"DON'T SHOOT THE DOG" 05/09/11

In her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” Karen Pryor, author and behavioral biologist, demonstrates that there are a myriad of ways in which unwanted behavior in animals as well as humans, can be modified/extinguished. She forcefully makes the point that we all have positive ways or negative ways of dealing with issues/problems/conflicts in life, and that choosing to address them in positive ways, is the right choice.

For example if the neighbor’s dog is constantly barking and keeping you up all night, one choice you have is to literally “Shoot the dog.” The dog is dead, problem eliminated; finally got a really good nights sleep. Kind of a negative choice, don’t you think? As evil and insane as this option might sound, know that for some it is a possibility, in fact I was watching the channel nine news this week and they ran a story about a man in Pasadena, who is accused of jumping his neighbor’s fence and beating a barking 16 month old German Shepherd to death with a hammer.

Bad choice. Really bad choice. The guy is in jail. But it demonstrates that often our first thoughts, reactions, and choices to problems and people, are negative ones. Karen Pryor’s point is that he/we, have many choices available when problems arise. The manner in which we choose to address our problems, namely trying to change that behavior, can either be negative, like “shoot the dog,” or positive, like finding out the motivation for the dogs barking: hunger, loneliness, fear, and stopping or modifying that behavior by changing the motivation behind the barking through what she calls “positive reinforcement,” like: food, a companion dog, lights.

She has excellent suggestions for modifying/eliminating the behavior of: whining children, rude remarks/angry attitudes from friends or spouses, cats that jump on the kitchen table, lazy employees, adult children wanting to move back in the house, phone conversations with your mom that tend to be always negative, by using “positive reinforcement,” rather than negative ones.

By now some are saying, “What the heck does this have to do with Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ?” Well thank you for asking (positive reinforcement!!). Do you think Jesus knew our human minds, our frail and sometimes disturbed psyches, the choices we tend to make? Well yes, Jesus is God. God knows these things. Jesus, knew that Israel had been taught, “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth, burn for burn, wound for wound,” Exodus 21: 24-25, and what we want to reflect on today, are the types of choices that Jesus and his “Resurrection student,” St. Paul, teach us to make each and every time.

Yes, Jesus knew, practiced, and taught, that “positive reinforcement,” choosing not to shoot the dog, choosing what we as Christians would call “fruits” of the Holy Spirit: love, forgiveness, generosity, patience, kindness, and self-control towards others, was the right choice, God’s choice, and therefore a much better way of addressing conflict and changing not only a persons behavior, but also their hearts, as opposed to choosing the evil/negative ways the enemy offers: hate, violence, slander, and revenge, which leads to more of the same, a vicious cycle, someone has to break it, Jesus does. On any level: emotional, psychological, or spiritual, and choice that the enemy offers us is the wrong choice, we will always end up shooting the dog, and often the dog is ourselves.

What we want to receive today from the Word and Spirit, is that everyday we will be confronted with situations which we will respond to, and you and I, and only you and I, will choose the manner in which we respond. Jesus, as our Teacher, Lord, and Savior, tells us exactly which choices we should be making in all theses various circumstances. Neither Jesus, as God and Savior, nor St. Paul, as his only chosen Apostle after the Resurrection, are “well maybe,” or “grey” teachers and preachers, no, in the Word and through the Spirit, we know that we have the freedom to chose whatever WE want.

Once again, Deuteronomy 30:19, the Fathers powerful Word to Israel, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live,” and now the Father sends his Lamb, his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our choices of death, our sins, and to tell us exactly what the correct “life choices” are, and also to daily live all the right choices before the disciples/our very eyes.

What the Word reveals is this: Jesus is life, the enemy is death. Living with Jesus’ Spirit is eternal life, living with the enemies spirit is eternal death, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are life, the gifts and fruits of the enemy are death, and now it is up to you and I to listen to Jesus, be obedient to his Word, live in and with his Spirit, in order to be able to make the right spiritual choices, because it is not a secret what they are, God, in the person of Jesus, has revealed them. Amen to his Blood. Let’s go to the Word.

