PERSONALITIES – EARTH DAY 2018

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” [Genesis 1:28 (NLT)]

Until recently, I didn’t know that scientists have identified personality (distinctive behavioral traits) in animals as diverse as elk, fish, ferrets, spotted hyenas, spiders, sea anemones, rodents, lizards and birds. Introversion and extroversion have even been identified in octopuses! Of course, the same characteristic will present differently in various species. An introverted octopus, for example, will stay in its den while feeding and try to hide by changing color but an introverted human might stand alone at a party or have difficulty getting a date. As for a shy African penguin named Tubbs who’s wintering at our local zoo—he takes his food into the back corner of his den to eat it, usually stands with his back to the other penguins and zoo visitors, and, like many timid fellows, hasn’t had success with the ladies.

We recently became acquainted with Tubbs and his friends Missy, Squirt, and Sal when we met their keepers and went behind the scenes at their exhibit to feed them. Initially, the penguins all looked alike but, when we looked more closely, we realized their black chest spots are as unique as fingerprints on a human. Like zebras, jaguars, monarch butterflies and the rest of God’s creatures, even though we may not discern their differences, no two are exactly alike. God never repeats himself.

As we fed these fascinating birds, their distinctive personalities began to emerge. Along with the socially awkward Tubbs, we met the outgoing Missy who, unfortunately for Tubbs, has a crush on her human keeper. The hen-pecked Sal follows his domineering mate Squirt wherever she goes. Although the other penguins prefer eating their fish head first, Squirt insists on getting hers sideways. It is penguin instinct that makes Tubbs gorge himself in preparation for molting but it is his timid personality that caused the curious penguin to peek around a corner at us rather than stand at the doorway with the others.

That scientists have found personalities and emotions in everything from limpets and crabs to coyotes and water striders amazes me. Before meeting the penguins, I’d thought of personalities only in domesticated animals and attributed them to training and environment. I hadn’t considered the possibility of undomesticated animals having distinctive personalities and the ability to feel and express emotions. Scientists have found that even the Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm with only 302 brain cells, can learn and remember and that honey bees can exhibit optimism and pessimism. Animals may not be able to speak in a way that we can understand or exhibit emotions in a way we recognize, but there is nothing dumb or unfeeling about any of God’s creatures. Their complexity and diversity point to our unlimited Creator and His intelligent, imaginative and loving design. God created every living thing and none of His creation happened by accident.

Sunday is Earth Day and ending plastic pollution is this year’s mission. Plastic pollution endangers African penguins like the zoo’s delightful foursome but it also threatens the survival of every other kind of sea bird along with seals, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, whales and dolphins. God commanded us to keep and care for His creation, not to exploit or abuse it. As title holder to the earth, He will hold us responsible for the way we care both for it and the creatures with whom we share it. For the sake of Tubbs and the rest of God’s creatures who are unable to speak for themselves, let us be better stewards of God’s beautiful earth.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life. [Attributed to St. Basil the Great]

You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority—the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. [Psalm 8:6-8 (NLT)]

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LOVE NOTES

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy [Psalm 96:11-12 (NLT)]

wireweed - sida acutaStopped at a red light, I glanced at the grassy median on my left and did a double take; the small yellow wild flowers (some would call them weeds) appeared to be dancing. Their petals seemed to be floating in a breeze—only the petals were still on the flowers and there was no wind. Another look told me that hundreds of dainty sulphur butterflies were flitting to and fro just a few inches above the grass. With both butterflies and wireweed (sida acuta) being pale yellow, it looked like the flower petals had managed to escape their stems and the field was bursting with joy! A glance at my fellow drivers told me they were oblivious to the butterfly celebration taking place on the roadside. I wanted to get out of my car and tell everyone to look at the beautiful frolic right beside them. Caution and common sense, however, kept me in my car and, when the light changed, I reluctantly made my turn while thanking God for His gift of an “Aha!” moment. Did He specially arrange that revelry in pale yellow to intersect with my drive that morning? I don’t know, but it sure felt like He did. It was just what I needed to encourage me on a discouraging day.

Although I know my husband loves me, I cherish the times he walks by and touches me affectionately, whispers something sweet, or grazes my cheek with his lips. I also know that God loves me; after all, He demonstrated that on the cross. Nevertheless, God’s “Aha!” moments are His gentle kisses, tender caresses, and love notes. They’re subtle reminders that He is there, He cares, and He loves me.

As I continued on my drive, I wondered about the other drivers. Was I the only one who saw the butterflies? Then again, how many times have I have been so self-absorbed or intent on my activity that I missed one of God’s love notes? It isn’t just butterflies; it can be a song on the radio, a child’s laughter, the aroma of jasmine, a weed growing through a crack on the sidewalk, a squirrel chattering in a tree, a finch on the windowsill, the mockingbird’s song, seeing a young couple caress or an old couple walk hand in hand, the smell of grass after a spring rain, a rose bud, or a stranger’s smile. Although God personalizes His love letters for each one of us, we need to slow down and be mindful enough to recognize them when they come our way.

There is an old Hindi poem, translated by Ravindra Kumar Karnani, in which a child asks God to reveal Himself. God responds with a meadowlark’s song, the roar of thunder, a star and the birth of a baby but, in her ignorance, the child doesn’t recognize His answers. Finally, in desperation, she cries, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!” But, when God touches the child, she brushes away the butterfly and walks away unknowingly. It occurs to me that we are not much different. May we never thoughtlessly brush away one of God’s gentle kisses or fail to notice one of his love notes.

O Lord, your unfailing love fills the earth. [Psalm 119:64a (NLT)]

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. [Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)]

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. … Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. [Galatians 6:2,10 (NLT)]

damaged cypress trees - corkscrew swampHurricane Irma did quite a number on our southwest Florida bird sanctuary. Unfortunately, much of the boardwalk was damaged (some of it beyond repair) and there were several casualties among the trees, including two 100-foot cypress trees that proudly stood for over 400 years. Like them, many smaller trees were uprooted and now lie dead on the forest floor. Irma’s high winds did some violent and cruel pruning as it stripped bark, tore off branches, and splintered mature trees as if they were mere matchsticks. Cypress trees that were over 40-feet tall are now little more than stumps. Nevertheless, trees I thought were goners are recovering and greening up; new foliage is emerging out of their fractured tops and sides. In spite of the incredible damage they suffered, their roots still support and feed them with life giving water and they’re surviving. They may be down but they’re certainly not out.

I thought of the storms we endure in our lives; while some may be no worse than a noisy thunderstorm, others can be as devastating as a hurricane. Age and size certainly can’t keep us from falling. Nevertheless, the storm couldn’t defeat all of the trees and the setbacks and storms of life don’t have to defeat us. Like the damaged cypress trees with their new growth, we can stay rooted, survive and even thrive.

We do that through the church. Just as roots aren’t optional for trees, the church really isn’t an option for the Christian. I’m not talking about a building or a specific denomination; I’m speaking of a community of believers who belong to Christ and are bound together by both the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The church is what supports us when we start to fall, grounds us when we falter, and nurtures us with living water when we’ve been weakened.

God revealed himself to mankind when he became incarnate as Jesus Christ. As Christ’s followers, we reveal Him to mankind through the church—the church actually is Christ incarnate. As His hands and feet, heart and voice, we are the ones who keep, support, encourage, lift and comfort the broken and bruised. We are the ones who provide the nourishment and water that allow the damaged to grow and blossom once again. Like a tree that supports another one or the roots that ground and nourish it, the living breathing church is what makes it possible for our brothers and sisters to say, “I may be down, but I’m not out!”

 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:27 (NLT)]

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PAYING THE PRICE

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. [Galatians 6:7 (NLT)]

osprey“It wasn’t worth it!” I grumbled while applying cortisone over four painful red bumps on my foot. When walking around the lake at the botanic gardens, I’d spotted an osprey in a nearby tree. To get a good shot, I had to step off the paved trail into what I knew to be fire ant territory. Having had previous encounters with these stinging insects, I knew better than to stand there in sandals, but I did it anyway; the picture wasn’t worth the price I was paying for my poor decision.

It’s not just fire ants that cause us to regret our poor choices. Wanting to sow his wild oats, the prodigal son enjoyed himself while recklessly spending his inheritance but, when the hungry young man was slopping pigs, he knew his wild living hadn’t been worth it. Adam and Eve (and the rest of mankind) paid a hefty price for a bite of an apple: banishment from Eden, painful childbirth, marital discord, toil and death. I wonder if David thought adultery worth the price he paid: his first son by Bathsheba died, he was humiliated when Absalom publicly took his wives, and violence and rebellion plagued his family. King Manasseh knew better than to build pagan shrines, sacrifice his own children, and place a carved idol in the temple. The price he paid was being led away to Babylon in bronze chains with a ring in his nose. Fortunately for him, Manasseh was given a second chance by God; not everyone is so lucky. Lot’s wife had been warned; was that last look at Sodom worth the price she paid? Then again, as a pillar of salt, she could gaze at the city’s ruins forever.

After nearly 3000 prescription pills were found in her possession, a sheriff’s deputy in a northern community pled guilty to “attempted possession of a controlled substance.” Punishable by up to a year in prison, she was sentenced to seven days in jail and a year of “conditional discharge.” Less restrictive than probation, conditional discharge means the court retains jurisdiction over her with several provisions including drug and alcohol evaluations, no employment where she might have access to drugs, and no use or possession of a firearm. Since the original charge was negotiated down from felony possession (meaning four to fifteen years in prison), most of us would think she got off easy. Apparently expecting probation with no jail or restrictions, the defendant was shocked by what she considered a harsh sentence. As a deputy, she couldn’t plead ignorance of the law or its consequences; nevertheless, she thought the price she paid too high. My study Bible speculated that had David known the cost of his sin, he might not have bedded another man’s wife. I disagree. As a king, David knew the law given in Leviticus: the punishment for adultery was death for both he and Bathsheba! Like the deputy, he knew the consequences and like her, he got off easy.

