YOUR GIFT IS NEEDED

There are different kinds of gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve but the same Lord to serve. And there are different ways that God works through people but the same God. God works in all of us in everything we do. Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good. [1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NCV)]

turkey vultureYesterday, when I compared vultures to mankind, I did vultures a disservice. Although unattractive, smelly, and with rather disgusting eating habits, vultures play a valuable role in keeping our ecosystem healthy and clean by disposing of rotting carcasses and preventing the spread of disease.

When in Tanzania, we came upon a committee of Rüppell’s vultures gathered by an impala carcass. The animal had collided with a vehicle and lay by the roadside—perfectly intact but clearly dead. The birds, however, weren’t eating and seemed to be waiting patiently while dinner lay right in front of them. When we asked our guide why they weren’t dining, he explained they were just waiting for the arrival of more vultures (but not out of politeness). The waiting vultures, while well-equipped to stick their heads into an animal’s carcass, didn’t have strong enough beaks to tear into its unbroken hide. They were awaiting the Lappet-faced Vultures who, with their strong beaks, could tear open the impala’s tough hide and through tendons and other coarse tissue to expose its insides. Being the larger dominant birds, the Lappets eat first. Once done, plenty of food remains deeper in the carcass for the medium-sized vultures like the Rüppell’s who, with their bald heads and necks are perfectly designed for getting down and dirty into the remains. Once they’re done, the Hooded Vultures get to eat. With their smaller heads and beaks, they are perfectly designed to extract the last bits of meat found deep in the animal’s remains. Last to dine is the Bearded Vulture. Unlike its cousins, this vulture has a feathered head making it ill-suited for eating flesh; fortunately, it likes the bones. When each vulture has done its part, their job of cleaning up the carcass is complete. When we wondered how all the different vultures managed to find this one dead animal, we were told that the White-backed Vulture has excellent eye sight and will “wheel” in the sky as a sort of dinner bell to alert all the others. Unable to tear open a carcass, it eats with the Rüppell’s.

There are twenty-three different species of vultures and God has equipped each one of them in a slightly different way. They all have the same assignment—to be nature’s garbage men—but each is equipped to do that in different ways. The White-backed Vulture signals, the Lappet-faced Vultures get the job started, the Rüppell’s do the dirty work, the Hooded-Vultures pick the bones, and the Bearded Vultures finish the job. Each vulture needs to do its part if their joint mission is to be accomplished.

God gave the vultures their assignment and, in Matthew 28:19-20, He gives us ours: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you.” Within that greater assignment of expanding God’s Kingdom, however, we each have a distinct position to fill and a gift that will enable us to fulfill it. Like the vultures, the church cannot survive unless everyone uses his or her gift but, unlike the vultures, our gifts are rarely as obvious as a strong beak or a bald head.

While the Holy Spirit has gifted us, it is our obligation to determine the nature of His gift. In all of his discussion of spiritual gifts, however, the Apostle Paul gave no directions for recognizing those gifts. Perhaps he felt no need for guidance because recognizing our gift really isn’t so terribly difficult. All we really need to do is ask ourselves where we can best serve. Are we the guys with the big strong beaks or the ones who pick the bones clean? When we find the place where we can best serve effectively, we will have discovered our spiritual gift and we can get to work using it to further God’s kingdom.

Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace. [1 Peter 4:10 (NCV)]

The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the Good News about God’s grace. [Acts 20:24 (NCV)]

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WHICH ARE YOU? 

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the vultures and wild animals to finish up what’s left. [Jeremiah 15:3 (TLB)]

hummingbird - vulturesWe were enjoying hundreds of exotic butterflies amid tropical plants in the conservatory of a nearby botanic garden when I turned around to see a hummingbird hovering nearby. In spite of the building’s double-door containment procedures, this beautiful little bird managed to find his way into what, for him, must be paradise and no one seemed to mind. Seeing him reminded me of a question asked several years ago: “Which would you rather be—a hummingbird or a vulture?”  I thought, “That’s a no-brainer!” as I watched the iridescent bird hover over the flowers; then I remembered the question wasn’t what we wanted to be but rather what we actually were.

Most of us want to think we’re hummingbirds—those beautiful delicate birds with the fluttering wings—but I’m not sure we always are. Hummingbirds may be small but they’re fearless; they’ll even pursue hawks in defense of their nest. Are we that fearless? Hummingbirds are optimists who always look for the bright and sweet in the garden of life. Do we? These avian helicopters, often thought of as harbingers of good luck, are welcome everywhere. Does seeing us bring joy the way seeing a hummingbird does or is the reaction to us more like that of seeing vultures at the side of the road—something like “Yuk!”

