Friday, December 26, 2014

Where Are the Shackeltons?

 In 1914, Ernest Shackleton began preparations, both materially and financially for what he dubbed "The Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition".  The goal was simple; to be the first men to cross the continent of Antarctica.  A journey of that sort requires supplies and backing, but it also requires men who possess  more than just a little bit of the spirit of adventure.  Shackleton, sensing this, ran the preceding advertisement in the newspaper.  His interest wasn't so much as what was in a man's head as what was in a man's heart.  He understood that you can buy brains, but you can't buy character.
  Amazingly, thousands of men saw the ad, and over 5,000 responded.  Along the journey their ship, the Endurance, was entombed in the Artic ice and the expedition had to be abandoned.  The rest of their journey was a journey of survival, in which the crew made it's way across the ice, and a majority of the crew had to stay behind on the continent while Shackelton and two other men went for help. Even then, the rescue was delayed by weather and the men who answered the ad were forced to wait in man-killing cold and deprivation.  Impossibly, all but three men made it home, and it's a fascinating story. 
  What's particularly fascinating to me is that it did not have to happen that way. The men who answered this ad could just as easily perished on the ice,and they knew it.They left behind comfort, security ,and family in order to be part of a grand and glorious adventure.  I don't know if it was the spirit of the age or simply Shackletons powerful vision, but men responded,and put their very lives on the line for something that could have ended in unspeakable tragedy.
  As Christians, God calls us to be a part of a grand and glorious adventure; the ministry.  He promises us a hazardous journey but a journey with a fruitful end.  Yet so many of us look to the ends of the earth and then cast an eye back towards the safety and familiarity of that which is known.  We live in a quagmire of our own comfort, never daring to really risk anything for God.  We  anticipate that somebody else will reach the lost, somebody else will preach the gospel, somebody else will leave all to teach the Bible.  Truthfully, most people are already experiencing as much  discomfort and persecution for Jesus Christ as they desire.  I mean, I know Jesus Christ  endured the contradiction of sinners against himself for me, but give up Starbucks? Are you  mad?  Go knock on a stranger's door and talk to them about their soul? You must be insane! Preach in public?  What are you, some sort of weirdo?
  I fear that the spirit of Shackleton age has left us.  Honestly, in the  grand scheme of things, if no one had EVER crossed Antarctica it would have very little bearing on the lives of anyone.  The things God has called us to do, however, are eternal in nature, and  bear results long after this world will have passed away.  But are any of us willing to do it?

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Popeye Preacher

"I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam"-Popeye
  Trust me, this will all make sense by the time that I'm done. Maybe.
  I recently made a trip to the Philippines to help out a  dear friend and  mentor of mine. While I was there I  fell in love with what is going on over there, and it is my hearts desire to return with my family and minister there indefinitely. That sort of work requires outside funding and as an independent Baptist, the way those funds are usually procured is a  process by which the  missionary-wanna-be travels around to various churches asking for a financial commitment towards the ministry.  were I  to join some sort of denomination or convention this process  might be easier, but at a cost of autonomy or doctrinal compromise.
  It has been made clear to me that, in the minds of some, I am horribly inadequate for this task, and they are probably right. I have been told that I don't have the personality for such an endeavor. I have been told that nobody will like me, and nobody will support me.  I , in the minds of some, am unqualified, anti-social, uncouth, and  too dogmatic.
  I also have no knack for self-promotion, and on this point I must agree with my critics.  I know of a  younger fellow in the ministry that  has a rather dominant (at least in my estimation) social media presence.  He is on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and he literally has thousands of followers.  As he travels and does his thing he puts up pictures and  what-not.  Hundreds of people comment on his activities and he is booked  for meetings years in advance.  It's really  quite remarkable to me how he has achieved near-celebrity status in our circles and how he makes it look easy.  This is not a criticism; I genuinely wish I had a 'feel' for such things.
  But as my favorite one-eyed sailor would say "I ain't no tailor but I know what suits me".  I am , as much as anybody can be, exactly what I appear to be. I'm not smooth-talking or glib. I say stuff I shouldn't on occasion and  unfortunately, way too often I do things I shouldn't. I am gruff sometimes and  rude from time to time. I consider  brutal honesty a sign of respect. I have no 'sugar-coat' button  in my head. I'd rather go through something than go around it. I don't have  bulgy arms ( but not from lack of trying)  or tattoos and I don't smoke a pipe but I do want to hit people from time to time.
  I preach the Bible with very little fanfare. I am  a laborer in word and doctrine, and in the ministry. I may not be  as smooth as you or as handsome as you or as glib as you, but I will work you into the ground trying to keep up with me. I  adore doctrine , and I believe public ministry is the highest form of evangelism.  I will preach what I think is right, even if it costs me, and I've proven that. I'm sure there are ways to explain things  and ways to present things that would make me more effective, and in that area I am still learning, but  I cannot change the core of who I am. You will never have to worry what version of Michael Alford you're dealing with, and as much as  you would think  such genuineness would be an asset, it doesn't appear to be.
  I  am told that I need to  'market' myself, but I don't even know where to start.  Obviously  going to a group of strangers and  telling them what I just told you  probably isn't the best tactic.  Though I have no doubt that my honesty would resound with some people (us knuckleheads can always spot our own), many Christians have never seen anything like me come down the pike.
  If on the off chance you are looking for exactly that sort of guy to send out, I present myself to you as someone willing to  go in your stead and minister in a foreign land.  I'm Popeye the Preacher man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