Stepping onto an ant hill has painful consequences but so does sin. The penalty I paid for that photo was negligible compared to the cost of many of our poor decisions. When choosing between right and wrong, the price we pay can be far greater and longer lasting than a few insect bites. Although Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and God promises forgiveness when we repent, we still have to face the consequences of our sins here on earth. We, however, are not the ones who get to pick and choose what those consequences will be nor do we get to complain and say, “But God, it wasn’t worth it!”

Temptation can be tormenting, but remember: The torment of temptation to sin is nothing to compare with the torment of the consequences of sin. Remorse and regret cannot compensate for sin….though sins can be forgiven immediately – the consequences can last a lifetime. [Edwin Louis Cole]

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. [Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT]

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MARVELOUS WORKMANSHIP

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

ViceroyWe were discussing when and how we came to believe in the existence of God. Some, who’d been brought up in families of faith, said there never was a time they weren’t aware of God’s presence. Others spoke of believing in God because He is visible in His creation of flowers, mountains, birds, sunrises and sunsets, the vastness of space, or the miracle of birth. Apologizing in advance for grossing us out, one woman shared her experience while in med school.

Not a believer, she’d thought science explained everything that needed explaining until she dissected a human brain. As she cut into the tissue and started labeling parts, she began to wonder. While slicing through the 100 billion neurons of a man’s brain, she questioned where the part was that loved stroking his wife’s hair, that knew the sound of his children’s laughter, that built model airplanes with his boys or a dollhouse for his daughter. Which part learned the alphabet and times tables, loved his parents, knew how to play the guitar, spoke wisdom to his students, called blue his favorite color and enjoyed both the Beetles and Bach? With each slice she asked things like, “Is this the part that knew sorrow at his child’s death or joy at his daughter’s wedding? Where is the memory of his first bicycle, first kiss or honeymoon?”

She held the most fascinating and complex organ of the body in her hands and knew the parts and the functions of every part of it but she couldn’t find the answers to her questions. Touching his brain, she knew this man more intimately than anyone but she couldn’t uncover what made him who he was. When she couldn’t find his essence—his very soul—she realized he was greater than the sum of his parts. Understanding that inside us all is something unique that cannot be seen, cut into, labeled, or even explained was her “Aha!” moment. It was then that she realized something or someone far greater is in charge. It was then that she finally understood God—the creator of heaven and earth and all things in between.

When she finished speaking, the room was absolutely silent; she started to apologize again for talking about cadavers and dissections. We reassured her there was no need for apology. Her compelling story had not turned our stomachs; rather, the beauty of it had taken away our breath! We sat in stunned silence as we each reflected on this great and marvelous Creator God who reveals Himself in such wonderful and unique ways.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. [Psalm 139:13-15 (NLT)]

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GONE BANANAS

Passion flowerI have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O Lord, well know. I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. [Psalm 40:9-10 (NLT)]

We recently attended a program at our local zoo about giant armadillos. The speaker has spent the last seventeen years in the Brazilian Pantanal wetlands conducting research on several species ranging from peccaries to iguanas. Seven years ago, he became enamored by the elusive giant armadillo and it has been his focus ever since he realized this prehistoric creature (about five feet long and weighing up to 130 pounds) is a keystone species. With its many burrows (a new one every two days), it plays a crucial engineering role in the ecosystem; many other animals depend upon those burrows for their survival. The biologist’s enthusiasm for his topic was compelling and contagious. With his incredible passion for these amazing and endangered animals, he admitted to speaking about them whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

Like many other scientists, prior to meeting the giant armadillo, this biologist did research, wrote a paper, published it, and went on to another project. The more he learned about the giant armadillo, however, the more concerned he became about its survival. Realizing that academic research alone would not save them, he began sharing his passion. He educated people about these secretive and endangered animals and lobbied for changes in land management, conservation, hunting practices, superstitions and even bee keeping. Scientific treatises alone won’t save this animal but sharing its story just might!

Listening to this biologist speak with such fervor, I couldn’t help but wonder why we Christians rarely demonstrate such passion for Jesus. Much of the time, we seem rather lukewarm about God and rarely show that same zeal about our Savior. Moreover, like research scientists, we are often content to limit our activities to the theoretical rather than the practical. But, just as field work and scientific papers alone will not save the giant armadillo, our neighbor will not get saved by our church attendance and Bible study. Our passion, like that biologist’s, must be evident. He’s trying to save animals, but we’re trying to save souls!

The late Christian musician Keith Green is reported to have said the definition of a Christian is someone who’s bananas for Jesus! I imagine that within an hour of meeting this biologist, anyone would know that he’s bananas for giant armadillos. I wonder, within an hour of meeting me, would anyone know I’m bananas for Jesus? How about you?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” [Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)]

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