Anna’s Hummingbird

Annas Hummingbird Sharpened

Here is a picture of a male Anna’s hummingbird. The brightly reflective feathers on the face are called the gorget. This happens to be the only hummingbird which has a gorget that goes above the head as well as under it. This positively identifies it as an Anna’s. I can also identify it for the commonly heard call which is a high pitched wispy scratching cry.

In addition to these identifications, the hummingbird has a distinctive display flight. It will pick its target and hover right in front of it. Then it will swirl straight up into the air, reaching up to about 130 feet. It will hover for a moment before diving straight down in a line and then as it passes its target it will circle back and hover in front of it, right where it started.

The male Anna’s hummingbird is a bit of a show off. It might be showing off for a female, but it will also do the display flight for people. Many times it will do the display flight while waiting for its favorite human to put out a feeder.

Being a show off is seldom a positive trait. It might impress people around you. It might earn you a raise or get you a date with a pretty girl—but more often it just shows the world that you are self-centered.

Christians also need to be careful about showing off. We can be so subtle about it, we don’t notice we are doing it. We show off by praying in King James English. Or maybe we quietly draw attention to our own humility. Preachers might be the worst, we can show off from the pulpit and if it works out well people will call it evocative preaching.  Even if it doesn’t work out, few people will point out how bad it was or nobody ever says it was because we were showing off.

Jesus warned against showing off. He taught the danger is when our pride gets to the point where all we want is to be seen by others. Choosing others over God is hardly living out the life of the Christian.

In Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus said,

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Wrong Workers

Recently I had said I would begin talking about church politics from time to time rather than always talking about national politics.

This past Sunday I was not in my own church, as it happened the church I attended had their Pastor to Students bring the message. I thought the young man seemed very nervous but one point he addressed really got my attention. I found it to be so valuable I am making it the focus of today’s post.

I believe God designs His church. Not just in the universal sense, but also in terms of local congregations.  He brings needs to the church, and He brings His choice of workers to the church. The advice the young man gave the church, passed on to him by a mentor was, “When you see a need in the church, let it be a need until God fills the need.”

Churches are often blessed by people who have a can-do attitude. They will volunteer to fill any need they see in the church. These people can be a tremendous blessing. Capable people who will take initiative are a wonderful thing in any church—Right up until they become a curse.

I have seen it happen a few different ways. Once I saw a person who felt the ministry owed them something for all their hard work. Soon they were stealing from the ministry. I have seen lesser examples when people begin to express they can do things better than other people and force those others out of ministry.  I have seen people who began to feel that because of their level of involvement their vote should carry more weight than other members. Numerous times I have seen people wear themselves out and quit altogether, often with a big show blaming someone else.

All of these things came about because people took on more of the work in the church than they should. Ultimately they did this because they failed to trust God to supply the workers.

When I say it like that it seems so obvious, but in the flow of the life of the church it’s anything but obvious. Helpful people are always appreciated. Workers are never turned away. We always need more volunteers. At least we think so. What we really need is the patience and insight to use the workers that God has chosen, selected and gifted for a ministry.

Crash Down

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, Adrift, and Self Sacrifice. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in order.

 

They had half a day to study and consider the situation before they got busy with the details of the landing.

Jamison was intent on making a rough plan. The computer could predict what point in the atmosphere they began their descent. It could give them a range of possibilities for how they guided the pod in. Since the topography of the planet was well documented they could pick the best landing areas.

His first priority was he wanted to be close to the ruins. He hoped to find a treasure trove of tools and supplies they could use to survive. He was thrilled to see the type of camps that had been used to set up the colonies there. They were durable and had a good chance of being undamaged even with the passing of time and lack of maintenance.

Second he wanted to study the area. If there was natural water he wanted to know where, whether or not it was safe to drink. He also studied the plant and animal life. If natural foods were going to be available he wanted to know. If any natural threats were there, he wanted to know that in advance too. Included in this he studied the seasons and was pleased to see they were arriving at the start of the growing season.

So he studied the wildlife, the flora and fauna. In his mind he considered three dangers to be the biggest issues. He considered egopods the biggest threat. They were the top predator on the planet and had been in the forests surrounding the ruins. They had coverings kind of like a rhino on earth. The skin was formed into plates allowing it to move quickly. In shape it was a bit like a bear. It preferred to run on all fours, but was capable of raising up on two feet to fight.

The second biggest threat he saw was a beetle called a bitter bug. They were about three inches round which made them relatively easy to spot. They were not aggressive but would give a warning bite which included an enzyme designed to give the larger animals pain. Unfortunately for humans the enzyme was poisonous resulting in slow developing paralysis. It could be treated with antibiotics easily enough, but they had very limited supplies of these.

The third biggest threat was a flower. It was called complasencia. It was small but highly fragrant. The fragrance contained a hallucinogenic compound. If they stumbled into it they would be too busy fighting things that were not really there to defend themselves from what was.

In addition to these threats, he was able to identify a number of edible plants including berries, roots and fruits. He also noticed the region should have an ample supply of grazing animals which could be used as a good supply of protein.

He programmed a life scanner for each of them to wear on landing. It would allow them to always know where the other was, but it would also give them a warning if they approached any threats including complasencia. If they were looking for food it would also identify some of the best sources of food nearby.

So Jamison and Chambers worked out their survival strategies and priorities.  But first they had to survive the landing. Since they knew the spot they wanted, it could be programmed into the computer and it would work out the glide path.  Only the fine details of the landing would have to be done by hand.

Second order of business would be shelter. They hoped they could use the shelters left by the colonization efforts. But if they were not in good enough of shape, they would be able to use the pod. It was equipped in a way similar to the camp he had as a sniper. It would be a suitable shelter if no other was available.

Third order of business was food. They would want to gather some of the grazing animals in the very least. But in addition to this they had seeds they could use to plant a garden and hopefully they could find some local sources for the natural foods.

It seemed like a great adventure. All they had to do was land safely. Jamison was a certified pilot and he expected to be the one to take the controls when the time came. Turns out Chambers was also a pilot and was more qualified for this type of craft than he was. With some reluctance he allowed her to take the pilots position. He took the second chair and together they waited and watched as they made their entry into the atmosphere.

Everything seemed to be going well, but at one point they could see a storm ahead. The glide slope they planned would take them through the center of the storm. Chambers made the decision to take it off auto-pilot early in order to avoid risking the weather. They swept around the back of the storm and recomputed their trajectory.

Now they discovered they were coming in through a mountain, so another reroute was necessary. The computer plotted course after course and rejected each one as too dangerous. Finally as the mountain loomed up in front of them Chambers reached over and turned off the distraction. It was up to her to bring them in safely.

She could go around the left, right or over the top. With minimal controls going over would require too much vertical control. To the left appeared to have some steep cliffs which add to turbulence. So she chose to go right. She stayed as high as she could approaching the saddle between this peak and its neighbors, but as soon as they cleared it they dropped from a wind-shear caused by the terrain. Since they were gliding, powering out of it was not an option.

They watched with despair as their path changed aiming them down into the slope of a small intermediate ridge. Then just as they were certain they would crash into the rock face, the currents blowing up the slope lifted them just over the top.  Below them they now saw the slope of the mountain falling away into the valley they had targeted. But now the winds that had lifted them were dropping with the altitude so their lift again disappeared and their glide slope showed they would not make it into the valley.

Chambers scanned the slope for a clearing in the trees hoping to land the pod without further damaging it, but none were in sight. Just when they thought they would begin to feel the treetops on the bottom of the craft they saw a small clearing ahead. It even appeared to be flat. The clearing was so small they couldn’t see into it, but it was a better option than dive bombing through trees.

She pulled the nose up on the craft, causing it to quickly lose speed, then it settled down into the clearing expertly. They both were startled to hear a loud splash. Checking the window they confirmed that in reality they had settled into a mountain lake. Since the pod was full of air, sinking was not a concern. But they were several miles from the settlement they had been aiming for. The winds blew them to the side of the lake. They anchored in, and prepared to explore their new home.

The Incarnation

What happened when Jesus was born?

God the Son took on human flesh, in order to reach out to man. He showed His love to us. He showed His grace to us. But mostly He showed Himself to us. By knowing the Son we know the Father.

His personal presence allowed Him to communicate with humanity, face to face. He was able to be directly involved in teaching us, establishing His church, and demonstrating His love for us. His direct interaction was relational, instructive and compassionate.

His came with a purpose; Jesus came to break through the sin barrier. He completed a plan God had made prior to creation. He extended mercy without excusing away or diminishing the horror of sin. He Himself paid the price for our wrongs even though He Himself was the only one who was right.

God the Son came with the intention to die on our cross. His death serving as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. Choosing this method of redemption shows us how terrible sin is, without requiring of us its terrible price. He has offered us a great gift, and left us with the choice of whether to receive it.

Then finally, He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is proof both of His forgiveness and our future in His Kingdom. His human body was the first to take on humanity’s resurrection. Today in heaven, He still inhabits the resurrected body of humanity.

Jesus and Joseph

Joseph raised Jesus. He provided for Him, taught Him a trade, and he loved Him. All the time he knew Jesus was not his son. Joseph set aside his rights as patriarch of the family and placed his own concerns secondary to the calling of his wife and the saving purpose of the child Messiah.

Joseph probably died before Jesus started His public ministry. Joseph was likely watching from heaven as Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, healed the sick, walked on water, and died on the cross. And then breathlessly, he waited and cheered with the excitement of a proud father as Jesus’s victory was sealed by the resurrection.

Only he wasn’t His father. This he could never allow himself to forget. Jesus has an eternal Father. Joseph was merely a steward. A proud guardian. He was privileged just to be a part of it.

So in heaven after the ascension, when everyone was pressing to see Jesus return to the throne. Joseph went with all the others, but with a different perspective.  That was the boy he raised coming home to take his glorious place.

But it’s easy to imagine that Jesus had something He wanted to do first. Instead of walking down the corridor of heaven to His eternal and righteous place beside the Father, He pressed through the crowd, found the man who had done so much for Him, and threw His arms around him.

Jesus reuniting with Joseph. Embracing the man who walked him through childhood. Jesus thanking Joseph.

And Joseph thanking Jesus.

 

The Christmas Trade

He traded heaven for earth
 
He traded the right hand of God for a stable 
He traded the throne for a manger
He traded the praise of angels for the lowing of cattle

 
 He traded distance for closeness

 He traded being served by angels for Mary’s embrace
He traded eternal comfort for the human experience
He traded legions of angles for twelve apostles

 
He traded His life for ours
 
He traded justice for mercy 
He traded comfort for self-sacrifice 
He traded continuous praise for the scorn of executioners


Merry Christmas

Politics and Religion

There will forever be an abrasive mark where politics and religion meet.

The reason for this is religion and politics both have their dictates regarding morality. Politics forms the laws whereby society decides what is immoral and at what level it will not be tolerated. Religion does exactly this same thing, but under the authority of God.

This creates friction for many reasons.

Those who refuse to believe in the existence of God, with authority to dictate a moral law, will always see adherence to religious principles as an unnecessary enslavement of humanity.

In a very similar way those who are entrapped in immorality always wish to legalize their behavior. This will create friction with both religion and politics.

There may be friction where two political systems disagree with each other, or where two religious systems disagree with each other.  There is surprisingly few examples of this. In regard to morality, people generally agree murder is wrong, family is valuable, and honesty is to be rewarded.

Finally, there will be friction when the political laws and religious laws are in disagreement. As the number of people who reject God increases and as the number of people trapped in immorality increases they will pass laws opposing religious perspectives.

This last case is worth considering carefully. The United States has a bill of rights which protects our freedom of speech, freedom of religion and many other key freedoms. But with the legalized protection of immoral behavior we have created a quandary for our society.

Largely this problem has been addressed by limiting the free speech of religious people. This solution dismisses the bill of rights and undermines the foundation of American freedom. We need a different solution which prioritizes the freedoms in the bill of rights.

Self Sacrifice

The next episode for Jamison’s Battlefields. Here are the previous episodes in order. Zilkas Asteroid Belt, Jamison’s Rescue,  Dinner with an Alien, Dibolocos Attack, Departure Orders, Homecoming, Into the Darkness, The Family BusinessJewel’s Place, ShanghaiedFirst MarkThe Pirate’s Life, Defensive Position, and Adrift. Like any story you will get the most out of it by reading it in order.

 

They continued their drift, and their conversations for a couple more months. Both knew the rations were running out. Although they both knew they should be watching the long range scans and SOS transmissions, neither paid much attention to these details. Instead they simply set the computers to sound an alarm if anything significant came up and then ignored it for weeks at a time.

The normal speed of a pod of this type would never reach any place to land, nor would it reach a listening post to pick up on the distress calls. If either of these were possibilities, the pirates would have destroyed them. The certainty that it could not happen was the only reason they were still alive. But in reality neither the computers on the pirate ship nor the pirates themselves had considered the extra boost of speed given to the pod by the explosion of the CDF ship.

When the rations were reduced to a couple of weeks, their conversations took on a more somber tone. Chambers speculated more and more what it would be like to starve to death. She tried not to talk about it, but she couldn’t help herself. Jamison hated to see her despair in this way. His response was to begin skipping his rations at times, returning them to the stores. But it didn’t take long for her to catch on and reprimand him for this action.

Jamison was beginning to consider a more drastic action to keep from wasting rations on himself. He figured he couldn’t shoot himself because then she would have to live with the horror of the sight of his suicide and the nasty task of cleaning up. But what he could do was lock himself in the airlock used as the garbage disposal. Then he could launch himself into space. Instant death for him, and another couple of weeks of rations for her.

He knew it would be too cruel to leave her without saying goodbye or without any word of explanation. So one night he waited for her to fall asleep first, then he went to the computer log and asked it to open up a death resolution. To his surprise a file of this type already existed. He immediately suspected what it was, so he opened it up and read.

Dear Jamison,

In the past few months I have come to know you in a deeper way than I have ever known anyone before. I never expected to care like I do for you, much less while the world was in such a mess as it is today. I always thought it was more important to spend my life making the world a better place. I was willing to sacrifice my own life to give humanity a chance at survival.

Now the time has come to put this commitment into action. But instead of sacrificing myself for the sake of humanity, I choose to sacrifice myself for you. It is my highest hope, my wildest dream, for you to be rescued, giving you the opportunity to align yourself with the Kilkians.

I am sorry that the best I can give you is the slim chance of a couple more weeks. But this is all I have to offer, so I give it to you.

Goodbye.

Chambers.

Jamison read the letter to himself several times. He shuddered to think that if he had delayed his choice one more night he would have missed her, forever. He went to the bottom of the note and typed.

Chambers,

Ditto. Which is why we need to ride this out together.

Jamison.

He closed the file and then went over and sat on the floor, his back leaning against the door to the air lock.

A couple of hours later she woke him up and asked him why he was sleeping on the floor. He took her by the hand and led her to the computer console. He opened up the log and scrolled down to the addition he had put on the end. She closed it without saying a word.

When she finally turned around she was crying silently, but as she wrapped her arms around him, she began to wail. The two of them stayed in that position for a long time, at first Jamison was trying to console her, but eventually he gave up and joined her.

After a while they settled down to the floor, still arm in arm, still crying. They grieved for each other. They grieved for the lives they could have had in different circumstances. They grieved for humanity so wracked with turmoil that the simple, normal experience of love had become uncommon and difficult.

They might have fallen asleep together, right there on the floor. Neither was sure when they considered it later. But a couple more hours into the night a proximity alarm went off. Jamison didn’t startle, he didn’t strike out in fear, he simply roused, and went to the computer to deal with it.

The console described them approaching a galaxy. It had one planet capable of sustaining life. Although it had no current human activity on the planet, there were ruins of past colonization. Extensive knowledge of the landscape, climate and life forms was in the computer. If they wanted to land on the planet he had 25 seconds to decide. 24. 23. Jamison pressed in the response.

They both took their seats and outside the pod they could hear a device moving a single use thruster to just the right position to change their course, a slight change but just enough to make them enter the atmosphere and make a crash landing. These landings were rough and sometimes un-survivable. But the chances down there would be better than the chances up here.

A moment later they felt the push of the thruster redirecting them. It only lasted about 30 seconds. Then the main display had two countdowns added to it in the top right corner.

12:31 to the outer atmosphere.

13:13 to impact.

Facebook Theology

I have been off my normal schedule lately because I am spending most of my time in my wife’s hospital room. Although I do end up with more time to write during her recovery, I also have less focus. The only writing I have gotten done on schedule is updating Facebook so family and friends will know how she is doing.

I bring this up now because while considering what I might post for Theology Thursday I began to realize how Facebook is like bad theology. You see Facebook makes decisions about who to show what post to. This decision is made on both how much Facebook contact you have with the person and how popular the post is.

The end result is not all of our friends have been getting every post. Instead Facebook starts off by sending it only to a select few people. Then when those friends like it or put a comment the post becomes more popular and therefore Facebook decides it’s popular and therefore shows it to more people. These also comment and the cycle continues.

The end result is some people are getting updates from back on the surgery date now. Others are getting comments about setbacks and have never seen updates about the progress made.

The reason I say this trait of Facebook is like bad theology is because most bad theology stems from picking and choosing what doctrinal ideas we like. These get preached on and repeated. Unfortunately this leaves a great deal of our doctrine untaught and unnoticed. Good doctrine fits with its other parts like a well-built machine. Bad doctrine is fit together piecemeal, and leaves large blind spots where our understanding of God is incomplete.

Most people have blind spots in their doctrine. But the problem is easily alleviated by reviewing a systematic theology. This term is used to describe an attempt at discussing every aspect of doctrine and how different ideas dove tail together on a good belief system.

Reflections of Christmas

(This Flash Fiction piece was originally composed for the contest, Race the Date. It didn’t even get a mention from the judges, but I liked it a lot so I am putting it on my blog today.)

 

In the corner of the small apartment stood an old aluminum Christmas tree. The kind that comes with a color wheel and reflects all the colors of light into the room.

It was Caleb’s fifth Christmas; his second without his father. The life insurance money was almost gone. Caleb’s mom had turned to family for help but each in turn explained why they were not able.

So she downsized to balance their frail budget. And when it came to Christmas, there was meager allowance for celebration. The aluminum tree, was practically an antique, but the Goodwill purchase fit the budget.

Caleb loved it. He believed they had the most magical Christmas tree in the world.  He loved the way it glowed with color. He loved how it caught every light in the room. He would sit and watch it for hours.

Aunt Patti was bound and determined to be one of the brightest stars of Christmas. She came in with a few brightly wrapped presents, and commented on the outdated tree. She laid out some Christmas pastries and berated the tiny kitchenette. Then she made them all sing Christmas songs. Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Finally she abruptly announced she couldn’t spare any more time.

When she left Caleb was staring at the tree. The light was still on and the setting sun shined through the window, but the tree seemed darker than he had ever seen it.

Caleb’s mom pulled him away from it. They sat on the couch and opened her Bible to the Christmas story. As she finished reading Caleb gasped and pointed at the tree. It was dark outside now, but the tree shined brighter than he had ever seen it.

Caleb loved how it reflected every light in the room.