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.”

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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.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

The black-necked stilt is a sharp dressed bird, wearing black and white with a red color accent like a businessman’s power tie. The flock will use that power when they respond to predators. While most water birds will flee from threats, these birds, these birds will work together both to spot and drive away dangers. These displays can be remarkably aggressive, including surrounding the predator with birds that are jumping up and down and flapping their wings at it.

A behavior like this would be unwise when the bird is alone, but it is effective in groups. If a solitary bird ran up to a coyote jumping up and down like this the message received would likely be more “pick me!” than “go away!” But when it is done in the group it is a successful deterrent and means of dealing with danger.

There is likely to be a lesson there for the church. How good is your church at pointing out and dealing with the dangers of sin? Sometimes the church will shy away from this activity because in today’s world people can think we look silly. A little bit like the group of birds gathered around a threat and raising a ruckus. This type of warning people against sin is perceived as old fashioned, and described as the church acting like chicken little claiming the sky is falling.

But when the church doesn’t point out the dangers of sin, they are instead leaving it up to the individual Christian to handle sin on their own. This is likely to turn out a bit more like the lone stilt displaying for a coyote. We need the support of the group in order to strive toward righteousness. We need the help of the congregation to defeat sin and the intentional enemy behind all sin.

1 Peter 5:8 (HCSB) “Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

This is a yellow-headed blackbird. There doesn’t seem to be any need to discuss how it came up with its name. This is the biggest blackbird. It appears most sporadically, meaning there are few places they don’t show up in at some point, but there is also only a few places where you can be sure they will return year after year. The marsh where I took these pictures was full of at least twenty males dividing up the area into nesting territories.

One of the behaviors of these birds is they will drive red-winged blackbirds in order to claim a nest area. The squabbles when they first arrive are a comical affair made up of more posing and bravado than of crossing talons and beaks. The winner in these battles is generally the one who stands their ground with the most courage.

I believe courage is a spiritual value. We should carefully store courage up in our hearts. We should encourage it and nurture it in our children and those we mentor. Courage is important because it is a necessary ingredient in everything we do. From a child’s first steps to a young soldier’s command to join the battle to an old man facing a cancer diagnosis; courage is necessary.

It is a spiritual value because courage is necessary to do things for God’s sake. It takes courage to walk away from sin. It takes courage to learn and grow in the Christian life. It takes courage to become whatever it is God wants us to become. In addition to believing courage is a spiritual value, I believe most people are not reaching their full potential in Christ because they have not practiced the high level of courage it takes to achieve God’s best.

This is a pattern of Scripture. Remember the children of Israel refused courage and wandered in the wilderness for forty unnecessary years. Then when they did take the promised land they used some courage, but stopped short when they grew weary of the battle. Then they had to live with the consequences of compromise for the remainder of the time they were carried off into captivity. That captivity was one of the consequences suffered for their lack of courage.

In Joshua 1:7 (HCSB) we see the principle of courage being taught to Joshua as he prepared to become a leader. “Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.”

Green-Winged Teal

Green-Winged Teal

The green-winged teal is an attractive duck when you see it in full light. That green ear patch is beautifully set off by the reddish brown color of the rest of the head. But that same duck in less light will have the green patch begin to appear, perhaps dark blue, but more likely black. If the setting is a little darker the entire head can appear to be dark.

Of course if you let it get a little bit darker yet, you can’t see the bird at all.

But if you can get a view in direct light such as the one above the green and red will light up with an iridescent sheen. In every situation the duck is still the same duck, but without the external light the beauty of the duck is hidden.

People are like this. They can be wonderful, beautiful people, but it won’t show in the wrong light. They might be walking in the dark. They might be doing something which makes them seem less safe, friendly, or attractive. If the first time you meet someone they are leaning in an alley smoking . . . something, you will see them quite differently than if they were helping a little old lady cross the street.

Christians should be especially aware of this. We must know that we are not perfect people, but flaunting your imperfections is always ugly. If we do our best to stay in the light, walk in the light and reflect the light we will be a better witness. I believe you will also be a better Christian and a better person too. If we take no care at all to live as a Christian, of course, our faith will become completely invisible for others to see.

1 Peter 2:9 (HCSB)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for His possession,
so that you may proclaim the praises
of the One who called you out of darkness
into His marvelous light.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck

Here is a ruddy duck, and a rather mischievous looking one at that. When noticing the details on a ruddy duck see the stiff tail, often held vertically. Because of that tail they are grouped in a small family called stiff-tailed ducks. Notice also the blue bill. That color is not a trick of the light. In fact, the lighting is washing out the color a bit, in reality it’s a brighter shade of blue. Also notice the black, crested crown and the bright white cheek patches. In this particular picture, it all seems to contribute to his appearance of a trouble maker.

And ruddy ducks should look mischievous. Because nesting males, such as this, in the breeding season are very pugnacious. It will stick that tail straight up and chase after all kinds of things. They even have been recorded charging rabbits along the edge of the water.

All this aggression and blustering about at perceived dangers might lead you to believe the birds are successful scrappers. That conclusion would be wrong. Last week I wrote about the pied-billed grebe would submarine and drive off ducks by attacking them from under the water. The ruddy duck is the most common victim of this behavior. I mentioned above, ruddy ducks would even chase off rabbits along the shore, but in reality the rabbits only slip a little distance away. And if you ever watch the process you would almost get the impression the rabbits are laughing.

