I don’t have any hills in my yard, but I do hear the sound of music. My feathered friends have begun their annual return, and they’re filling the air with their joyful melodies. As they arrive, they’re met by the faithful chickadees and nuthatches who have fed on sunflower seeds and weathered the winter.
If, as some say, the chickadees and nuthatches are deficient in color, they are more than proficient in conversation. The chickadee is reported to have a vocabulary of around 50 distinct sounds including phrases, like “danger!” “feed me!” or “I’m single!”
As the chickadee is busy chattering, the nuthatch listens intently; verifies the message; and, if necessary, acts as a watchman on the wall and sounds a predator is present alarm. While the nuthatch is no Chicken Little, Eric Greene, an ecologist at the University of Montana, lightheartedly says the bird will “retweet” valid warnings to his neighbors.
The importance of conversations cannot be overstated, and ours ought to be more than idle chatter. Jesus said a person will be either justified or condemned by the words they speak (Matthew 12:27). Our conversation should be more than great swelling words of emptiness (2 Peter 2:18), or persuasive words of deception (Colossians 2:8).
How can we fine-tune our vocabulary, so our conversation is pleasing to God? We can start with a prayer of David: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
Since I live in the land of bluestem grass, it’s a common sight to see cattle grazing in pastures. More than a few steers are apt to stick their heads through a barbed wire fence to eat the grass that’s almost beyond their reach. This tendency gave birth to the cliché: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
The old cliché is the life philosophy of some people. They’re not content with what God has given them, so they keep searching for that elusive something that is just beyond their grasp.
God is not a God of mass production, and you were not manufactured on a soulless assembly line by a heartless God. You are a unique creation; the handiwork of God; designed for a specific purpose; and, blessed with the appropriate amount of grace to accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.
You are the apple of God’s eyes, and He has blessed you with gifts that “vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, so it’s important to exercise the gifts you’ve been given (Romans 12:6).”
As you look forward to the week ahead, frame it within the truth of 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace overflow to you, so that, in all things and at all times, having all you need, you may overflow in every kind of good work.”
About this time each year, I start looking forward to the return of the brightly colored yellow finches that will gorge themselves at my birdfeeders. They will be joined by other guests, Blue Jays, Robins, and Redheaded woodpeckers.
To be honest, today is the first day I’ve thought about the woodpeckers; and, I can thank the internet for that. While I was checking my news feed on Twitter, I read a story about some acorn woodpeckers.
Audubon’s field guide for birds, describes these birds as a “clown-faced… western woodpecker with a complicated social structure, living in small colonies. Best known for its habit of hoarding acorns.”
According to National Geographic, some of these clown-faced little devils had stashed some 300 pounds of acorns in a wireless antenna in California. Jim Greer, spokesman for AT&T, commented on the situation: “Moisture and sheer volume caused the microwave signal to finally give out. As soon as the acorns were released, the signal came right back on.”
A single acorn did not render the antenna inoperative; however, it was the first step towards an impaired signal. As the acorns accumulated, eventually the signal between the antenna and the customers went silent.
In this instance acorns are like sin, the power of one might not be noticed; however, when they accumulate, they can be detrimental. The prophet Isaiah knew this to be true, and he said: “Your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers (Isaiah 59:2).”
The answer to the dilemma is to dump the acorns. This is accomplished through confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).”
On this stormy morning, it has occurred to me that a person will never be like a fruitful tree planted by the rivers of water (Psalm 1:3), until he first, drinks from the well of life that Jesus offers to all (John 4:14).
A first glance the white flowers in the picture to the left add beauty to the shrubbery; however, the white flowers are actually part of a nuisance vine that clings to the host plant and drains it of its strength.
A similar process can subtly take root in our lives. Something that seems harmless will attach itself to our daily routine. Eventually it will blossom into a habit that saps us of our strength and robs us of our vitality.
Because thoughts can become habits and habits can control our lives, we need to be aware of their presence. A simple and effective way to do this is to follow the 4 Star Process:
1. Self-awareness: Become aware of what you are thinking by recording your thoughts.
2. Think about the thought. Is it catastrophic thinking? This type of thinking is characterized by words such as: always, never, should, and must.
3. Action: Many of our thoughts are part of an unconscious process in which we act without consciously thinking, we need to practice disciplined thinking: Eliminate thoughts of Grudges and Gossip, and embrace thoughts of Goodness and Grace.
4. Rehearse: Successful public events are often preceded by hours of private rehearsal. Benjamin Franklin said that, By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Rehearse and prepare by examining your brain drainers and brain boosters. These come in the form of the thoughts and habits that Paul speaks of in the verses that follow:
- Brain Drainers: Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:5-10).
- Brain Boosters: Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8)
Here’s a question to keep you thinking: What buds are about to blossom in your life?
One of the many features that I love about Kansas is its population; it’s small in number compared to many states. I also have a fond affection for the diverse landscapes of the Flint Hills and the bumper crops of sunflowers that adorn the roadsides that lace their way through the Kansas prairies.
If you’re one of the less than 3 million people who call Kansas home, you may know the sunflower was designated as the official state flower in 1903. This long-stemmed flower with petals of golden yellow is classified as a turnsole plant, a word of French origin and one that means to “turn towards the sun.”
The sunflower, like all plants, is not self-sufficient—it depends upon the sun for essential nourishment.
