Soul Harvest

The restaurant was a front for a Chinese gang. It was full of bodyguards, yet the tough guys ran out when he strolled in.

“I’m surprised to see you here.” The boss’s voice had a slight tremble.

“Think of me as a gentlemen farmer, coming to collect my harvest.”

“You put me in charge, I have it under control.”

“I am the landowner; you are merely a sharecropper. I planted the soil starting with the night your father visited that prostitute you called mom. I fertilized the fields with drugs and gambling. I weeded the land by driving out churches and bribing the police.”

“Don’t you mean I did those things for you?”

“No, I mean I used you to do them, giving you every idea and opportunity. I did it. Not you.”

The boss put his hand on a gun hidden under the table.

“Go ahead, shoot me. It will help me with the harvest.” It was one last command given the hireling.

The bullet passed harmlessly through the farmer, out the glass, and lodged in the wall beside of a thug. The man returned fire, and the harvest began.

Inside the restaurant, the boss had a neat hole through his head. The police never found a bullet.

This story was written for a flash fiction competition I entered this morning.  Probably one of my favorite stories of this sort. It is an example of being able to imply things with fiction that would be complicated to discuss in a teaching setting. Do you see anything in this story, stated or implied, that you would like to discuss? I would love to hear from you.

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Necessary Failure

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, Expanding HorizonsRunning the Blockade, Dueling Politicians, Legislation, Delegation, and DeliberationFailed Tyranny,  Political Parties, Visiting the City, Passing the Constitution and Tried for Treason.  Today we get Episode 40 which is the conclusion of the second battlefield.

 

Losing the Battle

They arrived and spent a week there relaxing in the comfortable location. They couldn’t help but become immersed in the memories of that location. Chambers had brought back a communications satellite, which they carefully deployed from Jamison’s private craft. This allowed them to receive the news from the colonies. If they had special reason to risk it then, they would be able to communicate with people off-world.

The broadcasts they watched included a lot of discussion about the two individuals who had previously been media darlings. Some people speculated they had run off together, but most people figured Jamison had been kidnapped by a Dibolocos and killed. The theories about Chambers were that either she was on a secret assignment, or that she went into seclusion, grieving over the loss of Jamison.

The two quickly decided that watching broadcasters tell lies about them was not entertaining. They felt offended at much of the tone taken by the media. It was mostly for this reason that they quit checking the news after just a few days.

Two weeks later, their honeymoon was interrupted. It began with Colopher approaching Jamison while he was sitting on the back deck, fishing. She materialized beside him, and with her head slightly bowed, asked, “May I address you?”

“Of course, Colopher. You have no idea how much I have missed you. I am not really sure if I remember when it was that we stopped walking together, but those were good days.”

Colopher began speaking directly into his mind again, saying, “It was when you chose to do what the king was instructing you not to do that you chose for me to not walk with you. But we must talk about that later. Right now it is important that you leave this place.”

“Leave?”

“Yes, and right now.”

Jamison thought of asking for an explanation. But he heard the urgency and instead stepped into the cabin to fetch Chambers. She was already on her way out with instructions from Colophen that they must depart in haste. They gathered only their most basic possessions and started out of the cabin at a dead run to reach Jamison’s ship. The closest hiding place for the vessel had been a couple of miles away.

Jamison heard Colopher say, “Hang on, I will take you there.”

In the next second he felt himself being transported, then he was working hard to stop before running into the side of his craft. They boarded and took off. They noticed a small military convoy pulling up to orbit their planet. They used the stealth of the private ship to slip away from the opposing side of the planet.

Then Jamison set an automated course for a colony named Cinnamon Alpha and settled back to speak with the Chambers, Colophe,r and Colophen. First thing Jamison did was ask what Colopher had meant when she said he had chosen to break off their communication.

The response landed on Jamison like a crushing weight. “It is the commitment made by those who align themselves with the king to do right. I was appointed as your helper to guide you to know what to do. But when you choose to do things wrong, when you do things your own way instead of listening to the king, you are choosing to break fellowship with him. At those times I can no longer help you.”

“When did I stop listening to you?” Jamison asked, although he had a pretty good idea.

“It began with going to look for Johnson. From there it only got worse as you allowed your anger and sadness to begin guiding your decisions instead of your relationship with the king. It wasn’t long before the king instructed me to withdraw until the proper time.”

Jamison found tears rolling down his face as he realized how he had allowed his emotions to control his negative choices and behavior. If he had maintained his relationship with the king, he would not have taken the actions which led to his arrest. He confessed his guilt, but also admitted he had no idea how to restore the breach.

“Speak to the king, extend to him your confession and apology and he will welcome you back.”

Jamison did exactly that and almost immediately felt a sense of relief. When he was done Chambers took similar action to repent of her decisions to release Jamison and to drop out of the military where the King had placed her to do his work. Following this they had another conversation.

“When you won the Battle of the Mind, it was because you made a choice to believe the truth about the king and his good intentions for humanity. Then you entered a second battle, the Battle of the Hands. How do you feel this went?”

Jamison spoke first. “I think that battle is complete and that we won it as well.”

When she didn’t respond right away he continued. “The ten law system is in place so that the people of the colonies will know right from wrong. In addition to that, the work of driving back the pirates and reestablishing trade was successfully completed by Chambers.”

Chambers added, “Compagno had a lot to do with that accomplishment.”

They waited again and yet Colopher did not say anything. After another moment Jamison found himself speculating aloud, “Of course, it didn’t work out so well for me.”

“Go on.” Colopher encouraged.

“I was found guilty of violating the laws, which I myself had put into place. It’s great that the population has a better understanding of what the king desires. But what kind of good does it do when I am unable to keep law after it is given?”

Colopher answered, “You are right, and you are now beginning to see the problem with the Battle of the Hands. Since you cannot keep the law, you automatically have lost this battle.”

Jamison was shocked. “We lost the battle? Even though we successfully did everything you asked?”

“Yes,” she answered, “You lost the Battle of the Hands. It was necessary to lose this battle in order to move forward. It was an unwinnable battle, but it was necessary to fight the Battle of the Hands. Only after humanity has lost this battle are they ready for the last great battle. Next you will face the Battle of the Heart.”

There was again a long period of silence. After a suitable time, Colopher said aloud, “Go on and ask your question?”

Jamison didn’t realize at first she was talking to him. He didn’t fully understand yet that he still had a question. But eventually it formed solid in his mind. “Is there any hope for my sister?”

“There will be, when we fight the Battle of the Heart.

Bewick’s Wren

Bewicks Wren

Recently I took a side trip into a field of millet approaching harvest. I thought the amber grain, although not as iconic as wheat, was very picturesque.

While walking between fields, I noticed birds frequently popped up. Most of the birds were some form of sparrow. I failed at getting any pictures of the sparrows, but I did get one picture tolerably focused.

Notice this bird has its tail cocked upright. This is the distinctive posture of a wren. Combine this with the fact it has a white eye line, and doesn’t have a black back with white stripes, and you have positive identification of a Bewick’s wren.

Like other wrens, it has a wonderful call. When the bird is growing up it learns to imitate the calls it hears, not from its father, but from the community of other Bewick’s wrens around it. Apparently the young birds have something in common with young men. Namely that it is easier to learn some things from people who are not too close to you.

I see this principle at work all the time in my church. I myself or one of the other men in the church can say things to a young adult or teenager which they would never accept from their parents. I have even had kids thank me for being straight up honest with them. I am frequently humored by this response, knowing they would have responded spitefully to their parents, who are far more invested in them.

1 Timothy 5:1-2 says “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.” A part of this verse is to make yourself available to encourage and instruct younger Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unfortunately, in today’s world we have a suspicious nature toward experience teaching and assisting youth. That is a part of how we have restructured our society. We have come to the conclusion that people with bad intentions are everywhere. We have made good people afraid to do good, for fear of false accusations.

But beneath all the clamor, there are still young people who will hear the advice of an older person. Without that advice the world and its false values get free run. Be careful that you behave toward everyone with all propriety, but don’t hold back your advice. If you refuse to do the things you can do, you are cooperating with the decline of society.

Coexist: Facts and Falsehoods

Recently I was on a mission trip to one of those trendy, touristy, new agey towns. As we prayer walked up and down their streets I saw a lot of Coexist bumper stickers. I agree with what the sticker says, but necessarily what people read into it or think it says.

What I mean by coexist is giving humanity room to decide for themselves what they will believe.

What I don’t mean by coexist is the accompanying assumption of many, namely that it doesn’t matter what you believe. It does matter what you believe. Jesus is the truth. But you cannot glorify God by physically forcing someone to accept this truth. Faith requires that they choose to accept it. Love for God, like any other love, only means something when it is freely given.

On the other side of the coin though, I do not believe that discussion, education, or witness is a form of coercion. People who are offended by hearing the religious views of others, need to grow up and toughen up. Words and ideas are never to be feared by people who are seeking the truth.

So coexistence is a matter of religious freedom. I believe God gave us religious freedom because it supported His purpose. He wants us to have the faith to choose to serve Him, or alternatively to choose the consequences of rejecting Him. Therefore being Christian naturally leads to a belief in religious freedom.

However, not every religious viewpoint supports religious freedom. The very first symbol in the normal Coexist bumper sticker does not believe in religious freedom, and in fact believes that forced conversions and religious war have a place in God’s will.

This is a major falsehood in what people think they are saying with those Coexist stickers. They think they are saying all religions are basically the same, that all are equally at fault in sowing disharmony, and that it is possible to maintain your beliefs and peacefully coexist. This is a deep pile of false ideas.

Wouldn’t you rather work from a foundation of truth, morality and genuine religious freedom?

 

Heart Problems

About a month ago, I went to the doctor to follow up on my still new CPAP machine and its usage. In that appointment I mentioned to the doctor that I had woken up in the night with a bunch of chest pressure and pain.

He ordered his nurse to hook me up to a box which did an automated EKG on me. I was so relaxed I was almost asleep, but I woke right up when I heard her tone change as she said, “I want to show this to the doctor.” and slipped out the door.

A moment later my doctor came back in the room and informed me that the box had said I had had a heart attack. He was quick to say he didn’t believe that; he believed my slow heart rate and an anomaly in my rhythm had fooled the machine. But to be certain, he sent me for a full stress test which I had done within a week.

For a bit of history, my father was one year younger than me when he had his first heart attack. My middle brother, who is in fantastic shape and goes on long runs regularly, had a heart attack earlier this year. So family history is stacked against me.

In the time intervening I suppose I tried to take it easy, but my schedule was far from normal. I went on a mission trip for five days. I took several days off to paint my house. I also took my wife in for medical tests and attended a meeting which promised to be very stressful for a local ministry.

During all of these events, I repeatedly noticed pressure in my chest. I tried to take it as easy as possible, but I also fully intended to meet all of my obligations. Even the day I went back to get results proved unusual. My car had a tire going flat, so I dropped it to the shop, and walked from there to the doctor appointment. Along the way I thought to myself, if I get a bad report I am going to feel like an idiot for pushing my luck with all this physical activity.

My doctor said the tests demonstrated my heart was completely healthy. As I walked back to my car after the appointment I didn’t notice any pressure in my chest. Since then, I have had some once or twice, but I am ignoring it like I did all my life prior to that first appointment.

This is an example of how life events affect us. Before the box had made the mistaken diagnosis I had never worried about my heart. But from that time until I got the final word, my head (and spiritually speaking, my heart) were filled with concern for my physical heart. This concern caused me to notice things I normally wouldn’t have. Even though I resisted the temptation to live differently, what filled my heart and mind did shape my behavior.Cover

This is an example of why I wrote the book, The Storeroom of the Heart. I wanted to help believers recognize how the content of their heart shapes their potential. Only by doing what we can to control the content of our heart will we allow ourselves to be most useful to God.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can either pick it up anywhere books are sold. You can get it from CrossBooks, or from Amazon. Or if you want a signed copy you can contact me and I will arrange it. You can use the social media links, on the right side of the blog, then contact me by private message.

Mystery and Revelation

There is a place for mystery in theology. God is bigger than us by such a magnitude that we cannot expect to understand everything about Him. He is beyond our comprehension.

But information does not have to come from reason, it can also come from education. Much of what you know was taught to you, in addition to what you figured out. When it comes to God, He wants us to know Him, and therefore He reveals Himself to us.

When it comes to understanding God, we can be too intrigued by mystery. It becomes a romantic concept. It also makes a great excuse for not studying deeper or working harder to understand God. But I think this love affair with mystery is a mistake. God delights in revealing Himself to us, and a wisdom is found by the one who delights in studying to know more.

Furthermore, being intrigued by mystery can be dangerous. From Gnosticism forward to the latest person claiming to be the second coming of Christ, the devil has used the idea of mysteries known only to a select few, to seduce humanity away from the true knowledge of God. Anytime you hear someone speaking of a secret of the ages that God has revealed only to them, beware.

So while mysteries do exist, our love affair with mysteries should be made to submit to a love for the things of God. Study God’s word and find the answers to His mysteries there.

 

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

I have been aware for several years that white-faced ibis live in our area, but had not been able to catch a picture of them. Recently a couple of church members told me the fields around them would occasionally be crowded with birds. Since I have been out of bird pictures to use on my blog or in the newsletter, I asked if they could call me next time it happened.

When I got there the fields were full of ibis such as this one. This is a white-faced ibis, but that white face only occurs on mature, breeding males. It is not breeding season and most of the birds were immature. So none of the pictures I got will include that feature. They are uniformly dark birds but when in the light they reflect in colors from copper to chestnut to metallic green. They are classified as wading birds but the downward curved bill is only carried by a few waders. Their plump shape, and relatively short legs also make for an unusual sighting. The bird is something of a conundrum.

Do people ever look at you in a similar way? Are we, as Christians, a conundrum to the world and community around us? If so, it is a situation that should not surprise us. It might even be a situation we strive to embrace.

When we commit ourselves to Christ we are promising to do our best to become like Him. It is God’s work in us that brings about this transformation, but is our part of the bargain to cooperate with the process. So just as the world did not understand Jesus it will also fail to understand those who are simply trying to be Christ-like.

Jesus made it clear that the world would not understand us. In fact, He took it further by saying the world would hate us for our ways. But this awkwardness, this conflict—if it goes that far—is compensated by a simple fact. We were not made for this world, nor is our citizenship here.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (HCSB) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”

So don’t be surprised by, or worried about, how your faith makes you awkward in the world. Instead be worried if it doesn’t.

The Centrality of Missions

One of the Biblical passages which is commonly talked about in missionary minded churches is Matthew 28:18-20, commonly referred to as The Great Commission.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In this passage Jesus is instructing the disciples, immediately prior to the ascension, to make a concerted effort to reach all nations with the gospel message. Notice also that the instruction is specifically extended to the end of the age, verifying we are to keep at it until He returns. This process of trying to spread the message, church and life practices of Christianity to all the world is commonly called missions.

I have a very high view of missions.

I believe that a church which ceases to work toward missionary actions and purposes has ceased to be a church. Yes, I know that is a very strong statement. Just as we would say a person who does not believe the Bible and will not submit themselves to Jesus is not a Christian, a congregation that is not interested in reaching their neighborhood nor their world, is not a church. Of course there are other things a church needs too, but for this discussion on missions I will confine my evaluation of the church to this one qualification.

In the same, ‘by their fruit you shall know them’ way that we evaluate believers, we can evaluate groups of believers. A group which is not interested in missions is fundamentally defining itself as having different purposes, or at least different priorities, than those assigned the church by its founder.

For my readers, here is what I want you to take away. When your church is meeting, teaching, planning, budgeting, worshipping, and whatever else they happen to do, be a strong advocate for missions. You will do a great deal to protect your congregation by keeping it busy on the task assigned to it by our Savior. As a rule of thumb, it is when a congregation loses this missionary focus that they begin to fail.

God is Big

CoverOn Wednesdays I promote my book, The Storeroom of the Heart. You can get it anywhere books are sold, regular bookstores will special order it, Amazon or Nook can give it to you as an E-book, or you can contact me and arrange for me to mail you a signed copy.  Here is a link to the publisher site if you want to buy it from them.

http://bookstore.crossbooks.com/Products/SKU-000556067/The-Storeroom-of-the-Heart.aspx

Here is a short excerpt for you to consider.

If we are willing to be used by God, there is no telling what He might accomplish through us. Perhaps what God would accomplish through us would be the next great accomplishment of humankind – finding a cure for some disease, inventing a life-changing device, unlocking a better source of energy, or awakening revival in our times. Maybe what God would accomplish through us would be the redirecting of public attitudes, which are currently shifting hard and fast toward hating God and everything He stands for. I can only imagine and dream about the great things God might do in us. I can’t help but dream big, because I know God. God is big. God does big things in people who are committed to Him. God knows how to use a person whose heart is undivided.

Sacrificial Giving

What do you believe about giving and worship? For the past few weeks, I have been talking about different perspectives on worship. No discussion of worship is complete without also approaching the topic of tithes and offerings.

In 2 Samuel 24 King David followed God’s command to set up an alter on the property of a man named Araunah. When he arrived the man offered to give David everything necessary for the act of worship, in response to this offer David said “I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

This statement helps to illustrate that worship should include some personal cost. In Old Testament worship that would likely include sacrificing some of the best of the worshipper’s produce and flocks. In our world the sacrifice of worship is most often in the form of our tithes and offerings. Many people have a hard time with the concept of tithing because they find it easy to associate the idea with funding the church, rather than as an act of worshipping God. It is true that the given money will be used in this manner, but this doesn’t detract from its worshipfulness.

As I have discussed worship over the past few weeks, I have defined worship as the expression of our relationship with God. The primary component of this relationship is our trust in God, this trust is more commonly called faith. Sacrifice expresses trust because we are giving up what we would trust in, instead of God. In the Old Testament they were tempted to trust in their own abilities to raise herds and grow crops. In the church age we are tempted to trust in our own ability to make a paycheck.

In both cases it is noteworthy how the guidelines on what we give is just enough that we cannot follow through unless we trust His provision. A lot of people don’t tithe, dismissing the idea with the statement, I can’t afford to. What they are saying is they don’t believe they can meet their financial obligations without that money. It is clear evidence they are not trusting God’s provision but instead are looking only to themselves to meet their financial needs. But the person who does tithe often says they cannot afford to stop tithing. This person will look at it that God’s provision is empowered by their giving. It is often phrased this way, God stretches the 90% so that it covers more of the bills than the 100% did.

When the worshipper experiences God’s provision, the relationship is strengthened. Every act of obedience strengthens this relationship, and every act of obedience is worshipful in this sense. Tithing is an important ingredient in the individual’s obedience to God, their spiritual growth and their worship.