In 1 Corinthians chapter four, Paul testifies to the types of choices he and other disciples like Apollos, have been making. He wants the Corinthians to make the same choices. Before doing an exegesis on his teaching, it is always important to know what was revealed in the rest of the letter, for example in chapter one, Paul has been thanking the Father, for the grace that has been bestowed upon the Corinthian Church by Christ Jesus. The Corinthians have received “knowledge,” of Jesus, through Paul’s, Apollo’s, and Kepha’s testimony about Jesus to them, “So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 1:7.

Why the “not lacking” part? Because they were lacking one important spiritual gift, “unity” of mind and purpose, as the Apostle explains, and Sowers listen attentively, this is what we preach and teach, “I urge you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus, that all of you agree on what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” 1 Cor. 1:10. Perfect.

There was a big problem, one of many, in the Corinthian Church, and again these are Corinthian Christians not Corinthian pagans. The problem was that there was no unity in the Church, they were divided as whom was the greatest influence in their lives: Paul, Apollos, Kephas (Peter) or Jesus. In our ministry is would look like this: “I belong to Gilbert,” “I belong to Joe,” “I belong to Noel,” Paul’s response is basically, “Are you crazy? “Is Christ divided, were you baptized in Joe’s name, did Noel die for your sins?”

The Word is revealing that faith, ministry, and Church, must always be centered and focused on Jesus and Jesus alone, and focusing on Jesus is done in and through the Holy Spirit, and glorifies the Father who sent him. If anyone joins a ministry to serve Gilbert, Joe, or Noel, they will soon disappear, if anyone’s faith is based solely on the words and power of a person, their faith will die, if any Church is founded on a man’s holiness, preaching, wealth, or charisma, that Church will not stand. Unity of mind and purpose is solely based on Jesus, “But we have the mind of Christ,” 1 Cor. 2:16. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. We must be united in Jesus, JFJA. St. Paul closes chapter one with, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” Amen and punto final.

In chapter three, St. Paul questions if the Corinthians are still “in the flesh,” or in the “Spirit,” because they keep making choice for the flesh, the wrong spiritual choices, like rivalry and jealousy, he challenges them, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16, ‘Uh yes,’ ‘well then why do you continue to choose jealousy over kindness and rivalry over unity?’ St. Paul is teaching and challenging them at the same time, he knows that the Christian journey of faith begins with “milk,” 1 Cor. 3:2, but now he wants to feed them solid spiritual food, and that leads us into chapter four, where he shares his experience in the Spirit and some solid food, food which will nourish you and I today.

In chapter four, what we find is a Church inflated with pride over the receiving of the Holy Spirit and a complete misunderstanding of eschatology, for this behavior, St. Paul chastises them, “You are already satisfied; you have already grown rich; you have become kings without us!” 1 Cor. 4:8. Living in and with the Holy Spirit is “realized eschatology,” meaning disciples can experience on earth, some of the spiritual realities they will live eternally in heaven, the most important being a life in the Spirit, the problem was that the Corinthians over did all this, in their receiving of God’s spiritual gifts, in their pride, they began to act as if they were better than everyone else, that there would be no more suffering, and that they were already “perfected.”

To all of this St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 4:9-13, says, “Not,” and in total irony, he begins to show them the foolishness of their thoughts and ways, St. Paul’s like, “So you’re rich huh? Well Apollos and I are not rich,” “You are really strong? We remain weak,” “You are wise, we are fools,” “You are honored, we are disrespected,” how is this possible my brothers and sisters in Christ, that you have all these honors, wisdom, and riches and we, your teachers and prophets, those who introduced you to Jesus, have such a different life experience in Christ?”

After pointing out their foolishness, correcting their eschatology, the Apostle gives them, some really solid spiritual food. Food which points us to the types of spiritual choices we should be making as disciples, when we are faced with conflict or negative/evil choices by others: “When we are ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.” 1 Cor. 4: 12-13. Amen to the Blood of the Lamb. Let’s look at all three examples beginning with St. Paul’s last example and what I believe is in the top three ministry and faith killers, along with fear and lust, a powerful tool of satan, slander.

Notice right off the mark, what the Word teaches us not to do, namely, “Don’t shoot the dog.” “Shooting the dog,” in the case of slander, means getting right back at the person, and starting to spread your own dirt, for example: “He called me a phony? Are you serious? That dude is the biggest poser I know, I ain’t lying, Google the word poser and that fools picture will come up, have you noticed how it’s always about him, he never talks about anyone else but himself?” Anyone can respond in that way, but it’s a bad choice, a really bad choice because with this kind of trash, now spreading through the family, ministry, or Church, the dog just got shot, the enemy won, no praising the Blood here, because the cycle of sin is not broken but continued. Yes, anyone can shoot the dog, but only a Spirit led person, when faced with slander, can respond kindly, gently, with self-control, as Jesus did, as the Apostle did.

