Jan 26, 2007

Internet Friends: The Heart of the Matter

"I met someone online."

I used to think that meeting someone online was the equivalent of outright evil, but I've since changed my tune. While there certainly are plenty of nefarious reasons for meeting someone online, I've found that the internet can certainly be used for the glory of God as well.

In a time when God saw fit to remove nearly all my real-life friends from my daily life, He also was so gracious to provide internet friends shortly thereafter. There is a verse that says that man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. I think I am finally starting to understand a bit of what it means for the Lord to look at the heart.

When I meet people in real life, my eyes are immediately drawn to their clothing, their facial features, their hair, and various other aspects of their physical appearance. I am checking them out. And whether we want to admit it or not, we all do that. I really do try not to judge a person by their outward appearance, but that is simply human nature, after all.

So what I have found so interesting is "meeting" people online when I really have no clue what they look like. For myself, I have noticed that I am drawn to others who have a deep love for the truth of God's Word. First, I notice comments, or possibly blog posts, by others, and I consider whether I agree with their content, whether I like their attitude, and whether they have something stimulating to say. I do not have to agree with them at all to enter into a dialogue with them, but for me, the attitude is key. What good does it do to have a friendly debate with someone who has a chip on their shoulder or who is always right?

After a while, I notice that patterns start to develop with certain online personalities and some of those patterns are attractive to me. Perhaps I will read their blogs more often or be more inclined to comment. Sometimes I may even email them privately and often I have received private emails as well. This seems to move the relationship into a bit more personal stage and we are able to discuss matters that we may not say in front of the whole world wide web.

A few of these relationships have developed into phone relationships as well. I cherish these. I will admit that I am often surprised when I hear the voice of a "friend" for the first time. Sometimes the words that I read from them take on a whole new meaning, just because I hear in their voice what was really in their heart. I have developed some very meaningful relationships with my now-phone friends, often deeper than any real life friendships I have. I often wonder if I will ever meet them this side of heaven.

It was our great privilege, then, to finally meet some internet friends in real life last week. Mark had a class not too far from Brandon and Elizabeth and they had given us an open invitation to come visit them any time we were in the area, so we made all the arrangements. At the last minute, an ice storm was coming to San Antonio on the day we were to leave, so they invited us to come up a day early, which I know meant that they had to scramble to get things ready for us (thanks, guys!).

Although they had seen our pictures on the internet, I had no clue what they would look like. I had some sort of vague picture in my mind, but it didn't match at all. What was so odd to me was that I was looking at what seemed to be apparent strangers, yet we had talked so much that I felt like we were long-lost friends. We just naturally fell into conversation and had a wonderful three days together.

You know what really surprised me, though? We had previously only talked about a few areas of life on the phone and through email, so I really didn't know much about their values, their lifestyle, their convictions, their beliefs. I had decided ahead of time that I would just enjoy whatever things we had in common, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly every topic of conversation that came up was something that we had in common. In fact, we found that we are more like them than just about anybody we know.

I was pondering this and considering some of my other internet friends, as I like to call them, who also seem to have more in common with us than I would have initially guessed, and I came to the conclusion that birds of a feather flock together. I know that's not real profound or original, but even through the internet it appears that like attracts like.

It is interesting to realize that if I were to have met certain people first, I may never have developed a relationship with them at all, or maybe not to the degree that I have now that I have been able to look at their hearts (on the internet, at least) without looking at the outward appearance first. I wonder if that is why our relationships seem to deepen so quickly. There are no outward distractions. We don't have to go through all the small talk first. We just start right off discussing deep issues. I can't imagine meeting someone in real life for the first time and immediately getting into a debate on Christians suing one another or whether or not slavery is biblical. It is just inconceivable.

Can't you just picture this scene taking place at church on Sunday morning?

"Hi, I'm Jen," I greet a new visitor.

"Hello, I'm Judy," she replies politely, '"Nice to meet you."

"What is your position on slavery, and can you support it from Scripture? My position is ..."

I sure do thank God for all my internet friends!

Jan 24, 2007

My Heart Was in the Right Place

It's the thought that counts.

She really meant well.

Do the ends justify the means? Is being sincere more important than doing the right thing? Let's examine three stories of people whose hearts were in the right place.

Or were they?

A couple years ago, a group of people (it's probably best not to identify them) decided that I should not have the right to be a mother to my own children. Apparently, these people did not approve of some of the rules of our family, such as homeschooling, modesty, the role of women (after all I've written about this, I guess I can't please anyone in this area!), higher education, getting to the marriage altar, and probably countless other areas, including which church we attended. This group of people took it upon themselves to "rescue" my children from the horrible lifestyle and abuse they thought we must be inflicting upon them. Not once did any of these people come visit our home. Not once did any of these people ask me any questions to find out the validity of their concerns. There was absolutely no attempt made at finding out the truth of the situation, but there was a grand conspiracy to relieve me of my right to parent my own beloved children. As the first part of this plan unfolded and I lost one child, I was absolutely devastated. I thank the Lord that He intervened when the State attempted to remove the other two as well. Imagine my shock and my horror when I eventually found out about this grand scheme by those I thought I could trust, only to hear them justify themselves, "Our hearts were in the right place."

One of my favorite Bible stories is not a very enjoyable story, but one that directs much of my life. The Ark of the Covenant was not in Jerusalem, where it should have been, so King David set out to retrieve it from the house of Abinadab. David's heart was in the right place. They put the Ark on a cart pulled by oxen and then they had a fantastic praise and worship service. Wow! The Spirit of the Lord must truly be in that place with that kind of praise and worship going on! And then the oxen tripped. As the Ark began to tumble, Uzzah lovingly put up his hand to steady it. Surely his heart was in the right place. But God struck him dead! Didn't God see that David's heart was in the right place, that he only wanted to get the Ark to its rightful place? Didn't God see that Uzzah's heart was in the right place, that he only wanted to protect the precious Ark of God? Wasn't it the thought that counts? Did it really matter that God had previously told them how to transport the Ark, that God's ways were better than man's ways, that if they had followed God's method they would not have to be concerned about the safety of the Ark?

Fast forward to Kent Hovind. I truly believe that his heart is in the right place, that he is very sincere in what he believes, that he means well. But just because his heart is in the "right" place, does it follow that he did the right thing? If you do something for the right reason, but it is not the right thing to do, is it just the thought that counts? I will continue to support Kent Hovind, but I believe it is time for him to search his heart and see if it is really in the "right" place. Right now, that "right" place is in jail. In this case, are the means truly worthwhile? Is it worth it to be so right in your beliefs that you lose your freedom, your family, your ministry? If those beliefs stand and fall on the infallibility of God's Word, on preaching the gospel, on the reputation of our Lord, then we should we willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ. But is it really worth it to stake our whole life on whether or not we agree with the interpretations of the tax laws? Kent may be 100% right in his stand; I'm sure his heart was in the right place. But do his current ends justify his means? I pray that he reconsiders what is truly important in life.

If you want to really get my dander up, just excuse someone's actions by telling me that their heart was really in the right place. If the people who planned on taking my children away truly had their heart in the right place, they would not have sinned by plotting kidnappings and false abuse reports to the State. If their hearts were truly in the right place, they would have used Matthew 18 or possibly even just attempted a conversation with me.

If King David's and Uzzah's hearts were in the right place, they would not have disobeyed a direct command from the Lord on how spiritual duties were to be accomplished. Having a great praise and worship service does not impress the Lord when there is sin in the camp. Obedience is always better than sacrifice.

If Kent Hovind were to realize that not all taxes in life are fair, that all laws are not even adequate, that if he is called by God to preach the gospel through his creation seminars and debates, that his family needs him more than the prisoners do, that this issue is not a "do-or-die" issue, Kent may still have a chance for freedom after all. I know he thinks his heart is in the right place, but if it were truly in the "right" place, Kent would be in the "right" place as well -- at home where he belongs.

Our hearts cannot be in the right place if it leads to sin or grave consequences that do not ultimately glorify God. Let us say instead, "Thy will be done."

Jan 20, 2007

Christian Hackers: A Paradox of Fruit

The Bible says that we will know one another by our fruits. I wonder if hacking someone's website is good fruit or bad fruit? As an American, I am a strong proponent of free speech. I will defend your right to state your own opinions and views, even if they are not my own. I am very much anti-Big Brother and I enjoy being challenged in my thinking by reading or hearing views that may be controversial in nature. They make me think. I may not ever agree with those views, but in researching, studying, and meditating upon them, I now have a deeper conviction on whatever the subject might be. Sometimes, I might be persuaded to even reconsider my own views. Opposing viewpoints are a good thing, especially when done in Christian charity.

That is why I find it unconscionable that someone hacked the Ministry Watchman website today. Surely a non-Christian would have no reason to do such a thing, so I can only assume it was someone claiming the name of Christ. What a poor testimony to any outsiders looking in on our situation.

While I personally have nothing to do with the Ministry Watchman site, Watchman has informed me of what happened and given me permission to expose this deed of darkness after I went to the site this afternoon and found a totally blank page. When it continued to remain blank, I checked the source and found that the whole site appeared to be gone.

Here is part of Ministry Watchman's email to me when I asked what happened:

On 1/20/07, Ministry Watchman wrote:
About an hour ago the Ministry Watchman site went down. Here's the only thing that now shows up:

Not Found
The requested URL / was not found on this server.

[The] hosting company verified that the site has been hacked. My password to the server no longer works. They're trying to figure out how it happened. All of the WordPress application files have been deleted. Thankfully the database tables are still intact.

The hacker also got into the server control panel, unlocked the domain name and transferred it to a "George Gilbert". They can't tell me now how long ago he actually first got in.

He used an email address of snowbite7@hotmail.com.

They're going to try and figure out how this happened, but right now they're just not certain.

About an hour later:

I just got off the phone after spending the better part of an hour trying to regain control of our account. Whoever George Gilbert is he went to a lot of trouble changing every conceivable thing with the Ministry Watchman account settings.

I'm happy to report that we were able to restore all the application files.



Since I am not a conspiracy theorist, I will not assume to blame someone for doing this unless I have proof, although I certainly have my suspicions. However, commenters are free to theorize here all they want.

If someone does not like what is on the Ministry Watchman site, may I suggest that in the future they personally write to Ministry Watchman about it? Or, I suppose they could just ignore it, as most people do who don't like someone else's free speech. Of course, there is always the option of actually just stating your own opinion somewhere online. Hacking is not the fruit of a true believer, so I must now seriously question the claims of Christ this hacker makes. Repent, hacker. Confess to your evil deeds of darkness and repent.

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

Jan 19, 2007

Kent Hovind: Maxed Minus One

I took my children to Kent Hovind's sentencing trial today. In shackels and a green jumpsuit, Kent quipped, "I chose green today ... to match my lawyer." It was so good to see him smiling and laughing.

Casey Rodgers, allegedly the youngest US judge, and one who represented local strip clubs pro bono while still working to pass the bar, was clearly not enthused about the profusion of Christianity in her courtroom. Although Kent was previously found guilty of 58 tax fraud-related charges, today's hearing included character witnesses, recorded phone calls from the prison, and Kent's own "hear my heart" speech. While I realize that we were not present for the initial trial, and we did not hear all the evidence presented on both sides, I will report what I did hear today.

The trial began with the judge deciding that Jo Hovind's original trial was incomplete and asked counsel to go back and look at two more issues. Her sentencing will now take place March 1.

Scott Schneider, an IRS special agent, took about 90 hours worth of recently recorded phone calls and played back 31 minutes of those calls. It was his purpose, he said, to show that Kent Hovind was hiding assets and making additional legal threats while he was in prison.

"Incriminating" Phone Calls

As we listened to the phone calls, I heard Kent ask about the motorhome, which later turned out to be a gift someone had given the ministry and needed some electrical work. Kent thought it needed to be parked elsewhere, which Schneider interpreted to mean that he was hiding his assets. Kent also said that if Schneider had not taken all the church funds and ministry materials, he recommended that they keep them safe. Since this was supposed to be a personal trial for Kent Hovind, and not for his ministry, I wondered why keeping the church funds safe was considered "hiding assets."

"If I get out [of prison]," Kent told his wife on the phone, "I'm going to leave [the judge, the prosecutor, and the IRS special agent] alone. If I don't get out, I'm going to sue them. I don't really want to fight them, but Schneider needs to obey the law. I'm not ready to roll over; this is America. I just want everybody to obey the law. I'll hold him harmless if he will just drop the case. I just want to be a Nehemiah and build the wall."

I am NOT a Tax Protester

"The tax laws are written just fine," Kent insisted. "The government just doesn't obey them." According to Kent, the W-2 is a voluntary tax withholding agreement, which his ministry declined to use. He claims he does not have employees, per se, but independent contractors, which, in a ministry, are exempt from being required to file a W-2 at their place of employment.

"What Have I Done Wrong?"

The rule of law is the constitution, and Kent does not see what law he has violated. Over and over again, throughout all the testimony today and throughout hundreds of pages of documents, Kent continually asked, "What have I done wrong? How can I repent if I don't know the specific charges? What law have I broken? Show me the code and we'll pay it. We have a responsibility to God to obey the law. Please show me which specific law we are violating; so far all I've seen are vague generalities."

A Man of Conviction and Honor

The first character witness for Kent was his son, Eric, who stressed Kent Hovind's consistency in all of life - truth. Standing on the truth of God's Word is so important to Kent that he will always stick with it, win or lose. Eric also gave many examples of how Kent was unbelievably in love with God, how he loved his country, and how he loved others, especially the unloveable, because of God's own love toward him. Calling Kent his hero, Eric praised him for being an "awesome" dad and grandpa to five grandchildren, one of which was born just 10 days ago and Kent has not yet seen. He told about Kent's vow of poverty that he took in 1989, not owning anything personally, but even having seven different offices in the parsonage in which he lives with his wife. Giving away so much of their material, Kent did not even bother to copyright it so that it would be available to more people. Kent's number one goal, Eric explained, is to love God.

John Dustin told of his long-term relationship with Kent, a man of honor and conviction. He explained that Kent's convictions were so deep that his personality sometimes seemed abrasive in getting those convictions across.

Pastor Greg Dickson, 74, said, "A good name is to be honored more than choice silver." He noted that in the 31 minutes of phone calls we listened to in court, it was remarkable how a convict had seemingly no malice toward those who prosecuted him, no filthy or vile language, no bitterness whatsoever.

Paul Abramson, a contractor for CSE, said that incarcerating Kent Hovind would be detrimental to society as a whole; Kent Hovind's voice in the creation movement was so needed.

The Lion and the Mouse

When it came time for Kent to give a speech about where his heart was, he began with one of Aesop's fables about a lion and the mouse, in which the mouse begs the lion not to harm him by promising to help the lion later when he might be in need. "I feel like the mouse," Kent sobbed.

Although he has led 15 men to Christ in the last three months, Kent clearly and desperately wanted out of jail. "I would have obeyed if only I'd known (what I was doing wrong) before the arrest."

He couldn't understand a justice system that wouldn't allow all the parties to just sit down and talk. He was sure that they could have come to a mutally agreeable conclusion if he would have just been able to sit down with the prosecutor and the IRS agent.

Apologizing for not making peace with Scott Schneider, Kent told of how he asked Scott to leave the property when he came to take pictures for the court. Kent was very sorry that in all the years of his welcoming thousands of people to his ministry's property that he had actually told Scott to leave. He also apologized for his pride and his frustration at the seeming lack of due process.

Deafening Silence

Relating some of the history of both his ministry and the current charges, Kent presented volumes of letters he had written both to professionals to ask for advice, and to those prosecuting him to ask for help, all during the last several years. It was especially noteworthy to me that his letters to the prosecuting attorney and to the IRS special agent all went unanswered and his frustration mounted at not being able to know just what he had done wrong.

Ordained in 1974, Kent claims that his understanding of the law is that ordained ministers are exempt from paying withholding taxes and that churches and ministries, both of which applied to his situation are also exempt from paying the withholding taxes on behalf of their employees, which are actually independent contractors, or more commonly known to Christians as missionaries. Kent claimed that both Wycliffe Bible Translators and Rick Warren's Saddleback Church use the same method of not withholding income taxes from their independent contractors (employees). Kent encouraged his employees to pay their own taxes.

Accused of structuring, Kent claimed that based upon the advice of Glen Stoll, who now controls Creation Science Evangelism, he did not take out more than $10,000 cash from the bank at any one time, using the cash to pay his missionaries who preferred cash and to pay for the expenses of the ministry. Sometimes there would be three days in between large withdrawals, while other times there would be up to 34 days in between. Not only did the discrepancy in dates indicate no structuring, but structuring is based upon violations of drug-trafficking laws, in which Kent and Jo were clearly not involved either.

Regarding the charge of destroying documents, Kent claimed that he used a shredder to destroy customer's credit card receipt copies. He kept insisting that he never knowingly or willfully violated any law.

Tears of Humility

In tears during this whole testimony, Kent then says that the only thing he's changed his mind about is that if he goes back to prison, he will not sue the IRS. "I feel like the mouse. What can I do?"

"When you wrestle with a skunk, you can win, but it gets awful messy."

When asked if he's repentant, he again asks, "What have I done wrong?" He admits, "I am guilty of being proud and frustrated. I am willing to make any changes necessary (in my finances)."

Always the preacher, Kent openly shares the gospel in court and ends with prayer, begging God to help him to understand all this.

No Mercy

The prosecutor closed by saying that Kent's testimony wasn't really heartfelt, it was all just subterfuge for the appeal he knew he would be making later on.

Refusing to accept responsibility for those 58 charges of which he was previously found guilty, Kent continues to ask, "What have I done wrong? What specific law have I broken? How can I change if I don't know what it is that I am doing?"

For Judge Rodgers closing remarks before sentencing, she stated that this case is not about religion. Kent brought religion into it, but she said that the law states that churches are not exempt from withholding taxes. I did find it noteworthy that she freely quoted each specific law and its regulation number when she spoke of many other details regarding sentencing, but she did not give any specifics regarding which law this particular one might be.

Although Kent repeatedly stated that he was not a tax protester, the judge insisted that the evidence was to the contrary, being especially persuaded by the fact that Kent had given control of his ministry to Glen Stoll of Remedies at Law, apparently someone toward whom judges in tax fraud cases have very little charity.

She also went to great lengths extolling the virtues of our great country and how unique it is in our freedoms and rights, but that those can only be paid for by our taxes. "You have dishonored the constitution," she rebukes Kent.


For the implied legal threats and hiding assets, for his personal attacks against Scott Schneider (?), for his refusal to accept responsibility, and because he gave his ministry over to Glen Stoll who is also in trouble with the law, Judge Rodgers decided to all but max his sentence: 10 years in prison. (The maximum amount is 10 years, one month.) He was fined to pay restitution of $604,874.87, a $2000 fine, $5800 in special monetary assessment costs, and $7078.24 in prosecution costs, payable at a monthly pro-rated amount of approximately $1000 per month beginning three months after his three-year probation begins upon completion of his time served. Based upon his low risk factor for taking drugs, the judge waived the mandatory drug testing for Kent Hovind. So kind of her.

God is Still Sovereign

Although we were crushed by the outcome, we were glad we came. The courtroom was packed. They brought in extra chairs and Alicia even had to sit on my lap. It was interesting to watch the different strengths and weaknesses among the family members. Everyone responded according to their different personalities. This was a time when one's trust in a Sovereign Lord became apparent for all the world to see. I spent much of the day in prayer, but with a judge that seemed so hard and cold, I wondered what good my prayers did. This is a time when I know that I have to believe that all things work together for good for those who love God - and I know Kent Hovind loves the Lord. May He show him some mercy in this case.