Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pet Peeve: "I Covet Your Prayers!"

Every now and then there is a saying among Christian circles that, I must confess, drives me crazy. 

One that I thought had died off but seems to be gaining new life is the phrase, “I covet your prayers.”  We all know what is meant by this, but do we have to phrase it this way?

I’m pretty sure I know how this phrase got into circulation.  In the book, “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, he writes about how social fads begin.  They start when someone of influence says or does something that is perceived as innovative.  This could be anything from a simple catch phrase to wearing a pair of old-fashioned Hush Puppies shoes to a swank gathering.  When the innovation is introduced, it will pick up steam if there are other influencers who get influenced by the innovation.  Then, those influencers go to their spheres of influence and begin to replicate the innovation.  If this pattern repeats itself, it creates a new social fad.

So let’s get back to the phrase, “I covet your prayers.”  Most likely, someone of influence used this phrase in a gathering of other influential people.  Those influential people were impacted by this innovative phrase that gave a new sense of urgency to prayer.  Then, they went to their own spheres of influence and began using the phrase.  From there, other people of influence picked up on the phrase and it eventually became standard vernacular for Christian communities.

But here’s my problem . . .  since coveting is obviously one of the big no-no’s of the Ten Commandments, how did this ever become a “Christian” phrase?  This makes about as much sense as me saying, “I am lusting after the young people in my community to come to Christ!” Or how about, “I have a murderous desire to teach the Word of God.”  Both of these latter examples do a good job of describing a particular sentiment, but we would all agree they are not appropriate.  If these latter examples are not appropriate, how can the former phrase be appropriate?  It isn’t.

My next question is . . . when Christians use this phrase, do they think about the biblical definition of “covet” and misuse it anyway or are they simply repeating “Christian” verbiage without any thought process?  Whatever the answers may be, they are both bad.

So, please . . . for goodness sake . . . l covet your attention to this matter . . . Oops, I mean I desire your attention to this matter.  (Did you notice how acceptable “covet” was in this sentence because of the numerous times you and I have heard it misused?)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lessons my dogs have taught me about life...

As long as I can remember, I have loved dogs.  I particularly like big dogs but I’ve only owned one big dog.  His name was Tad and he was the most beautiful Boxer that has ever lived.

I was quite young when my family got him.  Early on we entered him in a couple of dog shows and he won them both.  His kennel owners wanted us to show him on a regional and national scale because they were convinced he could be a great champion, but we decided against it because we wanted Tad to be a family dog.

Some of my most treasured memories of Tad were playing football with him in our backyard.  I would line up with the football and Tad would position himself in front of me.  When I said “Hike!” Tad would jump up and put his front legs on my shoulders and ride on me until he tackled me.  He was a wonderful football coach because when I started Little League football at the age of seven, I was far ahead of the other kids and could run by them all.

One of the curses of Boxers is that they generally don’t live long lives.  Tad made it to about six years old when he started having problems.  He developed a seizure problem that was horrifying to watch.  His seizures eventually got the better of him and he passed away.

Death was something I hadn’t experienced yet in life as a seven-year-old.  If I think about it, I can still get the chills I experienced when I heard that Tad would not be coming home from the vet.  Those moments of seeing his food dish, his leash, the bell on the door he would ring when he wanted out . . . realizing he would never use them again was absolutely heart-wrenching.

Our next dog was a spunky Poodle-Schnauzer named Bo.  Somehow I had heard that my mom had talked with a lady up the street who knew of someone who had Schnauzer puppies for sale.  Somehow I found where my mom wrote down the information because the next thing I knew I was on the phone calling.  This pleasant voice answered the phone and I asked about her puppies for sale.  She said she had puppies for sale but, perhaps, was my mother available to talk on the phone.  (I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to talk business with an eight-year-old).  My mom got on the phone and sometime later we were heading out to go look at the puppies.

When we arrived at the house, I recall there were two puppies- a boy and a girl.  I was drawn to the girl because she had the classic Schnauzer coloring.  However, my brother and mother were drawn to the boy . . . he was black!  I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a black Schnauzer, but in order to guarantee our chance of taking a dog home, I quickly changed my loyalty and said the little black dog would be just fine.  Somewhere along the way home we decided his name would be Bo.

Though we all loved Bo, it was very clear that his priority was my mother.  Anytime my mom left the house, Bo would go to my second-story bedroom and watch out the window until she came home.  He obviously knew what kind of car she drove because as soon as she drove by the house he would let out a howl of pure glee and race to the garage door.  He would continue to howl until she came in.  Once she came in, he jumped up and down in absolute ecstasy for another few minutes.

Bo had an amazing ability to make friends with other dogs that I have never seen before or after.  One day when he was probably two-years-old I was walking him around the neighborhood and went by my friend Nick Siefert’s house.  As we passed by, Nick’s dog Hercules was barking in their yard.  Bo seemed to want to go say hello so I allowed Bo to go to the fence.  I could tell by the tales wagging that both dogs were very happy to meet one another.

It wasn’t too long after this that my mom was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of a dog whimpering under her window . . . it was Hercules wanting to play with Bo.  So, my mom let Bo out the front door at about 3:00 AM and the two of them scampered into the night.  Bo came home about 6:00 AM.

This soon became a nightly ritual.  However, little did we know that there was another dog in the gang.  One day Mrs. Dempsey was talking with my mom and asked if my mom realized that Bo and Hercules came by every morning at about 3:00 AM and whined for her dog Blue.  We had no idea.  The gang had a wonderful span of nightly excursions until Hercules died.  I can’t recall if Bo and Blue continued or not.

The most beautiful thing about Bo was that he was always there for me during years of constant change.  Bo was my companion from second grade until my early twenties.  He was there after a tough day at elementary school when I got in a fight with Peter Pavlakis.  He was there after a break-up with a girlfriend.  He was there when I came home from prom.  He was there after my big victory against Sheridan High School.  He was there the day I left for college.  He was there the day I came home from graduating from college.

He wasn’t there the night of my twenty-third birthday.  He hadn’t been feeling well and had been staying at the vet.  All day at work I was hoping and praying that Bo would be home for my birthday.  When I got home from work, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law were in the family room.  They were waiting for me to take me to dinner.  After I greeted them I said, “Where’s Bo?”  Nobody said anything.

I slowly stood up and went downstairs to my room . . . and cried!  My buddy, the one who had always been there for me, was gone.  Needless to say, I didn’t go out that night for my birthday.

Many years later, my wife and I decided to get a dog.  We hadn’t firmly decided on exactly when we would get one, but I woke up one Saturday morning and knew that this was the day we’d bring a new family member into our home.

We went to the local shelter . . . I was so eager that I got there an hour before they opened.  Finally the door opened and we went back to look at the dogs.  My wife was interested in a smaller dog that didn’t shed.  I was hoping for a bigger dog.

As we walked down the corridors, each kennel contained about four dogs.  There were a lot of Pit Bulls that didn’t seem very happy to be there nor the fact that strangers were looking at them.  We got to a kennel that contained four smaller dogs.  One was a cute, white dog that sat up and placed his nose through the chain fence.  He seemed to be saying, “Look at me . . . how can you walk past me and not want ME?”

We stopped and looked at him for a moment and then kept walking and looking.  We got to the end of the kennels and I looked at my wife.  “Well, I guess I didn’t see anything today.”  My wife hesitated and replied, “Can we go back and look at the one again?”  I knew exactly which one- the small, white dog.

So we walked back to his kennel and asked the worker if we could take him out of the kennel for a closer look.  The shelter had a little play area to get better acquainted with the dogs.  The worker took the dog out and brought him to the play area.  This little dog was so glad to be out of the kennel that he ran and ran around the play area.  I remarked to my wife, “He doesn’t seem too interested in bonding with us!”  Just after I said that, as if on cue, he straddled up next to me and gave me a big kiss.  “OK, this one is ours!”

We named him Bojo which stands for Bo Junior.  To the best of our knowledge, he’s a Poodle-Cocker Spaniel mix . . . and my wife and I love him down to the last inch of his tail.  He gets two walks every day.  I walk him before I go to work and my wife walks him in the evening.  I also jog about three times a week and Bojo demands to be with me for those runs as well.

So what lessons have my dogs taught me about life?  So far, all I’ve done is share a few stories about my three dogs.  My dogs have taught me how indescribably great the gift of life is and how amazing unconditional love is.  My dogs have allowed me to experience some of the deepest joys my heart has ever known.  The simple act of knowing Bojo has ripped away dead layers on my heart.  My heart is softer now.

OK . . . you may be still wondering what is the major theological point?  After all, this is a pastor’s blog so there must be something “spiritual” about this.  Here it is . . . I know that Bojo is going to die someday.  I can’t tell you how much that is going to rip my heart apart.  I’ve asked God to grant Bojo a long life.  Maybe God will, maybe He won’t.  But before Bojo dies, I will praise God every day for this little dog’s precious life.  And eventually . . . hopefully a long, long time from now when Bojo dies, I will praise His Creator for giving me the unbelievable privilege of being with one of His precious creatures.

This is what my dogs teach me about life . . . life is about the gift of life given to us by God and the relationships we form through these gifts.  They are truly more precious than silver and more valuable than gold.   

Now, if you are not a dog-lover, you are probably convinced that I am officially off my rocker.  However, if you are a dog-lover, I’ll bet that you are saying, “Amen, amen!”