Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
“In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” Genesis 40:17
In bold letters the sign proclaimed, “PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS.” Then, just in case that admonition were not clear enough, in smaller print it stated, “This includes birds, chipmunks, squirrels and other wildlife.” My wife and I were standing at a scenic overlook on the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Directly in front of that sign, a mother and young son were feeding potato chips and bits of bread to a group of Clark’s Nutcrackers. The nutcrackers had no concern about the sign, and apparently the mother and son had no concern about it either. I am a legalist, however, and though I tried to coax one of the nutcrackers into range so my wife could take a picture of me with the bird, it quickly figured out there was no free lunch involved and hopped off to greener pastures.
Clark’s Nutcracker, a relative of jays and crows, is known in the western mountains as “camp robber” due to its habit of stealing food from campsites and picnic baskets. They are gray, with black wings, white outer tail feathers and a black, spike-like bill. This nutcracker is named for Captain William Clark, who first described it in his journal in 1805.
In today’s verse from the Book of Genesis, Joseph is in prison and listening to Pharaoh’s chief baker describe a dream he had about birds and a basket of bread. Joseph interprets that dream, and within three days Pharaoh executes the baker. It is not a pretty story. It reminds us of the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel. Abel’s sacrifice involved the shedding of blood; Cain’s was a mere offering of grain. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God; Cain’s was not. In the same way, Jesus is the acceptable sacrifice through the shedding of His blood. The sacrifice of Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. And yet, God does describe sacrifices He expects from us: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Genesis 51:17). In essence, what God wants from us is a heart that is repentant. His blood, combined with our repentant heart enables us to live our lives as Saint Paul described: “Living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Anything less is like the basket of baked goods that was acceptable only for feeding the birds, but cost the chief baker his life.
Father, I thank you for sacrificing for me through the blood of your Son. Today I offer to you my broken spirit and my contrite heart. Help me to live my life as a living sacrifice for you. Amen.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
"Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:5-7
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Common Goldeneye, females
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
I stopped at an interstate rest area in Minnesota because I had found good birds there in the past. In the springtime I had seen Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; in the summer there were Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Baltimore Orioles. This was January, however, and I was not sure I would find any birds at all. I took a short, brisk walk to a place overlooking the Root River and spotted a Bald Eagle soaring in the distance. The majestic bird slowly worked its way closer, and eventually flew past at eye level not more than fifty feet from where I was standing – close enough that I could see each individual feather. When the eagle disappeared beyond the trees I realized why the Founding Fathers chose the eagle over the turkey as the national emblem: the bird is simply magnificent.
Isaiah must have had a similar experience with eagles. He used the strength and vigor of eagles as a way of explaining how we can receive strength from God: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31). The key to having the strength and vitality of an eagle is placing your hope in the Lord. The Bible describes hope differently from the way we often understand the word. Hope in God is not tenuous, uncertain or wishful. God’s hope is certain and secure. Paul wrote to Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). Make God your hope and you, too, will soar like an eagle.
Lord, as I put my hope in you, I trust you to strengthen and renew me and to supply all my needs. Amen.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
My earliest memory of blue jays is from my boyhood backyard when I was quite young. I remember watching a pair of birds making their raucous “jaay, jaay” calls, and my mother telling me they were blue jays. She said they were “kind of bad birds” and referred to their noisy calls as “scolding”—some of the harshest comments she ever made about any living thing. My Mother never cared much for blue jays because of their bossy character and their reputation for eating the eggs and young of other birds. On the other hand, I have always been enamored by the beautiful, blue and white, crested birds, and seem able to overlook their bad traits. There is no question these birds are noisy. In addition to the loud, persistent “jay” calls for which blue jays are named, they also make a more musical, “tweedly, tweedly” toy car horn-like sound.
Today’s Bible verse, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen,” could certainly be applicable to blue jays. I have wanted to yell at them in that fashion myself a few times. The verse is actually part of a prophecy given by God to the prophet, Amos. God is speaking through Amos concerning religious practices of the children of Israel: “I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me…offerings, I will not accept them” Amos 5:21-22). It is clear from the passage that God is displeased with Israel because their practice of religion is insincere and ritualistic. In the New Testament Paul warned his friend, Timothy, of people who were, “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). It is not the form of our worship that is important, but rather the relationship we maintain with the One we worship. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24), “they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). Worship Him in Truth. He is seeking you.
Father, seek me to be your worshiper. I want to worship you in Spirit and in Truth, and not with mere formal ritual. Amen.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
“Tribulation worketh patience.” Romans 5:3 (KJV)
My son, Daniel, and I were visiting a bird banding station in northern Minnesota. The banders had set up an elaborate system of netting, and used live starlings as lure birds to entice raptors into the nets. Shortly after we arrived, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk flew in and landed on top of one of the large poles that supported the arrangement of nets. We observed the young hawk inspecting the cords and wires that were in plain sight below its perch. The hawk also was watching the starling as it fluttered below. We could see that the young red-tail had a conflict going on in its head. Its instincts told it something was amiss, but its hunger for an easy meal was telling it to go for the starling. Hunger won out and the hawk flew down toward the starling and became caught in the net. After the hawk was extracted from the net, weighed, measured and banded, we got to see it up close and we watched as it was released.
Being trapped, getting handled by humans and receiving a metal band on the leg must be one of the most traumatic events in a bird’s life. It would certainly be a type of “tribulation" experience. I am not sure what kind of memory hawks have, but experience must teach them which types of behavior are beneficial and which are dangerous. I think the young hawk in Minnesota may have learned that impulsive behavior can bring disastrous results. In Romans 5:3 we are told that “tribulation worketh patience.” The Message paraphrase of the Bible puts it this way: “troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and … that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next” (Romans 5:3-4, The Message). When troubles and tribulations come into your life, let them develop “passionate patience” in you. Then you will also learn to “keep alert for whatever God will do next.”
Father, I don’t care much for tribulation, but I know from your Word that you use it to develop patience within me. When troubles come into my life, help me to be a quick learner and to keep alert to your guidance. Amen.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
You sometimes see the oddest things when you're driving around out in the country. I recently saw this sign while driving a gravel road east of Pierre. Does it mean the road is closed? Or is it just giving you information about the road conditions ahead? I decided it was unwise to proceed, so I turned around. While I was negotiating the U-turn, a nice Hairy Woodpecker came and landed in a nearby tree. When I approached too closely trying to snap a picture, the woodpecker flew down past the sign. I guess when you have wings you aren't too concerned about roads that are under water.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
“He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Acts 14:17
My son, Jacob, and I were visiting Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve in Duluth, Minnesota late in the month of August. This world-famous hawk watch area was quiet on that particular day. The large waves of migrating hawks were still several weeks away. We did manage to see a few raptors: an American Kestrel, an Osprey and a Broad-winged Hawk. However, our attention was constantly diverted by a thin, high-pitched whistling sound coming from the bushes behind us. We finally walked over to the scrubby hillside, and began to see Cedar Waxwings everywhere. Each branch seemed to be dripping with the sleek little birds. They were hungrily devouring the small, red berries that covered the shrubs. We soon abandoned our search for hawks, and spent the rest of our time enjoying the waxwings.
Cedar Waxwings survive by wandering from place to place to take advantage of the seasonal ripening of various wild fruit crops. They are present in all parts of the United States during one season or another, but will stay in one place only as long as food is available. Today’s Bible verse tells us that God, through His kindness, gives “crops in their seasons” and “plenty of food.” The Cedar Waxwings are vitally aware of God’s provision of food by the kindness He shows to every living creature. How about us? Do we recognize that the rain and the crops are provided to us by God through His kindness? Paul and Barnabas tell us in today’s passage, “Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons” (Acts 14:17). The kindness of God is part of the fruit of His Spirit, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Cedar Waxwings show us the testimony of God's kindness as they travel about to take advantage of His abundant supply of food. Believe that testimony, and trust His kindness to supply all your needs.
Lord, I know that kindness is your very nature. Thank you for the testimony of that kindness through providing for the needs of all your creatures, including me. Amen.