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Perhaps my Shih Tzu is typical of the breed. Since I’ve only had the one, I don’t know for sure. I have nothing to compare her to.

When I acquired her a few years ago, they told me she was a lap dog. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She does not lay in anyone’s lap. When my wife has a blanket over her legs, the dog will lay on the blanket beside her leg. Not on her lap.

I’ve tried, plenty of times, to scoop her up in my arms and just cuddle her. Nope. She’ll stay for all of fifteen seconds, then she’s squirming to hit the floor. So much for a lap dog.

She’s an independent lady. She needs me to put water and food on the floor for her. She needs me to open the back door for her to go relieve herself, or to sit in the sun, or to chase away the squirrels and pretend she’s the guardian of the house for a few minutes. But other than that, she doesn’t need me.

Until it thunders.

When the first rumble of thunder hits, she is a different dog. She comes running! She will jump up in my arms and tremble until I wrap her up and hold her against my chest. And, amazingly, she can lie quiet and still for thirty minutes. She’s so helpless and gentle when it thunders. She lays her head in the crook of my arm, and for a while it feels like love. But, I kid you not, if the thunder ceases for any length of time, she comes alive and twitches out of my arms and hits the floor. Independent again. Needs nobody!

I ponder the possibility that my relationship with God mirrors the one I have with my Shih Tzu. I’m terribly independent. I need very little attention.

Until it thunders.

I watched my former pastor’s daughter at her son’s funeral 24 years ago, and I wondered how she would ever be “normal” again.  Her only son, a senior at UT, shot down by a 17-year-old who had bummed a ride from him.  A beautiful life ended in a moment of evil.  How would she ever smile again?  What would she dream about?

Her story is remarkable, and a brief glimpse of it is in December’s issue of Good Housekeeping, page 174.  She took a long time to lose her hatred of the young man who killed her son, but she did.  She found forgiveness.  She was able to forgive him.  Not that he asked for it.  She just gave it.  In her words, she “started seeing him as a human being and not just a murderer.”

I read a piece somewhere once that went like this:   A man saw a monster approaching through the mists, and he raised his gun to fire.  But as he drew nearer, he saw that it was a man, not a monster, and lowered his gun. But then he thought, What kind of man would be out here in this mist, so he raised his gun again. But as he drew close enough that the mists no longer obscured the face, he saw that it was his brother, and lowered his gun to embrace him.

You get the idea behind it.  I wonder how many people we have hated, or judged cruelly, because we saw them as monsters instead of as brothers?  If we could just get closer… dispel the mists… perhaps we’d have more brothers than enemies.

Thomas Ann Hines stopped seeing a monster, and saw a boy.  And forgave him.  And in doing so, she grew immensely into the image of the One who taught us, “If you forgive men, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”  The same One who looked down from a cross and said of those who put Him there, “Father, forgive them.”

Thanks to Thomas Ann, and others like her who have found the sweet release that only forgiveness can bring, we are challenged to let go of our grudges and end our quests for revenge.  Their message is simple: Get close enough to your enemy, and you may find a friend.  Your act of forgiveness will open heaven’s door for you.   Lay down the gun.  Open your arms.  Forgiveness heals everyone.

Danny Carpenter, Grace Christian Family Center

Silly as a gooseThis is the time of year they are flying.  We were standing on a tee box last Sunday afternoon, and could hear them honking, high in the sky, their erratic V-formation painted on a blue autumn sky.  When you contemplate their magnificence, you wonder why anyone ever came up with the phrase “as silly as a goose.”

For one, the V formation is critical to their migration.  Instinctively they fly this way.  Like some inner voice lines them up. They cannot know that flying in such a way enables them to fly 71% farther and longer than if they flew solo. Each bird creates an uplift that buoys the birds behind.  I wonder how many of us recognize the value of belonging to a church?  I wonder how many people have hung on a little longer, flown a little further than they might have, simply because they were buoyed on by the faith, love, and strength of those friends at their church?

Secondly, there is that honking.  Do you know why they honk?  We may never know for sure, since we can’t talk to the geese, but the best experts seem to believe that it is simply a means of letting the ones in front know that they are still back there.  It’s like they’re encouraging them on.  Think about it. The front goose could fly a hundred miles alone, no one behind him.  But when he hears the honking, he knows he’s not alone.  And in some way, he may be encouraged to fly on.   A well-placed “Amen!” means a lot to a preacher.  And a well-placed “Attaboy!” means a lot to anyone!  We get that at church, don’t we?  “Hang in there!”  “Keep the faith.”  “We love you.”  “We’re praying.”

Thirdly, the leader is not the only leader.  Remember, the point goose doesn’t have the benefit of the uplift from another. He’s in the front.  So he tires much sooner than others.  And when he does, he simply slides out and relocates back down the line, and another slides up to the lead.   There are no “big I’s” and “little you’s” in church.  Look around at how many “leaders” simply step up and do what needs to be done.  No one leader is so critical to the direction of the flock that when he is tired, another cannot step up and lead for a while.  This constant support and encouragement is what makes the Christian church unique.

And finally, when one goose falls out of the flock because he is sick or wounded, he never goes down alone. Two other geese will peel out of the flock and go down with him. And they’ll stay with him until he is well enough to fly on, or until he dies.  And then they’ll either join another flock until they can break off and reach their own migratory route, or they’ll be a flock of three until they arrive at their destination. I think it was Madeleine Murray O’Hair who said the Christian army is the only army in the world which kills off its wounded.  What did she know?  The Christian “army” doesn’t kill its wounded. Much like the geese, it surrounds its wounded with love, forgiveness, and hope.  Oh, there are those on the fringe who are hateful or spiteful, as in any group.  But by and large, Christians stay beside those who are suffering and hurting in life. Like our Lord who promised He would never leave us or forsake us.  We restore. We heal. Because we are surrounded by His love revealed through the love of others.

I love being part of the Christian community.  And the next time someone accuses me of being as silly as a goose, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

Watch this sermon online