Golden-cheeked Warbler (endangered): Arise and shine… God’s glory is shining on you

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Golden-cheeked Warbler
“All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.”
(2 Cor 3:18)

Ever since I read about the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, it has been the desire of my heart to actually spot one. While it winters in Mexico to South America, it nests solely in the juniper-oak trees of Central Texas. And even in Texas, it is still a rare sighting. So before my family headed to Garner State Park in Texas, I prayed: “Lord, grant us what we need to experience the power of your presence, our creator, through your created.” (God knows the desires of my heart better than I do…)Not long after we arrived, I was on a morning hike at the park when I heard the most beautiful, distinctive song coming from a nearby tree. As I glanced to the source of the sweet chirping sound, I was dazzled by the glow of the aptly named Golden-cheeked Warbler! Nothing I had read could have prepared me for this rare and special moment. For me, it was like the glory of God shining in the face of this little bird! I saturated myself in the moment and then excitedly rushed back to camp, aglow with my own brightness, eager to share my morning experience with my family. My experience brought to mind the story of Moses, who upon returning from the tent of the Lord’s presence, had to wear a veil to cover his “shining face” when he returned to the Israelite people. (Ex 34:29-30 paraphrased) By this, I mean please don’t expect people who miss out on seeing the Golden Cheeked Warbler to share your giddy excitement. 

If God can make his glory to shine through this Warbler’s cheeks, how much more can he make his glory to shine in/through us?!! “We are not like Moses who had to wear a veil. In union with Christ, we reflect the glory of God with uncovered faces.” (2Cor 3:13-14 paraphrased)Just as the bright yellow cheeks distinguish this Golden Cheeked Warbler from any other bird, “God’s presence is what distinguishes us from any other people on earth.” (Ex 33:16 paraphrased) As we soak in God’s presence through prayer, worship, service, church, or his word, we can’t help but overflow with his love, grace, and goodness splashing others with glimpses of God’s glory!

Shortly after returning from our trip, I had the opportunity to share my special “God moment” with our teenage girls at bible study. The following week, one of our young ladies came to me with cheeks that shined far brighter than the Golden Cheeked Warbler as she presented me with a gift I’ll treasure for a lifetime. Upon seeing her rendition of my special “God moment” expressed in vivid watercolor, I asked Abigail how long she’d been painting. I couldn’t’ t hold back tears of unspeakable joy as she told me this is her first ever painting depicting, of all things, the Golden-Cheeked Warbler at Garner State Park. I pray it blesses you as it has blessed me!

GCW

“To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen.”
(Eph 3:20-21)

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Woodpecker: Knock, knock… I Dream of Grace

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Woodpecker
“Ask, and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
(Matt 7:7)

I have this dream: I stand outside… knocking on Heaven’s gate. Today is the day that I’ll learn my fate.
Knock, knock, knock… “May I come in?” I ask as an angel of the Lord meets me at the gate. Beyond the angel dressed in white, I catch a glimpse of “eternal more.” I can see two ways to enter: one is very narrow and the other very wide. As I consider the significance of the two paths, the angel asks me to please wait outside while the Lamb judges things that I cannot hide. The course of my life flashes right before my eyes. The Lamb stands at the entrance as a witness, I can tell no lies. I feel naked and exposed. This is the way God created us I suppose.

In my life, I’ve known disgrace and shame. But that was before I invited God into my heart in Jesus’ name. As I seek my Savior’s face, I am left feeling awed and humbled by his overwhelming grace. It is beyond my comprehension how God could love me so much that he would send this Lamb-so innocent and pure- to earth as man, while I was yet a sinner, to save me so I could live with him in eternal harmony. God knew I could never do it on my own. From beginning to end, I was never alone. God revealed all I needed to know in Jesus Christ, the savior he promised to send. With all of life’s choices, I had only to pause long enough to recognize his voice. God was always with me. When I was too blind to see, the Holy Spirit helped me along the way adding his divine testimony. In union with Christ, I am in him, he is in me. This amazing grace overwhelms me as I stand waiting. I’m keenly aware that this is something I could never work for nor earn. God’s grace is a gift, far beyond my reach, given freely in Christ to save me from the eternal burn. Through the mysterious work of love divine, I stand here with a new heart and mind. I praise Jesus Christ as Lord… my truth, my life, and my way. And now I stand here humbled. It is judgment day.

I am knocking again… knock, knock, knock. I’m seeking and hope to find that heaven’s gate will be opened to humble me. In union with Christ, I come anchored in hope about my eternity. Here in this dazzling light, everything I ever tried to hide is examined and revealed in perfect clarity. I’m keenly aware of the sins stacked against me. I come to you flawed. As I stand reflecting upon my life, the gate swings open and I hear the final judgement: Forgiven! Forgiven for all!

Free at last, I step into living worship where I hear the trumpets blast. There upon the throne, I see you in all your majesty and glory. At the sight of your dazzling presence and light, I fall to my face joining the angels gathered before you in a song of praise. I’m overwhelmed by your love, saved by your grace. I’m humbled and awed. If not for Jesus Christ, I wouldn’t be here at all.

“He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift so that no one can boast about it.”
(Eph 2:7-9)

Flock of Geese: Let Me Be Your “Honker”… Loving God and Others

GeeseFlock of Geese

Artwork by Abigail (Age 15)

“The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love his brother also.”

(1John 4:21)

In regards to Texas weather, apparently even the Geese get confused about which direction to fly!  At least that is what I was thinking as I observed a flock of Geese flying back and forth overhead as if they couldn’t make up their minds about which direction to fly. Of interest was that despite their difference of opinion in regards to the flight plan, the geese would quickly recover and regroup back into their v-shaped flying formation indicating (to me at least) that splitting ways simply wasn’t an option. With each change of course, the only notable difference was the increased sense of urgency in which the geese honked at each other. If only it were that easy for us to reconcile after an altercation! But because we often allow ourselves to be ruled by our egos, pride, and “flesh,” we may choose to withhold our love and encouragement from others for any number of reasons. It could be that we feel others are “undeserving” of our love or are “too different” from us to love. At other times, we may feel that our love is not reciprocated in a likewise manner or appreciated in accordance to our expectations. In instances like these, it is tempting to “fly our own direction” verses seeking the path of peace and unity. However, “the command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love his brother also.”(1John4:21)

I’ll never forget experiencing the restorative power of unmerited love and forgiveness from my youngest son. One night when I was feeling especially frustrated and under-appreciated, I couldn’t resist the urge to let my family know exactly how I felt. Even as I inhaled deeply preparing to exhale another long string of ugly complaints, my youngest son walked directly into the path of my fury and threw his arms around me embracing me in a bearlike hug. His unmerited love in the midst of my contention completely extinguished my anger and brought an abrupt halt to my tirade.

In a much more profound way, “God has shown us how much he loves us-it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!”(Rom 5:8) Through his sacrificial death and resurrection, God has demonstrated his great power and desire to not only restore our relationship to him but to one another. Consider the transforming impact of Jesus’ redeeming love toward Peter…even after Peter denied knowing him 3 times. Although Peter certainly didn’t “deserve” Jesus’ love, grace, or encouragement, Jesus appears to Peter after his resurrection seeking to restore him in a most tender and personal way. During this special scene tailor-made to speak to the depths of Peter’s heart, Jesus asked three times (the same number of times Peter denied him) if Peter loves him to which Peter responds “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” (I can only imagine the guilt and shame he must have been feeling…) To this, Jesus responds simply, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:15-17 paraphrased) For the love of Christ, let us love one another!

Because their journey can be long and tedious, it is believed that Geese conserve their energy by flying in a v-shaped formation. Typically, one goose will lead for a while, taking the “hits” if you will, while the others honk as if encouraging each other to “keep flying, don’t give up, we are almost home!” After the goose leads the flock for a while, it will fall back into the formation thus allowing another to lead the flock as the cycle begins again. Likewise, our spiritual journeys can become long and tedious. In the midst of our journey, it can be tempting to pull away from the flock or lose sight of God’s eternal “promised land.” During these times of confusion, let us love and “honk” at one another all the more urgently!

In closing, please allow me to share this beautiful quote from Mother Teresa:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”

“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Broken Pieces

 IMG_1063 Broken Pieces

One day while walking along the seashore, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for revealing himself in the dazzling light of day, the uniqueness of each sea creature, and the roar of the crashing waves. I then asked him to show me more.

