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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Not An Even Trade

My father loved to travel. He instilled that love in his children and we in turn, instilled -- or tried to instill -- the same love in our children. Dad was the "let's-go-somewhere-let's-do-it-let's-fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants" kinda guy. My mother, on the other hand, enjoyed traveling, but she was definitely the list maker. She was practical about almost everything. Especially the overpriced and extra tacky silvenirs (her word for souvenirs) that every gift shop from Disneyworld to Knott's Berry Farm peddled as "must-haves for commemorating your fun-filled family vacation." Mom would hover over us like -- well, a mom, making sure we made wise decisions with our money. She would always steer us away from the costly items that were in no way commemorative, but more akin to overpriced discount store items: beach towels, or jump ropes, or Chinese finger traps (fine if we were in China -- we were not). "Buy something that, at least has the name of the amusement park on it," she'd urge. "And don't bother with those games -- no one ever wins; they're all rigged. Oh, and don't use up all your money today. What will you do when we get to Cypress Gardens tomorrow?" Who goes on vacation to listen to a bunch of rules? Especially when it comes to spending my own money?!

As a kid, I hated it. As an adult, I did it. Oh, yes, I did. Not until I met Scott, did I learn the value of gradually allowing a child to make some of their own decisions -- good or bad -- under the safety of Mom and Dad's roof. But it was hard. What parent wants to see their child work hard and save even harder, only to wind up with some useless piece of broken crap at the end of the day?

I thought about this as I was reading the other day:
"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie." ~  Romans 1:25
"They have exchanged the glory of God for the shame of idols." ~  Hosea 4:7b
The truth about God is that He is loving and merciful. The truth about God is that all this chaos and calamity is not caused by Him, but it is the good things in life -- no matter how big or small -- that come from Him. The truth about God is that once you decide to seek Him, He shows Himself to you; and once He reveals Himself to you, if you decide to love Him, He works in your best interest -- always.

But there are some who have decided to ignore these truths. They'd rather believe He does not exist. He abandons people. He's some variation of Santa Claus, or high school headmaster. He is whatever  they want Him to be.

And then there are those, who know He exists. He lives in between the pages of their Bible, His Word; He doesn't get out much. He lives in church; they don't visit very often. He gets in the way: Sundays are their only day to sleep late; Sundays are the only day they can manage to get a decent tee time; Wednesday nights are their night to unwind. He'll still be there when they get older and can find time for all that religion stuff. He wants them to give up things they really enjoy.

Dad wanted us to experience something really exciting. Mom wanted us to never forget those
experiences. And while Mom was a shade neurotic, somewhat controlling, and a bit insecure, she just couldn't bear to see us wind up with a useless piece of broken crap at the end of the day. I don't think God does either.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Breaking the Cycle

Once upon a time, a terrible awful, awfully terrible thing happened to a little boy. All he wanted was to play football, but a bad man whom everyone called "Coach," -- who didn't really appear to be a bad man at all -- did something to make the little boy feel ashamed, and wish he could just be invisible. It was really sad because he liked Coach, and he wanted to be like the rest of the boys who thought Coach was great. But deep down inside, the little boy knew that Coach was not great; Coach was a bad man. When Coach had sleepovers and pool parties at his house, the little boy's parents would urge him to go. "Isn't that so nice of Coach to have all of you boys over like that," his mother would gush. The little boy's friends would be so excited. "Man, I just can't wait 'til Coach's party this weekend; it's gonna be so cool!" At the party, Coach's pretty wife would serve the boys drink and snacks. "Are you sure I can't get you something to eat, Dear?" But the little boy never felt much like eating. In fact, he just felt alone.

Finally, the little boy let the secret out. Whether he couldn't take keeping in such a terrible secret anymore, or he just got tired of everyone thinking Coach was so wonderful and there was something wrong with him, the little boy wasn't sure, but he had to tell. His parents. They were horrified! "How could you say something so terrible?!" his mother shrieked. "Where did you learn about awful stuff like that?!" his father bellowed. The little boy felt more alone than ever.

As the little boy grew, he didn't forget. He knew his parents didn't forget. He wondered if Coach could ever forget. But no one ever, never ever said another word about it. Even though he wasn't such a little boy anymore, he knew he'd never forget. And he still felt alone.

The little boy wanted so badly to have a normal life, just like he'd wanted to play football. He didn't want pain, or these wild feelings of anger he sometimes had. He just wanted to be like everyone else. But they didn't have secrets. So, he buried his. Under the weight of a crazy work schedule and a 4.0 GPA. In the sheets of her bed -- what was her name again? Behind varsity letters and trophies for the sports he played year round. With the stuff he was always taking from his job at that old parts store. At the bottom of a bottle or in a bottle of pills. Anything to numb the pain and fill the void. Until one night, when he couldn't imagine ever feeling more alone...

The little boy quietly closed the door of his apartment, leaving his beautiful, sleeping wife inside -- this woman who'd chosen to love him, to care for him and promise him he'd never be alone. He walked to the church down the street, and sat on the solitary wooden bench outside the big red doors. He thought about his brand new baby boy, and how he could ever protect such a vulnerable little creature. He thought about his wife, and her radiant smile, and how when he looked at it he could almost forget that he was supposed to feel alone. He thought about all the things -- some good, some sort of awful and terrible -- he had done to bury his secret, to feel like he thought everyone else felt. And still he felt alone. But for the life of him, he had no idea how else to live, or what else to do. What was there that could possibly change the way he felt? or what he had done? or what someone else had done? He looked up at the big red doors of the church; the early morning light was just starting to illuminate the roof above.

The little boy poured himself a drink before he sat down. He tossed it back with a couple of pills, hoping he'd relax enough to catch a couple hours of sleep before work. His wife had heard him come in, and she quietly peeked around the corner. The little girl couldn't imagine ever feeling more alone.

"Many people live under the reign of Satan because they don’t really know there is a legitimate king ready to take reign in their life." ~ David Guzik

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dead Last

I just watched one of those "I Am Second" videos. Maybe they've popped up in your newsfeed, or you've came across one on Youtube. "I Am Second" is a movement that highlights people from all walks of life who have come to put God first in their lives. The website has videos, links to live chats, instructions on how to st-- never mind, just check it out for yourself; you've got the link. (Just click on the "I Am Second" highlighted in the first line). It's a pretty interesting site; and if you're looking for answers to some questions, or haven't made a commitment to Christ, it can help.

That being said, I would like to correct one thing: I am nowhere near Second. I'm not even Third or Fourth. I am somewhere after God, and after everybody else. This is not a joke, or fake self-deprecation. Nor is it some wild case of poor self-esteem. This is Christ-Esteem (a wonderful phrase used by Don Matzat. His book is available online and I've included the link for that as well. Look how I think of you!) God's Word tells us to live in such a way that we put others before ourselves; this is how I long to live. But it's only the power of His Holy Spirit that helps us accomplish this. Here's how tough it is; here's how high God sets the bar:
" humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3,4
"Count others more significant." Think about that. That means it is more important for your narcissist father-in-law to go off on another one of his self-aggrandizing monologues, than for you to tell him he's not that great. "Look...also to the interests of others." Ok, I'll make sure we both get a turn with the remote. Aah, but there's more:
"... But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave." Matthew 20:26,26
Servants? Slaves? Sounds like I don't get a remote. I'm not sure I like where this is going...
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? ..." Matthew 5:43-48
" Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14
Sooo, even people who hate me, revile me, and persecute me, I am to love and bless? Yep. Love and bless and serve -- if you want to be great, that is. You see, God blesses even those who hate Him. If we attach His name to who we are, we need to do the same.

Allow me, please, to insert a disclaimer here; I'm sure some of you have already made the leap. Do I think this is justification for, or a teaching that mandates staying in an abusive relationship? Absolutely not. I will say I know some people who say they believe God allowed them to endure a physically or emotionally abusive parent, spouse, or even supervisor for a time. Some experienced change in their abuser, others in themselves. I would always recommend seeking solid biblical counseling in any such situation. Disclaimer over.

Ever heard of "going the extra mile"? Know where that phrase came from? Matthew 5:41:
"If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles."
The idea of forcing someone to go with them comes from the "Angari," king's messengers among the Persians, who had the authority to force people to relinquish their goods and/ or be taken into service for the king as long as their need determined. The Romans that were ruling over Jewish lands at the time of Jesus also adhered to this practice; the people who heard this would have immediately understood the  reference. To go the extra mile meant and still means today, to do more than someone requires or expects of you. Christ was always taking this relationship thing to a whole new level.

And I'll tell you right now, from personal experience, this is impossible to do right without God. I am a compassionate person -- always have been. But when I act on that compassion without God directing me, enabling me to do it? Bad news. What happens if they get comfortable and never learn to stand on their own two feet? What happens if they take more than I can give? What happens if they don't appreciate it? If I've done it in my own strength, acting on my own compassion, I'm gonna be pissed! I'm going to want restitution. I might even refuse to help anyone again! But if I work for the Lord, give all He tells me to give, count on Him to supply me with the resources I need to get through this? His is the victory.

In Christ alone, I long to be nowhere close to Second.