Ladies, this next example is for you, because guys don’t normally roll this way, we’re more like “whatever,” in these cases. Let’s say a new employee shows up to work, or a new person joins your ministry, a woman who is attractive, well dressed, confident, smiles a lot, really friendly, and everyone is attracted to her spirit. Next thing we hear is: “Who made her the queen? Did you see how she was dressed? All her bits and pieces were showing, I know that was no accident, I know she’s already after______.”

That’s a dead dog, that is a spiritually lethal combination of jealousy and slander, and in any ministry, workplace, family, or Church, it will cause serious and lasting spiritual damage if is not address in the right manner, meaning speaking to the source of the slander, and not making the same bad spiritual choice, retaliating in the same enemy inspired manner, but going deeper, gently, on a personal level with whoever is saying these things and finding out why? Why the hard feelings towards someone you really do not know? Why put something out there that serves satan and not Jesus? What is going on in your life? Are you stressed out? Have you stayed in the Word? When was the last time you went to Confession? Is the Eucharist the center of your life?

In order to be obedient to the Word, and “respond gently,” whoever takes on the challenging task of addressing the source of the slander, must personally prepare themselves through prayer, Word, Confession, and Eucharist, so as to make sure there is absolutely no “self-righteous,” Pharisee type of admonishment taking place. In certain cases, the bible does call us to admonish our brothers and sisters, just as St. Paul says to the Church after he teaches them what choices they should be making, “I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you, my beloved children.” 1 Cor. 4:17. Always approach/discuss/admonish in love and never self-righteousness, and love will be best expressed after prayer, Word, Confession, and Eucharist. See also Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16-17; Thessalonians 5: 12-14.

St. Paul’s second example is to choose endurance in persecution. In no way is he or the Word or the Church, asking a spouse to endure a lifetime of physical or emotional abuse because the marriage covenant is sacred and not to be broken. No, what endurance in persecution means is enduring/persevering in faith, Mission, purpose, and ministry in spite of: closed doors, apparent setbacks, slander, time constraints, mistakes, perceived failures, and stress. Every person in the Sower, and every person who has endured in any ministry, should be able to identify with this truth. There were many times when each and every one of us said, “I’m out of here.”

But we did not listen to that voice, we endured. Our choice to leave would have reflected a choice to shoot the dog, but instead of giving into: false assumptions, slander, divisions, stress, time-constraints, pride, anger, things not going our way, or the enemies countless lies and schemes, we stayed, yes we stayed, your ministry has been bless by your endurance, and today the fruits of our good spiritual choices, namely endurance and patience are beginning to be manifested in powerful ways. Staying was the right choice, staying is the Word made manifest, staying is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul’s first example, of the type of spiritual choices he wants the Corinthians to make, the choices he chooses to make himself, is that when ridiculed, “We bless.” The Greek word, translated here as “ridiculed,” can also be translated: cursed, reviled, or abused. The key is the response one makes to being ridiculed, cursed, or reviled. A satan led choice, the shooting the dog choice, would be to respond in kind or with violence, someone makes fun of me, or curses me, I dot both his eyes, or say even uglier things back. Paul’s choice is blessing, which for any person growing up in a macho family or culture, would be a totally Holy Spirit led response because everything they have been taught and lived, would be expressed by anger and retaliation.

Remembering that before his metanoia (we will be breaking open the Greek words metanoia and mathetes/disciple soon), St. Paul, was a hard core Pharisee, “Circumcised on the eight day...in observance of the Law a Pharisee...I persecuted the Church.” Philippians 3: 5-6. How is it, that now, instead of persecution and retaliation, St. Paul preaches blessing? He met the Resurrected Jesus Christ, and Jesus taught him the truth, just like he did with his other Apostles and disciples. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter five, Jesus begins to “undo” all the false and unfounded teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, teachings which his own disciples and most of Israel followed and believed, teachings about: anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and how to deal with their enemies.

