Freedom

It came to the bird feeder quickly with caution. A rare sight for my eyes, this bird is found in Western states. A Black-headed Grosbeak had come to crack the sunflowers with its parrot like beak. “Gros” is Germanic for large. Focus your attention on its beak, there is no question about its size. It quickly cracked and shelled three sunflowers before leaving for the woods behind the house.

 

Black Headed Grosbeaks are neo-tropical birds. These birds usually winter south of the Tropic of Cancer. That’s the latitudinal line 23.5 degrees north of the equator. That makes the Black Headed Grosbeaks an international traveler. Their summer nesting range finds them in the western United States and southern Canada with the Missouri river as a general eastern boundary.

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All life in God’s creation has miraculous aspects. Black Headed Grosbeaks have many. They are adjustable. Living in tropical heat in winter and northern climates in summer requires it. They fly long distances. Caution is built-in. Male and female incubate the 2-5 eggs in the nest. Black Headed Grosbeaks chooses nest sites in trees near water and in shade to keep the nest cool. While those large beaks easily crack the hull of a sunflower, they also break the hard shells of beetles which make up to 60% of their summer diets. Their diet includes snails. In fall migration berries are available and favored.

 

There is another miracle given the Black Headed Grosbeaks-freedom. Today we celebrate the freedoms we have been given in our nation. The Black Headed Grosbeak has been given freedom too. Our Creator, the author of freedom, has directed this bird to fly much of the North American continent. From southern Mexico to central North Dakota where the bird in the photos was is over 2000 miles. Black Headed Grosbeaks have a vast freedom. Their territory is enormous. Yet, all the basics for life are provided for it in the north or south. God has given each of us eternal freedoms too. The greatest is freedom from sin. What makes this freedom desirable? It frees us from guilt and gives freedom from sin’s eternal punishment. It gives us hope and an everlasting future.

 

Yes, we celebrate freedom today. But on this United States Independence Day, the greatest freedom is given by God. He sent his son to purchase freedom for you, for me. It is Jesus who has freed us. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12 This God-given freedom is perfect. It is eternal. It is available to all who seek it.

 

Examine a Feather

Feathers are living miracles. They are one of my favorite things in nature. There are many reasons to view them as perfect wonder.

Their bright colors are even iridescent. They form patterns and designs. Agreed, feathers are beautiful.

Birds fly with them, and swim and dive with them. Don’t take this lightly. How feathers interact with air and water is actually breath-taking.

They shine, they can be waterproofed, they are wind proof, and they are repairable.

No human mind has designed anything like them.

They fall off. Its called molting. New body feathers, new flight feathers, gradually new feathers replace the old worn feathers. No human engineer can replicate it.

Feathers provide us with physical evidence that humans can molt too…not with feathers, with their sin. The same grand Designer has a perfect plan to make every human new. The sinful self can be shed-like a bird molts a feather. A new creature, a new “sins forgiven human” is the result. Molting in birds is caused by hormones. The perfect Creator engineered it. The shedding of human sin comes when a human believes in Jesus. The Bible explains it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

 

You can start over. You can be free of your past. You can shed your sorrows and hurts. Jesus will do it for you, ask Him. It’s the perfect human “molt” and it lasts forever.

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Waiting for Sunrise

Have you ever anticipated something? It may be a day in the future like a graduation, or a wedding. It could be a new job. There are many things we find reason to anticipate with pleasure.
For me, it was a sunrise.
Bruce, my cousin and friend would be my guide. He said, “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 AM.” My response was, “I’ll be ready.” After he told me I had to wait. Waiting is hard-especially when you wait for something you know will be good. Waiting for sunrise, it’s splendid and hard.
My head was on the pillow early the night before we were to go. My goal was to be up at 4:30. My feet touched the floor at 4:23 AM. Knowing the morning would be long, a bit of food was my task after dressing.

With camera and gear in the backpack my step outside happened 20 minutes before 5 AM. The black sky glittered with stars. The Milky Way glimmered from southwest to north-east. My gaze went to the east. Sunrise was on my mind.
Soon, the sound of tires on asphalt told me he was coming. No one else would be up this early. We drove east on the main road of the island. Only one other vehicle was out this early. That person was headed west, likely not for sunrise.

