Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Time for the Meannesses of Life

(Repost from Kevin DeYoung) No Time for the Meannesses of Life:

"Paul Johnson on one of the reasons for Winston Churchill’s greatness:

Fourth, Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame onto others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, he washed his hands and went on to the next contest. It is one reason for his success. There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred. And malice is bad for judgment.

Churchill loved to forgive and make up. His treatment of Baldwin and Chamberlain after he became prime minister is an object lesson in sublime magnanimity. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to replace enmity with friendship, not least with the Germans. (Churchill, 164-65)

The six pages of the Epilogue are the most memorable six pages I read all year."

Friday, November 12, 2010

frog flatulence

My daughters and I argue.  A lot.  To be clear, we don't argue much about chores, homework, or attitude.  I'm thankful to say God has blessed us in that regard.  Rather, we pick things at random to argue about, and it drives Letha (mom) crazy.  We'll argue about important things, and we'll argue about immaterial things.  We currently have several on-going arguments, the most heated and protracted of which is whether or not frogs fart.  Isabella is contending that they do not, but she has yet to overcome my arguments to the contrary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

3-preachers in on a Monday-afternoon

If you, like me, grew up spending several days a week in church services, you are undoubtedly familiar with a few ways to pass the time when things get...less than...engaging. No, I'm not accusing you of not paying attention, but you know there was a sermon or two that found only fallow imagination instead of fertile ground.  Especially when you're a kid.  I mean, after 3 regular services a week, revival, camp meeting, youth choir trips, etc.  I'm just saying, it happens.  Especially when you're as focus-challenged as I am.

You've got your standard pass-times.  Talking to your friends or passing notes is guaranteed to get you grounded or worse.  Counting ceiling tiles is always an option, but once you passed fourth grade you could just multiply the length by the width and that was a bust.  Plus, if you've counted them once, it's pointless. With the right preacher, you can count verbal fillers ("uh", "uhuh", etc.)  You could count grammatical errors (personal favorites are misuse of "...and I", non-words like "irregardless" and for extra credit you can play bingo), but that tends to make one irritable.  When you're coming off of 2-week revival, and you find yourself in a "fellowship meeting" three preachers in on a Monday (after a marathon Sunday), when your ADHD has reached a fever pitch and every nerve ending in your body screams for tactile response, counting games just aren't going to cut it.  We all know that "fellowship meeting" is code-speak for "preacher preach-off with casseroles afterwards".  You've got to have something to help pull you through without incurring parental wrath.

Now, I'm not claiming divine inspiration.  I'll let you judge for yourself, but I submit for your consideration the homilytype (all rights reserved).  While in grade school, learning the basics of word processing as well as how to type, I arrived at the homilytype--an answer for my need to disengage my restless mind and stimulus-deprived fingers.  The basic idea is simple enough: type everything the preacher says on an imaginary (QWERTY) keyboard. Obviously, it's tough to type that fast; so, there's a built in challenge to the game, but there are also necessarily rules so your OCD doesn't kill you.  I mean, what if you make a typing mistake?  You can't just leave it hanging in mid air; nor can you really mouse or otherwise navigate to the error to correct it.  So, rule 1 is, you can hit (imaginary) delete a discrete number of times (say 4), but you may not skip (no arrow keys). This requires that you mentally keep your place.  Or for really bad errors (say you lost track of whether or not you hit a 'r' or a 't' or how far back the mistake was), you can hold (imaginary) delete down for 2 seconds, and homilytype deletes the entire under-construction sentence (line).  Voila!  Jack up the sentence too bad, and you just hold down (imaginary) delete.  Rule 2 is, you can only correct a single sentence.  (I found it got too hard to keep track of multiple sentences, and if I tried I'd lose synch with the preacher.)  In such a manner you can arrive at a pretty decent imaginary transcript by the end.

I've heard thousands of sermons--many of them good, and I'm thankful for having had the opportunity to learn under some great ministers.  But I must confess that there were more than a few times that I had to resort to the homilytype just to keep from getting grounded for the remainder of puberty.  It served me well over those years.  How did you deal?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

observing beauty

As the bus rounded the interstate off-ramp, my eye caught a glimpse of something glorious.  Waiting for the bus to finish it's last few turns, I stepped onto the sidewalk and turned to see the most gorgeous rainbow I'd seen in years.  It stretched thousands of feet in the air, a perfect semi-circle in which every color from red to violet was visible.  I stood mesmerized. I stood alone. All the other passengers hurried past, never stopping to take in something of true beauty.  As the author of Genesis described it, the very bow of God (Genesis 9:13). Imagine that. My bus co-riders had frazzled through their day at work, and they now frazzled through their evening and past the marvelous.

