5.12.11

Not enough faith to be an Atheist? Part 1 - Absolute Truth

This is the first in a 6 part series.
As some of you may know, I am not an atheist. Nor am I an agnostic. I am also not a professional bowler, nor do my feet smell like roses. I could list other attributes about myself, but I think these four are pretty revealing, and enough for what I want to write about for the next six blogs or so.
A few months ago, I was talking with someone online who was an atheist. In the course of the conversation, I tried to explain that Atheism required as much faith as believing in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He tried to explain that Atheism is not faith, but a lack of faith, specifically in God. And no matter what I said to him, he went back to this one point. I politely bowed out of our very cordial discussion (it really was!) and I got to thinking. A lot. For about five months! My first thought was a simple one: what is faith? This led to a second thought: why am I a Christian, and not an atheist? From this came a third thought: am I out of peanut butter already (that last thought has little to do with this blog, but it did prompt me to buy a large container that I now keep in my drawer at work. True story!) So this series which I am writing, is the outcome of the mental gymnastics I have been doing since that encounter.
What I want to do over the next few days is explain why I couldn’t be an atheist. I want to explain why my faith isn’t strong enough to believe in the absence of God. From the start, I have to tell you that I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. There are many great authors (both Christian and not) who have tackled this subject with much greater finesse than I ever could. But I am not here to prove anyone wrong. I don’t expect anything I do to convert anyone to a knowledge of God. Rather this is just an explanation of why my faith is what it is. So please forgive the typos, the inadvertent strawman, and the occasional Occam's Razor. Like I said, I am by no means an expert in Apologetics. If anything, the older I get the more I realize just how na├»ve I am.
To make this easier for me, I am breaking it down into six topics. They follow, at least in my head, a logical order where the one builds upon the next. I’ll outline them briefly now, and get into them over the next few days. After that, I will start on the first one.
1 – Absolute Truth – My belief that there is absolute truth.
2 – The Second Law of Thermodynamics – My problem with the idea of a random or accidental creation of the universe.
3 – Adolf Hitler and Martha Stewart – The issue of Moral Relativism.
4 – Einstein’s Static Universe – The limitations of man.
5 – The Charlie Brown Principle – The need for meaning in Life.
6 – The Three Monkeys – Denying or acknowledging my own experiences.
Now before I finally begin, let me be clear: there will be quotes from the bible. There will also be other quotes and links to both secular and spiritual sources. And if you are really good, there may even be cake! (OK, the cake part was a lie, but if any of you want to meet for coffee and a pastry, hook me up!) So, on with the show….
Not Enough Faith to be an Atheist:
My First Issue: Absolute Truth
I had a very interesting discussion with an eight-year old recently. We were talking about a time I had told her I had seen a U.F.O. (note: a UFO! I do not claim to have seen an extra-terrestrial, nor am I sure I even believe in intelligent life on other planets. But, I have seen a flying object which I could not identify.) She went on to tell me that UFO’s were not real. I didn’t argue the point as I knew that she meant E.T. phoning home, and not merely sky-bound phenomenon. She then went on to say something else that floored me: “…and ninjas aren’t real either!”
What? What kind of eight-year old doesn’t believe in the awesomeness of ninjas? I tried to explain the role of shinobi in feudal Japan in the 15th century, but she simply refused to believe that ninjas ever really existed. It is a sad world we live in, when ninjas are placed in the same locker of reality as Alf and Santa Claus. I mean, ninjas are amazing! They sneak around in black pajamas, kill people with hollowed-out duck eggs and poison knitting needles, and they get all the best lines in the movies! Who wouldn’t want to believe in ninjas? But try as I might, this stubborn specimen of pre-pubescent intellectualism had no room in her world-view for Japanese pre-industrial super assassins.
As I tried to explain my point further, she then let out the second shocker of the day: “That is just your opinion, Wayne. And I have mine.” So, the existence of ninjas is… opinion? I tried to explain to her the difference between opinion and fact, but no matter what I tried, she simply refused to see that what we were debating was a matter of fact, and not opinion. To be honest, I love talking with this little munchkin. She is extremely intelligent for her age, and believes nothing easily. She searches for proofs and evidences in anything people present to her as facts. But, if she can’t see the logic in it, then she merely files it under “opinion”, allowing both parties to think they are right. (As a side note, this has since become a bit of a bonding point between us! Any time I tell her something she simply cannot believe, she will tell me that ninjas aren’t real, either! LOL!)
This weird little discussion outlines something I very strongly believe in: Ninjas! No, that’s not it… What was it again? Oh yeah… Absolute Truth. I believe that there are some things that are inherently correct and true, what we sometimes call facts. In my opinion, gravity is a fact. I also believe in thermodynamics, the rotation of the earth around the sun, that “A” is the first letter of the Roman alphabet, and millions of other little things (and not so little things.) I am sure that most of what I listed would be agreed upon by 99% or more of the people in the world. I am sure that there would be little room for debate. Sure, you always get the odd job here or there, but most of what we are discussing is considered universal truth.
At this point, some of you may wonder what any of this has to do with God.  Well, it is this: Either God is real, or He isn't.  This isn't a case for opinion, but a case of fact.  Either he exists, or he doesn't.  It's really that simple.  After all, we are talking about an entity in the universe.  So, just like Elvis, unicorns, Ravi Zacharias, and Invader Zim, either God is real, or He is a figment of my imagination. 

This may seem trivial, but it isn't.  You see, we go back to absolute truth.  Either something is real, or it isn't.  Obviously, there are those beliefs that fall into opinions, those that are matters of taste, rather than fact.  These are the things that are based not upon reality, but our own subjective beliefs.  Is blue prettier than white?  Does West Ham suck this year?  Is Johnny Cash the greatest singer ever?  These are all matters of opinion.  There is no right or wrong (except that West Ham are rather suck-ish this year...)

And we live in a society that places matters of religion into the category of opinion.  But unlike whether broccoli is better cooked or raw, God either is or isn't.  So, if God is real, then we have to ask additional questions: what is our relationship to Him, His relationship to us?  What obligations do we hold to each other?  What, if anything, does He expect of us?  You see, if there is a divine Creator, then we are His creation.  And just like clay yields to the potter, we must yield to Him.  And if He isn't, then we have a moral obligation to... well... what do we have a moral obligation to?  (I better tackle that one later.)

