Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Tomb

Not long ago, I wrote a number of poems, most of which pertained to my faith in Christ in some way. I thought I would share another one of those poems with you. This particular poem might seem more appropriate for Easter than for the Christmas season, but if there had been no Easter, Christmas would have no significance.

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The Tomb
© Mark W. Pettigrew

“Why are you crying?”
they said to the woman.
“He is not here any longer.”

“What do you mean?”
she replied with a start,
wishing her faith could be stronger.

Turning, she saw Him,
and soon realized
she beheld Jesus, her Master.

When it dawned on her
that Jesus had risen, her
heart beat faster and faster.

Oh, how magnificent,
oh, how divine!
Mary knew joy beyond measure.

Quickly, she ran to tell
all the disciples
of her amazing new treasure.

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To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

The Mirror

Not long ago, I wrote a number of poems, most of which pertained to my faith in Christ in some way. I thought I would share one of those poems with you.

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The Mirror
© Mark W. Pettigrew

What do you see when you look in the mirror?
What do you see in your face?
Do you see charity, love and compassion?
Do you see mercy and grace?

Is there the Spirit of God in your visage?
Is there the passion for truth?
Do you still hurt for the ones who are hurting?
Have you the faith of your youth?

Time takes a toll on the face of a person.
That’s something you can’t control.
Sadly, some people let time do its damage
deep in the innermost soul.

If you see envy and malice and hate,
If you see things you abhor.
Come back to Jesus, it isn’t too late.
He will your spirit restore.

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To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I Hear The Whistle Blowing

Being stuck in a job where one is belittled and threatened with job loss on a regular basis is a really unpleasant experience. It's like being tied to the train tracks in the path of an oncoming train. One can hear that whistle blowing as the train gets nearer and nearer, but one has no ability to stop the train or avoid the collision. All one can do is hope that the train is further away than it sounds.

As comparisons go, I think that's a pretty good comparison. But it isn't really fully adequate.

When being hit by a real train, it's reasonable to suppose that one's moment of actual pain would be mercifully brief, provided that it was a direct hit. One might suppose that death would be instant, and that one wouldn't be alive long enough to really experience any pain. It seems reasonable to assume that the anticipation and the fear would be the worst part of the experience.

With a job loss, there is nothing particularly merciful or brief about it. Instead of bringing relief, the actual moment in which one is told that one has been fired merely initiates a long process in which one repeatedly does one's best to smile and act as optimistic as possible during job interviews, even though one is dying inside. It doesn't help that one is expected to refrain from criticizing one's former employers, even in situations where one was often treated with little or no consideration and respect.

It gets harder to stay optimistic the longer the job search process takes. And the older one gets, the longer the job search process seems to take. During that time, funds shrink (even if one is fortunate enough to qualify for unemployment insurance), and one's self esteem and hope for the future diminish with every incident in which one has to plead for one's landlord to be patient and to abstain from evicting one from one's home long enough for one to secure another job and get back on one's feet again.

During times of unemployment, one basically is not allowed to have a real life. Every moment spent in some endeavor other than looking for work is filled with guilt. That includes time spent sleeping. Yet, sleep offers the only relief from the constant awareness of one's predicament. With no job to go to, it's very hard to get motivated to make do with five or six hours of sleep when one's body really needs eight hours or more.

Somehow, it seems that one always gets a job at the end of the process, but the road leading to that event is often long, twisted and rocky. What makes it worse is that one is often forced at the end of the road to take yet another mindnumbingly boring job which is not much better (if any) from one's previous job.

How does one get into such a position? It's easy. No dastardly villain is necessary. All it takes is to be poor and powerless, lacking adequate resources with which to pursue the type of job for which one is really suited. Which, in my cases, is no job at all. For most of my life, I have tried to fit into a variety of job situations, but in most of those jobs, to a greater or lesser degree, I have felt like the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

I am not by any means averse to hard work. But what I long for is a "job" in which the work, no matter how hard, is so enjoyable that it doesn't really feel like work. I know that I have many viable, marketable skills. There are people in this world who are able to support themselves doing things they love. There are people who say hello to the boss every morning when they look into the mirror. Why can't I be one of those people?

Sometimes, talent can be a blessing. Sometimes, though, it can feel like a curse. It would be easy in some ways for me to resign myself to mind numbing work where job security was a distant illusion and the pay was just barely enough to pay the bills, if I had no other conceivable options, and if I didn't know that I had abundant untapped potential. But that's not the case. I long to work in a field which makes the most of my abilities as a musician, writer, artist, photographer and more. I am daily working on personal goals with that objective in mind. But every time I seem to make some progress, it seems that I suffer a financial setback which causes me to lose ground. To say that it's frustrating is an extreme understatement.

I was once accused by a pastor of being "lazy". This, despite the fact that I had only been unemployed (after being fired for failing to meet a sales quota) for a very short time.

Prior to that, the aforementioned pastor knew good and well that I'd been working 12 hours a day at a job that barely paid minimum wage. I'd spent another 4 hours a day commuting. (It was a 2 hour bus ride to and from work.) All told, I'd been spending 16 hours a day either working or riding to and from work. How that qualified as "lazy" was a mystery to me. Apparently, this particular pastor wasn't satisfied that I was spending virtually all of my waking hours in work related activities. He thought I ought to be giving up my sleep as well.

In situations like that, one begins to feel like an orange being squeezed by a huge vise, long after all of the juice is all gone.

But don't dare complain in a situation like that. Oh, no! You'll likely be accused of "whining" by people (including some so-called Christian leaders) whose personal dictionaries do not include words like "compassion" and "empathy". They'll accuse you of holding a "pity party". They'll let you know that they have no interest in your problems or your life. And then they'll expect you to joyfully put money in their collection plates. Just don't count on getting any of it back during times of crisis.

Of course, there will be exceptions. You will occasionally get lucky, or blessed, and find someone who actually practices what he or she preaches. Someone who knows that when a person is down and out, that person needs a helping hand, not a kick in the teeth. But that will be the exception, not the rule. Or at least, it has been for me.

Getting older stinks in some ways. The hair thins and then disappears. The teeth and other parts of the body begin to show their age, especially if one cannot afford regular medical or dental care. Stairs that used to be easy to climb become difficult to climb. The names of old friends increasingly show up in the obituaries.

If one has little or nothing in the form of a financial "nest egg", as is often the case when one is living from one paycheck to the next, then growing old can also be cause for fear. What if the "inevitable" job at the end of the job search process stops being so inevitable? What if one's landlord runs out of patience altogether? What if no one wants to hire one because one has accrued so many bad experiences that it's harder to get a good job reference than it is to pull the teeth of a saltwater crocodile? For these and other reasons, growing old leaves a lot to be desired.

But old age can also be a blessing, if one believes that an eternity in heaven awaits those who continue to do their best to serve and obey God in spite of this massive pile of dung known as life on earth.

Every passing day brings a person of faith one step closer to the arrival of another kind of train. Curtis Mayfield once sang the following song:

People get ready, there's a train a-comin'.
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

I once attended a philosophy discussion group at a local secular bookstore. I may have been the only Christian in attendance. Each time they met, they would write down interesting questions they wanted to discuss. Then those questions would be read aloud, and the group would vote for the topic they wished to discuss. At the meeting I attended, someone asked, "Will science ever discover a cure for death? Would that be a desirable thing?"

What a question! That's like asking a person sentenced to prison for life whether or not that person would like to stay in that prison forever. When it was my turn to speak, I said that an eternity here on earth would be a curse, not a blessing, unless solutions could be found to all of the other problems which make life on earth such a miserable experience at times. And I did not believe that such a thing was possible, because we lived in a fallen world which was irreparably tainted with selfishness and sin.

Yes, life here on earth can sometimes be enjoyable, but even those who are relatively blessed in this life are constantly being reminded of just how far this life falls short of what it was meant to be. In this world, there are the "haves" and the "have nots". If you're a "have not", you have numerous problems to deal with, and many of those problems (although not all by any means) are related to financial needs. But being a "have" isn't necessarily much better. If you're a "have", you can't pick up a newspaper or turn on the television news without being reminded that others are suffering. How can you respond to such knowledge? You can either suffer with and for people who suffer, or you can ignore their pleas for help until your soul becomes dead and you become a hollow wraith instead of a man or a woman.

In terms of real pleasure, both of those alternatives leave a lot to be desired. Most people minimize the discomfort by trying to find a balance between those two extremes, but that isn't easy. It shouldn't be necssary. In heaven, it won't be necessary.

In the short term, I hear a train whistle. It tells me that I may not be at my current job much longer. It tells me that leaving that job may be an involuntary experience on my part. I'm not looking forward to the arrival of that train. I hope that I'm mistaken about the inevitability of its arrival.

But that other train? That's a different story. I'm waiting for a train which is bound for glory. The sound of that train whistle is sweet music in my ears. All of the hypocritical preachers and uncompassionate bosses in the world cannot diminish my faith in the Lord who commands that train. I know in whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep my soul until that day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Name It, Claim It and Blame It

Before You Read This Post!

On 11/24/2006, I appended this post with a badly needed correction to inaccurate information which I inadvertently passed on to my readers. I debated whether or not to delete or substantially revise the post itself, but I decided instead to add the correction at the end of the post, while leaving the original post intact. That made more sense, because I wanted to post an apology, and the apology wouldn't have made much sense to first time readers unless they knew what I was apologizing for.

To read that correction right away, click this link.

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A Very Long Night

Obeying the Lord is mandatory for Christians who are serious about their faith, but it isn’t always easy.

On Saturday night, I got a phone call from a close friend I had known for many years. I won’t divulge his identity in this article, because it’s important for me to preserve my friend’s anonymity. I value his friendship, and I don’t want to lose that friendship by betraying a confidence. Therefore, just so that I won’t have to keep saying “my friend” over and over again, I may occasionally refer to my friend as “Al”.

When the two of us were much younger, my friend and I shared a mutual love for God and a commitment to godly living. Al once attended church regularly, as did I. But Al later made some bad choices and started using various illegal drugs, in addition to alcohol. Over a period of time, during which we seldom saw one another, Al became a full blown alcoholic and he lost faith in the Lord --- not necessarily in that order.

I do not normally choose alcoholics and drug addicts as close friends, simply because that is not the lifestyle I choose to lead. But Al and I had been friends long before he became an alcoholic. A friendship which cannot endure and survive such a test was never much of a friendship to begin with.

God places people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes relationships with other people are roughly symmetrical, with both parties giving and receiving in equal measure. But that isn’t always the case. There are times when God places people into our lives so that we can shine the light of Christ into their lives, to the best of our admittedly limited abilities. We dare not shirk that responsibility or take it lightly.

I knew about Al’s alcohol problem, and I knew that he had struggled with his faith in recent years, even to the point that he had decided that he wasn’t a Christian after all. That made me very sad, because I knew that he was an intelligent man with a lot of potential.

After Al was released last year from an extensive alcohol rehabilitation program, I told my friend that he should feel free to call me and talk with me if and when he was tempted to relapse and return to the bottle. My resources were limited, but I would do what I could do to help him fight the temptations which face virtually every recovering alcoholic.

On Saturday night, he took me up on my offer. He had relapsed, and he was in the process of trying to “detox” himself. That didn’t seem very bright to me, especially since he told me that his approach was to drink a little bit more hard liquor during the process! However, I knew that the role I ought to play was not to condemn my friend, but to simply love him through the power of the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability. Besides, I’d never personally been through detox, so for all I knew, the approach he was taking was the correct one to take, even though it sounded counterintuitive to me.

At times, Al’s speech was clear and coherent, and we talked about various memories which we shared. At other times, my friend’s speech became incoherent and disjointed. And there were times during the evening when he was clearly in serious physical agony.

Even though I hadn’t ever had an experience quite like this one, I wasn’t completely unprepared. At the age of 13, I’d worked briefly as a counsellor at a Teen Challenge center in St. Louis. I had a pretty good idea what kind of behavior to expect from alcoholics.

Al and I were on the phone for about five or six hours, and maybe more. For some reason, though, it didn’t wear on me the way it might have done normally. Eventually, I got tired and ended the conversation so that I could get some sleep, but that wasn’t until around 3:00 in the morning on Sunday. I feel that God endowed me with the energy and strength to deal with the situation in a manner which exhibited grace, patience and godly love. While I did occasionally offer what I believed to be good advice, a substantial part of the evening required that I make a strong effort to be a good listener.

Slain in The Spirit

Liquor has many drawbacks, but it can also loosen people up enough that they will talk about things they might not have discussed otherwise. So I learned some things I hadn’t previously known about my friend Al. In particular, I learned more about what had caused him to veer away from his previous course and to make self-destructive lifestyle choices.

One story, in particular, stood out in my mind. That story made me angry, and my anger was not directed at my alcoholic friend.

Al told me about attending a church service in our home town in Missouri. At this service, numerous people were going forward to the altar and getting “slain in the spirit”.

Those who have attended such services or seen them on television may have some vague idea of what I’m talking about. For those who have not, getting “slain in the spirit” essentially involves having a pastor (or another Christian leader) lay hands on one’s forehead. The pastor prays and lightly thumps one on the forehead with the palm of his hand, at which point the power of God ostensibly becomes so strong in one’s body that one loses muscular control and falls to the ground without being pushed. At that point, the Holy Spirit then ostensibly fills one with a new sense of the presence of God, causing one to become invigorated and ready to do spiritual battle with Satan, the enemy of our souls.

This has become standard practice in some charismatic churches, to the extent that there are people standing nearby in anticipation of the need to help people to fall safely so that they will not hurt themselves. They even have cloths which are available specifically so that they can drape them over women’s legs, in order to preserve their modesty when they are lying prostate on the ground. (This, of course, assumes that they're wearing dresses, not pants. In most charismatic churches these days, that isn't necessarily the case. Charismatics are not like Fundamentalist Baptists when it comes to issues such as whether or not women should wear pants.)

To say that such events are spontaneous, therefore, would be completely inaccurate. Such events are highly structured and planned parts of certain worship services.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if some churches started selling "modesty cloths" with the church logos imprinted on those cloths! Better yet, they could start renting space on those modesty cloths, the way NASCAR drivers usually do with their cars. (I'm just kidding, of course, but when I consider some of the scams that have been perpetrated in God's name on networks such as TBN, it seems to me that the idea isn't all that far-fetched.)

Now, I have long believed in the “gifts of the spirit” (including speaking in tongues and prophecy), as a result of exposure to the Assemblies of God church when I worked at Teen Challenge at the age of 13. At about 15 years of age, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and became the first member of my immediate family to speak in tongues.

In other words, I am by no means hostile to the Pentecostal experience. But whereas there are extensive biblical references to speaking in tongues (particularly in I Corinthians), I have never been persuaded that the practice of being “slain in the Spirit” is biblical.

If being “slain in the Spirit” had been a structured and highly planned activity back in the early days of the church (as it clearly is now), don’t you think Paul or one of the other apostles would have given specific instructions about how to deal with the phenomenon, the way that Paul did with regard to speaking in tongues and uttering prophetic messages, in order to preserve order in the church? Yet, such instructions are noticeably missing from the scriptures. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in the Bible about a “modesty cloth” (or anything fitting that description) and nothing about the need to position people behind the people who come to the altar in order to catch them when they fall.

All of this suggests to me that the practice is a relatively recent development in the Christian church, and that it is therefore an invention of man (not entirely dissimilar to snake handling), not a divine work of God.

I’m not sure what accounts for the fact that some people lose muscular control during such events. My own inclination is to believe that it is a tribute to the power of suggestion (aided and abetted by the presence of a large group of people who all seem to be doing the same thing), and not to the power of the Holy Spirit.

It would be interesting to know how many Christians had been “slain in the spirit” during times when they were not surrounded by other Christians at church. I’m guessing that such events are extremely rare, if they ever occur at all.

Admittedly, the same could be said of prophecy (since a prophecy is only useful if there’s someone present to hear the prophecy), but unlike prophecy, it is difficult to see how lying prostrate on the ground helps anyone other than the person lying on the ground (and possibly a pickpocket lying next to that person!), even if the experience is biblically legitimate, which I strongly doubt.

Nevertheless, there was a time in his life when my friend Al was open to what God would do in his life. He had not diligently searched the scriptures to see whether or not the practice of being “slain in the Spirit” had a legitimate biblical foundation, but he’d been told by some Christians that getting “slain in the Spirit” was a wonderful experience. On the night in question, he saw scores of people going forward to the altar and having that experience. So after struggling with whether or not he ought to do so, he decided to go forward and give it a try.

Ministry and Presumptuousness

The guest speaker laid hands on my friend’s head, prayed for him, lightly thumped him on the forehead and then moved on to the next person to do the same thing. My friend then stood in anticipation, waiting for whatever might happen next. What happened next was pretty much nothing. Al continued to stand, and he did not feel any particular change which might have caused him to fall prostate on the ground.

Shortly thereafter, the guest speaker who had prayed for my friend returned and asked what had happened. “I’m not sure,” my disappointed friend replied. The guest speaker then replied, in a tone of voice which was dripping with condescension and self-righteousness, “It’s your PRIDE.”

In other words, if my friend wasn’t experiencing the same phenomenon as other people who had come forward, it was a sign that my friend lacked good moral character! How insulting and how presumptuous!

It didn’t seem to occur to the guest speaker that his willingness to judge Al without ever taking the time to get to know my friend might possibly be a sign that he was the one who had a serious problem with pride.

Hurtful Memories and Long Lasting Consequences

Even though my friend was drunk on Saturday night when I spoke with him, it became clear that this one hurtful incident, which took place years ago, had played a significant role in causing my friend to subsequently become disillusioned and bitter towards the church and towards God. That had led him to fall away from God and to seek to dull his pain by seeking refuge in a bottle of booze.

Of course, it would be specious and simplistic to say that that one incident was the only contributing factor, or that that Christian leader was ultimately to blame for Al’s alcoholism. We all have free will. My friend Al could have chosen to respond to that hurtful incident in a much different way.

Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the aforementioned incident was a factor which contributed to the subsequent downward spiral in my friend’s life.

Some who are reading this might think that I'm naive in thinking that I ought to automatically accept the veracity of my friend's account of the previous incident. After all, people who have problems with substance abuse have been known to lie from time to time. So let me just say that I have several very good reasons to believe the story Al told to me.

First, I believe him because I've known him long enough to trust that he will tell me the truth about such things. Al has been unkind to me on a few occasions, but he's subsequently asked my forgiveness for having treated me that way. And to my knowledge, he's never deliberately lied to me.

Second, if my friend had been lying, I don't think his voice would have been as full of emotion as it was when he told me the story. It was very clear to me that even though it had been a number of years since that incident took place, my friend was still haunted by that incident.

Third, I believe him because I attended that same church. On a separate occasion, the pastor at that church treated me like dirt, in a slanderous manner which was very similar to the manner in which the guest speaker at that church treated my friend. Logically, people who are guilty of slandering their Christian brothers and sisters are a lot more likely to invite guest speakers who are similarly predisposed to such arrogant behavior.

Fourth, I believe that there's a direct and logical correlation between the doctrines preached by people in the "word of faith" movement (which I'll discuss in more detail later in this blog post) and the tendency of people who promote those doctrines to make unfounded and unjust accusations against other Christians.

A Case of Mistaken Identities

During our conversation Saturday night and Sunday morning, Al mentioned the name of the guest speaker who had presumptuously accused my friend of pride. He wasn’t quite sure what the man’s correct name was. At first he said he thought it was Ron or Rob Paisley. Then he corrected himself and said he thought the man’s surname might be Parsley.

I did some research online to see if I could figure out who this guy was. Initially, I thought Al might have been referring to Ross Parsley, the worship music leader who has now taken Ted Haggard’s place as interim pastor of New Life Church in Colorado. That would have been too bizarre, since I got an e-mail from Ross Parsley the very next day.

I was about to post this article, which contained numerous comments based on that erroneous assumption. Fortunately, I did some further research before posting the article. As a result, I learned (via that there was also a Pastor Rob Parsley who lived in Ohio.

The revelation that Rob Parsley had been mentored by Lester Sumrall confirmed my suspicion that it was Rob Parsley, not Ross Parsley, who had spoken so presumptuously to my friend on the day in question. (Lester Sumrall had been extremely influential over the pastor at the church where the incident took place. One online review of Sumrall’s book Faith Can Change Your World says that the book is “endorsed by leaders such as Kenneth Copeland, R.W. Schambach, Rod Parsley and Billy Joe Daugherty.” Coincidence? I think not. Rob Parsley is exactly the kind of person who would have been invited to speak at that particular church.)

If Rob Parsley had been as careful with his words that night as I was with my words when writing this blog post, my friend Al might have taken an entirely different turn in life.

Admittedly, I made a mistake once when researching this issue, so I could conceivably make such a mistake again. If I have inadvertently done so, I’ll be happy to apologize publicly to Rob Parsley on this blog site. In fact, I’m sending him a link to this blog article, because I think he ought to be aware of the article and the issue which surrounds the article.

Like I said, if Parsley is innocent of having driven my friend away from the church with his careless and mean-spirited words, then I’ll apologize to him for my unintentionally false accusation. However, if he did do what Al has accused him of doing, then he owes my friend a serious apology, at the very least. It wouldn't undo all the damage those words had done, but it might help to initiate a psychological and spiritual healing process Al clearly needs in his life.

UPDATE (11/24/2006): I keep my promise.

Heretical Teachings About Health and Wealth

When Al told me about his encounter with Rob Parsley years ago, it frankly did not surprise me. For a period of time, I had also attended the church where that incident took place.

The church advertised itself as a “word of faith” church, but it could just as easily have called itself a “name it and claim it church,” because that was basically the type of doctrine frequently promoted there. People such as Kenneth Copeland and Lester Sumrall were treated as if they were celebrities or prophets (or maybe a little bit of both) whenever they came to town and visited that church.

In my defense, I would point out that my primary reason for attending the church was that it was my mother’s church at the time. It was not long before I began to realize that there a number of things going on at that church which fell well short of the biblical model for what the local church ought to be like.

If one had to sum up the fundamental belief of most “name it and claim it” churches, it would be the idea that there are certain biblical principles which virtually guarantee physical health and material prosperity if those principles are followed.

Regarding miracles, such people often model their views on the views of Oral Roberts, who taught his viewers to “expect a miracle” (prior to making the presumptuous, bizarre and demonstrably false claim that God would kill him unless people sent him a certain amount of money by a certain date).

I know that there are some outstanding ministers of the gospel who went to Oral Roberts University. I don’t want to inadvertently paint every graduate of that school with a broad and slanderous brush. But I’m generally inclined to believe that such people are outstanding in spite of having attended that institution, not because they attended that institution.

I’ll be the first to admit that the “prosperity doctrine” is attractive on some level. I desire physical health and material wealth as much as the next guy. No one with any brains likes sickness or infirmity. No one with any brains or ambitions likes poverty.

But wanting something and believing that there is a guarantee that one will receive that thing in this life (if one lives one's life according to certain principles) are two very different things. The first is understandable. The second is idiotic.

I'd love to conduct a survey of people at various churches, concerning verifiable matters such as personal income and health issues. I'd be willing to bet that there would be as many poverty-stricken, sick people in the pews of the "health and wealth" churches as there are in any other churches. Not to mention a whole lot more secret guilt, since their pastors have taught them, by implication, that all of their financial and health-related problems are their fault.

Of course, there probably wouldn't be much point in such an exercise, because the purveyors of false doctrines would find some way to rationalize away the evidence by once again blaming the victims for their "lack of faith".

What we believe as Christians should be based on the word of God, solid evidence and sound reasoning --- not on wishful thinking.

That thing I find saddest about the "health and wealth" teachers is that their lies cause some people to question the idea that God ever heals or materially blesses anyone, when in fact, God does do both things from time to time, when it so pleases God to do so.

Some Thoughts About Miracles On Demand

Now, before Parsley and his fans start accusing me of being “one of them there heathen liberals,” let me make it clear that I fervently believe in miracles. I find it nonsensical to claim that miracles were available to Christians prior to the creation of the Bible, and then to claim (with scant scriptural evidence) that the well dried up subsequent to that time, to the extent that such miracles are no longer available to modern Christians.

However, I think it is absurd and completely unbiblical to claim that there is some kind of magic formula which guarantees that a faithful Christian will never experience poverty or sickness. I think it is equally absurd to claim that miracles should happen in the average believer’s life on a regular basis. These are the sort of claims typically made by con artists, not apostles or prophets.

What is a miracle, after all? A miracle is an event which falls outside the realm of normal everyday expectations, and which can withstand close scrutiny even from nonbelievers (if they will lay aside their prejudices), and which can only be attributed to the divine by anyone who is not in open rebellion against God. This may not be a perfect definition, but I think it’s pretty good.

Now, I know, there are ways to redefine the word “miracle” so that it seems as if virtually everyone is experiencing miracles on a regular basis. One can refer, for example, to “the miracle of birth” which occurs whenever a new baby is born. When one considers how utterly impossible it would be for any human to create a new human life without the involvement of God in the process, it is true that there is something mysterious and wondrous about every new baby who is born. Maybe even miraculous, in a limited sense.

To a man or woman who is struggling financially, it might seem “miraculous” when a check turns up in the mail, from an unknown or unanticipated donor, just in the nick of time. That, too, can often be attributed to the fact that God loves and cares for us.

Nevertheless, there are miracles and then there are miracles. If the only thing Jesus had ever done was to deliver a newborn baby and send money to someone who needed the money badly, it’s doubtful that people would have said, “Come see this Jesus! He is a worker of miracles!” After all, they could do those things themselves.

To qualify as a real miracle of biblical proportions, an event would have to be something which, if witnessed or experienced, would cause even a fervent non-believer to describe that event as a miracle. After all, when Jesus performed miracles, it was in front of skeptics and non-believers who were not predisposed by their upbringing to believe that Jesus was a miracle worker.

One cannot help but notice that genuine miracles are recorded throughout the Bible. But it should be equally obvious that such miracles were relatively rare, in terms of the frequency with which they occurred during Old Testament times. The Bible spans many centuries, so it doesn’t take much in the way of brains to figure out that the number of miracles which occurred on an annual basis was pretty small indeed, even in the house of Israel. The miracles which were recorded were recorded precisely because they were so unusual. Most individuals whose stories were told in the Old Testament were blessed indeed if they witnessed one or two genuine miracles in their entire lifetimes.

Even if one is talking about Jesus himself, miracles only occurred with great regularity during the last three years or so of Jesus’ life. In other words, roughly 9% or 10% of the 33 years he was here on this earth. Maybe a little bit more, if one accepts the legitimacy of apocryphal stories pertaining to Jesus’ childhood (but I don’t).

If miracles happened on an everyday basis, to the extent that one could expect them to occur (as Oral Roberts claimed), then no one would call them miracles in the first place. People would describe them, instead, as natural laws of science. It’s precisely because they are extremely rare that we call them miracles.

Therefore, it is ridiculous to lie to people by teaching them that they can produce miracles at the drop of a hat and on a regular basis, merely my mustering up enough faith and getting rid of all of their pride.

By the way, anyone who’s ever watched Kenneth Copeland and other men like Copeland strutting around the stage on TV like overgrown peacocks in business suits understands what I mean when I say that these are the last people on earth who should be accusing anyone of the sin of pride! As an artist, I have a pretty good imagination, yet I have great difficulty imagining Jesus acting in a manner similar to what I have seen from these so-called "men of God".

The Reason for Miracles

When Jesus performed miracles, the objective was not to forever eliminate all unpleasant things from the lives of those who believed in Jesus. The objective was to fulfill prophecy and to demonstrate that Jesus’ claims about himself were therefore credible.

Jesus’ earthly miracles were temporary in nature. Jesus did indeed raise Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus eventually died again. That ought to be obvious. Otherwise, Lazarus would still be walking the earth today. So what happened? Did Lazarus eventually fail to meet God’s standards, at which point God decided to punish Lazarus by allowing him to die once again? That seems highly unlikely, given the fact that the scriptures make no mention of such an incident.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead for the sake of the people who witnessed that miracle, not for Lazarus’ sake. Lazarus probably would have preferred to go straight to heaven, rather than being asked to spend more time in this demonstrably imperfect and fallen world. One might even argue that Jesus wept, in part, because he knew that he was asking an awful lot of Lazarus when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

Eternal life is only a blessing if one is allowed to live in a world which is free from the pain caused by human sin. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus from the dead so that Lazarus could live on earth forever. That would have been cruel, and Jesus was not cruel. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate that Jesus had power over life and death. Such a demonstration made Jesus’ other unverifiable claims much more credible.

If Jesus could bring the dead to life, then Jesus also could logically be trusted to create a new heaven and a new earth in which eternal life would not be a recipe for misery.

However, we do not yet live in such a world, which is why even Saint Paul was torn between life in this world and eternal life in the next world.

The life of Saint Paul offers one good reason to question the wisdom and validity of the “name it and claim it” doctrine.

If following godly principles guaranteed lives of material prosperity, as men like Kenneth Copeland have taught, then it would logically follow that Saint Paul was an utter failure. Ditto for the other Christian martyrs.

Paul certainly did not die a wealthy man. On the contrary, he died in prison. The prisons back in those days were even less pleasant than the ones we have now. There were no televisions or fitness facilities or conjugal visits.

As for physical health, no one knows exactly what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, but it’s clear that he was not protected from pain or suffering. Even if the word “thorn” is used metaphorically (which seems likely, since Paul could have easily removed a real thorn), it’s still a pretty pointed metaphor.

Why does the Christian church still honor and respect apostles and Christian martyrs such as Saint Paul, even though such people were often “losers” in the eyes of the world? Because Christians who have not been seduced by the prosperity doctrine understand that a man can be spiritually poor even though he is materially rich, and vice versa.

Contrary to what the “name it and claim it” people would imply, living a life of obedience to God does not mean that we Christians will be insulated from the pain of life on this earth if only we will consistently follow a certain formula. Jesus told us that we could often expect to suffer just as Jesus suffered, on account of our decision to follow him.

Obviously, no one wants to suffer for Christ, but we have to be willing to do so if necessary. Those whose faith is based solely on what God can do for them in this life have built their houses on shifting sand. They have no idea whatsoever of what it means to “die to self”.

There is a sense in which Jesus’ miracles were merely conversation starters designed to help open blind eyes to who Jesus was. Jesus specifically warned against those who regularly sought after “signs and wonders” as an end in themselves. Such a warning might be particularly appropriate in some of today’s personality-driven charismatic churches.

There is a sense in which the “name it and claim it” theology is an insult against God, since it diminishes God’s sovereignty and the notion that God’s ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension. God is not some type of cosmic vending machine, where one puts in one’s money and a miracle pops out. God chooses who to bless and who not to bless. He has the right to do that.

The reasons for God’s choices about such matters are not always immediately obvious to us. While it is true that there is sometimes a correlation between God’s blessings and the choices which have been made by those who are blessed, it is also true that there are people in this world who have been temporarily deprived of such blessings even though they have lived righteous lives (and in some cases, because they have lived righteous lives), just as it is true that there are people in this world who have been temporarily blessed even though they’ve spent most of their lives disobeying God and thumbing their noses at God’s commandments.

People who claim that they’ve figured out a way to manipulate God into doing what they want God to do are in serious need of humility. God is not subject to any laws, natural or otherwise.

When people believe that the blessings they have received from God are the results of their own formulas and systems and schemes, rather than the manifestations of God’s undeserved grace towards them, the end result is that they lack gratitude for the blessings they have received from God, since they think (at least on a subconscious level) that they have somehow earned those blessings.

Simple Minded Doctrines and the Diminution of Compassion

In the book of Job, it was revealed in the very first chapter that Job’s afflictions were not punishments in response to Job’s lack of righteousness. On the contrary, they were actually an expression of God’s confidence in Job. The Devil claimed that Job’s faith would dissolve the minute things turned sour for him. God tested Job in order to demonstrate to the Devil that the Devil was wrong about Job.

Yet, when Job was in the midst of his afflictions, Job’s fair weather friends turned on him, blaming Job for his own troubles and afflictions. Job’s accusers presumptuously and simplistically assumed that there was only one possible explanation for Job’s troubles. Consequently, they abandoned Job when he needed good and faithful friends the most.

When people teach that success is virtually guaranteed to people who follow certain principles with pure hearts, it has the unfortunate effect of causing Christians to deliberately or unintentionally slander people who usually deserve a lot better.

As a result, such a teaching often leads Christians to abdicate their biblical responsibilities to show compassion for one another and for the lost. If you’re struggling financially or if you’re sick or if you don’t get “slain in the spirit” when everyone else in the room seems to be experiencing that highly questionable phenomenon, then the unspoken implication is that it must be your fault. It logically follows, in the minds of simple-minded and arrogant people, that other Christians are relieved of the responsibility to give you any help or show you any kindness.

Whereas the book of James teaches that faith without works is dead, and that it is spiritually useless to wish a man or woman well if one is not willing to take practical action to help that man or woman, these wolves in sheep’s clothing teach a completely different doctrine. They teach that if one is experiencing an unmet need, the existence of that need is an indictment of one’s own faith, not an indictment of the faith of those who have selfishly refused to extend a helping hand in one’s time of need! To say that that is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to put things mildly.

The Root of The Problem

The older I get, the more I realize that people ultimately get the leaders they deserve. Whether one is talking about men such as Ted Haggard or men such as Rob Parsley, there are obvious reasons why charlatans tend to abound in certain churches.

Put simply, the people at such churches value all the wrong things. They tend to value flash and style over substance and character. Transparency is something such people discourage from their leaders, so leaders who are painfully honest about their struggles and shortcomings are likely to be given the boot (if they are ever hired at all), while people who incessantly wear artificial smiles which would have embarrassed the Cheshire cat from “Alice in Wonderland” are seen as spiritual giants worthy of being put on pedestals.

Ironically, I have noticed that churches which are particularly successful seem to be particularly susceptible to this type of thing. Success is desirable, but we need to be aware that it can also be a breeding ground for sinful pride.

As a musician and artist, I think that we ought to strive for excellence in everything we do. That includes the presentations we make in our churches. Therefore, I am glad that production values have improved greatly in recent years, in terms of our worship services and other Christian events. But I am also aware of the considerable dangers which can be the result of putting all of our emphasis on showmanship. Unless showmanship is accompanied by depth of character and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, it is worthless in terms of building the kingdom of God.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit pertain to how we treat one another, not to whether or not we can put on an impressive show. If being a good Christian has become synonymous with “putting on a good show,” then the church is in serious trouble in the United States.

A strong dose of humility is desperately needed among many of our most successful pastors and evangelists today. Many of those leaders have lost perspective. They need to step away from their high salaries and go back to square one by choosing self-sacrificial lives of service to poor inner city churches and prisons and other places where success is not measured in superficial things such as dollars and cents or church attendance. God is unimpressed by such things.

There’s nothing inherently godly about drawing a huge crowd. Rock bands which regularly spit in the face of God often draw huge crowds.

What God cares about the most is people and their welfare. Caring for people means taking the time to get to know people as individuals (the way that Jesus did with the “woman at the well” from Samaria), rather than leveling instant and ignorant judgments against them.

Did Rob Parsley ever stop to consider the potential hurt his words might cause when he spoke to my friend Al years ago? Highly unlikely. Instead, Rob Parsley treated Al is if Al was expendable, even though Al was clearly receptive to what God might do in his life.

That’s about as smart as catching a boatload of fish and then tossing many of those fish back into the sea because some of them are less than perfect. All of us are less than perfect, but we still matter to God.

There should be no “catch and release” program in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us that we are to be “fishers of men.” If God has brought a particular “fish” into your net and your boat, it’s for a very good reason. Your responsibility, therefore, is to figure out what that reason is and then to act accordingly.

Some of the ugliest fish, such as the “monk fish”, make for mighty good eating. So it’s stupid to judge real or metaphorical fish solely on the basis of first impressions.

(Not that my friend Al is physically ugly. Far from it. He looks a lot better than I do, when he's sober. But it seems clear to me that Rob Parsley was judging my friend on the basis of first impressions, since he certainly did not take the time to get to know my friend before issuing his judgmental proclamation to the effect that Al was full of "pride" for no better reason than the fact that Al didn't drop to the carpet on command.)

To declare a person to be unworthy of one’s attention, when claiming to minister to the lost and needy, is to essentially tell the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit is incompetent, since that person would not have been there in the first place if the Holy Spirit had not drawn that person there.

In God’s kingdom, no one should be considered expendable. Even in cases where people’s own moral failures can be legitimately blamed for the difficulties they have experienced in life, and even in cases where the likelihood of success when dealing with such people seems slim, that does not negate our Christian responsibilities to help such people and treat them with kindness, just as we would wish for them to treat us.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I indicated in the original blog post here that I was willing to publicly apologize to Rob Parsley if it turned out that I'd accused him unfairly. After speaking with Al again, shortly after I'd sent him a link to this blog post via e-mail, Al apologized to me for leaving me with the erroneous impression that Parsley had been the person who had accused him of pride. As it turns out, the accuser was a member of the church in which that meeting took place. It was not Rob Parsley who presumptuously judged my friend's heart without taking time to get to know my friend. Rob was the person who had laid hands on my friend and prayed for him, but someone else came along in his wake and said the thing which deeply hurt my friend.

The bottom line here is that the incident did take place, but I identified the wrong person as the culprit, despite my best and most conscientious effort not to do so. Therefore, I wish to publicly apologize to Rob Parsley for any harm I may have caused to him by impugning him in the context of this public blog.

If only the pastor of that church had been equally willing to apologize to me for slandering my name and harming my good reputation back in the late 80's, a couple of years before I moved to Chicago! But that's a subject best left for another blog.

Return to the Top of the Page.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

An Urgent Plea for Help and Prayer

The following blog post may be of interest to people searching for terms such as Christian music, Christian art, Christian ministry, Christian charity, Christian benevolence, emergency funds, Chicago Christians, etc.


Background Information

Health Issues

My Other Blog

The Christian Artists' Resource Center

More About Me

The Chase

My Contact Information

Concluding Comments

Postscript Re: Print Sales


Have you ever had an iron anvil dropped on your head? Neither have I, but I think I have a pretty good idea what it would feel like, because I've felt that way a number of times in my life, and I feel that way now. I'm writing this blog article in order to explain why that is the case.

Now, you may be from the "cut to the chase" school, and you may just want to know what the main topic of the blog is all about. Well, that's why they make scroll bars and internal links and anchors. You don't have to read this entire blog post if you don't want to do so.

You can scroll to the bottom of the post right away (or click "the chase") and you can get all of the basic information you need without bothering to get any background information which would help you to put this urgent plea into its proper context.

I'm providing preliminary background information for the sake of those who are inclined to be skeptical about pleas for help, and who feel that they need to know a lot more before they will donate anything to help a person in need.

Back to Introduction


If you've read all of the other blog posts on this site, then you know that my primary passion in life is using my artistic talents (as a musician, writer, poet, photographer, pen & ink portrait artist, digital artist and more) as a means of doing the best I can to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, achieving the goal of making a full time living pursuing that passion has been much easier said than done. Consequently, I have struggled with finances for a substantial portion of my life, and I've often found myself working at jobs which paid poorly and which had little or nothing to do with my passion.

For the past nine months, I have been working about 30 hours a week as a telephone surveyor. It is hardly what I would describe as my dream job, but I desperately needed a job when I was hired there in the middle of February 2006, and I couldn't afford to be very choosy. Since losing my job as a legal assistant in the middle of October 2005, I had been unemployed, with the exception of a couple of very brief temp assignments doing office work.

I'd been very active in my job search, particularly in terms of responding to classified ads I had found at CraigsList, but I hadn't managed to find an office job despite my numerous job skills, which included a typing speed of 65 to 70 wpm, as well as fluency in Microsoft Word and Access (with more limited knowledge of Excel and Powerpoint).

What's worse, my former boss had successfully challenged my application for unemployment insurance benefits, and I'd never made a huge amount of money at that job to begin with, so I had very little money to live on. I was beginning to get desperate.

I might have been evicted from my apartment for non-payment of rent if it had not been for a monetary gift which I received from the church I was attending (and still sometimes attend). But that money only went so far. I didn't want to have to go to that church and ask for similar help a second time, partly because I didn't want to be an excessive burden on any individual or church, and partly because I wasn't sure that they would have said "yes" if I had done so. (Not that they aren't generous people, but their financial limitations had been apparent to me from the time when I started attending that church.) I hated having to accept charity from my church, but I would have hated being thrown out into the street even more, so I was grateful that my pastor saw my need and responded to that need.

Nevertheless, if I hadn't gotten the job I have now, it seems likely that I would have been in serious trouble. After all, it's not as if I was living in luxurious digs to begin with. When you've been evicted from an inner city YMCA because you can't pay your rent, you know that you've gotten pretty close to rock bottom, and you know that the chances of finding another landlord willing to rent to you are extremely slim.

My phone surveyor job does not allow me the option of working a full-time, 40-hour work week, but I could have had a work schedule of as many as 35 hours if I'd so chosen. It might seem as though I should have chosen to work the full 35 hours available to me, but there were a couple of reasons I didn't choose to do so (although I may still do so in the future, if necessary).

One reason was that the person who taught the training class I took told us that she highly advised that we limit our shifts to 30 hours a week initially. In my experience, it was good advice. The job can be pretty intense in the sense that it requires one's full attention from the moment one clocks in to the moment one clocks out.

Back to Introduction


It didn't help that I went through a period of several months last year in which I was experiencing a lot of dental pain which made it much harder to concentrate on the job. That front tooth still needs work, although the pain eventually diminished considerably after at least a couple of months of constantly dabbing Anbesol on it whenever the pain became almost unbearable.

During the past week, I've experienced additional dental issues as a result of the fact that a crown put in by a dentist some time ago recently fell off. The remaining part of the tooth is so sharp that talking on the phone has recently been very uncomfortable, and sometimes downright painful, for me.

Dental insurance? What dental insurance? The company I work for provides virtually nothing in the way of job benefits such as health insurance or paid vacations. Having had jobs in the past which did provide such benefits, I definitely wish that my current job offered such benefits as well. But one takes what one can get when jobs get scarce.

This fall, not long after my dental pain had begun to subside, I caught a cold which seemed to be going around. I've finally gotten over that cold, thank the Lord, but it took a very long time to do so. Despite the ample use of sanitary wipes when starting every work shift, a large room full of roughly 100 telephone surveyors is a place where colds are easily spread from one person to another. A cold may seem like a trivial thing, but when one makes one's living talking on the phone, constantly coughing and hacking and sneezing can be a real trial.

And of course, there have been issues pertaining to high blood pressure and to the fact that I've been need of a hernia operation for several years now.

Now, I don't want to leave the impression that I spent all of 2006 suffering from various ailments, because that isn't the case. And I certainly ought to acknowledge that my health issues may seem trivial to some people suffering from life threatening or debillitating health problems far worse than mine. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that I have inadequate money with which to deal with these issues, the health issues I'm experiencing might seem relatively trivial.

As a conservative Christian, I generally tend to vote for candidates who oppose legal abortion and other things I consider to be bad for society. But I admit that I am inclined to support the idea of "universal health care" (provided that some of its shortcomings are addressed), for obvious reasons.

Back to Introduction


Another thing that occupied my time during the first half of 2006, after getting my new job, was that I set up a second blog at a site hosted by Unlike the blogs I've written at this site, I got a lot of traffic and comments on that site. I'd begun to feel that I'd found a loving community of fellow Christians. The positive feedback I got about many of the articles I'd written made me feel very good. Previously, I'd felt pretty cut off from the Christian community (even when I was regularly going to church). The blog gave me the chance to communicate some ideas I'd been wanting to share with others for a very long time.

Eventually, things went kind of sour for me, to the point that I deliberately deleted my Life with Christ blog and washed my hands of it, but I don't regret the time I spent on that blog. I like to think that I planted some seeds of good thoughts which will eventually bear positive fruit.

The time I spent working on that blog was motivated by a number of factors. One of the primary factors was that I hoped to be able to establish connections with people in order to communicate my vision for an ambitious Christian ministry of the arts to be known as the Christian Artists' Resource Center.

Back to Introduction


There isn't adequate space here to describe my vision for the Christian Artists' Resource Center, so if you're interested in the idea of a comprehensive Christian ministry of the arts, I invite you to open and print and read the following PDF files (if you have Adobe Acrobat Reader or another program capable of opening PDF files):

Proposal re: the Christian Artists' Resource Center

To Do List re: the Christian Artists' Resource Center

I believe that once I am able to implement my plans for the website for the Christian Artists' Resource Center, I can begin to make at least part of my living by selling a variety of products I have created (such as full-color flower & garden photos to be sold in the form of fine art prints, greeting cards and other projects), as well as products I'll create on commission (such as pen & ink portraits based on people's photographic portraits), using an e-commerce website I have been planning to set up for the Christian Artists' Resource Center.

(To see an online gallery of my flower & garden photos, please visit this web page. Keep in mind that the web hosting for that site is free, and I don't have any control over the contents over the banner ads on the site.)

I've registered the domain name, and I've paid for hosting services which won't expire or need renewal until August 2006. That's the address (or one of the addresses) which I plan to use for the website for the Christian Artists' Resource Center.

My plans for that web site go far beyond merely meeting my own material needs by selling my art and photos on the site. I also hope to develop it into a web site (and, eventually, a far more comprehensive ministry) which will benefit many other artistically talented Christians as well.

If you take the time to read the preceding "to do" list, you will soon understand why I say that setting up such a web site and doing the many other things I felt needed to be done in order to turn my vision for the Christian Artists' Resource Center into a reality is and will be a very time consuming project. (And I've added many more items to that "to do" list since that time, as a result of things I've learned via my ongoing research into the project and its requirements.)

I still feel that that's a goal I need to pursue. I've gotten some very positive feedback about the project from some very well-known and talented Christians working in the arts.

In helping me in my time of temporary crisis, you will also be investing in the possibility that the vision expressed in the "first draft" PDF files listed above will come to pass.


If you still feel that you need to know more about me in order to persuade you that I am a person who is sincere about serving the Lord, I would invite you to read earlier articles in this blog (such as this article about drinking water and Christian missions), and to visit my other website at, and to write to me if there are any things which aren't answered in the process of doing so.

Back to Introduction


O.K., either you're the type of person who has a short attention span and/or very limited time (in which case you probably skipped most of the previous paragraphs), or else you've read the preceding information. Either way, the bottom line is this:

Tonight, I reached into my "fannie pack" and discovered something that really shook me up: My wallet was gone, along with all the ID cards in the wallet at the time and approximately $600. Ouch!!!

Was my pocket picked? Did I inadvertently lose the wallet in some other way? Frankly, I'm not sure. I've tried retracing my steps, and thoroughly searching my apartment, but so far, I haven't been able to find the wallet or its contents.

To some people, $600 is a small amount of money, but not for me. My take home pay for two four-week pay periods is slightly less than $1,000, and that's assuming that I qualify for the bonus my company offers for extra productivity on the phones. (I have good reason to believe that I won't qualify for that bonus when receiving my next paycheck.) In short, I'm pretty much living from paycheck to paycheck, with only a small amount of extra money with which to pay for an occasional luxury such as a cappuccino at McDonalds. I haven't had a working TV set in 2 years, because replacing the broken TV just hasn't been my highest priority.

Fortunately, I do still have my ATM debit card, so I don't have to worry about a thief using that card to access the money I do have in my checking account, but that money is very limited. It should keep me fed for the next week or two, but it won't do much more than that. And rent is due soon.

What I need is to raise some emergency funds, fast. I don't want to ask for exhorbitant amounts of money from anyone. But if I could get a one-time donation of just $10 from 60 different people or churches --- preferably from people who share my values and goals --- that would replace the lost and/or stolen money.

Now, I know what you're probably thinking: Hey, dummy, what were you doing carrying $600 or so around in your wallet? Well, I'd just cashed my paycheck recently at the bank down the street, and I hadn't yet gotten around to depositing the money in my own bank. Ironically, right before the incident happened, I'd been planning to do just that, because it occurred to me that losing the wallet could create major problems for me.

As for the question of any "carelessness" which might theoretically have led to the loss and/or theft of my wallet, please don't go there. Believe me, I'm probably going to be beating myself up over this for a long time, so there's no need for anyone else to remind me that I might possibly still have the wallet if I'd been more careful.

If you're wondering why I provided the preceding background information about myself prior to adding this section, it's simply that I felt that it was necessary in order to help readers to better appreciate why I am in the position of needing to ask for help, and why I feel that I deserve such help (to the extent that anyone deserves charitable help).

Of course, if you're the type of person who doesn't share my interest in achieving the goals stated here, then you would have no particular reason to think that I deserved help any more than anyone else. It's all a question of what's most important to you.

Back to Introduction


Mark Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue
Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

(773) 509-8126 (Voice Mail) or (312) 643-1336 (Home Phone)
(Those are underscores in-between the first name, middle initial and last name.)

Back to Introduction


It would be wonderful if we Christians had all reached a state of perfection where we walked in perfect obedience to the Lord and perfect faith in the Lord. The reality, though, is that we're all works in progress.

In many respects, I think I've lived a morally exemplary life. I've never used illegal drugs. I've never been drunk. And believe it or not, I'm still a virgin at age 50. (Fun? No, not especially. But then again, I don't ever have to worry about STD's or AIDS or unwanted pregnancies caused by my actions. I like to think that my obedience to God in that area will eventually prove to be a blessing for me in other ways as well.)

So do I think I've achieved perfection? What, are you kidding? I know my weaknesses all too well.

Having trouble trusting God to provide me with my needs in stressful times such as these is very close to the top of the list of my imperfections. I still become fearful when it looks as if I may lose my home or be unable to pay for essential living expenses or be forced to resign myself to never achieving my career goals. In times like these, I want to have faith, but it isn't always easy.

So regardless of whether or not you respond to this plea with any type of financial help, I would greatly appreciate your prayers. I've survived worse crises than this one, but I'm tired of dealing with setback after setback after setback. I want to make a real positive difference in this world, and it would be much easier to do so if I had adequate material resources with which to meet my needs and with which to invest in the attainment of my goals.

Back to Introduction

POSTSCRIPT: If you feel that you ought to get something in exchange for your donation, I'm willing to discuss the option of selling you one or more prints based on the flower & garden photos shown on this web page. I have digital files on CD-R disc for all of those images, and I can easily take them next door to Wolf Camera to make prints from those files. I can easily make 8x10 photo prints of those images and then send out the prints in standard Priority Mail envelopes ($4 for shipping and handling) at the post office.

If you would like a print of one or more of those images, just send me an e-mail message to that effect and let me know which image or images you want to order (specified by the number shown beneath each image). Then as soon as I receive your money order in the amount of $25 for each print, I'll have the print made from my digital file and I'll ship it to you. (The price of $25 would be so that I can make somewhere between $10 to $15 from each print sale after deducting the cost of making the print and the cost of the postage).

If you're thinking that this is a pretty amateurish way for me to sell my photo prints, well, you're right. Believe me, it isn't the way I wanted to do things. I have much more professional plans in the works for the future. But right now, I really could use some help.

Back to Introduction

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Drinking Water and Christian Missions

When Jesus talked to people during his brief earthly ministry, he described himself as the "Bread of Life" and "Living Water". By comparing the unseen needs of the human soul with tangible and universal physical human needs everyone could relate to, Jesus made it easier for people to visualize their "hunger" and "thirst" for the type of spiritual fulfillment which only Jesus could offer to mankind.

By feeding the hungry and healing the sick, Jesus earned the credibility he needed to have when claiming that God genuinely loved people and cared about all of their needs.

Christian missionaries have long recognized the link between missionary endeavors designed to lead to spiritual regeneration and charitable acts pertaining to fundamental human needs such as food and drink, housing and medical care.

While tragedies such as drought and famine are clearly to be avoided whenever possible, such tragic events have sometimes had positive aspects as well. Such events have caused people in desperate need of help to be more receptive to new ideas introduced by missionaries who have cared about those disaster victims enough to respond to crises with fresh arrivals of outside food and water.

In many third world countries, problems pertaining to lack of safe and plentiful drinking water have led to all kinds of evil results, not the least of which has been the rampant proliferation of various diseases with which those in more developed nations seldom have to deal.

Medical missionaries, in particular, have recognized the pointlessness of trying to combat diseases without addressing the causes of those diseases. Consequently, one of the first things missionaries often do when visiting such countries is to help build new wells in order to alleviate many of the problems caused by the lack of adequate and safe drinking water.

No doubt, that type of traditional work will continue to be needed for a long time to come. But just as the invention of the airplane forever changed missionary work by making it possible for missionaries to visit remote villages deep in the jungle without having to spend months and months trying to get to those locations, there are now new technologies which seem to have a great deal of potential in terms of providing short-term and long-term solutions to drought conditions.

I just read about a company named Aqua Sciences, located in Miami Beach, Florida. According to an article I read in a recent national magazine, Aqua Sciences makes a product (available in several sizes, capabilities and prices) which is capable of pulling vast quantities of safe drinking water out of the air on a daily basis. It can be powered in multiple ways, including a diesel generator or local AC power.

Once a community has begun to produce adequate crops for the purpose of creating biodiesel fuels in addition to meeting all of the community's nutritional requirements, a switch from regular diesel fuel to environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel might enable such communities to continue to generate drinking water without further contributing to a depletion of the world's oil reserves. (That's my idea, not something found on the Aqua Sciences web site. But I'm guessing that their machine could be modified at some point so that it could use biodiesel fuels.)

Their largest model (measuring 40 feet x 7.7 feet x 7.8 feet) is capable of extracting up to 1,200 gallons a day from the air, depending on environmental conditions. With its reverse osmosis module included, the unit "can provide emergency water for up to 3,000 people per day." (The reverse osmosis module "can provide up to an additional 8,000 gallons/day from an existing source dependent upon conditions.")

The company's web site says, "Aqua Sciences, Inc. is poised to transform the water industry while making a positive humanitarian impact on the world's capability to deal with crisis situations on an emergency or long-term basis. Its success will be measured not merely by the company's profitability, but by its continuing contribution to the world's safety, health, and quality of life."

Unlike a physical well, which is a permanent structure and which therefore can only serve one village or region, an Emergency Water Station from Aqua Sciences is a portable unit which could easily be towed by a large commercial truck from one village to another, making it suitable for short-term disasters which temporarily overwhelm the normally adequate capabilities of local water systems. The website mentions the applicability of the company's machines to disasters ranging from hurricanes to terrorist attacks on a city's water supply.

The company's home page says, "According to the United Nations, between 5 and 9 million people per year die as a result of lack of access to safe drinking water." That's something which should concern every Christian and every church.

Undoubtedly, national and international secular relief organizations will find it extremely useful to be able to generate thousands of gallons of drinking water on the spot, even in areas afflicted by extreme water pollution or lack of adequate drinking water due to other factors.

However, Christian missionaries and mission organizations have been in the international relief business for far longer than any secular government or international organization. It seems to me that Christian mission organizations should therefore leap at this new opportunity (provided that Aqua Sciences' claims are found to be credible) to meet the fundamental human need for adequate drinking water throughout the entire world.

Bringing safe drinking water to regions of the world will open new doors to evangelistic missionary endeavors, to be sure, but our motives should ultimately be to obey and serve Jesus, regardless of whether or not such altruistic efforts result in conversions. Charity should not just be the carrot on the stick which lures people into the church in order to furnish our pastors with captive audiences and new sources of donations. Rather, charity should be a sincere expression of the love for all people which results from a full appreciation of the love and mercy God has extended through Christ Jesus to each and every one of us.

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2006 General Election Results

Well, isn't this just lovely? We Republicans had everything we'd hoped for in terms of having won both the White House and the Senate and Congress. Then our leaders blew it.

Many Democrats would love to think that yesterday's election was a rejection of the social conservatism (pro-life, anti-gay marriage, etc.) which has been a significant part of the Republican platform for a long time. I disagree. I think it was a rejection of hypocrisy on the part of Republican politicians who promised one thing and delivered something quite different from what they'd promised.

To compare it to another related recent scandal in the news: If people decide that Ted Haggard is no longer qualified to lead the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) on account of recent allegations and revelations concerning his sex life and related matters, is that a rejection of Christianity and Christian values? Of course not. On the contrary, it's a rejection of Haggard's hypocrisy.

Of course, I hasten to add that we ought to be cautious about automatically assuming that all the allegations about Haggard are true. His accuser failed a polygraph test, and on top of that, Haggard's accuser freely admitted that he was politically motivated when he made the public allegations in the first place. If Haggard's version of events is accurate, then Haggard's accuser took the truth and then embellished it considerably, which is certainly a possibility we ought to at least consider.

But my point, when comparing the Ted Haggard scandal to the recent election, is that one can conclude that one's leaders have failed to live up to their potential and their promises without necessarily rejecting or abandoning the moral values or the political goals and ideals which caused one to look to those people for leadership in the first place.

When I voted Republican during the past two national elections, I did so because I felt (and still feel) that the Republican platform was more closely aligned with my own values and priorities.

If I'd had the president I really wanted, I'd have preferred a passionate social conservative such as Alan Keyes. I knew, when I voted for Bush, that his public commitment to the pro-life cause was a lot more lukewarm than I might have wished for, but even a lukewarm commitment was better than no commitment at all. No pro-life commitment at all is what we would have gotten if Al Gore and John Kerry had been elected.

Likewise, the Republican party came a lot closer to representing my own views on subjects such as gay marriage and "affirmative action".

At some point, I'll probably write in detail about my views on the latter subject, but for the time being, let it suffice for me to say that my opposition to affirmative action is not indicative of racism on my part, despite the liberals who would wish to portray people who oppose affirmative action as racists. On the contrary. I am strongly opposed to racial discrimination, and I was strongly supportive of the original civil rights movement. Unlike those who advocate what might best be described as "remedial racial discrimination", my principled opposition to racial discrimination is steadfast regardless of which race is the target of the discrimination.

Yes, I know that Alan Keyes and I disagree on that issue, but I also think that issues pertaining to affirmative action are secondary in importance to the goal of saving the lives of the millions killed through legal abortion.

I just listened to an audio commentary (which I downloaded from the web site for Concerned Women for America) regarding the 11/7/06 election results. They disputed the widely made claim that the election was a "referendum on George Bush". They claimed that local issues drove the election results. I think there's a lot of merit to that view, but I also have to acknowledge that people knew very well, when they voted in this election, that putting Democrats back into power would turn Bush into a "lame duck president" during his final two years in office, by creating a legislative branch which would make it very hard for Bush to get anything significant done during his final two years. And of course, the voters also knew that putting Democrats into office would significantly impact the direction of our policy regarding Iraq. In that sense, I do think that the election was motivated by more than just local issues.

Even though I'm glad I voted for George Bush when I consider that what he offered to social conservatives was much better than what Al Gore and John Kerry offered, I also feel that Bush has betrayed social conservatives in terms of his priorities.

Yes, terrorism was real and needed to be dealt with. And yes, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who had committed genocide against the Kurds and who needed to be removed from office (regardless of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or whether that country had subsequently disposed of the chemical weapons which we know Hussein had used against the Kurds).

However, it seems to me that Bush used social conservatives such myself to get elected, and then he subsequently forgot us for the most part. He clearly had his own agenda, and while advancing the pro-life cause may have been on his list of things to do, it definitely was not at the top of that list.

Bush's father wasn't really any better when it came to doing anything tangible to advance the pro-life cause. But I'm still confident that I made the right choice when I voted for that George Bush in the late 80's. Michael Dukakis was a nice and congenial man (who I'd met a couple of times when I was living in Boston in the 80's), but his position on the abortion issue was diametrically opposed to mine. I couldn't vote for him in good conscience.

Just as my pro-life convictions were the primary consideration with regard to how I voted in past elections, they were the primary consideration when deciding how to vote during the 2006 elections.

Here in Illinois, the guy who should have won the 2006 Republican primary (Jim Oberweiss) lost that election to Judy Baar Topinka, a self-serving woman who could best be described as a Democrat in Republican's clothing, in terms of her positions regarding issues which are important to social conservatives such as myself. Topinka was and is pro-choice, and she actively courted the gay community in a way which would have made any liberal proud, even going so far as to participate in Chicago's gay pride parade. Voting between her and Rod Blagojevich would have been like voting between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

I was torn. I was strongly opposed to Blagojevich, particularly on account of his move to impose his own values on pharmacists who didn't want to be forced to participate in actions they regarded as immoral. But I also felt that voting for Topinka would have contributed to the further dilution of the Republican party.

So I have a confession to make: I voted for Oberweiss during the primaries, but I didn't vote in the general election held on November 7 at all. And that's from a guy who is pretty passionate about politics in some respects.

Voting in an election in which both of the available candidates are lousy choices is like going into a restaurant and learning that there are only two items being offered on the menu, neither of which is particularly appealing from a culinary point of view. We all need to eat on a fairly regular basis, but there are times when the best thing to do is to skip a meal, if the only alternative is to eat something which is thoroughly unappetizing and maybe even worse. Even hunger is preferable to food poisoning.

I hope that the Republican party doesn't draw the wrong conclusions from yesterday's defeat. We need more social conservatism, not less. We need socially conservative leaders who show respect for the people who put them into office by enacting policies which reflect the values of those voters.

I'd like to help elect a Republican president two years from now, but if we do so, I hope that the means of doing so won't be to try to be more like the Democrats by abandoning goals such as the cessation of legal abortion, which has created a death toll of more than 40 million people during the years since 1973. If we do that, forcing pro-life Americans to choose between voting for politicians who don't represent their views on abortion or staying away from the polls, I suspect that a lot of people (possibly including myself) will choose to do the latter.

If that happens, it will be a sad day for America. Even sadder than yesterday, if that's possible.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ted Haggard: A Christian Perspective

If you've read or watched or listened to the news recently, you already know about the scandal pertaining to Ted Haggard. There's not much point in repeating it here, other than to sum up the matter by saying that Haggard was head of the National Association of Evangelicals until he was forced to step down from that position in response to allegations that Haggard had paid a male prostitute for sex, during which Haggard allegedly used illegal drugs.

From what I gather, Ted Haggard hasn't admitted guilt in terms of actually having gay sex or using methamphetamines, but it now appears that he has admitted buying meth (and being tempted to use it), and he's admitted that he contacted the gay prostitute who made the accusations against him.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I would not presume to know whether or not Haggard is guilty as charged. But I do believe in the fundamental American principle of "innocent until proven guilty", despite the fact that there seem to be a number of people who are all too willing to suspend their appreciation of that principle where Haggard is concerned.

Regardless of Ted Haggard's guilt or innocence, I do believe that he's a brother in Christ. And that, to my way of thinking, means that members of the Body of Christ, such as myself, have certain obligations towards him.

If the accusations which have been leveled against Ted Haggard are false, then I pray that he will be vindicated and that his accuser will be punished for what will have amounted to slander.

On the other hand, if indeed Ted Haggard has been guilty of some serious sins, then I pray that he'll genuinely repent of those sins, learn from the experience and become a better person as a result of the experience.

If Ted is guilty and repentant, then I pray that the church will demonstrate the love and forgiveness Christ requires us to demonstrate, knowing that there isn't a single one of us who has not ever sinned in some way against the Lord.

However, if Ted is guilty and unrepentant (or unpersuasive when claiming to be repentant), then I pray that his church and the larger evangelical Christian community will both love him and hold him accountable for his sins. (Contrary to the false teachings of some Christians who have perverted doctrines pertaining to forgiveness, the two things are not mutually exclusive. Love should be unconditional, but forgiveness should not be unconditional. We should always be willing to forgive, just as God is always willing to forgive us. But God's forgiveness is not unconditional, nor should ours be, lest we equate forgiveness with condonation.)

By the way, I've read some recent blog posts suggesting that conservative Christians have a double standard when it comes to how sinning Christians are treated. Those posts have unfavorably compared the recent reaction of the Christian community to Ted Haggard's sin to the Christian community's earlier harsh reaction to Bill Clinton's sin.

I have two responses:

  1. I'm getting pretty tired of saying this, but I guess I have to say it again, because a lot of liberals seem to be incapable of grasping the concept: The uproar over Clinton's sin was not just about his sexual sin. That was just a part of it, and a relatively small part at that. The bigger issue, which led to an attempt to impeach Clinton, was that he had committed perjury. When Ted Haggard likewise commits perjury while serving as a political leader who has sworn to uphold the law of the land, then and only then will I consider the two situations to be comparable.
  2. As the above paragraphs ought to make clear, I do believe that Ted Haggard should be held accountable for any sins he may have committed, even if he and I are both political conservatives. I totally agree that double standards ought to be discouraged. For my part, I do the best I can to avoid such double standards.
Beyond questions pertaining to Ted Haggard himself, and pertaining to questions about how the church ought to treat Ted Haggard, it seems to me that we ought not to be naive about the larger spiritual and social realities pertaining to this incident. What really concerns me about this incident is the manner in which this news story is being used by people who are transparently hostile towards conservative Christians in order to try to discredit all of us.

Visit recent blogs which comment on the issue, and you'll quickly discover that there is a palpable sense of glee among those who never much liked what Ted publicly stood for to begin with. All of which makes me wonder about the objectivity of news reporters covering the story, given the well-documented fact that there are disproportionately large numbers of political liberals working as journalists.

Like it or not, the Christian church today is involved in what have rightfully been described as "culture wars". To be a particularly prominent and successful Christian leader is to invite derision, false allegations and all kinds of other forms of negativity from people who are dedicated to agendas which are contrary to Christian values and teachings.

There are a lot of people in the world with serious axes to grind against the church and its leaders. Such people will sometimes say or do just about anything in order to try to neutralize the effectiveness of those of us who are doing our best to spread God's word and bring spiritual light into a world of darkness.

If such people can find genuine instances of hypocrisy among Christians, then so much the better for them. But let's not be naive. Such people are not above lying through their teeth, if necessary, in order to score points.

The same thing is true in the political arena, especially in an election year in which liberals are visibly salivating at the prospect of recovering from losses in previous elections.

The well-known relationship between Ted Haggard and George Bush has a lot of political liberals thinking that this latest scandal will virtually guarantee that they will succeed in driving most Republicans out of office.

Never mind that Ted Haggard's sins, whatever they might be, are Ted's sins and his alone. Never mind that it's utterly illogical to blame all conservative Christians for the sins of one of our leaders. To some people, this incident just confirms their bigoted and ignorant assumptions to the effect that all conservative Christians are hypocrites.

I'd be the last person to claim that Christian leaders are perfect. Over the years, I've had my own personal encounters with hypocritical pastors and other leaders with feet of clay.

Years ago, my own father (who served for two consecutive 3-year terms as a Methodist lay minister when I was in grade school) committed adultery and subsequently divorced my mother as a result of his adulterous affair. Since that time, I've seen a number of other instances of hypocrisy in the church. As a result, I developed a healthy skepticism of people who claimed immunity from criticism on account of their leadership roles in the church.

So I acknowledge that some Christian leaders are hypocrites. However, people who think that demonstrating the existence of hypocrisy in the church disproves the legitimacy of Christianity itself (or that it disproves the legitimacy of teachings promoted by the more conservative branches of the church) are way off base.

It is as nonsensical and illogical to claim that the existence of hypocrisy in the church and among some leaders of the church disproves Christianity as it is to claim that the existence of hypocrisy among some law enforcement officers or public school teachers means that neither law and order nor education are desirable things.

While it's true that sincere believers in Christ do aspire to be perfect, or that they ought to aspire to be perfect, the true message of Christianity is not, and never has been, that being a Christian instantly makes one perfect. Our salvation is not something which we have earned, nor is it something which we could ever hope to earn. It's a free gift, paid for by Christ on the cross and given to all who will humbly admit their failures and ask for God's forgiveness.

Most of us understand that forgiveness through God's grace and mercy is no excuse for not doing our best to meet God's standards of behavior. Most of us understand that we ought to seek to grow in wisdom, self control and righteousness. But we also understand, if we're realistic and honest with ourselves, that very few of us will attain those lofty goals in our lifetimes.

Therefore, seeking and finding instances of imperfection among Christians in an effort to discredit Christianity itself amounts to shadow boxing, in the sense that it's an attempt to refute a claim that most serious Christians never make about the Christian faith in the first place.

Only the naive and the ignorant see incidents such as this latest incident involving Ted Haggard as a victory for people who oppose Christianity. True Christians do not worship or serve Ted Haggard or any of the other prominent but fallible human leaders who have guided or led the church in the past or who will do so in the future. It is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone to whom we look for ultimate inspiration, guidance and salvation.


NOTE: This is a slightly updated version of an older blog post here which has been (or will be) deleted now that this newer version has been posted.