I spend time every day with Luther. When the weather is good, I’ll take a long walk around our neighborhood, alone with my thoughts and Luther. Let me tell you, Luther is never boring. He’s a character. He’s challenging. He’s a little rough around the edges but his heart is in the right place. I love my time with Luther.
Did I mention that Luther is a 14-week-old German Shepherd? Yes, this German Shepherd was named for that German shepherd. And, spending time with either one always guarantees a valuable theology lesson.
Our Luther is a big boy. He’s past 30 pounds heading for 80. Right now we’re trying to break him, teach him to walk without dragging his beloved owners down the street.
German Shepherds are smart dogs. Luther gets it. He knows what he’s supposed to do. Most of the time he does it. But, every once in a while he’ll catch wind of a good smell or see some distant person he must shed a little puppy love on and we’re off to the races. He yanks. He pulls. He nearly chokes himself straining against the leash. All lessons learned are forgotten. It is puppy time, even if it puts his and my life in danger.
The Christian walk is a lot like Luther’s walk. The longer we’re in the faith, the easier life seems to be. We know what God expects. We’ve learned some important lessons early on. Then, boom, temptation comes along and we forget everything. Even when we know it’s wrong and the results could be tragic, we run toward sin anyway. The amazing thing is, while I’m thinking about putting Luther up for adoption in those situations, my Master is thinking that He’s never going to let go of His adopted son. Whether it’s a gentle tug on our spiritual leash or the sharp tone of His voice, God always pulls us back to safety and loves us all the more.
On our long walks, Luther and I bond. I tell him what to do. He does it, I praise him. He doesn’t, I scold him gently. That’s our relationship. It works pretty well for me. I’ve not heard him complain so he must be okay with it, too. Sometimes, however, Luther does forget who’s in control. There are moments when that shepherd in him steps forward and tries to take control of the situation. Next thing you know, the little dog with the big attitude is pushing, shoving, nudging, growling, and guiding me in the direction he wants to go. He’s not pulling on the leash so that rule hasn’t been broken. He’s just pulled the perfect coup de dog. It was a bloodless rebellion. He’s in charge. Or, so he thinks.
We Christians are the same way. God is our Master. Jesus is our Shepherd. They know where we’re headed and they know the best way to get us there. Yet, sometimes, we rise up in rebellion and declare ourselves top dog. We get it into our heads that somewhere else is where we need to be and that’s where we’re going. We try to steer God in that direction. We whine. We cajole. We offer compromises and promises. We do whatever it takes so we can do whatever we want. Sometimes God let’s us think we’re in charge. Sometimes he lets us learn a hard lesson. Sometimes He pushes back and keeps safely away from the edge. Either way, in the end, He always reminds us that He is God and we are not.
You know, think about it, Luther is a really good dog. He’s smart. He’s already protective of his humans, particularly our kids. He’s loyal. He’s mostly obedient. He’s going to be a great dog one day when he grows up, assuming we all survive his puppydom.
In the meantime, I need a few things. I need patience. I need grace. I need a loving hand that corrects and confirms in the right time. I need to remember he’s a little dog with great potential. I need to love him anyway, knowing that better things are in store.
In the meantime, every time Luther and I take a walk, I’m reminded of just how good my Master is to me. He has rescued me. He protects me from me. He feeds me and He shelters me. He loves me unconditionally, in spite of me. Thus, every time I yank Luther’s chain, I can’t help but remember that God is teaching me a lesson, too. If I love Him, the Bible says, I’ll obey Him.
Hey, Luther, ready for another walk?
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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