Why didn't they stop? Among all the ugliness of the world, there are still truly beautiful things to be seen. Or perhaps beautiful truth to be seen. Refreshing and enlivening truth. Millions travel to see the grand canyon without ever stopping to let its beauty touch them. Billions walk through the everyday oblivious to nature, and art, and life that should point us to something bigger than ourselves. We consume it rather than savor it.  If my new-found photography hobby has had no other benefit, my efforts have opened my eyes to the wonder all around. Besides the intentional focus required for photography, the practical difficulties of capturing something's essence--in low light, for example, or maybe as the focal point in the moment, perhaps a beautiful little girl without a goat's rear-end in the frame--cause me to be amazed (Psalm 139:14) by the gift of sight itself. My eyes captures things at sensitivity and focal lengths that shame the most expensive of cameras. And I waste (Psalm 119:37) them.

Maybe it's the frequency with which we get to observe these things that callouses our souls to their impact. The word "natural" becomes synonymous with "common" when everyday nature communicates the infinite and eternal (Romans 1:20). That's a tragic loss for which we are culpable. Maybe it's our idolatry to novelty. That's a lousy trade. Perhaps it's our refusal to see the truth staring us in the face that deadens our hearts. I can imagine God surveying the entirety of creation and exulting "it is good". I can't imagine him seeing the universe he designed to point us to him with indifference as we do.

saving money on junk food

even the title seems contradictory. Why would you try to “save” on something that is in itself “waste”. Maybe it should be “comfort good”. Whatever. The point is that budget junk food is not good. If junk food evolved over time, and the starting point was what the store brands now offer up as cheese nips and fritos, I don’t see how they made it. Nasty. Budget cheerios have improved over the last 20 years; so, maybe there’s hope, but until then, the unsatisfying taste a) makes me more irritated about saving money and b) helps me save money because it just isn’t worth it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

still me

During breakfast one day this week I had a candid conversation with my daughter Mercedes.  Sharing the morning while the rest of the house slept with this beautiful young woman was surreal.  There she sat, eyes focused, mind sharp, slight grin on her face...amazing.  I left the house still feeling as if I were having an out-of-body experience, and spent most of the bus ride trying to re-anchor myself to reality.  Who was this person sitting at my dining room table?  It wasn't that the conversation was all that heavy.  It was just the experience.  Somewhere between 19th street and I-240, I realized that the source of my disconnectedness with the experience was that I had expected someone else to go through these types of things.  I wouldn't have imagined it would still  But it was.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

music games - Jack Glue

When I was music minister at GLC, we used to play a creative game with the team.  We'd do word association with two different people saying the first thing that came to mind, and then one person would be required to write something (anything) creative that week based on the two words.  It could be a song, or a poem, etc.  Alvin (lots of love, bro) brought it to the group as something he'd picked up from Nickel Creek.  It was a blast and really made me stretch.  I ran across some of the crazy ones I came up with at the time.  The song below was written to use the words "jack" and glue".  For your enjoyment, the "Jack Glue Song".  I wish I had written down the music.  lol

Thursday, August 05, 2010

back in my day

"back in my day" I heard my 13-year old daughter say. Really? What day was that? Yesterday? I laughed at first, but then I began to think about the changes she's seen in her life. I think about the changes I've seen in my life. Back in my day, there were no cell phones, no public internet (forget about accessing the internet from a cell phone...crazy), what content was stored was stored on magnetic tape, and 4 to 5 local channels were the norm. Now that much change must surely be distinguishing enough for me to say "back in my day".

Then I think about the generation before mine: limited travel, limited news, one-room schools (dad attended the last one-room gradeschool in Missouri), outhouses, black and white television, etc. And those are just externally-observable differences. The sea of cultural and societal changes besides these are enormous! Desegregation, two-income households, single-parent households, on and on. Now that's a "back in my day". One generation further back is suffrage, prohibition, emancipation...the velocity of change is dizzying. Things have (seemingly) changed so significantly and rapidly over the last few centuries that it's part of our ethos to say "back in my day". But has it always been the case that one generation says to the next "back in my day"? Can you imagine the conversation four or five centuries ago?

