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May 2017
Pastor’s Perspective. . .

The Bellavia family just got a new dog. He is big and strong and young, just like his new master, James, wanted him to be. Canyon (a Basenji / Pit Bull puppy) is also a bit on the wild side. He is fun and rambunctious and loves to run and jump and play, but he also can knock you down with his paws and nip you with his teeth. He is as dangerous as he is exciting. He will sit and shake your hand but he still has a bit of a wild edge to him.

As we strive to train this new dog in the ways of our semi-orderly household, I have discovered that some of what we are doing is training ourselves. Taking care of an active and aggressive dog demands that we follow a certain schedule and make daily sacrifices for our new pet. Training a dog means that we have to wake up a bit earlier and take the dog on walks when we would rather stay in bed. We are learning to live a more balanced and regular schedule so that our dog will trust that the daily schedule will meet his daily needs. I have quickly discovered that the first rule of training a dog is to show the dog that you are capable of being trained yourself. That training is evidenced in a life of personal sacrifice and discipline.

Few of us realize how chaotic our lives truly are. Most of us aspire to be answerable to no one. We seek to live radical lives of freedom, with no one relying upon us and no one depending on our work. We seek to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We are wild at heart and rebellious by nature, but God has always reached out to us in order that we might be transformed in heart and soul for life in the garden of God. God has created us to be tamed and cultured, not wild and rebellious.

The Bible tells us that we were created for life in a garden; an agrarian paradise that is both cultivated and tamed. We were created to be civilized and neighborly, to work with our hands and understand the nature of life and the value of community in a garden oasis regulated by a stable created order and populated with a variety of plants and animals. We were made to walk with God in order that we might live and work in harmony with our Creator, God’s Creation and each other.

The garden was a safe haven to live and grow. We were separated from the dangers of both the wilderness and the cities; places where predators seek to devour both the body and the soul. We were created and set apart so that we might keep the garden of God and to be tamers of the land and the creatures of the earth. But something bad happened. We grew rebellious. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the commands of God, chaos and death devastated the harmony that was intended for each of us to abide in. We were cast out of the garden and separated from the orderly relationship with the world that God had created as a result of our disobedience and sin. What used to be a beautiful relationship with God and nature has become a life and death struggle for control and dominance.

God, however, did not give up on us. Even after all of our recklessness and the damage that was done because of our rebellion, God still sought to invite us back into his home. God set apart a distinct people and sought to train them by giving them rules to follow and articulating to them clear consequences for their behavior. God sent lawgivers, prophets and teachers. He instructed them to write down the rules, to live by them, and to teach others to do the same. God sent plagues and storms to warn us and correct our behavior, but still we continued our wild path of destruction. So finally God sent to us His own son, Jesus Christ, who showed us a perfectly disciplined, obedient life. Jesus was both dominant and loving, he was in control of the natural world and yet submitted not only to the commands of God, but also the powers of this world. He was sent as a Good Shepherd to lead His sheep, feed his sheep, and keep them safe. Jesus was the perfect “people whisperer” and He spoke to the heart of each human who was willing to have ears that would hear.

When our dog nips at me and rebels it causes me to reflect on my own behavior and God’s constant patience and love. How many times have I lost my cool and barked angry rhetoric due to my own frustration and lack of control? We can be as untamed and dangerous as our animal counterparts. In fact, history has shown that we are the most dangerous of all the animals that God created. The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, calls us away from this reckless behavior. As believers in Jesus Christ we have been called out (sanctified) by God so that we might be refined and trained to show the world a more excellent way to live.

To put it another way, we are saved by the blood of Jesus in order that we might be tamed by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to show the world the love and glory of God. God wants to break us from the control of our human will and help us to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is what Paul called “dying to our self.” It is a spiritual declawing that helps us to stay free from sin and it results in a new creation that is tamed by God, given peace in God’s will and separated from the wild nature of sinful humanity.

I am still wild at heart. I rebel against the things that God has placed before me and has asked me to do. It is quite literally in my nature. Like many others of my generation I would rather be free than faithful. I would rather get what I want than do what I am told. Our ever patient God continues to mold and shape me. God never gives up on us. God will instruct us through the scripture, lead us through the power of the Holy Spirit, and at times upbraid by the power of God’s mighty hand, but God will never give up on us.

I remind myself these things and then I go and walk the dog, again. I discipline him, again. I teach him another trick and give him another command. I give of my time and energy in the hopeful expectation that one day he will understand, that maybe he will show me some appreciation. And then I realize that in order to train the dog, I have to make the dog more important than I am. I have to be a “dog.” This is indeed a deep revelation and it likely my lot in life, for in becoming like Jesus I too am called to be a “creature whisperer.” I am beginning to understand that I will be doing this for the rest of my life. I have been called out to patiently train my children, my grandchildren, and my congregation to live a life that is contrary to our nature.

Jesus wants us to be different. I used to think that being different meant being the Good Shepherd, but that role has already been taken. I am growing content with being one of the Good Shepherd’s guide dogs. These are the obedient and well trained dogs that assist the shepherd in keeping the sheep together and from the harm of the wilderness. These dogs know the Shepherd’s voice, follow the Shepherd’s command, fight off wild beasts to keep the sheep safe and will lay down their lives for the sheep and the shepherd. That sounds like a right and honest job description for a pastor and any other leader in Christ’s Church.

No one wants to be called a dog. It is not a complement in most of the world (Middle Easterners were historically cat people) but God wants us to be the obedient dogs of this world. In a world filled with sheep, the leaders that God sends are the guide dogs who help the Good Shepherd lead the flock safety back to the master’s house. I guess in the end that is who I have been called to be. In a world that values strong men and dominance, the call to obedience, loyalty, and love can fall upon deaf ears, yet that is our calling. It is a calling that we are blessed to follow. We are blessed to know the voice of the master and to follow after God’s will. We are blessed to run in packs and care for each other, we are blessed to be obedient and selfless, and to live and die for our master. That is what makes for a good dog. It is also what makes us good followers of Jesus Christ.

Bark (or say Amen) if you agree.
Pastor Dan