All posts by Steve

Schnauzers in heaven

We have two schnauzers, Deacon and Dodger. Deacon is 13 years old, highly intelligent and has a bark so piercing it will induce physical pain. Dodger is three and dense as a hickory knot, though he is disarmingly sweet and howls like a coyote.

Deacon, the dog you see at the top of this blog page, is likely the most famous schnauzer in Tennessee. We have lots of guests at our house and everyone knows Deacon (though not all are enamored of him). I have friends from Ghana and Nepal who ask about him. We have received Christmas cards addressed toHouse painting copy_2 him. He’s in our formal family photo and is featured in a painting of our house. I love Deacon more than any dog I’ve ever had. Sadly, I know his days are numbered. I try not to think of life without Deacon because it makes me sad.

Someone once asked Billy Graham if dogs will be in heaven. He replied, “God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.” That’s comforting if true. I hope Deacon is in heaven and I assume he won’t pee on the carpet there.

The concept of dogs in heaven makes you wonder what heaven is really like. In the Bible we read about streets of gold and mansions, which makes heaven seem more like Beverly Hills. That’s cool, but not my idea of paradise. When I think “paradise” I tend to picture mountains and trout streams. My daughters probably imagine something like Disney World. I should note that both my daughters are adults.

I once heard a high school student comment, “Heaven seems boring. It’s just one long church service with harps.” How sad, I thought, that this young’s man image of eternity was so completely wrong. Sure, there will be incredible worship of Jesus, we’ll all sing beautifully and angels will lead the celebration. But that’s just a slice of what heaven will be like. I’m no expert, but I believe heaven will be what God originally intended, a perfect place where He dwells with us. No illness, no depression, no evil and no dog poop. I’m hoping there will be trout fishing.  And football.

The thought of heaven motivates me to live for Christ, not because I can earn a ticket, but because I want my life to be pleasing to Him. I really believe in the concept of heaven and I equally believe in the concept of hell. Hell is a place devoid of God’s presence and it will be miserable and eternal. I want to be in heaven with Jesus… and my schnauzer. My dog is not a Christian, as far as I know, but he is, after all, a Deacon.

David, one complex dude

David, thou art complex.

A shepherd boy kills a warrior champion. A hero becomes a fugitive. A man singled out as favored by God commits adultery and plots a murder. A wise king fathers dysfunctional children. David, you are one complex dude.

The life story of David is more entertaining than Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ve always been fascinated by the gDavey v. Goliathuy. Did you know David is mentioned more often in the Bible than Jesus? He was a man of incredible accomplishments and was beloved by God. Twice in the Bible he was described as “a man after God’s own heart.” That’s saying quite a lot for a guy who committed adultery and conspired to commit murder. So, I ask, what makes him so special?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading and re-reading 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings to get a handle on David. I noted some of his important character traits and even kept an unofficial scorecard.

• Acts of obedience: at least eight are mentioned.
• Acts of worship: at least eight if you include dancing, which he did in front of everyone when the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem.
• Loyalty: David was incredibly loyal. I found at least six references to his loyalty, some that extended over a lifetime.
• Repentance: at least two references; one over Bathsheba and another when he took a census against the Lord’s will. God will forgive when we sincerely repent.
• Bravery: there was the Goliath thing, and he killed 200 enemy soldiers to win the hand of King Saul’s daughter, AND he won numerous victories in battle, which made people sing, “Saul has killed his thousands, David his TEN thousands.”

David was a man who loved God deeply and worshipped enthusiastically, but he also had raging temper… he even got mad at God! The Lord was never far from David’s thoughts. He consulted God about Davideverything and he delighted in doing God’s will. Therein lies the cornerstone of David’s great life – he delighted in God’s will. In Psalms 40:8 David wrote, “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart.” He was a guy who not only knew God’s laws, he delighted in obeying them. His happiness was in obeying the Lord.

My happiness often depends on things or circumstances. Sometimes I sense that even my acts of righteousness are phony; I want the praise of others for being “good.” David wanted more than anything to please God. So maybe David wasn’t so complex after all. He simply wanted to do God’s will, and that gave him great joy. That’s why he was a man after God’s own heart. That’s what I want to be, too.

Why I Love “A Christmas Story”

The movie A Christmas Story is a big part of my family’s holiday tradition. We watch it every Christmas, often multiple times. We quote lines from the film and have numerous movie-related ornaments on our tree. A few years ago we took our kids to Cleveland to see the actual house featured in the movie. My son has a Red Rider BB gun and we own a full-sized, authentic leg lamp that we proudly display in our front window during the holiday season.original

One reason I like A Christmas Story so much is the Darren McGavin character, “The Old Man.” He is both a loving family man (devoted husband, giver of BB guns) and a grumpy, cantankerous fussbudget (the Bumpass hounds, the furnace). He delivers some of the most memorable lines ever spoken in cinema. When he bellows, “you used up all the glue… on PURPOSE!” I actually feel his pain and anger.

The movie is a touchstone for me. Every Holiday season is stressful and chaotic. Lots of social activities, places to go, things to do, and gifts to buy. The pace quickens as Christmas day nears. By the time I reach Christmas week my life is a frenzy. I’m exhausted and weary – I just want the day to arrive so we can stop the insanity.

Then, on Christmas Eve, we turn on the TV and hear the familiar tune “Deck the Halls” from the opening sequence of A Christmas Story. I get excited as Ralphie, Randy, Flick and Schwartz rush to see Higbee’s window, a high-water mark of the pre-Christmas season. Me? I am the Old Man, grumbling through life, hoping to win the sweepstakes based on my trivia knowledge. The Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse? You’ll find out at the end of this blog.

My family has seen the movie countless times, so we often lose interest after the first half hour of the first showing. Nevertheless, we keep it on as a comforting backdrop to our Christmas conversations. We occasionally throw a movie quote into our conversations just to see if others are paying attention. What does it look like I’m doing, picking goobers?

Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. I know that. I’m as thankful as anyone that God would become a baby and eventually give His life for me. But I’m also thankful for the ancillary memories and traditions of Christmas. They bring joy, too, and remind me that life is built on the crazy, unique things that bind a family together. Right now I am imagining the closing scenes of A Christmas Story, with The Old Man and Mrs. Parker snuggling on the sofa, sipping wine as the snow falls outdoors. Meanwhile, Ralphie drifts off to sleep with his prized Red Rider BB gun as “Silent Night” plays. Few things are more comforting to me.

And the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse? Victor, of course. Everybody knows that.

Trouble with Jonah

Jonah is a ridiculous story.  A man defies God, is swallowed by a giant fish, relents and repents, fulfills his calling, becomes angry with the Lord, gets a terrible sunburn and then a lecture from the Almighty.  If I were not  a believer I would discount the whole thing as a fairy tale or a crazy allegory.  Unfortunately, I do believe it, and that makes it hard for me to refuse God when He calls me to do something that is difficult.  Jonah is a reminder that following Jesus isn’t easy.

In chapter 2, Jonah admits his mistake and prays to God from the belly of the fish.  I’ve never been in a fish’s intestines, but I imagine it would stink and be extremely unpleasant.  Our Father often asks us to do difficult things and when we refuse to do them, life can become yukky.  God makes us uncomfortable because He wants to use us, stretch us and help us become more like Jesus, which is to say He wants us to think of others as more important than ourselves.  I am His servant; I must learn to be obedient.  I don’t like being obedient when it means doing difficult things.  I only want to be obedient when it is easy.

Each person’s opinion of what is difficult is different.  Maybe it is visiting a terminally ill person.  Perhaps it is teaching 13-year-olds in Sunday School or tithing your salary.   It could be that God wants you to become a foreign missionary, or maybe just speak to a neighbor about their relationship with God.  What’s hard for you may be easy for me, and vice versa.

Doing difficult things is part of the Christian life.  Take up your cross, Jesus said.  Yep, it’s heavy and gives you splinters, but it is necessary, often for reasons we don’t understand at the time.  I have to trust God that this unpleasant thing I am now enduring will have a great outcome in the future.  For now, I must quit complaining and be obedient.  I don’t want to end up smelling like Jonah.