War on Terror: The Great Foundation Destroyer

  I have a co-worker who I sincerely  believe means well, but he is a 'conservative' in the nastiest sense of the word.  'Conservatives' used to be the champions of individual liberty and the Constitution, but somehow, somewhere along the way, conservatives became the 'bomb the brown people' crowd.  This co-worker, sad to say , is one of these. He is very much  a 'law and order' Republican while claiming to be for 'limited government'. He, in essence advocates a police state in order to stop terrorists while decrying Obamacare. The government, according to him, cannot be trusted to run medical care, but can be trusted to run secret prisons and torture chambers and drone strikes and  endless warfare. Discussions  with him usually devolve into a frantic attempt to  define words by what they actually mean rather than how they are used by the political spin doctors of the GOP. In his mind, Mr. Bush was the great savior of the republic; the man of the hour who looked evil in the face and didn't flinch. Instead Mr. Bush marched bold forward, vowing to  stop terrorists wherever they may hide, and by any means necessary.  Mr. Obama, by comparison, is a mealy-mouthed minister of half-hearted measures.  Keep in mind that the policies of both of these men are virtually identical, and you can see why my head hurts if I talk to him for very long.
  But I'm nothing if not stubborn and so I am  am always looking for common ground. I am always searching for some sort of intellectual bridge by which he can be  shown the insanity of his position and be led back to reality.   So far my quest has been fruitless, but at least it makes me think about what I believe and why I believe it.
  One of our more recent discussions had to do with accused terrorists and  trials.  He has taken the position that there are bad people who want to kill us and destroy our way of life and we cannot be bothered with the niceties of the law in the midst of this struggle.  He seems to take the position that things like 'proof' and 'due process' are things you do when  the stakes aren't quite so high. He advocates simply shooting bad guys on sight. He laments that  they might be given access to courts and lawyers. He forsees a future in which the ACLU ( akin to Satan in his world-view) might get involved and bearded cartoonish bad guys are simply released free to kill again.  He somehow thinks that prisons which hold on to rapists and  murderers on a daily basis are insufficient to house terrorists.  Like I said, it makes my head hurt.
  But have you ever thought of  WHY stuff like that is important? Why is it important to the very notion of justice that people, regardless of what they are accused of, receive due process?
  The very idea of  things like  police and courts  assume that the state has certain exclusive powers. with all  apologies to my anarchist and minarchist friends, let's assume that Thomas Jefferson was right;"...That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...", Having instituted a government, it could then be argued that  in order to fulfill it's role as the protector of rights, that government needs certain powers exclusive to itself. It has to be able to  define crimes, investigate crimes, catch perpetrators and punish them.  Of course the very act of handing such power to a man or a group of men is terrifying. No man or group of men can be trusted with the  power to detain other men and put them in a cage for years  No man or no group of men can be trusted with the absolute power of life or death over other men.   That is the great paradox of government.
  At least a partial solution to this is the idea of due process and jury trials.  The idea is that , if the government accuses you of a crime, it has to make its case, not to itself, but to  the populace via a jury of citizens. If this  cross-section of the  citizenry do not  agree unanimously that the government has made it's case, then the accused goes free, and can  not be charged  again for that particular offense.  The overall theme is one of openness.  In due process, the accused is allowed to defend himself against the state, and his accusers are made to face him. In due process, there are no secret trials, no  coerced confessions, and any and all evidence aligned against the accused, including the means by which evidence is gathered can be scrutinized by the public and assessed by the jury.  It is,  a huge balwarck against the abuse of the powers of arrest and incarceration. Things like this are the  very building blocks of civilized man.
  But not so on the  war on terror.  By using the language of terror, the  state has swept away all safeguards to it's own power, oddly enough, to a cheering crowd of fist-pumping faux patriots who cry out "take away our liberty, but keep us safe from the shadows".  The presumption of innocence is kicked away; we have people in Gitmo, but nobody knows for sure how or why they were captured.   We're told we don't need to know. It's better that way. The   presentation of evidence has been smashed to powder; an accusation is enough. The evidence against them, if it exists, is hidden under the  thick veil of national security.  There is no need for citizen review, we're told . After all, we're the  state, and we have your best interests at heart. 
  My co-worker was vehement in his belief that every single person in Gitmo  was  arrested on the battlefield as they  fired a weapon at the US military. I  told him that not only could he not prove that, but that he couldn't find out for certain  WHO is at Gitmo, HOW they were  captured or WHY they are being held.   He backpedalled and  said that he was "certain" that we had the right guys.  Fine, but how do you prove it if  any and all evidence against the accused is hidden away? 
  It is  curious to me that the powers that be are so terrified of  their deeds being brought to light.  They will move heaven and earth to conceal  evidence against the supposedly guilty. They will 'classify' phone records, detention logs, video surveillance. What do they have to hide?  Why is scrutiny something that must be avoided at all costs?  I have a theory about this.  They avoid scrutiny because they know that  scrutiny and openness is the death blow to the monstrosity they have built.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Land of the Free"

  I recently returned from a missionary trip to Asia. I flew out of Jacksonville , Florida to Dallas. I flew from Dallas to Hong Kong, from Hong Kong to Manila, and then from Manila to my final destination somewhere else in the Philippines.  I covered  almost 20,000 miles on  by the time it was over and I would like to simply relate to you a handful of anecdotes that reflect, in my opinion the true state of freedom in America.
  To begin with, this trip was in the works for months, and  my  biggest concern was  not the Muslim hotbed I was traveling to , but rather what my own countrymen might do to me as I tried to leave.  As it stands, if you are making a trip of this magnitude, it is, as far as I can tell, impossible not to interact with the Department of Homeland Security.  I had no desire to be groped or  body-scanned, but the TSA is counting on the fact that you are  willing to endure such  abuses in order to make your trip.  I could have made a scene, but they would have  stopped me from traveling (at  the very least) and processed me as a bad guy at the very worst.  So I stood in line, removed my shoes, my belt, my hat, and emptied my pockets.  I  stepped inside the body scanner and adopted the 'I surrender' pose and then  on the other side of the scanner began to redress myself in full view of strangers.  I know this is the new normal, but that, dear readers, is not normal.  On the far wall,  visible as you are being violated is a sign that says something like '9/11-We will Never forget'. I suppose that is there to make me feel better about the process, but since I think 9/11 was an inside job, the fact that I was being reminded to remember did nothing to lessen my anxiety.    Just before you step into the body scanner there is an interesting  sign. The sign says, more or less that TSA employees are people too, with feelings. The sign goes on to say that snide comments  towards TSA employees or derogatory comments about the procedures will be taken as a threat to their persons and dealt with accordingly.
  Now, before my neo-con friends interrupt me with songs of praise for the  'first responders' in the 'new war on America' and before my conservative friends warn me about the Muslim hiding behind every bush or start to chirp about 'freedom isn't free' ,  please keep reading.
  I left Jacksonville after having been seen nude by  a total stranger and flew to Dallas where I had a substantial lay-over.  Over the loudspeaker at the Dallas airport I was constantly reminded that  the DHS had   laid down new rules and regulations with which I was expected to comply.  Literally every  5 or 6 minutes they would announce that  any  bags left unattended for any period of time would be  confiscated and destroyed.  By sheer repetition I began to feel paranoid and   did not take my eyes off of my bag.  Everywhere in the airport there were direction to do this or don't do that. DHS  and TSA  people were seemingly everywhere and eyed everybody suspiciously.
  From Dallas I took a 17 hour trip to Hong Kong, which is titularly  owned and run by the communist Chinese.  I went through their security checkpoint and was expecting nothing short of a cavity search.  While I  have no love for the communists, I will say this; the  checkpoint was ridiculously humane compared to the TSA.  I  set  my bag down, sending it through an x-ray machine. I walked through a metal detector, shoes on , and was instructed to  empty my pockets on the other side. I was wanded, thanked for my time, and was through the entire security apparatus in less than 3 minutes.  The overall vibe was  one notch above a security guard at the mall.
  I can already  tell what you're thinking. You are thinking that the TSA HAS to act like a bunch of  thugs.  After all,  terrorists are  hiding behind every bush and they won't rest until America the Great Satan has fallen.  I've  heard it all, trust me, and assuming that  to be the case, let me  encourage you to keep reading.
  From Hong Kong I flew to Manila.  Manila is  possibly the most horrid airport on earth, although I suppose until I have visited every airport on earth, I can't say for certain.  Manila is however, an amazing example of third-world inefficiency.  Nobody knows where anything is in the Manila airport and nothing opens or closes when it is supposed to.  But still airport terminals are a temporary place by nature so I soldiered on to my final destination in Mindanao.
  Mindanao, in case you didn't know, does have a substantial  population of Muslims.  You see them everywhere and although I don't endorse Islam by a long shot, I must say that if Islam really was the problem, it would seem like the bombs would never stop in Mindanao.  This may be the opinion of an unenlightened  buffoon, but there it is.  Despite being everywhere you go, there was no overt hostility towards me even as I preached in public to large crowds of them.  The concerns of my fellow Americans that I would  be beheaded the first day  have proven to be unfounded.
  The other thing that didn't happen in Mindanao was that  the police weren't called.  As a public  preacher in America I deal with the  police regularly, but while  overseas I preached  everywhere from a street corner to a Catholic nursing home and not once did anyone complain. Not once did an officer of the law stop me or  harass me. I literally stood on the top of a van in the  market with a loudspeaker and preached to people buying their groceries and nobody called the authorities. I had to explain to my  Filipino brothers that  it was not so in the 'land of the free'.
  Mindanao has had it's share of Muslim-tinged violence.  There really has been bombings, as opposed to the phony terror plots trotted out by the DHS  to justify their jobs.  So how did they address the need for beefed up security? Well when I went to the mall there was a private security guard there who  briefly ran his hand over the small of my back to make sure I didn't have a gun. I may have had to also take my hat off. That was it, That was the entire exercise, and once you got accustomed to it, you could almost go through it without breaking stride.
  After a few days in country, it was time to return back to America.  I checked my bags in Mindanao and was waiting for the plane to begin boarding when my name was called over the intercom. I headed back through the reasonable security and was flagged down by a  very courteous baggage handler. He led me to a back room where several security officers were waiting.  I must admit, I thought this could go very badly. They asked  me politely (and by politely I mean they really were polite, as opposed to the  faux-politeness of American thugs) to open my bag. They stood by quietly as I rummaged through dirty laundry until I located the object of their concern; a bracket that sort of looked like a weapon. I removed it, showed it to them, and explained it's function. Despite the language barrier, they agreed that it wasn't a weapon, and they thanked me for my time.  I  walked back through the security checkpoint and was waived through because they recognized me.  I boarded the plane and headed back to Manila.  From Manila I went to Hong Kong where I once again went through the security checkpoint that took almost 4 minutes this time.  I boarded the plane and we landed in Dallas.
  Back in the 'land of the free' we were herded into a disorganized and confused line where  our bags were searched  and our personages  assaulted.  We were handed confusing declaratory  forms while  costumed uniformed officers wandered up and down the  line barking out  orders for us to have our papers in order lest we  be detained.  To leave the airport we had to  go through the same procedures as if we were entering the airport and it took  almost two hours to clear it all. One lady in line with us  told a completely unsympathetic officer that at this rate she would miss her connecting flight. The officer shrugged his shoulders in helplessness and  proceeded on down the line to remind us that all they needed to see was our documentation, The man actually said, at the top of his lungs, "We don't want to see your vacation pictures."
   I am not unbiased in all this, and never claimed to be. I think the 'war on terror' is  almost entirely a hoax, and I believe  most of what  DHS and TSA does to be unconstitutional., so yes I have a small axe to  grind, but I have not cherry-picked these incidents to prove my point. In light of my experience, I  ask you dear reader to draw your own conclusion about 'freedom'.

Friday, November 7, 2014

History Stuff: Jerry McAuley

I am admittedly partial to saints like myself; people whose lives were a wreck before Jesus rescued them. That leads me to the man who started the first rescue mission in NYC; Jerry McAuley.  I  threw together the following  short bio from a handful of sources.

  Jerry McAuley was a  self-described “rogue and river thief,”. Born in Ireland in 1839 he was raised by his grandmother because his mother could not or would not care for him and nobody knew who his father was. The grandma cursed him when he threw clods at her while she prayed her rosary.
Eventually she shunted him off to relatives in New York. He ran away from home and lived by stealing--drifting in and out of prison. When he was nineteen, authorities, only too happy to get him off the street, convicted him on trumped up robbery charges. He was sentenced to fifteen years in Sing Sing prison. For the first time in his life, Jerry found himself obeying rules. He saw it as his one chance to regain freedom. He learned to read.
  The event that transformed him from an "impossible" case to a soul winner was the testimony of a former pal who had become a Christian. Jerry wanted the hope he saw in Orville Gardner. He began reading the Bible and tried desperately to pray. Finally one night a supernatural presence appeared in his cell and a voice seemed to say, "Son, your sins which are many are forgiven." McAuley did not change all at once. He still drank too much and fought. But that night he was converted.
  Pardoned by Governor Horatio Seymour, he went free on March 8, 1864. After a renewal of his faith, Jerry McAuley began to work for God. He saved money and on this day, October 8, 1871, opened the Water Street mission in New York City to reclaim men like himself. Set in an old dance hall, it was the first rescue mission in the United States, the forerunner of many more.
  Hundreds of men were turned from lives of sin and misery to hope in Christ. Jerry also inspired Emma Mott Whittemore to begin her Door of Hope mission for fallen women. Jerry's life demonstrates the power of God to do the impossible: to change lives that are rotten to the core.
Today there are more than 300 Rescue Missions in North America and many are the direct result of the McAuley vision. He died in 1884 and his last words were “It’s all right up there”

  As great a story as that is, as I was  researching images of McAuley, and images of the  mission house, I found this article by a man who has a niche audience if there ever was one.   It appears there was a drinking fountain dedicated to  Jerry McAuley, and although disconnected, it still exists in Greeley Square Park in NYC.  Isn't that  just  delightfully obscure and amazing?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Things Which Cannot Happen

"But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." Matt 19:26
  It is an oft-quoted verse, right? It is a verse that I believe to be as true as  I believe the rest of the Bible to be true.  But apparently , while all things are possible, they are some things, that according to God simply cannot happen.And while I certainly believe it to be true as much as I believe the entire Bible to be true, there are some things that , according to scripture, cannot happen.  

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded ?" (1 Kings 8:27)
  In my role as the Grand Inquisitor  of the Most Unusual Sunday School Class in America I was teaching my way through Genesis a few years back and I tried to  impress upon my students  how vast the second heaven is.   I took a bowling ball, which happens to be roughly 100,000th the size of the sun, and used that as a reference.  I did the math ( and then checked it) and by shrinking down everything  to 100,000th of its size, Mercury winds up the size of a pin head, the Earth winds up being the size of a marble.  We went out into the parking lot of the church house and started walking off the distances between the planets, using appropriately sized stand-ins for the planets. We had to cut it short because by the time we got to Jupiter we were over a block away from the bowling ball.  my point is that  the second heaven is  bigger than we even have words for.  It's so vast we cannot see the end of it, and the distance between the  first heaven so great that I'm not sure we have numbers for it. Everything  big I've ever seen  is on the Earth, and the Earth is a very small part of a much bigger thing.  The creation is  so majestic that we can't even comprehend it. The smartest man in the  fastest ship couldn't make it out of our galaxy in a lifetime. There are  sounds we can't hear, colors we can't see, and places that God made  just for himself ( Rev 4:11)
  But according to scripture, as big and as magnificent all that is, God is bigger.  The universe cannot contain him.  He is  bigger than what he made. Part of the "mystery of Godliness" mentioned in 1 Timothy is that God, who cannot be contained by the heavens themselves, could dwell in his fullness bodily in something the size of a man.
"O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this. " Ezra 9:15. Another thing which cannot happen is that wicked men cannot stand before God.  God's holiness and righteousness burns like a consuming fire. With eyes that are purer than to behold evil, the proud are broken before him when they see him.  The mighty men who  held other men's hearts in their grip quake when they see him.  In his righteousness and holiness, Jesus Christ is the most terrifying thing that there ever was or ever will be, and when he appears in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who would not obey the gospel, lost mankind would rather be under the mountain than to see his face.
  That's why your only hope is to put your faith in his son.  Your only hope is repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  There will be no explanations, no time for excuses.  If your unrighteous, the conversation won't even get that far.  You 'll quake and   moan and cry out and all your  reasons for rejecting the gospel will seem like the height of foolishness. Clad in the filthy  rags of your own self-righteousness, you won't be able to stand before him.  It simply cannot happen.
  "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came , and the scripture cannot be broken ;" John 10:35 God's word is more true than your failures. If the Bible says you can have  the victory ( and it does) and you live a life of defeat, that proves nothing.  If the Bible says the sun stood still in the  sky and a thousand astronomers  proclaim to be impossible, that proves nothing. The scriptures cannot be broken, and it will happen exactly the way it was written down regardless of the odds.
  Consider this.  Jeconiah's descendants were cursed and could not sit on the throne, but one of his descendants had to sit on the throne because the Messiah must come out of the seed of David.  Impossible, and so God causes a virgin birth. Why? Because  the scriptures cannot be broken.  He created the worlds by his word, and he upholds all things by the word of his power.  The scripture is more certain than  the next sunrise.
  Consider this.  It was  customary to break the legs of people  being crucified in order to  hasten their demise, and it had been customary for centuries. But the scriptures said that not a bone of his would be broken, so without knowing why, Roman soldiers who did not believe the scriptures fulfilled the scriptures.  Why? Because the  scriptures cannot be broken. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Modern Day Inquisition

  The Inquisition, which began in 1209 and was conducted off and on for the next 600 years, is one of the darkest times on human history.  The basic facts are timeless; a ruling group drunk with power and unchecked by any sort of reasonably effective opposition, convinced themselves they were doing God's work and used  power both political and ecclesiastical to wage war on their enemies. To oppose them was to oppose God, at least according to them, and the blood flowed from one end of Europe to the other for  6 centuries.
  Richard Bennett has researched the Inquisition in great detail and he writes

"The methods of the Inquisition were an outrage to elementary principles of justice. Anyone could be arrested on suspicion. The trials were secret. The prisoner was not allowed to know the accusers or witnesses. The Bishops and priests who acted as judges had absolute power. The evidence of infamous persons, criminals, or perjurers was admitted so long as it was hostile. Children older than twelve were required to bear testimony. The prisoner was disallowed the help of an advocate, for anyone defending a prisoner was held guilty of the crime of heresy. A person tried by the Inquisition was scarcely ever acquitted. 'In the register of Carcassonne from 1249 to 1258, comprising about two hundred cases, there is not a single case in which a prisoner was discharged as innocent.' Tanon, a French investigator, wrote, 'There is scarcely ever an acquittal, pure and simple, in the sentence of the Inquisition.'"
"The prisons of the Inquisition were some of the most common and atrocious places. The Inquisitors could leave people in their prisons indefinitely, without trial. The Inquisitor Eymeric, in his records called Directorium,stated that a person believed guilty 'shall be shut up in prison, strictly confined and in chains. If he shows no willingness to be converted there is no need for haste for the pains and privations of imprisonment often bring about a change of mind.'"