"Back in my day, we were hunter gatherers" or "back in my day we were agrarian."
"um...yeah, dad, that's been the case for all the generations in our known history."

Of course, there were innovations and socioeconomic shifts, but did it shift the culture enough for the average man for there to be a "back in my day"? Maybe it's part of the human condition, but is it possible that it's a more recent inflamed condition? Maybe it's aggravated by technological change because technology does change the way we communicate. The renaissance (encyclopedic knowledge), the industrial revolution (mechanized capacity), the information age (universal access), etc. definitely increased the velocity of change as well as common awareness of it. Perhaps it's this common awareness that itself contributes to rate increase. Regardless, I wonder if it has become more of a built-in mechanism--and a not necessarily positive one at that. I wonder if we have such an expectation of change that we yield too much of our life to it. "Things have got to change." Really? Upon what is that assertion based? "Things were better back when..." Really? Or is it the assumption that things have fundamentally changed that causes us to romanticize the past and bail on the present? But has anything important really changed? Does being able to track trivialities on social media really change the core nature of human relationships? Or have we allowed the velocity of change to deceive us into focusing on non-core things? We expect change. We pine for change. Many are junkies of vain and pointless change: television, facebook, twitter, etc. Many are just waiting for the right ________ to come along. I have the feeling that we're listening to the music without considering our course. It's change for change's sake. Maybe we're blaming the changes rather than embracing them as tools and opportunities (escapism). Maybe we're (perhaps worse) putting our hope in change rather than in the unchanging One (nonconstructive optimism). Maybe (perhaps even worse yet) we're looking at "change" as an improvement in our basic human condition and holding that as some sort of absolute good.

Are we holding our breath for "change"?

Monday, August 02, 2010

butt overdraft

Everything--especially everything crass--seems funnier when you're 12. That was probably about the age I was when I first heard someone say, "Don't let your mouth write a check your butt can't cash." Taken literally it's nonsense. But most people in the U.S. can quickly infer the meaning given enough context. And those of us with juvenile senses of humor no doubt still find it a witty way to say don't talk bigger than you can act. But isn't that, in some sense, one part of the call for those who follow Christ? My faith (and therefore the entirety of my life) is based on assertions that are more than I can accomplish. Impossibly more than I can a accomplish. "I will overcome." In what universe can I make that happen? Not this one. "I'm going to be the kind of person who can say, 'imitate me. look at my life and do what I do.'" Are you on crack? There's no way I can live up to that. But, as the late Walter Hawkins said, "That's the kind of life we ought to live."

Well, my mouth has no problem writing checks, and fat ones at that. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong, but they're almost always more than I feel like paying once they've left my mouth. A number of years ago, a good friend of mine was on pastoral staff at a church I had previously been very active in. I had resigned my ministry position partly because I was disillusioned with the direction of the church. Without going in to details, I can summarize by saying they were like a company that makes decision based on (speculative) market reaction rather than on product quality. In other words, it seemed to me they were more interested in, and measured their success by the number of people--"cool people" specifically--that came in the door. I was working my way through a Watchman Nee book at the time; so, I was all keyed up about some stuff, and I pointedly asked him, "What do you do with your time all day? How much of your day is spent in the ministry of the word and in prayer over the people that God has already sent? Is it the majority of your time, or is most of it spent figuring out clever marketing campaigns?" Yeah, ouch. "How do you measure success? If you were doing what you believed God told you to do as far as strategy, presentation, etc., and no growth happened for 3 years, would you think something's wrong?" Yeah, this is where the music gets creepy and there's a close up of the unusually attractive starlet putting her hand on the door knob as everyone in the theater screams, "Don't do it!" You can almost hear the divine paddle swooshing through the universe to make contact with my rear end.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I had not only conceded the ministry call (something I said I'd never do), but I had accepted a position to lead an alternative ministry that met on Saturday nights (beta ministries) in our church. We had great leadership--the best, actually. Some are now in Mexico as missionaries. Some are with us at True Vine. Some I'm praying will be with us soon ;) Great people that I assured when no one showed up for first service that we're just getting started, etc. "People will come.", they didn't. After the years of conversations about what church was supposed to be, late-night sessions discussing stripping away all the junk so we could focus on what's really important, etc., almost nobody came. We were in that ministry for several years, but the attendance didn't change. People told us they loved us, loved our ministry, etc. They told us we were doing great, but they apparently didn't think it was great enough to come. As time continued, their supposed desire for change contrasted increasingly to their continued declination to the invitation for change, and it polarized our relationships. We were "them" and they were "us". The check my mouth had written in conversation with my pastor friend years earlier slammed into an insufficient fund and my butt was overdrawn. Were we doing what God told us to? The answer was yes. Where we doing vain or wrong things? While executed by imperfect people and therefore imperfect, the answer still came down to no, we weren't doing vain things--in fact, we had weekly opportunities for painful soul searching about our motives and execution. Why weren't people coming? Why wasn't it taking off? What's wrong (yes, I'd like to make a withdrawal on the check my mouth wrote years earlier). NSF--insufficient funds.

