Category Archives: Faith

By “faith” we mean faith in God, which we view as a reasoned response to the Creator who manifests His attributes through His creation and who seeks personal, loving relationships with people.

Out-Fished 22 to One

How could this be happening? I was usually the one with all the luck, but today my fishing rod had about as much life as a stand of last year’s cattails in the dead of winter.  However, my friend Ben’s rod continued to dance as fish after fish climbed aboard as eagerly as kids offered free candy.

Public domain

I rehearsed the events that had led to this situation.

It was a frigid winter’s morning, and Ben and me had elected to do some ice fishing on Montana’s Clark Fork River. The target was rocky mountain whitefish. Sleek, silvery, and averaging perhaps a foot in length, they’re scrappy on the line and hard to beat on the table, especially when smoked. The Montana catch limit is liberal, and if lady luck smiles on a guy he can take home a bucketful of good eating. However, lady luck wasn’t smiling on this particular guy. 

Silvery whitefish flopped all about Ben like water droplets on a hot griddle. One after another Ben pulled them up through the whole he’d chopped in the ice, and he hooked up again almost as quickly as he could freshen his bait and lower his offering to the river bottom.

What was I doing wrong? I was using the same bait as Ben. I was rigged up the way same as Ben. I was fishing six inches off the bottom, just like Ben. My ice fishing hole was only a dozen feet away from Ben’s. I should have been catching fish right along with him. But the fish seemed as excited about my bait as a kid faced with a pile of spinach.

At first I got getting frustrated, but then the thought struck me: this was Ben’s day. I snapped out of my grumbling and started rejoicing with Ben. It was this verse from Scripture that turned me around— “Rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

To “rejoice always” is to make a decision to rejoice regardless of the circumstances. Two brief words, four short syllables, but how hard it is to put them to work sometimes!  And yet, as we do we are refreshed with joy as with a cool summer rain after a hot spell. To refuse to rejoice is to admit that our pride is only exceeded by our selfishness.

As I pondered these things on that cold winter’s day, it didn’t matter anymore that Ben was catching all the fish. I began to rejoice with him, and congratulated him on his luck.  After a while the fish stopped biting even for Ben, and we decided to call it a day.  However, just before we left I finally managed to put one whitefish on the ice. In the end, Ben had out-fished me 22 to one. But it didn’t faze me a bit. Not only was I happy for Ben, but I was happy that I didn’t have to clean all those fish.

But wait, there’s more! I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more. You can comment, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

Nature-al Harmony

One of my favorite things to do in the forests of Montana is nothing; I just sit, watch, look, and listen. I notice how chipmunks dismantle evergreen cones to gather the nutritious seeds. The little harvesters will bury those seeds and forget where some got buried. However, from those overlooked caches new trees will grow. The chipmunks get food, and the trees’ seeds get planted.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

The trees are pillars of life in the forest, providing platforms of nesting sites when alive and hollows for cavity nesting birds when dead. As I sit, I listen to the birds rather than watch them, as I’ve come to recognize many just by their songs.  

The amazing interconnectivity of living things! Although this interconnectivity was noted as early as the Fourth Century, it wasn’t recognized as a science until about middle of the 20th Century—and then the new science got a name: Ecology.

Ecology celebrates the harmony of nature. In the forested mountains in Western Montana, Lodgepole pine springs up first after forest fires; they even need fire, as their cones can only be unlocked by wildfire. Although lodgepole occupies many different niches in the forest, it has a life expectancy of only 100 years or so, and is then replaced by other kinds of trees. Western larch occupies ridges and north facing slopes, as they need more moisture than is typically found on south facing grades. However, ponderosa pine prefers south slopes, as it likes the hot, dry conditions usually found there. Aspen prefer deep draws where there is abundant moisture. Cottonwood takes the moistest niche of all: River banks. Some organisms take this a step further: they form mutually beneficial relationships, like the example of evergreens and chipmunks above. Each gets something for their cooperation even though they’re often very different from each other.

Don’t you love it when everybody wins? Lodgepole don’t fight with ponderosa and aspen don’t fight with cottonwood. They each have their niches. Nature usually cooperates with nature. But humans, who are considered the most intelligent creatures on earth, too often bicker, fight, and sometimes even destroy other humans. Maybe we aren’t so smart after all. What if we invested our energy in finding ways to get along instead of trying to exterminate one another? What if we just agree to disagree and leave it there? I think the devil gets a good laugh when we try to rip out each other’s necks.

I’m a conservative but I have many progressive friends. On some issues we’re never going to agree, but we don’t divide on those issues. We might discuss them, even have polite disagreements, but then we part as friends. If we only hang with those who are like us, what does that say about us?

I don’t advocate being phony. As Charles Caleb Colton once noted, “Neutrality is no favorite with Providence, for we are so formed that it is scarcely possible for us to stand neutral in our hearts.” Know what you believe and why you believe, but be gracious.

I want to advocate replacing hate with love. And by “love” I don’t mean the warm fuzzies; I mean the kind of love that values others above self. Here’s a look at this kind of love:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV).

Your thoughts, pro or con? All perspectives are welcome. 

You can comment, send me an e-mail, or even subscribe.

Opportunity Lost

It was a great spot. I could see 100 yards in most directions through the Lodgepole Pine that clothed this Montana ridge. It was late October, and the snow was pocked with fresh deer tracks. By the half light of a promising dawn I brushed a few inches of snow off a convenient log, took a seat, and rested the rifle across my knees.

“Graceful Deer” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC 4.0. Cropped from original.

I had a buck tag in my pocket, but I wasn’t hunting deer. I had one of the  few cow elk permits for this area and I was out to fill my freezer with some of the finest eating available from the hunter’s woods.

And mixed with those whitetail tracks was elk tracks. From experience I knew that elk fed below me on the grassy, open south face at night and bedded during the day in the tangle of dense downfall and brush on the north face. I was hoping to intercept them on the crest of this east-west ridge.    

I leaned my back against a convenient tree, blew out a frosty sigh and settled in for a wait. After a few minutes I raised a cow elk call to my lips and blew a few enticing notes. I waited, then repeated. I waited some more.

The whitetail buck appeared out of nowhere, as unexpected as a spring snowstorm. Suddenly he was just there, standing barely 30 yards away, eyes boring into me. Apparently he’d crept in to investigate the elk call.

The buck appeared curious, perhaps wondering where I’d come from. I studied his antlers through my binoculars. Nice rack. Not huge, but nice. The main beams were thick and gnarly at their bases. They gracefully swept up and forward and in width stretched out well past his ears. There were just three tines per side but they stood tall and proud, the tallest more than a foot long.       

“I think I’ll let him go.” I lowered my binoculars. I was more than a mile from my truck. It would take all day to get this buck off the mountain, and my elk hunt would be cancelled for the day. I had plenty of season left to fill my buck tag. Four more weeks lay ahead of me. Still, he really was a pretty decent buck…

I raised my binoculars again for another peek while the buck stood as still as a fence post, watching me. I might get a chance at a bigger buck later in the season, but I might not. If I filled my buck tag now, then I could put all my efforts into hunting elk for the rest of the season.

“I think I’ll take him.” Slowly lowering my binoculars, I began easing the rifle up to my shoulder. But the buck had grown tired of the game. Suddenly, without warning he turned, flipped his tail and was gone. I’d looked too much, and waited too long. The opportunity was gone as quickly as a popped balloon.

I continued calling for elk but without success. Late in the day as I descended the mountain, I thought about the drama with the buck. Why had I hesitated? That buck was probably a gift from God, a diamond opportunity to tag out. And I’d missed it.       

I began thinking about some of the other diamond opportunities God has given me that I’ve missed because I’ve hesitated. Not just opportunities to take game, but opportunities in other areas of life.

God is not silent. He calls to us, sometimes even challenges us. And like that buck on that ridge, He often waits patiently while we make up our minds. But also like the buck, He won’t wait forever. If we hesitate too long, the opportunity might turn, flip its tail and flee. Of course, sometimes the opportunities come again. But sometimes they don’t.

By the way – you may be wondering if I ever filled that buck tag. No, I did not…

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

It’s Okay to be a Skeptic

Most people think of skepticism as being negative, but there’s a positive side too. I’m not going to list the negatives, because I don’t want to insult your intelligence. So on to the positives –

First off, we’re not talking about being cynical or condemning.  Cynics can be skeptics, sure, but  cynics are always negative and pessimistic. And as I said, there’s a positive side to skepticism. So now I’ll get to the point.

Skepticism is related to doubt, and the positive about being doubtful is that those who doubt are in many cases just looking for more information. They want to believe, but need more light. Doubters aren’t lemmings; they want reasons to believe.

Did Jesus Christ ever condemn people for having doubts? I look to the Bible as my yardstick, so recently I went to the New Testament to learn about how Jesus related to doubters. Here’s what I found:

Those who persecuted Jesus were in complete denial about His claims. Jesus had no time for the cynics, or those who refused to believe. But He comforted those who doubted, because He knew that the desire for confirmation was root of their doubts .

A couple of cases to consider –

The first: Jesus once said of John the Baptizer that he was the greatest of all those born of women. Yet after John was cast into prison for standing up to King Herod, he suffered doubts. Earlier John had pointed to Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29).  But now languishing in a filthy prison he wondered if it had all been in vain. Had he really done the right thing? Was Jesus really the Messiah?

So John sent some of his people to Jesus with the question, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). So how did Jesus respond to John’s faltering faith? He reassured him – basically told John that his efforts were not in vain:

“Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”  (Luke 7:22). John later lost his head (literally) but I’d bet he did so with a smile.

The second: After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a follower named Thomas had doubts about the resurrection business. He said,  “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25).

Thomas’ comments have earned him the label “doubting Thomas.” But the question is, how did Jesus respond to Thomas’ doubts? The answer is found in John 20:26-27  – “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'”

Sometimes it’s okay to have doubts – it just depends on your reasons for doubting. Go ahead – be a skeptic.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Why Haters Hate

Hate: No matter how the story is told, it’s a sad story.

“Stop hating (all way)” by sylvar is licensed under CC 4.0

Why do people hate? Not “just because.” No, not at all. There are reasons behind every form of hatred, and all are ugly.

I came up with four base-level forms of hatred. I call them “base-level” because a lot of ugliness gets built on each one.

  • jealously,
  • a desire to feel superior,
  • a need for attention, and
  • for revenge.

But where does all this hate come from? Some would say from the fallen nature of man, and that’s the larger truth. But the smaller truth is that much of the hatred within us was deposited within us by our parents or through our peers. What kind of an example am I leaving for others?

I grew up in the greater Seattle area, a multicultural mecca where prejudice was pretty much unnamed. But I learned at an early age that not everyone considers others as equals.

For example, I remember one family that moved into my neighborhood from a southern state known for its racial tension. One day their son and I got talking. He told me how much he hated blacks, only he didn’t call them blacks. He used another word. Because I was a mean widdow kid (and a lot bigger than the new kid) I thought it would be great sport to sit on the kid, hold him down, and call him “n” “n” and “n” over and over again. Which I did.

The kid turned so red in the face I thought he was going to stroke out. I finally let him up, me laughing and him sputtering and spitting. This, by the way, ended our fledgling friendship.

As I considered all this, I mused, “Did Jesus ever use the word “hate?” He did, actually.  My favorite passage comes from Matthew 5:43-48 –

“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect [complete], as your heavenly Father is perfect.'” (NASU, emphasis mine).

Of course, the only way we can become perfect, or complete, is by placing our faith in Jesus as Savior (as in, save me from myself and the consequences of my knucklheadedness). He is the only one Who can teach us to truly love. May we yield to Him, so that He can make us perfect, as He is perfect.

So why do haters hate? Because they don’t know how to love.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

If You’re Not Like Me, You Suck

He gave me that classic “deer in the headlights” look.

Photo courtesy of Fabrice Florin (IMG_4419.JPG) and Creative Commons

My comment had been unpretentious, or so I thought: “What a sad and boring world it would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, dressed the same,  thought the same; shared the same opinions and likes and dislikes.” He didn’t say a word, but the look on his face spoke clearly –

“I think the world would be a whole lot better if everyone was just like me.”

This is Inauguration Week. On Friday, Trump becomes the president of the United States of America. And the United States of America have never been so ununited. Those on the left are especially unhappy. The tolerant left is no longer so tolerant. Apparently their tolerance only extends toward those who look the same, talk the same, think the same, and share the same opinions as them.

But wait: it’s not just those on the left who are intolerant.  Some on the right are just as critical and judgmental toward those who are different than them.

I was listening to a conservative talk radio program last week. The guest host was busy castigating an American couple for spending thousands of dollars on vet bills to nurse their pup back to health when they could have, in his opinion, better spent their money on helping rescue dogs find homes. The host was really big into rescue dogs, and in his view the world would be a whole lot better if everyone was like him.

About a year ago a relative gave me a book and asked my opinion. What he really wanted was an endorsement of his opinion. But when I gave him my opinion, which differed from his, his head exploded.

There is the division even in our Christian churches. I once attended a church where they worshipped with upraised hands. I wasn’t comfortable raising my hands, so I didn’t. The hand-raisers looked at me like I had a big ugly growth in the center of my forehead. I then tried a church where only a few people raised their hands. Those who didn’t raise their hands looked at those who did like they had cholera.

I dare you: reach out and become a friend to someone who is different than you. Risk engagement with others who may be different than you socially, politically, culturally, or economically. Why should you take my dare? Because this world would not be a better place if everyone was just like you.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can post a comment right here online, send me an email and more –  

 

With God in the Wilderness

I hate leashing my dog. However, there are places where Sophie must be leashed to be legal. At such times I’m compelled to obey the leash laws, but I don’t have to like it. Sophie and me like it best when we can retreat to the wilderness and run free, Sophie chasing squirrels and never catching them while I chase the grin on my face.

Road to Somewhere

I think dogs were meant to run free, but you can’t just turn ’em loose and expect them to behave. It takes a lot of training before a dog can be trusted to heel, sit, stay, come, and all that. In the beginning, all that training requires leash time. It has taken a long time, but Sophie now knows her commands by voice, hand, and whistle. Only as the pup matures, can she be trusted.

I think it’s the same way with Christian men. In the beginning of our relationship with God, like a pup, God has to keep us on a leash. We have to show that we can be trusted with our freedom before God turns us loose.

In the beginning of my relationship with Sophie we spent a lot of  time together. As a consequence, she learned to trust me and I learned to trust her. It’s the same way between God and people: it takes a lot of time spent with God in order for the relationship to bloom.

I believe the best place to spend time with God is the wilderness.

Now, a wilderness can be a literal wilderness complete with bears, bugs, lions, wolves and such. But “wilderness” can also be a metaphor for very hard places such as loneliness, depression, divorce or the death of a loved one. Or it could be the wilderness of incarceration, rejection by friends or family or tribe.

What about you? Do you find yourself in the wilderness? Take heart, the wilderness is a good place to be. Not necessarily because it’s a fun place to be. A bump in the night is still a bump in the night. But God is there. And spending time with God in the wilderness seems like His main method for developing maturity. Consider these examples –

  • Jacob: His name means, “supplanter,” a fitting name for a man who tricked his older brother Esau out of his birthright. As you can imagine, when Esau discovered his bother’s treachery, he wanted to slit Jacob’s throat. Jacob fled his homeland and lived for many years in the land of Haran, hundreds of miles to the north. It was in the land of Haran that God matured Jacob, and finally Jacob returned home and made peace with his brother Esau.
  • Moses: Moses killed a man and fled for his life to a wilderness region the  Bible calls, “the backside of the desert.” (KJV). After spending about 40 years in the wilderness, God had matured him to the point where He could use him to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery.
  • David: As a mere teen David received God’s anointing as Israel’s next king, but he wasn’t ready to take the throne. He spend many years far from his homeland in the wilderness before God was ready to take him off the leash.
  • Paul the Apostle: Once an avowed enemy of the Christians of the first century A.D., Paul was converted to Christianity while traveling to Damascus, where he intended to have the Christians living there arrested for heresy. Paul was destined to be the greatest church planter ever known.  But before God turned Paul loose, He prepared him for a number of years in the wilderness of Arabia.
  • And finally, there’s the example of Jesus: Right after His baptism, the Bible says in Matthew 4:1 that “…Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [tested] by the devil.” (NASU). Jesus spend 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, being tempered by the temptations of the devil in order to prepare Him for the greatest task this world has ever known.

Do you find yourself in a wilderness at the moment? Tell us about it. You can never tell who might be help by hearing your story.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

 

 

Got Hope?

So we had this election… And ever since, I’ve been struggling to understand the actions and attitudes of my progressive friends. The light finally went on as I listened to Michelle Obama being interviewed by Oprah earlier this month.

"'The Scream" by Edward Munch, 1893. Courtesy Creative Commons.
“‘The Scream” by Edward Munch, 1893. Courtesy Creative Commons.

Oprah asked Ms. Obama how she was feeling about the Trump election. Michelle responded, “…see, now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like.”

And there it is. Despair is in the air. Some of my progressive friends, especially those those who are dependent on the government fear that their entitlements will go away, particularly such things as Social Security and Medicare. Other progressives are afraid that their pet agendas will be a negatively impacted.

Some have said, “C’mon, it was only an election !” But to those on the left, it was much more than an election. It was an assault on their hope. As Michelle said later in the same interview, “Hope is a necessary concept.” True dat. And when people lose hope, they’re flooded by despair.

As the Bible says in the first half of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision [hope], the people perish…” (KJV). Or as Peterson’s paraphrase has it, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves…”*

I don’t know if Trump will be a good president or not. But I’m not too concerned about this as I don’t place my hope in government; my hope is in Jesus Christ. I know God is at work, and that He’s got this.

This isn’t the time to gloat, especially if we’re Christians. This is the time to reach out to those who are in despair and seek to understand the situation from their perspective. To do this, we must first be willing to listen. As David Bohm observed, “…communication can lead to the creation of something new only if people are able freely to listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other. Each has to be interested primarily in truth and coherence, so that he is ready to drop his old ideas and intentions, and be ready to go on to something different, when this is called for.”

Once others see that you’re sincerely interested in what interests them, you may find that others are interested in what interests you. And they might even give you an opportunity to tell them of the great hope that is in you: Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

Election Muck and Mud

As of today, the election of the next president of United States is 11 days away. But you knew that, didn’t you? Don’t you wish it was over? What a choice we have for president!

I’m so tired of the hatred coming not only from the mouths of the

Courtesy Creative Commons/Flikr, by KAZVorpal
Courtesy Creative Commons/Flikr, by KAZVorpal

candidates, but from the people who have chosen one candidate over the other. I saw a Facebook post a few days ago from a left-leaning person who said something about getting rid of the “F-tards” and working towards removing hate from the word. I couldn’t resist. I posted back, “Isn’t it hateful to call people names? Maybe getting rid of the hatred should start with you. He who is not guilty should get to throw the first stone.”

I’m tired of the spin coming from the left-leaning media. I’m also tired of the spin coming from the right-leaning media. Our country is so divided: “I’m a progressive” or, “I’m a conservative” or, “I’m a Democrat” or, “I’m a Republican.” I understand people are different and they have differing opinions. I get that. But if my opinion differs from your opinion, if my choice for president differs from your choice, can’t we just accept each other’s differences, even if we disagree? Why not?

I have an answer for this. It’s because something within us wants to feel superior to others. I call that something “pride.” For example, pride whispers that I’m better than you because my political opinions are, of course, right, and yours are wrong, or because I caught more fish than you, or shot a bigger buck than you. Or as Mick Jagger sung so many years ago, “He can’t be a man because he doesn’t smoke the same kind of cigarettes as me” (from the Rolling Stones song, “I Can’t No Satisfaction”).

Here in Montana some have looked down on me or even thought there’s something wrong with me because instead of owning a horse and a Labrador retriever, I own a pack goat and a poodle (which, by the way, I was once told sounded like a country western song: “A Pack Goat and a Poodle.” But of course, I hate country western and I feel superior because of it. Who listens to such tripe?).

The solution is to imitate God, who is “kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ( Luke 6:35 in part, Holy Bible, New Living Translation).

“Love is patient, love is kind and  is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, New American Updated Standard Bible translation).

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

What I Learned from a Dandelion Seed

Courtesy Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25711166
Courtesy Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25711166

A dandelion seed floated past my window today, riding happily on random puffs of air. I started thinking (always hard for me, and usually dangerous):

The drifting dandelion seed had no idea where it was going or how long it would take to get there. Would it land on a bit of bare earth here in Montana or would it be wafted halfway around the world?  But it didn’t seem to matter to the dandelion seed. It was committed to the journey, however near  or far.

I was reminded of my journey through life. I’ve made plans about going here or there, but in the end, like that dandelion seed, all I’ve ever really done is react. The winds of life take me where they will, and I can only ride the wind.

Oh, but I forget: I can do more than just react. I can trust God. He knows the end of my journey and He will plant me just where He wants me, in His time and in His way.

I can trust God because I’ve come to know Him through His Son Jesus. Through Jesus Christ, I’ve come to know God as trustworthy. I’ve come to know Him as loving. I’ve come to know Him as kind,  that He is “…compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7, NASU). And I’ve come to know Him as my Great Friend.

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –