Feed the Birds

One of my favorite songs from the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, is the song Mary sings to Michael Banks entitled, Feed the Birds. Mary is trying to communicate with Michael about the importance of taking care of others with the resources he has been given. In this song, Mary tells of a lady who is on the steps of St Paul’s who calls to people to purchase bags of seed to feed the birds. Michael has a few tuppences which his dad, a banker, is trying to convince him to place in a bank account. Mary gives an alternative option for at least some of Michael’s tuppence.

The main story line in the movie is about relationships. If you have read any of my other blog posts previously, you know that I often impress upon others the importance of relationships. I believe that the whole of Scripture is about relationships. All of Jesus’ ministry was about relationships. Maybe this is why the melodic song which Mary Poppins sings resonates so strongly with me. This song speaks of relationships and the importance of using what we have for the well-being of others.

Some of you are aware that I enjoy having many bird feeders in my backyard. It brings me pleasure to see the various types of birds who come by throughout the day to eat some of the seed which I place in the feeders. I also have hummingbird feeders which contain sugar water which I change every few days. It thrills me immensely when I get to see a hummingbird come and spend time at one of my two feeders. Every time that I fill those feeders I am reminded of the passage of Scripture where Jesus is telling his disciples not to worry about so many things. (See Matthew 6:25-34) He reminds them that the birds of the air do not labor for food and yet God feeds them. When I watch the birds eat from my feeders, I believe I am one of the ways in which God feeds the birds of the air.

This concept also translates well in regard to caring for other people. I think Mary Poppins was wanting to make this point also with Michael and his sister, who was listening in. A major theme throughout Scripture is the Lord’s desire for us to care for one another, especially those who struggle to care for themselves due to society, health, or other circumstances. We are called to care for the orphans, widows, hungry, sick, poor, outsider, and aliens. Jesus tells us that when we care for others, we are caring for him. (See Matthew 25:34-40). Mary’s song might easily be entitled, Feed the Others.

In the movie, Michael Banks takes the words of Mary Poppins to heart. May we all listen to her song and not only feed the birds but care for one another as well.

Layers

One of my favorite lines from the Dreamwork’s movie, Shrek, is “Ogres are like onions! We both have layers.” Shrek tells this to Donkey during one of the moments when Donkey is irritating Shrek, which actually often happens in the movie. I like this quote because I think it applies to humans as much as it does to any ogre.

Humans have layers and those layers increase as they go through life. Experiences create these layers. Some layers are good because they provide protection. At other times these layers are created to hide behind. Whatever the cause of the layer, if you really are going to know and understand someone, you have to peel away the layers. The top layer of a person is never truly who that person is at the core.

God is able to get beyond the layers. At various points in Scripture we hear about God seeing the core of who we are with the layers removed. The story of the choosing of David is one example of this. The psalmist says, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” (Psalm 139:1, NIV) Jeremiah speaks of God in this way, “Yet you know me, Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you.” (Jeremiah 12:3a) Clearly the Lord is able to go past all our layers which life helps us to form.

I think it is very important for us to first of all acknowledge that what we see in a person is only the top layer. Some individuals will not let you go past that top layer. But knowing that there is more to a person than what we can see, allows us to realize there is potential in every person which may lay under the surface. God saw this in David when Benjamin and Samuel could not. Taking this viewpoint makes it difficult for us to write someone off.

When we acknowledge the existence of layers, then we can make an effort to peel those layers back. This may be resisted because some of those layers contain the scars of being hurt when the person has been vulnerable. Scars are the attempt to cover over the damaged tissue and provide better protection in whatever area has been hurt. Just as the human body creates this protective layer, our mental defenses do the same when we have been emotionally or mentally abused. Providing a safe environment built on trust allows these layers to be opened.

So the next time you are quick to judge a person or to discredit them in any way, remember that humans are like onions, we both have layers. Use the eyes of God to see beyond the layers to the potential of the person which lies under them.

Critics

One of the realities of life is that there will always be critics. It does not matter what your line of work is, someone will always stand at the ready to evaluate your work and point out where improvement is needed. This can be positive if the evaluation is fair and the manner in which the critic communicates the areas of improvement is intended to build you up and not tear you down. The attitude and goal of the critic is key in measuring the beneficial nature of what is presented to you. Critics of both types surround each of us on a daily basis.

Not only in the work environment do critics exist, but they also exist in our everyday life away from the workplace. Someone is always ready to comment on anything we post on social media. Neighbors, family members, and friends give “helpful” advice to us even when we do not solicit such advice. A person can easily feel they are constantly being evaluated in regard to choices which are made and actions which are taken.