As I made my humble request, I had visions of finding the perfect shell… perhaps a Conch or shiny, new Sand-Dollar. Instead, I felt God calling me to pick up only the broken pieces of shell on this special quest. Even as I wondered who in the world wants the broken ones, I felt God responding to my unspoken thought: “I do” came the simple reply. Why… I wondered as I gathered the broken pieces of shell that had been rejected, left behind, or discarded in place of something new…why would anyone want the broken ones?!!

God’s word came to me almost at once and I knew: The son of man came to save those who are last, least, lonely, and broken. “Those who are well have no need of a doctor!” (Matt 9:12 paraphrased) Thus, determined to obey, I gathered as many broken pieces of shell as I could find on this beautiful, sunshiny day. As I bent to pick up one final broken piece, I was treated to a burst of color and life only to discover a ladybug had made its way to the beach!

IMG_1068With my bucket now full of broken pieces of shells, I somehow knew there was but one thing left to do. Like a puzzle, I gathered all the broken pieces together and at last, I could see the Sand-Dollar I had hoped to find. Far from perfect, shiny, or new, this Sand-Dollar required putting each of the broken pieces together before I could truly recognize the beauty and poetry of its original design.

IMG_1281As I reflected on the meaning of this strange and wonderful Sand-Dollar find, another type of picture came to mind. With deep love, God sent his own Son from heaven above to gather us-the least, last, lonely, and “broken ones”- into one body where His life-giving Spirit “is in all and works through all.” (Eph 4:6; 1Cor 12:7 paraphrased) Through God’s call in Jesus Christ, we have gone from broken to chosen! Though we have many faces and represent many places, together in Christ, we become but a glimpse of God’s great love and amazing grace.United to reflect our Father’s heart, “Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body even though it is made up of many parts.” (1Cor 12:12)

The Buck Stops Here: Bitterness, Joy, and the Choice

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The Buck Stops Here:
“Your joy is your own; your bitterness is your own. No one can share them with you.”
(Proverbs 14:10)

“The buck stops here”…this was my first thought as a buck literally stopped directly in front of me along a hiking trail one morning. Although I can’t say exactly who was more startled, I can tell you that it was a moment I won’t soon forget for a couple of reasons. First, at the time, I wasn’t a “happy camper”- no pun intended.  Shortly before our camping trip, I had fractured my foot in several places thus limiting my activities due to the constraints of a huge shoe boot. Even as I hobbled down the path on this particular morning, I was asking God to deliver me from the temptation to cast blame for my predicament in addition to protecting my family from the rising poison of my own bitterness. The ugly truth is I was feeling sorry for myself because while everyone else was having the time of their lives hiking, riding bikes, exploring, etc. – I could only watch from a safe distance. Secondly, it is not every day you find your ramblings to God interrupted by the sudden appearance of a buck. I was hardly finished praying; yet, the message was clear enough: the buck stops here! “Your joy is your own; your bitterness is your own. No one can share them with you.” (Proverbs 14:10)

In this moment, God reminded me that it is not our circumstances that define us as much as how we choose to respond to them. As we turn our attention from ourselves to Him, God is more than well able to transform our bad attitude into one of gratitude.

Along with a new attitude, my prayer time brought to mind some wise counsel I once heard: “Ultimately, we can choose to be bitter or better. Note there is only one letter difference between the two. Those that become bitter focus on the “I” – I should have, I could have, and I feel sorry for myself. Whereas those determined to become better will focus more on the “E”- Emmanuel- God is with us.” God promises to be with us in every circumstance and then leaves the choice in how to respond up to us: “Your joy is your own; your bitterness is your own. No one can share them with you.” (Proverbs 14:10) Choose joy!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: “Be still My Soul… God is in Control”

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird
“Be still and know that I am God.”
(Psalms 46:10)

