Great Blue Heron

Great Blue HeronWhen you look at this picture of a great blue heron, what draws your attention? Perhaps you see his eye, yellow iris matching the yellow of the bill tip staring back at you. Perhaps you notice the black and white stripes over his head, or the frumpled feathers leaving the impression he needs to comb his hair. No matter what it is you see first, you will soon be drawn to study his bill, thick, solid, long and sharp.

It is far more than his mouth. It is his self-defense, his bread and butter, and his personality. Everything about God’s design of the heron is important, but it is easy to believe the bird holds the most pride in its bill.

What is it that defines you? Is it a point of appearance, a capability, or maybe some aspect of your personality? Whatever it is, I can pretty much guess that it affects how you see the world. Like a heron, which is always looking over its bill, you allow how you see yourself to color everything else you see.

As a child I came across a group of kids speaking of who they were king over. When they asked me I said I was king over no one, a response which brought me some degree of pain. I discovered too late that what they really meant was who they thought they could beat in a fight. It was a way of describing their prowess based on how they saw themselves. If you watch you can see adults doing the same thing, although probably with a little more subtlety.

Since how we view ourselves is so important to how we view the world it would be wise to view ourselves correctly.

Proverbs 21:2 HCSB People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.

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Bewick’s Wren

Bewicks Wren

Recently I took a side trip into a field of millet approaching harvest. I thought the amber grain, although not as iconic as wheat, was very picturesque.

While walking between fields, I noticed birds frequently popped up. Most of the birds were some form of sparrow. I failed at getting any pictures of the sparrows, but I did get one picture tolerably focused.

Notice this bird has its tail cocked upright. This is the distinctive posture of a wren. Combine this with the fact it has a white eye line, and doesn’t have a black back with white stripes, and you have positive identification of a Bewick’s wren.

Like other wrens, it has a wonderful call. When the bird is growing up it learns to imitate the calls it hears, not from its father, but from the community of other Bewick’s wrens around it. Apparently the young birds have something in common with young men. Namely that it is easier to learn some things from people who are not too close to you.

I see this principle at work all the time in my church. I myself or one of the other men in the church can say things to a young adult or teenager which they would never accept from their parents. I have even had kids thank me for being straight up honest with them. I am frequently humored by this response, knowing they would have responded spitefully to their parents, who are far more invested in them.

1 Timothy 5:1-2 says “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.” A part of this verse is to make yourself available to encourage and instruct younger Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Unfortunately, in today’s world we have a suspicious nature toward experience teaching and assisting youth. That is a part of how we have restructured our society. We have come to the conclusion that people with bad intentions are everywhere. We have made good people afraid to do good, for fear of false accusations.

But beneath all the clamor, there are still young people who will hear the advice of an older person. Without that advice the world and its false values get free run. Be careful that you behave toward everyone with all propriety, but don’t hold back your advice. If you refuse to do the things you can do, you are cooperating with the decline of society.

Young American Coots

Coot Young

We normally think of baby birds as cute. But these young birds really don’t strike me as cute. Instead they seem kind of gangly, awkward, and maybe even clumsy. You guessed it! These are not babies, they are adolescents. While babies of any animal will evoke oohs and aahs, teenagers tend to evoke other emotions. I am sure you knew this about humans already, but this picture should help you to see it’s also true of many birds, such as these American coots.

Have you ever stopped to think about why? Although studying the stage of life may not make living with a teenager any more tolerable, it is possible to understand it. The reason for the awkwardness can be quickly summed up, they are the way they are because they are still growing up. Their size might well lead you to believe they are grown, but their experience level may not have taught them how to walk without tripping over their own feet yet.

I bring this up in this setting, because I think we would do better in many churches if we thought of Christians in more than two levels of growth. How is it that we expect believers either to be new believers, also called baby Christians or mature believers? What happens to all the awkward ages in between where they learn to walk and talk like a Jesus follower.

Given our habit of forgetting the growth process of a believer, I am not surprised so many Christians pretend to be more mature than they are. They have been a part of the family of God for too long to still be in diapers, and the only other choice they see is to be a person who has it all together. They know they really are not that person, but they don’t want to advertise their immaturity around the congregation, so they join the ranks of pretenders.

The situation is so serious that many Christians have no idea what a mature believer really looks like. The ranks are occupied by the pretenders. When this is the only example available, the higher mark of Christ-likeness is lost.

The only way to get beyond this malaise of mediocrity that has infested the ranks of Christendom is to undergo a God-guided growth process. Christ will point out sin in your life, and you go through the difficult work of dealing with it. A genuine Christ follower will be willing to work on themselves, will develop a record of successful character developments and will have their eyes on Jesus as their guide.

Ephesians 4:11-14 (HCSB) has a passage discussing what it looks like when we fully embrace this challenge in the church and its work. “And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.”

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

This is a house sparrow. 175 years ago this bird did not exist in the United States. In 1851 a group was imported from Europe by people who missed seeing the bird after moving to the Americas. By 1900 it had spread to the Rockies. Today, this bird has since become one of the most widespread bird on earth—it might even be the most widespread bird. It has covered all of North America, half of South America as well as the original range in Europe and Asia.

These birds are called house sparrows, because they love to build their nests in man-made structures. If you hear chirping in your attic; it’s probably these guys. If you see a bird darting in and out of your roof tiles; it’s probably these guys. If you discover a mob of birds sheltering in a shed; well, you know.

Birders look at house sparrows as junk birds. That is the term used for birds you see and list but don’t necessarily want to see as often as you do. Since they are not natural to our area, and they can displace normal birds. Since they are so prolific they compete for resources native species need. Some people are so adamantly opposed to the species that they put specialized food in their feeders to dissuade house sparrows.

I wonder if the original importers new what it was they were starting. It seems obvious their intent was for the birds to survive, but were they really expecting them to thrive as much as they have?

Believers might want to take a lesson from the house sparrow when they willingly introduce some types of sin into their lives. Like the sparrow, sin can spread and multiply in ways we do not expect. In some cases the sin not only takes on surprising proportion in your life, but also carinfects future generations after. Unfortunately we seldom think about these possibilities while making decisions. Hebrews 12 refers to sin as being able to easily entangle us. Never is this truer than when it has our open cooperation.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. Hebrews 12:1a (NLT)

Satyr Comma

Side Comma Top Comma

Normally on Tuesdays I would put up a picture of a bird and a devotion based on the characteristics of that bird. Unfortunately I am running out of bird pictures, therefore I have given you something different today. The two pictures above are a butterfly. They are the same butterfly.

This is a comma, probably a satyr comma. I am still relatively inexperienced at identifying butterflies so I am not confident in the exact species, but it is undoubtedly a comma. These butterflies have the ability to look like a leaf when their wings are closed. And they keep their wings closed almost all the time.

But the top of the wing, the view you get when they open their wing is a bright, almost metallic orange. It is a spectacular sight to come across a comma with its wings open, but it is their habit to leave their wings closed. They do this for safety, since when their wings are closed they can be very hard to pick out among the detritus on the forest floor. By being hard to see they are highly unlikely to be eaten.

The differences between the two views can be very dramatic when the bug flies. It will hold its wings open and glide, looking like an orange reflector floating through the trees. Or it will flap as it moves looking a bit like a flittering, blinking signal light. But in both cases when it lands the bright orange flips off and it seems to disappear.

Sometimes Christians can be like this. They will show themselves to the world in a bright attractive way, but their inconsistency in Christian living is like turning off the light. They can appear strong and exemplify the benefits of righteous choices, and the light is bright and attractive to a lost world searching for answers. Then they can tell an off color joke or let out a swear word and the light blinks off.

Perhaps more often than the light blinks off because they brushed up against immorality, the light blinks off because the Christian felt the need to keep their spirituality low key. Just like the butterfly fears being eaten, many Christians fear attracting the attention of those hostile to Christianity. The devil has convinced too many people it is impolite to talk about Jesus, and we will become subject to some horrible persecution if we live our beliefs out publicly.

We make a foundational mistake when we listen to this kind of propaganda. The mistake is listening to the wrong person. Satan may tell us to keep our light to ourselves, but Jesus tells us just the opposite.

Matthew 5:16 (HCSB) “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

This picture is a bufflehead. Like many ducks it nests in abandoned cavities, but in this case it is almost always a nest excavated by a northern flicker. Presumably the reason for the symbiotic relationship is caused by the similarity in size requirements between the two birds.

When it comes to nesting cavities there are several relevant measurements. The size of the inside of the cavity, the size of the opening and how high the cavity is off of the ground all come into play. The most important of these measurements is the size of the opening. It has to be big enough for the owner to fit through.

But you don’t want the opening to be any bigger. Predators tend to be larger than prey. Having a spacious opening means leaving the welcome mat out for whatever wants to turn you into a meal. There are, of course, some predators that can access a smaller hole, such as snakes, but hawks, owls, felines and canines will not pass through that small opening.

One of the key factors of security is controlling access. This is not just a rule in the physical world, it is also a spiritual problem. Have you noticed how many times in the Bible God’s people were admonished to remove something? Idols, those who practice witchcraft, foreigners and their gods all have to go in order to stop their spiritual influence. In a world that prides itself on inclusiveness being spiritually discerning is difficult.

The only way it really works is to take God’s Word seriously and to stay away from those things that God makes clear is bad or unhealthy. This turns walking with God into a narrow path, and narrow ideas conflict with the open minded age we live in. But like the door into the nesting cavity, opening up the passage way will allow harmful things in.

Isaiah 14:6 (HCSB) “Therefore, say to the house of Israel: This is what the Lord God says: Repent and turn away from your idols; turn your faces away from all your detestable things.”

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

This is a common merganser. Mergansers are a type of diving duck. They are perhaps the most skilled fish catchers in the duck world. They are born with this skill and will do all their own hunting, from the point the chicks hatch through adulthood. When they are very young they will be catching aquatic insects and minnows. As adults they will move up to exclusively dining on small fish.

In order to be this skilled at fishing they have to have some specialized abilities and tools. Among them is being very strong swimmers underwater. But they also are specially equipped to hang on to the fish after they catch it. In this picture you cannot tell, but mergansers have sharp serrated edges to their bills. The bill looks a little bit like little saw blades, but each of those points are able to dig into the fish and keep it steady. This allows them to grip the slippery fish without any possibility of losing them.

Sometimes having a good solid grip is critical for people too. For Christians it is essential to have a grip on sound doctrine. A surprising number of people will spend their whole life drifting left and right in what they believe based upon who last influenced them. Of course, the goal should be to learn and accept the truth of Christ, not to adapt to the beliefs of those around you. Yet we such social creatures we are always likely to be influenced by others.

The solution the merganser uses might be useful here too. I believe people need anchor points. Certain key beliefs should be settled in their hearts and minds. These fundamental issues will serve as anchors to their belief system. The believer will recognize falsehood when it disagrees with one of these anchor points. Some of my anchor points include the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, Jesus is eternally deity, Jesus took on humanity, the crucifixion and more. There are a lot of others. The more anchor points you have the steadier your faith will be.

2 Timothy 1:12 (HCSB) says But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.