Saturday, September 7, 2013

Max's Devotional

Last Monday it was my 54th birthday. I can’t say that I enjoyed the day because it was also they day that we euthanized our dog Max. This was the hardest decision we have ever made. Perhaps I am lucky, but big decisions have always been easy until this one.

Marrying Libba? That was a no-brainer. The miracle is that she wanted to marry me. Kids, jobs – these were not hard decisions. Looking back, I put too little prayer and thought into the jobs I have taken. You often won’t get God’s counsel if you don’t take the time to listen.

But letting go of my dog, my friend, my family member; that was a long and painful process. Prayer helped, but prayer did not stop the tears. In the end, we knew that it was selfish of us to make her endure pain and starvation as her 18-year-old body gave out. I have had pets, cats and dogs, throughout my life. There was something different, special about our dog Max and I’ll tell you a little bit more about her in a minute.

But this is not a devotion meant to bring you down, this is a celebration of the example God gave us in the life of Jesus, and how if we open our eyes, we can see that example in the lives of the people and even pets that we love.

These are the words of Matthew 22: 34-40
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We are all familiar with this passage, but applying what we know from this is a lifelong struggle, one that I too often fail. What does it mean to love the Lord? What does it mean to love your neighbor? Rather than try to answer these questions directly, I’d like to look to the life of Jesus to talk about three of his traits; anger, love of learning, and caring for others. And I’ll tell stories about how even a dog can teach us, by example, these traits. 

Anger is a dangerous emotion. It can destroy. Yet Jesus showed anger in clearing the Temple of the moneychangers. Was he doing this because he hated the moneychangers? No, throughout his life as told by the Gospels, he showed love to sinners. But this practice was an affront to God, and worse, this could lead the people away from an understanding of God. Jesus called the Pharisees vipers – hardly a complement. But this too had a purpose, not to hurt the Pharisees but to show them that their religious practices were separating people from God rather than showing a love for God. 

So how in the world can a dog remind us of Jesus’ use of anger? Max never truly got angry, but in a very few cases, she did display a ferocity. Max was a friend to all people and animals. She loved cats. But on a couple of occasions she chased cats from our yard, barking and showing her teeth. These cats had attacked our cats and she would not allow our cats to be hurt. After the attacking cats were out of the yard, she immediately trotted back to the house and displayed no more aggression.
How long did Jesus hold on to his anger? How long do you?

Jesus was fully human. It is hard for me to really understand all that means. Jesus was a carpenter. From the parables we know that he knew something about fishing and farming. And of course, he knew and interpreted the scriptures. For me to accept that Jesus was fully human, I can’t imagine that he was born with this complete knowledge, because learning is a very human trait. My belief is that he was born with a thirst for knowledge, a thirst that we see in many children. The fully human Jesus was a sponge, soaking up the lessons that life presented him. 

Our dog Max was unusual. We never house trained Max, or taught her commands. She just knew what to do – sometimes doing what you wanted her to do even before you called out a command to her. She was a learning dog. When she got very old, she lost her hearing, but then started to respond to hand gestures. This too we did not teach. 

Are you a learner? Do you thirst for knowledge? What lesson have you learned today that brings you closer to God?

Jesus cared for others. This is obvious in all that he did, even in how he displayed his anger. Jesus loved sinners. He showed kindness. He healed. He fed. He showed us a better way and he gave us a way out. He is our intercessor. 

Max was a loving friend to every person and animal. She never met another dog she did not like. More surprisingly, she also never met a cat or any other type of animal that she did not want to make friends with. She always tolerated the sometimes-clumsy petting that she got from small kids and never tried to bite even when someone would get a little too rough with her. She never tried to bite, even when protecting her cat family members. 

Do you try to bite? How do you show your love? Jesus gave us two laws on which all of the laws are based. Then he gave us his life, by example and through the cross to demonstrate application of those laws. We humans fall short, but if you look around, you can see glimpses of Jesus, in the love shown by others, in the things they do, in the things they find important to learn. And yes, you can even see examples on four legs. God has surrounded us with lessons. We just need to see them to learn them.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jesus gives the Leper a Band-aid

This is part 2 of a series on religion and politics.  Part one can be read at

Do you remember the passage in the Bible where the leper walked up to Jesus and asks to be healed, and Jesus gave him a Band-Aid?  Or how about the time the blind man asked Jesus to restore his sight, and Jesus offered him a seeing-eye dog?

