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Ivory-billed Faith

I’ve always wondered why Jesus scolded his followers for their lack of faith in times of crisis. For example, when the disciples cried out in the storm, or when Peter stepped out of the boat. It must have been tough to hear, “O ye of little faith” at such times. But many years ago I got an insight into what I think Jesus was getting at and the odd thing is, to this day no one believes me.

In December 2002, my wife Carol and I were vacationing in Florida and decided to go bird watching in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Honestly, birding is not my thing, but Carol loves it so I went along to make her happy. We rented two kayaks and slowly paddled through the mangrove swamps. Carol was hoping to add to her lifetime list of species. I was just hoping to avoid “Woody,” a big alligator the kayak manager warned us about.

After a long hour, I was lagging behind when I noticed a bird that looked different than the others. I took out my binoculars to get a better look. When I caught up with Carol I described what I had seen. She whipped out her bird book but couldn’t identify it, so when we returned our kayaks we went to the office for some help.

The ranger spread out a big chart with all kinds of birds and asked me to point to what I had seen. “That one,” I said, tapping the bird I saw. The room got quiet. I looked up wondering if I had offended someone. The ranger said, ‘Are you sure that’s what you saw?” “Yeah,” I responded casually, “that’s it.” The ranger then informed me I was pointing to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a rare bird that was extinct. As we left, he chuckled and assured me there was no way I could have seen that bird in his swamp.

Then in 2004, there was a reported sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas and it made a big stir in the birding world. But when I heard about it I thought, “What’s the big deal? I saw that thing two years ago.” Now whenever I’m around Carol’s birding friends, I tell them about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. They just roll their eyes.

So what does all this have to do with faith? Simply this: if you don’t believe something is possible, you’re not likely to see it. And I think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Faith is not guaranteeing what God will do. Rather, faith is being certain that “with God all things are possible," which is especially difficult in times of crisis. But that's the kind of childlike faith Jesus wants us to hold on to, no matter what happens.

The truth is, I’m not experienced enough to know exactly what I saw in the mangrove swamp. But I do know this. That ranger will probably never see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker because, unlike me, he still believes it’s impossible.


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