These are revelations that began to shake the foundations of Israel and the Law, and also the teachings of the rabbi, teachings like, “Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,” “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and “Love your enemy.” Take some time to read what Jesus has revealed, everything that St. Paul knows and teaches reflects what he received in the Gospel and is God’s plan for the moral choices, the right spiritual choices Jesus asks you and I as disciples to make, instead of the shoot the dog choices the enemy offers, choices that glorify him and serve his purpose like: anger/lust/retaliation.

In his letter to the Romans, chapter 12, St. Paul teaches something similar to what he was teaching the Corinthians, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” Romans 12:17. Paul is asking them, through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in them, to be the first in their families to stop the cycle of violence, retaliation, hatred, adultery, addiction, and slander. In this Word, he tells them that everyone, including those who sin, will have to face Jesus one day, and on that day, revenge will be exacted, but that is God’s domain not ours, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19.

Then, like all good teachers, instead of just saying, “don’t do this,” and “don’t do that,” St. Paul says, “this is what you should do, this is what I do, it works for me, and it will work for you,” “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for by doing so you will be heap burning coals on his head.” Romans 12:20.

Amazing, brilliant, life changing. There are many different thoughts and interpretations on what the Apostle meant by “heap burning coals on his head,” these are mine:

Again, and always, we put ourselves in Word, by doing so, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to use our personal experiences to reveal the meaning of this Word, so that the spiritual lesson Jesus through his Spirit, seeks to give us, can be received, and his wisdom/encouragement/love, will flow into our spirit and be manifested in our daily lives. The coals are two fold: they begin to burn inside our enemy, on his head, with our correct spiritual choices: yes, the kindness/patience/self-control, which we heap upon a person who is not expecting that, is just like burning coal’s being poured on their heads, they expected us to act just like them: angry, foul mouth, slanderous, vengeful, and when we do not, it makes them crazy, it burns.

When the person receives our kindness/patience/self-control, in whatever form that takes, now the Holy Spirit is in charge, yes, we just did everything Jesus asked us to do, we did not shoot the dog, we did not serve the enemy, we are attempting to break the cycle of hate, revenge, slander, and violence, we manifested the Spirit living in us, to the world, and now God takes over. As a disciple, this truth is critical to understand, if we had not made the right choice, the Holy Spirit could not have brought the coals, but because we did, now just like when St. Theresa of Avila was in the seventh mansion, God takes over. Amen to God being in control!!

Now, through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is seeking to convert the persons mind and heart, and begins to drop on their head, coals of shame, regret, and remorse, and as the coals burn in their hearts, the enemy and his gifts are being removed: greed, jealousy, hate, spite, which gives the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, access to their hearts, so as to change their hearts of stone, through a new presence, God’s presence, and the end result is that the cycle of hate and revenge are broken, the enemy is defeated, and in the name of Jesus, there is a new beginning and a victory over evil, as St. Paul closes with, “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:21.

Are not the end results, of your Spirit inspired choices attractive to you? They are very, very attractive to me, and so are the people making these types of choices. These are the people I want to hang with, these are the people I want to laugh with, these are the people I want to pray, worship, fellowship, and serve Jesus with. If this is who you are or seek to be, if Spirit inspired, life changing, cycle of evil be breaking choices, are the ones you choose to make, then my brothers and sisters in Christ please always continue with a life of prayer/Word/Sacrament/service.

There is no other way, go there, be that person, be the one who is able to say to a family member, a friend, a spouse, a co-worker, a member of your Church or ministry, “I am sorry, truly sorry, forgive me.” An authentic, Spirit led, “I am sorry, forgive me,” gives the Holy Spirit the room to become a mountain size piece of coal, coal that will burn love in the hearts of both receiver and giver for generations to come. Go there. Be a leader. Disciples are leaders. Teach your friends and family. Many do not know these things, these spiritual truths.

Many friends and families members do not know how to say, “I love you,” or “I am sorry.” How could they? No one ever asked them to. No one ever said these things to them. No one ever taught nor modeled love and forgiveness to them. Too many family models were: work, alcohol, anger, revenge, and silent suffering. You can change that. You can be Jesus’ instrument of healing and change. It begins with your heart, your Spirit led walk, your choices, never choose to shoot the dog, always choose Jesus. Amen to the Blood of the Father’s Lamb, walk in his Spirit.


Grace and peace,

Joseph Borba