A Smell So (not) Sweet
As we rode down the highway, we passed a skunk who had been killed some time before. It was early summer and the scene around us was green and lush. But what assaulted our senses was not pleasant. Even though the skunk was long dead, the distinctive odor permeated the area and was drawn into our car through the air conditioning system. We continued to be aware of the smell for quite a while.
As I breathed in the fumes, I thought of how something unpleasant that we do can erase or overwhelm our positive actions or reputation. A short word, a thoughtless remark or a smart aleck retort will linger much longer than we ever suspected. As believers we need to be sensitive to how what we do or say will be perceived and how it impacts our testimony.
"Let every detail in your life--word, action, whatever--be done in the name of the master, Jesus, thanking God the father every step of the way." Col. 3:17 (TM)
We had an interesting experience in our rural northeast
Georgia community not long ago when a herd of cows helped the law enforcement
cadre catch a suspect who was fleeing a crime scene. The chase had started
several counties away from ours and the state troopers and local deputies had
tracked the man in question into a field. He had abandoned his vehicle and run
into the woods, seeking to thereby facilitate his escape.
But when the good guys got to the field, they noticed
that the cows were all looking in the same direction. Following the lead given
by the cattle, the law enforcement folks went straight to the area of the woods
where the man was hiding and arrested him.
Now my knowledge of cattle culture is abysmal, so I have
no idea what it is that caused the cows to lift their heads from their grazing
and stare in the direction of the fleeing suspect, but the sheriff knew that
the posture of the cows was an indication he and his cohorts should follow.
I can remember my mother quoting Numbers 32:23 to me when
I was growing up: 'Be sure your sin will find you out.' (KJV) The cows may not
tell on us, but we won't make a clean getaway.
TURTLE IN A SHELL
Driving down rural roads in the late spring, I spied several turtles trying to cross the road. Each time as I passed, almost always with several other vehicles either coming or going, the turtles instinctively withdrew inside their shells. A couple of times the vehicle either following or approaching me was a large truck. I thought how useless the turtle's shell would be as a protection from the force of those trucks. I wanted to tell those turtles to get going and scurry across the road, not stop motionless inside their carapaces.
And then I was reminded of how often when things are difficult or unpleasant, my first instinct is to draw within myself and hope that things will soon get better, that the unpleasantness will resolve itself, or that the difficult situation will pass me by unscathed. And I wonder if my loving God isn't shaking a figurative head at me, saying, as he did to the Israelites: "Arise and be doing, the Lord shall be with thee!" (I Chronicles 22:16; Darby)
THE LONELY GOOSE
We are fortunate at our lake house to be able to watch and listen to the many Canadian geese who have made our lake their home. (Of course, when they come on shore and leave their mess behind, we complain rather loudly, too!) But for the most part we enjoy their noisy honking and are stirred as we see them come in for a landing on the water or take off as a group. We always stop and watch as their precise 'V' formations fly overhead.
I was rather startled the other day to look up and see a gaggle fly by in the prescribed format, and then shortly thereafter came a straggler, flapping mightily in an apparent effort to catch up and join the group. I got to thinking about that goose and how he (or she) ended up not getting the message that it was time to regroup and fly away.
As my thoughts gave that lonely goose a personality, I envisioned her over in a cove of the lake, busily engaged in goose business, perhaps tending her young or instructing other geese in the proper methods of achieving that perfect 'V', or straying away from the rest of the gaggle to practice a new goose step, then suddenly realizing that she was alone. The group had taken off without her!! Maybe she didn't agree with the direction the gaggle was taking, or perhaps they had not even consulted her—just decided on a new direction.
How often, in our human lives, do we see people who are just not quite part of the group. And yet, we are commanded to love one another with an inclusive love that is not restricted to those with whom we agree or of whom we approve. We are to love our enemies, love strangers, and love the lonely goose not flying in our formation.
"…the one who keeps God's word is the person in whom we see God's mature love." I John 2:5a (The Message)
A MIND OF HER OWN
"Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…" Philippians 2:5a (KJ)
Our daughter and her family have a cat who has a mind of her own; she does pretty much whatever she decides to do. So far no form of discipline has made any impression on her, not the water gun, not putting her up in the laundry room, not stern words, nor anything else they have tried. Although they never had to move breakables out of the way of their toddlers, they have had to do so for the cat.
Many of us are like that cat. We have taken the step of faith that started our walk with the Lord, but walking down the path of obedience is another matter altogether. Jesus walked that path all the way to the cross, and following Him is difficult for us. The way of obedience calls for self-denial, for love of God and others that takes precedence over our love for ourselves, for service and witness in the Name that is above all other names. But just as Jesus' path led from the cross to the resurrection, so will our path lead to glory, the glory of becoming more and more like the Savior.
"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:6 ,7 (NIV)
My brother is an avid bird watcher. While most of us are proud to be able to tell a cardinal from a scarlet tanager, my brother can differentiate between a great blue heron and a tri-colored heron, or between different varieties of spring warblers. He is delighted to spend hours traipsing through the woods in search of a sighting or to stand quietly in hopes of spotting a rare specimen. Many of us notice only the spectacularly colored birds or the ones whose calls bring them to our attention.
Our Lord created a great diversity of humans—some of us are high profile, some are not. Some of us are easily spotted, others of us move quietly, almost unnoticeably in the background of others' lives. Our worth to our Creator is not determined by our flashiness, our size, or how others value our gifts. God takes pleasure in each of us, loves and reaches out to each of us, and honors and blesses our service, whether great or small.
Have you ever noticed how differently birds and people fish? I know very little about either fishing or birds, but it seems to me that people fish by trying to lure the fish to their hook, while birds fish by spotting their prey, then going after it. Of course the Lord equipped certain birds so they can fish efficiently, but God also equipped people with the ability to adapt tools to assist them in their search for fish. I have a comic picture in my mind of a person diving for fish as the pelicans and gannets do, or of a kingfisher with a rod and reel casting for his dinner.
All of us who honor the name of the Lord seek to serve and worship, but we are not all equipped to do it in the same way. Some of us serve in very visible and public roles, others behind the scenes. Some of us have a penetrating vision of how to accomplish the work of the Lord; others have the tools (or the ingenuity to create the tools) to carry out that mission. Each of us has work to do in God's name, and each of us has been created to do that work in a way that honors our Lord and suits who and what we are. It is our responsibility to realize that and get on with the fishing!
"And God said, 'Let the water teem with living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.'" Genesis 1:20 (NIV)
GOOSE ON PATROL
During the spring we had a solitary goose on patrol in our yard. I don't know much about goose culture, but I decided that there was a Mother Goose somewhere nearby on her nest, and that Father Goose was on the lookout on her behalf. One day a wild turkey wandered by and Father Goose chased him away. After some time had passed, we watched the complete goose family parading by on their way to the lake.
As I watched that goose day after day, I thought of how God has given us the Holy Spirit to be on guard in our lives to help keep us from going astray. Just as predators could destroy a goose's nest, so can sin be destructive of our commitment to the Lord. As we heed the direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are warned away from that which is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
"Post a guard at my mouth, God, set a watch at the door of my lips. Don't let me so much as dream of evil or thoughtlessly fall into bad company." Psalm 141:3 ,4 (The Message)
Sun dappled the large expanse of grass under the old oak tree. A woodpecker worked his way up the trunk and a brilliant cardinal perched on the holly tree nearby. Underneath several robins hopped about, jabbing at the earth in search of food. It was an idyllic scene that I glimpsed as I paused at the window. The next time I walked by, two of the robins were fighting. Again and again they flew at each other in what I assumed was literally a turf battle.
As I went about my business that day, my thoughts kept returning to those two robins. There was, to my mind anyway, an enormous amount of lawn for those robins to share, and plenty of food to be harvested. Then I thought about how often Christian churches, or denominations, fight among each other in figurative turf battles. Those who look on must shake their heads, as I did at the robins, wondering, with so many people needing to know God's love in their lives, if there is not room enough for all of God's people to be at work without flying at one another.
"If anyone boasts, 'I love God,' and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both." I John 4:20 ,21 (The Message)
"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15 (NIV)
We have several dogs on our road that lie in the sun all day long and sleep. Recently, with warnings of a severe thunderstorm headed our way, I noticed that those dogs were still lying there, dead to the world around them, sound asleep.
Many of us are just like those dogs. There are needs, some of them desperate, some of them ordinary, all around us and we are completely oblivious to them. People are hurting, tasks are undone, loneliness is prevalent, and still we sleep away in the sun. We need to ask the Lord to make us sensitive to the needs around us and ready to respond when the opportunity occurs. We are God's ministers—hands, voices and conduits of love and forgiveness.