What sadly is the case is that oftentimes our critics point out what they view as our weaknesses but are inconsistent with their thought process in regard to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Jesus encountered this often during his ministry and life. In fact, he calls such critics out in the Gospel of Luke: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Luke 7:33-34, NIV) Here the critics are not as concerned about Jesus’ actions but concerned about what Jesus represents. They were opposed to his new way of understanding God, faith leadership, and how to interact with one another.

There are critics all around us. Sometimes these critics provide helpful insight to us so that we can improve and grow. Sometimes the views are consistent with caring and wanting to help one another. Other times these critics have the intention of tearing us down. They may see in us something which they dislike in themselves. They may not even care what we are saying or doing but instead dislike what we represent.

When you encounter someone who is critical of you, examine what attitude and intention they bring to the table. Discuss it with a trusted friend. Discuss it with the Lord. Remember most of all that you are a beloved child of God who was created in the image of your Creator.

Making Mistakes

There is not a person alive who has not made at least one mistake over the course of their life. Mistakes are a part of the human experience. How we react when we make a mistake is the most telling part of who we are as a person. The human instinct when a mistake has occurred is to attempt to cover up the mistake. We want an endless supply of white-out. Okay, I realize that many young people have no idea what that product even is anymore. Maybe a better illustration would be our desire to have a backspace key on the ready at all times. The point is that we hope that no one else notices the mistake, and we can eliminate the evidence as soon as possible.

Times occur when we cannot eliminate the evidence of our mistake. So we may attempt to justify the mistake or blame someone else for it happening. We want to reduce our responsibility for the mistake as much as we possibly can. The mistake does not go away, but we feel better about ourselves if we can become a much smaller player in whatever has led to the mistake in the first place.

We deal with some mistakes by trying to repress it. Our efforts are directed toward hiding the mistake. We may choose to not talk about it with anyone and if they bring up the mistake in conversation, we change the subject as quickly as possible. Putting the mistake out of our thoughts becomes the goal. Max Lucado once described this approach in this way, “That’s like walking around with a pebble in our shoe—it causes us so much frustration that our whole body compensates for its presence, when all we have to do is take it out and toss it away.”

Some mistakes in life are minor and have little impact on others or life in general. Other mistakes have a significant impact. The key is stepping up and being honest about mistakes which we make. We have to take ownership of the mistake and where necessary apologize and seek forgiveness. This approach does not cover up the mistake but it can be a tremendous step in correcting the mistake. Healing can take place once the mistake is out in the open. We are able to move forward without having to hold on to the mistake.

God is aware of the mistakes we make whether we are willing to own them or not. God does not need us to admit our mistakes. Yet, God knows that if we are to heal after making a mistake, we need to admit it. The Church has come to term this as confession. The terminology we use is not important but the act is very important. If we do not admit our mistake, then it is just as Lucado states, it is like a pebble in our shoe which brings us discomfort, pain, and endless frustration. The promise which God gives to us is that our mistakes are forgiven and forgotten. They are tossed away as Lucado suggests.

Making a mistake is human, admitting it and then letting it be thrown away is the correct response.

The Gift of Dogs

If you have been reading my blogs on a regular basis, you know that we have two wonderful dogs in our home. There are times that having a dog is just like having a child. You have to clean up the messes that a dog can create, you have to make sure they are fed and let outside, you need to make sure that they get proper exercise, and you are to provide for almost all their needs. A dog can be the most adorable and loving creature on earth one minute and a frustrating trouble-maker the next. This weekend I told my husband that while I may at times think having our dogs can be a hassle, I could never imagine my life without a dog in our house.

As I have thought about the benefits which dogs bring into my life, I have come to truly see them as a true gift from God. I think that a dog is God’s way of giving us a very tangible demonstration of one of God’s greatest traits—unconditional love. I am not aware of any creature in God’s creation which demonstrates unconditional love like a dog.

At times when I have gotten angry at one of my dogs for doing something like knocking a lamp off and breaking it, my dog forgives my anger and comes to show me signs of affection. Dogs can sense our emotions and are always the first ones to attempt to provide comfort when we are sad. No one appears to be more excited to see me when I return home from either a short or long absence than my dogs. Cuddling next to me is the most important desire of my dogs. Through their actions, dogs demonstrate a love which has no bound.

God created dogs and equipped them to be messengers of God’s unconditional love for us. I have heard far too many stories of dogs who have been abused by their owners and yet keep returning to them. This reminds me of how many times God is ignored, blamed, lashed out at, and even denied, yet God returns to me over and over with affection, acceptance, forgiveness, and genuine love.

I give thanks to God for giving me dogs to fill my life with unconditional love. I give thanks to God for providing me a tangible example of what God’s unconditional love is like. I give thanks to God for the love that I experience daily from our two dogs.

No Separation

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

It was many years ago when I was introduced to this passage from the Bible. I was asked by a very close friend to become involved in a week-long camp for youth interested in music, arts and drama. I was recruited to lead the drama portion at the Presbyterian camp near where I grew up. The youth came to camp on Sunday and were given the script to a musical which was chosen in advance. We spent the week auditioning, rehearsing, building sets, worshiping, studying the Bible, and enjoying the lake. The camp culminated in a performance of the musical on Friday night. A few years later, we began to also tour with the musical around the area for three additional performances. One of the musicals which we chose to perform was entitled, Big Picture. Toward the climax of the plot, a grieving parent sits on his son’s bed and reads from his son’s open Bible. This is the passage which he reads and his perspective on life and God is forever changed. (You can send me a message if you want to know more about the plot.)

Since assisting with this musical, this passage has become the most important Bible passage to me. I have often turned to these words when dealing with challenges in my life. This passage has spoken to me when I feel unloved or unworthy of being loved. When doubts about my faith have arisen, this passage echoes in my mind. Asked what is the most important thing to know about God and I will answer by quoting these words attributed to the writer of the letter to the Romans.

From my perspective, these are the only words a person truly needs to know when thinking about their relationship with God. My reasoning is that if there is NOTHING which can separate us from the love of God, why worry.

Our world tries to convince us that we can never measure up to what God wants. Churches have even made the mistake of saying that the only way to be in relationship with God is by following a list of rules. People have told others that their actions, words, thoughts, lives are unfit for the love of God. Criteria has been established in some faith communities to determine who qualifies to be a member based on the color of their skin, their financial status, their sexuality, their type of work, their background. To all of those with this approach to Christianity, I say it is time to read your Bible again and specifically this passage.

The writer makes it very clear here that no power upon the earth, no spiritual being, no aspects of our lives are capable of removing us from the love of God. We are not even capable of doing this for ourselves. God loves us completely as demonstrated through the life of Jesus the Christ.

Believe this good news and live accordingly!

In The Quiet

In a world where there is constant noise around us, sometimes the loudest voice is found in the quiet.

Recently, I was sitting in my office and considering what I might wish to share next with those who read my posts. As I sat at my desk, I heard the ticking of a clock which hangs over my desk. Outside the window I could hear a bird calling. Then I became aware of the sound of my own breathing. I just sat for a while and listened. It created a calm that allowed my mind to open to possibilities. At one point, I realized that the inspiration I was searching for was found in the quiet surrounding me.

The concept of hearing the big things in the midst of the quiet is one which we find in Scripture. When we hear the story of Elijah and his fears and frustrations as a prophet of God, we hear of God being present in the quiet:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13a, NIV)

The psalmist reminds us the importance of finding God in the quiet when we see these words:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV)

I have to admit that I have not always been very good at sitting in the quiet. I have had to train myself to sit and listen. My nature is to be going, doing, actively engaging. In order to achieve any ability to just sit and listen, I have had to work on deliberately creating a quiet environment and forcing myself to resist the urge to break the surrounding silence with activity. When other individuals would tell me what a rewarding exercise it is to be in a more contemplative and listening state of silence, I thought they were crazy or at the very least I would become crazy trying to participate in such an exercise.

Over time, and with the forced guidance of others, I began to become more comfortable being in the quiet. Early on I had to learn to forgive myself when my mind would race on and I would not be able to sit for any amount of extended time. As I engaged more frequently in taking deliberate quiet time, I found myself feeling much more comfortable with the quiet. Continued engagement in periods of time like these, let me to begin embracing these times more and more. I also was pleasantly surprised that I was able to “hear” more each time. The ideas which began to fill my mind were inspired thoughts by the Lord. While there was no audible voice, there was a sense that the Lord was speaking to me.

All of this brings me back to the two passages from Scripture which I shared with you earlier. I find the Lord more often in the gentle whispers of the world around me. I experience the presence of the almighty God more intensely when I am still.

You may be skeptical like I was. You may say that you are too busy to take time for quiet. Your fear may be just like mine in the sense that you are afraid you would go stir crazy if you just sat in silence. Let me tell you that I understand all of those thoughts and feelings because I had them all. Yet, if you will deliberately, and maybe even force yourself, to make time to be in the quiet, a whole new world of possibilities will open to you.

