The Early Bird (For the Birds part 7)

“O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee: my soul thirsteth for Thee” (Psalm 63:1a)

Far from being “the worm”, I find the earlier you awake to–and this is the kicker–meet with the Lord, the better your (my) day turns out. Perhaps this is how He planned it? It may not have any bearing on those who work graveyard or some such. Those who’ve been awake since last week for some obscure and bizarre case of insomnia. Forgive me for making light of it. The truth, though, of “the early bird gets the worm” works. How do you do it?

“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)

I once read how our brains reset upon walking from room to hall or where-have-you. This would account for stepping into a room and forgetting why you were there. Can’t say it makes a-hundred percent sense and that’s a highly simplistic paraphrase. But the idea has stuck with me. Referring again to “the day”, notice how each has its own feeling. A feeling that overlaps the yesterday and to where you forget the cares and worries of the previous twenty-four hours. This, I think, is the idea behind this statement of the psalmist:

“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Jesus did it. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

Earliest I’ve ever arisen was four. I was going through deep, dramatic stuff and I couldn’t sleep. I had slept but I also awoke and the tenor of the times dictated I get out of bed. Rather than stay in and continue to mull over the things that were haunting my dreams, I chose to wake up and take a walk. I had to do this a couple of times during that period and it most definitely helped. Watersheds, they were, in the working out of the particularly vexing spiritual circumstances in which I found myself. As the “worm” is to the “bird”, I received peace and direction and contentment with my lot. God knows how to give to us what we need. And He’s always awake.

“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” (Romans 14:6a)

But again, maybe you’re just not a morning person? No matter. The point I’m looking to get across is that of letting God have your best self before you launch out on the grand adventure that is your day. And if worms are also your thing, then more power to you.

Canaries and Stool Pigeons (For the Birds part 6)

Coal: mine

“Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

It isn’t until you actually see the Lord that you begin to glimpse your–or in the case of me myself, mine–sinfulness. The above verse is Isaiah relating his vision of the throne room. More than enough to get one to stop what they’re doing and take notice of God’s holiness. God is more than good to both show you your (my) sin and shortcoming and to also cleanse you of it.

“And when [the Holy Spirit] is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me….and He will show you things to come.” (John 16:8-9,13b)

Report, retort

Sometimes, and I’m being completely serious, you get to be the canary in the coal mine. That little yellow bird whose untimely demise would in turn save the lives of the miners down there with it. It makes me wonder though, would it be such a bad way to go? I mean, who wants to be down there in the bowels of the earth anyway? Digging for gold and treasure. It’s like you trade one type of cage or enclosure for another. Because with spiritual atmospheres, God would have you be so in step with Him that you are in turn attuned to the subtle shifts that herald either forthcoming revival or anything God would put a cap on as not in keeping with His plan. This is what I mean when I say you’re the canary. And I can guarantee you, at the risk of seeming crazy to everyone else, you may well be the only one who sees what’s going on spiritually.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

“For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest. With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.” (Job 3:13-17)

Observe, obverse

The parallel I’m seeing here is that of remaining where you are for the Lord, as the evil slowly tries to encroach and creep and seep in. To so shine for God (canaries are yellow, after all) that, rather than keel over from asphyxiation, you actually begin to affect the atmosphere in spite of it. To stop it if that’s what He wants you to do. Because it’s one thing to dispassionately bring to God what you see. It’s quite another to pass judgment on it as you observe. And it’s nearly impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit to both be in an atmosphere that conflicts with your spiritual constitution and remain loving and kind in spite of it. Not in spite of the people, mind you, but the darkness and dust. The imperative is to pray. To sing. Not to tattle or silently condemn or hole up in an enclosure of your own making to the neglect of those around you. The Lord will keep you alive as He shines through you.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Covert Operations (For the Birds part 5)

“For Thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of Thy wings. Selah.” (Psalm 61:3-4)

Sure. You helped me out of every scrape I’ve ever faced, crowning, even, the garden-variety blessings that “everyone else” takes for granted with Your own fingerprint of beauty and originality and permanence–like You’d done them for me and me alone and didn’t take from the template of another. And yet somehow I don’t feel that You can deal with this thing or see me into the next season of what I want and desire, and need.*

*Actual unvoiced strain of thought on my insides in relation to my needs.

“And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6) Uh, we don’t have wings. But God does.

Winging it

David says at the first part of the top verse how God had done these things. He says in verse two “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Here’s a secret: it doesn’t take much for me to feel overwhelmed in this life. I have a very analytical and wiredrawn way of thinking and if I let slip too much the simple first-love things of gratitude and wonder, electing to take on my quotidian cares and worries (instead of leaving them with God), the waves will come crashing down as I make my way through the sea. I’m using the metaphor here of walking through the Red Sea (ala the Children of Israel) because I believe it is a fitting parallel for what the believer goes through in this life. Skipping ahead, this is what I like about the fourth verse at the top. “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of Thy wings.” And when it says “Selah.” It’s asking that I stop and meditate on the truth therein. God is never changing, never moving. It doesn’t matter if God clears a wide swath in front of us, we must ever keep moving even as He is stationary in our hearts and minds and His throne. We are moving forward to and for Him. In other words, He doesn’t change. And if we start out with a misconception as to who and how He is, it doesn’t matter what we get or what we go through, He’ll need to heal that for us to truly move on. So deep, at times, is this worry I sense saying my needs won’t be met, that I forget it isn’t part of me anymore. When we accept Christ, we are “complete in Him who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10) This is Gospel and this is how God sees us.

“He shall cover cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” (Psalm 91:4)

Real quick: an integument is essentially a covering. Biologically speaking, it’s the same. It’s a skin or a shell or something that keeps what’s in, in and what’s out, there. For birds, I guess it’d be feathers. “The covert of [God’s] wings” certainly could refer to the actual “covering” we receive from Him. That continual and ever-expanding presence of the Lord akin to the outstretched wings of a mama bird. But there’s a type of feather called the “covert” and they are the special feathers at the base of the wing. And God extends those over you and brings you in. You are His and He is brooding over you.

On a wing

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34)

It takes great faith to see past our deep wounds and believe that God wants to do for us what we never thought we’d receive. But we have to come to Him for rest and then rest in His presence. Have you ever had something so handicap you that you can’t help but see everything you do in light of its influence? I would wager to say everyone has them. And they are necessarily something God alone sees. “To His own master He standeth or falleth” says Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome (14:4) God wants to so cover you with His presence and His feathers, that those things that were holding you down from flying with Him are driven out and healed and replaced with their Christlike counterparts.

Killing Two Birds (For the Birds part 4)

“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

“And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the Lord; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.” (Leviticus 5:7)

The second verse refers to the specific Old Covenant atonement for several things, one of which was, how can I say this, “speaking an oath”. A couple verses prior does it explain how it doesn’t matter what the oath was or whether or not one was sincere in uttering it. If it was for good (in their mind) or not, should that utterance be one of “foolishness” (5:4 NLT), and when it was revealed to the utterer, two birds up and lose their life.

A bird in the hand

“Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God…” (Psalm 76:11a)

God marks our words. Let fly some random comment that speaks to a base part of your life (something affecting you on a deep level) and unless His mercy intervenes, you’ll be hemmed in by what you said. It could very well be something of good intent but if it didn’t line up with God’s logic, it’s sin. After meeting with my pastor’s wife last Fall for something altogether different, we ended praying against a vow I’d taken God knows when that I didn’t even know was affecting me.

An oft-cited tale of strict vow-keeping is that of Jephthah. “For I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” (Judges 11:35b) Thing is, he promised God he’d offer as a sacrifice the first thing that “cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me” (11:31). And his daughter meets him on the doorstep. In doing her best to keep with the vow, she forswears her virginity to God. Pretty serious as well but at least she retained her life. God takes our promises seriously.

“But I say unto you, Swear not at all… But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more of these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:34a, 37)

No stone unturned

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

I find numerous times when I open my mouth to say what just bubbled up to the tip of my tongue does the Holy Spirit check. A simple impulse that, were it worded in English would be something akin to “wait”, “stop”, “don’t”. At the risk of looking like a stuttering fool do I (sometimes reluctantly) hold my tongue and let the conversation lag. It is very important we know God loves us but also that we ensure the words we speak are all in line with God’s plan. If you think about it (literally), the outworking of God’s plan in your and my life goes from thoughts to words to deeds. This could very well be one of the reasons Nehemiah (2:12) says “neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.” Accusations, misunderstanding, misinterpretation. All things allayed by keeping one’s mouth shut and speaking to God. As the devil is the “accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10), best not to give ammunition for him to go to work.

“For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” (1 Corinthians 14:2)

In closing, the word “diglossia” refers to different types of the same language spoken in the one region. The top verse from Jeremiah speaks of “two evils”. In keeping with the concept of duality with the sacrifice of “two turtledoves” or “young pigeons”, look to the Holy Spirit (He’s like a dove–one dove). He has a language all His own and if you feel so inclined ask Him to give you a piece of the gift of tongues. Don’t think weird noises that make you sound like a fool and act like one too. But don’t shut Him off from the delivery of information by means other than what you’re accustomed to or that you might expect. (Diglossia also refers to the cleft or forked tongue of, say, a snake.) Only that information (for lack of a better word) from the throne of God and mixed with our heart should be spoken by us, being His children.

“For it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:19

The Tortoise and the Dove (For the Birds part 3)

“For, lo, the Winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

The voice of the turtle? It’s the turtledove. Not to be silly, but it’s hard to come out of one’s shell when one is so sensitive. Perhaps that’s what Solomon is referring to? The natural order of things and also the fact that the so-named “turtle” dove–also known as the “mourning” dove–is extremely sensitive and won’t stick around to be noticed or caught or otherwise accosted unless things are just so.

A just-so story

As an aside, an old-world myth said that the entire (flat) world was centered on the back of an enormous tortoise, making his way through the universe.

The order Chelonia comprises the whole of the turtle species. The name comes from the same Greek root as “scar”. Several of which, I’m sure most of us possess, if not more. And that’s what keeps us from sticking our neck out. Our scars can be reminders of God’s healing and presence and care. Or they can be monuments to that way of life and that era, something we haven’t yet overcome but keep going back to in heart and mind and reliving. I have a half-inch scar above my left eyebrow that I received the morning of my parents’ divorce trial. I was coming back from delivering newspapers and not looking where I was going. I suppose I should add that I was skating down the sidewalk (in front of a hospital, no less) waving to a friend across the street who I’d see periodically walking in the cool of the morning. You can imagine how he felt as he watched me run headlong into a utility pole and split my forehead open. Not as bad as it sounds, but you really couldn’t tell through all the blood. Several drops of which have since faded away on the sidewalk. I sat through the trial, dabbing at the still weeping wound. Afterwards, my dad offered to get me something to prevent scarring but I declined. I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to retain something so unique. The next couple of (depressing) days, however, I was unable to be in any quickly-moving vehicle without experiencing some sort of…shellshock.

But we’re talking about doves here, right?

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13)

“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Lock and Chelation

Freedom. Peace. A sense of hope about the things which heretofore had shackled us and kept us down. These things of imprisonment does the Holy Spirit dissolve and wash away. But it takes time. There are things I’m waiting for that haven’t shown yet. But it doesn’t mean they’re not on their way. The seeds were planted long ago and if I’m not willing to wait to see the shoots break through rock and concrete, I may not receive the blessing for which I’ve been yearning. There’s a medical process called chelation (it refers to the build up of metals in the blood) in which a fluid is intravenously administered and which slowly dissolves deposits that have been building up for years. It takes time. The tortoise is known for his easy gait, but he eventually makes it. The Holy Spirit is always at work in dissolving our fears and insecurities and scar tissue (if so desired) and replacing them with their Christlike counterparts. Know this. And if you feel so inclined, thank Him for it. Acknowledge Him–He’s just as much God as the Son and the Father. In closing, if you ever think about it, know that Jesus has chosen to retain His scars for eternity. I can’t wrap my mind around that. I can accept it and wonder at it and I must respect it if I want the Holy Spirit to intimate to me the healing properties that His scars represent.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Happy Spring and apologies to Aesop and Kipling.

On a Lark (For the Birds part 2)

“He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God” (Psalm 40:2-3a)

Lark, the herald

The lark is a member of the Oscine suborder of birds. Ornithologically speaking, it’s simply a songbird. The Oscines have the most articulate vocals of any family of birds. The word “oscine” comes from the Latin and its origin refers to birds that communicate omens with their cry. Wresting that from ancienct superstition, I don’t see why God can’t communicate through His creation. If the Holy Ghost can take the form of a dove–the gentlest and most unassuming of birds, see John 1:32–God can, and often does, use His animals as messengers for good things to come. But good things, none of this ominous “omen” stuff. When David writes, in Psalm 40, of God bringing him “out of an horrible pit”, it would seem things can only get better.

“The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock and let the God of my salvation be exalted.” (Psalm 18:46)

A flock of larks has its own unique name. It’s called an “exaltation”. There must be something about a lark in numbers that inspires such a lofty label as that. The imagery it gives rise to is that of celebration. Of music and dancing and nervous energy and adventure. Something, I think, that is missing in our day-in, day-out walk. Why is this? The sun is always shining and God is always good. If we don’t feel it, while there may be legitimate reason for brooding and gloom and depression (I’m not going to take that away from you), it doesn’t mean that God isn’t praise-worthy. He is. All the time. The birds see it. As will we if we “continue with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14).

For crying out loud, to do something “on a lark” means to throw caution to the wind and see where it (the wind) takes you.

Pass/Fail

“O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:2-3)

What is God doing in your life? The seasons cycle around. “Seedtime and harvest” (Genesis 8:22) are perpetual. If times are hard and nothing good seems to be happening, sing. “A new song” is not a bad idea. Anything that gives rise to worship and praise–two things that necessarily invite and herald God’s presence in your life–is always the order of the day–and the night. Because when God does show up, we can’t help but praise Him. I find, then, that purest expression of such is to simply do it when we don’t feel it–or feel like it. The more we do it, the more we find that our motives are aligned and purified and any inherent fakeness is burned out. Don’t get me wrong. At our core, we’re honest. We love God and want His program for us and those around us. But it’s the active worship of Him in the here and now that will cause it to happen. His presence brings with it that which we want and need. So sing a new song, please.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which is indeed the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31b-32)

All Oscines are Passerines. Simply put, a Passerine is a bird that perches. Sparrows, jays, etc. The Passerine family comprises over half of all bird species. In the above passage, Jesus is comparing the “Kingdom of Heaven” to a tree that was sprouted from our faith–faith as a grain of “mustard seed”. It’s as if He is inviting us to herald, to invite both God’s presence (“the Kingdom of Heaven”) as well as “the birds of the air” meaning everyone who doesn’t have a home for their heart. God is good for it. This is the hard but worthwhile work of trudging through the drudgery of our day while we exalt God and wait for His presence to bring about change in our life and our world. Sometimes praise requires sacrifice.

“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)

“My soul longeth, yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: thy will be still praising Thee. Selah.” (Psalm84:2-4)

The Kindness of Ravens (For the Birds part 1)

“Blessed be the Lord: for He hath shewed me His marvellous kindness…” (Psalm 31:21)

Ravens have it tough. The official name for a flock of ravens is an “unkindness” (unless they’re grouped together guarding something, then it’s called a “constable”). It’s understandable when you consider that they are primarily scavengers, make horrible parents as they will up and arbitrarily abandon their young on occassion, and also difficult pets, due to their high intelligence coupled with a lack of patience and teachability. Sounds a lot like any garden-variety human being to me.

Identified the world over with trickery, evil omens and gluttonous behavior, the common raven, or Corvus corax, is certainly not the bird you might look to were you to expect something from God. But, then again, God can (and often does) upset our expectations just to show that he can take the profane, and make it sacred.

It’s sort of a sliding scale. As many ancient cultures hold ravens in esteem, it would seem that the mythical and cultural consideration granted is inversely proportionate to the importance of truth and honesty within said culture (that’s my opinion). If one values the hard work of deceit and duplicity in interpersonal interaction, the raven—with his jet-black plumage and ornery temperament—would necessarily stand out as a totem or symbolic representation of those qualities. But:

“With Him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are His.” (Job 12:16, emphasis mine)

The raven was protected, so to speak, under the list of “abominable” or unclean animals in Leviticus (see 11:15). Moses and Aaron were commanded not to eat them for reasons more than symbolic, I’m sure. As they are scavengers, cleaning up what other predators leave behind, they were then free to practice their craft with impugnity. But God used them to feed Elijah, so there’s that. They’re also smarter and larger than their crow cousins, with a wider vocabulary and more intricate flight pattern.

Now, in no way am I advocating lying to get ahead, nor duplicity and cunning as life skills. I’m merely stating that God works His way through the muddled-ness of the world as it is, in order to acheive His ends. He “commanded the ravens” to feed Elijah by the river Cherith near Jordan (see 1 Kings 17). Which they did, morning and evening. The raven also, was the first bird to be released from Noah’s care after the ark settled on Ararat. Unlike the dove, it never returned, but “went forth to and fro, until the waters dried up from off the earth.” (Genesis 8:7) I respect the dedication and singleness of mind evident in that statement.

But all this aside, they appeal to me on another, deeper level also.

The Norse definition of my last name (Ingram) is “raven”. And along with that, I have certainly felt the crippling sting of abandonment by a parent and also had to battle the easy temptation of lying and tricking my way through life—just to stay ahead. This is why the verse from Job resonates with me. “The deceived and the deceiver are His.” When God shows you His love and both lets you know that He will protect you from the liars at large and also that He sees everything going on in your heart, you’re able to lay down that construct of craftiness. There’s no other way, by the way. A main reason to continue on in deceit and manipulation is because you realize that there’s always going to be someone out to trick and take advantage of you. If you continue to hone your craft and exercise your particular “way of lying” (Psalm 119:29), you’ll see to it that you get yours, even if it’s merely scraps on a carcass. But when God receives you, He cleans you up and makes you new.

“Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in Heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That He may set him with princes, even the princes of His people.” (Psalm 113:5-8)

He’ll do it for anyone, regardless of symbolism, myth, cultural connotation or biological imperative.