Next time, I'll start talking about my first issue of atheistic faith, and that is: The Second Law of Thermodynamics. 

13.10.11

War Isn't Hell, It's Life

You know, I never really got the appeal of war movies.  I would try to sit down and watch the old John Wayne films, but I just didn't get them.  I don't really remember playing soldier or cops and robbers.  It's not that I ever had anything against these careers.  I respect soldiers, those willing to live and die in order to protect their families and the freedoms that they partake in every day.  I have always respected the focus and training they endure in order to give them the strength to do what they do. 

I was thinking about all of this today.  And as I was doing my usual daily bible thing, I started to think about how often battle, or at least battle as parable, comes up in the Word.  Paul talks about the armour of God in Ephesians 6, about the armour of Light in Romans 13.  Jesus spoke of armour as a symbol for who He was (and wasn't) in Luke 11.  Then there was Paul's use of the symbolic soldier.  He called Epaphroditus, Timothy, and Archippus his fellow soldiers in Christ.  When talking about obedience to God, he compared it to a soldier putting his commanding officer's orders above those of their personal affairs.  He even used the soldier as a parable for pastors to have the right to be paid for their labours. 

Then, there's David and the Psalms!  Man, I so get David's use of battle as parable for spiritual warfare.  Afterall, he was an accomplished soldier, a military leader, a general and a king.  What was as common to him as sheep are to a farmer, was the vehicle by which he often spoke of his relationship with the Lord.  18 talks of His strength in battle as coming from the Lord.  24 talks about God as being a king, mighty in battle.  55 speaks of God as his protection during times of struggle.  78 uses historical battles to teach about what obedience to God brings.   89 speaks of his sin as damning the strength that God gives him.  140 says that God protects him in battle, while 144 says that his training came from God alone! 

What amazing imagery!  David, or Paul, or Christ on earth.  Each one engaged in a spiritual battle.  Battles are bloody and fierce and dirty.  They are filled with anxiety and fear, and split-second decisions.  Every moment, every second, our life is on the line.  Every second determines whether we walk out alive, or in a body bag.  It';s not glamorous, it's grim.  But wars always have been and always will be

But in the middle of every battle we face, we are not alone!  A good soldier isn't born skilled, he is trained.  He doesn't defeat the opposition with his bare hands (sorry, Jackie Chan) but with his weapons.  He doesn't go out there blindly, but has a great leader, a great commander.  He is supplied with outposts to rest in, with supplies to keep him going.  And the best soldier?  He uses those resources everyday!  He keeps his weapons honed, listens to the advice of great men, and does all he can to obey orders while still keeping himself alive.

Every day is a spiritual battle, a war for the hearts and souls of mankind (man,that sounds like a quote from Constantine, doesn't it?)  But it's true.  Every day, we are under attack.  Our morals are questioned, people trying to convince us that sin isn't sin.  Our God is doubted, and we are told that adherence to him is nothing more than the slippery slope to fanatacism.  We have been freed in Christ, but Satan slips in little messages telling us that we can never be free, that we will always be who we are, and that God can not transform us.  We are swept away by lies, and fears, and doubts.  And all of these attacks,  they are the weapons of the devils army.

But here's the thing: the devil is fighting a war that is already lost!  By the blood of Christ himself, God has already won our hearts and minds.  It's all over!  God 1, Devil 0.  It reminds me of those stories about pockets of Japanese soldiers found stranded on desert islands.  Even though the war had long been over, and they were long out of supplies, they continued to fight as though the Japanese Empire was still conquering Asia one island at a time.  That is the devil, a conquered and defeated foe who continues to try and take you down!

I felt that battle recently.  I sinned.  I sinned against my Commander-in Chief, and hurt innocent people along the way.  I felt so sick and ashamed by it, that I haven't eaten or slept for four days now.  I prayed to God, begged God for forgiveness, and I felt His hand lift that burden.  Rather than hide it, as I would have, I confessed it openly to family and friends.  And yet... and yet Satan still tries to tell me I can't change, still tries to tell me to go back to that sin again.  Time and again he tries to get me to give up or quit, or just end it all.

And every time I have been about to fall to that trap, God has sent reinforcements.  There were consequences for my sin, and people I once relied on have left me.  But God provided people to fight alongside me, to pray for me.  And even those people who left my side for now, I know they are praying for me, and I praise God for that!

Every time I am wounded by sin, God heals me by the blood of the \Lamb.  Every time I feel overcome and lost, God gives me direction.  Every time I feel alone, God provides soldiers to fight alongside me.  And every time I want to give in to the fear, God finds a way to trade fear for peace!  I am not alone in my fight.  I am not lost to those who know me.  I fight!  I fight, and I fight!  Will I stumble along the way?  Sure.  Will I be hurt and wounded?  You betcha.  But... will I give up? NEVER!

"O Lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O Lord, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!” - II Chronicles 14:11

16.7.11

God's Gift

This is the true story of a conversation I had with God while driving home last night...

As I drove the I-15 from Ogden to Riverdale, I looked up and saw this beautiful full moon.  It seemed so bright and alive, that I just had to thank God for not just creating the universe, but for putting so much beauty into it.

When I got done, I heard these Words from God: "I created it just for you."

I was perplexed, so I asked: "But God, what about everyone else who is enjoying it tonight."

I swear I could hear Him gently laugh as he said: "I created the moon for everyone tonight, but each person who looks up and admires that orb right now will find a specific reason, just for them, why it means something special."

"O.K. God, so what is mine?  What purpose does the moon have for me?"

"To remind you that I made it just for you!..." I laughed and he continued, "To remind you that I love you."

"Thanks God, I love you too!"

The tone of His whispering changed: "You miss her tonight, don't you?  Do you wish you could see her?"

As a tear came to my eye, I replied, "I do, God."

"I know.  But you get to see me, tonight."

"Where do I see you, Lord?"

I couldn't help but laugh as God told me, "In the moon created just for you."

"Thank you, Father!"

"I love you, Wayne."


Habbakuk 3:17-19
17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

8.7.11

Hoping and Coping

There are times when I come on here, and think of a light-hearted ditty I want to share.  And there are times when I want to really dive into a meaty subject.  Well, tonight is a meaty night, so fire up the barbecue, boys!

I went to the doctor's today.  For almost two weeks now, my left testicle has swollen to the size of a tennis ball, and been extremely painful.  I have been taking Ibuprofin and Bactrim for it, but nothing has improved.  So today, I went to a different Doc.  The news wasn't what I expected.  There is a possibility that I may have to have an operation, and may even possibly lose my testicle.  I didn't handle the news well.  After leaving the office, I sat in my car and bawled for about 15 minutes straight.  I offered desparate prayers to God, being honest about how scared I was, about how hopeless I felt.

After this sorrow-fest, I felt the voice of God whisper in my head: "are you done?  Are you ready to move on?"  I told him I was, and I just laughed!  I laughed because even if I lose my nut, I still have my mind, I still can run and walk and dance and praise and celebrate all that life is!  Not only that, but it's not even a certainty that this will be the outcome.  For all of the fear I felt, was it really all that big of a deal?  Nothing to go "nuts" and "ball" over, right?

So this is where I am going with all of this.  As I sat there, I started to think about copings.  For those of you not in the know, a coping is simply how we deal with stress, how we cope with things that feel out of our control.  Some copings are good: finding solutions, prayers, seeking help, etc.  Others are clearly bad: manipulating others, alcohol, hiding from our problems, suicide, etc.  Like it or not, we all find a way to cope.  And love it or hate it, all of us have some copings that are clearly unhealthy!

I like to think that our copings also fall into two more categories: fight or flight.  Fight copings are those moments when we want to confront our situation.  Maybe we want to emotionally or physically hurt the one we feel hurt us.  Maybe we just want to trash a room, or cut someone down just for the pleasure of feeling superior.  Flight copings are those where we just want to get away from our problem.  Maybe we want to end our life.  Maybe we call in sick to work and just sleep all day.  Maybe instead of dealing with the situation, we spend our day with useless tasks, just to keep our mind off of the issue.  In both cases, these can again be either good or bad.  Finding a solution in a healthy manner is a great way to deal with a problem.  Sometimes, taking the time to calm ourselves down so that we can return to the issue with an open mind and heart is a great way to deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed.  But equally, both can be used is horrific ways that only leed to self-destruction.  I know, because I am still fighting with my own unhealthy fight and flight coping responses.

But today, God revealed to me in the Word the perfect method for dealing with the stressors we all face.  It's found in Psalms 4:4-8:
4 - Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 - Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
6 - There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!"
7 - You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8 - In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

So how does this break down for me:  Well...
4 - "Be angry, and do not sin..." - the first thing God says here is that we should feel!  We have a right to feel angry (or agitated, as some versions translate it).  But... that feeling should NOT lead us to sin.  In other words, feel what you need to feel, but don't act on it in a way that you know will offend God.
4 (continued) - "...ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. " - now we need to think about our situation.  Put it in your heart, take time to be objective with yourself, recognizing both sides of the situation.  And once you have done that, shut up!  Don't run out and seek out the other party.  Rather, for now silence is golden.
5 - "Offer right sacrifices,..." - Remember that the Old testament sacrifices were offered up as repentance for sin.  And what is the sacrifice for repentance that God now requires?  A contrite heart and a broken spirit.  In other words: Repent sincerely to God for what you have done.
5 - (continued)"...and put your trust in the LORD." - Now is not the time to go out and try to fix this yourself.  Rather, trust God to show you what you need to do.  Trust God to heal what needs to be healed, and listen for His commands for you.
6 - "There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!" " - Once we have repented and trusted God, now we need to seek Him more!  Make Him the focal point of your life again, rather than the issue that distracted you from Him in the first place.
7 - "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." - Recognise what God has already done!  Don't dwell in your sorrow.  Get up and recognise the joy God has for you.  Move on from the pain towards peace, once again.
8 - "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. " - Finally, stop  dwelling on it, and move on.  Put it behind you, forgive yourself, forgive the other, and recieve the peace God has for you.  Move on in peace.

When you are angry or upset, take the time to stop before you do something stupid.  Think about it rationally, and keep you mouth shut.  Now, be honest about your role in the issue, and repent, offering your heart up to God.  Trust God to find a solution, and for Him to direct you in what you need to do next.  Now, take your mind off of the issue, and return to seeking God first.  Make Him the priority, rather than yourself.  Once you have done that, recognise the peace and joy God is trying to give you, and dwell on that.  Finally put it all behind you and let your mind return to a state of peace.

I can't lie.  I am still struggling with this, with practicing what I just preached.  Sometimes I open my mouth too soon, or try to solve it myself, rather than leave it to God.  Other times, I don't trust God to keep His promise to save me, or I reject the peace He offers me.  But when I DO follow this, I get through the muck and mire with a feeling of joy and safety and peace that I never had before.  I pray that I will continue to try and make this the pattern I follow for every issue I face!

God bless,

Wayne

7.6.11

God's Little Pacers

I was watching Top Gear on Youtube yesterday, and the persenter was talking about the infamous AMC Pacer.  For those of you not in the know, AMC was an American car manufacturer famous not so much for their successes (the AMX, their Jeep years, the Eagle, etc...) as they were for their failures (the Gremlin and the Pacer).  Now, in the 70's AMC saw the impact that the oil crisis was having, and decided to concentrate on compact cars that were more fuel-efficient.  One of these attempts was the Pacer.  It had a large space-age bubble butt made of glass, the passenger door was longer than the driver door (to encourage people to get out near the curb, rather than the road), and a supposedly more fuel-efficient engine (not actually the case, as they scratched the original more fuelt efficient wankel engine they planned to use, and went with a gas guzzling straight six instead).  This and other design highlights were meant to make this the car of the future.  But it actually had the opposite effect.  It made it one of the most notoriously hideous cars ever produced.  It was mocked for its lack of beauty, lack of power, and even lack of style.  It has been ridiculed in car magazines, People magazine, Times magazine, Top Gear US and UK, and even in the movie Wayne's World!  Put bluntly, the Pacer is the eternal joke of the motoring world.

But here's the thing about jokes.  Sometimes the last laugh comes from the subject, rather than the teller.  Take a look at this:



That's right, a Pacer that can do a 10 Second quarter mile!  A Pacer that shines on the track, and has other people looking in disbelief as it tears down the runway at the kind of speeds one expects from a Mustang 5.0 or a Yenko Camaro!  This strange little reject from a 1970's science fiction movie is suddenly humbling the hard bodies all around it.

As I was watching this marvel from AMC, I thought about what Paul wrote about in II Corinthians 3-5.  This is where Paul talks about what it means to follow Christ and trust in God's salvation, rather than to try and save ourselves through our works.  Paul is an amazing writer, and his use of analogy and symbolism is pretty hardcore!  And in these three chapters, we see Paul compare living by the Law of Moses, to living by faith in God.  He expounds beautifully on the idea that none of us can be saved or perfected by the law, because not one of us can ever live up to the law fully.  So rather than devote ourselves to obedience to rules, we should devote ourselves to faith in God's ability to change and restore and complete us!

This has been such a difficult albeit freeing concept, since I started following Christ.  God does not expect me to earn my way into heaven by continued works, but rather wants me to love Him completely and devotedly.  The works, the obedience to God's law, is a by-product of wholly devoted love to the Creator of the Universe!  As I learn to love God more, I want to serve Him, to obey His rules.  I don't do it out of fear or out of desire for heavenly entrance.  I only do it because I want to show God that I care about Him.

But here's the thing: no matter how much I try to obey God's will, I will always fall short.  No matter how hard I try, I will always fail.  But the beauty of God's plan is that if I stop trying to change me, and just devote myself to God, He does the changing for me!  As Paul puts it: "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (II Corinthians 3:5-6)

As we love God more, God can bless us with truly making us into a new creation, a new creature.  All good in our lives, all the things in us that are good, are because of Him and not because of anything we have done!  If I do any good in this world, it is not my effort that made it possible, but it is God's work shining through me!  Man, isn't that amazing?  That concept confirms the weakness that humanity is and has.  It confirms our weak wills, our selfishness, our short-mindedness.  But at the same time, it confirms God's power to make the weak things strong, God's ability to make us all into new creations, His ability to heal all things and make us whole!  And it all ties into that plucky little Pacer...

You see, the Pacer didn't stop being a Pacer.  It still has the freakishly extra long passenger door.  It still has that fishbowl rear window, couple with the shortest ground clearance of its day.  But... the change came from within.  The change was a larger engine, a better transmission, shorter gear ratios and a reinforced rear suspension.  The Pacer didn't improve itself by adding better AMC parts.  It became better because someone loved it enough to change it by making it new from within!

In II Corinthians 4:7, Paul says that we are jars of clay filled with an unsurpassable treasure.  Clay jars were extremely common, and worthless by themselves.  They were functional, fragile, rarely admired, and easily expendable.  By themselves they were worthless.  But... their value came from what was inside of them.  Just like our AMC reject!  Our only value is that which is added by our Creator!  But in acknowledging and allowing our Creator to fully work in our lives, we go from doing the ordinary to the extraordinary.  Not because we are great and wonderful, but because we love Him for what He is!

I am full of flaws.  This is something I have had to learn to accept.  I used to try and hide how hideously deficient I was.  I lied constantly to cover up my temper, my addiction to porn.  I tried to snowball everyone I knew, out of fear that they would find out just how flawed and worthless I really was.  But now, I accept that I am full of sin.  I accept that I am a wreck, a joke, a clay jar.  And as I work more on loving God, rather than trying to fix myself, I see changes I never thought possible.  I see what God is doing, and I weep at how he would take a junker from the scrapyard like me, and spend so much time transforming it into something else.  I am far from where I need to be.  God is trying hard to change me, but I keep stepping in and slowing His work down.  Sometimes I try to take over the redo, trying to fix myself rather than letting Him do the work.  Other times, I shut Him down altogether, fearful of what His changes may bring.  But I work each day at trusting God that little bit more, hoping and praying that some day I can and will give him complete reign over my life.

So here's the question: are we going to continue to be Pacers, doing high 20's at the track, breaking down every time we do over 70 miles an hour (all because we insist on being our own mechanics, insist on being so-called self-made men), OR... are we going to let God take full control and do His will out of love and devotion, transforming us into race day titans?  That's the real choice.

24.5.11

The Hardest Blog I have had to write...

Right now, my stomach is turning.  It's turning because unlike other things I have wrote, this is not a light-hearted piece filled with humour and mirth.  I wish it was, because that would make it more palatable.  But what I am writing today is probably going to offend some people that I love and care for.  It is probably going to hurt the feelings of people whom I never want to offend.  God, I pray that my words are your words.  I pray that people read this with an open heart and a mind open to you...

Oliver Cowdery is a big part of Mormon History.  He was a scribe for Joseph Smith as Mr. Smith wrote the Book of Mormon.  He was there when various witnesses saw the Golden plates, as well as "heavenly visitations" from supposed angels confirming the "genuineness" of Joseph Smith's supposed visions.  He was an early apostle, and influential in the printing of the Book of Mormon.  He later left the LDS church, leaving his church membership behind.

After a period of years of animosity between him and the church leadership at the time, he came back.  Tail tucked firmly between his legs, he was rebaptised.  It is often quoted about how in spite of leaving the church, in spite of talking about against various leaders in the church, he never denied what he saw, nor that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  And this vision of the believing apostate seems permanently burned into the mind of every believing member of the L.D.S. church.

Ever since then, there is this strange belief among many LDS members that people rarely leave because of the LDS doctrine, or that they rarely deny the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith as a prophet.  It is almost as if Cowdery's "apostasy" is the template for every other person who leaves the Mormon ranks.  Rather than accept that people come to the conclusion that the church can't be true, they believe that most people leave because they were offended by something someone said, or because it was "too hard" to live the L.D.S. lifestyle.  This then escalates into a belief that people leave the Mormon church because of issues of pride.  And that if one were more humble, then he would never have left the Mormon church in the first place.

Oh how I wish this were the case!  LOL!  My parents went inactive for years because of offense.  My parents used to help out with a Luau that our church held every year as a fundraiser (this was before the church banned local fundraisers...)  for youth to go to E.F.Y.  That Sunday, our bishop stood up and gave a list of all the people he was thankful for, as they did so much for the Luau.  In that list, my parent's names were omitted.  My mother was furious!  My dad had driven around picking up papier mache palm trees, while my mom single-handedly led the kitchen in cooking and preparing all of the food.  My mom never forgave that bishop, and didn't return to church for years.  So yeah, some people do leave because of offence. 

So yes, some people do stop going to church because someone was rude to them, or because their pride was hurt.  But here's the thing: don't dismiss the stories of those who leave because of a few who left for the sake of their egos.  There are many who have left the church because they realised that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not the church of God.  In fact, for some of us, leaving destroys our lives, and is done out of humility, not arrogance.

I left the church four years ago now.  I had just come back to Utah, after having destroyed my life thanks to pornography and lying.  I came back to reconnect with my family, and to reconnect with God.  One of the first things I did on coming back was attend church, and set up a meeting with the local bishop to try and make recompense for my transgressions.  I was prepared for excommunication, so that I might come back as a member of the Mormon church in good standing.  In a rare moment of courage for me, I was ready to take all the lumps I deserved.  As I attended church, I prayed to God to help me to change.  In return, I promised to do anything He asked of me.

While this was going on, I started dating a girl who was not LDS.  She was a Christian.  And for Easter, she invited me to her church.  I decided to go, not because I was seeking something else, but because I hoped that in turn she would come to church with me, and I could eventually invite her to take the discussions.  My intentions were to "flirt to convert", if you will...

On a sidenote, the girl I was dating had a very outspoken friend who desparately wanted me to leave the church and become a Christian.  We didn't talk that many times, but when we did, she bombarded me with the usual anti-Mormon rhetoric.  I patronised her, listening patiently.  But all the while, inside I felt sorry that she didn't know the "truth" about Joseph Smith and the Mormon church.  And every attack she had, I felt confident she was deluded.  Boy, was I arrogant!

And then, the Friday before Easter came.  I went to a church unlike anything I had every experienced!  Everyone was dressed casually, no suits, no dresses.  The music was loud and raucous.  People danced to the music, their arms held high in the air.  As the pastor spoke they shouted out "amens" and "hallelujahs".  I hated it.  But then the pastor talked about Christ's crucifixion, about his sacrifice for us.  He talked about the grace offered to all who believe.  He spoke in length about how faith in God alone was the terms of salvation.  And as much as my 34 years of Mormon indoctrination tried to fight against it, I knew there was something here.  I cried.  As I listened to this man describe God's love for us, I cried.

A few days later, as I was praying to confirm that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true, God showed me something I had never considered.  A Mormon Prophet has never apologised for making a mistake.  In fact, the church teaches that a prophet will be struck down before he could lead his people astray.  As I thought about this fact, I thought about how Moses killed a man.  I thought about how Abraham lied (at least twice!) about his wife being his sister.  I thought about how Jonah was swallowed by a whale because he was afraid to do what God commanded.  I thought about how David slept with another man's wife.  I thought about how Peter denied Christ.  I thought about the feud between Peter and Paul.  As I thought about God, I was reminded that the bible is the story of imperfect people, people who mess up and screw up, and go astray all the time.  But in spite of their mistakes, they are forgiven and loved by their God.

Then I thought about the Mormon church.  I thought about how vehemently we defend our prophets, giving them some sort of claim to infallability.  I thought about how the church never admitted to Mountain Meadows, how they never once admitted that previous prophets might have made big mistakes.  As the days went by, I tried to ignore this thought.  But it kept coming back.  Over and over.  And over again.  If the church really is true, then why does it go to such lengths to hide the mistakes of its leaders, when the bible goes to such great lengths to point out the mistakes of leaders from the past?

This led me to question other things: the need for Pharisee-like adherence when the sacrament was blessed, or when a baptism was performed.  Would God really reject a baptism because a single hair floated up?  Would God consider my sacramental covenant null and void because the sixteen year old reciting the blessing left out a "thee"?

Over the next few weeks, I found myself questioning the church more and more.  Why is adherence to the Word of Wisdom required for temple attendance, but eating meat in the summer is allowed?  This led to bigger questions: were blacks really forbidden the priesthood because of God, or was this a mistake of man's that the church hasn't admitted?  Why did the church wait until the I.R.S. threatened them before rescinding it?  If D&C teaches that polygamy is an eternal principle, then why did the L.D.S. church rescind it, right as they were told they had to, in order for Deseret to acheive statehood. 

And this led to the big question: was I willing to leave the church?  Was I willing to offend my family, my friends, my former mission colleagues, my neighbours?  Was I willing to leave behind everything I knew, in order to follow God?  Arrogant?  Prideful?  At that moment, I was broken, humbled, I was scared!  I begged God to show me that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was true.  But God took that moment of humility (my natural state of being is pride, so this was truly a moment where I was humbled) and laid out that the Mormon church was not his church.  I was heart-broken.  I was scared.  And in terms of myself, I felt so alone!

But as I continued to pray, I felt peace.  God promised me that if I followed him, I would find joy.  He promised me that He would not leave me in the emotional ocean I was swimming in.  He would not let me drown.  A few days later, I met with the assistant Pastor to discuss the things I was feeling.  Over the course of a few months, and hundreds of questions, I came to the realisation of who God was.  God was an eternal being, not an exalted man.  He was without beginning or end, and was always God.  God loved me, even when I sinned, and was merely waiting for me to return to Him.  He showed me that I didn't have to earn heaven.  Things like works and baptism and such were the results of my growing faith in Him, not my pre-requisites to return to Him!  I found myself growing closer to God, my prayers becoming more intimate.  I stopped looking at God as some far-away perfect being, and started looking at Him as something real and tangible, something I felt everywhere I went!

And so I left the Mormon church to become a Christian.  My parents lectured me.  Former friends from my mission stopped talking to me.  I had to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.  I had to change how I thought about salvation, how I thought about others.  I had to change everything that had defined me for over thirty-four years.  It was difficult and painful and wonderful... and worth it!

I am so happy now!  I am so overjoyed and overwhelmed by God every day!  My heart breaks for all of my friends and family who are still Mormon.  I pray for them, hoping that God will reveal to them the same truth He revealed to me.  It breaks my heart when they politely refuse my invitations to church, or choose to ignore my pointed messages about the invalidity of the Mormon church.  It hurts when people tell me that when I humble myself, I will return.  It hurts when people talk about my being a Christian as a phase or a fad.  It is condescending and simple-minded.  As much as you pray for me, I am praying for you, too.

This post is for all my L.D.S. friends and family.  I am asking you to humbly and openly look at the Mormon church.  I am asking you to compare it to the bible, and ask yourself this question: does it fit?  Do the teachings of the bible and the teachings of the church mesh?  But before you answer that question, I have a challenge.  I challenge each of you to read the bible cover to cover.  Put down the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants.  Put down The Ensign and the New Era.  Read the bible by itself from beginning to end, without any study guides or other books.  Don't be afraid to find a bible in an understandable format!  Rather than read it in the King James version, feel free to pick up the New International Version, or the New King James, or the NLT.  I don't care, but find a copy of the bible you can understand, and read it.  As you do, pray about it.  Open your heart to God, and ask Him everyday about the things you have read.  When you are done, see if you still follow the Mormon prophets, or see if God opens your eyes up to something greater, something freeing, something life changing!

God has changed my life!  He has given me peace, and joy, and tranquility.  He has given me a new outlook on life, a greater capacity and desire to love others.  He has filled all the voids, and transformed who I am.  Because of Him, I love and live like I never did before!  God saved me from myself!

I know this post is going to offend.  I know it will be dismissed by some because of who I am, or their relationship with me.  But I truly pray that someone, somewhere will be affected by what I write, and humble themselves enough to hear what God is saying.  I hope this post is received as something I write in love.  I don't write this to boast, or to hurt, or to mock.  I write it because God has changed my life, and I want to share that with each and everyone of my Mormon friends.  I love you.

14.5.11

The Tool Shed

The Tool Shed

When I was a kid, there was one room in the house that was off limits, but that I could never resist sneaking into, and snooping around in. It was a room that was so amazing and so filled with such unique things, that I risked punishment almost daily just to spend a few minutes moping around in there. This room? My dad's garage!

Now, I know that the house truly belonged to my mother and father equally... Well, almost equally. As much as each room was “shared”, I also knew that certain rooms were more mom's domain, or dad's. Mom was the queen of our kitchen, turning out amazing cookies and pies every time she set foot in there. But I also knew that we didn't enter without her permission. And if we did... let's just say that it was here that the phrase “fear of God” really started to mean something. Same for the formal living room that we never went in. Mom kept that rug spotless for when guests would arrive. But we weren't guests, so we NEVER went in there!

As for dad's part of the house? The one area that was truly his, was the garage. He kept his tools out there, his projects. In a way, this was where he stored his hopes and dreams. I know that sounds melodramatic, but my dad is an amazing mechanic and gardener. And the things he truly loved to do and work on were all stored there, neatly arranged on benches hugging the walls of that room. When we had that amazing vegetable garden on 800 North, it was in this room that he stored the seeds and fertilizer (not to mention the hoes and rakes and such) that brought us cucumbers and watermelons and tomatoes and even corn were stored! That garden was tiny, but by utilizing the tools in that shed, he turned out a crop that looked like it should belong on a farm! Amazing!

It wasn't just garden implements in there, either. The garage was also where dad kept his camping equipment, his tools for home repair. And most importantly, this is where he kept his tools for repairing the family cars! (At some point, I will need to go into great length about my obsession with cars. But let's just say, for now, that it all started in that little garage...)

I'll never forget how I would look around at all the tools, amazed that he had so many, each with such a unique shape, some even qualifying as beautiful! Many of the tools were ones that I have now: wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. Others I hope to get when I finally get a house. I mean, this guy had four or five trimmers alone: one for hedges, one for bushes, one for the edge of the grass, etc.

I remember looking through one of his ammo boxes (that he used to keep screws and such in), and finding this one particularly odd contraption. He had this weird black rubbery/plastic tool-thingy about as big as his thumb, and sort of shaped like it too, that was hollow inside, with all of these long metallic bristles in the opening. As a young one, I assumed it was some sort of torture device! It sure as hell looked like one! It was only in my teens that I learned that this contraption had but one purpose: to clean the leads for a car battery. It was heavy and lunky, and quite an ugly tool. And yet, it's purpose was as important as the gorgeous circular saw dad kept locked up under his long work bench.

Today, many years since I last snuck into the secret world of my father's garage, I was reading a daily devotional in the book Jesus by Beth Moore. I have had this book for almost a year, and haven't really done much with it. But last night and this morning, I felt a need to pick it up and really read it. I was on Day 2 today, when I read the last two sentences that Beth wrote in a prayer to God: “In Your hands and by Your power, You can do through me whatever you desire. May I believe this in ever greater measure.”

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of how we are the instruments by which the world is changed. He wields us to do His will, His purpose. And man, is that an amazing concept! It is through ME that God will change others' lives. Me. ME. ME! In times where I am humble or insecure, that seems like such a crazy concept. I mean, sure I have a few skills and talents, but God is the God of the universe. Why would he use a broken tool like me. In that same Chapter of Corinthians, we learn that God does this to show His power! After all, if He can change the world using a bunch of rejects like us, then He truly is something amazing and unstoppable!. It is times like this that I marvel at how amazing God is.