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “A Ruby-throated hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times per second.” Considering it has one of the highest metabolism rates of all the warm-blooded vertebrates in the world, one can only assume that it must require some amount of effort to simply “be still.” Yet, this state of stillness is exactly what I observe in this Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on a branch in my backyard. Even without the metabolism rate of a hummingbird, we all experience seasons in life where it can be challenging to simply “be still”…both physically and spiritually. I experienced such a time of spiritual “restlessness” when I lost all the women in my immediate family- mom, sister, and grandmother- far too close together. Even with or without the hope of Christ, there remains the business of adjusting to life without one’s loved one. My own season of loss only pales in comparison to that of so many others in the world. As I struggle to make sense of the hardships we face in this life, God’s direction comes in the stillness of a hummingbird: “Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalms 46:10)

In light of God’s glory in creation comes illumination of the creator: God doesn’t call us to understand times of trial and suffering, but to trust that he is control in the midst of them. Consider the book of Job where we hear of a man who has experienced immeasurable loss and suffering. After losing his children, home, livestock, servants, and health, Job finds himself in desperate need to understand his predicament. His wife suggests that he curses God for his troubles while his friends offer to help uncover the possible sin that could be causing his suffering. When at last God, seemingly displeased with the feeble attempt of others, speaks into the midst of Job’s suffering, he has a few questions of his own… all pertaining to the divine nature and eternal power of God as revealed by creation. As Job recognizes God’s glory in creation, he finds a place of stillness for his soul in the sovereignty, power, and providential care of his creator. (Job 38-42) Likewise, as we relinquish our desire to understand things too complicated for us to know and instead trust ourselves to the sovereign and providential care of our creator, we can find a place of stillness for our souls not dependent on circumstance.

Before winter, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight destined for Central America. I can only wonder how it instinctively knows that there is anything better to make such an arduous journey worthwhile. We can’t fully understand hummingbirds anymore than we can understand human trials and suffering this side of heaven. But like the hummingbird that instinctively knows there’s something better on the other side of the ocean; God calls us, mortal though we are, to trust that he is control. In union with Jesus Christ, we can rest assured that the best is yet to come.

Inspired by the Nature of God
(Seeds of Devotion: Psalms 46:10; Job 1:13-2:10;Job 38-42;Psalms 131;1Peter 4:19;Acts 2:26;Rom 1:20)

Indigo Bunting: Faith and God’s Abundance

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Indigo Bunting
“No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him.”

(Heb. 11:6)

Bursting with life and color, this Indigo Bunting transformed the dead leaves of my yard into a stage for God’s glory… reflecting the condition of my heart. With every God-given call or task comes the temptation to dismiss it due to our lack of abilities, current circumstance, or foolish pride. I’m convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to following God’s call is our own deceitful heart. One morning as I struggled with such inner feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, I humbly offered it to God in prayer asking for a reminder of HIS love, presence, and promise. And should our Creator be willing, I asked that His reminder come in the form of His created, specifically a Bunting. I knew I was asking a lot, certainly more than I deserve. But, I also knew that “nothing is too difficult for God” and He takes pleasure in “rewarding those who seek him.”(Jer. 32:26; Heb. 11:6 paraphrased) Although I embraced the day with faith and expectancy, no words can describe the unspeakable joy and humble awe of spotting this Indigo Bunting in my own backyard!

As I marveled over this one time visitor, I felt God teaching me a most extraordinary lesson. God doesn’t call us because of who we are or the abilities we have to offer. God calls us because of who he is and the life abundant he has planned for us in Jesus Christ. I could almost relate to Simon Peter when he was called to follow Jesus during his earthly ministry. After a long night of fishing with no results, Simon Peter is instructed by Jesus to push his boat out further in the deep water and let down his nets. Almost reluctantly (it seems), Simon Peter does as Jesus asks only to find himself with a boat so full of fish that he requires additional help to keep the boat from sinking! Upon recognizing the abundance Jesus has to offer, Simon Peter falls to his knees before him and cries, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:4-11 paraphrased) God can and does use these moments when we are most keenly aware of our own poverty of spirit to awaken our souls to the infinite riches he has for us in Christ.

As if in answer to an invisible call, I watched as the Indigo Bunting departed from the comfort of my backyard in pursuit of the great unknown. Likewise, we are left with a choice in how to respond to God’s call. We can remain in the current circumstance/condition in which we find ourselves… or we can choose to leave behind what we think we know and move forward in faith that “God exists and rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6)

Inspired by the nature of God