Psalm 105:19 says that the word of the Lord tested Joseph until it came to pass. That's where we were. God had told us to say yes to ministry. We could see great things happening through it. Probably, there were even greater things accomplished that we couldn't see. But it hurt. Letting your mouth write a check that your butt can't cash in the natural is just plain stupid and usually hurts. For example, if you were to walk up to Brock Lesnar and say, "hey, 'roid boy, MMA is for wimps and I can mop the street with you any day", it's going to be the kind of hurt that involves a hospital co-payment. However, letting your mouth write a check that your butt can't cash in faith is different. Oh, it will probably hurt (definitely if you're brash like I am), and an overdraft is likely--it's called the discipline through which God teaches you that it isn't about you. --but the end result is that He develops in You that which He desires so that you are ready for His work. He allows you seasons of soul-searching so that when it comes time to do something even crazier...say start a church or maybe take up that interpretive mime ministry that's been on your have the seasons of Him covering the overdraft witnessing that however imperfect you may be, it's about Him--not you. As a perquisite for opening an account, there's also a huge toaster full of motives that have been vetted, purified, and solidified. You don't to worry about what you'll do if people talk negatively because they already have. You don't have to worry about what you'll do if it isn't popular because you've been there, done that. You can say, "I died once. It was very liberating." No sir, I have no idea how I'll cover that who do I make it out to?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

reboot now

Stupid flesh. Like a 16-year-old cheerleader, failure tackles me and my day is flat on the ground. Sure, if I take the time to review, I can see the slow degrees by which this need-to-vomit-at-my-own-mediocrity state was achieved. It didn't happen in an instant, although there was an inflection point where my acceleration undoubtedly changed sign. I could probably even pinpoint the that happened. I might even be tempted to think, "If I just hadn't crossed that line." Youth ministers scared the hell out of me as a young person because they had me convinced that there was some line of sexual temptation past which there was "no return" and I would become a lycan-like creature fueled by unstoppable lust. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't set (very conservative) boundaries past which you know you'll probably fail. I'm just saying that in reality, there isn't a single point of crisis for a failure after which I have no opportunity to not fail. Or if there is, I give up long before I get there. There is definitely a point in the continuum at which stopping my failure goes from merely difficult to herculean. All the points are critical--it's just that some are more difficult than others to reverse. Regardless of the degree of difficulty to turn from the progression of failure, at every single millimeter of the slippery path to "epic fail" my responsibility and culpability remain, and I know it. The "always provides a means of escape" promise doesn't comfort me in retrospect; it kills me, throws the truck in reverse and runs over me again just for good measure. It means there was a way out, and I watched it pass by.

So, on those days when I'm less-than-great (i.e. most days), I sit in the misery of "epic fail" paralyzed by my own weakness and the soulful remnants of the actions (condemnation). There's nothing I can say or do to reverse the damage. It all makes me want to take out the giant "FAIL" stamp and call it a day. I might as well just veg out on TV. Tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow I'll walk with God like Enoch did. Yeah. That's it. I'll start keeping track of my righteousness again tomorrow. I'll reboot. Over 95% of all problems are solved with a reboot (just ask any IT guy); so, I'll reboot and be fine tomorrow. I'll be faithful in devotion tomorrow. I'll be passionate for ministry tomorrow. I'll apply the gospel tomorrow. yadda yadda

The problem with that sentiment is that it means a) I'm counting on my own righteousness/strength (doomed), and b) most of my life would be spent in FAIL (poorly-executed doom). It doesn't take me long to crowbar a perfectly good day; so, if I wait until the next morning to reboot, most of today and by extension most of my life will have been spent having a "bad day". Lifehacker recently ran an article about the science of having a bad day. Some of it is probably off-base, but they made some good points about "bad days" which I distill below:
  1. label the "badness" rather than obsess about it
  2. reevaluate the outcome
  3. remember that past failure does not indicate future success
  4. get on with it
What it reminded me of was to not wait to reboot crappy days. Maybe you failed miserably. Big deal. Reboot NOW. This applies to days that aren't productive/creative/energetic. This applies to days that don't feel sanctified/devoted. Feelings lie. Label it all sin, confess it, look for God to be glorified in it while disciplining you, and move on. Every time inappropriate images surface, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Every time the echoes of anger or frustration reverberate, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Every time doubt whispers that you won't make it, slap "SIN" on it and shove it back under the blood of Christ. Reboot now and expect Him to make you what He's destined you to be. Our perfect record as Christians is only because of Christ's perfect life and His righteousness; so, starting today over right now is really no different than how this day started or how tomorrow will start. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden" must be right now. He doesn't need a breather after your failure. Devotion starts now. Sanctification starts now. Belief starts now.

reboot now

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christ and Skin

During this morning's "Bible time" (a.k.a. me dragging everybody's butts out of bed so I can stay motivated enough to get up and be disciplined), I asked the girls, "Do you apply the gospel to your life every day?" "Yes"...yes, of course we do was their reply. At 12 and 14, they're accustomed enough to dad probing for the right answer to questions that may or not make complete sense that they can (almost always) intuitively arrive at the correct "short" response most of the time without knowing what it actually means. Whatever I may be teaching them, I'm pretty sure I'm teaching them to test well on multiple choice-type questions. That was definitely the case for their "yes, of course" because when I asked for more information, "What does that mean?" the blank stares I received were only partially due to the sleep-residual fuzzies.

Now, being able to say "God knows me", and "God gave Himself for me" are absolutely invaluable statements. They're invaluable because the God who is faithful to them is infinite, and the worth of the gift He gives is infinite. We believe in them strongly enough for those to be the central message of our upcoming VBS. If I could apply those simple truths of the gospel and actually live in the full knowledge of just those two things, I'd undoubtedly be farther ahead than I am right now. But in these simple truths, God has richly provides greater depths of understanding so that we might more fully know His love! We deny ourselves the power to know this love by failing to personally grow beyond such high-level statements (much less appropriate them). We deny our children the power to know this love by failing to teach and require such things of them.

So I tried coaching the girls through some sort of recitation of the gospel. No dice. Now, this isn't completely unfamiliar territory. When we were prepping to go to Mexico last month, we talked about giving our testimony, what that meant, etc., and both of the girls prepared well and ministered well when called upon in the field. But they could tell I was after a more specific, semi-codified answer; so, they continued to stare blankly at me.

I (much to their joy, no doubt) went through the following list.
  1. incarnation
  2. sinless life
  3. substitutionary death
  4. resurrection
  5. ascension
  6. imminent return
...more nods and semi-disconnected stares. Right. Then the lights started to come on about what I was digging for. Now, the words are undoubtedly inadequate and the codification incomplete, but this is the list we arrived at together after discussion. I hope to live it out with them daily.
  1. incarnation - Because Christ put-on skin, he knows what it's like in mine
  2. sinless life - Because Christ lived a perfect life, I get a perfect record
  3. substitutionary death - Because Christ willingly gave His life, there's no more punishment for sin
  4. resurrection - Because Christ lives, I'm no longer trapped in the death of sin. I have eternal life.
  5. ascension - Because Christ ascended to the Father, I have an advocate--both before the Father (Christ), and from within me (the Holy Spirit).
  6. imminent return - Because Christ is coming again soon, I have hope and purpose
Do you apply the gospel to your life daily? Does that even make sense? Do you help your children to do the same?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

6 a.m. reminder

at approximately 6:05 a.m. this morning I had a startling reminder of what carnality really feels like. Settle down. I've been recently challenged by a number of sources (friends, books, etc.) about perseverance, spiritual discipline paralleling physical discipline, etc.; so, I have (once again) reasserted my resolutions for physical discipline to exercise, get up on time, etc. to make progress in my desire for spiritual discipline. During a nice conversation with myself this morning justifying why it was OK to stay in bed even though I had purposed to get up (you know the kind...I can shave in 15 seconds, etc.) it hit me. "This is what carnality feels like." It feels like the bed, pillows, sheets, etc. forming themselves around you in the most motivation-draining way possible. It feels like the temperature of the room being perfect for indulging in just a little more sleep. It feels like the blankets being warm but not hot, and the pillows being perfectly fluffed but not suffocating. It feels like your loved one's slow, rhythmic breathing. It feels like the best, most logical thing in the world is to concede the fight for just a little more sleep in the perfect sleep environment. It's surrounded by terribly logical excuses (I need the rest, I think better after more sleep, I can really give myself to prayer when I'm not so tired). It all makes perfect sense except that it is practically opposed to what you've said you really desire--a deeper walk with Christ I say practically because it isn't always obviously opposed logically. If it were overtly opposed logically it would be easy to recognize, but the damage comes in the fact that you can't recognize the damage to the actual practice of your right intention until it's too late. Maybe sleep's not your thing, but in that moment it struck me again that (whatever the expression), the desire to cave to flesh always has a similar quality. The perfect jerk and situation present themselves at which to be unduly angry. The perfect example of God's genius in creating woman presents herself to be looked at lustfully. The perfect compliment is given from which to derive pride. The perfect insult is given from which to nurse wounded pride. The list is endless, but caving to carnality always seems to make majority sense in the moment. To be sure, it isn't the only voice, but it sure seems to be the majority that resonates with my flesh. It reminds me of a comedian I saw years ago talking about the power of her bed on cold mornings. The bed would speak to her, "Come back to bed. You can pick out your clothes from here. Come back!"

It's interesting that the things used to distract us from our ultimate goal (Christ) are often the means of grace through which God shows us His love: a place to sleep; a snuggly spouse who is a gift from God; etc. While all of these things are ordained to point us to joy, we take joy in them instead of Him to whom they point. What an insult to the Father it must be that I so often treasure the gift over the Giver. What an amazing grace it is that He persistently calls to me through my blanket cocoon reminding me of my intention for fellowship with Him, promising me that I won't be disappointed, and empowering me to continue trying.

Friday, July 09, 2010

a dog named cowboy

That title with the nouns transposed would make for a pretty decent western novel. The setting for this entry could have been from a western--Arid and desert-like, with rough-finished, open air buildings into which Cowboy regularly wandered. Even the company he kept would fit well in a western--Joel would make a great cowboy: slit-eyed tough guy with black boots. But Cowboy is a dog--Joel's dog--and Joel is the director of Dayspring Ministries Training. We were at the Dayspring complex in Dr. Arroyo for a short-term mission trip which Joel lead, and Cowboy's favorite past-time was patrolling the dining area for scraps of food. He was having issues that affected his equilibrium, causing him to, at time, careen into the common area making him that much cooler (Cowboy es chida, but Cowboy has dysentery).

I tried to connect with Cowboy. Most people on our short-term mission trip tried, but most didn't succeed. My best effort was a food offering. It seemed like a sure bet given Cowboy's love affair with food scrap. He flatly declined. To say I was offended when he rejected the piece of banana I proffered may be an overstatement, but I can't deny I was a little perturbed. I'm not saying I was consumed with it. It wasn't even really a prominent distraction--just a very low-level buzz in my head. But, seriously, giving any emotional energy to a dog because he didn't immediately gobble up the food offered has got to be indicative of some sort of issue. Issues, as it turns out. I've never heard a donkey speak (although the freakin' donkeys there seemed to scream at the top of their lungs constantly), but I can say that God dealt with me through that dog.

