Philosophy of Effort

What do you believe about human effort?  Should we, since we are not saved by works, therefore not put any effort into getting work done?  Or going just a little bit further, perhaps all human effort is inherently tainted by sin and therefore we should never do anything for God, but instead expect that all of Christian living and God’s kingdom on earth should be accomplished by Him without our participation?

It seems like the opinion that everything we do is sinful and worthless is very strong today. In this philosophy, humanity must allow God to build His church. The idea is that we are not able to help, and when we try we simply mess it up. For those who proclaim this message, I have this question.  Are you not doing a work by proclaiming this ideology?  Isn’t teaching, preaching, and instruction in practical application, tasks which require some degree of labor?

We need a better understanding of human effort in the kingdom of God. Consider 1 Corinthians 3:14, here quoted from the NASB.  “If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” You will want to open your own Bible and explore the context of this verse, but the general idea is that God expects us to work, will test our work, and that those whose work survives the test will be rewarded.

So let me suggest a philosophy of effort.  We should work to do our best as Christians. This is not for the purpose of being saved, because we are all saved by grace. Instead our efforts are for purposes of bringing glory to God, most notably by building His kingdom.  Our efforts in this regard are only successful when done in cooperation with Him. Because He empowers these efforts, He gets all the credit for any success.



Today I found out that my brother’s family has an owl living around their house. This is the sort of news that gets a birder’s attention.

I saw a picture posted online. It was obviously a small owl, but the picture did not provide for accurate scale. It had bright yellow eyes and small ear tufts. They live slightly northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.

Given only this amount of information can the bird be positively identified?

There are eight large owls, and eleven small owls. This was obviously one of the small ones.

Of the small owls there are four which have ear tufts.

Of the small owls with ear tufts there are two that would regularly occur in that range.

Of the small owls, with ear tufts, in that range, only the western screech-owl has the yellow eyes. So it seems likely the bird is a western screech-owl—likely but not absolutely certain.

The detail that is most likely to confuse the results is range. It is common for birds to be seen outside of their normal range. Birders frequently remind each other that the birds don’t read the field guides or honor their defined ranges.

As it happens there is another owl, the whiskered screech-owl, that looks extremely similar to the western screech-owl. The whiskered is usually further south, but it is entirely possible for a bird to have wandered outside of the normal range.

Christians could benefit from a discussion of range as well. One of the identifying marks of a believer is their moral stand. This pattern of living means there are certain places a believer is unlikely to go.

Many years ago I was in a church that had a church covenant pasted in the front of their hymnals. It said, among other things, that the members of the church would not consume alcohol, and would not go into businesses that offer alcohol. I liked it. But I didn’t find it easy to follow back then.

Furthermore in today’s world it would be impractical to follow such a guideline. Very few restaurants do not serve alcohol. Of course it would be possible to simply stop eating out at the places that do. However, every grocery store sells alcohol and therefore it would be impossible to buy food to prepare at home. So a strict adherence to the guideline would mean eating out at every meal, and predominantly from fast food places.

This point serves to illustrate how hard it is to stay within your range. But I also know that many, if not most, Christians today do not agree with the guideline and therefore will not attempt to follow it. While we could have a lengthy discussion of whether it is right or wrong, what is and is not lawful or allowable for believers, that is not my point at the moment.

What I want you to see for now is a simpler point. Christians are less identifiable in today’s world because they have taken away one of the field marks. Many people bemoan the loss of witness in today’s world, but they don’t seem to make the connection to our behavior. In years gone by believers were better at being different than the world around them, and this inherently attracted people who wanted to improve their life. Today Christians seem more interested in standing up for their rights than growing the kingdom, and the resulting patterns of behavior are not as attractive to the lost as past patterns were.

Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you. 2 Corinthians 6:17 (HCSB)

Running the Blockade

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in sequence.

The first battlefield was The Battle for the Mind.  Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, Adrift, Self Sacrifice, Crash DownThe Lake HouseDancing with Egopods, Lunch with Aliens and Kilkian Alignment

The second battlefield is The Battle of the Hands, Here are the previous episodes in this battlefield Learning to SeeMaintaining Common SenseMeeting CompagnoUnseating DibolocosThe Journey HomewardAmbush on Platinum 9, Refit, Retrain and Rethink, Saved by Rodent Weed, Convoys and Propaganda,  Changing the Moon, and Expanding Horizons.  Today we get Episode 32.

Running the Blockade

As they began the return trip it was instituted that evening meals would be diplomatic gatherings. Chambers hoped they would begin to form a cohesive group by being together, but the meals sometimes had the opposite effect. Each night 5 of the representatives were allowed to take 10 minutes to introduce themselves, and to briefly discuss what they felt should be the priorities and course of action for the new government.

The speeches were sometimes elegant and moving, well thought out, and articulately given. Other times though they were tirades against common morality, public welfare, and common sense. Jamison worried about how they would ever find common ground. Chambers and he decided that Jamison would wait and be among the last to give his speech. They hoped that by being among the last, and perhaps working off his name recognition, he would be placed in charge of the group.

When they were about two weeks out, there was a night when the speeches had been particularly bad. The politicians had been advocating the legalization of all kinds of unsafe and cruel behavior, everything from the marketing of highly addictive intoxicants to slavery was lifted up as essential to the survival of the colonies.

The last speaker went even further by stating that alignment with the Kilkians must be made illegal at all costs. Both Chambers and Jamison, of course, already knew this man was aligned with the Dibolocos. But unlike all the other speakers of the past couple of weeks, this man said he planned to cleanse the delegates of the Kilkian menace. He announced they would soon meet a blockade, and they would either, allow the Dibolocos to board and kill all those sympathetic to the Kilkians, or they would all be destroyed.

Chambers quietly slipped to a communication panel, she ordered the convoy stopped and had discreet probes sent ahead which confirmed the presence of the blockade. Given this information she arrested the man for treason and assigned him a cell in the brig. To her surprise several co-conspirators immediately confessed and asked to also be put in the brig. She quickly realized they expected to be safer down there once the impending conflict started.

The other candidates had wanted to return to their quarters, but Chambers directed them to stay together in the formal dining hall. They would be less vulnerable in the event they were boarded by hostiles. Jamison remembered well the attack on board the SS Grover Cleveland, and he hoped they could avoid a similar attack here.

Chambers returned to the bridge after assigning a sizable contingent of armed soldiers to the dining hall. She spent the next few hours sending additional probes trying to find a spot where she could get through the blockade with a minimal amount of conflict. She didn’t see any spot where the blockade was truly weak. In fact, she was startled by the amount of strength she saw in the group of ships. There were hundreds of vessels, including a number of them which had previously been CDF vessels.

Because of the large number of ships, going around the group was not a good option. They had enough ships to shift the ones on the lee side to whichever side they were attempting to use to go around. Facing this reality gave Chambers the plan she ultimately settled on. She sent her convoy up to the point where they might slip over the wall of opponents. She instructed they use the disturbance created by a quasar to mask their approach for as long as possible. But they would be detected before getting through. She even communicated these plans to the candidates. She knew it was likely that some of them were still in contact with these enemies.

When the convoy began moving out from the interference of the quasar the enemy ships shifted as expected to seal them in. As they approached the blockade the number of ships in front of them increased dramatically. But also ships further below thinned out and Chambers slipped through this now barely defended area. She had the delegates and was making haste toward the capital. Prior to engaging the superior force, the rest of her battle group turned and beat a hasty retreat, causing the combatants to give chase.

Just as Chambers began to think the ruse had been a total success, she felt the presence of Dibolocos boarding her ship. Three of them, near the dining hall. From Jamison’s perspective, with the candidates, he felt the presence of the Dibolocos just outside the door, he called the alarm and pointed just as the doors exploded inward. The three aliens marched in swinging their axes at everything and everybody. The small group of Dibolocos had a few humans with them, which were quickly taken down by the defending soldiers. After this, many of the CDF guards scattered, but a few tried to stand their ground and fire on the aliens.

Their attempts were totally futile, since humans cannot harm Dibolocos. Those brave enough to stand and fight were the first casualties in the skirmish. Jamison, moved safely away and tried yelling commands to everyone as to how to avoid the enemy, but in the pandemonium no one was listening.

Half a dozen Kilkians materialized and joined the battle on behalf of the humans. The Dibolocos were able to kill several more people including two candidates, but the Kilkians were able to subdue them before any other damage was done. As these battles must end, the Kilkians allowed the Dibolocos to reform and then transport off the ship.

The two dead candidates had both been unaligned. In addition to these two, eight soldiers were dead and eleven humans who had boarded with the enemy. But to everyone’s surprise, it was also found that the group down in the brig was also dead. No one saw how it happened. There was no electronic record of the event despite the fact the brig was under constant recorded surveillance.

They continued toward the capital. Chambers crew recorded interviews with everyone present during the attack, in keeping with her mission. Jamison and her were amazed how many of the candidates were blaming the attack on the Kilkians. They assumed the candidates in the brig had been killed by the Kilkians as retribution for their cooperation with the Dibolocos. Furthermore, the CDF Central Command was ordering her to report the event as an attack by pirates rather than by the Dibolocos.

Hastening the End

I believe the world, as we know it, is temporary. God will wrap up this world and through a series of events, He will destroy this planet and will replace it with a new heaven and earth. The Bible gives a surprising amount of detail about these events. But in addition to what the Bible says, there are a multitude of things people have assumed about the end times.

In Matthew 24:14 (HCSB) Jesus said, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” This of course is a passage intended to be about the end times. In recent years it has been common to discuss the word ‘nations’. The Greek word refers to people groups. A people group would be a population that share a common language, common culture, likely a common ethnicity and also have barriers preventing them from integrating with the groups around them. I believe these relatively new assertions are correct.

But one thing I don’t believe about this passage is that it indicates we can hasten the end, by doing a better job at missions and reaching every people group. I mention this because I hear it either implied or stated with increasing frequency that a part of the Christian’s responsibility is to usher in the end times as quickly as possible.

Take a good look at the verse. It only says all nations will have heard the gospel prior to the end. It doesn’t say this proclamation will allow or cause the end to come. It only says, “And then the end will come.” This is a statement of sequence, and while it implies the end will happen soon thereafter, it is not stated as a promise. Nor do the commands telling us to reach the world with the gospel make this connection.

So I believe the idea that we can hasten the end is a mistake. Jesus indicates no one knows the exact time except the Father. This means the Father has already chosen the time, but it also implies He did so in an independent manner, rather than timing it based upon human activity.

Convoys and Propaganda

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in sequence.

The first battlefield was The Battle for the Mind.  Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, Adrift, Self Sacrifice, Crash DownThe Lake HouseDancing with Egopods, Lunch with Aliens and Kilkian Alignment

The second battlefield is The Battle of the Hands, Here are the previous episodes in this battlefield Learning to SeeMaintaining Common SenseMeeting CompagnoUnseating DibolocosThe Journey HomewardAmbush on Platinum 9, Refit, Retrain and Rethink and Saved by Rodent Weed.  Today we get Episode 29


Convoys and Propaganda

Chambers took her battle group out for training prior to beginning combat duty. During the course of this training she first set up her own command to her liking. Then she assisted the captains in setting up their commands. She met them individually, giving them a detailed view of how she arranged her own structure. Then she allowed them to return to their ship and set up their own commands.  Finally she inspected each ship to verify that whatever command structure the captain chose to use would be functional.

When it was time for her to train Captain Avery she found him to be well versed both as a military commander and as a servant of the Kilkian King. He was already aware of her alignment but did not have the advantages that had been extended to her and Jamison.

Captains Corel and Dremmer both were competent officers and she believed they would both cooperate and follow orders as needed in a battle group. Unfortunately, Captain Bittlesworth seemed to have no intention whatsoever of following orders. On the final day of training she gathered all of them to discuss strategy and experience with pirates. Bittlesworth started off the meeting with a sullen attitude, but quickly progressed to accusing her of being inexperienced and incapable of leading. She reigned him in by assuring him she knew how to fill out a court martial. He quickly submitted, but the exchange made it clear to Chambers that she would continue to have trouble with him.

From there the group went to the moon, Adjupt. It served as a space port in the past, but now it was more like a parking lot. It was filled with ships that were afraid to do any trading. She made the normal announcements for a convoy. Even as recently as six months ago these ships would have jumped at the chance to trade under protection, but now they were afraid to go out even with a full battle group guarding them.

About this time though the news broke, carefully crafted and spun by the military command, regarding Chambers victories against the pirates. When word got around that the battle group was commanded by the same Captain Chambers, a few ships agreed to go out under her direction and protection. Normally a convoy might be as many as twenty merchant ships, Chambers would be heading out with only five freighters. It was a very small start.

As they departed to begin trade with outlying colonies, the merchant captains loaded up with different goods to sell and trade along the way. They would also bring back goods from these different colonies to sell at the home planet.

Prior to departure Chambers hosted a formal dinner with each of the captains both CDF and merchant. At this meal each was interviewed on film so the CDF could publish it later if the run was successful. As she watched this process, she became aware of a sense of danger or anxiety from one of the merchant captains. To make matters worse this captain was also actively aligned with the Dibolocos and seemed to have already formed a partnership with Captain Bittlesworth.

When they headed out the first stop was a relatively close star system with two different colonies on different planets. Chambers planned to go to the larger colony first and to the smaller one after. The whole point of a convoy was sticking together for safety. Captain Bittlesworth sent a communication indicating he was taking the one ship with him to the smaller colony and would rejoin the convoy later. Chambers ordered him to stay with the group, but he simply took off with his new friend. All of these events were faithfully recorded for later publication.

When the trading was done on the larger colony for the majority of the convoy, they started toward the other planet in order to join up with Bittlesworth and his friend. But as they approached the planet Chambers became convinced they were flying into a trap of some kind.  She ordered the colony therefore to stop before getting within firing range of the planetary defenses. Bittlesworth sent numerous communications asking, ordering and even begging for her to come toward the planet. She refused and continued to order him to come out to rejoin her.

Finally he did come out, with guns blazing. On one side of him was the friend, his ship now transformed into a gun boat, and on the other side was a more traditional pirate ship. She quickly configured the group to get the military ships between the honest merchants and the pirates. They counted a total of 11 missiles launched toward them.

She also deployed a volley of torpedoes. Instead of placing the torpedoes in front of the oncoming enemies, she put a missile above two and below the third.  The first connected with Captain Bittlesworth’s ship and disabled it. It should have missed him completely, but he dodged downward right into its path. At the same second the two other ships dodged up. The pirate ship was hit and was completely destroyed. The last ship, the converted merchant, saw what happened and survived the first volley, by a sudden turn away. But Captain Avery had fired a single round into that spot of space and it was also disabled and on fire. After a few minutes it exploded. Most likely internal fires found their way to the ship’s ammo stores.

These successes might have allowed for a moment of celebration, but they needed to identify and deal with the incoming missiles.  A few different defenses were utilized, Captain Dremmer deployed a series of drones which each dispersed a storm of holographic decoys. The majority of the missiles detonated beside one of these. Two missiles remained. The first was aimed at Captain Dremmer’s vessel, but Avery’s defenses managed to destroy it with a close range laser as it passed by him.

The other was aimed right at the bridge of the flag ship. Chambers saw it coming on the read out, and as all other options failed she enabled a tactical display of her own and shot a single plasma burst at it. The normal procedure would have been to fill the section of space with multiple shots, but she fired once and downed the bird. All of these remarkable shots had been guided by Colofen’s advice.

They boarded Bittlesworth’s vessel and arrested him and his remaining crew.  A large number was missing. Chambers could guess they had been sold into slavery or executed.

The ships remaining celebrated the victory and Chambers hosted them again for a formal dinner. More interviews were filmed for use in reassuring the public that order was being restored. But as these activities were winding down the Captains asked Chambers to explain the wildly accurate nature of her shots and offensive. To her surprise, Colofen suggested she tell them the whole story.

After a long explanation of the nature of the warfare, she also described the special training she had from the Kilkians. She did not tell them Colofen had been onboard helping her, but she did give anyone who wanted an invitation to align with the Kilkians. By the end of the meeting every one of the Captains chose to align.  The majority of her bridge crew did the same and the same changes occurred on the other vessels, as well.

All of this was recorded by the communication equipment the CDF had provided.

The Spiritual Discipline of Giving

The topic for today is going to be one of those which different people will see in other ways. So let me begin by saying if you see it differently then, feel free to start a conversation in the comments.

I believe a person has no right to call themselves a Christian or a believer unless they are striving to live obediently by everything God has asked. This includes being a tither, seeing everything you own as His, and being generous with those in need.

Tithing is giving ten percent of your income, from every income source, to the local church God has led you to join. I think the tithe should be for the support of the local church. For this reason I do not believe giving to a designated account, or to a special offering, or to a para-church organization is tithing. But all of these forms of giving can be legitimate ways to give offerings above and beyond your tithe and this is a part of being generous.

Stewardship is a Biblical principle for believers. Everything we are, and everything we have belongs to God. We are to care for it and manage it like it is something owned, not by us, but by the Lord. The pretty part of this picture is we can trust Him to take care of us; we will never be abandoned. But the difficult part of this picture is that we need to curb our wants according to what He would want us to have and often deny ourselves in order to be money wise.

A part of stewardship is to care about the things that God cares about. Most notably this includes those around us who are in genuine need. This giving needs to be done under the direction of the Holy Spirit, because of the deceitful nature of our world. But when God says give, we should give. (When I say the world is deceitful I mean it is full of people who appear needy, but would actually use the money to harm themselves and others.)

Now let me also say, giving sometimes has its pitfalls. Pride gets into our giving just like it does into everything else. So some act as if their giving means they get to be arrogant or bossy around the church. Some people use their giving as a means to control the shape of ministry. This is not giving, this is manipulation. It is not giving to God as an act of trust, it is using money to exert personal power and put yourself in the place of God.

So give, but give with the right attitude.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

This is a yellow-headed blackbird. There doesn’t seem to be any need to discuss how it came up with its name. This is the biggest blackbird. It appears most sporadically, meaning there are few places they don’t show up in at some point, but there is also only a few places where you can be sure they will return year after year. The marsh where I took these pictures was full of at least twenty males dividing up the area into nesting territories.

One of the behaviors of these birds is they will drive red-winged blackbirds in order to claim a nest area. The squabbles when they first arrive are a comical affair made up of more posing and bravado than of crossing talons and beaks. The winner in these battles is generally the one who stands their ground with the most courage.

I believe courage is a spiritual value. We should carefully store courage up in our hearts. We should encourage it and nurture it in our children and those we mentor. Courage is important because it is a necessary ingredient in everything we do. From a child’s first steps to a young soldier’s command to join the battle to an old man facing a cancer diagnosis; courage is necessary.

It is a spiritual value because courage is necessary to do things for God’s sake. It takes courage to walk away from sin. It takes courage to learn and grow in the Christian life. It takes courage to become whatever it is God wants us to become. In addition to believing courage is a spiritual value, I believe most people are not reaching their full potential in Christ because they have not practiced the high level of courage it takes to achieve God’s best.

This is a pattern of Scripture. Remember the children of Israel refused courage and wandered in the wilderness for forty unnecessary years. Then when they did take the promised land they used some courage, but stopped short when they grew weary of the battle. Then they had to live with the consequences of compromise for the remainder of the time they were carried off into captivity. That captivity was one of the consequences suffered for their lack of courage.

In Joshua 1:7 (HCSB) we see the principle of courage being taught to Joshua as he prepared to become a leader. “Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.”

American Coot

American Coot - Head

This is not a prop from a horror flick, nor is it a prehistoric creature. But you have to admit when you look at it this closely, it is a bit scary.

It is the face of a bird, and probably a bird you have often seen hanging around in city park ponds, or some other body of water. People seem to respond to it by calling it a funny looking, little black duck. They might even say it’s cute, but they are not down face to face with the creature.

In reality this is not even a duck. It is this is the same bird I highlighted last week, the very common, American coot. Last week I showed you just the foot, but today I give you the head, and that rather impressive white beak. The red eye makes him look even more menacing.

One of the tough lessons is to see things for what they really are. We see a situation and we think it’s cute, attractive or fun. We may not look close enough to recognize what we are seeing is a whole bunch of ugly dressed up in the devil’s best disguise.

But seeing through a deception requires something that is in short supply today. It takes time and attention. We are in a society that has reduced its social interactions to tweets and its entertainment to three minute YouTube clips.  We don’t look closely at anything anymore, neither do we take the time to evaluate the good and bad of situations with any degree of depth.

But if we want to live and walk as Christians, we must learn to see through the deceptions of the world and carefully evaluate what is right in every situation. Ephesians 5:15-16 (HCSB) Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Christian Flash Weekly


Last year while preparing for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference I wrote my first piece of flash fiction. It didn’t win. I did enjoy it and the short short story fit me. It fit the time I had to write, and it fit my personality.

In the fall I stumbled across a secular flash fiction challenge. That first one was Flash! Friday at I won. After that came several other competitions. Pretty soon I was addicted to flash fiction, but was disappointed I couldn’t find a similar Christian weekly competition.

This will change as of Friday, February 7. I am starting a weekly flash fiction challenge which is specifically for Christian writers. Winners get bragging rights and an E-Badge for their blog, Facebook, twitter feed or wherever else they want to use it. Judges change week to week and they also get an E-Badge.

In fact, every participant in the inaugural event gets an E-Badge too. This inaugural challenge will be judged by Edie Melson.

It won’t make you famous. But it will be a chance to hone your writing skills, maybe take a little diversion from your other projects, and don’t forget it will be fun.

Come and see us on Friday, February 7 (about 9:00 am Arizona time) for the kickoff of the inaugural event. The prompt will be a Scripture verse. The challenge will remain open until Monday Evening.


White-Crowned Sparrow

Running late on posting today. Never the less I hope you enjoy the white-crowned sparrow.

White Crowned Sparrow 2


White crowned sparrows appear across the majority of the United States every winter. There are a few places where they stay year round, but most of them migrate. However, even when they migrate, they always travel on the exact same patterns and places.

This causes the birds to be around the same regions all the time. They learn their calls from the conglomeration of other birds in that region. The end result is, just like humans, they tend to create dialects specific to regions. In essence different populations have created different languages.

This by itself is not unusual, but what is unusual is that birds which live on the border of two different populations are often bilingual. They can blend in and speak the language of either group.

For people it’s really cool to be bilingual. For birds it’s downright amazing. For believers though, being spiritually bilingual is a bad thing. Unfortunately, I think it might be much more common than we want to admit.

How many believers do you know that look, act, walk, and talk in different ways on Sunday morning in church than they do the rest of the week? Perhaps they are cutthroat businessmen Monday through Friday, perhaps they cuss like a rapper, or maybe they drink like a fish six days a week—and then they sit in church cleaned up, speaking in King James English, and singing praises to Jesus.

This hypocrisy is one of the things Jesus took the strongest stance on in His teachings. Yet, I know that many believers go through at least one phase of this in their Christian growth. So we need to respond to it firmly but also with grace. We must help Christians stop living this way rather than speaking judgment on them. Living this double life does great harm to the kingdom.

Consider James 3:10 (HCSB) Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way.