Fly Again

He will cover you with his wings. And under his wings you will be safe. He is faithful like a safe-covering and a strong wall. (Psalm 91:4 NLV)

One Spring, our neighbor determined to witness a hatchling’s first flight. She stationed her lawn chair by a nest-bearing tree and brought along a book to pass the hours. The awaited time arrived soon enough, and unmistakably so, for a momma robin began to urge her young-‘un to launch. He, on the other hand, wanted no part of it. So while Momma continued to chirp, Junior stood at the edge of the nest—frozen, looking down, unconvinced. After an hour of parental prodding, though, the little guy decided it better to plunge into thin air than to listen to this all day!

The baby bird went into a glide, the neighbor’s green grass passing beneath him like a scroll, then the street, and in no time the first-timer was in our air space and over our lawn. At that point, it became clear his approach vector would not serve him well. I wonder what went through his mind as our house grew ever-larger and quickly filled his entire field of vision. Thud! (Or Thud-lite?) He hit our house and fell to the ground. The plumed pilot was only stunned, fortunately, and when he came to, he found his feet, got his bearings, turned around and headed for home. Walking. The entire way. Enough flying for today, thank you.

The psalmist marvels at God—a shelter providing rest, a fortress securing refuge, a wing offering cover. And so He is. But it doesn’t always feel this way, does it? Like the momma robin, God sends us out into a world with “thud” moments awaiting—small ones that leave us smarting and big ones that send us reeling. The question is, what do we do then? Do we let our ruffled feathers keep us away from God, or do we wobble back to where we will find love, protection, and, yes, sound correction and instruction for another launch, another day? Our grounded aviator had much yet to learn about flying, but he knew enough to head home and fly again … tomorrow, perhaps.

Father in heaven, as you send me out to engage the world around me today, assure me of the promise of your love, instruct me in the wisdom of your Word, protect me in the shelter of your wing. Amen.

[Read today’s Scripture in Psalm 91:1-8.]

The Power of Words

I was swapping stories with a friend of mine; he also was from a small town, so even though our experiences were different, we could relate to each other from a vantage point only small-town folks can share. He played high school basketball, and his overachieving team had reached the regional tournament, only to find themselves opposite an urban powerhouse—a legendary team known throughout the state. From tip-off, the underdogs played hard and played well, down by a mere two points at the half. The hometown boys bounded into the locker room, heads high, confidence swelling, victory possible. So when the coach gathered them around, they eagerly awaited the game plan and pep talk from their leader. “If you continue to rebound and don’t turn the ball over,” he said, “you won’t lose by more than 10 points,” That was it. Confidence exited the room before the now-deflated team could even pivot toward the door. They lost by six.

Words are mysterious things. We cannot see them, but there may be no more powerful force on earth than these outward expressions of the innermost soul. With words, we build people up or tear them down. With words, we instill confidence or inject fear. With words, we glorify our God or berate our family. With words, we uphold others’ honor or shackle them with shame. We give voice to the hope in our heart and others take courage. We confess our wrongs and people are freed to forgive. We speak truth to a lie and justice reigns. Our words change the world, even if only the sliver that surrounds us. Powerful, powerful things, our words.

So the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32). Tend to your heart, he seemed to say, and your voice will follow.

There was an epilogue to my friend’s story. After the game, the coach took ownership of his leadership lapse and called his team together. He said, “I did you a great injustice. If I had told you at halftime you would win, you would have.” The game was forever lost, but everyone had experienced this lesson for life—the power of words.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,”1 that by your grace my words would bring blessing to others. Amen.

1 Psalm 51:10

[Read today’s Scripture in Ephesians 4:17-32.]

The Litmus Test for Life

It must have been in an 8th or 9th grade science class when we first witnessed a litmus test. Special strips of paper were dipped into liquids: when a paper came out blue, we knew the solution to be basic, or alkaline; those turning red, on the other hand, indicated an acidic solution. Though the full significance of “acid versus base” was lost on us at the time, paper turning colors in the water was pretty cool stuff for adolescents.

Over the years, “litmus test” has taken on another meaning—it is the primary criterion by which we determine the acceptability of a person, thought, or viewpoint. What is this judge’s view on abortion, and where does that candidate stand on border security? (Did you notice that even political litmus tests come down to red and blue?) We approach moral decisions the same way, i.e., some rely on personal feelings or reasoning, while others inquire of an outside Moral Authority.

In today’s scripture, God had clearly instructed the first couple not to seek the “knowledge of good and evil,” but Eve did anyway. Why? She went with her own feelings, desires, and rationale: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” In short, Eve applied the wrong litmus test, which led to a disastrous decision in the lab of life and an explosion spreading shards of sorrow, fear, and blame.

We all fall to the same temptation as Eve, don’t we, applying the moral criteria of our convenience at times? For some, the litmus test is simply what feels good to us. Others look outwardly and consider how a particular action affects another person, but stop short of inquiring of a holy God. But the true test in life has never changed, rather it is the same for us as it was for Eve—God’s Word. It springs from a fountain of wisdom deeper than any understanding of our own, and it proclaims a holy standard we cannot attain through subjective feelings or human reason. It is life itself and purest wisdom; we do well to subject our will to the entirety of God’s Word.

So we ask ourselves, Do I apply the right litmus test in life? Do I regard red strips as though they were blue, and blue as though red, if I don’t like the outcome? Am I willing to trust God’s Word with my life? Here is good advice for us all: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Lord God, may your Spirit deepen my understanding, sharpen my mind, and strengthen my faith to take you at your Word. I pray this as your child in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[See today’s Scripture in Genesis 3:1-24.]