Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Here is a barn swallow. The picture is fuzzy because of the speed of the bird, but you can still see the distinctive swallow tail, and some of the white highlights in his tail feathers. I enjoy watching these birds because of their highly aerobatic flights. They will zip in and out and around man-made structures with ease.

A couple of decades ago, I was birding alongside a pond in California when I noticed these birds doing mid-air stalls, followed by a flip turn and flight back in the direction they came from. In my mind I visualized the perfect picture this would provide as the bird stopped in mid-air for a fraction of a second with his feathers on both, wings and tail, spread fully apart showing the details most birders only get slight glimpses of. Unfortunately, this was before the age of digital cameras and it was impractical to keep trying to get the picture given the cost of film and developing after the first few failures.

A mid-air stall is when the bird turns to fly straight up, without flapping or continuing to propel himself forward. Pretty soon gravity overpowers momentum and the bird begins to fall backward. This is when he would effortlessly flip himself, flying back in the direction he came from.

There is that brief moment when gravity and flight are at odds with each other over the fate of the swallow. For just the briefest of moments it looks like gravity is going to win, but very quickly the truth is revealed. Gravity might have had a plan. It might have built up its own hopes of sending the bird splashing into the pond below. Those hopes were futile. The truth is, even when gravity was on the verge of defeating the bird, it was unknowingly serving the bird and its planned flight.

So it is with Christ in the crucifixion. Satan, sin and death all thought for a moment they were going to overwhelm God and His Son. They hoped to see His pathetic attachment to lowly humans to become His downfall. Since He was foolish enough to take on their weak and decaying flesh, they would use this loving choice against Him. Crucifixion was accomplished. Satan’s victory seemed to be assured.

Then came the resurrection, and the realization that Satan’s schemes served God’s will. It was our victory, not the devil’s, that was secured.

When this corruptible is clothed
with incorruptibility,
and this mortal is clothed
with immortality,
then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
Now the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sine is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our  Lord Jesus  Christ!

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (HCSB)

Advertisements

Mud Nests

Mud Nest

This is a mud nest. It was made by a barn swallow, and in this picture you can see the round head of the bird on the right side of the nest and the thin tail sticking over the left side. This nest was on an arched entryway of a hotel in Tucson.

These birds will make their nests by gathering mud, one mouthful at a time, which are then carried back home and applied to the structure. The nest will start off relatively small and grow throughout the season, as the parents continue to bring home more and more mud from their daily travels.

Aren’t you glad people don’t do this? It would be horrible if every day we brought into our homes the gunk we accumulate during our day, spewing it out in our homes and building higher and higher walls.

Come to think of it, that is exactly what most of us do. The only difference is the gunk of our lives is not mud but the anxieties of the day. “My boss yelled at me.” “Everyone else drives like idiots.” “They are laying off more people at the factory.” “The new guy is outselling me.”

We pour this gunk over the people in our households and yes, as we do we quite often build higher and higher walls. It wouldn’t be so bad if we actually discussed each of the issues above and discussed them calmly, but most of the time we would rather not admit directly what is bothering us and calm is not the order of the day.

It doesn’t take long before the decorating scheme of your home becomes Modern American Anxiety. The kids retreat to their rooms, or to friend’s houses and discussions with your spouse begin to feel like congressional debates.

The solution to this is to not carry your worries home. Paul gave some advice about the right ways to deal with these anxieties in Philippians 4:6-7

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

This is a cactus wren, the state bird in Arizona. This bird knows how to exist in the desert. It doesn’t need any freestanding water to survive, being able to get all the moisture it needs from its food. It also has learned to take good advantage of the prickly nature of cactus.

Perhaps the most menacing of the cacti is the jumping cholla, a plant that will have sections break off and lodge itself in unwary passersby. These sections then will work their way deeper into the victim as they attempt to get free, unless they know exactly how to remove them. Cactus wren will commonly nest in these plants though, skillfully building down in the middle of the cacti’s natural defenses.

This does not stop all possible predators, but attempting to raid a nest is unlikely to succeed because not only is the location highly defensible, but the birds are known to aggressively defend their homes. When a predator attempts to access it, the birds will knock them off balance amid the deadly spines.

One story of such an event is on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. They mention a Yuma antelope squirrel that was knocked into the spines and then to the ground. The cactus wren is able to successfully defend its nest because of the combination of a defensible position and aggressive defensive behavior.

Believers should take note of this combination.

The first step to success is to find a defensible position. The easiest way for a Christian to remain in a defensible position is to carefully and closely align yourself with God. Being in agreement with Biblical morality and strong in your personal relationship with God through Christ will allow you to miss the attacks that come from being unprepared and practicing immorality. Much of the warfare believers face is because they are living morally compromised and spiritually distant.

The second step is to know when and how to fight back for the remaining attacks. This can be tricky because our warfare is not like the battles of this world, so our defensive behavior needs to be different. Very often it is a Spirit led word of witness for the Lord. There may be times when the appropriate defense is to simply to explain a misunderstanding, socially or theologically. Increasingly in our world, the defensive component includes political involvement such as voting, campaigning, and political action campaigns. In all cases, our defense includes speaking out, not rudely, but gently and truthfully.

Consider Ephesians 6:11-13 (HCSB)

Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.

 

 

Verdin

VerdinThis is a verdin. It’s a small and very common bird of the desert southwest. The verdin has the distinction of being a tireless builder.

They might build 10 or more nests a year, all in the same area.

They will build different nests for nesting (having a family) than for roosting (socializing).

They will build different nests for different times of year. In the hot months the entrance catches the wind to provide cooling, while in colder seasons the entrance will be protected from the wind.

The male and female will cooperate in this building process, with the male building the stick frame, and the female finishing up with the decorative touches.

The roosting nests, used primarily in the winter, will have better insulation and more space, allowing a large number of birds to crowd in together to conserve energy.

All of these facts show the verdin’s skill as avian architects. They certainly do their part for developing livable habitat inside bushes. Their abandoned nests are utilized by a multitude of other animals, and in this way, God uses their predisposition to construction in greater ways.

I think every believer should be aware of God using their daily routines in greater ways too. We might not see how our work, patterns, and hobbies are being directed by God, but we generally only see God’s work when we are looking for them and He wants us to see them. God is always at work, and at work in everything. That would include the little details of your life like your trips to the gym and your time in line at the bank.

The believer who wants to be used by God might only need to open their eyes in order to find they are already being used. But the believer who wants to be used better, can take specific steps to make this possible too.

First look at your life and consider the sins you have begun to downplay or overlook. Sin often hinders our usefulness, and especially unconfessed sin. Second for everything you do, do it to the best of your ability. Put forward your best effort at work and in productive tasks. Even in recreation and life management activities watch for ways to be positive, uplifting, and available to God.

In the meantime consider Hebrews 3:4 (HCSB) Now every house is built by someone, but the One who built everything is God. God is always at work, but you can do more by focusing on opportunities to cooperate with Him.

Autofocus Blues

Auto Focus

As a birder, one of my favorite tools is my camera. As a photographer one of my favorite subjects is birds. Now for my aging eyes and reflexes, this presents a basic problem. Birds move. This means that if I am going to get good pictures I have to see them very clearly in order to get a good focus, and I need to do so very quickly.

This is a formula for failure. Although I improve with time at getting the aim and focus correct, it also results in an awful lot of useless snaps.

The shortcut for this problem is called autofocus. The computer in the camera will focus for me. Autofocus is so much better than me that I can zoom in with native resolution and see every single vein on every single feather of a bird. I am not that good without autofocus. Autofocus is great sometimes.

But then again there are other times, like the picture above. This bird is an immature hummingbird, hovering above the water outlet of a desert spring. It is not the kind of setting I get to visit very often. Even if I went a hundred more times, I am not sure I could find another hummingbird behaving this way. So autofocus and I took a picture. I was attempting to photograph the bird, but autofocus chose the two thick blades of reed between me and the subject.

Shortcuts can be convenient, but they can also rob us of the ability to do things for ourselves. When we take the time to practice and discipline ourselves to master difficult tasks, it also means that we have allowed ourselves to become more than we would have been without the experience. The shortcut robs us of the new abilities and often hides from us the potential we are missing.

This is probably truer in spiritual matters than most of us want to admit. We learn our theology from unchallenged sermons, which are sparsely digested. We know the same Scripture verses we knew when we graduated high school, but no more. Our daily Bible study is reduced to devotionals that have one or two verses at most, and prebaked ideas drawn from them for our controlled consumption. (Yes, I know, this piece is exactly that kind of thing.)

None of these issues I describe are problems if they are handled correctly. Sermons should be fact checked and the portions worth keeping should be fully digested. Memorizing Scripture should be a lifelong process. In every way, if we want to take our lives out of spiritual autofocus, then you have to stay connected to God through His Word.

The shortcut of letting someone or something else form the connection for you will leave you spiritually vulnerable. Only when you carefully develop your own disciplines will you be sure you are on the right track.

2 Timothy 2:15 (HCSB) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

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.