Beulah, North Dakota, 1904

Below is  a flash fiction piece I wrote for Christian Flash Weekly Event 4.  If you are interested in writing jump over there and take a look.  This week’s challenge was to write 500-1000 words of original fiction based on 1 Thessalonians 3:11. 

Beulah, North Dakota, 1904

The parishioners of Beulah Baptist Church in Beulah, North Dakota had endured the worst growing season to have been recorded in the town’s short history. During planting, the rains were so frequent and heavy, much of the seed washed away. Then as the crops should have been nearing harvest the rains stopped all together and the majority of the remaining plants dried up.

Most families had gleaned a little bit to set aside for winter. Unless the season was unusually mild they didn’t have enough. Not enough food, not enough wood, thatch or dung to burn. Many discussed abandoning the town. Before any serious decision was made, an early cold snap settled the matter. No one could expect to survive traveling in cold weather, in North Dakota.

They decided they would conserve some fuel and enable cooperation among neighbors by moving everyone into the church building together. It had the biggest barn for livestock, and it had ample room to hold their meager combined supplies. They moved all the produce and stock animals there, and promised to gather at the first sign of snow.

For the next few days the weather was pleasant, Indian summer had arrived making the coming cold seem distant. Then unexpectedly in the middle of the night, the families awoke to hear a gale blustering outside. They saddled up and gathered according to plan. The pastor and some of the other men strung the necessary guide rope from the door of the barn to the door of the church. Without it one would get lost and perish even in this short span, so severe was the storm.

A census was taken and only one family was still absent. The Sorenson family had not arrived. Even though visibility was slight, they felt they must do something. Hans Borger, a strapping young man who intended to marry the Sorenson’s daughter was going to lead the group. Four other men, including the pastor, prepared to go with him.

They would string a rope from the door to the neighbor’s fence, about 200 yards away. This fence would guide them for several furlongs, then they would use a second rope to tie from the fence to the Sorenson home, another 200 yards out. The Sorenson place was due north of the church.

The men set out and the twenty or so people staying behind alternated between worrying and praying. After a prolonged wait the door burst open and the men stumbled in. They were utterly exhausted and thoroughly beaten. Upon questioning it was discovered they had failed to even make the first leg of the journey to the neighbor’s fence. Once defeated by the blinding storm, they followed the rope back.

When the pastor got his energy back, he took to organizing the people for what would likely be a long stay together. His planning was interrupted when a little girl named Emily pulled him aside.

“We need to pray. Now.”

The pastor stared at the child for a few silent minutes. Time passed as he mustered his courage. Then he called everyone together and asked their indulgence if they would pray some more for the Sorenson family.

“Dear Lord, we ask for your help. There is something we need, and we have already proven it is beyond our ability to do it. We ask if you could deliver the Sorenson family to us here at the church. I remember several times Paul prayed for the privilege of being able to see his brother’s and sister’s in Christ again. That is what we ask today.”

Right then the wind outside changed direction. Storms in North Dakota come from the north. But a big gust of wind from the south shook the building. As the wind hit, it entered straight into the open side of the bell tower swinging the big brass bell, causing it to ring once.

The event was so loud everyone hesitated, to look up. A moment later the wind returned to its normal blustering path. The pastor picked up the prayer where he had left off, and the same wind came again, again ringing the bell. This pattern of winds ringing the bell as they prayed continued for a half hour or more. When the pastor was prayed out, everyone returned to their administrations. After a short time the door swung open and the Sorenson family collapsed inside.

When they were thawed out, they explained the wind carried the sound of the bell allowing them to know which direction to move. This gave them the courage to start away from the house. From there they found the fence. At the end of the fence they found the rope. Tied across the gap, leading them to the front door of the church.

Astounded the pastor reminded everyone the group of men had failed. They had never tied the rope across that last gap.

Bold little Emily reminded the pastor, and everyone else, God answers prayer.

The tiny town, and the little church survived the winter. Despite shortages of food, multiple storms and other hardships there was a general agreement God would bring them through. If anyone began to doubt or fear, they would have a chat with Emily.

Relationships and the Church

I believe most people have a need to find another person to share their life with in a deeply intimate way. God gave us this craving for many reasons, but the most intriguing reason is that it symbolizes God’s relationship with the church. (Eph. 5:22-27)

We should also remember there are ways in which this relationship can be corrupted. Fornication, strictly defined as sexual relationships without marriage are outside of God’s will. Adultery, sexual relationships of a married person with someone other than their spouse is also inappropriate. Homosexuality, sexual relationships with a person of the same gender also are also wrong. (1 Cor. 6:9) These general statements, once considered obvious, are far from obvious to today’s culture.

For today’s theology Thursday post, let me elaborate a little bit on the picture of marriage being like the relationship between Christ and the church.

Marriage starts with a commitment made before God and man between the man and woman getting married. Salvation is the point of commitment where a person enters the church, that is, becomes a part of the bride of Christ. This commitment is meant to be a lifelong promise not a temporary arrangement.

The relationship is exclusive, a person who seeks to hold this relationship with God cannot spend their life dabbling in other religions, any more than a married person should spend their life seeking other sexual partners.

These relationships are given definition in Scripture. Marriage is defined as a lifetime relationship between a man and a woman. Changing this definition to include homosexuality, multiple partners, or anything else which seems right to men, is to abandon God’s right to define the shape of human life and behavior. This is akin to those who seek to find God, but reject His plan of salvation in order to come up with their own.

Character Matters

One of the points I am careful to make in my book, The Storeroom of the Heart, I go to great lengths to highlight the importance of filling your heart with positive character and courage. You never know when an opportunity to do something great for God and humanity will pop up in front of you. You can, however, be sure that if you don’t work on your character prior to the critical moment, then you will not have the gumption to do whatever is necessary and the opportunity will be lost.

This past week a friend pointed me an article by Michael Hyatt called The Reflex of Character which also makes that point.  Jump over and read this incredible true story.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk

This is a female immature sharp-shinned hawk. Maybe. The reason I say maybe is that sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawk are very, very similar. There are a multitude of small differences, but they are so small that it takes a very experienced birder to be sure. Apparently, more experienced than me. I am assuming is a sharpie based on some of these clues. In either case it is obvious it is immature by the brown on the head and back. But the reason I think it would be a female is because it seems larger than one expects a sharpie to be.

Female hawks, including sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks, are about 1/3 bigger than male birds. If you look at this picture you will notice that it is feeding on a bird. Birds are the normal diet of these two species. This means a male hawk has a very perilous task in trying to find a mate. If the female rejects the male in too strong of a manner, she might eat him.

For this reason it would be wisdom for the male birds to be very careful when they go courting. In fact, it is not uncommon for male birds to bring an offering to the female of some freshly killed bird. I suppose they have a vested interest in being sure she is not hungry. With the dangers involved in dating, it is just wisdom to take extra precautions.

Relationships are a major source of problems for people too. Although I seriously doubt any of us are in danger of being eaten, we will always be highly influenced by the people closest to us. This fact makes all relationships dangerous in many ways. We could lose our potential for future success. We could align ourselves with a partner stunts our growth. We could lose our family, self-respect or financial stability by engaging in unwise relationships. Even in relationships which seem to be handled the right way can greatly weaken your spiritual walk.

It is probably not surprising then that Scripture says a lot about relationships. From the book of Proverbs describing inappropriate relationships a deadly trap to 1 Corinthians 7 delving into married sexuality, the Bible does a lot to tell us how to be wise in our relationships. Below is one of the most iconic verses applied to marriage, but a closer look will reveal it is about more than marriage and dating, but also business partnerships, our closest friendships and anywhere else that our association becomes a yoke of sorts.

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (HCSB)

Rights in Conflict

The local news this morning is raising a fuss about a new bill in Arizona awaiting the Governor’s decision whether to sign it or veto it. Arizona’s SB1062 as endorsed by the Center for Arizona Policy is an attempt to restore religious freedom in certain cases. You can learn more about the law, and its intents by following the link. But perhaps more importantly you can see a history of how two different rights have come to be in conflict with each other since 1990.

Now I started off by saying they were raising a fuss. I use this term because at no point did they try to explain what the bill will do, or what the specific wording of the bill was. Other stations might have done so, but I would feel better about the press if they had led with this information. Instead they almost exclusively spoke of the possible economic impact. Bad policy is made when all we care about is whether or not it makes money. We should always care more about the right and wrong of issues than its economic impact.

SB1062 is an example of how different rights have come into conflict with each other in America. The trend is religious freedom is losing importance in America. When rights come in conflict with each other it is now the likely loser. Our heritage of religious freedom and diversity is disappearing fast because we are demanding that the individual conscience conform to cultural norms.

Philosophy of Work

Humanity was made for the purpose of serving, knowing, loving and spending eternity with God. Definitions like this has been a part of Christianity for a couple of thousand years. If there is a difference in the way I choose to phrase it, it is my choice to put serving first. Humanity is made to do meaningful work, and when we are kept from working we suffer from a lowered quality of life.

We were assigned to work beginning in the Garden of Eden. Some people see this as a punishment for sin, but look closer and notice this assignment started before the fall. The fall, the introduction of sinfulness to this earth, made the assignment harder but was after the inception of the task.

Study the book of Ecclesiastes to get an idea of how important it is for our work to be meaningful. The author of this book struggled with life, work and mostly himself to see the meaning in his tasks. People today are not much different. We have an innate need to see the value of our work.

Another aspect of our work being valuable to us is, our own labors make us invested in the area in which we work. This investment connects us and motivates us in the different arenas of our life. When a man is not invested in his family, church, workplace, hobbies or anywhere else, these bonds will be in danger of breaking. Choosing one of these as an example, the work a man does for the sake of his family helps to keep his love for his family strong.

In conclusion, we were made to do meaningful things. So my assignment for the day is decide what meaningful task you will accomplish and then look for who and what it serves. Do an intentional study of your work for the day and see if it stands up to God’s purposes in assigning humanity work.

Olympic Curling

Curling seems to have become more popular during these winter Olympics.  I have heard others talking about getting into it, and I just found it on TV myself.  My wife then informed me she had seen it on just about every day, only reason I hadn’t noticed before is, I am going through a very busy time.

This might well be an example of the storeroom principle. Whatever you are exposed to will be stored in your heart. Whatever gets stored in your heart will spill out into your life. If curling has been on TV at times when people see more of it their heart is filled with it, and whether they love it or hate it doesn’t matter, it will spill out of their life.

My book, The Storeroom of the Heart, I explore the storeroom principle and discuss the implications for Christian growth. If you are interested in buying a signed copy directly from me contact me via social media and I will tell you how to arrange it, or you can buy it from normal book sellers such as CrossBooks or Amazon.  It is available in hardcover, softcover and e-book.

Female House Finch

House Finch Female 2

This bird is a female house finch. It is about as nondescript as birds get. Lazy birders, like me, have been known to call the nondescript birds like this LBJs. It is not a title you will find on any official bird list. LBJ stands for little brown job.

When a new birder comes across certain small sparrows, female finches, and many of the flycatchers, they all look too much alike to be discernable. Hence it’s convenient to adopt a title like LBJ as a drip pan category for those birds which one is unable to tell apart.

But with time and experience, even the LBJs begin to fall into recognizable categories. On this bird you can take a look at the beak. It is definitely the stout beak of a finch.  Any other bird with a stout beak like that will be a larger bird.

Notice also the behavior. It is stealing sugar water from a hummingbird feeder. Finches will quite commonly feed on sugar water, while sparrows and flycatchers never will.

Finally look at the breast of this bird. It is probably the most heavily streaked bird you will ever see.  These markings may be indistinguishable if you are trying to match them line by line with another bird’s streaks, but the density of them is only found on female house finches.

New Christians are sometimes surprised by the way more experienced believers can spot a fellow believer. This situation will confuse them. There is no defining characteristic making a person’s Christianity visible. But with time they will begin to see some things which do identify the disciple.

Often times the first thing you notice is speech. Christians talk different. Our speech produces the fruit of the spirit. (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control, from Galatians 5:22)

Behavior also is identifiable in Christians. Certain traits common in most of society will drop out of a Christian’s life as they mature. Pride, self-serving, greed, drunkenness, lust and more will come to be under control in the life of a disciple.

Then finally the believer will have the marks of Christ in their life. While these may not show readily, when you get to know a person you will begin to see them in their lives. It might come across as scars from the attacks the devil has put on them. These marks will take the shape of proven character brought about by these trials.

Consider 2 Corinthians 4:10 (HCSB) “We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” This verse says the sacrificial death of Christ is visible in us in some manner, so that the Salvation of Jesus is visible in us. So your challenge for today is to go out and live so as to make Christ known.

President’s Day

Money

Happy President’s Day. Is this a day you celebrate?

Some people seem to celebrate President’s Day by going out and trading presidential flash cards for merchandise at local sales outlets. And too many people believe spending is the primary indicator of a healthy economy. It isn’t.

A healthy economy should be marked by jobs and production. Spending in an economy without production will send money out of the country to whoever produced the goods. The jobs supported by it will be part time, near minimum wage jobs, without benefits.

Oh and by the way, despite my joke about presidential flash cards, not every bill of US currency has a President on it.  Can you name two men pictured on current US currency who were never president of the United States?

Universal Church

Several months back at a men’s Bible study the speaker in a video referenced the universal church. Specifically he said people often use the concept of the universal church as a chance to cop out on their responsibility to a local church.

This confused some of the men who were unfamiliar with the term, so today let me define and talk briefly about the local church and the universal church.

The universal church is a term used to describe all the saved of all the ages. The only time and place the universal church will be gathered is in heaven, in eternity. Until then the universal church is a term used to define all of Christiandom, around the world and through all time.  While this is not a Biblical term, it is useful to allow us to define the large group of Christianity.

It’s natural to wrestle a little bit with who is in the universal church, but that is actually the soteriological question. The question of who is saved. For now suffice it to say, the concept should keep you aware Christianity is not limited to one church, denomination or tradition. Neither does it extend to anyone who calls themselves Christian. So everyone fitting God’s definition of Christian is a part of the universal church.

The speaker in the aforementioned video was pointing out he knew people who joined no local church because they felt it was unnecessary since they already belonged to the universal church. He encouraged a refocussing on the local church but if it had been me, I would have gone even further.

Remember the term universal church is not in the Bible, but the word defining a local church is very commonly used.  Simplifying what could be a very long discussion, the reason why is not because God doesn’t care about the universal church, but because His method of growing the universal church is by growing local churches.

Every purpose God has for his people is expressed through a local congregation. Discipleship, happens in a faithful relationship with a group of other believers. Worship, while it can be a solo event, is Scripturally described as a congregational activity. Missions, happens when a group committed to the same goals all pull together. Evangelism is seeking an individual decision, but evangelism is a failure when the new believer is not linked to a congregation for growth.

I am a strong believer in the local church. I define it as a group of Christians who have thrown in their lives together for the purpose of serving God.  This commitment made to one another is in the form of membership, and membership is also a confession by the person they believe as we do, at least on the most important issues. When a church begins to chip away at the membership commitment they will eventually find their people don’t have unity of belief or direction.

I believe once a person makes a commitment to a local church they have responsibilities there. Churches where the members are absent or lax will be weakened. Let me finish today by encouraging anyone who happens to read this, be committed to your local church and see it as your God designed avenue for serving the greater kingdom.