The Sparrow Hawk

Some years ago Tom and Shirley Whittlesey were visiting us in the hills of Northern New Mexico. Our house was situated on a half-acre with 78 pine trees throughout the yard, and eight acres of meadow and forest were next door. We were at 7,830 feet altitude and it was a cool autumn day with no clouds in the blue sky. A light breeze was blowing which caused the pine trees to gently sway, polka-doting the ground as they dropped their pine cones. As we sat on our deck, Carol brought out iced tea and sandwiches as we discussed whatever came to our minds. We’ve known the Whittleseys–who now live in Tulsa–since October of 1970, and they are life-long friends. Correction: they are eternity-long friends.

Suddenly, we were startled by what sounded like a baseball bat whacking a ball, but no one was within a mile of us. We wheeled around to see what had happened. About fifty feet into the meadow, we saw a flurry of feathers floating downward and a small bird hit the ground. A hawk with a red tail zipped down to where the bird had fallen. It picked up a lifeless sparrow with its needle-sharp talons and flew away.

We all chuckled when Tom said, “That’s the first time I saw a sparrow hawk catch breakfast on the wing.”

I had heard of sparrow hawks for decades but never knew much about them, and I certainly had never seen one in action! This was particularly interesting because killing its prey by impact is not its normal way of catching breakfast.

The sparrow hawk is an American kestrel in the Falco sparverius group. The word “falcon” means hawk. The early ornithologists thought these raptors fed primarily on sparrows, therefore the nickname of sparrow hawk. By the way, the term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere” which means “to seize or take by force.”

The Bald Eagle is America’s most famous raptor, and is also called a sea eagle because in the wild it feeds mainly on fish.

All raptors, hawks, eagles, vultures, or any other term that may apply, are opportunistic birds of prey. That is, except for the vulture, those birds are characterized by keen vision. While flying, they can detect prey more than a mile away. Vultures, including the California Condor, depend mainly on their sense of smell to locate food. Many hawks can spot a tiny mouse from more than a mile away. Or in the case of fishers, the birds have polaroid vision and can spot fish below the surface of the water even through the reflection of the sunlight on the water.

In Pagosa Springs, Colorado, I saw a Bald Eagle swoop down and grab a fish, but was almost pulled under water. After a brief struggle, it managed to lift off with a sixteen-inch rainbow trout in its iron grasp. Struggling to gain altitude, it managed to fly a hundred yards to a tree. Then, after resting for a few minutes, while almost dropping its catch, it finally began eating its fresh trout dinner.

These birds survive by stealth. Out of sight of their prey, they sit on a tree limb, glide on updrafts, or hover on their own power until they see dinner appear. Then depending on the bird, they dive anywhere from 45 to over 200 mph to grab their hapless victim. And once the victim is in the grasp of the talons, it is normally the end of the line for it.

Do you know that humans are often trapped like that?

Throughout human history, devious people have waited patiently for their hapless victims to come along, then they pounce on them using various kinds of weapons. These evil people want our money, our property, our identification, and our reputation. They use scams, casinos, pyramid schemes, loan shark offices, guns, online threats, and even steal information at ATM machines. Concerning casinos, one man said that as long as you’re willing to expose yourself to the money-losing game, the casino operators need only sit back and wait. And with increasing availability of casinos across the U.S., they don’t need to wait long.

You may have worked hard to acquire your financial status, but human vultures or hawks want your hard-earned cash. If you’re intelligent, you’ll remain vigilant and stay out of their grasp, and you’ll stay out of the casinos. Psalm 111:10 says, “Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”

So honor God in all you do, and use Godly wisdom to avoid the sparrow hawks who are after you.

What Do You Own?

Several decades ago when I was asked what I owned, I had to stop and think. I began recounting my stuff: lawn mower, chain saw, pickup truck, hand tools.… But I didn’t get very far when the missionary interrupted me and said, “You apparently didn’t understand the question.”

He asked again, slowly: “What do you own?” He said he would let me think on it for a while and walked away.

I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him again, but I pondered that question for weeks before I forgot it. However, many years later that question re-surfaced in my mind and I came up with some interesting conclusions.

The verb to own means: to possess; hold as personal property; keep control over; maintain mastery. That’s an interesting concept, and I totally revised my philosophy of ownership.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Make a mental list, and I’ll help by naming several items: clothing, car, surfboard, animals, land, business. What else came to your mind? But do you really own these things? Read the definition again.

Can you truthfully maintain mastery over something if someone can take it from you? No. If you really OWN something, no one can take it from you. Pause and think about that for a minute. Stop paying taxes on your paid-off property and find out who thinks they own it.

Now, let’s consider permanent ownership.

In Leviticus 25:23 God said, “The land really belongs to me, so you can’t sell it for all time. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.” Remember: God created it, so the land is His.

Friends, in reality, not even the government owns anything because God maintains mastery over it all. But He requires us to be good stewards (manager, guardian, administrator) of His property.

In Psalms 50:10-11 God said, “Every animal of the forest is already mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I know every bird on the mountains, and every living thing in the fields is mine.”

Titus 1:7-9 says, “As God’s managers, overseers must not be guilty of doing wrong, being selfish, or becoming angry quickly. They must not drink too much wine, like to fight, or try to get rich by cheating others. Overseers must be ready to welcome guests, love what is good, be wise, live right, and be holy and self-controlled. They must hold on to the trustworthy word just as we teach it, because overseers can help people by applying correct teaching ….”

So God gives us abilities, talents, skills, and property; but we erroneously focus on them and too often think we own them. Friends, we don’t even own our abilities. God loans them to us, but we can lose them in a moment by accident or sickness.

How about money? In Matthew 20:8-15, God said, “I can do what I want with my money.” Even money is not ours: ever hear of a stock-market crash?

How about wisdom? In Luke 21:15, God said, “I will give you the wisdom to say things that none of your enemies will be able to stand against or prove wrong.” God owns wisdom, and God owns you. So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to own (possess, control) our emotions. The Biblical term is temperance.

The point I am trying to make is this: you own nothing except your thoughts, your will and your emotions. God did not create robots or automatons; He created and owns people. And He expects us to use our thoughts, will, and emotions to bless and honor Him.

Let’s add another item: we own our responses to what happens in life. That means we are capable of controlling ourselves. No one can make you angry or make you happy. It’s your choice. YOU decide how you will respond.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own while you can. Otherwise, God will pry them out of your dying hands.”

There is nothing wrong with having things as long as we understand that we are only stewards of the things that we bought – with the money God helped us to earn. So, use things for their intended purpose and get the job done.

What do you own? You own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.

So, once again: What do you own?

Insufficient Power

In November of 2012, Carol and I were in Dulce (pronounced:  Dool-say), a small town on the Jicarilla (Hickareeya) Apache reservation in Northern New Mexico. On Friday afternoon, Carol was preparing lunch and I was preparing a sermon; but my computer was having difficulty conducting simple operations.
Then it informed me that the battery was exhausted and would shut down in ten minutes. It had been plugged in all day, so how could it be that tired?  Thinking that a restart might wake it up, I decided to shut it down manually; but I first saved my work and printed my sermon notes. Good decision! An unhappy surprise was awaiting me.

Upon restart, an information box appeared. It told me that the computer requires a 130-watt power supply to operate, but that I was using an insufficient 65-watt supply. I remember buying this travel transformer when I bought the computer, so how could it be the wrong one? Then the dreaded order appeared: “Restart using a 130-watt power supply.” Guess what? I had left my primary power supply at home 854 miles away.

I took the fussy computer – and the insufficient power supply – fifty-three miles to a computer shop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. During the interrogation, it slowly dawned on me: the 65-watt transformer came with my previous computer! When I upgraded to my Dell Precision M6300, I didn’t think of purchasing an updated travel power supply, and had not needed a backup power supply again until this trip.

I had two options: either go home to retrieve the primary power supply, or … no. Driving a round trip of 1,708 miles in eighteen hours was impractical. Even if I could average 95.44 mph for the entire trip, the police wouldn’t approve. I had only one, real option: buy another one!

The store manager said she could have a new power supply in two weeks and my machine would be down-n-out until then. But after making an emotional appeal – and paying an extra $20 – the 130-watt power supply arrived in only five days. “Live and Learn” is what they say. But I was happy that I had printed my sermon notes!

Do you realize that we humans sometimes develop the same problem of exhausting our batteries? We often find ourselves with insufficient power to finish the job at hand. Sometimes we even start a job without the appropriate power. Perhaps we are either not plugged in, or maybe we are plugged into an improper power supply. Attempting to operate on low or inappropriate power often works for a while, but living that way can eventually generate a nasty little condition called burnout. Or even Failure!

There are various reasons for exhaustion or lack of power, but a major principle that my friend (Tom Whittlesey) and I learned decades ago addresses many of them. A simplified version is: “God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.” Let’s break it down for easy understanding.

  1. A pastor in New Mexico decided to tear down a historic church edifice and build a modern one. He presented the idea to the church body and it was voted down. Nevertheless, he persuaded the board to approve it. He then overcame numerous roadblocks, and arduously accomplished the project. Half the people left the church, and the other half was saddled with an almost bankrupting million-dollar debt. The pastor had his monument but his anticipated feeling of accomplishment and elation never materialized. It wasn’t God’s work; and demoralized, he resigned within a year.
  2. William Booth was a pastor/evangelist with the Methodist Connexion in England. Ministering to thousands every week, he was stopped one day by a beggar who said, “Mr. Booth, if I believed what you say you believe, I’d do something about it.” During the next few weeks, Booth began to realize that it was God’s time to start a different kind of ministry. He resigned from the pastorate and in 1865 started what became the Salvation Army. It was God’s time.
  3. Years ago, the director of the YMCA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had worried himself almost to a nervous breakdown. He was working about 85 hours a week while worrying about the myriads of problems that surrounded him. Depressed, he finally went for counsel.

The doctor said, “George, you’re going to ruin your health with worry unless you back off. You must turn all your worries over to God, and learn to trust your staff.”

After thinking it over, George took a long walk in the woods. Sitting down against a tree, he got out his pencil and paper, and wrote:

Dear God,

I hereby resign as Executive Director and General Manager of the Universe.

Love, George

“Wonder of Wonders,” George said later, “God accepted my resignation!” Within days his strength returned and he could think more clearly. And within a few months the YMCA operation improved dramatically. He learned to do things God’s way.

  1. God rewards and blesses those who cooperate with Him to the best of their abilities.

Living this way, we can experience a fulfilled, balanced life. We’ll get sufficient rest, eat properly, see life more clearly, and our batteries won’t run down.

God’s work, done in God’s time, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.

Wind Power

As we were driving through the Texas panhandle, we saw more towers being installed in the Texas wind-farms. You know what they are, I am sure. There are several manufacturers and sizes of these super windmills, and they are huge.

As of March of 2017, over forty projects with over 10,800 wind turbines throughout Texas provided electricity through wind power – called renewable energy – and generated approximately 15.7% of the electricity used in Texas. That’s more wind-powered electricity than is generated in any other state. This industry also provides over 24,000 jobs in Texas.

As I said, these towers are big. The Vestas V90 tower is 262 feet tall and weighs 152 tons; the nacelle (including the actual turbine) weighs over 75 tons; and the blade assembly weighs over 40 tons (with each of the three blades being 148 feet, or a half a football field, long). That’s a total of 267 tons per windmill. From ground to tip of blade pointing straight up, the entire height is 410 feet. But there is more.

The towers are anchored on a base of concrete and steel that is 30-50 feet wide, up to 30 feet deep, and weighs over 1,000 tons. And some nacelles are built with a helicopter landing pad on top. By 2025, Texas hopes to generate 10,000 megawatts annually through wind-power.

The towers begin electrical generation at a wind speed of 7-10 mph, and generation ceases at 50-80 mph. The most efficient speed is 25-35 mph. As the direction of the wind changes, the nacelle/blade systems turn to face the wind. The reason for cut-out (stopping the blade rotation) at high wind velocity is to keep the long blades from breaking up due to the physical stress of high centrifugal force.

There are over 550 facilities who manufacture the various parts for the wind towers, with at least 45 of those facilities in Texas. Farmers and ranchers are gaining income from the power companies because they can obtain annual royalties of $3,000 to $6,000 per tower on their land.

The wind farm towers can be seen for miles around, are quite impressive, and are becoming more and more popular around the world. Without wind, our summer days can become oppressively hot, and rain would not be able to water the land. Wind has been a necessary component of life throughout history.

All of that reminds me of the wind mentioned several times in Scripture, and it often refers to the power of God. Acts 2:2 says, “Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them, and it [the noise] filled the house where they were meeting.”

Without the power of God available to us through the life of Jesus Christ, humanity would not have love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). The world would be totally overcome with the cruel and barbarous domination of cultures such as Nazi Germany, murderous Babylon, Imperial Japan, Atheistic China, and Sharia Law of Islam.

The only hope for the human race lies in faith placed in Jesus who died for us, but raised three days later to live forever more. If we believe in and place our faith in Him, we, also, will have eternal life and will live with God in heaven forever. If we accept Christ into our lives and live for Him, we will have peace that passes all understanding even in the midst of turmoil. We will be able to stand tall and strong through any windstorm we may face, just like the Vestas V90 wind towers in the plains of Texas.

Allow the wind of the Holy Spirit to turn your turbines and release the power of God in your life. You can start by reading the Gospel of John in the New Testament. Have a blessed day.

Enduring the Storm

I don’t know why the tree died. Without exaggeration, most the needles on the pine tree were DSCN2258green, but four weeks later the entire tree was a desert brown. It was fascinating because all our other trees were in great shape. Well, I do need to tend the crepe myrtles and prune them a bit. Back to the pine tree later.

On May 20th, Pastor Bruce Boehmer (Siloam Springs Bible Church), his wife Julianna, and their family of five growing kids were here for dinner; but in the middle of the meal we had an interruption. The wind picked up; the tornado siren at the First Baptist Church sounded off; the trees began bowing, twisting, and seemingly dancing with the cyclonic air movements; and the rain blocked the view of the street from our front door.

Carol began packing the Boehmer family into the central bathroom, and Brother Bruce and I prayed at the front door. (Is that wise? Only God knows, but we are still here.) Suddenly a tremendous, long, deep-throated SWOOOOOSH sounded outside … and it was over. Maybe swoosh isn’t the correct word, but that’s the best I can do.

After a brief discussion we reconvened around the table to finish the wonderful meal Carol prepared, when suddenly, all electrical power went out! It was nearly dark outside, and darker inside. Still possessing my “safety officer” mindset, I ordered, “Everyone sit still. Don’t move.”

I have the house layout memorized so in the dark I headed for several flashlights that are strategically placed around the house for situations like this. Then Carol lit the ever-present candles we have around the house … for situations like this.

Bruce and Julianna decided to stay and finish “Dinner-by-Candlelight.” It wasn’t a romantic dinner but it sure was fun. In fact, Bruce said, “If I’d have known we would eat by candlelight, I’d have dressed differently. We all had a good laugh.

The Boehmers stayed another three hours and we were truly blessed by their visit. As they were leaving, Brother Bruce said, “This is one of the most memorable visits we’ve ever had; a visit we won’t forget for a long time!”

Carol and I slept in our LAZBOY® chairs that night because we wanted to be ready – just in case. I wondered if the tree house that our grandkids (Kitten and Lamb) had played in several months previously had blown over, but we’d have to wait until morning to find out.

The power came back on around 8:02 the next morning, and all was well in our neck of the woods … sort of. A number of trees in our neighborhood had been damaged, and the steeple of First Baptist was at an awkward angle. Upon inspection, the tree house in the back yard was just as sturdy as ever; but we thought for sure the dead pine tree in our back yard would be down. It was a concern because it was oddly-shaped and heavy; and if it had dropped it would have badly damaged the house. Amazingly it withstood the tempest.

Our son, Ron, who lives in Oklahoma City, was an avionics technician at Tinker Air Force Base but he takes down trees on weekends. We called him the next day to see if he could come out and drop this one for us. A couple of weeks later he and his family of thirteen kids (they’ve grown to 16 now) came for the weekend. That was a houseful!

Upon inspecting the tree, Ron said, “Just looking at the tree, it seems that the wind should have pushed it over, but it has a very solid trunk and the roots are deep. That’s what protected your house.” Over the next twenty-four hours, Ron and his boys professionally took down the tree.

But I started thinking about the emotional and physical storms we face. What keeps us standing in the face of the devastating storms of life? We must have a solid trunk and deep roots. I call the “solid trunk” loving friends and family, and the “deep root system” is our faith in God.

Whatever storms you are facing, remember what Hebrews 13:5b says, “I [Jesus] will never leave you nor forsake you.” And remember, Matthew 8:24 informs us that Jesus can calm any storm in life; we just need to trust Him. No matter the storm you are facing, you will not fall if you keep your roots – your faith – anchored in Jesus Christ.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus of a song written by Lewis E. Jones in 1901. I learned this song as a child.DSCN1990

I’ve anchored in Jesus, the storms of life I’ll brave,     
I’ve anchored in Jesus, I fear no wind or wave;
I’ve anchored in Jesus, for He hath power to save,
I’ve anchored to the Rock of Ages.

I hope Jesus is your anchor for life.