We reached the entrance gate to the State Park. Bruce punched in the code and we drove eastward into the park. In the darkness to my right it was difficult to ignore the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico. It was mystery with hundreds of miles of wilderness salt water. But we were headed for the east end of the island, the tip and sunrise there.
We came to the gate that closed off the protected shorebirds nesting area. Only a gravel road passed through this part of the park. Using the code provided we went through and closed it behind us. We were 4 miles from sunrise now. In those dark miles with only the pickup headlights to show the way our only companion was a Night-hawk which flew up from its resting spot on the road.
The Milky Way and handle of the Big Dipper were still visible as we parked at the east end. Bruce gave me a red-light LED flashlight and we walked on the sand along the bay. Ghost crabs scurried into their holes or swam into clear deeper water from us. No hint of sunlight yet.
As we reached the end of the island Bruce led us southward toward the Gulf of Mexico. The south wind pleasantly cooled our faces. The vastness of the place was unmistakable. A deep sense of wildness came upon me. We were alone with only the sound of the breeze, the surf and shorebirds of the night.
Then Bruce said, “Let’s look for a bench.” It delighted me when a short distance later we found a ledge of sand created by the water from a recent high tide. We sat on the “bench.” It was perfectly positioned. It faced east. We sat. We waited. Our words were few. The magnificence all around us was powerful, making words, irrelevant. Sunrise would be soon. We watched the eastern horizon.DSC_0455ed
My camera was ready. We watched as a more intense pink-orange glow developed in the east. Moments later a golden sliver of sun popped above the earth’s edge. We could see the sun move with the horizon as a reference. In moments the perfect star for earth cleared the horizon. The day had begun.DSC_0477ed
One reward for our early rising besides the sun, were the shore birds we saw in first light. A Great Blue Heron landed near us. Perhaps it thought we were fisherman. Royal Terns, Sanderlings, Willets, Brown Pelicans even a Red Knot searched for food to fill their stomachs. We got to watch them.DSC_0484ed

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Waiting for the sunrise turned my thoughts to another event greater than any sunrise. It is a once in eternity event. It is coming. It is worth every anticipation, even longing for. It is better than a sunrise. Actually, it is better than all sunrises and sunsets combined since time began. Imagine that.
One day, some-day, Jesus the Son of God will come again. The Bible tells us “every eye will see him.” Like a sunrise, Jesus is coming again to the earth he made and on which he walked. The return of Jesus will be a simultaneous world-wide event. Every person on earth will see him.
This is the best part: Those who believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world who have turned from their sins in repentance will be raised with him… “in the clouds” to be with him in heaven. (Revelation 1:7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Waiting for a sunrise reminds me that one day Jesus will return. It will be magnificent beyond imagination. DSC_0477ed

A Walk With Naturalists

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Eye on Us

On Friday they told me they saw a beaver. They said it was on the shore right next to the trail where they stood. The skeptic in me thought, “maybe.” It was full day light, the beaver is nocturnal. My plan-stick with maybe. Their enthusiasm did not sway my opinion.
On Saturday my will weakened. “Could we go for a walk to see if the beaver is there?” was my request. It please me greatly when they said yes. All three of them showed eagerness both to go and to have me along. My skepticism vanished. You see the location of the beaver was in a backwater of a river. Yes, backwater, in a city park, in the capitol of North Dakota. The river was not any river, it was the longest river in the United States, the 2,300-mile-long Missouri.
A second incentive for this walk to the river was my motivation to observe how they would lead me across a busy city street and through blocks of a residential area before the park and the river.

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Two sets of eyes

In bright sunshine, the 4 of us started out. We cut westward through a coulee with water flowing through it. They spotted a pair of Mallard Drakes long before my eyes picked them out. Walking through a small grove of trees on the west edge of the coulee we heard a rooster pheasant crow. The 12-year-old boy conversations stopped. With delight, my eyes witnessed all three of them go into stealth mode. Again, my wise naturalist skills were eclipsed, one of the boys pointed out a pheasant slinking away. They spotted it first. These boys were good.
They led me directly to a pedestrian bridge that crossed the traffic filled street. The rest of the way they used cross walks and the sidewalk. It felt safe and comfortable. They did the same on the return trip. The boys were responsible. Sometimes three boys can think of unsafe things or become silly. There was none of that going or coming. We had not even come to the river and the walk with these three boys was remarkably pleasurable.

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He Watches

At the backwater, more joy came. My great privilege that morning was the company of three 12-year-old naturalists. They were interested in everything. They wanted me to get good photos. Tracks intrigued them. They listened when other pheasants crowed. They questioned what animals had made the tracks we observed. Then one of them did something few kids or adults would ever think of, he stepped over a track rather than destroy it with his foot. We witnessed Western Grebes fishing.

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Water off a Grebe’s Back

There were numerous reasons for happiness that morning. The maturity and responsibility of these three boys was one. The absolute thrill of seeing the respect and true interest in nature the three possessed another. Having conversations with three others who found everything on this sandbar of the Missouri river, fascinating. They were right about the beaver too. We didn’t see it this time. But two piles of fresh beaver scat and many chewed branches were clear evidence.

The boys and I got something else. We witnessed the power of God. We observed His divine nature in the beauty of the crowing pheasant calls and the dives of the grebes. They’d seen a fish in the water the day before. The mystery of fish in water exhilarated them. The four of us relaxed, stress fell away, our health strengthened.
Should we be surprised at the health-giving qualities available to everyone who goes outside? Why is the earth beautiful? Why do our eyes see color, our ears hear sounds equal to 10 musical octaves? Our three other senses add greater depth to any outside time. A man named David was both shepherd and king in his life. As shepherd he learned of the power and divine nature of God in creation. He wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1 God put health in nature.
Take a walk. Better yet, take some kids with you. Why is the earth so beautiful, so full of stimulating mystery which captives the minds of three boys and a grandpa? Because God made the earth for us. He made it out of love. He designed all of it for us. It is one of his gifts to us. His greatest gift is Jesus Christ and the eternal life His death on the cross provides. Could Jesus really overcome all our sins? He is powerful enough to make a world filled with beauty and mystery. We see it best when we go outside.

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Discussion

You Can’t Drink This

We agree, being big has its advantages. Think about size which provides advantage like tall basketball players and large bodied football players.

This bird has a definite size advantage. Its wingspan ranges from 5.5 to 6.5 FEET. Don’t let its weight of 4.5 to 5.5 pounds fool you. It is lightweight, all flying birds are. Walking on giant stilt legs 2 feet long or more it is able to find its preferred food, fish. There is a reason for its long neck. A long s-shaped neck has specialized vertebrae. The 6th is elongated and acts like a hinge when the Great Blue Heron “stabs” a fish or other prey. Right, stabs, look at the dagger like bill, it could be called a saber.DSC_0099_2178ed - wp

Big or not, the Great Blue Heron has no teeth.  How does it get the fish from mouth to stomach? It shakes it. Shaking breaks bones and fish spines making it easier and safer to swallow whole. It shakes all the other things it eats too. Shake it with that long neck and swallow it. Amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, including muskrats, insects and other birds. Great Blue Herons will also forage for food in fields. In a field they may find voles, gophers and more. These are Great Blue Heron food too.

Don’t compare this bird to humans. Just because it is large does not mean it is fearless. These words accurately describe Great Blue Herons: shy, reclusive, and cautious. The female in the photo did not want to fly. The male standing next to her immediately flew at my approach.

Great Blue Herons are water birds, big water birds. All living things need water. We agree on that. But this more than full-sized bird does not drink water. The water it needs for life is found in its food. While Great Blue Herons are found into the Central Canadian provinces during nesting season, they can be found year around from the mid to southern United States. Great Blue Herons frequent salt water areas. Salt water is not potable. The Great Blue Heron has no problem with thirst when life-giving water comes from its food.DSC_0109_2180sig - wp

Humans thirst too. There are two types of human thirst. The most well known is physical. The second is one which many humans are unaware. Some humans even choose to ignore or deny this thirst. The second thirst is spiritual. Miraculously, water-that’s H20, satisfies the physical need of every human. It works for a lifetime. Equally miraculous is the second water. This water works for eternity.

Every human soul has a God shaped space. Blaise Pascal explained this best when he said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”

Jesus is the living water. Only Jesus can fill the space open for God. Like a Great Blue Heron, you don’t drink this water. You believe. Nothing else can quench this thirst. Jesus explained it best. He said, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

This is not great. It is vast. It is enormous. Imagine living water, unlimited life and it’s forever. You have room for it.DSC_0115sig - wp

 

The Impossible Becomes Possible

 

 

 

 

Pick a bird. Which is your preferred feather carrier? (there are four shown)

Why only four? You will know soon enough.

Perhaps some facts will help in your decision.

DSC_0067_2069WPThe Cardinal would be a great choice. If you like brilliant red, the cardinal is your bird. Cardinals eat seeds, fruits and especially during nesting season, insects. They build a four-layer nest with twigs, followed by a leafy mat, that is covered with grape vine bark, and the final layer is grasses, fine roots, and pine needles. You may also choose the cardinal because of its song. Distinctively cardinal is the long string of clear down slurred two-part whistles.

Did you choose the Robin? Most of us think of the robin as the harbinger of spring. Their cheer filled song lifts our spirits. Because they are large and common, we see them often, especially on our lawns as they eat the earthworms they find there. They do eat worms and other insects but the robin is a mainly a fruit eater. Perhaps because they are common, you may choose robin.DSC_0046_2157wp

Maybe you have chosen the chickadee. Any resident of the north country soon comes to admire this little black and white dynamo-in January when the thermometer reads below zero. The chickadee seems unaffected by the cold. Its cheery song brightens each day. It is an omnivore like the robin and cardinal, so this may not help you decide. You may like the fact that every winter night, the chickadee goes in to a torpor. That means it can lower its pulse rate and its body temperature to conserve energy and survive bitter cold.DSC_0077_1966wp

My guess is you did not choose the American crow. Did you pass over the crow because of its all black plumage? Would it help if you knew the crow’s feathers shine in sunlight? Did you say no to the crow because it is large and its caws are loud and disturbing? The crow is an omnivore too. But then you may decide you don’t like the idea of it eating the eggs and young of other birds. Perhaps reminding you that the crow eats carrion does not help either. But, they are very social. They work together in raising their young, even older siblings, that includes offspring up to two years old.

We are not done with the crow. You did not choose it. Hold on one moment for one other fact. The American Crow is considered to be among the most intelligent birds on the planet. One source claimed the crow to be second only to humans in intelligence. Want to change your mind?DSC_0044_2155wp

Why only four birds?

This is about favoritism.

What is favoritism? You were asked to choose, your thoughts were directed, so you chose one over the other three. It’s very acceptable to all of us that you preferred one over the other three. Favoritism regarding your bird preference is your personal choice. It is ok to favor.

With birds we may choose one over the other. With others, any human, favoritism has no place. In the Bible, James, brother of Jesus, wrote the book of James. He is specific and direct about favoritism. He wrote, “how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1

Do you sense how quickly, how easily we show preference for one person over another? Return to the birds a moment. Think of how you made your choice. They are all birds. Yet you chose one-you desired that one more, you favored one.

Just a few verses later James reminds us why favoritism can have no part in human relationships. He reminds us that God’s royal law is for us to “Love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” He adds, “But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” James 2:8-9

You say, “this is impossible!” I cannot overcome my weakness, I show favoritism constantly.” You are right. Favoritism is a universal human failure. But there is hope, always hope.

Once Jesus disciples questioned him about who could be saved? Do you know what Jesus answered them? “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.

We have true hope. We can trust Jesus, he is the One who makes the impossible-possible.

Either Way-You Win

Darkeyed Junco WPOne of my favorite birds is not a flashy multicolored wonder. Gray, black and white are considered ordinary. It is not a large bird. It does not fly at blazing speeds. Its beak is not curved or hooked. It does not have talons on its feet either. One more thing, it does not sing a spectacular song.

You are wondering. Why is this bird a favorite? What is it?

Stretch the suspense, go farther with me before you know.

This bird has been classified in the genus of American sparrows. Genus, that’s biology talk for family. Yes, I said it is in the sparrow family. Sparrows are common. Its 5 ½ to 6 inches long. Its size does not make it a favorite. Its wing span is a slight 7-9 inches. It is a ground bird seeking its food on the ground. 75% of its diet is composed of seeds. During nesting it adds protein from insects. Even more, during nesting season it nests in coniferous forests. But not in the trees, look for its nest on the ground.

It would be true to say this little sparrow sort of disappears for the summer. We said it is not flashy, and it is absent during the summer, it nests in the north in forests.  How could anyone find this bird delightful?

But it is delightful. The gray and black with white bars on their tails is actually beautiful. No need to be a flashy flier, they flit. It’s wonderful. Their beaks have perfect symmetry, the claws on their feet match the color of their body. And their color coordination is superb. What about that song? It’s a trill a bit like a Chipping Sparrow and similar to the Pine Warbler. A great pleasure comes from seeing a small flock of them feeding on the ground or perched on a branch.

Why a favorite? I get to see them Some of them spend winter in our backyard. They bring anytime joy to my birdbrain with their soft calls and deep color contrast with snow. Oh, you want to know what it is?

A Dark-eyed Junco is our bird star. Junco hyemalis for the biologists who are reading.

But Dark-eyed Juncos are a favorite of mine for another reason. It could be because they are in the sparrow family. It could be their quiet but pleasurable songs. It is true, black, and shades of gray can be eye appealing. The main reason these birds are favorites is they show me God.

John 20:31 tells us about the words written about Jesus in the Bible. It reads, “But, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The Bible gives us specific documentation about the life of Jesus. It identifies him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

The Dark-eyed Junco speaks of Jesus without words. The power of Jesus is seen in the Junco’s quiet life and how it lives through all seasons cold and warm. Jesus power is seen in this tiny 5-6-inch-long bird’s ability to safely locate a nest on the ground and know when to migrate northward safely. The fact that Jesus is divine, truly God, is heard when the Junco calls and when its black gray feathers contrast in exquisite beauty against white snow.

Want to see Jesus? There are two clear options, read the Bible, and watch the birds. Either way you win.

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