Saturday, June 24, 2006

Brobdingnagian Buffalo

On Monday afternoon we were making our way through Yellowstone in a Subaru Forester at the breakneck speed of 30 miles per hour. To our left was a wooded area that sloped up and away from us. To our right the ground descended and then flattened out where a crooked river lazily made its way south.

Here is where our word brobdingnagian comes in (You don't hear this word everyday). Brobdingnagian: Of extraordinary size; gigantic; enormous. We saw a brobdingnagian buffalo, up close and personal! Height: 60 - 78 inches, Length: 84 - 144 inches, Weight: 1760 - 2425 lbs.!

The buffalo burst out of the wooded area to our left and just ahead of us. I hit the brakes and swerved right! The buffalo hit his brakes and swerved to his right; plumes of dust billowed up from his long mantle of hair. The only thing that separated the two of us was the thickness of the car door and another 10-12 inches; he towered over the Subaru!

As soon as the danger was past, Meagan and Sandy asked me to stop the car so they could get some air! I was laughing and hooting. I know there must be something deeply wrong with me, but would life be any fun at all without some danger?!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Into Yellowstone

We spent the night in Bozeman and on Tuesday began driving west out of town. Bozeman is a hot spot. In the last few years the population has grown from twenty three thousand to nearly seventy thousand. It is projected to outgrow Billings, the capital, within ten years (A twelve hundred square foot house on one third acre, in town, sells for over three hundred thousand dollars). The city is in a high elevation bowl surrounded by mountains. The downtown area is very old, yet lovingly preserved. Scores of unique businesses line both sides of Main Street.

While we slept it had snowed in the mountains, which stood proudly with their new mantles. We sighed at the vanishing beauty behind us and set our sights for Yellowstone National Park. The drive through the first part of the park reminded us of Maine. We hadn't driven long before we saw our first of many fly fishermen and women. Then we came upon a Bald Eagle nesting close to the main road. Dozens of cars stopped for photograph. A couple of long-legged elk appeared and then we saw our first of six or seven hundred buffalo.

We passed through a large area where thousands of trees were toppled over or stood bleached grey and naked. A fire had gone through this part of Yellowstone, destroying multiplied millions of board feet of lumber and much of the slower moving wildlife, no doubt. Even that tragedy revealed a beauty. Life was coming back and the hues of green stood out from the mature forest that survived.

On our first day in the park we had an exhilarating encounter with wildlife. I will tell you about that in my next blog.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Wounded Lion

There are three stately monarchs on the earth -- no, four: the lion, king of animals, who won't turn from any thing . , . Proverbs 30:29

On Monday our destination was Bozeman, Montana. On our way there we stopped off at a couple of other towns and drove through the neighborhoods. As has been our custom for as long as we have been married, we picked up real estate booklets; we enjoy looking at property and the lifestyles of communities reflected in their homes. When we reached Bozeman, we didn't find the booklets at convenience stores like we usually do. We saw a real estate office and decided to stop in and see what they had.

It was 6:02 p.m. when we drove into the parking lot. As we drove in, a woman was getting into her car. I parked and walked up to the door of the office; it was locked. As I turned to leave, the woman walked up to me with a set of keys in her hand and began to unlock the door. I said to her, "That's not necessary. We were just going to get a brochure on the real estate in the area. We're not looking to buy." She responded, "No problem. Bob is working upstairs, and I'll have him get you some listings." I said, "That isn't necessary. We just like to look at real estate. You don't need to go to all that bother." She insisted on helping.

Bob came down and said, "Come back here. I will give you some listings." I said to Bob, "You are trying to give us more help than we need. That's not necessary." Bob insisted. We followed him to the back of the office.

Bob asked us where we were from and what I did for a living. I answered both questions. When I told him I was a pastor, he immediately said. "I asked Christ into my heart a few weeks ago and I am having a terrible struggle following Christ. Can we talk?" Keep in mind that our car is still running and Meagan is in the car! I said to Bob, "Gladly!"

Sandy and I talked with Bob and answered question after question. Toward the end of the conversation, Bob asked, "Do you believe that God could speak to me through a dream?" I responded, "There was a time when I would have said, 'No.' But I have been following God's work in China, and it appears that God has been leading, protecting, and communicating with believers over there through His Word and dreams."

Bob began to describe a dream that he couldn't get out of his mind. He told us that he dreamed he was in a large field that had one tree in the middle. He walked toward the tree and came upon a man kneeling under the tree. He walked up to the man and saw that he was bent over a wounded lion. He said the lion's wound was vivid. Blood was running from its side and the creature weakly raised one paw. Bob said he thought the lion represented his battle with his sinful flesh; it was about to finally die.

I told Bob that I do not consider myself to be an interpreter of dreams, but that was not what came to my mind as he told his story. I told him that I thought that the lion represented him, and that he had been mortally wounded by sin. I believed that the one kneeling over him was Christ and that Christ was there to heal him. Christ wanted to restore him and give him the spiritual heart and strength of a lion, the heart and stature God always intended he possess.

Whatever the interpretation, it was clear that God was at work in Bob's life, and that our meeting was not by chance.

Bob was deeply moved. Sandy and I were deeply moved. Over an hour had passed and we left. We have not ceased to pray for Bob.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Holler

On Sunday afternoon we headed for the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains; we were going to spend the night at "The Holler." Friends of ours, Frank and Elayne, introduced us by phone to the owners, Craig and Pat Whitlock. The Whitlocks are very committed Christ followers.

To get to the ranch, we had to leave the asphalt and drive on a long serpentine gravel road. The twisting ride rewarded us with sightings of more deer, turkeys, rock faces, and a meandering stream. When we arrived at the office, Pat came walking up the road to meet us. She greeted us warmly and we chatted for awhile to get aquainted. Pat took us to our cabin (I wanted to call our realtor back in Columbus and tell them to sell everything. We are moving!) and we unpacked for our short stay.

Later on, Pat came back and told us that we could go horse back riding when Craig got back. Several hours later Craig and their daughter Kate came riding up on horses. Before we knew it, I was riding Otis, Sandy was riding Summer, and Meagan was on Rose. As we headed up the gravel road to pick up a trail, Craig said, "I want to show you my back yard." The Holler borders the Gallatin National Forest. For the next 5 miles we saw some of the most spectacular views eyes could behold.

The horses we rode were thoroughly trained. I have to tell you that I could not believe some of the places those horses took us; one false step and someone would have been chiseling our names on granite! There's something deeply spiritual about primitive travel, about coming over a rise or around a corner and seeing deer in the wild. At one point we rode the horses up to a high precipice where we could see three different mountain ranges miles and miles away. Other times we were leaning over the necks of our horses as they lunged up a steep hill or leaning through sharp turns as we navigated in and out of ancient trees and boulders.

By the time we got back, evening shadows were chasing away the sunlight. A perfect day drew to a close.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Red Lodge Baptist Church

On Sunday I stepped into the tiny sanctuary of Red Lodge Baptist Church. Bill Parisher, the pastor there, invited me to bring the Sunday morning message. About 40 people attend RLBC on a typical Sunday morning. The Sunday I spoke was typical.

The experience transported me back to the early 80s when I did a church plant in Northern Maine. Mounted on either side at the front of the church were the sound system speakers made by Peavy. The very same kind we had in Presque Isle, Maine. Developing a spiritual presence in Montana is not for the faint of heart.

RLBC has grown from an attendance of 12 to 40 in just one year. Many young people are also being reached through the youth program. The church is supporting two gypsy pastors in Romania for one hundred dollars each per month. A group from the church is raising money to go to Romania this year.

I pastor in the Bible belt. Our church has 2,500 members and facilities second to none. However, "Little is much when God is in it," and God is certainly at work in Red Lodge, Montana. I hold the members of this outpost in high esteem. They have a deep desire to reach their community, state, and world with the gospel. We forget that such places may be out of sight, but they are never out of God's thoughts.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Buffalo Bill Cody!

We left the Pryors and headed to Cody, Wyoming. Next stop . . . The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum. If it happened in the West, it is documented, illustrated, reenacted, or preserved at this museum! There is a model of every kind of rifle, shotgun, or pistol ever made . . . literally thousands of weapons. In one of the concourses there is even a gleaming brass Gatling gun.

You cannot appreciate just how big and ferocious a grizzly is until you stand next to the world record bear that is stuffed and standing on its hind legs with its teeth bared and its 5 inch claws extended like curved daggers. There were mounted moose and elk racks that weighed up to 50 lbs. If it had hair or fur, it's in the museum!

The Remington art collection is beyond description. Paintings and sketchings of wild West scenes: cattle stampedes, gun fights, Indian raids, death, life, and sweeping natural vistas that seem to come to life. The giftedness that God chose to pour into single individuals borders on the mystical.

An entire section is dedicated to exhibiting the life of the plains Indians. Their way of life is well documented by artifacts and historical records of various kinds. Pictures of proud Indian chiefs being paraded around and exploited by their conquerors are disturbing. I believe any thinking person has to process a certain amount of shame when you realize the inhumane course of "progress and the advance of civilization" that tamed the West.

Much of everyday life in yonder days is captured and preserved in stage coaches, period decorated rooms, tools, clothes, and cook wear. Throughout the museum shows the romanticized West and grim reminders of the dangerous, difficult, and violent life that snuffed out the tenderfoot as well as the roughest and toughest that ever crossed the continental divide.

In just two hours we did our best to burn into our memories and preserve on a digital photo stick what could easily occupy a curious mind for days. If the Lord allows, we hope to return for a longer visit someday. If not, we were blessed beyond measure with the time we were given.

The Wild Mustangs Of The Pryors!

Saturday was the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. As a child I didn't know exactly where wild mustangs were, but those free-roaming creatures held a special fascination in my young imagination. I wanted to be a pony express rider (In the last year, two friends, Cary and Otis have been teaching me to ride. I am deeply grateful. I believe that God's promise through the prophet Joel is coming to pass, "I will return what the locusts have eaten").

We had hardly entered the reserve when we saw our first mustangs, a small herd of 10. Among them was a cute and curious little newborn! He found us quite interesting. The mustangs are a thing of beauty: thick necks and short, sturdy bodies. In this group were tan, black, striped, and bluish-gray mustangs.

Traveling into the depths of the park, we saw 5 more about a half mile off the road. We stopped, got out, and began to slowly make our way across the nearly desert landscape toward the horses. David moved ahead of the direction the horses were moving; we circled behind them. By taking our time, we were able to get within 10 yards of the mustangs. They moved to within 10 feet of David!

I wish you could have seen the pitch black stallion that guarded his harem. His neck and shoulders showed visible scars and bite marks from many a battle. He was lean, proud, and breathtaking.

As I wended my way back to the car through the purple sage and flowering cactus, the melancholy that wild things and places always stirs returned. It was the good sort.

Cheyenne Reservation

Sandy and I have Indian blood in our ancestries. Sandy's comes through both her mother and father. It is believed that one of my grandfathers had Indian blood. If you met my wife and sons you would see that they got a pretty good dose of Native American DNA. Because of that heritage, we feel a bit of a connection to the Red Man.

We left the Little Big Horn memorial and drove to the Cheyenne Reservation. David Roberts had a specific destination in mind. The drive was beautiful, and as is the case in most of Montana and Wyoming, the landscape changed about every 30 miles. I am at a loss to describe what we saw once we arrived at the point of interest. I will try.

We pulled over to the side of the dirt road we had traveled for miles. To our left was an area where hundreds of colored pieces of cloth, tobacco pouches, hats of different sizes, and baby blankets were tied to the branches of trees. We were told that it was a place of prayer. A water source was pouring from a pipe that protruded out of the side of the hill. What stood out most significantly was the fact that the trees bearing the cloths or articles died.

We treated the sacred spot with respect. We did not walk among the trees or disturb the site in any way. I think each of us stopped and breathed a prayer for those who had come there seeking something from the spirit world. I prayed that God would somehow bring them to the Living Water that flows for all through Jesus Christ.

When we got back to David and Cindy's we did some research on the internet. We were unable to match what we saw with any rituals common to the Cheyenne.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Montana: Where Soldiers Fell.

And if the bugler doesn't sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? I Corinthians 14:8

We returned from seven days in Montana at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. Sandy, Meagan, and I had the time of our lives in the big sky country. None of us had any idea that such a beautiful and diverse place existed in the United States. There are not enough adjectives to describe our trip through Montana and Wyoming.

Last week we hit the ground running as soon as we arrived in Billings, Montana. Dave Roberts picked us up at the airport and took us into Red Lodge. I had been there before and I wanted to take Sandy and Meg to a store called Common Ground. The store sells art and creative expressions of Montanans: wood and antlers meticulously carved, paintings, photography, Indian and cowboy art, pottery, you name it. Reminders of the creativity of those God created.

On Friday we went to a memorial to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and General George Armstrong Custer. A museum there contains maps and a blow-by-blow description of the massacre that took place (You've probably heard that Custer lost). Legend has it that on his way to the villages Custer said, "C'mon, there will be Indians enough for all of us!" Custer's plan was to wipe out all the Indians. As the saying goes "Turn about is fair play!"

I learned that many in Custer's army were immigrants who could hardly speak or understand English. As the hostile engagement with the Indians began, communication broke down and Custer's army scattered in disarray. The soldiers were unable to organize a defense. Also, most of Custer's men were armed with weapons that had never been tested under battle conditions. Due to the need to rapidly fire, the weapons overheated and the spent shell casings could not be ejected. After the battle it was discovered that many of the soldier's weapons were jammed.

The battle site is sobering. Across the sloping terrain, grave stones stand amid the waving prairie grasses and wild flowers, silently marking the exact spot where the soldiers fell.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Off to Montana

Sandy, Meagan, and I are leaving at 4 am tomorrow to spend a week with the Robertses in Montana. We're planning to see Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful, and visit the Pryor Mountains to catch a glimpse of the wild mustang herds. We'll also drive along the Beartooth Highway, which we are told is "America's most beautiful road."

I probably won't be able to post a blog until we return. See you then!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

A Full And Fulfilling Day

I just finished writing cards to people who have requested prayer, or have just come through a blessing or crisis of some kind. During the welcome each Sunday, I encourage people to let me know how I can pray for them. It encourages them to get a note that tells them when and how someone has prayed for them. I am always amazed at the diversity of the needs and experiences among our body of believers.

I have also been reflecting on the services this a.m. We had significant responses during the invitation. In the first service we had a man in his early thirties come forward to receive Christ; he had an evident encounter with the Savior. Along with our congregation, we prayed for him as one of our pastors led him to Christ (I am meeting with this new convert tomorrow). We also had two couples come forward to unite with our church. Also, one of our men from the College and Career Ministry came forward to declare his commitment to follow Christ into full time service. Our college pastor, the young man's parents, many of his peers, and I gathered at the front of the church and prayed for him. It was pretty special.

In the second service a young man who has been in a battle with drugs came forward to confirm his commitment to Christ. He has been a drug user and seller in the recent past. Last year, he graduated from Teen Challenge, only to fall prey to his demons once again. Our college pastor and I have been battling for his heart and life for some time. About a month ago, Britton experienced a major breakthrough. Christ rescued and delivered him. Since then, he has been a different young man. When he came forward this morning, I had our deacon chairman, a couple of our pastors, and me gather and pray over him. He was received with many tears by his church family.

I talked to my Mom and Dad this afternoon; they are doing great. I have a younger brother who was recently called to a church in Hudson, Maine. He will be their pastor. Buzz (nickname) and his family are enroute from Texas as I write. Lord willing, I will be with all my siblings on the fourth of July. It will be the first time we have been together since 2002.

It has been a full and fulfilling day!

Friday, June 2, 2006

Demons And Evil Spirits

The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan . . . Suddenly a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting . . . That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus . . . So he [Jesus] traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons . . . And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him [Jesus], they would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking . . . " Mark 1-3

As I continue to read through the gospel of Mark I am struck by the constant battle between Jesus and demons. Mark describes them as debilitating, violent, audibly contesting Christ's presence, and constantly striking at the health of those they possess. People in the region of Galilee were infested with them!

A series of questions came to mind: Where are the demons today? Have demons disappeared? Did Christ put an end to them by his death, burial and resurrection? Were the whole lot of them bound in chains and cast into the Pit? Are they no longer the adversary of Christ and the hateful tormentors of His image bearers?

Paul's words came to mind instantly. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 Paul says they are still present and we (Christ's people) are in a battle against them.

That led me to think about the things many believers want to fight about, such as music styles, whether we dress-up or dress casually for church, and the exact location of where we sell books and tapes in the church. Is there any evidence of the early church giving a hoot about such things? Are these the great battles Christ spoke of when He said, I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it? Matthew 16:1

I began to write that I am not anxious to do battle with evil spirits of the unseen world. But that's not true! If that was Jesus' and the early church's battle, then it remains ours, too. Wouldn't you rather fight a battle worthy of your calling? If the objective of the powers of hell is to conquer Christ's church (His people), then let's go confront the enemy!

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Peter's Sword

Then Peter drew a sword and slashed . . . John 18:10

Today I felt a little like Peter.

Do you remember another Peter -- the one in The Chronicles of Narnia? Father Christmas gave him a sword. I owned an exact replica of Peter's sword . . . briefly. It was a gift from Sandy for Father's day. She gave it to me early so I could use it for a sermon illustration Sunday. Last evening I took it with me and headed to church for prayer meeting. When I arrived I had more stuff to take inside than I could carry in one trip. I intended to come back directly for my sword, but got distracted. Last night someone stole it out of my vehicle while I was in prayer meeting.

I never even saw it unboxed or unwrapped.