Saturday, May 31, 2014

Giant Rubber Duck Visits

"Look out!  A giant rubber ducky is sneaking up on me!"  He does look a bit overwhelming -- at 1300 pounds, he loomed up behind me, 40 feet above the placid waters of the Hague -- but no worries, he's anchored to his spot and I've been assured that he has not added Sandras to his diet.

For ten days in May, this unique duck drew thousands and thousands of visitors to see it and to go through the doors of the newly-renovated Museum (in photo below).  The duck's creator Florentijn Hofman has said the duck has "healing properties" because it knows no frontiers, doesn't discriminate and doesn't have a political connotation."  I'd say that's a pretty good thing to say about anyone.

 Since I'm fascinated by this big yellow bird, here are a few more interesting tidbits about him:  Hofman created the giant duck in 2007 to "spread joy around the world."  He keeps a tight rein on where the ducks (there's a few of them) go and gave permission for ducky to make its second United States appearance right here in our little ole hometown (San Francisco has been asking for him, but hasn't gotten permission to display him yet).  Since its creation, there have been 16 other appearances in such places as France, Brazil, Amsterdam, Sydney, Osaka, Hong Kong, Beijing -- and now, here.  We have arrived!  I love it!

I was glad I could take at least two of my grandchildren to see this historic duck in our waters.  Marisa seems to be letting him float atop her hand, while Landon is ignoring the fact that a giant duck is right behind his little self.  Visiting this big yellow bird was fun!

When we think of all the fun and happy times we have on this big old sinful earth, it should excite us all the more when we think how indescribably better life will be when we enter our final home in Heaven.  Life is often delightfully lovely here on this earth God created for us, but life in the perfect home He's created for His children will cause all earthly joys to pale to insignificance in comparison.  Even so, I thank God for the joys He's blessed us with here below -- and for the gracious promises He has in store for us.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

My New Book

The Stuff of Nightmares: a collection of short stories by Sandra Julian Barker (May 24, 2014) - Kindle eBook

This is a group of a bit scary or a bit dark short stories, most with a thought-provoking twist and some with a distinctly Christian message.  The book is free to download on Kindle or I-pad through May 31.  Thanks!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Working Together

This is not the best picture I have of our bluebirds, but it is the only one I have of them together, so I'm using it to tell the story.  The male is bright blue with a deep rust breast standing at the front edge of the bird box while his mate is perched at the back.  She's what we might call a "pale" copy of the male.

These two birds fussed around our new bird box for more than a month, checking it out several times a day before deciding to build a neat nest of pine straw inside.  Sometime around the third week of April, five little blue eggs were laid and the work began of protecting the nest and preparing the eggs to hatch.  Then, in May, the tiny little birdies hatched and Papa Bird has been busier than ever zipping away from the box, finding food and returning to five hungry little mouths needing to be fed.

I have no idea what these birds do at night, but during the day I'll see the male watching over the nest from high in a nearby tree, or the edge of the rooftop or even bringing a morsel of food to the female when she was nesting inside the box.  I know these birds are working from instinct, but I still think it's sweet -- and it is a picture of working together toward a good end.

That's what we as sisters and brothers in Christ need always to aim for -- working together toward a good end.  And, what is that good end?  I would say  -- the furtherance of the gospel of Christ in reaching the lost, encouraging the brethren along the way, and growing in our personal relationship with the Lord.

Jesus Himself told us the two greatest commandments:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandments greater than these" Mark 12:30-31.  This imperative is so important that it is repeated in Luke and Matthew.  The first record of this command dates all the way back 3,500 years ago when God gave this command to Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5.

I am so thankful for my family of God at our church and for the women in our Bible studies.  We are able to encourage one another in the faith and to share our failures and concerns with each other.  Knowing that a sister has gone through the same thing you have -- or is even going through it at the same time -- that is uplifting.  You can cheer each other along on the path ahead.  Here's what Jesus said, "...In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" John 16:33.

I love to see these little bluebirds working together for a common cause -- and I especially love to see brothers and sisters in Christ working together for a common cause -- the glory of our Lord and Savior and Father God.  It is a joy to be a part of the family of God.  As John wrote, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers [and our sisters too]" 1 John 3:14.

This bluebird couple are a good illustration of the verse in Ecclesiastes:  "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; if one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! ...Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves...." 4:9-12

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Bright Spot

We have a family of American Goldfinches enjoying the seeds and suet we provide at our bird feeder.  The males are especially colorful with their bright yellow feathers contrasted with the black and white feathers and black cap.  I was happy with how clear this guy shows up on the feeder in this picture.  We love seeing these bright spots of color flitting around the yard and perching on the feeder.

God sends bright spots in our lives on a regular basis.  We don't want to miss the joy of recognizing these lovely gifts He sends.  In our often humdrum lives, we might be too busy to stop and notice that bright spot flitting across our vision, or we might miss that little bright spot hovering near our feet.  That old saying, "Stop, look and listen," is a good way to live our lives each and every day.

What are some bright spots you might be missing in your daily sphere?

How often do you stop and watch a sunset, or notice the delicate details in a flower, or admire the way light shimmers on the water's surface, or watch a child's face light up when he sees something that catches his attention?  I could go on and on.  This world God created is full of beauty and fascination and wonder and interest.  Just thinking about how much detail there is in the fabric of our world is enough to cause us to whisper, "Wow!" 

There are bright spots even on the darkest day.  A friend who's husband has had unbelievable difficulties after receiving a liver transplant eight months ago praised God and wrote:   "He can go from a "sit to stand" by himself (well, it's not automatic and someone has to stand beside him for balance - but WOW, he's come so far with physical therapy)."  Most of us would not consider that a blessing, but to her it was cause to thank God for that bright spot in her day.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" James 1:17.

God wants to make His children smile.  It is not God's plan for His children to walk around with frowns and sour expressions.  God is a God of light.  Over and over in scripture He talks about wanting us to have joy in our hearts -- which should translate into a pleasant expression upon our faces.  The bright spots God sends our way on a regular basis are one of the ways He seeks to bring joy into our hearts.  "And from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace" John 1:16.

Thank you, O Lord, for sending this little bright pop of yellow flitting across my yard.  What a blessing!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

They're Baaa-ck!

No matter how many times I tap on the window or shoo them away, the unwanted Grackles and Starlings and Cowbirds return -- sometimes only minutes after we've gotten rid of them.  No matter how hard I try to keep them away, they always flap those big wings and settle back onto the feeder.  Look at that yellow eye -- he just looks malevolent.

These various kinds of black birds tend to travel in flocks, they chase the smaller songbirds away, they eat lots of seed, taking huge chunks from the suet, and they return very frequently.  As I have watched these unwanted birds return over and over again, I've been reminded of how sin, bad habits, and distractions return in our lives -- over and over again.  No matter how often we shoo them from our lives, we turn our backs -- and there they are again -- chasing away the sweet, melodious parts of our lives and greedily feeding on our good seed.

It's a never-ending battle in our lives to rid ourselves of the dark side that constantly seeks to envelop us.  Proverbs 4:23 tells us:  "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."  A similar verse in 1 Corinthians 16:13 tells us, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men (and women) of courage; be strong."

We seek to guard our hearts, but just know, these black birds will return -- over and over again.  As Paul told the Romans, "...When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work  within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" 7:21-25.

Yep!  They'll be back, but praise God, "Greater is He that is within you, than he that is within the world" 1 John 4:4.   The dark forces of sin will continually seek to perch on our soul, but with God's help, we can shoo them away and not let them roost, taking chunks out with their sharp beaks, and we can stand strong in the power of His might.

Today, I discovered that if I flap my open Bible toward the picture window, the black birds fly away.  I guess the open white pages startle them.  This is a rich Spiritual picture.  If we use the Word of God in our lives to chase away the dark forces, they too will flee -- "For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword..." Hebrews 4:14.

While I can't spend all my time standing at the window and shooing the black birds away, God stands at the door of my heart and helps me keep the dark forces at bay.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sleeping Beauty Bird

This Blue and Gold Macaw lives at the zoo in West Palm Beach, Florida.  His brightly colored feathers look so soft, you just want to reach out and touch them.  Since that's not allowed in a zoo, I just zoomed in and captured a close-up of this sleeping bird.  Besides, that sharp beak looks like a dangerous weapon to me.  My motto -- let sleeping dogs -- and birds -- lie, or maybe perch, whatever - just keep me away from that beak!

It seems so appropriate to call this bird Sleeping Beauty since (a) he is very beautiful and (b) his eyes are closed and I assume he is sleeping.  But -- what spiritual message to cull from such a scene?

Without meaning to be too obvious, we as Christians are (a) very beautiful to our heavenly Father and (b) can sometimes be found with our eyes closed - spiritually speaking - and sleeping.  Let me elaborate:

In Romans 10:15, prompted by the inspiration of God, Paul says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" 

Then in Psalm 139:14, the word beautiful is not used, but the meaning of the verse shows it:  "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." 

Then there is the verse in Ecclesiastes 3:11:  "He has made everything beautiful in its own time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men..."

So, we can see that we as beloved children of our Abba Father, are considered beautiful in His sight -- a happy assurance indeed. 

The next issue concerns having our eyes closed and sleeping.  We all need a good night's sleep, but that's not what we're talking about here.  This bird is sleeping in the middle of the day, in a public place, and puts itself in a vulnerable position.  Do we as Christians ever succumb to such a situation?

Let's see what the Bible says about inappropriate sleep in the book of Proverbs:  "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare" verse 13.

"How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit..." 6:9-11.

So - we've seen the importance of being confident in the love of our Father who thinks we are beautiful, and of being alert and awake when we are to be busy about His work.  There are times, however, when sleep is our friend and God Himself blesses us with wonderful rest as in these verses in Psalm:

"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety" 4:8.

"Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" 121:4.

Praise to God that He is ever vigilant, watching over us, loving us, protecting us -- and giving us the sleep we need, when we need it.  Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

Here's another Happy Birthday message -- this time to me.  While it might seem strange to wish yourself a happy birthday, I do so to give praise to God for the blessing of another year on earth.  I celebrate the day He brought me into this world as a tiny infant and I celebrate the day He brought me into His family as a born-again infant in the faith.

God has blessed me in the years since those two significant birthdays in my life.  I have grown from that beginning infancy, both physically and spiritually.  The photo above was taken seven years ago (remember my earlier post about the number "seven").  I used it because I especially like the beautiful birthday cake I received that year.  I'm a sucker for cake -- especially birthday cake and ice cream -- bring it on!

I pray that this new year in my life will be lived following God's path, praising His name, and bringing glory to His amazing grace.  Thank you, God, for your incredible gifts to me -- your Son, life eternal, and the joy of your daily presence -- the best birthday gifts ever!  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Painted Bunting

I was thrilled to see this little beauty land in my yard one day in March.  Although he only visited for one day, it was a delight to see his iridescent colors flash across the yard that morning.  The whole story of seeing this painted bunting was a bit  surreal.  Here's how it went:

My husband and I were having breakfast and watching various familiar birds enjoying the bird feeder.  I was telling Larry about seeing a picture of a colorful bird in a local blog and how much I would love to see that bird.  As I was speaking, I picked up the bird identification book on the table when out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of color fly by.  I felt like I was in a Twilight Zone movie or something.  Here, I'd just said I'd love to see this rare bird -- and there he was!

I was so excited!  I grabbed my camera and got this photo of him perched on a tree limb at the back of our yard.  None of my shots came out crystal clear, but I was just happy to get something this good.  I had to go to the computer and search to find out his name because neither of my bird books even listed him.  He is that rare -- especially in the southeast.

Isn't he beautiful!!  It's not very often that we feel like we "ask" and it is immediately "given."  I hadn't even prayed to see this bird, merely said how much I would love to see him.  I know that nothing -- and I do mean "nothing" -- happens by chance.  I believe God wanted to surprise and delight me that morning -- just because He wanted to bring me pleasure.  I'm His child and He loves me -- just as He loves each of His children.  Perhaps God also wanted to see my reaction to His lovely gift.  I hope He was pleased with my excitement.

The painted bunting is such a flamboyantly colored bird that he doesn't look like he should be anywhere near our state.  Rather, he should be flitting among palm trees on some Caribbean island with equally colorful parrots.  Yet -- here he was, perched in my leafless tree in a yard that was still primarily brown.  This bright spot of color made me smile -- and still does, each time I see his picture.

How many times has God answered an unspoken prayer with just what you need for that moment?  How often do we fail to see it was from Him and miss out on the joy of seeing the work of His fingers and giving Him thanks for His gift?

Remember,  "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!"  And, even to those who have not yet asked. 

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights..." James 1:17.