Saturday, July 4, 2015

Great Trick -- Have a Treat!

This is Ember.

Bishop thinks she is "boooo-ti-ful." That still didn't stop him from trying to eat her simply because Tinkerbell wanted to -- collective hysteria and all.

Ember belongs to our daughter, Christine; when Christine and her family come for a visit, so does Ember. This visit I've had an opportunity to do some work with her (Ember, not Christine -- that horse has left the barn). She's a great dog, a quick study, and she's incredibly smart. As with most dogs, treats are the perfect motivator for Ember. I help her to execute a new command as I give it, and then I treat her. With enough patience and repetition, she reaches the point at which I only need to say the command, and she will obey. Eventually, she should get to the point I will be able to nix the treat and simply give her accolades and scratches as a reward. Should she begin ignoring or even disobeying the command, training will resume, the treat will reappear until she "gets it" again.

This is by no means a dog training blog, so why bore you with all that? Psalm 44. I was reading it this morning. There are psalms that encourage, talk about repentance, rejoice, call for retribution, even cry and whine; but most times the crying and whining are followed by lifting up your eyes to heaven, where help is found. Not here. This one is straight up: "Wake up! We're falling apart down here! What are You doing?!"

I've felt that way. If you've walked with Jesus for more than a week or so, I think you've felt that way. It's tough to live in a broken, corrupt, mortal and messed up world, to serve and rely on Someone you can't look in the eye or wrap your arms around, to be ridiculed and demeaned for it, to wait for promised relief on that Someone's timetable, to watch others whose methods and morals are questionable get ahead, to just be tired of sticking with it. Almost like Ember, we have been conditioned; conditioned to believe "nice guys finish last."

Years ago, my employer rewarded people who finished their jobs in less than the allotted time. These days, they use those people to cover the work of others who refuse to do what's required even when using all the time given them. The world no longer recognizes honesty as a virtue: honestly reporting your hours on your timecard is a good way to have your job eliminated, or get written up for not taking a lunch. Sex sells, and "feel good" stories are relegated to page six. Controversy and gossip are what gets attention; helpfulness and grace are a big snore. When we go through tough times, we might consider casting all of this virtue stuff to the wind, and getting along the way everyone else does. This is the world we live in, and this is the behavior the world teaches.

When I read this psalm this morning, I thought too, about the way we expect God to act. Ember does a trick, Ember gets a treat. We understand positive reinforcement; we use it on our pets, our children, maybe even our spouses... We almost expect God to be like some Trainer in the sky. We do a good thing, we want to see the benefit of it. What keeps us on a diet? We step on the scale and we see results; the guy in the office down the hall suddenly begins to take notice. But we hit a plateau, or you meet his smokin' hot girlfriend, and we're grabbing for the Chunky Monkey with one hand, holding a bag of Doritos in the other. Positive reinforcement is a part of how we live and learn.

But faith is work. God has never hidden that from us: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) As long as we are in the world we will have trouble; we will be tested; we will grieve and hurt. But resting in Our Savior, Our Father, Our Comforter, we can have peace.
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