 " To quote Lea, 'The dungeons of the Inquisition were abodes of fearful misery, but where there were reasons for increasing their terrors there was no difficulty in increasing the hardships. The chains and starvation in a stifling hole was a favorite device for extracting confession from unwilling lips.'
"Historians give us some detailed information about some of the prisons of the Inquisition. Even some Catholic priests complained about the prison conditions in some towns in the south of France. Historians tell that the cells were fitted up with a variety of instruments to cause severe suffering. Many prisoners, through the severity of their torments, lost the use of their limbs and were rendered utterly helpless. "
  As the old saying goes, the only thing men learn from history is that men learn nothing form  history, and the  ways, methods and mentality that fueled the Inquisition exist in the modern War on Terror.  Beginning in the wake  September 11th disaster draconian laws were passed, and that infrastructure of abuse has been tweaked and modified to a point that would make Torquemada proud. The foot soldiers and inquisitors in this new assault on humanity include members of elite American military units, as well as professional interrogators from the CIA, FBI and the NSA.  To these  footsoldiers and their superiors, no rule is too precious to break, no line too sacred to  cross.  The Constitution is a roadblock in their self-noble quest to keep us free. Heretics, I'm sorry, I mean 'terrorists' must be hunted down and rooted out at all cost.
  Consider the case of Jose Padilla. Mr Padilla is an American citizen, presumably with the right to a trial by a jury of his peers.  But the   True Believers of this new Inquisition instead  carted him away in secret, and held him without bond or legal counsel for years. He was found guilty and will spend the rest of his life in a Supermax prison, despite having  failed to kill a single human being.  The intent was enough, and the government felt no need to 'prove' their case the way they would a normal attempted murder case. They claimed that to actually produce evidence against Padilla would compromise national security.  You see, in the new Inquisition, just like the old, the accusation is enough, proof is merely a footnote.
  Well, after all, Padilla is a bad guy, right? And at least he continues to breath, which is more than you can say for Anwar al-Awlaki, also an America citizen. Anwar and his 16 year old son are both dead today because the American president selected them for death by drone.  They were never charged with a crime, never indicted. They were never arrested, and never allowed to face ther accusers.  Their accuser sat half a world away and signed their death warrants.  The execution was carried out, then denied and only admitted to  later.
  The entire story of the War on Terror has been the shredding of freedom under the guise of protecting it.  The abuses  continue and no one is exempt.  The laws that were purpotedly passed to  stop terrorists have been invoked in all manner of circumstances.
  The Inquisition went on as long as it did because of the  fanatical hatred of its overlords, and the  simple fact that there is always another heretic somewhere to burn.  The new Inquisition is just as perpetual because there will always be a bad guy somewhere real or imaginary somewhere on the planet.  There will always be another dragon to slay, and thanks to the NDAA passed in 2012, the Inquisition can go on forever, and in your own backyard.
  As an afterthought, if you are counting on a political party to come into power that will reverse this trend, good luck.  The Patriot Act was signed into law by a published advocate of small government, although he wasn't known for being bright.  The  GOP  offering up for his replacement was  also famously terrible, and the great white horse of the 2012 campaign openly admitted his support for the NDAA.
  In fact, out of the entire stable of 2012 candidates, only one of them would address these issues from a freedom perspective.  But how he didn't get the job is a whole separate story.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Deputation Speech I Would Love to Give

"Thank you, it's good to be with you.First of all , let me thank Pastor ------------ for letting us come in and  present the work."
  " I got saved in April of 1995 while a sailor stationed  in San Diego.  I have been in church a long time, like most of you, and like most of you I have sat there in the pew while a complete stranger stood before us and did what I am about to do; try and  convince people he does not know to  give him money, basically forever."
  "I've seen them and so have you.  The guy rolls in in a car that only got there by  divine intervention.  He  comes in with his herd of kids who are  squirmy from being in the car all day because he drove 7 or 8 hours to be at church that night.  I've sat in the pew and done exactly what you are doing right now; analyzing, assessing, and judging whether this guy and his  worn-out wife and squirmy kids meet my approval.  Is he funny? Is he personable?  What Bible college did  he graduate from? Is he sufficiently burdened?  Does his wife wear a dress, and how long is it? I've analyzed these guys from a hundred different angles and disqualified my fair share of them, just like some of you have already  disqualified me. Maybe I take their prayer card, and maybe I don't.  Maybe I take their prayer card and I lose it or my kid writes all over it, or I just forget.  Maybe I stick it in my  Bible in  one of the minor prophets, almost guaranteeing it will be a  while before I see it. And whether I approve or not, that guy  gets out of church that night, pours his family into their decrepit car,and does it  all over again with a completely different set of strangers tomorrow night.  Statistically, he'll do this for about three about  500 different churches."
  "I know nobody talks about this. I'm supposed to come in here, and  say the exact same thing  we said at the last church while my wife tries to pretend to be interested like she is hearing it for the first time.  I'm supposed to show you pictures of crowds of natives, and talk about the country where we are trying to go. I'm supposed to give you facts and figures like population and how many of them are unreached for Christ.  I am supposed to appear broken for the natives, although  being genuinely broken for a people  every night for  3 years is  almost emotionally impossible. I am supposed to  be super-spiritual.I am supposed to use every salesman trick in the book to woo you  out of some of your money."
  "I'm not going to do any of those things. I am going to  give you every reason not to support us, and then give you the one reason why you should."
  "So here are some reasons to not support us.  I'm not always the husband, or father, or church member that I should be.  I can be sort of petty and  am very impatient.  I do read my Bible all the time, but  there are huge chunks of it that I don't understand.  I preach  in public.  I never finished Bible Institute.  I have friends in the ministry that you probably don't like.  My kids sometimes misbehave, and my wife and I sometimes don't get along.  I get prideful, and I get loud.Oh, one more thing, when I  give you the one reason why you should support us, I'm going to take a Bible verse out of context to do it."
   "Now that we have all that out of the way, the Bible says In Isaiah 6:8 "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying , Whom shall I send , and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." That is the one reason that you should support us; we are willing to go in your stead.  We will be the ones that  will separate ourselves from family so you don't have to. We are the ones that will do without modern conveniences so that you can stay here.  I agree with you that a national pastor could probably do a better job, in fact, almost anybody here could probably do a better job, but the difference between us and all the qualified people is that we are willing to go. We are giving you the  chance of a lifetime,a chance to get involved in a great work of God without any serious inconvenience to you. We are workers, and we are going to work. The word of God will be preached, the  gospel will be proclaimed, and the saints will be edified.You can  help make our ministry possible without ever leaving the comfort of your hometown.  You don't have to quit your job, you don't have to sell your house, we'll go in your place.   All we want is your money, and we want it for as long as we are on the field."
  "Well, that's my pitch; at least a dozen reasons against, and one reason for.  We are the Alford family, and we are going to _______.  Thank you for your time."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Techno-Phobia and the Ministry

  I have been saved, and in church  for a little over 19 years now, and in that time, I have noticed, among my particular flavor of Christianity an ever-shifting hostility towards technology.  I really do think it is, for the most apart, based off a  distrust of modernism in general, and as such this aversion has my sympathies. I am ,after all,  a self-confessed techno-hermit.  But unless you hold that position indefinitely as a movement, you wind up being really embarrassed by some of your predecessors when that tech becomes more readily accepted a few years later. Truth doesn’t  change, and truth doesn’t have to be updated every couple of years to stay relevant and avoid embarrassment, but tech hostility does.  I’ll give you an example.
  Back in the 1800’s it was very common to hear sermons directed against theatre attendance.  The general  notion was that it caused your mind to  be overly occupied with illusion and caused you to become  emotionally manipulated.  It was also cited as a poor use of the  few days that a man has on  Earth in which to live for God.   Those are all perfectly valid points, by the way, but nobody preaches against plays anymore.  In fact, the more modernistic  church assemblies will use plays or drama presentations as an 'outreach'.
  Having surrendered the high ground against  theaters, the whipping boy of the 1930's was the relatively new telephone.  Ministers warned their congregation that it enabled you to gossip without ever leaving your house and gobbled up time that could be spent better.  It was the tool of busybodies, people were warned.  Once again, all perfectly valid points, but time moved on and  eventually most people  had at least one telephone. Nobody preaches that you shouldn’t have a telephone now.  If your church doesn't have a telephone, you are regarded as some sort of  backwards weirdo.
  In the 1960’s  , television was the new culprit. Lester Roloff hammered on it incessantly, calling it "the enemy of all righteousness".  It was called an "open sewer line" into your living room and  would lead to the corruption of morals, and the collapse of the family.  I think the argument could be made that they were exactly right, but either way,   not only do most church members have a television, most preachers have one. Somebody somewhere decided that it was OK, and now if you preach against television, you  have to preach against the content, not the mere ownership of one.  Some churches broadcast their services on television, and nobody even raises an eyebrow.
  In the 1980’s and 90's there were still a handful  of guys preaching against going to the movies, but even by then those were considered the fringe element, and an embarrassment to everyone else.  I personally know of a church where you could not teach Sunday school if you were a  movie attendee. Now some of those guys had no problem going to blockbuster or watching the same movie on the television that previous generations railed against, which I always thought was sort of hypocritical.
   In the early 90’s everybody beat up on the internet. Now if a church doesn’t have a website, it’s backwards and not trying to reach the community.
  In the late 1990’s it was the internet, especially Myspace.  Myspace would  wreck your home,  dissolve your marriage and  poison your soul. I heard probably 20 or 25 messages against Myspace in the first   10 years I was saved.  I don’t know of any churches that had a Myspace page off hand, but I'm sure they are out there.
  The mid 2000’s brought us the evils of Facebook, until almost every preacher we know had one, and the ones that don’t have on use it to  spy on their congregation through other people’s accounts (while preaching against it. don't even get me started on how crazy that is). Churches now have FB pages.
  I have heard  pulpit warnings about texting, that is until a lot of preachers realized they were too busy to answer the phones their ancestors preached against, and  texting  was deemed convenient and good stewardship of one’s time.
  These different shifts in  mindset from one generation to the next seem to all follow the same pattern.  At first, the  technology is evil or corrupt or worldly, and generally a waste of time.  Later on it is  determined that 'some people' can use it without it destroying them ( I am currently hearing this argument  advanced  in regards to FB).  Once the technology  has mass acceptance, it becomes harder to oppose it and be taken seriously, so the  shift is that 'lots of people in our church use it' and that it's OK as long as it's used correctly.  within a few years, someone who tries to revisit the previous hostility is told  to not be so  uptight. After all everybody goes to the theater/owns a telephone/has the internet/has a FB page, right?  And after all, we can use this for the ministry, and that somehow makes null and void all previous arguments.  The last stage is the polar opposite of the first; people will look at you askew if you don't avail yourself of the latest technology.
  The  appearance from the outside looking in is  that the world is winning and the church is constantly getting pushed backwards, constantly drawing new lines of defense in the sand. That seems quite sad if it’s the case.
   So was it right to be opposed to all those things? And if it was, why is it acceptable now?  If it was wrong to be opposed to all those things, then who’s to say the next thing everybody gets vexed about won’t be just as silly a few years later?
  Here’s what I think.  I think all the warnings of previous generations are valid, and have borne themselves out to various degrees, but not for the reasons that are usually cited.  Theaters, movie houses,  Myspace, FB, the telephone are all amoral devices, but people are not.  People are rotten and prone to find newer and better ways to satisfy the lusts of their flesh. TV enabled the slothful to be slothful.  Telephones enabled the  gossiper to  gossip more effectively.  The internet  put a world of pornography at the fingertips of people who already wanted to look at it.  The problem isn’t the tech, the problem is the lust of your flesh. So if you want something to rally against, rally against that.
  As it turns out, that’s exactly where the Bible places the emphasis. That means, to quote the great Danny DiLeo, "The Bible is the most up to date technology existing in the world today" in that long before Shakespeare  wrote his first play or  Zuckerberg and his CIA handlers came up with FB, the Bible discerned the thoughts and intents of the hearts in mankind and pronounced judgement not on the 'how', but on the 'why'.  If you want to preach timeless messages that won't embarrass  everybody  a few years later, leave the hobby horses and  buzzwords aside, and proclaim the word of God. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why I Am Not a Mormon

  In my   (almost) twenty years of ministry, I have dealt with my fair share of eager, zealous and unfailingly polite  young Mormon missionaries.  I have also dealt with a handful of older, more seasoned representatives of the LDS organization.  I have listened to the President address the General convention more than once. I have read some, but not all of the Book of Mormon. I have read part, but not all of Doctrines and Covenants. I have spent some time  on the official LDS website as well as reading the personal writings of many current and former LDS adherents. Though not an expert I have , in my opinion  had a more than  adequate exposure to LDS  theology and practices to understand what it is and what it is not.   I will now lay out the 4 basic reasons why I am not a Mormon.
1. I do not believe the Book of Mormon to be inspired.    Anyone can  write a book that sort of sounds like the Bible.  What  no one other than God can do is to  write a book that  tells the future before it happens.  This was given as the  ultimate test as to  the inspiration of the Bible, and how  you would determine if what you had was the word of God or the word of Joseph.  God openly challenges the  spiritual forgeries of this world in Isaiah 41:23 when he says "Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good , or do evil , that we may be dismayed , and behold it together. " The Bible says "the spirit of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy." and for all it's 'thees and thous', the book of Mormon  fails this very simple test. There is not a single bit of independently  fulfilled prophecy contained therein.
2. I do not believe Joseph Smith  was  a prophet. The Bible says "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass , that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken , but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."(Deut 18:22) When it comes to predicting the future, Joseph Smith couldn't find  his way out of a wet paper bag. In fact, for a guy that happily took the title of Prophet,  he has  lots and lots and lots of ramblings to the contrary.
3. I  believe LDS  doctrine to be damnable heresy There are scores of examples, but I'll show a  basic one.  According to the rapidly  changing LDS website , everybody gets some form of eternal life. In another place they say "Those who choose not to follow our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will receive a reward according to what they have done in this life, but they will not enjoy the glory of living in the presence of God."
  The Bible takes a very contrary position however, saying that  "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5:12) John 5:24 says "Verily, verily, I say unto you , He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life"Jesus said in Matt 25:41"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed , into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:"  The idea that "everybody goes to heaven" or even the watered-down LDS  idea of hell is  unscriptural.
  We could go on and on, but LDS  alters their doctrine  ( and updates their website) just often enough that it's sometimes hard to nail down exactly what the LDS position is. 
4. I believe LDS teaches a  false gospel.  One afternoon I was  approached by two  Mormon representatives at a gas station.  They told me they were  out 'spreading the gospel'. I asked them what the gospel was. The young man  gave me a long list of things that included repentance, and baptism and obedience to God's commandments. I repeated the list back to him and then asked him if that was all.  He added another two or three things to the list like church membership and enduring until the end. By the time he was done there was a list of roughly 10 or so things that, when presented  in entirety was 'the recovered gospel'. What his entire  list had in common was that is was all works.  I took this young man to 1 Cor 15 where the gospel is defined as the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.I showed him Ephesians 2 where it says that salvation is the free gift of God, "not of works lest any man should boast". LDS teaches a works-based salvation. A 'works' salvation is  an accursed gospel according to Galatians 1.

  At the end of the day it doesn't matter how polite they are, or how sincere they are. The LDS organization is a dangerous cult that  teaches damnable heresy, and should be treated as such.   whenever I deal with Mormons I  try to be polite because for the most part, they don't  really know what  their church teaches, and they  certainly don't know the history of their church.   Most of them are very young men who have been raised in this  doctrine so I don't blame them, but I am  duty-bound  to inform them, as much as I am anybody else, the way of true salvation; which the Bible defines as "repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ"