Running on Empty

Do you ever feel like you’re running on fumes? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Have I ever? Sister, I’m there now.” I can identify.

You can think of your personal energy reserve as a big bucket. People you meet will either add to your bucket or help themselves to some of your bucket’s contents. Some of us work in a setting or deal with people who do nothing but drain our bucket for us until there’s nothing left. Then we come to church and run into others who do the same thing, like spiritual vampires. Some people live for the opportunity to drain other people’s buckets.

Everyone’s going to be running a little low now and again because of the circumstances of our lives or the people we get to deal with. So where do we get a refill? We can fill each other’s buckets with support and encouragement. Some of us try to fight the tempest alone, which has never been safe for humans. We can catch each other when we stumble1.

Let’s consider another source for our bucket’s contents: God2. Let’s take a Psalm David wrote during a crisis. Give Psalm 22 a good reading.

Oftentimes, when we’re in a crisis, we feel isolated3. It’s easy to feel as if no one else has ever been where we are. Even God doesn’t seem to recognize the real pickle we’re in. David, called a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t perceive God’s presence with him during the disaster that spawned Psalm 224.

When our bucket gets low, we also feel worthless. Not only does God seem to be out in the ozone, but everyone we know is out to get us, too. David felt like he was subhuman5. Not only was there no one to help him, but those who saw his distress belittled him6. We’ve all run into people who take great amusement at the misfortune of others. Sadly, some of these people are the ones we should’ve been able to count on for a pick-me-up.

It gets worse when we fret so much that we become ill. Whether David was literally this sick or exaggerating, he was definitely not feeling physically well when he wrote this7. Stress can cause all manner of ailments from insomnia all the way to ulcers or worse.

So what was David’s response? His bucket was obviously drained dry at this point, so how’d he get a refill? Surely not from the people around him if he perceived that all were opposed to him. First, he confided his fears and pains to his Maker. That’s what Psalm 22 is about. He laid out his prayer in detail including all the angst he felt and how solitary life appeared to be at that point. We aren’t imposing on God if we communicate those things to him earnestly. Job, who lost everything in the world, spoke very plainly of the mental anguish he felt8.

Next, David reminded himself of God’s nature9. God never slumbers10. He is the Holy One11, eternal12, faithful13, and ever-present14. If God is for us, who can be against us15? Sometimes we serve a concept of a God that is much smaller than the real God is. He spoke the universe into existence in a week16. He knows the end from the beginning17. I mean seriously, one angel wiped out 185,000 Assyrians after dinner one night18, and God is certainly greater than any of the angels19. God can handle helping us with our empty buckets.

Third, David asked for God’s help20. So often we have not because we ask not, or we ask to please ourselves rather than seek the things of the Kingdom21. It’s not enough to just tell God we’re having a rotten day, week, month, or year. It’s necessary for us to ask for his guidance, discernment, or just plain help. How much easier would we find the things in our life if we asked God for help first rather than after we’ve exhausted everything else at our disposal?

Ultimately, David praised and worshiped God22. We shouldn’t neglect that in our prayer life, either. It helps keep us humble and reminds us of who’s in charge here.

Like all of us, David had a roller coaster life. Psalm 22 shows not only how he felt when things went nuts, but it also shows us how he dealt with it. His first resource should be ours as well. When our bucket starts running dry, we should be turning to the endless source of our strength.

Endnotes:

1 Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

2 Exodus 15:2, Psalm 18

3 Psalm 22:1-2

4 1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22

5 Psalm 22:6

6 Psalm 22:7-8

7 Psalm 22:14-15

8 Job 3

9 Psalm 22:3

10 Psalm 121:3-4

11 2 Kings 19:22, Job 6:10, Psalm 89:18

12 Deuteronomy 33:7, Romans 1:20

13 Isaiah 49:7, 1Corinthians 1:9

14 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 27:9, Hebrews 13:5

15 Romans 8:31

16 Genesis 1-2

17 Isaiah 46:10

18 2 Kings 19:35

19 Hebrews 1:6, Ephesians 1:21, 1 Peter 3:22

20 Psalm 22:19-21

21 James 4:2b-3

22 Psalm 22:22-31

 

Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo — Haidarians

If I’d thought that far ahead, I would have included a 4th alien race for Remnant in the Stars so the entire month of April would be about that book, but I did not. So, onward to the next book: Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo published by Splashdown Books.

The major characters — both the good guys and the bad guy — are Haidarians. Haidarians are humans … sort of … but not exactly … more or less … mostly less.

A few hints about Haidarians are dropped in Mindstorm and a little more detail comes up in “Negotiator,” a short story that appears in the Splashdown Books anthology Aquasynthesis Again.

Haidarians came about from monkeying around with the human genome to create super-spies. The result? Humans with telepathic abilities who can teleport. Well, most of them  can. There are notable exceptions.

They Haidarians started off on Earth, but were mistreated by humans, so they revolted (which is not the same as being revolting) and took over the Haidar Space Station that was orbiting Earth. They’re still there.

They have become self-sufficient for most things and they trade for the rest of what they need by hiring out specialists to other worlds to help them deal with crises that come up. That’s what gets the main characters of Mindstorm into so much trouble!

 

Spreading the Gospel

We’ve heard a lot lately about the importance of going out to spread the Gospel. Indeed, in Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples to wait until they received the Spirit then go out into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth to spread the news. Put into terms that normal people understand, that means locally, in your general area, in your region, then all over the place. We are to go out and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit1. Naturally, you’ll have to talk to them in a way they understand. That’s why mission trips to foreign countries are equipped with translators.

I would, however, like to share with you a counter-example from our Lord himself. Turn to Matthew 13:10-13:17. Why did Jesus speak in parables? So his audience wouldn’t understand. He had just explained the ways in which people receive the word2 and was about describe the kingdom of God in seven interesting ways3. Were these things unimportant? Hardly. Then why would our Lord want people to be in the dark?

Well, back up a chapter and consider Matthew 12:22-12:45. The Pharisees were in a snit and accused Jesus of being a servant of Satan. What Christ did by the power of the Spirit, they attributed to Beelzebub. After that, Jesus spoke only in parables when in public4.

The obvious question is why? I mean, if He was here to seek and save the lost5, then why would he be deliberately cryptic? That seems counter-intuitive to his goal, does it not? Would you believe it’s a strange sort of mercy?

You see, there are different degrees of condemnation6. The more truth you receive and reject, the worse off you are. So, by speaking in brain-warping parables, Jesus spoke to the masses in a way they would not understand. Therefore, they do not receive more truth than they already have and do not receive the greater condemnation. At a later time, however, He explained the parables to His disciples when they were “offline,” so to speak, so they could understand and spread the word. We could read it and follow along.

Now, armed with that example, that means we should avoid sharing Christ with someone in case they’ll reject it and receive the greater condemnation. Right? BZZT! Sorry, wrong answer.

Jesus had one major advantage that we do not have. He, being fully God, sees the end from the beginning. He knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him7. Jesus knew ahead of time who would hear and accept the Gospel and who would be offended by it then chalk His miracles up to Satan. We are not that fortunate. We cannot tell the tares from the wheat8. Consequently, the best thing we can do is spread the word far and wide in case someone out there does receive it and come to accept the gift of the Lord.

So, spread the word in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth9. Your Jerusalem is your neighborhood, the people you have immediate contact with. Your Judea is your workplace, where you get groceries, anywhere you contact people who don’t live in your area. Samaria is the region you live in. If you want to think of that as Texas or the United States, that’s probably a good start. The uttermost parts of the earth are everywhere outside that. If you can’t play, support someone who can. Do something to get the word out there.

I leave you with one last thought. Are you saved? If you are, that’s great. What are you doing with it? Or in other words, “What on Earth are you doing for Heaven’s sake10?”

Endnotes:

1 Matthew 28:19

2 Matthew 13:3-13:8

3 Matthew 13:24-13:52

4 Matthew 13:34

5 Luke 19:10

6 2 Peter 2:18-2:22, Mark 6:11, Luke 10:12-10:14; Missler, Chuck. Heaven and Hell Briefing Pack. Koinonia House.

7 John 10:14

8 Matthew 13:29

9 Acts 1:8

10 Hovind, Kent. Creation Seminar. Creation Science Evangelism.

Remnant in the Stars: Hermit Crabs?

In the previous two adventures, I provided some info on the major alien races of Remnant in the Stars: the Aolanians and the Numodyne. There was one other alien race. They don’t play a pivotal part in the plot, but they’re there!

In one of the earlier drafts of Remnant in the Stars, I decided to give the Numodyne a couple limitations. As it was, they really were just too powerful. I decided to establish that, although they could pass through solid objects, they couldn’t pass through rock. Why? I’d like to tell you that I had some grand, scientifically grounded reason for it … but I didn’t. I just picked rock because that gave the stranded Aolanians a place to hide and wait for rescue.

One of my beta readers (*waves at Gail*) suggested that no matter how destructive the unfriendly Numodyne were, there should be some kind of critter that could survive in spite of them. Some critter somewhere should have an immunity or resistance to Numodyne attacks either by their natural ability or location or whatever.

A good point, really, and if the Aolanians could find safe shelter, so could some other critter.

So, the hermit crab-like critters came from that discussion. These are fist-sized bugs with 14 legs that scoot around with a rock “shell” on their backs. Like hermit crabs, they can tuck into their shells when threatened. Each one has a job, and the only one we really spend time with is the leader, who goes out to the entrance of the cave every day to scope out the terrain and watch for threats.

When the leader spots the Aolanian survivors closing in on the cave with a colorful Numodyne escort, he’s not sure what to think, but he mobilizes the rest of the group to get ready for an invasion.

 

Help in the Storm

Most of the folks I know either served in the military or have a relative who did. The Bible discusses several interesting military men and one often overlooked woman. Let’s consider a battle whose tide turned with the efforts of one man and the two who came alongside him.

Go to Exodus 17:8-13. Israel is wandering around in the desert and comes under attack from Amalek. Moses tells Joshua to pick out his force and meet the Amalekites in war the next day while Moses has the rod of God in his hand on the nearby hill. An interesting thing happens. As long as Moses holds up the staff of God, Israel kicks butt and takes names, but when he wearies and puts the staff down, Israel gets their backsides handed to them. When Moses gets too tired to hold up the staff any longer, Aaron and Hur bring over a rock for Moses to perch on and hold up his arms until Joshua’s forces win the day.

There are five key things to learn from this event. The first is that you can’t fight the tempest alone. Often when our world goes berserk, we try too hard to fly solo. Foolish mortal, you can’t, and you weren’t meant to. Sure, there are times when you can handle the matter without involving others, but when you get in over your head, seek and accept. Moses had Aaron and Hur to first bring him a somewhat makeshift chair and then help him hold his arms up long enough for Joshua to win the day. Learn from the example. If you see someone struggling with a load, offer a hand. If someone asks for help, secure the help the person needs, whether that’s you or someone else in a better position or with the requisite skills. We are commanded to bear one another’s burdens1.

Second, notice that Moses’ helpers didn’t take the burden from him. So often, when we see people suffering, we want to lift them out of the crisis and fix things. That’s not our job and might be deleterious to their development. How many times has God used some tragedy to teach us some valuable lesson? I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve learned something important about God through the most incredible disasters I’ve been up against. Ruth came to know God’s plan for her only after becoming a widow2. Nebuchadnezzer found his faith in God after going insane for a time3. Paul had to be blinded by the light before he could go out and do his job4. Helping people means lending a hand through the crisis, not preventing them from going through the mess in the first place, especially if their particular train wreck is self-inflicted.

There is a corollary to that. Moses didn’t try to hand the staff off to someone else so he could go take a nap. He hung on to his staff. After all, it was given to him to bear. He did, however, accept the help the others offered. He didn’t shrug them off and insist with some vehemence that he could do the job himself. So often, many of us have a very well practiced, “No, thanks. I’ve got it,” when in truth we could really use the assistance and we know it. In the most severe form of this malady, we instead try to pass the staff on to someone else to carry. We cheat ourselves when we do that.

We can also see that God uses people to lead others and get the work done. Joshua didn’t go into battle against Amalek by himself. He took his warriors with him and had Moses on the hilltop providing moral support and calling in the divine heavy artillery. Could God have won the battle for Israel with just Joshua? You bet. God didn’t even really need Joshua or Moses, but God very often chooses to use us to do his work in the world. He has work for us to do, too. These jobs were planned for us from long before our birth5.

Notice, too, that all the jobs were important. Joshua had to provide good leadership. The soldiers under his command had to follow his orders. Moses had a staff to hold up. Aaron and Hur had Moses to support. The text doesn’t mention them, but the non-combatants back at the camp were busy doing the work that would support the exhausted troops when they came back from the battlefield. We are all the Body of Christ6. Your job may be spectacular and out in the open where everyone can see and recognize you, or your job may be behind the scenes and no one would ever know you were there until you weren’t there. Then the gap would be evident.

Finally, avoid the pitfall of thinking it was the staff that held the power. There’s a danger in confusing the power of God with the symbol of that power. That happened a time or two in Israel. First, the sons of Eli tried to treat the Ark of the Covenant as if it were some sort of lucky talisman. The Ark was not to go into battle because it was carried only by a certain group of the Levites, and Levites were excused from military service7. God, however, was not with them because of their disobedience. Both were killed and the Philistines took the Ark8.

Another artifact that became confused for the power source was the brass serpent. In the wilderness, Israel grouched about the journey, and God afflicted them with a plague. To halt the plague, the people repented and God had Moses make a brass serpent. Anyone who looked at it was healed9. Many, many moons later, Hezekiah had to break the thing because the people were treating it as an idol10. Be careful that you don’t treat an object as if it were God. Those objects can be as real as the Ark or the brass serpent or as intangible as an ideal. There’s only one God, and he is very jealous of that distinction11.

We are all coming into, coming out of, or in between the storms of our life. So are all the people around us. Don’t try to weather yours alone, and don’t hesitate to help or secure help for someone who needs it.

Endnotes:

1 Galatians 6:2

2 Ruth 1-4

3 Daniel 4

4 Acts 9:1-22

5 Ephesians 2:10

6 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

7 Deuteronomy 31:25, Numbers 1:47

8 1 Samuel 4:11

9 Numbers 21:4-9

10 2 Kings 18:4

11 Exodus 34:14

Remnant in the Stars: Numodyne

Remnant the in Stars was my first novel published. For this book, I designed the cultures for 3 different alien races. I provided some details on the Aolanians last time. This time, the Numodyne are up.

The Numodyne were originally supposed to be spiritual critters. They had a physical form that could take the shape of whatever they wanted, and they had an attitude of treating corporeal creatures like lab rats. That, however, had been done. Repeatedly. By people who are much better at it than I am. So, in one iteration the tale, I decided to take them out of the supernatural realm and plug them into the physical world as critters of energy.

The Numodyne inhabit the world where the Aolanian explorer Kesha crashes after some not-so-nice Numodyne attack and disable the ship.

There are two sorts of Numodyne. One sort appears as colored globes of light and the other as white globes of light. The colorful ones are protective of the environment and the critters in it. They derive their sustenance from absorbing the energies tossed around in thunderstorms.

The other sort is more destructive. They don’t care where they get their energy, and they aren’t patient enough to wait for storms to come along. They absorb the energy of living things or technology, whatever they can find. As a result, most of the planet’s plant and animal life has been destroyed, except for an area on one continent.

To the colorful Numodyne, their destructive counterparts appear to be a black so deep that it absorbs all light, kind of like a living black hole, because of their intense greed.

The friendly Numodyne come in the whole rainbow of colors and sizes, with younger ones tending toward the blue end of the spectrum and older ones toward the red.

Regardless of colors, they can change shapes. Spherical is default, but they can flatten out into disks or tighten up in to spear shapes depending on the situation. They become paler and grayer as their energy stores are depleted and more brilliant as they gain energy.

I’ve been asked if there might be a political commentary hiding in the Numodyne color schemes and behaviors, and the answer to that is … Nope. I chose white for the greedy Numodyne because evil is deceptive. They appear the white of purity to us, but that hides the blackness of greed and self-interest only visible to those who really understand them.

Likewise, the colorful Numodyne don’t represent any political factions. They’re colorful because I wanted a visible contrast between the evil ones and the not-so-evil ones. Really, that’s how complicated it gets in this case.

Next up, the third, hidden alien race in Remnant in the Stars.

Tithes

Would you rob God? Naturally, if we have a proper concept of exactly who we are relative to God, our first response is, “No! Of course not!” Yet, when we fail to give God his due, we are indeed robbing him1. In fact, God not only expects us to give back to him, but he expects the first and best of what he gives us, not what’s left at month’s end from our surplus2.

Our resources are generally divided into three parts. The first of those is our time. We are only here for a finite time3. Ask any schoolteacher who has spent the last week or two scrambling to wade through the paperwork of twelve generations, tediously long in-service training sessions required by the state and the district, and the chores of getting everything set up for all the little shavers coming in on Monday. That time goes by stupidly fast. (Don’t even get me started on the false notion that teachers only work 7-3, M-F. We’ll be here all year). We live in a time when people do business on the way to the business then leave to engage in other endless activities. God, however, hasn’t changed. He still wants time with us. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, valued time with his Father. He had a habit of getting up while it was still dark and going off to be alone and pray4. If Jesus, who is truly God and truly man, felt the need to go pray, I’m thinking we need the same even more.

Talents are our second resource. We hear very much about the Spiritual Gifts. You know: teaching, preaching, giving, prophecy, tongues, etc. Depending on whose list you run into, there are a dozen or more5. Did you know that there are also other, more “practical” Spiritual Gifts? Check out Exodus 31:1-6. There were two workmen who were specifically gifted with all kinds of crafty things. No, not being sneaky, things like metal working and gem cutting. Any gift God has given you can be used for his glory6. Find something you’re good at, and do it for the glory of God.

The last resource is the one that gets on everyone’s nerves, but giving of your money is the easiest one to do. God did something really odd in Malachi 3. He challenges us to test him by giving him a tithe then watching to see if he doesn’t out-give us in blessings. This whole tithing thing didn’t start with Moses and the Law. No, Abraham went to this interesting character named Melchizedek, which means “king of righteousness,” in a city that later became Jerusalem to give ten percent of his wealth. In response, Melchizedek, who was both a king and a priest of God, served Abraham bread and wine7.

Incidentally, a tithe under the law wasn’t ten percent. Although the word “tithe” does technically mean ten percent, there was more than one tithe. There was a yearly tithe of the first fruits to the Levites, who in turn had to give a tenth of that to the priests. Then there was a tenth that was to be brought to Jerusalem for a celebration. Finally, there was an every third year tithe to throw a party for the poor and the Levites. There are some sources that suggest the second and third of those tithes could be overlapping8. Either way, that’s 20-23% of your yearly earnings. Ten percent went to God, ten percent for celebration, and perhaps 3.33% for the poor.

Before you start busting out your calculator to figure out what 23.33% of your income is, remember that God wants a cheerful giver9 more than a technically accurate one10. In fact, giving grudgingly or dishonestly can be fatal. Consider the case of Ananias and Sapphira who tried to be like everyone else by selling land and giving money to the church. Only they cheated and held part back while announcing they were in fact giving the entire amount. God dealt with them in a manner that explained his attitude toward dishonesty11. Their error was not keeping part of the money back, but rather lying about having given the whole amount.

Ultimately, we must remember that all good gifts come from God12. When we give to God, we’re simply returning what he let us use.

Endnotes:

1 Malachi 3:8-10

2 Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, Numbers 18:12, Deuteronomy 26:10, Nehemiah 10:35, Proverbs 3:9

3 Psalm 103:14-16

4 Mark 1:35

5 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, http://cf.blb.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?TopicList=15000&Topic=Spiritual+Gifts&DictID=

6 Romans 12:11, Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23

7 Genesis 14

8 http://cf.blb.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?TopicList=3738,15461,16856,42931,42932,42933,42934,42935,42936,42937,42938,42939,42940,42941,42942,42943,42944,42945,42946,42947&Topic=TITHE&DictID=4#ISBE

9 2 Corinthians 9:7

10 Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42

11 Acts 5:1-11

12 James 1:17