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.

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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.

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

I have been aware for several years that white-faced ibis live in our area, but had not been able to catch a picture of them. Recently a couple of church members told me the fields around them would occasionally be crowded with birds. Since I have been out of bird pictures to use on my blog or in the newsletter, I asked if they could call me next time it happened.

When I got there the fields were full of ibis such as this one. This is a white-faced ibis, but that white face only occurs on mature, breeding males. It is not breeding season and most of the birds were immature. So none of the pictures I got will include that feature. They are uniformly dark birds but when in the light they reflect in colors from copper to chestnut to metallic green. They are classified as wading birds but the downward curved bill is only carried by a few waders. Their plump shape, and relatively short legs also make for an unusual sighting. The bird is something of a conundrum.

Do people ever look at you in a similar way? Are we, as Christians, a conundrum to the world and community around us? If so, it is a situation that should not surprise us. It might even be a situation we strive to embrace.

When we commit ourselves to Christ we are promising to do our best to become like Him. It is God’s work in us that brings about this transformation, but is our part of the bargain to cooperate with the process. So just as the world did not understand Jesus it will also fail to understand those who are simply trying to be Christ-like.

Jesus made it clear that the world would not understand us. In fact, He took it further by saying the world would hate us for our ways. But this awkwardness, this conflict—if it goes that far—is compensated by a simple fact. We were not made for this world, nor is our citizenship here.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (HCSB) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”

So don’t be surprised by, or worried about, how your faith makes you awkward in the world. Instead be worried if it doesn’t.

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer Head

 

This intimidating stare belongs to a Brewer’s blackbird. The bird is typical blackbird size and this picture highlights one of the typical field marks for the Brewer’s, the bright yellow eye. Another field mark is the green and purple sheen of the feathers. While the sheen is visible in this picture, it is best seen in person.

Sheen is the way the sunlight reflects off of a bird. Feathers are like prisms which can reflect back a specific color of light. In this case the reflected light is purplish in some parts of the bird, and greenish in other places.

Your daily walk with Christ should also function a bit like a prism. When a person walks in the light of God’s Word, that light not only shines into them changing and shaping them, but also reflects out of them visible by the world around them. This light might be visible as a positive attitude or an internal joy. It might be visible as a humility and a life pattern of placing others ahead of yourself. Or maybe it comes across as courage, allowing you to always do what is right no matter what the cost.

Can you see some manner in which God’s Word has done a transformational work in you, which is visible to the world around you? In John 3:21 (HCSB), Jesus says, “But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”

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.