Northern Shoveler Wings

Northern Shoveler

This is a picture of a Northern Shoveler. This duck looks totally different in this picture than in other pictures of it because it has his wings open showing colors that are normally hidden away.

The iridescent portion of a ducks wing is called the speculum, and in this case it is followed by white and black markings.

If you did not see the bird in flight you would never see these details. Christians can be a lot like this duck. It’s only when we begin to do something that our true colors become visible.

When we care for strangers we show the love of Christ. When we work together we show the fellowship of the Spirit. When we live by the moral principles of Scripture we show the beauty of righteousness. When we share the message of Christ with the world we bring evangelism and missions into the public view.

Our activity shows off who we truly are, while inactivity can hide our identity. This is a problem in the American church, which carries an increasingly passive role for the person in the pew. Instead of worshipping we sit and watch choirs, praise teams and staff members worship. Instead of being directly involved in personal ministry we hire professionals to manage the work of ministry. The average person in the pew then is validated in stating their church experience begins and ends on Sunday, that their Christian ideas don’t affect their home or workplace, or that a church that asks for deeper commitments is too domineering.

But like the duck, the real nature of the church, and of the individual believer, is most visible when it is moving. For the duck that means when it is flying, and for the believer when they are serving. It is little wonder the church means so much less to society today than it did in previous generations. They cannot see it correctly because the opportunities to see it at work are severely limited.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus talks about identifying people around you correctly by watching the fruit in their lives. If you want Christ to be visible in you, if you want His name glorified in your life, then do the work of Christ. In this way your fruit, that is your Christian identity, will be visible.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20 KJV – translation chosen for the familiar wording by their fruits ye shall know them.)

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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.

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.”

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.”

American Coot’s Foot

Coot Foot

This picture is the foot of a bird which is commonly found in ponds and marshes mingled with ducks. But it is not a duck and you can tell by looking at this foot. If it was a duck it would be a webbed foot. But it is not a duck; it is an American coot. Instead of a webbed foot it has lobed toes.

These lobes open when the bird pushes it backwards, causing the bird to be pushed forward. These lobes close when the bird pulls its foot forward, allowing it to reposition its foot for the next stroke when swimming.

These lobed toes have a similar affect when the bird walks on land. If it is in a muddy area the lobes will open up and increase the surface area preventing the foot from sinking into the mud. But when they are on hard ground and don’t need this feature, the lobes are out of the way and don’t hinder their movement. This allows them to be more agile on land than the ungainly ducks.

Opening up those remarkable toes gives the American coot quite a few advantages. For believers a similar affect can be found by opening our heart. Be careful how you hear this, though. We think of the heart in colloquial terms today which mislead us when trying to understand the Bible. In Scripture the word heart has little to do with emotions. Instead it is a storehouse of life issues. Everything from character to experiences are stored in the heart.

When I talk about opening your heart I am specifically thinking of opening it up for God to come in and order it. Then when it has been ordered by God, like any good storeroom, you will be able to open it again and draw out exactly what you need. In this storeroom God builds the different ingredients of giftedness, character, courage, and morality which make you the unique person of His design.  When you draw from this storeroom it allows you to live out His design.

Consider this verse from Ephesians 1:18-19a (NASB), “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

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.