go above 300.  In fact, my very wise and intelligent minded pastor seemed very relieved when my doctor prescribed Tricor to me when my Triglyceride levels went over 1000 about 2 months ago.  For those who understand what this lipid is, this is not a typo.  My counts were over 1000 and I am following my doctor’s advice once again just as I did in 2002.

The beautiful thing is that in the last 20 years, research has revealed much more about the human mind. At times, I wish I had the discipline to have gone into this field of research because the articles written for a layman like me show that research and knowledge into the human mind reveals complexities never understood before. With this, diagnosis is much more targeted and accurate than it was 60 years ago.

If you want to begin a journey of discovering the truth about this topic, I think you will do well to read to post of a respected minister and worship leader.  Thanks Carlos for posting this. My wife and I continue to keep you and your family in constant prayer. Te Dios te bendiga.

As for any advice I can give.  When it comes to my lipid profile, that’s grease in the blood, I seek the counsel of my doctor.  It is sound and based on good research and an excellent education in medicine.  For ailments of mind whose symptoms manifest in disorders like the anxiety disorder Carlos suffer from, I strongly suggest seeking out a professional for help and surround yourself with those who will pray and support you just as I have for my metabolic disorder.

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Do the Ends Ever Justify the Means?

After a conversation with my sister-in-law about the Kony 2012 video, I thought I should post this question.

In conversation and a earlier post on this blog, I have made it clear what I think of Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 video, but in all honesty, until I had a conversation with my sister-in-law, I did not realize that so many people did not know about Joseph Kony or that the president of Uganda came to power by kidnapping and conscripting child soldiers. Even though the Kony video pushes for continued support of the president of Uganda despite his crimes, it has made many people aware of the politics and war crimes committed in Africa that unfortunately most Americans never knew were happening.

However, I am still convinced that the ends do not justify the means. Including the Kony video, every example in history where a person or group of people justified their actions by an “ends justify the means” or “good intentions” argument has been counterproductive. In short, the intentions or positive end results were minuscule compared to the negative impact.

So the question is, do the ends ever justify the means?

For this, I will post any comments with examples, both historical and personal experiences where you think the end results did justify the use of dishonest and immoral means. Keep in mind that this is very different that good things coming out of bad circumstances. What I am asking for are examples of people purposefully choosing to use questionable tactics and actions to achieve something good… and the good results should outweigh the negative consequences.

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Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and “Stand Your Ground” laws

I wanted to write on the Trayvon Martin case the moment I heard about it, but decided to wait until the final decision came down on whether George Zimmerman would be tried or not.

For all the people who have stated things like, “No one knows what really happened” or “This is profiling or racism” or “We just don’t have all the facts…”

Give me a break!!!!

Here were the basic facts from the beginning.  A man, Zimmerman, shot and unarmed high school student named Trayvon Martin who was walking home alone and had in his possession a pack of skittles and a can of ice tea.  From here, I have to say, I do not need any more information.  The simple rule from my cultural perspective is “You don’t bring a gun to a fist fight!”

In short, unless you incapable of defending yourself effectively or are incapable of getting away from your aggressor, you should not kill him.  Given every conceivable scenario of one on one confrontations, a home invasion is the only defendable case of shooting and killing an aggressor.  By the way, where I live, home invaders are usually armed.

So to take this case from a right and wrong standpoint, not only do I think Zimmerman is the aggressor, but Florida’s stand your ground law is the biggest piece of crap law in existence.  It is unbiblical and I hope and pray that anyone who thinks it’s a good law does not own a weapon of any kind.  This hot-headed Rambo like mentality is what gets innocent people killed.

The decision to take a life in self-defense is one that may be made in a split second.  I have known police officers, military service members, and private citizens who have had to make this decision.  For those few I have known, it was instinctual and justified in the end.  For others who were spared this decision, the aggressor backed off when he realized his intended victim had a gun.

As to a Christian response.  I think I understand the legal right to self-defense better than anyone I know.  Not until this case came about did I ever imagine that a man could shoot an unarmed person in a one on one confrontation without a full investigation.  It shows me that on some level, many people in this country value self-defense over life as a right.  If we Christians are to apply the role of government found in Romans chapter 13 with the principles found in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and the principles found in the U.S. Constitution, we should demand an investigation into any instance where life is taken in self-defense, especially when the one killed had no weapon his possession.

Also, one thing I am certain of, “standing your ground” is not self defense.   As I child, I learned this whenever I had to face a bully.  I was convinced then as I am now that “standing your ground” is an offensive position not defensive.  There may be a time and place for this and every time I stood my ground when facing bullies, I did so thinking that self-defense and flight was no longer effective or an option.  But unlike self-defense, standing your ground is not made in a split second and it is not instinctual.  It is well thought out, planned, strategic, and in the military it involves fields of fire and knowing an enemy’s weaknesses.

If George Zimmerman uses Florida’s “stand your ground right” then by that, I hope he is convicted of 2nd degree murder.

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Easter Traditions and Christian Doctrine

Every year, I see criticism coming from hyper-fundamentalist Christians and anti-religion types regarding the celebration of Christ’s resurrection in spring, the use of the term Easter, and the use of eggs and bunnies as symbols of the holiday.  Though the criticism sounds legitimate in pointing out the supposed “pagan” practices and supposed late in history observance of this holiday, they are based on historical and cultural ignorance.

First of all, the resurrection of Christ, celebrated with a floating holiday to coincide with the Jewish calendar and Passover has been recognized by Christians since the first century.  Some critics like Jehovah’s witnesses and hyper-fundamentalist christians have tried to come up with some late in history date for when Christians began celebrate Christ’s resurrection as a holiday.  Anti religious people have then run with this without checking the source.  The truth is all the historical evidence shows Christians celebrating Christ’s resurrection at its founding in Jerusalem with Passover.

As for bunnies and eggs, they are a culturally relevant symbol of life that reminds us that Jesus came back to life after being executed by crucifixion making him the one who “conquered death”.  While the original meaning of the symbols were fertility and sex for European pagans, they symbolize life for the descendents of Europeans who gave up paganism hundreds of years ago.  Of course,  these symbols are meaningless or may have much different meanings to Asia and African Christians, so they are not used in their celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

As for the term Easter, some credit William Tyndale beginning the use of the term in the 1500s while others point to its use among the Brits around AD 900-1100.  The season for celebrating Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament is called Pashat, which is loosely translated today as Passover.  This season was recognized by Gaelic and Brits as being the same time of year as Easter.  While Easter is the name of a pagan fertility goddess, it is also the name for the season we now call Springtime.  So based on the context of the seasonal name in English, Christ’s resurrection became known to English speakers as Easter.

It is not a lack of faith that I find disturbing, but the ignorant criticism by both Christians and non-Christians shows that in American culture, many people still think and act like we in the middle ages when western European scholars had no concept of cultural differences or contextualization.  Just look at some of the images of the time where the Roman statesman Cicero is portrayed as a medieval scribe.

As for the Easter message, we Christians are asking you to believe is that a man on a Friday in AD 33, was brutally beaten, suffering from heat exhaustion, had a nail driven through each wrist and a spike through his feet, blood in his eyes from a wreath of 3 inch thorns crammed on his head, and finally to be sure he was dead… a sword thrust into his side piercing his heart… on Sunday came back to life and rolled a huge sealed grave stone away scaring away a company Roman centurion guard away.

Sure, I believe it is a historical fact… but due to the craziness of the accounts given in the Gospels, I understand fully why you may not believe it.  However, this is not the only crazy historical even in history that I and all reasonable people believe happened.

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“Invisible Children” Group Capitalizes on Joseph Kony

As I watched the Kony 2012 video, I was impressed with the production and the methods used by Invisible Children to put the message out about the actions of Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  At the same time, I was aware that Invisible Children has moved to a level that I never thought was possible.

Several years ago, I was introduced to invisible children by a friend.  After a short check into the organization I realized that at best it is an organization that fails to understand the complexities of African culture.  At worst, it was an organization that takes 70% of its donations for administrative purposes.  Now, with this Kony 2012 campaign, IC has positioned itself, in the eyes of its supporters, as a group that can change foreign policy.  In my opinion, IC is now falsely advertising its position of influence for financial gain and attempting to interfere in matters of foreign policy and cultures it knows very little about.

While it is impossible to do a full journalistic investigation on IC for a blog, upon watching the video, it is clear that there are several things this organization wants us to believe.

1. Joseph Kony is still operating in Uganda.

2. Kony has kidnapped approximately 30,000 children

3. The United States has no interest in stopping terrorists in African nations and the perfect example of this is Kony.

4.  If you do not get behind the Kony 2012 campaign, the United States policy makers will do nothing to bring Kony to justice.

The problem in these 4 points is they are simply not true.  I will address each one these.

1. Kony has not been in Uganda for 6 years.  The current position of LRA is Democrat Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Central African Republic.

2. I can not find any official statistic to substantiate 30,000 children kidnapped.  The numbers of 30,000 and 60,000 over a 20-30 year time frame can be found on the Wikipedia article as well as numerous blogs, but not from any reliable source.  At best, it is estimated the LRA kidnapped 6,000 children in 1998 and the current estimated number of children being held is about 3,000.  No one will ever argue that even one child abducted is acceptable.  However, it is shameful for the Christian film makers of Kony 2012 to grossly exaggerate the numbers beyond recognizable truth.  For more information on this check out http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/lra.htm

3. The United States has given no indication that it intends to pull out of Africa even though it is pulling troops out of Iraq and scaling back operations in Afghanistan.  It looks like the policies of the Bush administration in Africa are continuing with the Obama administration.

The problem with Invisible Children is this Kony 2012 campaign focuses on a person that Amnesty International refers to as “one fugitive from justice among many.”[1]  Not only has Amnesty International correctly pointed out that Kony is not the only war lord in Africa guilty of kidnapping children and other gross human rights violations, the United States Department of Defense has been active on the continent since before September 11, 2011 identifying terrorist groups and working with African leaders to put an end to the atrocities committed by them.  In addition to this, several African nations like the Sudan have been harboring and assisting groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbolah for decades.  Let’s also not forget the atrocities committed by Somali terrorists and pirates that in my opinion make Kony look like a Boy Scout.[2]

4. Kony will be brought to justice.  Yes, he is responsible for kidnapping at one time about 6,000.  Some of these children were forced to execute their own families while many of the girls sold through the Sudan as sex slaves.  Again… Kony will be brought to justice.

When I served on my second deployment with the Marine Corp in the Horn of Africa a few years ago, I had a chance to read up on the terrorist groups on the continent while we provided security to the base we were assigned.  Three things I learned. (1) The United States Department of Defense has been aware of Kony as well all the other terrorist groups for quite some time. (2) The United States is committed to working with leaders in Africa to end terrorism and all human rights violations committed on the continent. (3) Unlike Invisible Children and other examples like Bruce Wilkinson’s “Dream for Africa” project, United States foreign policy in Africa is attempting to work with African governmental and religious leadership for solutions and is very cautious not to trample on the good graces and cultural values and practices of African people.

The real problem with Invisible Children is they are new comers in dealing with the issues of terrorism and are pushing this campaign at a time with Joseph Kony’s reign of terror is mostly in the past.  As I mentioned before Kony has not been in Uganda for 6 years and is sheltered in countries that already harbor much more dangerous terrorists.  The United States as well as African leaders are working on bringing him in for arrest, trial, and a likely execution.  Unfortunately, since it has only been 6 years Kony left Uganda, the families impacted by it still feel the pain of loss and suffering and it looks like some not so well intentioned Americans are capitalizing on this and placing themselves at the forefront of this issue for personal gain.


[1] blog.amnestyusa.org/iar/kony-campaign-from-awareness-to-action/

[2] fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/7959.pdf

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I couldn’t help but notice something during December. When calling in to my cable company a few times for tech support, I noticed each time the representative said “Happy Holidays.” When I beat one of them to the punch and said Merry Christmas, the uncomfortable hesitation and responding “Happy Holidays” made me want to laugh out loud as I remembered the controversy a few years ago as Wal Mart flipped flopped on its own policy, first mandating its employees use “Happy Holidays” and then allowing “Merry Christmas” when the American public voiced their offense at the store’s attempt at sensitivity.

The reason I laugh about it is after reviewing articles and blogs regarding this subject, I found that people on both sides are equally childish about this subject. Not that I’m more mature about this, but I just don’t take offense when someone says “Happy Holidays” to me and I think people who get offended at “Merry Christmas” need to grow up and get some historical perspective.

Simply put, “Happy Holidays” has moved into common use in American Culture today among Christians because of the fact that several holidays take place during the winter season. “Happy Holidays” for many of us means covering Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. So, to put it simply Christians should not be offended when someone says “Happy Holidays.”

On the other hand, I think “Merry Christmas” really can not be seen as being offensive. It is a recognition of the birth of Jesus Christ, whose moral teachings and roots in Judaism have shaped western values and laws in ways that are just beginning to take shape in other parts of the world. First of all, even though Jesus made it clear that he is the only way to the Father as the redeemer (John chapter 14:1-14), his teachings on the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7)and directly with his disciples in the gospel accounts (eg. Matt 18) made it clear that the “church” he had in mind would be his followers being salt and light in the earth. Even though the earliest gatherings of believers formed congregations, it is clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus never intended for them to become an institution where religious leaders sat in lofty places and lorded themselves over others. In fact, he did what no other religious founder would dare think of… he said that all you have to do is trust him, that is have faith in him to have eternal life (eg. John 3:16).

Skipping over hundreds of years of history, we find that in our own country, the influence of Christ’s teachings brought us the Bill of Rights drafted by John Adams together with the Danbury Baptists where freedom of speech, press, and religion were granted to all people. For the Danbury Baptists, it was important that not only should Christians have the freedom to believe and teach Jesus is the only way to heaven, they also believed that no person or government should force that doctrine on anyone.

Simultaneously, as the United States was being birthed, William Wilberforce began a long campaign against the Slave Trade in Great Britain. Believing that Parliament was wrong to allow “necessary evils” on account of the cost to the economy by eliminating slavery, Wilberforce pushed on with his campaign to educate British citizens to the evils of the Slave Trade. Though some modern day critics of the Bible point to it’s allowance of indentured servitude, Wilberforce exposed the Slave Trade as nothing more than the kidnapping and degrading of human beings and transporting them to foreign shores as if they were cattle, which any honest interpretation of scripture condemns. As a result of his actions and leadership, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

In the United States, 30 years later, Abraham Lincoln issued the executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation after seeing the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. Claiming that he had made a covenant with God, Lincoln stopped arguing the issue of slavery in economic terms and dealt with the question of whether slavery was right or wrong. Though the EP did not immediately end slavery in the states that did not split from the union, by the end of the war only 2 states had not abolished slavery and the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865 abolished slavery in all states.

Further movements were still to take place in the years to come and were impacted by Christ’s teachings. Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement and Dr. Martin Luther King and Civil Rights showed us that what happens when Christians stand up for what is right. Without the foundation of Christ’s teaching in their lives, these great people would not have given what they had for justice.

To be clear, there have been many people and Christian institutions who have directed or at least participated in atrocities such as the crusades, inquisitions, and other various persecution movements. Even within the United States and Great Britain, many Christians were found on the wrong side of the Bill of Rights, Slavery, and Civil Rights. We Christians today know they were on the wrong side because of scripture and Christ’s teachings.

The first point I want to make is this; even if you don’t believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God and redeemer of the world, I invite you to celebrate the birth of the man that caused at times a minority of believers to stand up with scripture against injustice and change the world. These people throughout history ranged from monks who preserved education, scripture, and books through the middle ages to our own beloved Martin Luther King. Of course they were not entirely alone since they influenced both believers in Christ and non-believers alike.

The second is to consider the impact of Jesus Christ on my own ancestry in western Europe. During the time of winter solstice (around December 21), my pagan ancestors huddled inside around the household fires believing that the solstice was a time when the doors to the spirit world opened and anyone caught outside could be snatched away. All across Western Europe, there were variations on these beliefs where all lived in fear, and the celebration was tied to the relief that the long winter was coming to an end. Of course the Italians or Romans celebrated Saturnalia which was something like Marti Gras on steroids. The point is that today no one lives in fear like my ancestors. We look forward to winter and celebrating Christmas because we know that even through the darkest days of winter, we celebrate life.

Historically, early Christians like Justin Martyr correctly saw that the gospel of Luke chapter 2 pointed to mid to late December on our calendar as the time of Christ’s birth.  However, the major celebration for early Christians was his death and resurrection because at the time birthdays were not a culturally relevant thing to celebrate.

Today, in our current culture, the celebration of birth takes is a celebration of life and accomplishment. So Christ’s birth takes on just as great of importance as his redemptive sacrifice and for believers and non-believers alike Christmas is also a celebration of what happens when people take Jesus’ teachings and live by them… bringing the hope of peace on earth and and giving good will toward all people.

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Morality in Christian Doctrine

One of the issues that comes up in teaching the Bible is moral values. In this, the question comes up about where good works and living for God come in to the salvation of the soul. The short answer, as I understand from the Bible, is that a person is saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This is clearly taught as the main point of the gospel of John and outlined as a theological argument in the book of Romans. Also, in the book of First Corinthians, the writer does something that most modern religious leaders would not do. He speaks to a group of immoral Christians and actually calls them brothers. In fact, it seems that all the writers of the New Testament assumed that the Christians they were writing to were heaven bound “brothers” in need of correction.

The problem among Christians is we are a religious people. Since religious beliefs tend toward legalism or fatalism, very few are satisfied with the idea that a “sinner” could in fact be a “saved” believer in Jesus. As such, many Christians believe in false dichotomies where a person can actually have faith in Jesus Christ, but not the kind of faith that “saves.” Naturally, the idea here is that a person that has a faith that “saves” also has good works, while a person with a fake faith or a faith that does not save lives an immoral life and is therefore not “saved.”

So far, I can not find any support for such a false dichotomy anywhere in the Old or New Testament. In conversation with those who believe it either point to proof texts taken out of context or fail to see that some of the arguments giving reasons why believers should not sin are actually hyperbole reflective of 1st century literary culture as is the case of 1 John chapter 3. As such, the clear teaching of the entire New Testent is a person either has faith in Jesus Christ for the salvation of his or her soul and is “saved” or has no faith and is not “saved.”

On the other hand, the writer of First Corinthians does give us something to consider regarding morality.

Even though the Corinthians were guilty of tolerating moral behavior such as the man there who was engaged in a sexual affair with his “father’s wife,” the writer of 1 Corinthians decided to confront behavior that is almost always justified and encouraged in churches today. In Corinth, these just people were divisive and aligning themselves with certain teachers. According to chapter 1 verses 10-17, some of the people were saying “I follow Paul” while others were claiming to follow other teachers like Apollos or Peter. There were even some that were trying one-up all of them by saying “I follow Jesus.”

Today, this plays out among the most moral and religious of Christians. Back in the 1980s, people would say, “I follow John MacArthur” or “I follow Charles Ryrie” or some other teacher. This later lead to the founding of so-called discernment ministries like The Berean Call and others who fail in discernment and honest historical and scriptural studies.

Today, instead of following teachers, church people claim to follow after doctrinal perspectives. “I am a reformed theologian”, “I am a dispensationalist”, “I am a Calvinist”, “I am a fundamentalist”, etc, etc, etc.

If only to make things worse, when you disagree with anyone in these “groups”, rather than recognize you may actually be correct, you will be accused of belonging to one of the other groups and as such incapable and blinded from the “truth”. The ironic thing is that most of the people I meet in church and seminary that identify themselves with these groups actually have nothing in common with them. For example, writer and preacher R.C. Sproul claims to be a “reformed” theologian, but actually has more in common theologically with the Puritans and Pietists a century after the reformation.

In either case, the writer of 1 Corinthians dealt with this before he dealt with the gross immoral acts of the Corinthian believers. If he followed the example of church people today, he would have sided with one group and dealt only with immoral behavior in Corinth by accusing everyone of being “unsaved”. Instead, he dealt first with the division caused by religious behavior.

I wonder what church would look like if we confront the sins of arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness caused by religious behavior before we confront confront things like sexual immorality, substance abuse, or any self destructive behavior.

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