Health-conscious individuals are learning what botanists have known for many years: In proper amounts, there are some benefits associated with exposure to the sun. There’s ample research that’s easily available, and it indicates the sun’s rays are beneficial to your health.
While the sun is important to you physically and mentally, it pales in comparison to the Son, who is vital to your spiritual well-being: “The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:36).”
I encourage you to cultivate the habit of rising in the morning, facing the Son, and following Him throughout the day. When you practice this routine you will develop a God-focused regimen of strength that recognizes that it’s, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord (Zechariah 4:6).”
When you arise in the morning, why not give the Son a chance to shine on you?
When was the last time you paused and counted the many blessing that you have? Have you taken the time to heed the old hymn and “name them one by one?” These are the questions I asked myself after reading Psalm 68:19: “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, The God of our salvation!”
A survey of the Psalms will reveal several verses that remind us of God’s many blessings:
- Psalm 1 speaks of relationship: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
- Psalm 2 speaks of faith: Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him
- Psalm 28 speaks of prayer: Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
- Psalm 31 speaks of God’s kindness: Blessed be the Lord, For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!
- Psalm 32 speaks of forgiveness: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
- Psalm 33 is a promise: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
I’ll close with this link to Count Your Blessings. I hope the song will become a symphony as you reflect on the times God has blessed you.
Each year at this time, my interests are directed towards my garden. I visit it often to watch the yellow flowers become tomatoes. I also add a little fertilizer to stimulate the growth of the plants, and put a fence up around the garden to keep the cats out; I don’t like their soul-enriching methodology.
The vegetation in a garden is much like the thoughts in your head. Some can bloom and produce a beautiful crop of beneficial thoughts and productive ideas; others are weeds that are detrimental to your mental well-being and they can make a blooming idiot of you.
To live a well-ordered life, a life that’s more fruit than folly, you must manage your thoughts when they first appear in the garden of your mind. Winifred Gallagher says, “It’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson recognized the power and potential of a person’s thoughts when he said, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
The more you think about something, the more it becomes a part of who you are. Whether it is positive or negative it will take root in the subconscious control center of your mind. An incident that occurred yesterday is evidence of this. The actions of James T. Hodgkinson at the GOP’s congressional baseball practice, is evidence of a mind overgrown with the weeds of hatred.
The mind should be a weed-free zone; and, the only way to accomplish this is to take your thoughts captive. If you fail to manage your thoughts and to take them captive, they will captivate and control you.
Yesterday, we witnessed both good and evil; Hodgkinson, was the personification of evil, and the good was seen in the heroic actions of those who stood in harm’s way to eliminate the threat and those who rushed to treat the wounded.
I can think of no better words to summarize my thoughts than these: Jesus said, The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil (Luke 6:45).
When I lived in the farming community of Hazelton, Kansas, I enjoyed the slow pace of life, and the many wonderful people I met there. One of the few negatives was the water. Because it was so bad I carried a water jug in my truck, so I could fill it at an artesian well.
When I read 2 Corinthians 9:8, I think of that refreshing free-flowing well of cool water:
God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
Grace was a theme of emphasis with the Apostle Paul, and it’s one of the feel-good doctrines of the Bible that people like to discuss.
Grace is a small word, but its five letters contain truth of epic proportion; and, its spectrum is as colorful as the rainbow. Consider a few of these:
- Grace is available to help you grow as a Christian—2 Peter 3:18: Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.
- If you have the can’t-do-blues, God provides empowering grace—2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- There is an extra portion of grace available to the humble—James 4:5-6: He gives grace to the humble.
- You can confidently ask for it—Hebrews 4:16: Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.
The most important aspect of grace and the one on which the preceding stand is saving grace—Romans 5:1-2: Since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.
The grace that offers you peace with God, might be the missing peace that will solve your life’s puzzle.
Amazing Grace is a beloved hymn that was written by John Newton, and he spoke of the power of grace: I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.
People rarely partner stubbed toes and skinned knees with moments of pleasure . . . unless you’ve been a carefree child who chased the sentinels of light through the darkness of July nights. Even though those carefree days of bare feet and childhood innocence are long gone, I still enjoy the nocturnal dance of fireflies as they flutter across the night sky.
The waltz of the firefly reminds me of an old quote by Beecher:
If I were made a firefly, it would not become me to say: “If God had only made me a star to shine always, then I would shine.” It is my duty, if I am a firefly, to fly and sparkle, and fly and sparkle; not to shut my wings down over my phosphorescent self because God did not make me a sun or a star.
Regardless of person’s station in life, there seems to be a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction. Solomon commented on this in Proverbs 27:19-20: Just as water reflects a person’s true face, so the human heart reflects a person’s true character. As Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so the eyes of a person are never satisfied.
From their teenage years forward, people engage in an unending search for that elusive person, place, or thing that will satisfy the desires of their heart. The trivial pursuits of this world’s pleasures will never provide lasting satisfaction; you simply cannot find fulfillment in empty promises
Lasting peace and satisfaction is not found in the creation, but in the Creator:
- Jesus said: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
- God satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul is filled with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
- Notice the promise of Psalm 16:11: God You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.
The next time you see a firefly at night, pause and think about what it means to be content in and satisfied through Jesus. When you do this, it might help to reflect on these words of Paul:
I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles. ~Philippians 4 (The Message)