Shade

One of the joys which I treasure about my home is the trees in our front yard. We have a sweet gum tree, a pecan tree, and a crape myrtle. There are actually two other crape myrtles which we are nursing back to life since the previous owners cut them down to the ground. These trees provide wonderful shade throughout a majority of the day. They also add some beautiful color to our front yard. I am very thankful for these trees, and they are one of the reasons we preferred this house over some newly built houses which we looked at last fall. There is one crape myrtle in our backyard and we have planted two dwarf magnolia trees this spring. Trees provide so many wonderful benefits to our lives. As I looked out at them recently, I thought about the need for shade in our lives.

Life can be pretty taxing on a person. There are plenty of worries and concerns which add a lot of heat to our lives. When I think about the promises of God, I am reminded of passages from the Bible where I see the concept of God providing some shade in our lives. Here are a few of those passages which come quickly to my mind:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:2-3a, NIV)

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8, NIV)

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:8, NIV)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

While these passages do not specifically use the word shade, the imagery provided gives me a sense of being in the shade of the Lord.

I also consider how we can provide shade for one another. Just as God shades us and gives us rest from those difficult aspects of life even for a small period of time, we can share that shade with others. We can be a place of safety and shelter for them. We can provide calm and reassurance. People need to have that shade provided for them in the troubling times of life. By our acts of compassion, comfort and love, we share the refuge and shade which we have received from our Lord.

Where are you finding shade in your days? Where are you providing shade for others?

Shining

I am sure that every generation feels like they are living in dark times. We even named a whole era in human history as the Dark Ages. Right now we can feel like there is a lot of dark around us with all the changes in our lives which have accompanied the Corona-19 virus. The numbers of deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise. In addition, we have been living in a very volatile political environment for years as human decency has left most civic discussions and legislative debate. Truly feels like a dark time in so many ways.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have wondered how to respond to the surrounding events during this dark time. I have followed all the practical advice of the medical community regarding the virus. I have listened to the conversations in the political spectrum and attempted to avoid engaging in hostile debates. But there seems to be something more which I can, must, do. Then I am reminded of a song which I sang in Sunday School in my small church while growing up, This Little Light of Mine. The song is a reminder of Jesus’ words, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV) Jesus tells us that we are to be lights in the world. The question this begs is how do we go about being lights?

Clearly for me, being an example is the way I can be a light in the world. I can wear a mask when I am in an indoor public setting or one where social distancing is a challenge. I can listen to others who have a point of view which is different from my own and not judge that viewpoint. Taking the time to educate myself on the experiences of other individuals will be an example.

Another important way for me to be a light in the world is by sharing compassion and hope with others. Jesus showed compassion even to those who were engaged in his crucifixion. Compassion is not attempting to better others. Using words that build up and not tear down another’s self is compassion. Being present with others even when you do not understand what they are experiencing is compassion.

Sharing hope is reminding each other that we do not walk alone but together and with the Lord. Identifying the positive of each day shares hope. Putting the events of our lives in perspective with the history of humanity and God’s children can produce hope. Sharing the promises of God as identified in Scripture leads to hope.

We are called to share our light with a world experiencing darkness. How are you choosing to shine your light? Let your light shine and do not let anything blow it out!

An Oasis

With everything going on in this world, life can seem a bit chaotic and out of control. In addition to the events surrounding us, the summer heat is beginning to set in. All of this has led me to desire an escape, a place of quiet and peace. I am in need of an oasis.

If you look up the definition of the word oasis, you will find that it refers to a fertile spot in the desert where water can be found. Life can right now feel a bit barren and more energy draining each day. The pandemic has kept us isolated from others for quite some time. We cannot go about our normal activities or those things which recharge us. We are not even able to worship with others and share in fellowship. The unrest due to the racial injustices have only added to these feelings. It is easy to see life as barren and unrelieving, much like a desert.

I have an oasis for my physical and mental well-being. My backyard provides a wonderful place of retreat for me. I can sit on my patio which is covered so I do not have to experience the heat of a summer sun. The wonderful landscaping which was left to us and to which we have added provides beautiful flowers, flowering bushes, and lush green grass to remind me of the life and beauty by which I am surrounded. The pool provides a refreshing and energizing place for me to swim and cool down from the heat of life and summer.

I also have a spiritual oasis. While I cannot physically attend a worship service currently, I am able to attend a virtual worship service. I am able to continue to study Scripture and enjoy an ongoing daily devotional with my husband. My music collection contains plenty of refreshing songs and hymns to remind me of God’s love and care. Daily I am reminded of the presence of the Spirit which encourages and recharges me.

As I thought about my spiritual oasis, my mind was drawn to the words found in an older hymn, “In The Garden.” These lyrics encapsulate all my thoughts about the oasis which I, and likely you, need today.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

I'd stay in the garden with Him
'Tho the night around me be falling
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

Songwriter: C. Austin Miles
In the Garden lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC