Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 3

Wednesday, August 5 marked the midpoint of our stay at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Water tower at Pine Ridge

Water tower at Pine Ridge

We woke up to the water being out for most of the complex where we were staying. Fortunately, we had water in the building where I slept. Breakfast was a little slim, since the water was out in the kitchen, and it was the last week of trips for the summer. I had a couple of bagels, although one of them had a little mold on it. I started to complain, but then thought about how what I had for breakfast was more than a lot of the people who lived on the Rez had to eat that morning. So, I pulled the moldy spot off, and ate the rest.

On the way to the work site, we once again stopped at Higher Ground for coffee and muffins.

On the work site at Candy’s house, we were rather behind schedule for being able to complete the work by week’s end. Fortunately, one of the crews from South Carolina had completed their project on Tuesday, and and were able to join us. The SC group started tackling the end of the trailer with all the rotting framing. The Fairfield group continued with siding, soffet, trim around the windows and doors, and painting. Fortunately, Next Step was able to get more ladders and a small scaffold to the site – the lack of ladders had been the biggest factor slowing us down. The work began progressing more quickly!

Unlike yesterday, when there had been clouds and a strong breeze, today was very hot and windless. Unfortunately, most of the remaining work was on the sunny sides of the house, and there is little shade in the yard. I chugged through a large coffee, 2 Monsters, 2 bottles of water, two Gaterades, and was still thirsty.

Me, nailing up Hardie Board

Me, nailing up Hardie Board

One of the things Next Step requested was that each group bring tools from home, to supplement the tools they provided. We had been given a list of requested tools to bring. I brought my cordless drill and circular saw, which were on the list. I also grabbed several tools that weren’t on the list, following the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Among those were a jigsaw, extra drill bits, extra saw blades, and extra work gloves. Today, we used all of these.

During a break, I walked over to talk with Wilbert Jr. again. I told him that the guy from Next Step in charge of materials said we might be able to leave extra materials, but he had to check to see if he was still within budget, and get approval. Hopeful, but no promises.

That evening, our group brought Subway sandwiches to Lakota veterans living in a veterans home in Pine Ridge. We had a chance to sit down with Denver American Horse, Veterans Service Officer for Oglala Lakota County, who runs the shelter. Denver is a fascinating man, whom I would love to sit down with one-on-one and simply listen.

Denver American Horse

Denver American Horse

Denver spoke of the Lakota tradition as a warrior people. In the old days, the Lakota were fierce warriors, whom the other Plains tribes didn’t mess with very much. They were also among the last to give up their way of life and move to the reservations. Names like Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud are but a few of the more famous Lakota warriors. In more recent times, many Lakota continue the warrior tradition by serving in the United States military. Denver told the story of a man in nearby Martin, SD, who had both of his sons drafted during the Viet Nam war. He complained to the draft board, “I need my two sons to run my ranch. Why don’t you draft a few of those lazy Lakota Indians instead?” The officer from the draft board replied, “We can’t. They’ve all already volunteered.”

One of the things I’ve heard is that many Lakota resent outsiders doing work on the reservation, especially churches. I asked Denver whether he thought groups like ours, coming from outside the reservation to do various projects on mission trips, were actually doing any good on the reservation. He said, yes, what we were doing definitely helped. I then asked him what else we could do, besides these sorts of short-term projects. He explained that a lack economic development is the biggest problem faced by people on the reservation. There simply are very few jobs, few stores and businesses, and few opportunities to bring jobs and businesses to Pine Ridge. The biggest help outsiders could provide is to bring jobs to the area. He mentioned that under Bush’s Faith Based Initiative, religious groups should be able to get government grants that could be used to bring services and jobs to Pine Ridge, but that no group that he was aware of had ever tried.

Someone also asked Denver about the significance of eagles in Lakota culture. He said that the eagle takes the prayers of the Lakota to the Great Spirit. I thought that was interesting.

Sunset Selfie

Sunset Selfie

That evening, after returning to the Next Step complex, we were treated to a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms on the Great Plains are awesome to watch, as long as you have a safe spot to watch from. God gave us an amazing light show! After our worship time, I showered, and went to sleep.

Thunderstorm

Thunderstorm

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 2

Tuesday, August 4 was our second full day at Pine Ridge. My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from Fairfield First Baptist Church, were at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to serve the community by building and repairing homes, building relationships, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NSM2015LOGOretinaWe worked through Next Step Ministries. We stayed at a Parks and Recreation facility north of the community of Wounded Knee, SD. Housing consisted of a couple large buildings with rooms holding about 8 guys or gals, sleeping on air mattresses or cots. At least we had heat and air conditioning, and the conditions were better than most of the homes on the Rez.

For breakfast, we had pancakes and sausages. As usual, we made sack lunches to take with us to our work sites. A couple of the students in my group made lunches to take to Tyson and Tyrell, the boys who live next to the home we were repairing. The morning was kind of chilly, and it sprinkled a little.

Me, holding a ladder

Me, holding a ladder

After coffee at Higher Ground, we headed to Candy’s house, and got to work. We put up more Hardie board, trimmed out windows and doorways, and caulked a lot of cracks. We found that one end of the trailer was going to be difficult to fix, because much of the framing was rotted out. Our Next Step leader, Rob, would need to do the work to replace the framing before we could begin work on the siding.

It was hot – in the low 90s – but a strong wind made the heat bearable. Rain threatened all day, but never came. While we worked, a few of us had a conversation about demonic activity on the Rez. Traditional Lakota religion is based around spirit worship. They believe in a Great Spirit or Creator, as well as other spirits. We discussed how, from a Biblical perspective, these spirits are demons. Followers of traditional Lakota religion use various rituals to keep the bad spirits away and placate the good spirits. The Sage plant is burned as incense to ward off evil spirits. Sage grows all over the place around Pine Ridge – we saw it at Candy’s house, John and Nadine’s house, and along the road between Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. We talked about how Pine Ridge is a very spiritually dark place – many of the suicide notes mention a dark, shadowy figure who told the person to kill themselves. Candy, the owner of the home we were working on, is a Christian. She plays Christian music in her trailer 24/7, in the belief that it helps keep the evil spirits out.

A few minutes after this conversation, the wind blew down one of the ladders, barely missing one of the women from our group. This may be difficult for some people understand, but I’m convinced it wasn’t an accident. I personally had made sure the ladder was set correctly, and although the wind was blowing, it wasn’t gusting strong enough to blow down the ladder. I honestly believe the ladder was pushed by something demonic, in response to the conversation we had just finished. The Bible talks about spiritual warfare happening all around us, that we cannot see, and I felt something that kind of creeped me out just before the ladder fell – a sort of presence, like something was watching me. This is entirely consistent with numerous accounts from many other people about encountering evil spirits on the Rez. Coincidence? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Putting up Hardie board

Putting up Hardie board

At lunch time, the teens in our group took the two lunches they had made for Tyson and Tyrell next door to give to them, but they weren’t home; the person who answered the door said they would give the lunches to them when they returned.

Later that afternoon, I went over and talked to Wilbert Jr. again. Wilbert was living in a tent in the front yard of his dad Wilbert Sr. while waiting for a teaching job on another reservation to begin later in the month. He had asked if Next Step could do anything to help repair his dad’s trailer before winter. I found out that Next Step has a 2-3 year waiting list for assistance, and that they weren’t even able to take applications at that time. So, Next Step wasn’t going to be able to do any work on the house. However, I told him that I would check to see whether we might be able to leave any left-over materials – Hardie board, nails, caulk, trim, etc. – at the end of the week, so he and his dad could make the repairs themselves.

That evening, we went to White Clay, Nebraska, for an evening at Lakota Hope. Lakota Hope is “a ministry serving the Lakota Nation – specifically the Risen Warriors (street people) of Whiteclay and Pine Ridge.” White Clay (population 14) is an unincorporated town two miles south of the center of Pine Ridge, just across the Nebraska/South Dakota border. The town consists of several liquor stores and a few homes. Until recently, the sale of alcohol on Pine Ridge Reservation was illegal, so the town of White Clay sprang up primarily to provide alcohol to the Lakota. The four liquor stores in White Clay, licensed by the State of Nebraska, sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on the Pine Ridge. Many of the Lakota who purchase alcohol in White Clay live in the streets, sitting or laying on the sidewalks or alleyways. It’s so common to see drunks on the side of the road, they actually show up in Google Maps Street View. Efforts have been made to shut down the alcohol sales, but the state of Nebraska and Sheridan County officials have taken little action.

Lakota Hope

Lakota Hope

The Lakota Hope Ministry was started and is run by Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who came to White Clay in August of 1998. They had no formal training, little knowledge of Lakota history, complete ignorance of Lakota culture, and no idea why God had brought them there. They just had the desire to do what God called them to do – to “live among and serve God’s beloved Oglala Lakota Sioux people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Bruce and Marsha built the Lakota Hope Center in White Clay, and have developed relationships with the street people, leading many of them to personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

Kevin Poor Bear

Kevin Poor Bear

During the summer months, Lakota Hope hosts an event on the grounds where the locals can get a free meal and local artists can sell their work to people visiting the Rez. There is usually a Christian band or singer, a speaker, and a chance for visitors to get to know the street people. On the night we visited, there was a Messianic Jewish band playing a very Israeli style of music, and probably around 30 local artists selling various items. One of my favorite artists was a guy named Kevin Poor Bear. Kevin is a Lakota, double-amputee, former alcoholic Christian with an amazing artistic talent. After his daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Kevin turned his life over to Jesus Christ and gave up drinking, and now uses his talent to bring glory to his Savior.

Several from our group took food out to the streets of White Clay, and gave it to the people they met on the sidewalks. Most spent quite a bit of time talking to those they met, listening to their stories, and getting to know them. Most Lakota are difficult to share the Gospel with, until they get to know you. Historically, churches were used to deliberately destroy traditional Lakota culture. Children were taken and placed in church-run schools, where they were forced to cut their hair, wear White American clothing, and learn English and American religion, while being forbidden to speak Lakota or practice their traditional beliefs. Most of

People at Lakota Hope

People at Lakota Hope

these so-called “Christian” churches weren’t made up of actual born-again followers of Jesus Christ, but rather, cultural Christians – Christians in name only. So, there is a lot of well-justified suspicion and distrust of people calling themselves Christian by the Lakota. The best way to share the Gospel – not just with the Lakota, but with most people – is to start by developing a relationship with them first. Many of the street people of White Clay opened up and shared their entire life stories to those who brought food to them – they were just happy that someone cared enough to listen. And, many from our group had a chance to share the good news of Jesus Christ one-on-one with someone who needed to hear. I’m not aware of anyone getting saved that evening, but many seeds were planted, and many people prayed with that evening.

I heard accounts of dark, shadowy figures walking the streets of White Clay after dark. Again, I believe there is real demonic activity on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I heard far too many people describing the same sort of dark, shadowy figure to dismiss it. Many of the street people fear this figure, and Bruce BonFleur says he’s seen it as well. As a follower of Christ, I don’t fear such things, because Christ has defeated the Devil and his minions. However, Christians need to be aware that demonic activity is real, and remain diligent to pray against evil and for those who are oppressed by demons.

I didn’t join the group that took food to the street people. Instead, I had a long talk with John Bissonette, who had come out to Lakota Hope that evening with Nadine and two of their grandkids. I really wanted to get to know John, who I had been praying for for months. We talked a lot about the needs of the people in Pine Ridge, and about his and Nadine’s desire to help the people on the Rez, especially battered women and children. I asked him what kinds of resources Fairfield First Baptist Church and I might be able to provide, once we got back to Ohio. At first, he was reluctant to ask for any assistance, but with a bit of prodding, he listed the following:

  • Bibles (especially NKJV)
  • Bible DVDs
  • Blankets
  • Clothing
  • Coats and jackets
  • Shoes
  • Tools to fix cars
  • A decent chainsaw to cut fire wood

I’m hoping and praying that we will be able to get some of these things sent out to John and Nadine over the next few months.

Later that evening, we stopped at Big Bat’s again for F’reals. Some from our group met a homeless girl named Aimee, who was living in her car with 3 small children. It turned out she was the sister of Cody White Pipe, who many from the group had met last year, and whose story I will tell on another day. There seemed to be a lot of “coincidences” that occurred on this trip; however, I don’t believe they were actually coincidences. God has a way of orchestrating things to bring people and circumstances together for a purpose. Some of the people from our group bought her some groceries and diapers, which were very appreciated. Aimee had recently bought a trailer and some land near Porcupine for $400, but the trailer had been a former meth lab, and was completely uninhabitable. A few of the men from the group agreed to go out the next day to have a look at it, to see if it might be salvageable.

Back at the compound, I showered, and went to bed, very tired, yet very optimistic about the rest of the week to come.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 1

My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from our church, went to Pine Ridge for a mission trip. Monday, August 3 was our first full day at Pine Ridge.

NSM2015LOGOretinaOur church – Fairfield First Baptist – was joined by a church from the Chicago area and another from South Carolina. We worked with a ministry called NextStep, based in Wisconsin. NextStep works at many sites throughout the US. The three churches were divided up between six work sites. I was assigned with half of the group from Fairfield to put up siding, soffit, and fascia on a trailer just east of the town of Pine Ridge.

Higher Ground Coffee

Higher Ground Coffee

After breakfast and packing a lunch (sandwich, apple, chips, and a granola bar), several of us went into Pine Ridge to a coffee shop called Higher Ground. Higher Ground is a Christian-owned coffee shop, first opened in 2005, making it one of the older businesses in town. The coffee and smoothies are fantastic, and the owners are extremely friendly. What impressed me is that they are very open and unashamed about their Christian faith in a place where Christianity is often looked down on. As much as I’m sure that some Christians go there because it is Christian-owned, I also suspect that many traditional Lakota avoid the place because they are open about their beliefs.

Installing Hardie Board

Installing Hardie Board

At the work site, the morning was cool and the sky was clear. Getting started was a bit slow; it took some time to size up exactly what needed to be done, and how to allocate the equipment and workers we had available. Some of the adults were very experienced with home construction projects; most of the teenagers had little or no experience. Most of us were someplace in between. I worked with several other people cutting and installing Hardie Board siding. I was unfamiliar with Hardie Board. It’s siding made of a mixture of concrete, sand, and wood fiber. It’s extremely durable, and not very difficult to install. Others in our group caulked seams and installed trim. I spent quite a bit of time setting and holding ladders for others – the ground was extremely uneven, and we had to make sure the ladders were set up safely.

Chief Red Cloud

Chief Red Cloud

Candy (the home owner) and her husband were not home during the time we worked. They are extremely fortunate in that they both have jobs. With unemployment running around 80-90% in Shannon County, the fact that both have full-time jobs is unusual. I did get a chance to speak briefly with Candy, when she stopped by the house briefly. She is a sixth-generation descendent of Chief Red Cloud, one of the primary Lakota chiefs of the late 19th century. Red Cloud was a renowned warrior and highly respected leader who worked diligently for the Lakota as they transitioned from life on the open plains to the reservation system.

After lunch, we noticed a couple of boys at the trailer next to our work site. One of the teenagers in our group got out a soccer ball, and invited the boys over to play. On mission trips like this, the work done on home repair is important, but building relationships with people in the community is even more important. By building relationships, we get to do more than just fix a home. We get an opportunity to know the people we serve, and an opportunity to tell people about the Gospel. Houses are temporary; relationships can be eternal. The two boys, Tyson and Tyrell, played with several of the teens for a little while, and said they’d be back tomorrow.

Tyrell, Tyson, and teens

Tyrell, Tyson, and teens

I also noticed a tent set up in the front yard of the double-wide trailer on the opposite side of Candy’s yard from the boys. A man and woman seemed to be living in the tent.   I went over to the fence and waved to the man, and he came over to talk. Wilbert and his wife were living in the tent in Wilbert’s father’s yard (also Wilbert), because they had no place else to stay. Wilbert is a Lakota teacher with a master’s degree in education. He has a teaching job lined up for the fall on another reservation, but no income in the meantime. The elder Wilbert’s home suffered serious damage on one end during a recent horrific hail storm. Apparently, large hail was blown nearly horizontally into one end of his trailer, virtually destroying the vinyl siding. There were more baseball-sized holes through the siding than I could even begin to count. Wilbert Jr. asked if there was anything we could do to help his dad get the home repaired before winter. I told him I didn’t know, but that I’d ask NextStep if we could do anything. Wilbert Jr. told me that he is a follower of Jesus Christ, and that there are very few real believers on the Rez. Many Lakota say they believe in Jesus, but in actuality, they simply add elements of Christianity to their traditional beliefs. True followers of Jesus are rare on the Rez, and are often persecuted by those who hold to the traditional ways.

Nadine, John, and granddaughter

Nadine, John, and granddaughter

After we finished work for the day, our church group went to John and Nadine Bissonette’s home for dinner. Several people from our church have known John and Nadine for a few years, and have built close friendships with them. John and Nadine are Christians, and are fortunate in that they own a house, not a trailer. They have been working to convert their basement into a shelter for battered women and children. NextStep had crews that laid down flooring in the Bissonette’s basement earlier in the summer, and a couple of women from our church had come out to Pine Ridge a few days ahead of the rest of the group to finish the work. John works as a chef at the casino on the Rez. Most people think that since there’s a casino, the tribe must be rolling in money. In reality, the casino barely breaks even, because Pine Ridge is out in the middle of nowhere. Nadine was supposed to have started a job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but hadn’t yet because of a bureaucratic snafu. We had Indian tacos for dinner – beans, meat, and toppings on Indian fry bread. They were delicious!

Stacey @ Big Bat's

Stacey @ Big Bat’s

On the way back to the compound where we stayed, we stopped at Big Bat’s for ice cream. Big Bat’s is a gas station, convenience store, and café at the main intersection in Pine Ridge. It’s sort of the social hub of the town – if you’re going to meet up with someone in Pine Ridge, you usually meet them at Big Bat’s.

logo-frealAt Big Bat’s, we discovered the F’real machine. F’reals are vending machine milkshakes and smoothies that are absolutely delicious! I had the blueberry raspberry pomegranate smoothie.

Back at the Recreation Department compound, I tried to call my wife, but had no service. Someone else had one bar, so they had a message relayed to my wife that we were doing fine.

After a shower, I got on my cot, turned on the fan, and crashed.

 

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – The Journey Begins

My daughter Stacey and I were blessed by going on a mission trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with about 20 other people from our church during the first week of August. This is the second in a series of blogs about the trip.

Most of the other people going on the trip left Saturday morning from the church. Several flew out to Rapid City, South Dakota to do some sightseeing before our week officially began. I chose to knock out a “bucket list” item by driving to Mingo, Kansas to find the world’s oldest active geocache.

I headed out of my driveway at 7:22 AM on Friday, July 31. The song “We Believe” by the Newsboys was playing on KLOVE. Appropriate, I thought.

GC37

GC37, Missouri’s First – Watts Mill

After grabbing a quick cache in town, I headed west on I-74. After grabbing a quick cache in Indianapolis, I headed west on I-70, grabbing two more caches in Illinois and three in Missouri before heading to my first target cache – GC37, Missouri’s First – Watts Mill. This cache is located on the south side of Kansas City along a walking/biking path, and is the oldest cache in Missouri, hidden on 6/20/2000. It was a quick find after a short walk. I was sort of surprised it had lasted as long as it has, since it’s just off the trail in an area where teenagers obviously like sneak off to drink beer.

I again headed west on I-70, grabbed a couple more caches in Kansas before stopping for the night at the Econo Lodge® in Salina, Kansas. Not the best motel I’ve ever stayed at, but not the worst, either. You get what you pay for. I covered 836 miles in 16 hours, 14 minutes, and found 10 geocaches. Long day!

Saturday morning I grabbed breakfast in the motel lobby before heading west on I-70 again. I stopped for a total of 4 caches before getting to GC30, Mingo, around 11:03 AM.

GC30, Mingo

GC30, Mingo

Mingo is the world’s oldest active geocache. It’s believed to have been the seventh geocache ever created; the six older caches are all gone, making Mingo the oldest remaining cache. There’s nothing special about the location, just a hole in some concrete by the side of the road, just off I-70 in western Kansas. Yet, for those of us who are geocaching junkies, it’s the holy grail of geocaching. It’s the oldest. I’ll never find another one older. As of the time of this writing, it has been found 4,305 times, and has a very well-worn path from the side of the road to the corner of the fence line where the cache is hidden. I signed the log, swapped some travel bugs, took a small plastic lion and left some mardi gras beads from the Midwest Geobash. As I was re-hiding the cache, another geocacher arrived. He had traveled from Colorado, and was headed east.

Arikaree

GC31, Arikaree

My next target cache was GC31, Arikaree, about 66 miles northwest (as the crow flies) from Mingo. Arikaree was the most interesting cache I found on my way to Pine Ridge. It’s located in northwest Kansas, about 2 miles south of Nebraska and 14 miles east of Colorado, in an area known as the Arikaree Breaks. The area is made up of hills and canyons that look a bit like the Badlands of South Dakota, only smaller. The ground is composed of loose silt called loess, which easily erodes, leaving nearly vertical cliffs. The cache is located just off a dirt road, near the summit of a ridge between two canyons. The area has many yucca and

Sunflower for Michelle at Arikaree

Sunflower for Michelle at Arikaree

sunflowers. The sunflowers reminded me of a local geocacher named Michelle who passed away about a year ago. Sunflowers were her favorite. I signed the log and didn’t see anything I wanted to trade. I did the nearby Earthcache before heading north on the dirt road into Nebraska.

The rest of the day was spent meandering through Nebraska, stopping occasionally for caches, before meeting up in O’Neill, Nebraska, with Stacey and many of the other people from our church going to Pine Ridge.

After spending the night at the Holiday Inn Express, the group headed west on US-20, then cut north to US-18, and headed into Pine Ridge. No geocaches.

Stacey at the Pow Wow

Stacey at the Pow Wow

After lunch at the Pine Ridge Subway, we met up with others from our group, and went to the annual Pine Ridge Pow Wow. The Pow Wow is a sort of mixture of a county fair and a native dance competition. The Pow Wow grounds is circular in shape, with a small arena in the center, covered seating in a circle around the arena, and a circle of vendors on a midway around the seating circle.

Native dancer

Native dancer

In the arena, various native dance competitions were held. The covered seating areas are painted yellow, red, black, and white – the 4 sacred colors of the Lakota – and form a version of a Lakota medicine wheel. The colors represent both the 4 races of people and the colors of the 4 directions: the east (red), the south (yellow), the west (black), and the north (white). Some Lakota assign the colors differently, but that’s how they were

Lakota Medicine Wheel

Lakota Medicine Wheel

explained to me. Around the outside of the seating area was a sort of circular midway with vendors selling food (both traditional and modern), hand-made jewelry, T-shirts, and assorted non-native souvenirs and carnival knick-knacks.

Stacey on midway

Stacey on the midway.

There were also a couple of information booths for various Lakota organizations and causes. I spent some time talking to the people in the information booth promoting the restoration of the Black Hills to the Lakota people. According to the treaties from the late 1800s, the Black Hills belong to the Lakota, but when gold was discovered in 1874, the U.S. government stole the Black Hills from the Lakota. The Lakota want the Black Hills returned, and I agree with them.

Me at the Pow Wow

Me at the Pow Wow

After the Pow Wow, the group went to the compound north of Wounded Knee where we were to spend the week, and settled in. We met the staff from NextStep Ministries who would be working with us for the week, as well as one of the two other churches that were working with us at Pine Ridge for the week (the third church didn’t arrive until very early the next morning), had a worship service, and then went to bed.

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the week. I knew we’d be working on rebuilding some people’s houses/trailers, but beyond that, I had no idea what God had in store for us. I felt it was a good beginning.

 

It Only Takes One Mistake

Bad choices – even a single bad choice – can lead to death and destruction.

Recently, a coworker and friend was sentenced to several years in prison for killing a man in a drunk-driving accident.

Brian (not his real name) left work a little after 10:30 one night a few days before Christmas, and stopped by a bar for a few beers and a few games of pool. After having more than just a few beers, he got in his car to go home. On the way, he hit another car, pushing it into oncoming traffic. The driver of the car he hit died; Brian nearly died as well.

Brian had no criminal history prior to this incident. He’s a quiet, laid back, hard-working guy in his late twenties. The closest he’d ever come to a brush with the law was a ticket for an expired tag on his license plate. Because he made one mistake – one very bad decision – a man is dead, and a family has been shattered by the loss of a husband and father. Brian’s life has been ruined as well, and his own family has been devastated.

As much as I grieve for the victim and his family, I was hoping the judge would go easy on Brian. After all, he’s a good guy, with a nearly perfect driving record up until the accident. He made a single bad decision. He’s apologized, and is truly sorry for the mistake he made. Surely, the judge could take into consideration all the good Brian has done in his life, and let him off easy.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that for the judge to go easy on Brian, maybe giving him probation and community service, would be unjust. Brian’s actions that night cost a man his life. Brian’s one bad choice overrides all of the good he had done in his life; he deserved the sentence he received. Justice demanded that the judge send Brian to prison.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize, it’s much the same with us and God.

Most people do more good stuff than bad. Most of us wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone else. We do a lot of good things for other people. Sure, we make mistakes, but we do a lot more good than bad. And, most of us haven’t killed anyone. Surely, when we die, and face God for judgement, a loving God will look at the good and the bad, and the good will outweigh the bad, and He will let us into Heaven, especially if we’re really sorry and apologize.

Really?

Much like in Brian’s case, one bad choice makes all the difference.

God is not only loving; He is also holy and just. God’s holiness demands that the standard for goodness is perfection. And, God’s perfect justice demands punishment for anything short of perfection. As it says in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” A single sin condemns a person to an eternity separated from God.

Many of my readers are probably thinking, “But that’s not fair! How can a single sin outweigh a lifetime of good?”

How can Brian’s one bad choice outweigh all the good things he has done?

Doing good things does not erase the bad things we do. Apologizing, feeling remorse, and promising not to sin again does not erase the guilt. No matter how many good things I’ve done in my life, I still deserve to be punished for the things I am guilty of. And,it’s not just one thing I’ve done wrong; over the course of my life, I’ve done thousands of things wrong, maybe even millions.

Also, it’s not just other people I’ve sinned against; it’s God Himself, my Creator, that I’ve offended. It’s one thing to sin against another person; it’s quite another to sin against God.

Here’s an analogy: If I shove a random stranger on the street, I could be charged with a misdemeanor assault charge. However, if I shove a police officer, I’ve now committed a felony. Why the difference? It’s due to the police officer’s position of authority over me. It is a greater offense to shove a police officer, because the officer has been placed in a position of authority. And, the greater the authority, the greater the offense. Shoving an everyday citizen is a misdemeanor, and shoving a police officer is a felony. And, if I were to shove the President of the United States, the penalty would be much greater than for shoving a police officer, because the President’s authority is much greater.

When I sin against God, I am guilty of committing an offense against an infinite authority. A single offense outweighs all the good stuff I’ve done for God, because God is infinitely just and infinitely holy. And, I’ve committed a lot more than one offense. Therefore, the penalty is an infinite penalty – eternal damnation.

Thankfully, in addition to being infinitely holy and infinitely just, God is also infinitely loving. God’s justice demands payment for sin. In His infinite love, God has provided an alternative to paying for sin ourselves – He has given us Jesus Christ.

Each of us is guilty of rebellion against God. Each of us has violated the perfect standard required by the perfect God, Who stands in infinite authority over us. Yet, because He loves us infinitely, God has given us his only Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitute. Jesus Christ has taken my sin upon Himself, and paid the penalty on my behalf. Because I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior, the penalty for my sin has already been paid. My guilt has been erased. God no longer holds me eternally responsible for the offenses I’ve committed against Him. It’s not because of anything good I’ve done to deserve God’s forgiveness, but in spite of the fact that I deserve nothing. Just as there is nothing my friend Brian can do to deserve being let off without punishment, there is nothing I can do to deserve God’s forgiveness. Yet, God offers forgiveness freely, through the blood of His precious Son, Jesus Christ. I have received God’s forgiveness, not because of anything good I’ve done, but simply because I chose to receive the Gift. God makes the same offer to everyone. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

A just judge could not simply set Brian free, and the family of his victim may never forgive him. However, God offers Brian – and every other person on earth – freedom and forgiveness. I pray that Brian seeks forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ. I pray that God uses this horrific tragedy to reach Brian with His love, mercy, and grace, and that Brian comes to know God in a personal and intimate manner through Jesus Christ. I also pray God’s peace and healing on the victim’s family, and that they would also come to know Jesus.

I also pray that if you, my reader, have not yet found forgiveness and mercy from God through Jesus Christ, that you would seek Him, and come to know Him in a personal, intimate way. It’s as simple as acknowledging before Him that you’ve sinned against Him, believing that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, died to pay for your sin and take your sins from you, and receiving His forgiveness. You can then begin an incredible journey of getting to know the Creator of the universe, and of becoming more like Him.

It only takes one mistake to deserve Hell. It only takes one choice to receive forgiveness. Make that choice today.

The Parable of the Selfish Geneticist

science bibleOnce there was a geneticist who stumbled upon a series of genes responsible for human aging. He also discovered a method to turn those genes off, allowing people to live to fantastic ages of 1,000 years or more. However, being incredibly selfish, he told no one about his discovery; he kept the knowledge and the treatment to himself. Eventually, as others around him aged, yet he remained young, his secret was discovered. The selfish geneticist was condemned by all for his selfishness. They said, “Millions of lives have been needlessly lost, all because this selfish man kept the knowledge of how to prevent aging to himself, rather than telling the world about his fantastic discovery!” The selfish geneticist lived for more than another thousand years, guilt-ridden with the knowledge that he could have saved millions of lives, but didn’t.

A number of people have recently asked why I spend so much time and effort on Facebook and with this blog arguing for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Much like the selfish geneticist, I have discovered the reason people die. It would be selfish of me not to tell others about it.

What I have discovered is not new; I’m certainly not the only person who knows about it. In fact, it’s been known for thousands of years, and millions know about it today. The answer to eternal life isn’t something I figured out on my own through superior insight or intelligence; rather, it’s so simple a child can understand it: The reason all people die is because we all sin. The cure is forgiveness for sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. So simple, yet so profound.