Sometimes I understand God's dealing pretty linearly. He reveals lesson A, builds on that to B, etc. Many times, though, He deals with me in a way that unravels backward to the core in one flash. The core isn't the first thing I observe, but it's primary to the story. The core for my experience with Cowboy was pride. Shocker. Here I was, an important person in my own estimation, condescending to offer him some of my food, and he would deny it? Look at where he is, and where I come from. He's making me look less than cool. He should know that in addition to all of my many other talents, I moonlight as the Beastmaster. No dice, and "no, thanks" to the banana. Worse yet, he didn't even wait to see what else I would offer. He brushed me off (ME) as insignificant! I (obviously) deserve better than that. Now, I've searched myself. I can't find any overt prejudice or elitism, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's what it was to some extent. Sure, I can observe that prejudice in other people (how do *these* people survive without carpet, etc.), and if it were an active voice in the proclamation of my depravity it wouldn't be the loudest, but SERIOUSLY? There it is, though. Cowboy should take my food because look at where he is and how much better off I am. Pride rears its ugly head. Not only that, but he should really consider that I'm tall, good-looking, and an humble servant of God. *vomit* He's not cooperating with my facade. *vomit* Lesson number one: I am prideful enough to be insulted by a dog with dysentery.

Yeah, maybe your moments of lucidity follow actual crises rather than imagined offenses by a dog, but nonetheless, Cowboy caused me to pay attention. I started watching how he treated everyone and my minuscule indignation grew ever so slightly (first layer of the ball of thread that later unraveled). Not only did the dog not treat me as significant, he didn't treat me or anyone else in our group as a person. Dozens of groups go through that complex every year, and to Cowboy, I was just one piece of walking scenery. Sure, he'd accept a food scrap from the talking shrubs, or maybe even a belly rub, but they weren't actual people. I can't adequately describe watching the difference in his behavior between the short-term groups (the walking scenery) and his family. When *his* people walked in the room, everything changed. Nothing else mattered. The groups going through were just a temporary and insignificant distraction. Cowboy became a figurehead of another battlefront. The one where my pride was offended because I was wrongly sensitive to being the cause of the monotony of daily ministry. "I don't want to be a burden" can be one of the most prideful things uttered. You know what I'm talking about. About the 40th time that ______ does/says _______ and as a pastor/missionary/______ you have to participate in what God's doing for them even though you've lead expeditions around that mountain umpteem times, you show less than the overwhelming joy of service; so, to allow some else to serve you is of pride. Cowboy was looking through me as a non-person to what was important to him, and the growing indignation widened its scope to the insecurity that driving me to get ice cream wasn't what these missionaries had signed up for and they were bothered about it. *vomit* Thankfully, God always provides a way of escape from temptation. Invariably, that way is lined with enough glass to scrape off all the stinking flesh. The way for me back into a right spirit was the realization of how often had I looked *through* people rather than *at* them. How often had I not had God's perspective about a person in process when I'm in process myself? I looked through them to what I thought was important (people that gave me stuff, resources, pleasure, name it). I looked through them because they didn't provide identity or status or advancement. I should have rather stood secure in who God says that I am and where He told me to be and been an instrument He could use in their process. Lesson number two: I am probably one of the worst at looking through people because a) I'm insecure and b) my treasure is in the wrong place.

At this point of the epiphany, the carnality ball is unraveling with alarming speed and the conviction is working overtime. God may have dealt with my lack of concern and insecurity through Cowboy's lack of consideration, but He really worked me over using Cowboy's response to Joel. Joel was the source of supply, the center of identity, the cause of joy for Cowboy. Whatever else was going on, if Joel moved, Cowboy moved. If Joel spoke, Cowboy listened. Cowboy's first and last thought was for Joel. Cowboy didn't care at all what I though of him or even what I might offer him if Joel was there because Joel was his everything. Lesson 3 (yeah, this one was a short punch right to the gut): While looking through others to selfish ends is wrong (Cowboy and I are both guilty, but hey...Cowboy's a dog), because God is my source, supply, and joy from which none other can detract (Cowboy got this right and I struggle daily), I need consult nothing and no one else connected to my joy, and subsequently, I have the foundation and strength to recognize the moment and the people in that moment as the mission for which and to which I can give myself wholeheartedly (no real dog analogy here, but by this point I had enough of a head of steam for God to finish the pruning) without trying to manage peoples opinions or perceptions, and (further) I can joyfully accept God's provision through those He puts in my life.

Turns out Cowboy just really doesn't like bananas.