Weren’t you moved when Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, give the thirsty something to drink and to welcome the stranger, using free market principles in an unregulated market that prove the profit motive leads to greater efficiencies and that market pressures alone will lead businesses to operate in an ethical manner?

Me neither. First of all, Jesus was not interested in half measures. The blind could see again, lepers were cured. And Jesus commanded his followers to care for the sick, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe those who need it…(Matthew 25:31-46). We were not told how to do it, just to get it done.

So if you are a believing Christian, the question is not if we, as a society should do these things, but how do we try to get it done. Anything less is a step away from Christ. And this is where religion and secular society meet.

The current Republican presidential primary selection race leaves me confused. Every candidate (except perhaps Ron Paul) flaunts his religion and they seem to compete to be the holiest. Yet they condemn “Obamacare” and offer no alternative, government or private. Heal the sick? Not on their watch.

Feed the hungry? No, attack food stamps. Newt Gingrich’s plan is for the needy to cinch in their belts until they have good paying jobs.

Welcome that stranger? Each candidate tries to outdo each other to be harder on undocumented aliens. I’m not arguing for open borders, but haven’t we lost some of our own humanity when we are cheering the breaking up of families? Haven’t we given up on Christ?

Government is not the answer, nor is it the problem. Government is a tool that the people can employ to solve problems that are beyond us individually. What matters are results. Are we fulfilling all of Jesus’ commands through our churches? No one could argue that we are. While churches work to bring the commands of Christ to the world, the job is bigger than churches can do alone.  Will the private sector do the job? The profit motive does not willingly provide products and services to those who cannot pay.

So if you don’t want government to heal the sick, and feed the hungry… please, fellow Christians, tell me your plan.

Part 3 – Why should the rich pay more? Coming soon.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No papers please – a Food Ministry Christmas

They came from all over North Alabama and southern Tennessee, black, brown, white and all shades in between. They were the volunteers on Thursday, December 22.

They came from all over North Alabama and southern Tennessee, black brown, white and all shades in between. They were the hungry, those who needed clothes or toys for their kids for Christmas.

It started off as a food ministry, but now it also fills other needs as well. English was the main language, but Spanish was often heard as well.

On the food line we were given strict instructions; two cans of green beans, two cans of carrots, two of pears, a bag of frozen sweet potato fries and two pounds of rice for each person. No more. Unless someone asked. Our customers in turn would not only tell us if they needed more, but when they had enough at home. “No rice today, I have enough and I don’t want to take it when someone else needs it more”.

The toy line was long. Each person got a ticket for two toys. The supply was limited, but no one complained.  Shoppers were let in 15 at a time because the space was small and the demand was large. Hundreds were served by the end of the evening.

The toys were donated, as was much of the food. All of the help was by volunteers; an odd mix of individuals, a middle school basketball team, an alumni group from a fraternity and many different church and civic groups.

You heard Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and God Bless you often. But what you never heard in this ministry the week before Christmas was, “your papers please”. This ministry answers to a higher law.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jesus is Born – So What?

Christmas is here and Christians around the world are celebrating Jesus’ birthday. So What? You say you’re a Christian? Jesus is born! So what are you going to do about it?

If you respond and say you show your love of God by going to church, my response is again – so what? To quote the bumper sticker, “Going to Church no more makes you a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car”. You say you give to your church. That’s nice but if it is all you are doing it is not enough.

First, let’s start with your church. Is it inviting to all? Do you welcome the rich and the poor equally? James 2:1-4 teaches us that if we show favoritism, we are committing a sin. James continues in 2:5-7 “5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” James’ work was deemed important enough to include in the Bible. Now we would dismiss him as being a radical in the Occupy Movement. What does that say about us? Why is pointing out social injustice threatening to many US Christians?

The prophet Isaiah had this to say about good, church-going folk who make offerings and pray, but stop there. “15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening” Isaiah 1:15. Isaiah explains why God does not listen to their prayers in verses 16-17: 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow”. Yes Isaiah knew that God would not hear their prayers if they did not practice justice.

Isaiah’s time was much like our own. Here is what he had to say about the leaders of his time in 1:23 “Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts”. It sounds like money has always corrupted politics and power too often attracts scoundrels.

Do you think that perhaps Isaiah is an anomaly in the Bible? Listen to the words of Amos: “7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.  12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:7, 12, 21-24.

But let’s assume that your church is inviting to all and is interested in social justice. It’s time to get more personal.

James continues in chapter 2 “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James is clear – faith requires action. To those who are wondering where Grace fits in here, yes, you are saved by Grace, but if you are saved, won’t there be evidence? If your heart is changed to love God, that love will leave tracks for all to see. 

James gives us a hint on one of the things we are to do: feed the hungry. But why don’t we hear from Jesus himself on what we are to do: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:34-40.  Jesus goes on to promise condemnation to those who do not heed this call. 

To be a Christian is a call to action, a call to loving others with more than good intentions and good feelings. A call to feed, clothe and provide medical care to those in need. A call to question the world as it is and to demand, not middle class comfort, but justice. A call in all ways to love one another as you love yourself. 

So there you have it. Jesus is Born! So what? So get moving. 

Coming at the New Year: Part 2 – Jesus gives the leper a Band-Aid, or does government fit into this call to action?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mo Brooks endorses single payer health care (well not really…but)

At a recent town hall meeting at Grissom High School Mo Brooks made an offhand comment praising South Korea’s freedom loving people, contrasting them to the North Koreans. He stated that he believed that their economic miracle was directly related to their love of freedom.

I could not agree more. The people of South Korea are a democratic society that has experienced an economic miracle over the last several decades. While part of that miracle is due in part to the defense assistance we provide them, the majority of their advances are due to their own hard work and commitment that they have made to the betterment of their own society.

Koreans enjoy one of the best public school systems in the world, in part due to strict federal standards and high teacher salaries that attract high achieving applicants. 

Koreans enjoy the fastest broadband Internet speeds in the world, thanks to strict an energetic federal regulation of the telecom industry.

When automaker Kia went bankrupt in the late 1990’s, the government took over the firm (bailout) until the eventual takeover by Hyundai was arranged. Jobs were saved and the company now thrives as a part of the larger Hyundai Company.

Koreans also spend only 6.4% of their GDP on medical care (2006 -according to the CDC) even though they have universal single payer medical care. We in the 15.3% US spent that same year even though we have gaping holes in our medical system.

So Mo was right. There is definitely something to admire about these freedom loving people. Perhaps one of their most admirable qualities is that the people make the system work for their own good.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

House reaffirms 'In God We Trust' as official U.S. motto

 Yes, the House determined that reaffirming "In God We Trust" as our national motto was the most important issue facing our country today.

If we do indeed trust God, why do we need so many weapons?,0,4529006.story

Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Wall Street should pay attention to Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street is now a favorite subject for the media. They seem to vacillate between admiration and disdain. Certainly Fox News leans more towards disdain while MSNBC is more open to examining their complaints. I hope that Wall Street is paying attention. Whether you like them or not, Occupy Wall Street is one symptom of a greater issue – falling confidence.

Each month consumer confidence is reported as an indicator of expected future economic performance. Confidence in the value of the dollar is evidenced by foreign currency exchange rates. Confidence in the Federal Government is reflected in surveys with the general public and by investors with the yield rates on treasury bills. Confidence is a valuable indicator and positive economic outcomes in the long run require confidence – the confidence to spend, the confidence to borrow, he confidence that you will have a job and the confidence to invest.

The Occupy __ (fill in your city) movement is, fundamentally, about fairness; the belief that the economic system is not fair to most people in the United States. Protestors believe that if you work hard to get an education and a job, that you should be able to prosper. The reality they see is that people in finance who game the system have prospered enormously while following the rules may leave you jobless and in debt. They believe that if you should start to get ahead, the financial system is set up to fleece small investors while the powerful prosper at the rest of society’s expense. That is, they have lost confidence in our economic system.

As long as that loss of confidence is limited to scattered encampments in large cities around the country (and world) the protestors are merely a noisy distraction to Wall Street, and perhaps a tourist draw for the curious.

But surveys taken since the beginning of the protests indicate that the OWS movement is the true cutting edge of a wave of dissatisfaction with the direction of our country. TEA Party groups blame the government for their dissatisfaction, while OWS blames greed and the influence of money on the political process.  Both groups know something is wrong, and the OWS movement has been growing in influence.

Our stock markets require investor confidence to attract capital. No investor will send money to his broker with the expectation that he will be fleeced. As more investors examine the arguments of the OWS movement, they may come to agree that the system is rigged against them. If this results in dollars slowly being pulled out of the market, then Wall Street ignores the complaints of the OWS movement at its peril. This loss of confidence will likely not result in a run on the markets, rather is would be evidenced by a slow decline as individuals come to the conclusion that the American dream does not flow through Wall Street.

Is Occupy Wall Street the tip of the iceberg or an annoyance to the wealthy? The public is now focusing on the growing income gap and time will tell.