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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Still Tending

Before leaving the Roman governor, he was flogged, and his skull was repeatedly pierced by thorns. He was in incalculable physical pain. He was mocked and struck repeatedly on the head…humiliation added to pain. Immeasurable sorrow filled his heart. He had always given love, patience, and healing. He loved them all.

 

They showed him hate. His heart was broken for them.

 
After leaving the Roman governor, the soldiers took over. They showed no sympathy. He said nothing. They put nails through his hands and feet. They dropped his cross in place. They had done these things many times. They were good at this job. Many others had been crucified at their hands.

 
There was one difference.

 
They had never crucified the Savior of the world before.

 
On the cross, incalculable pain unceasing He looked at his mother. He knew her pain, her future. He tended to her. He said, “Mother, see your new son.” To John he said, “This is your mother.”

 
Then he tended to our sins. He took care of them. He said, “It is finished.” He died.

 
But this was not the end.

 
He rose from the dead. He is taking care of us now. While you are reading, he is speaking with God about us. He is praying-for us. He is still tending our needs.

 
No one else can.

 

Therefore, he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. Hebrews 7:25

Fullness

There were three of us. We had planned this before we closed our eyes in sleep the night before. We were going on an expedition. It would cross a lake and take us through thick woods. Our goal was to find signs of wildlife. To actually see wildlife would amaze us.

 

We knew the snow would be deep. More than 1 foot of new snow had fallen in the past week. It was soft and fluffy and the whitest of all whites.DSC_0005_1825sig

 

We ate a fantastic breakfast. We never talked about what we were doing afterwards. It was not hard to get my companions put on their winter gear. They were wired for adventure. They did not brush their teeth before we left. My fault, guess I was excited for this adventure too.

 

As we stepped outside the air was fresh, and cool. Can fresh air smell good? This air did. My steps are big when a distant goal is in mind. My adventure partners kept up with me although their strides are shorter. They made the expedition enjoyable in the beginning and all the way to the end.DSC_0008_1827sig

 

The first part of the expedition was on the street. The snow had been removed, walking was easy. When we came to the lake the snow was up to our calves. We crossed the lake sliding through powdery whiteness. We took turns in the lead. When we reached the woods, we paused and got quiet. Our goal was to walk silently. With more than a foot of fresh snow it was quite easy. At the top of the hill up from the lake we found fresh turkey tracks. We followed them for a distance until the turkey went a direction we did not want. There were places after that where the snow was up to our thighs and almost up to my partner’s waists.

 

An expedition is a journey with a purpose. One of our goals was to walk to the river through the woods. We made it. My partners legs were much shorter, but their muscles were much younger. We walked through thick woods, down small hills and up steep ones. We admired the morning. We admired the trees especially a massive spreading Red Oak. Never once did my expedition partners complain they were tired. We walked over 2 miles, most of it through a foot of fresh snow. It was completely worth every step.DSC_0011_1828sig

 

Why? First there was companionship. When people experience a walk outside together the shared experience builds bonds. These bonds are strengthened by the visual memories of the beauty in nature. My partners and I will remember being together and some details from this hike with a purpose for the rest of our lives. Second, there is health. Our expedition this morning improved our physical wellbeing, reducing our blood pressures, heart rates, reducing my muscle tension ( I don’t think my partners have any), and even the reduction of stress hormones. Our cardiovascular health was  improved. We walked for about 90 minutes in the cleanest air among great winter beauty.DSC_0020_1831sig

 

You may wonder how it is that a walk outside is so healthy for anyone who does it. There is a depth to exercise outdoors that cannot be matched by indoor exercise. Indoor exercise has proven health benefits. But the benefits of time outside are greater. Time outside refreshes the soul.  Consider the words of the Psalmist. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:5 Knowing the earth is full of the unfailing love of God makes it easier to understand why time outside gives us health and peace. Consider these synonyms for full: complete, filled, and bursting. The earth is full of what? The unfailing love of God. The earth bursts with it. You sense it if you go outside. Perhaps that is why the fresh air smells so good. My partners and I found it today.DSC_0024_1834sig

 

It makes me want to go outside again tomorrow.DSC_0031_1837sig

Which Way?

This may be one of life’s biggest questions. Here it is, “What is the way?” This question comes often, if not daily. Sometimes the question relates to major life decisions; to take a job, leave a job, to buy a home, or sell a home. Sometimes this question relates to interpersonal matters. Should I marry him? Should I divorce or keep trying? Which way? It is an unchanging aspect of life. From the time a child begins making choices to the time a gray head is laid to rest, humans are faced with decisions which begin with, “which way?”

You would be thrilled with me if in the next sentence you were given a formula, which if followed, would always provide the correct answer to “which way?” You know better. Life has taught you that there is no such thing. With a sigh, you resign yourself to living life knowing that in future days you will face the question, “which way?” You know that at least half the time you will choose the wrong way. Possibly some months you will find most of your “way” decisions were wrong.

There is no comfort in this. We often choose the wrong way. We suffer the consequences of our wrong way choices. Our wrong way choices bring pain to self and others. Wrong “way” choices bring regrets. Some of them last a life time. This is the opposite of comfort. It’s heartache.

But. There is a way. For the rest of your life you can walk in this way. You will still make bad choices. You will say wrong things. Mistakes you regret will still occur. However, there is a way. It is not a formula. It is not a 10-step plan to better life. It does not cost you, it is free. If it seems too easy, it’s not. This way cost someone their very life. The blood of this person spilled on the earth. No, making this way was not easy.

Isaiah, the prophet of the Bible wrote about this way. He said, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:21 (ESV) Long ago Isaiah said, “This is the way, walk in it.” Our logical question is, “What is this way you are referring to?”

The wonderful answer is found in the words of Jesus. He is the One who died for the sins of all. His blood was spilled for our sakes. Jesus plainly said, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father (God), except through me.” (John 14:6) The truth is, there is a way, a perfect way.  In all of our lives, there is a way…it’s Jesus. When you turn to the right, seek Jesus. If you turn to the left, seek Jesus. In big decisions, some this week-seek Jesus. Whether your job, personal relationships, or any other thing in life, the way for all of life is Jesus.DSC_0010_007sig

The sun has a “way.” As does the moon. Likewise, a river. Even a train has a way, the tracks. Humans have a perfect “way,” in Jesus. Consider these words what your ears hear behind you: Jesus is the way, walk with Him. When we choose the wrong way, Jesus calls to us, “Follow me.”  No comfort is more real for us today.DSC_0041edsigDSC_0094_028sig

The Testimony of Geese

Lurking” begins in late winter. There is no malice or mischief in this waiting, it is intentional. There is still ice on wetlands. The “lurkers” stand on it. Some late winter days they loiter for hours. As warmer weather approaches and the ice melts from wetland waters, the “lurkers” get serious. No other loiterer is permitted to be in the place the two original “waiters/lurkers” have chosen. These waiters are not employees of a restaurant. They wear feathers. They fly. They honk. Sometimes they perch with webbed feet on the roofs of buildings to keep watch over their wetland turf. The early spring lurkers are Canada Geese (Brantis Canadensis) Imagine a large bird with a long neck and flat, webbed feet on the peak of a roof. But there is no danger, they can fly.DSC_0129_985sig

You may wonder why write about Canada geese in spring-when it’s near the end of fall. Today, the geese provide us with perspective. Winter is coming. These geese live outside 24/7. They have no warm building to escape to. Geese do not possess cupboards filled with food. They do have down feathers that keep them warmer than most of our human constructed warm weather gear. They will face freezing temperatures, snow, even blizzards. They live outside all day, all night in conditions we humans would expire from. They live.DSC_0154_993sig

Now, the rest of the spring story. Before the ice is off the wetland, the pair of Canadas begin nesting. The goose (female) builds the nest. She lines it with down from her own body. The gander(male) becomes his mate’s consistent body-guard. He is a true force.  25-30 days must pass as the female incubates and the male guards. Reading about this miraculous process does not provide the magnitude of effort two birds expend to produce a clutch of 4-6 young. She stays on the nest except for brief periods to get water and enough food to sustain her. My memories include a Canada goose incubating her eggs and observing her with head down and neck stretched over the nest-during a snowstorm. I got cold and went inside. The next morning, with ice covering the wetland she was still there. The gander was still guarding. That day for almost 30 more, they stayed on task. My activities that day after sunset included a warm meal, and a warm bed sheltered from any of the freezing elements both geese were experiencing for the entire night. That’s persistence. That’s unselfishness and dedication. It is self-sacrificing, all for the next generation.DSC_0160_996sig

Now, the perspective we can take from the life of a Canada goose. They never give up. This may sound strange, but they never complain. Cold or wet, comfortable or not geese persist-in every season. Yes, you say-they are geese! But they provide a living example we can learn from.

How are geese able to persevere, in all conditions? It’s mercy. It’s great faithfulness. The living example of the geese for us reveals the mercy and faithfulness of God. As Creator of the geese. God provides everything Canada geese need. Water, food, oxygen, yes-shelter, instincts to nest, fly, protect and stay with the same mate for life, these are evidence of the faithful mercy of God. You know the geese cannot generate any of these things by their own strength.

It is a short step now from the example of the involvement of God with the Canada geese. You and I were made “in the image of God.” Why is that important? Only human beings are given the distinct and separate designation of being “made in God’s image.” No other living things fit this category. Humans were made by God to reflect the character of God. We fail often at this-we are sinners. But God never fails. His faithful love exists each day for the Canada Geese who are facing the extremes of a northern winter. Even greater is the faithful love God offers us. It never ends, never ceases and wonder of wonders, it begins new every morning. Look at the geese and see the great faithfulness of God. Best of all, you and I can do nothing to earn this great love of God, it is not necessary. God loves us first, long before we have any idea we need His love. That’s a miracle.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23DSC_0167_998sig

The Best “Dessert”

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You can have dessert first… it’s the best.

Yesterday we brought up the subject of humans and faith. Candidly we recognized we put our faith in things that are temporary. An easy one is turning water into ice. Our faith is unwavering in the principle that water freezes-every time when the air temperature is below 32 degrees.

We acknowledged that faith in water freezing is faith in something temporary. We had a chance to think about faith in Someone everlasting, eternal. If we are honest, we realized that faith in God is unending, while all the things we put our trust on earth are temporary.

But, yesterday, I forgot something important. In my opinion it’s like saving the best for last, perhaps like dessert. You ask, “how could you?” My response, what do you expect from an imperfect human? Regardless of this, I DID forget the most important fact about faith in God. That is to remind both of us where faith comes from.

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What do you think? What is the source of faith? If we use simple logic (and my logic limit is simple) we conclude there are two answers. We generate faith in God-or-God gives us faith.

Examine these choices with me. If we generate faith in God ourselves, we know immediately there is a problem. For us to trust in God we must not want to be God ourselves. Have you ever gone just one day without trying to be a little god, solving your problems yourself? Sorry, but we are like toddlers in this respect. We daily say to God, “I’ll do it myself!” See the problem? How can we have faith in God if we are trusting ourselves? We cannot generate faith.DSC_0091_917sig

At this point we know the other answer is best. This truth should give us both great peace of mind. God gives us faith. Perhaps you wonder what does it cost? It was costly for Jesus, He painfully died for us on a cross to save us from our sin of making ourselves little Gods. Then He gives us faith-free. True faith is a gift from God. Jesus initiates and perfects our faith. He is our faith champion, and our Savior.

Would you want it any other way? We know our hearts. We’d rather not admit it but our default setting is to be a little god. This news, that Jesus gives us faith is eternally better than dessert.

Faith, it’s eternal dessert, better than all desserts. Served by an eternal loving Father God. It’s not fattening, but it is addicting. If you want more, ask God. He freely gives us faith and then, by his great love, he GROWS our faith. It’s called sanctification, God’s process of making us holy.

Why the photos with these words? They are evidence of God’s love. Examine them, the earth is full of the steadfast love of God-the same God who saves us and gives us faith far greater than all the earthly things we put our faith in. Faith is like the best dessert, but it is eternal, free, and life changing.DSC_0084_912sig

One of a Kind

One of a Kind
One of a kind is something rare and original. In nature, the red breasted nuthatch is one of a kind. It plasters the outside and inside of its entrance hole with very sticky pine resin. If removing pine pitch from anything has been one of your tasks in life, you know how adhesive pine sap is. However, the nesting pair never get sap on themselves, they never perch at the entrance. They fly directly into the hole. Most birds this size fly between 20 and 30 miles per hour. Therefore, direct flight into the hole requires great skill. Certainly, it slows before entering but consider what the red breasted nuthatch needs to do once it has flown inside the hole! This little bird is one of a kind. One of its call is a nasal “yank, yank, yank”, no other bird sounds as though it has a cold. This one of a kind bird is the only known North American nuthatch to have flown across the Atlantic to Europe. The red breasted nuthatch is 11.5 cm long (4.5 inches for Americans)! It is a nature delight to see one of these birds. Yes, one of a kind is a fitting way to describe this bird. Good news, the population of these miracle birds is increasing.

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You are one of a kind. You are the original. There is only one of you. Like the marvelous red breasted nuthatch, you and I are wonderfully made. Of the millions of people in the world, there has never been and never will be another you. In Psalm 139:14 the words fearfully and wonderfully made are used to describe us.
Why would the all-powerful God of the universe fashion each human on earth with exquisite, flawless precision? Why would we be formed with extraordinary body systems which function perfectly for years, and can heal themselves when injury occurs? One simple answer: God loves you. He loves the world. He made each human living, past, present and future. Because He is God and Creator, only He has the infinite capacity to love them all. His love is perfect. Have you felt ordinary today? The truth is, you are one of a kind to Him.