But here's the rub. I am not always thinking in such humble terms. Sometimes I am quite proud of the work God has given me. Sometimes I think not that I need Him, but rather that He needs me! I know that is such an arrogant thing to say, but when I am doing J5, there are times I feel that if I don't do it all, then the men of Utah will never be free of sexual sin. As if I am the sexual saviour of this state! I know how arrogant that sounds, believe me. And I am a bit embarrassed to tell you that I sometimes think this way. But, I also know that for the purpose of writing this, I need to be 100% real today.

You see, I am sort of like that car battery cleaner thingy my dad had. I have a very specific purpose, one that I sometimes believe makes me invaluable to the Man in the Garage. After all, without me that 1979 Lincoln would never run. Am I right, or am I right here, peoples? Like that odd-shaped bit of plastic, I forget that I am not the only tool in the shed. And I forget that God has billions of tools in His garage.

A few weeks ago, my car wouldn't start. I tried cleaning the battery with a wire brush, but it wasn't working. I called my dad, hoping he would bring that hunk of rubber over. He didn't have time to come over, so he told me to run in the house and grab a cup of water and a box of baking soda. Long story short, it did the same job, and did it pretty darn quick. I was back on my way in no time.

In God's scheme of things, he doesn't use us because we are invaluable. He doesn't use us because we are irreplacable. Rather, he uses us so that we may grow and learn, and eventually shape ourselves to be more like him. It's easy to get caught up thinking that without us, God's plans are stymied. If I wasn't here, J5 would fall apart. If I wasn't here, the pastor wouldn't be kept in check, or the chidren wouldn't be taught properly, or the... whatever.

But the truth is, God will take any tool and make it shine, as long as it is willing to do His will. Just like my dad's garage, God has a million tools to choose from. And God will use each and every one of us to help His great project. But, He can only use us if we acquiesce that He is the mechanic, that He is truly in charge. When we start getting to thinking that we are irreplacable, that is when we get replaced.

Bottom line is this: You are special because God loves you and created you. What you do is nothing other than what you were created for. Your works, your deeds, your actions, these don't make you better or worse than any other person that God created. God isn't looking for the prettiest tool, or the most unique tool (to Him all of His tools have beauty and uniqueness). He is looking for the most willing tool, the one that will do the job asked of Him. So when God reaches for you, are you willing to do it on His terms, and create Heaven on earth, or are you going to be replaced by baking soda and a cup of water? The choice is yours.

God bless!

Wayne

16.4.11

The Repentant thief

This is a monologue I gave at church last night.  Our church is doing a presentation based upon the three crosses.  Last week, Daemon gave a presentation as the unrepentant thief.  And last night, I was the repentant one.  I thought I would share it with you! 
(Note: there is some swearing in this.  This is not to be offensive or shocking.  Rather, it was to show that we do not change immediately when we accept Christ.  We are still a W.I.P. (work in progress).  We strive to become as Christ, but this is a life-long goal, rather than an immediate change.)
(Final Note: The song used was Wonderwall.  It was the version from Ryan Adams.)

Sheva Shekel!  Ha!  Sheva Shekel.  That’s, uh, seven shekels to those of you not from around here.  You know, seven Shekels isn’t all that bad!  It’ll get you a decent room for the night, a few good meals, even a bit of companionship.  Or throw it all together and you can get yourself a decent mule and some new clothes!  Nothing wrong with some good transportation and some new threads, right?...


You know, I remember a Rabbi once asking me, “How much are you worth?”  When I heard that question, I always wanted to answer it in a very esoterical way: My value is the friends that I have made. It’s my contribution to society.  It’s the good deeds I have done, and the people I have helped!  Yeah… that’s all a load of crap, isn’t it?  Right now, I know exactly what my life is worth.  And how do I know that?  Because when I was condemned to death for stealing from my fellow man… it was all because I took from him: Seven Shekels.  That’s why I am hanging on this cross, about to die.  Sheva.  Shekel.

You know, I would love to tell you how this isn’t my fault.  I’d love to tell you that my Abba, my daddy, used to beat me.  I’d like to blame the Romans for screwing up the economy, giving me no choice but to steal.  I’d love to blame bad governmental decisions, the horrible school I went to, my water was spiked, I was having a bad hair day…  I’d love to make any excuse I could right now to get off the cross, but not a damn thing I can say is going to make any difference to my fate.  Besides, all of that would be a lie anyways.

And when you are about to die, when you can count the hours left on a single hand, suddenly the lies and the reputation and all of the selfish nonsense just don’t matter any more.  Twenty-four hours ago, I would have done anything, said anything, to save my life and get me off of this cross.  After all, lying is my second greatest skill.  But at this point, does it matter?  Everyone knows why I’m hanging here.  I have nothing left to protect, nothing left to defend, nothing left to lose.  So, I will defend the one thing that is left, the one thing I never cared about before: I will defend the truth.

And here's the truth: Do you really want to know why I am here?  Do you really want to know what brought me to the cross?  Simple: I made a bad choice. That's right: I made a choice:  I chose to steal, chose to lie, I chose convenience over honesty. I chose wrong over right.  I am hanging here not because the Romans finally caught me, caught us.  I am here because I chose the wrong path. This moment, this very moment in time? I own this.  And that is why this Jackass on the other side has me so angry!  He was right there with me when I got caught, his own hand in someone else’s pocket!  He’s as low and as dirty as I am.  And just like me, he knows innocence when he sees it.  After all, in our line of work, it’s so rare that one comes across true innocence.  So when you see it, it truly stands out from everything else.  And yet… and yet he can look into That Man’s eyes and mock him?  He begs to be saved, demands this Man save himself, and yet he has done NOTHING to deserve to be saved?  How dare he!

How can he look into those eyes, and ridicule this man?  You only have to see Him, I mean really see Him, to know that this is true innocence.  There is such love in His eyes.  The world mocks Him, His own men betray Him…  And yet, he continues to look on them with love.  There is no self-righteousness in His eyes, no hatred, no disdain.  Just concern and care.  They criticize him, spit on Him, slander him... and He begs His Abba, His Father, to forgive them.

So I asked him, “Do you even fear God?  You’re here for the same reason I am!  We deserve exactly what we are getting.  Every nail, every agony.  We brought it on ourselves.  But you know as well as I do that this man is innocent!”  The crowd says this man claims to be the Messiah.  I look at Him, and if he says He’s the Messiah, then He is.  They claim he calls Himself the Son of God.  Well if that's true, then I will praise Him and worship at his feet!

God, I know I don’t deserve your mercy.  I’ve broken every law you set.  I used feast days as an excuse to rob and hurt your people.  I laughed at the good family you sent into my life, and wasted the time you gave me!  God, I am so sorry!  Please Lord, don’t let the people I suffer because of what I have done.  Please bless them, Lord. Please heal my victims from the scars my actions have inflicted!  I can’t believe that I wasted my life, only to find such love as I prepare to take my last breath.  My new home is soon to be hell, and I get that.  So as you return to your home, I only ask you Lord: please don’t forget me.  Just think of me one last time.  But then I guess that even that I don't deserve.

I never expected a response.  I knew that even that morsel of grace was more than my actions deserved.  But instead, He tells me that I will so be with Him in paradise!  Paradise? I don’t deserve paradise. Don’t you understand what I have done?  Can’t you see the people that I have hurt?  God, I am not a Saint.  But… I look into your eyes, and I know that you are serious… You really have forgiven me, haven't you?  Why God, Why?  Why show such mercy to me?  Why forgive someone so low on life’s totem pole?  Why me, Lord?

Because you love me?  Are you here because you see more value in me than the mere Sheva Shekel I sold my life for? Oh God, I have never seen such love for someone as unloveable as me! Regardless of my deeds, good or bad, I just wanted that unconditional love. And here you are, giving that to me!  Lord, (CUE SONG) you ARE the Christ.

I’m ready, Lord.  I can feel my breathing getting harder, my eyes getting heavy. I should be afraid right now, but I’m OK. I’m OK…

21.3.11

I am....

How many labels do you carry?  I'm not talking about your Dolce's or your Gabana's.  I'm not even referring to your Heinz or your Rhino Records.  Those labels are all well and good because they describe the products inside.  They help us to make choices as to what we choose to accept, and what we leave behind.  People have labels too.  We see them on questionnaires at the D.M.V.  We see them in clothing choices, or lifestyle choices.  So what's your label?  What I mean is: how do you describe what's inside of you?  How do you tag yourself?

Me?  I have used a lot of different descriptions over the years: I'm an American.  I'm Irish (that one is a lie, by the way). I'm a Mormon.  I'm a Christian.  I'm employed.  I'm unemployed.  I'm homeless. I'm a thug.  I'm out of control.  I'm ugly.  I'm a liar.  I'm violent.  I'm a sex-addict.  I'm abusive.  I'm a bully.  I'm a coward.  I'm a con artist...  I'm unchangeable.

But here's the interesting thing about labels.  Most of them are true.  Except for the Irish thing, I really have or have had the traits listed above.  The good ones are easy to take ownership of.  Nothing wrong with being born in the U.S.A.  Nothing wrong with having a job, or believing in Christ.  Then there are those that aren't positive or negative.  Yes, I was L.D.S. But I found a better way.  Yes I was unemployed, but the economy's bad, and I have a job now.  Right?  All of those labels are easy to accept and wear.  They are not discomorting.

But what about being a liar?  What about being an abuser?  What about being an addict?  Yeah, those are words that filled me with such guilt and shame that I was afraid to let anyone know about those parts of me.  I would lie MORE to try and hide those aspects of who I was.  This led to only more hoplessness and despair, because I was proving the packaging right.  Sometimes we get so overwhelmed by all of these tags that we just give up and let ourselves be the scumbag it says on the outside.  We prove them right, and just go with it.

I know I did.

But then one day, God showed me a different way.  God said, "I didn't create you to hurt others, or yourself.  When I made you, you were beautiful and magnificent.  You are one of my greatest creations!But then you made choices.  Some of those choices were good, and lined up with what I had in store for you.  But other choices you made... they weren't that smart.  They might have seemed right at the time, but they hid your real potential, that spark, that light, that I designed into you.  And those choices also drew you away from me, away from the beauty I stashed inside of you.  But here's the good news: you always have a new choice.  You can always choose to come back to me.  No matter how many times you act the fool,  you can always choose to come back to me.  I know the hurt you've caused others and yourself, and I can heal that.  I know that choosing me means facing consequences for what you have done, and I can give you the strength.  I know that there is comfort in staying as you are, and so I have an even greater comfort waiting for you.  I offer peace and rest.  Wayne, you have a choice.  Right here, right now.  Even as you sit there on that chair.  Even now as you fight inside with insecurity and worry and fear.  Even as you cry out in pain as your insecurity tears apart everything you hold precious...  You Have A Choice!  So Wayne, what's it going to be?  Do you choose to keep on keeping on, or do you choose me?  No matter what you choose, I love you.  Remember that."

I was amazed when the Lord laid it out for me like He did.  I suddenly realised that it wasn't about what I did, but what I chose.  Would I do dumb things even if I chose God?  Of course I would!  But by putting God first, He had room to change me and form me.  He could replace my fear with confidence in Him.  He could make me into something altogether new, a new creation!  And part of being a new creation is dealing with the consequences that those former labels, those former choices, dealt me.  Any time something new grows, it's painful.  And being honest about who I was, who I am, and who I am in Christ, has been a very painful process.  But birth, the amazing miracle of life, has its share of pains, too.  So as I am reborn in the Lord, pain is a part of the process.  But for all the pain I feel, God's love numbs the pain and just makes me feel..... well... JOY!

I love God!  I love that He never forsook me, even when I forsook Him.  I love His patience with me, His loving guidance and direction.  His forgiveness.  I can never express enough how grateful I am that no matter how bad I became, He still offered me a choice, a way out.  Now matter how deep in sin I wallowed (or wallow), he continues to offer me the option of leaving the muck and the mire!  God could have given up on me, and rightly so.  But instead, He continues to wait patiently on me.  On me!  The little nothing in the universe has a God that loves Him so much, that He is always ready to lead Him out of pain and back to peace!  So what label do I wear?  What's left on the packaging when everything else is stripped away?  Simple: I am a Child of God.  And that is one label I wear proudly!