When we search for something or someone to pick apart, we’re like the vultures soaring in the sky and sniffing for the stink of rotting carcasses. Rather than road kill, we’re sniffing around for rumor and scandal so we can dine on other people’s misery or disgrace. When we discourage rather than build up or disparage rather than praise, we’re not much different than the hungry vultures who gather as the swamp dries and anxiously wait for the fish to die so they can pick at the remains. When we remorselessly spew hate, bigotry, or anger, we’re like vultures that, with a well-aimed shot of acidic vomit, can slime someone or something they don’t like. When we choose to live with resentment, bitterness, and the rotten leftovers of yesterday, we’re not much different than vultures who defecate on their feet.

If we want to be hummingbirds, there can be no more concentrating on the unpleasant garbage of our lives or the lives of others. There can be no more feasting on sour guilt, fetid anger, foul-smelling regrets, or the rotten remains of past relationships and issues that died long ago. Hummingbirds don’t just seek out the sweeter things in life; they are one of those sweet things. As hummingbirds, we can’t just enjoy the happiness we find, we must bring joy to those we meet. After all, people plant brightly-colored flowers and hang special feeders for hummingbirds, but I’ve never heard of anyone trying to entice vultures into a garden.

The hummingbird and vulture have no choice—they are what they were born to be. We, however, can decide if we’re going to be hummingbirds and welcome spreaders of joy, or vultures, those unwelcome omens of misery. The choice is ours!

Lord, guide us in our thoughts and actions so we can be like hummingbirds from this day forth!

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! … Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. [Philippians 4:4,8b (TLB)]

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TRUE BLUE

Blue Morpho butterflySo now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

We recently visited a botanic garden that boasts a butterfly conservatory inhabited by a spectacular collection of tropical butterflies. There I was introduced to the shiny Blue Morpho. God outdid Himself with these enormous beauties so showy that pilots report seeing them from the air as they fly over the rainforest. When Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, I’m thankful God didn’t make them leave the butterflies behind.

Hoping to get a photo of one of these spectacular creatures that were flitting about, I searched through the conservatory for one that was still. Although the Morpho’s upper wings are a vivid blue color, their undersides are a dull brown. When its wings were folded, I mistook the Morpho for another large brown butterfly: the giant owl. It was only when it spread its wings in the sun’s light that I recognized the Morpho by its vibrant blue color.

As Christians, we are called to love and, just as its blue iridescence identifies the Blue Morpho, our love identifies us as Jesus’s disciples. But, if we just sit in the shade and never move out in the world, we’ll look like everyone else. Wings are meant to be spread and Christian love is meant to be shared. If pilots can spot a butterfly from the air, people should be able to see evidence of a Christian’s love wherever we are!

What I later learned is that while the dreary colors of these butterflies’ undersides are produced by pigments that absorb and reflect light, the brilliant blue of their upper wings has nothing to do with pigment. That color comes from the way light reflects off transparent microscopic scales on their upper wings. There’s an involved scientific explanation but (in layman’s terms), when light hits ridges on those scales, something called “constructive interference” happens which cancels out certain wavelengths of light. As a result, when light hits the upper wings of the Blue Morpho, our eyes perceive them as being a shimmering blue.

Looking at my pictures, it’s difficult to comprehend that the Blue Morpho’s dazzling iridescence isn’t real. The blue is merely an optical illusion resulting from the architecture and arrangement of transparent scales on its brown wings. I guess we could call it a fake since it doesn’t show us its true colors. It’s a little like the Pharisees: those men Jesus criticized because they did everything for show. Their faith and righteous were but an illusion because their hearts were filled with hypocrisy and evil. Unlike either Blue Morphos or Pharisees, however, there should be nothing illusory or deceptive about a Christian’s love; we are expected to be true blue to Jesus and His command to love one another.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. [1 John 4:20-21 (NLT)]

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THE ALPHA

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. [Revelation 22:13 (NLT)]

Grand Canyon of YellowstoneHaving forgotten the Greek alphabet he learned as a fraternity pledge, my husband asked the meaning of the symbols on the lecterns in the church sanctuary. On the left was A for alpha and, on the right, was Ω for omega: the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Hebrew, those letters would have been aleph and tau. Among Jewish rabbis, using the first and last letters of the alphabet was a common way to express the whole of something, from its beginning to its end. Today’s equivalent expression would be “from A to Z” or “from soup to nuts.” Those Greek letters refer to three verses in Revelation in which Jesus claims to be the Alpha and Omega. They tell us that that, as part of our Triune God, Jesus was there at the beginning and He will be there at the end.

As for alpha: only God could exist before time even existed! Although Genesis starts with, “In the beginning,” God was already there! Since time, space, and matter are co-relative and God created space and matter, we know it was God who also created time. God never had a beginning because He is the beginning! He didn’t emerge from something; everything emerged from Him!

One of the basic laws of science is that neither mass nor energy can be created. Simply put, it can only be converted or broken apart and put together in a new way. Strictly speaking, mankind can’t create; we can only synthesize or transform by taking existing materials to make something new. We can’t create ice or steam but we can convert water into those things by freezing or boiling it. We can take that water (H2O) and combine it with carbon dioxide (CO2) and end up with carbonic acid (H2CO3) but we couldn’t create carbonic acid without the building blocks of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. God, however, started from scratch; with no time, space or matter before Him, he created mass and energy. Making something from nothing boggles the mind but it’s the only answer that makes any sense—even to scientists!

Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan. … The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole. [Arno Penzias]

Arno Penzias was the winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics. He and Robert Wilson discovered cosmic microwave background radiation. Their discovery supported the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Universe and showed that the Big Bang was not a chaotic random explosion. A highly fine-tuned explosion, it appears that some being guided it along.

The Apostle Paul said, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command.” [Hebrews 11:3] I don’t think we need faith to know that anymore; it appears that science tells us the same thing. The writers of the Bible, however, didn’t know the theory of relativity, didn’t have telescopes telling them the universe is expanding, and had never heard of the Big Bang, thermodynamics, radiation afterglow, or variations in the temperature of the “great galaxy seeds” – they just knew the truth. Our great God is the Alpha!

I alone am God, the First and the Last. It was my hand that laid the foundations of the earth, my right hand that spread out the heavens above. When I call out the stars, they all appear in order. [Isaiah 48:12-13 (NLT)]

All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. [Jude 25 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S YOUR GIFT

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. [1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NLT)]
barred owl - painted bunting - penguin

When I was writing about the peacock’s unpleasant scream yesterday, I pictured him complaining to the owl that the wren has a nicer voice. The wren chirped back her complaint that, unlike the peacock, she was small and nondescript. Hearing them, the penguin complained about his plain black and white feathers but the colorful painted bunting countered that she was unable to swim. The pelican joined the grumbling and whined that he couldn’t flit from flower to flower like the hummingbird who then expressed jealously over the pelican’s large bill. When the bald eagle protested not having long legs like the ostrich and the ostrich expressed envy at the eagle’s ability to soar high in the sky, the wise owl hooted at them all to be quiet.

Unlike the other birds, the owl did not grumble about what many would consider his shortcomings: his dull color, asymmetrical ears, and farsightedness. Explaining that his dull color gives him camouflage, the lopsided ears allow him to locate prey at night, and his farsightedness makes him an excellent hunter, he told the other birds to be thankful for their gifts. He reminded each bird of what made it special: the peacock’s beautiful tail, the wren’s ability to sing and trill, the penguin’s powerful flippers and streamlined body, the bunting’s unique coloring, the pelican’s skill at diving from heights of 30-feet, the hummingbird’s capability of flying backwards, the eagle’s eyes that can spot a rabbit two miles away, and the ostrich’s gift of running faster than any other bird. Rather than complaining about what they didn’t have, they should appreciate their own unique God-given gifts and use what they were given with wisdom, joy and thanksgiving.

Like the birds, we too have gifts: both the talents we were given at birth and the spiritual gifts we received from the Holy Spirit. Those talents and gifts are as unique as a peacock’s tail or the wren’s song. Some gifts, like the strong legs of an ostrich or a pastor’s inspired preaching are rather obvious. Others, like the owl’s lopsided ears or the healing embrace of someone gifted with empathy are less apparent. Rather than complain, as did the birds, we should take inventory of our many gifts and talents, appreciate and develop them, and use them enthusiastically and wisely to glorify God. Let’s appreciate what we have and accept that there will always be some things, like singing or soaring, that are best left to others.

Our purpose should be to discover the gifts He has given us and to use those gifts faithfully and joyfully in His service, without either envying or disparaging the gifts we do not have. [John MacArthur]

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. … It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. [1 Corinthians 12:7,11 (NLT)]

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LOOKS ARE DECEIVING 

peacock - peahenBut the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)]

Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse to find Israel’s new king. As soon as he saw Jesse’s imposing eldest son, Eliab, Samuel thought he surely had his man. God, however, corrected him and told the prophet that appearances can be deceiving. Man sees how a person looks but God actually sees who that person is!

I thought of God’s admonition to Samuel when visiting my son in southern California where a flock of feral peacocks roam his neighborhood. With their vibrant colors and extravagant plumage, they are a beautiful addition to an already picturesque location. I thought how fortunate the residents were to have these beautiful birds in their neighborhood until I heard one scream from a roof top. The dreadful noise was a cross between the braying of a mule and the screeching of a tortured cat. Legend has it that the vain peacock has incredibly ugly feet and shrieks horribly whenever he sees them. I don’t know about its feet but, once I heard the peacock’s call, I quickly thanked God that we don’t have peacocks in our Florida neighborhood.

Yes, looks can be deceiving. People can be beautiful, like the peacock, but what’s inside them can be as ugly as the peacock’s voice. On the other hand, people can be plain and easily ignored, like the grey mockingbird, but what’s inside them is as beautiful as a mockingbird’s song.

Lord, direct us so that we are more like you; help us look at people’s hearts and not their outward appearance. Guide us so that we are more concerned with having good hearts than in having good looks.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you will never walk alone.
[Sam Levenson]

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. [1 Peter 3:3-4 (NLT)]

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