There’s a special kind of gorgeousness unique to Montana and the states that surround it. The air smells of sage there, so to freshen the air in our van for a couple weeks, we pick a little of it while we are out on a walk and display it in a rusty, old tobacco tin with a cowboy motif we bought at a secondhand store in New Mexico.
Then there’s the prairie dogs. When it comes to prairie dogs, you may as well pull out the folding chairs, pop some popcorn, and take a seat because if you watch long enough to pick up the plot line, the show is going to be more dramatic than any opera, except instead of high vibrato, they sound, as they are standing up on their two back legs, like your dog’s high pitched, squeaky toy. They are high strung, to say the least, and seem to be prepared for a fight, suddenly crouching down and shaking their tails to look tough, though their fierceness is all in their head. If you could speak prairie dog, you’d hear some smack talk like there’s no tomorrow, with more confidence than Mohamed Ali in the 1970’s. The trash talk would sound something like, "You want a piece of me? I double-dog dare ya! I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, Looser! (Until the coyote, low to the ground swiftly passes through, then the trash talk ends abruptly, as they all scream in fear and disappear. Who needs television?
When we are in Montana, we love watching the tumbleweeds being tossed around by the wind and recall when we see them how it felt just a few years ago to have them one by one repeatedly blow straight into our motorcycle and get instantly eaten up by the machine. We’ve also learned in big sky country what it feels like to have a dirt devil hit the van just right so that it momentarily takes over steering, forcing us into the oncoming lane, that by the grace of God was empty. Danger and beauty often seem to hold hands.
In the little town of Wye, Montana the storm clouds, in the quiet of the evening, created gorgeous backdrops for vibrant, fluorescent pink sunsets that yielded some of the prettiest wildflower pictures I’ve taken all year, as the wind gently made the little purple blooms sway back and forth. Truly, "There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and mercy of God to the whole world." Thomas Merton
We stood still at Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside of eastern border of Montana to gaze upon the wild horses in all their varying colors, flicking flies away with their long tails, their foals peacefully grazing alongside them.
Like the wild horses, the cattle on a thousand hills around Montana are the Lord’s, and they all, in full compliance to their Creator, fulfill their purpose for being created, one of which is to bring awe to the hearts and minds of the bipeds created in His own image.
“...every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills.
“I know every bird of the mountains,
And everything that moves in the field is Mine.”
I feel compelled to confess here my irrational crush on the majestic buffalo that is more fierce than a junior high school girl for a quarterback. Truth be told, if I was traveling solo, I’d linger just to watch the buffalo roam for weeks and weeks. One of my brightest moments of our travels so far was in Yellowstone when I was eye to eye with a buffalo just twenty feet away. It was dreamy.
Although it breaks my heart to think about the poor stewardship that caused the population of these most beautiful creatures to plummet from over 60 million in the late 1700’s, to just 541 by 1889, I am deeply thankful for mankind’s renewed efforts of the restoration of buffalo to do what we can to help them repopulate, so that now roughly 31,000 roam mostly around the national parks and reserves, and are even beginning to be reintroduced in other regions in America to roam wild and free. Would that we would be imitators of God in taking care of all creatures great and small who depend on our mercy. He only forbids the things that would destroy us and the things He’s entrusted to us, and greed too often seems to be at the root of poor stewardship.
Montana, though exceptionally blessed by the Creator with these gorgeous natural resources, has not been nearly as conscientious as they should have been. Upon our arrival to our brother and sister in Christ, Laura and Justin Brewer, near Three Forks, Montana, we were warned not to drink the tap water. In March of 2019 the tap water was found to have elevated levels of arsenic, in fact six times the acceptable levels due to the poor stewardship of that resource resulting in profound industrial and agricultural pollution. One example of this is Berkley's Pit, also known as the Lake of Death. We learned when we visited this site, that within the first year of operation in the 50’s, the pit extracted 17,000 tons of copper ore, and over time about 1,000,000,000 tons of material like copper, silver and gold were mined from the Berkeley Pit, leaving the water so heavily acidic that heavy metals and dangerous chemicals leached from the rock, including copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. In 1987 the Environmental Protection Agency made this site, along with 16 others in Montana, a Superfund site to try to clean up the toxicity, but still in 1995, a flock of migrating geese landed in the Berkeley Pit and died. There was a total of 342 carcasses that were recovered, and when the State of Montana performed lab tests they discovered the birds had died from burns and festering sores caused by exposure to high concentrations of copper, cadmium, and arsenic. On November 28, 2016, several thousand more birds died when a large flock of snow geese landed in the pit's water. They too were found to be killed by exposure to sulfuric acid and heavy metals. Recently a $19 million dollar water treatment plant was constructed and the first discharge of treated water was added to a local creek in October 2019. We’ll see how that goes. With a lot of effort, the ripple effects of poor stewardship can occasionally be turned around entirely, but at other times it can only be turned around in part.
After visiting the Berkeley Pit, we explored some of the thousands of gorgeous historic commercial and residential buildings and the alleyways in between in the Uptown district of Butte, Montana. Established in 1864 as a mining camp, Butte experienced rapid development in the late 1800’s and over time miners generated over $48 billion worth of ore. They worked hard, but because they too poorly stewarded to their own destruction the money they earned, the town quickly gained a reputation for being morally bankrupt. “The city's saloon and red-light district, called the "Line" or "The Copper Block", was centered on Mercury Street, where the elegant bordellos included the famous Dumas Brothel. Behind the brothel was the equally famous Venus Alley, where women plied their trade in small cubicles called "cribs." The red-light district brought miners and other men from all over the region and remained open until 1982 after the closure of the Dumas Brothel; the city's red-light was one of the last such urban districts in the United States.” In addition to brothels, “Commercial breweries first opened in Butte in the 1870s, and were a large staple of the city's early economy” where even children were allowed to consume the “locally brewed lagers, bocks, and other types of beer.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butte,_Montana)
When generation after generation wastes their earnings on their vices, what remains is exactly what we witnessed: a virtual ghost town where only the Irish pubs seemed to be flourishing. As it turns out, Montana has the second-highest ratio of bars to people in the U.S., and a new study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows the state also leads the nation in alcohol abuse, and because so much money is being spent on no much else, according to a 2016 estimate, there are now "hundreds" of unoccupied buildings in Butte, Montana, so many, in fact, that they passed an ordinance recently to finally have on file, records of who owns what piece of the urban blight.
When we met with the lovely small group of Christians for our midweek gathering to study the word of God together in the home of Justin and Laura Brewer, I was chatting with the some of our church family about our observations and they relayed their own personal experiences as to how the addiction has played into their difficulty of trying to share Christ with their community, as they host meet-ups and such. One sister-in-Christ said that even in the corners of the community you would least expect it, that some of the homeschool co-ops even advertise alcohol as being provided during their events.
Despite the prevalence of alcoholism, I rejoiced to learn that the congregation had been standing firm on what God says on alcohol abuse and had recently helped one very grateful soul unloose those chains from his life so that God could give him his life back. Their local success inspired me to share with the readers here, ten good reasons to teetotal. I’ve talked a lot in this entry about the value of stewardship, and for any children of God reading this, I’d like to invite you to steward what’s been entrusted to you better by giving up alcohol entirely. There’s a lot of good to be had from the hand of God, if we aim for excellence here, including:
A Blissful Eternity. Intoxication by any substance is a sin. The Bible says that no drunkards will enter the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). God says it is wise to avoid alcohol (Proverbs 23:31). We are called to live a life of total surrender and separation from the world (Romans 12:1-2). “I can't be sober-minded if I'm not sober.” Is any beverage worth risking eternity?
Divine Wisdom. “Wine is a mocker and strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). Wisdom realizes alcohol is not liquid sin, but it is, in effect, liquid inhibition, a mindset of carelessness leading to stupidity, leading inevitably to Satan’s “back door”. Although I have known Christians who occasionally have a glass of wine, they have every one of them been the weakest, least productive Christians, and eventually tend to fall away. Effective spiritual leaders don’t drink (Proverbs 31;4; Titus 1:7).
Better Self-Control: Alcohol lowers resolve to resist the temptations that destroy one’s soul because alcohol evaporates self-control. Even mild drunkenness does not move us toward the purpose for which we were created (Ephesians 5:18).
Happy Children. We became teetotalers after seeing generations shipwreck their lives because of alcohol and wanted to start a new generation, preventing that pain in our own children’s lives, especially in their later years with consequences that have time to snowball. We wanted to give them a better, happier, more joy-filled life. Plus as a preacher for decades and a domestic violence resource advocate, we’ve spent a lifetime cleaning up the ugly messes resulting from alcohol. We’ve yet to see a family where alcohol enhanced the quality of a child’s life. Why not just a little alcohol on occasion? I know what I do in moderation; my children may do in excess.
Setting A Beautiful Example: Drinking ruins your reputation and influence. I don't want to make my brother or sister stumble or lead someone to their spiritual ruin by my example (Romans 14:21). Alcohol doesn't bring others closer to God, but further from Him, and that’s the opposite of my life’s mission. When the world sees Christians drinking, it sends the message that Jesus isn't enough.
Real Comfort: Both we and the Brewers have a loss in common: We have both experienced the pain of having to bury our own children. But we have this in common: We both realize that alcohol provides only a temporary, false sense of peace. It is but a numbing agent for the pain and sorrow that only Jesus can truly heal. He wants us to run to Him and lean on Him as our Rock, our Might Counselor, our Comforter. And as survivors of this kind of pain, we stand side by side encouraging you to also turn to the Great Physician to heal your heart and mind.
Better Health. Alcohol is addictive (Proverbs 23:35). Alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol kills brain cells. It prevents the absorption of nutrition we need as spiritual athletes running a spiritual marathon. It hurts your liver and makes your skin ugly weakens your vision, and it makes you fat (3500 calories ÷ 125 calories average per drink = 1 lb. fat calories gained every 28 drinks. One drink per day adds up to about one pound gained per month or 12 lbs. per year. Your body wants water.
Authentic Joy: I should never look to a chemical for a joy that can only be found in Jesus Christ. There are a million ways to have a good time. It is smart to find recreation that only improves us either physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Life in Christ is life sweet enough, without the buzz.
Free Money: Do the math yourself. Depending on how heavily one drinks, you will save literally thousands of dollars every year by drinking only what your body really needs. Teetotaling can pay for some pretty grand vacations. We bought a shiny white Harley with our savings when Mark went from “drink till you pass out” to teetotaling, literally overnight. On a national scale: “Excessive alcohol consumption costs taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, binge drinking, underage drinking, and drinking by pregnant women cost U.S. taxpayers $223.5 billion, the CDC study showed. That breaks down to $746 per taxpayer, the researchers said, or about $1.90 for each alcoholic drink consumed that year. Losses in workplace productivity accounted for 72 percent of the total cost. Health care expenses came in a distant second, making up 11 percent of the cost.” What would America’s economy look like if it were not burdened with the ripple effects of alcohol? I want to become a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem, and I do that by teetotaling.
Decreased Lethality. Alcohol kills 75,000 Americans every year. 50 percent of violent crimes involve alcohol. You’re 11 times more likely to be killed in a car accident if you drink and drive. I don’t want to risk knowing someone else died because I DWI.
It’s not just the beast of the forest, the cattle on a thousand hills, every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field that are God’s (Psalm 50:10-11)and since their creation have been given a purpose to fulfill. You and I have a purpose as well --- a purpose worlds more relevant, since we, unlike the beasts, have been created with souls bearing the image of God. And how then does God say we are to steward our souls? He says we are to “...lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and ... be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
May God make fruitful the labors of the Brewer family and all the other little home churches like theirs around the world, and may He open the hearts of those they contact to the life-preserving truth they offer the souls in their communities as they work to spread 1st Century Christianity.
Gallatin Valley church of Christ
1023 Baxter Lane, Bozeman, MT 59715
[P.O. Box 11111 Bozeman, MT 59717]