Yet, there are many billions of people who either have never heard, or who refuse to listen. I believe with all my heart that when any person dies without first receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, they are destined for an eternity separated from God in Hell. Sin separates us from God, and there is nothing that any person can do on their own to remove sin from their lives. Only by entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ and having sin removed by His death on the cross can anyone avoid Hell.

This is why I am so passionate in my efforts to evangelize. I would be a hypocrite not to.

SpeakTheTruthMany people who read my blog and/or Facebook posts would argue that God does not exist, or that absolute spiritual truth either does not exist or is unknowable. Yet, I know God exists, because I know Him; He lives in me. I know absolute moral and spiritual truth exist, because God has shown them to me. It’s not because there’s anything special about me; God wants everyone to know Him and to know the truth. I argue for the absolute truth of the Bible, not to win an argument, or to try to make myself out as some sort of spiritual genius, but because I want to expose the lies people cling to that prevent them from coming to true faith in Jesus Christ.

God has blessed me with an analytical mind, so I tend to take a very analytical, logical approach to sharing and defending the Gospel. I realize that this approach isn’t for everyone; I often wish I was better at expressing myself in other ways. I’m working on it. But, since God has gifted me the way He has, I will continue to use what He has given me to try to help people understand that He exists, that He loves them, and that there is only one way to be reconciled to Him, through Jesus Christ.

I know why people die. I also know the cure. It’s not a genetic disorder; it’s a spiritual disorder. The cure is Jesus Christ. Of this I am absolutely convinced: Millions have died and continue to die, and will spend eternity apart from God, unless they turn from their sin and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What kind of horrible monster would I be if I kept this truth to myself?

Being Thankful When I Don’t Feel Thankful

This Thanksgiving, I don’t feel particularly thankful.

My family’s going through a rough time. My wife and daughter have had long-term medical issues; my hip has been hurting for the last 2 ½ years, and I found out two weeks ago that I need a total hip replacement. We’ve been financially stressed since I left my teaching career 5 ½ years ago, and just as we were finally getting some financial stability, I lost my job last week. With the job loss goes the semi-affordable insurance I need to pay for my hip surgery. Sometimes, life just stinks.

The economy stinks, so it may be a while before I can get another job where I can make enough money to pay the bills. The prospect of going broke and losing everything I’ve worked for has left me depressed, and I’m tired of the constant physical pain in my hip. And, yes, while I realize I still have more than most people in the world, it’s not a whole lot of consolation. And yes, of course, I still have my family. But, from the perspective of a middle-aged American who sees his health and the American Dream slipping through his fingers, there’s not an abundance to be thankful for this year.

Fortunately, as a follower of Jesus Christ, there is much more to life than economic security and physical health. God has promised many things those of us who have chosen to follow Him.

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What things is He talking about? In verse 25, Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” He continues in verses 31-32: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” So, when He says in verse 33, “these things shall be added to you,” He is talking about our material needs. God promises to meet the material needs of those who “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Note that this does not say He will meet our desires, only our needs. There is no “prosperity gospel” in the Bible; there is only the promise that God will provide for the basic needs of those who are truly seeking Him.

But far beyond meeting my physical needs, God has promised to be with me through the trials of life. This is not just some pie-in-the-sky future reward after death, but a promise to walk with me, guide me, and comfort me through the trials of today. One of my favorite passages in all the Bible comes from Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

First, notice that this is written for the present, not just the future: God is for us; Christ makes intercession for us; we are more than conquerors; the love of God is in Christ Jesus out Lord.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, the most important thing in all of life is my relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. My sin separated me from God; the blood of Jesus has provided reconciliation. Because I have confessed my guilt before holy God, believed and received forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and repented of my sin, I am reconciled with God and have become an adopted child in His family. And nothing can change this. God never promises that His children won’t ever face “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” But, He does promise that by and through His grace, mercy, and love, I am able to conquer all these things. God loves me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sin (John 3:16). And, He promises that I can never be separated from His love.

This Thanksgiving, I’m not thankful for my health issues, or my unemployment, or the depression that accompanies these things. But, despite the fact that I don’t feel especially thankful, I am thankful for a wife and family that stands by me despite my shortcomings, and I’m especially thankful for the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ, and His promise to see me through the trials of this life.

Sometimes, Life Stinks.

Sometimes, life just plain stinks.

Last week, my orthopedic surgeon informed me that I need a total hip replacement.

Yesterday, I lost my job.

My immediate reaction to both issues was to get angry, then depressed. And honestly, I’m still more than a little upset.

How should I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, respond when bad stuff happens?

First, it’s important to understand why evil exists.

God created this world sinless and perfect. There was no death, no illness, no unemployment, and no sin. There was no anger, no depression, and no crap to deal with. It was a perfect world.

Until Adam sinned.

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. (Romans 5:12-15)

All of the sin, death, illness, anger, natural disasters, depression, other problems, and other evils are a direct consequence of Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin changed the perfect world that God designed, and polluted it.

However, we can’t blame it all on Adam. Our sin has added to the problem.

Sometimes, bad stuff happens as a direct result of our own sin. We make bad choices that lead to bad consequences.

But sometimes, bad stuff happens, and it has nothing to do with anything we personally did; it’s a result of the sin in the world. It can be the result of demonic activity, and it can also be the result of God’s judgement for the sin of society. Evil can have different causes, but those causes all trace back to the same root cause – sin.

In any case, how should followers of Jesus Christ handle the crap that life serves us?

For me, the key is to realize the sufferings of this life are temporary. The perfection God planned for the human race will be realized in eternity.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. (Revelation 22:3)

Life on this earth is but the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of eternity. The junk we live through in this life is only temporary. For followers of Jesus Christ, the current life is the worst it will ever be; for unbelievers, unfortunately, this life is the best it will ever be.

The other thing is that, even though we must face a lot of pain and suffering in this world, as a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit living inside me to comfort, guide, and direct me through the junk of life.

33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 
As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

While I’m still hurt, depressed, and scared about both my hip and my job situation, I am holding on to the promises God has given me in His word. God never promised to keep His followers from the difficulties of life, but rather promised to walk with us through the difficulties. And, while I know I’ll struggle during the next days (or weeks, or months, depending on when I find another job and/or have my surgery), I know that God is with me through the process, and that He is in control of the situation.

Personal Log, May 6, 2012

Life is full of changes.

Sometimes, change is for the better; sometimes, it’s for the worse.

Most people don’t like change. We get comfortable with the way things have been. Change interrupts our routines and comfort – it’s an inconvenience. Yet in reality, the only constant in life is change. Well, OK, and taxes.

For the last five years, I have worked for the Answers in Genesis ministry, in several different roles. I worked in the Dragonhall Bookstore at the Creation Museum; I have worked in the AiG warehouse, shipping out hundreds of thousands of books, DVDs, and other materials to thousands of people. I have written articles for Answers Magazine, and Junior High curriculum materials for the new Answers Bible Curriculum. Along the way, I’ve been tremendously blessed by the incredible people I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with. They will never know, this side of Heaven, how much they have encouraged me and how much I have learned from them. I can only hope I’ve been half the blessing to them that they’ve been to me.

May 18th, 2012 will be my last day at Answers in Genesis, at least as a full-time employee.

God has led me to take a new job at AdvancePierre foods as an inventory analyst.

I’m entering a new mission field.

The biggest drawback of working in ministry or with a non-profit organization is that the pay isn’t all that great. It’s been a struggle for my family and I to make ends meet on the salary I’ve been earning. This isn’t a complaint; it’s a sacrifice I’ve been willing to make for the last five years, because I know that God placed me at AiG for a reason. God has always provided enough money to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, and often provided more than enough for us to have many of the things we didn’t necessarily need. Sometimes, His provision has been downright miraculous. I praise God that He has seen always provided enough.

This new position will pay significantly more than what I earned at AiG. My prayer is that this will allow me to focus less on finances, and more on ministry. My greatest desire is to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am praying that this new position will give me more time and resources to be able to minister to people through my church, Fairfield First Baptist, and elsewhere.

Please pray for my family and me as we go through this transition. Pray also for my teammates in the AiG warehouse, as they transition as well. Most of all, please pray that God will use this new situation in my life, and that I will allow God to use me as He sees fit to reach people for His kingdom.

Personal Log, March 10, 2012

More random facts:

According to the oldest known Roman cookbook, written circa A.D. 228, sausage was a favorite dish at the annual pagan fertility festival Lupercalia, held February 15 in honor of the pastoral god Lupercus. The early Catholic Church outlawed the Lupercalia Festival , and declared the eating of sausage to be a sin. Therefore, the Roman emperor Constantine banned the eating of sausages.


If you have 3 quarters, 4 dimes, and 4 pennies, you have $1.19. You also have the largest amount of money in coins without being able to make change for a dollar.


In the state of Arkansas, it is against the law to mispronounce to word “Arkansas.”


The Jules Undersea Lodge is an underwater hotel in Key Largo, Florida and is the only such hotel in the United States. It is 30 feet (9 m) deep in a lagoon lagoon, and guests must scuba dive to get to their rooms.  And, I’ve seen it while snorkeling (but didn’t get to go inside).


Tug-of –war was an Olympic sport from 1900 – 1920.    The tug-of-war contest was between two teams of eight. One team had to pull the other six feet along in order to win. If after 5 minutes no team had done this, the team which had pulled the most was declared the winner. Great Britain won 2 gold medals, 2 silver, and 1 bronze.


The male howler monkey can produce sounds that can be heard 10 miles away. This breed is found in South America.

red howler monkey sounds


Dogs can smell about 1,000 times better than humans. While humans have 5 million smell-detecting cells, dogs have more than 220 million. The part of the brain that interprets smell is also four times larger in dogs than in humans.


In 1881, an anarchist and lawyer named Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield in the back with a five-barrel, .44-caliber pistol called a British Bulldog. He said he chose the gun because it would look good on display in a museum someday. No one currently knows where the gun is.  Garfield didn’t die from the gunshot wounds, but from blood poisoning after doctors tried to remove the bullet from his back with dirty instruments. Guiteau claimed during his trial that he didn’t kill the President, the doctors had.  He was convicted anyway.