There is an important lesson here for humanity, especially believers and how they work together in the church. Don’t be like a ruddy duck. When you lead by blustering around and making people tiptoe around your temper, in the long run you will relegate yourself into irrelevance. The people who are intimidated by your temperament will avoid you and your ministry. The people who are not intimidated will ignore you completely, or worse push your buttons just for the entertainment value of watching you blow.

But even more importantly, this is not the type of leadership Jesus has called us to utilize. Consider Matthew 20:25-28 (HCSB) “But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 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 your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

This is a pied-billed grebe. It is tiny swimming bird, the smallest of the grebes. It happens to be very common, but is seldom seen. The main reason for this is it generally sees you first. Even if you are watching it from a distance it will dive under the water, and seemingly, it will never come up again.  In reality it will travel further under water than a spectator would expect to be possible, and pop up somewhere out of sight.

Other birds will perform this kind of a disappearing act but pied-billed grebes are better at it than any other bird. But disappearing is not their only trick. These birds have rivalries with several other birds. For example, they are known to have a distinct dislike of several types of ducks. All of which are bigger than them. So instead of a toe to toe fight, they do a behavior called submarining.

Submarining is attacking their enemies from below. The bird being attacked has no way of knowing trouble is coming, since the grebe was a long ways away when it dove. Then when the attack happens it cannot see what is attacking it in order to defend itself. The duck on the surface loses the battle before it starts.

Many Christians feel this way when fighting spiritual battles. Every time they try to reach for a victory they find they have already lost. They try to figure out what happened but the nature of the battle is hidden from them. They might sense they are responsible for their own failures, but they don’t understand what it is they are doing wrong.

Very often the problem gets back to what is stored in their heart. No one feels good about themselves when they know they are doing wrong. Sin lurking in the storeroom of the heart acts as a trap waiting to attack the believer when they least expect it. But since the sin has been in their lives for a period of time without any noticed consequence, they fail to connect their compromised lifestyle with their spiritual failures.

In hindsight they might see it, and when they finally do, they feel foolish for not having seen the connection earlier. Sin stored in the heart will lurk there, under the surface, attacking courage and self-esteem. Then in the moment when that believer has a chance to do something great, they can’t. The attack from under the surface of their own heart defeats them before the battle ever really begins.

Proverbs 5:22 (HCSB)
A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;
he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin.

Mallard

Mallard

You have probably seen a male mallard before. They are the most common puddle duck across America and probably the most commonly recognized duck.  It is a dappling duck similar to the wigeon, and unlike the ring-necked duck it has a visible ring around its neck.

This particular one was not dappling for its dinner but instead was begging from people on a city park pond. The shine on the feathers is from the oil the duck uses to waterproof its feathers.  You can tell how well it works by the droplets of water hanging on here and there, but never soaking in. It’s the same principle you go after when waxing a car. This trait is why we developed the saying, “like water off a duck’s back.”

This waterproofing is important for dappling ducks, because they use their buoyancy in the feeding process.  They don’t exactly swim like diving ducks, they float instead.  When they tip up and have their heads far underwater with their tails sticking straight up, they are still floating.  But if they were to become soaked, or waterlogged, it would interfere with their feeding.  They would also have trouble maintaining their body heat. This ability to repel water is crucial for their survival.

Christians need to have a similar trait. We reside in a world which can steal away the warmth of our spiritual fervor. It will permeate our lives and hearts and defeat us internally, if we allow it. In order to thrive in our current environment we must learn how to keep the bad stuff out, even though we are fairly well floating in it. Failing to guard ourselves from this world will allow us to become saturated in worldliness, and in this state we will be less effective for the kingdom of God.

Proverbs 4:23, quoted here from the HCSB, is one of my favorite verses to help us to understand this problem.  “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” The human heart becomes corrupted by the world if we are careless about it. Then the life which flows from it will not be the life of Christ intended for us to live.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

This is an American wigeon. It is a dappling duck which is found through much of the West, and sometimes beyond. Dappling is a word for the ducks which tip up and feed by pulling up the shoots and aquatic vegetation found in shallow water.

One of the noticeable features of this duck is the shorter bill. This allows it to have greater leverage than other dabbling ducks and therefore it can get to food they will miss. This difference also makes it more capable of grazing on land, so occasionally they will leave the water and uproot plants on the ground.

These capabilities allow it to fit a specific niche in God’s design. Different creatures feed in different ways. If they all followed the same feeding patterns the world would be considerably less diverse, as well as unable to support itself. Food sources would run out and all the creatures would die. But God’s plan was for different animals to feed on different things, allowing for a self-perpetuating cycle. Diversity allows for survival better than a lack of diversity.

In the Christian church we have a similar circumstance with Spiritual gifts. God designed different believer’s with different capabilities. The diversity of gifts in the church allows the church to function by allowing different persons with to serve the church in different ways.

One of the things every believer should do along the way to maturity is to consider how they were designed as individuals to accomplish their part in building up their church. This includes personality, experience, passion, and giftedness.

When considering Spiritual gifts we often think first of 1 Corinthians 12, but another passage worth considering is 1 Peter 4:10 (HCSB) “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.”