Dabbling Ducks

Dabbling DucksHere is a pair of mallards, a male and a female, dabbling. The term dabbling refers both to the feeding method of tipping bottoms up to feed in muddy shallow bottoms, and to the ducks who participate in this style of feeding.

I suppose it must be some kind of a character flaw of mine, but I get a kick out of watching dabbling ducks. Reminds me of the old children’s stories about ostriches hiding by burying their heads in the sand. Reminds me of teenagers ‘mooning’ passersby.

I am pretty sure the birds never give any thought to how silly they look. Instead they are simply interested in reaching the grub God designed them to reach. Other animals are designated to reach up and these fellows are designated to reach down. If they were humans they would be busy making comparisons and trying to figure out if life was treating them fairly, but the ducks are simply responding to their hunger and doing what is required to feed themselves.

We should be a little bit more like that. Quit worrying about how you look, what others think of you, and do whatever it is God has designated for you to do. Think about Proverbs 26:15 (HCSB) The slacker buries his hand in the bowl; he is too weary to bring it to his mouth. Take whatever opportunities are in front of you and don’t wear yourself out comparing your situation with others.

Recognize that such comparisons are equivalent to accusing God of treating you unfairly. Instead trust that He knows what He is doing in guiding you forward. But also note that the energy lost on the comparisons could be better expended in utilizing the opportunities you have before you.

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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.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Last week I showed you a picture of a snowy egret. This picture is not of a snowy egret. This picture, taken a few steps away from a snow egret, is of a great egret. The differences are numerous. This bird has dark legs and dark feet, while the snowy egret features yellow feet and dark legs. This bird has a light yellow or orange bill, while the snowy egret has a dark bill.

But the main difference is that the great egret is significantly larger. In the lingo of bird names a great bird is bigger than others. A great egret is the biggest of the egrets. A great blue heron is bigger than a little blue heron.

This bird however didn’t appear any taller than the snowy egret walking nearby. A close look at the picture will tell you the main reason why. The snowy was all stretched out, full length, but this great egret had folded up its neck making it appear hunched up. Birds do this sometimes when they are resting, and at other times when they are cold. Either way, it will make an identification based on size a little more difficult, especially at a distance, when the parts blend together into one indistinguishable, bright white, mass.

Humans are prone to a desire for greatness, but of course with us it is not a measure of size, but of accomplishment. If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, look to Scripture to understand greatness.

Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (HCSB)

In other words, being great for God’s sake isn’t about making yourself bigger, but making yourself smaller. Maybe the egret is onto something after all.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret Flying (800x533)

This is a snowy egret. I know it is because of the yellow feet. Wading birds might have yellow, black, green, blue, or red legs. This is the only bird I know with just yellow feet.

I am not sure why it is that God gave this critter yellow feet. Many times I have heard birders describe him as the bird wearing little yellow socks, and my field guide refers to them as golden slippers. More than all the white wading birds out there, this bird has an easy point of identification to give to new birders.

But as great of a tool as this is, I remember being a new birder and being fooled. I have seen frustrated beginners looking for snowy egrets among a small flock, which were all snowy egrets. They were searching in vain for the yellow feet.

The reason they didn’t see them is that the egret is a wading bird. Commonly the feet are covered by water, or worse, by mud. When they are covered in mud they can appear the exact shade as the legs. The birds get their feet covered in mud because of a feeding pattern they use. They will rush around shuffling their feet in the muck to stir up food.

It might be wise if we slow down and consider if we can see any parallels here. Do Christians have any field marks that make for easy identification? 1 John 4:8 (HCSB) says the one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. There are other passages that concur with the idea our easy field mark is love.

But if that is the truth why is it we both know believers who seem to be anything other than loving? I suggest the primary cause is the same reason that people have trouble identifying snowy egrets. They have been stomping around in the mud. The difficulties of this world get us all down, but they aren’t necessarily going to defeat us. However if the mud, the mess we have been walking through, is the result of our own sinfulness then you can pretty much guess it’s going to win the battle and hide our love. Of course, there are struggles of life that are not the result of our sin, and these can be a source of rejoicing in the face of challenge. But perhaps that is for another devotional.

So why is it that we do this? Why do we get in the habit of stomping around in the mud? Most often it’s the same reason the birds do. It’s their feeding pattern. People also often mess themselves up the most, while trying to earn a living and provide for their families. The workplace often is the hardest place for adults to maintain their witness. But beyond that some people have been convinced that either by political correctness or the pressures of staying competitive, they must set aside their faith in the workplace. I don’t just mean not witnessing, praying, and reading their Bible, but also not living with the Biblical moral or ethical code.

It might be the subtlety of the salesman, profiting from addictive behaviors, or simply maintaining your social status by participating in idle talk. All of these are things the believer should not be involved in. While you are involved in them, it should be no surprise that your coworkers do not see the love of God at work in you. In this case you have been made useless for God’s Kingdom by what you considered to be ‘just business.’

Consider 2 Peter 1:5-9 (HCSB) focusing on the last sentence.

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds

Rosy-faced Lovebirds

While in Phoenix this past week I traveled from one side of the valley to the other in order to attend my first meeting with the Arizona Mission Network. Since I had to drive through the traffic for the Phoenix Open, I left early. Arriving with some extra time, I found a park directly behind the office and did some birding.

To my surprise I found a small flock of colorful birds. I assumed them to be parakeets, but upon further research, thanks to my wife, discovered they were Rosy-faced Lovebirds.

These small parrots were escapees and while most escaped birds die out, in very rare instances they will form a breeding population. This is what happened in Phoenix and over the last 25 years they have increased in numbers.

These birds are a good example of thriving wherever God plants you.

The nature of our world is perfect for sowing discontent inside of us. No matter how good our situation is, no matter how well we have improved our lot, society presents a myriad of ways things could be better.

Because of this barrage of unrealistically grand lifestyles and gadgets, most of us can quickly come up with a list of ways in which life is short changing us. Discontent rules where idealism is unconstrained by reality or pragmatism.

In terms of living under a free trade system this striving for more can be beneficial to society. Unfortunately for believers it can be tantamount to distrusting God. We know from Scripture that He is always giving us the best. But with so much materialism surrounding us we can become distracted from what is truly best to focus on possessions.

It is always better to trust God. He knows how much we can take without being corrupted. He knows how much He can trust us to use for the blessing of others. Paul described it perfectly in Philippians 4:12 (NASB) I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

American Kestrel

Fisherman have stories about the one that got away. So do birders.

A week or so ago I was doing a few touch-ups on painting a house. I was up on a ladder trying to use a stiff bristle brush to fill the correct color of brown into some deep spots in the stucco. A flash of movement at eye level drew my attention to the side. A kestrel had flown into the top of a short palm in the neighbor’s yard. Thanks to the ladder, the bird and I were at each other’s eye-level.

The bird has been on my list of species I wanted to get a picture of for this blog. I see them all the time, but they are always too high up to get a good picture. They also are too shy, and fly when I try to approach them. Now here I was, up a ladder, with my hands full, and the perfect picture is just 30 feet away. It preened and posed and flashed out its wings in a display—all the things that would have made for a great picture over the next few minutes. I quickly finished what I was doing and started down the ladder, but the bird flew off as I did.

I asked my mom, who is also a birder and who lives in the house, if she had seen a kestrel hanging around. She indicated she had never seen one there, so it was unlikely I would be able to stake out the spot and wait for it to return.

This situation caused me to think about life’s frustrations and disappointments. How do you reconcile yourself to the one that got away? For most people it won’t be a bird but maybe a job, an investment, a moment with our kids, or maybe a relationship we failed to pursue. The experience of looking back and realizing we missed an opportunity is common to us all. But what does that mean in terms of God’s work in our lives?

It would be easy to blame God, believing He dropped the ball. He should have worked out the situation in our favor. At a basic level this reaction is accusing God of not giving us the best.

But in reality He always gives us the best, we just don’t always have the perspective to see it. Opportunities may not be as wonderful as we thought they were from a distance. Perhaps the job would have been beyond our abilities and damaged our careers. Perhaps the extra wealth would have trapped us into a sinful pattern.

It comes down to a trust issue. Do you trust God? Such a hard question to answer! It is easier to lie to ourselves than to answer truthfully. We know we are supposed to trust God so we answer, of course I do. But a more honest approach comes from examining how we evaluate the one that got away. If you trust God, believing that it got away because God had a better plan, then you really are living in trust.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. James 4:13-14 (HCSB)

Gila Woodpecker

Gila WoodpeckerThis is a Gila Woodpecker. It lives in the saguaro forests of the desert Southwest. Of the excavating birds it faces a unique problem. When it hollows a nesting hole in a saguaro, it penetrates the portion of the cactus where it stores water.

Because of this the sides of the cavity will be too wet for nesting. They will drip and ooze moisture which would damage the eggs and mold the nesting materials. The solution to the problem is time. After a while, the flesh of the cactus lining the cavity will dry out, making a hard shell. This process serves the cactus, preventing the evaporation of its precious water out the hole of the cavity. It serves the needs of the woodpecker, giving it a dry place to nest.

We live in a society with no patience for processes which take time, but as believers we need to see the importance of time. Much of the Christian life is time sensitive. It takes time for faith to mature.

For example, integrity is the process where one proves their consistent goodness over a period of time. Yet somehow I meet a lot of people who expect everyone to trust them, the minute they pray a prayer.

Calling is also time sensitive. Most everyone finds a desire toward their calling some time before they are brought into action. This period will probably be used in preparation, education, or networking. But in a society that believes everything can be had now, from the microwave, we have come to accept microwave results in too many things.

What I mean by microwave results is, the compromise between getting it now and getting it done right. I remember when microwaves first came out. When they were new we cooked about everything in them, because of the novelty of their speed. Chicken was rubbery, but at the time we only cared that it was fast. Scrambled eggs were cooked unevenly but they were done in a flash.

Accepting microwave results in today’s churches results in leaders who don’t have the spiritual discipline to avoid embarrassing themselves, their churches, and their Lord. Believers who are doing less and less on a weekly basis for God, but consider themselves better educated, better serving, and more involved than past generations.

Even Jesus in His work of delivering mankind was dependent on time, and the patience to work at the right time. He both waited for the right time in history before coming, and in His lifetime waited until the right time and age to begin His ministry. Now we all wait for the right time for Him to make His return. But this too, like all else in our Christian life, requires us to recognize the value of waiting for the right timing.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. Romans 8:25 (HCSB)

Northern Harrier

Northern HarrierThis is a picture of a northern harrier. I was attempting to get a picture of a sparrow in a field when this guy flew over. The sparrow disappeared down into the brush, and in revenge I took a picture of the harrier as it flew away.

The picture illustrates something about the manner in which this hawk hunts. It will not only follow its prey visually, it will also fly low and slow enough to listen for its next meal. Somewhere down below is a rodent standing watch for the rest of his family. When he sees the hawk flying nearby he will let out a little bark. This will warn the family to run for cover.

But up above, it also signals the harrier, which will turn to follow the sound. It might not see the rodent yet, but the victim will still be watching. When the bird turns its direction, it will likely let out another warning because of the strength of its instinct. The bird will again fine tune its direction. As the bird gets closer the former sentinel now makes a mad dash out of the clearing, likely screaming panic as it goes. These sounds guide in the final and deadly approach of the harrier. The rodent is assisting the hawk with the language of defeat.

Unfortunately, rodents are not alone in using the language of defeat. I see it all the time among people. It’s on Facebook when a job hunter fills their wall with drunken pictures and temperamental rants. It’s in the classroom when a student says to themselves they are too stupid to learn algebra. It’s on ball fields, where players don’t even wait for the game to end, before openly blaming teammates for losing games. It is very common for people to get emotionally carried away and say thing which are aimed at others, but harm themselves as well.

Like the rodent in the field it might start with a normal life circumstance, likely progresses with instinctive reactions overriding common sense, and then finds its full destructive force when words spill out under the spell of emotional pain. The speaker feels justified in making harsh comments publicly, but everyone exposed to their tirade will shape their opinion of the speaker accordingly.

Do you remember the Parable of the Talents where the master says, “I will judge you by your own words.”? Most of us are guilty of speaking unwisely and revealing to those around us, the less positive side of our own nature. James speaks to the issue by teaching the tongue is untamable. These passages, and many more, tell us how important it is to choose our words carefully.

Probably one of the best quick summaries is from Proverbs 25:28. A man who does not control his temper is like a city whose wall is broken down.

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.

Javalina

Javalina

I have run out of bird pictures so today I am showing you a picture of a javalina. The more proper name for this critter is collared peccary. They look and sound like pigs, but scientists assure us they are not pigs.

This particular one is a mom, and it made an appearance with several little ones, while I was on a mission trip recently. The closer look, and the lack of new birds to show you, caused me to do some research on this little pig. Uh Peccary.

Just like pigs, they have a disk of cartilage forming that distinctive nose. That nose is a deceptively powerful organ and it is how they identify the world around them. You and I probably rely on our eyes the most, but a javalina will rely on its nose. The sense of smell is so specific that they identify each separate individual in their herd or family by smell, even from some distance away.

As a person who often has strong allergies, and therefore often has almost no sense of smell, I cannot imagine what it would be like to stick my nose in the breeze and say, “Cousin Stinky is on his way over.” I admit I can identify a large number of people by the way they sound. I can recognize a number of people by the way they move, even when they are too far away to truly see. I can even tell by the way a hand lands on my back that it is my wife. But I cannot identify any of you by smell.

Probably because of my nose blindness, to borrow a phrase from a commercial, I am surprised by 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, where the Bible teaches the importance of smelling good. Well, maybe not good, exactly. Maybe smelling Christ-like.

14But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? 17For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.

This passage indicates we are to be the ‘Fragrance of Christ’ to God, being an ‘aroma of death’ to the rejecting world, and ‘an aroma of life’ to those who are being saved. Now that is quite a mental image isn’t it? Is it any wonder Paul follows the assertion by saying, ‘And who is competent for this?”

Let me try to help you to understand what it is asking for. We believers are to glorify God. We can do so because God will work in us to bring out a basic Christ-likeness. Here that likeness is described through the sense of smell instead of sight, but it is still being like Jesus that is being described. God sees this Christ-likeness, when we are obedient, sacrificial and choose to serve Him. Here described as the ‘fragrance of Christ.’ For other believers it is when we model the Savior that we attract them to salvation. We edify them in Godly living, and model Biblical living.  In other words our lives demonstrate the life found in Christ.

However the picture for the ones who will reject Christ is totally different. These are confronted with the sacrifice of Christ, His death on the cross. They become aware that Christianity is a death. To serve Christ they must die to self, to serve God they must kill their own ideas and lofty principles. For some this sacrifice, this death too self, is too much to ask, and to them we become an aroma of death.

Don’t be discouraged, nor surprised by this; simply accept it as a part of God working through you.