Saturday, August 4, 2018

Obeying the Master

I recently visited a dog training class in which there were six large dogs, all who had very different temperaments.

There was the dog who began talking the minute it entered the room and didn’t stop until they left.

There was the super compliant quiet dog who would do anything for praise.

There was the veteran dog, who knew all the commands and was completely obedient.

There was the dog who would do anything as long as he received a treat.

There was the aggressive dog who growled and was distracted by all large and fluffy dogs, who entered his space.

Then there was the young dog who was energetic and a bit more anxious, but worked hard to learn everything he was supposed to do.

Their job during class was to follow their masters commands and no one elses. Newer dogs were still on leashes and the handlers carefully applied pressure in certain ways as they gave different commands until the their dogs learned to respond solely to their verbal commands.

One of the commands was “heel,” which meant they were to walk evenly with their master. This was fun to watch, as I could see the dogs constantly glancing at their masters to see if they were walking in sync. They also learned the commands sit, down, stay, come, and place. Each handler gave commands to their dogs and at times the trainer had the handlers give different commands to different dogs to make sure they were each listening to their own masters. When the handlers told them to stay and walked away from them, the dogs kept their eyes on their handlers waiting for them to tell them to come. When the handler pointed to a mat, stool, or chair and told them to place the dog simply relaxed in that place, but was still carefully listening until they were given their next command by their handlers

One of the things I found interesting is that the trainer went to great lengths to figure out what would distract different dogs. One dog was distracted by food. The trainer had the handler drop little treats around her trying to distract her as she continued to give commands. If the dog made a move toward the treat, the handler simply said no. At one point the trainer put treats on both of the dogs front paws.
She learned to still look at the handler until she told the dog she could eat one of the treats. Another trainer brought in a fluffy Saint Bernard to help train the dog who behaved aggressively when she encountered large fluffy dogs. Every time the the fluffy dog walked by the dog, I could see him tense up and give a low guttural growl. The two handlers walked in different patterns, gradually getting them to the point the dog could stay focused on his handler as the Bernard walked by. They continued to do this until the dog also consistently kept his eyes on his master and maintained a more relaxed demeanor as the Bernard passed. The class was a safe controlled environment in which the trainer could create scenarios that enabled the dogs to get to the place they could listen and obeyed their masters even when other dogs played, talked, disobeyed, or showed aggression. They could then carry the skills they learned to life outside of the class.

I've helped create a small group ministry for women who have experienced trauma and/or who are struggling in life because they are fearful, struggling in relationships, or stuck in behaviors they hate and of which they feel ashamed. As we work through the core issues, we also introduce skills that help them navigate the group in healthy, godly ways. We have them practice these skills until they can successfully and consistently use them both inside and outside of group. Many of them have come into group having read similar materials to ours, but without the group they couldn't practice those skills and little had changed. They had a lot of head knowledge that didn’t make its way to their hearts where it could transform into natural healthy actions and responses.

As I was watching the class, I also saw many analogies to the Christian life. Sometimes we live in the Christian community struggling with things we keep well hidden because of shame. If we are not careful, shame can cause us to become great pretenders, hiding behind “good Christian” masks, stagnant in our growth as believers. When this happens we come to church looking good, but at home live in severely broken families, hiding pain, broken relationships, anxiety, aggression, and addictions. The truth is that we all come to Christ with our own personalities, emotional make up, and sinful and broken ways of relating to each other. I wonder how different our lives and our churches might be if we learned, as new believers, to view life as a training class with Jesus being our master and trainer, instructing and training us all how to live. Knowing that sometimes He carefully places people in our lives who distract us with endless chatter and empty philosophy and  pleasurable things that in and of themselves are not evil but can distract us. However, if we view life as training rather than something we are supposed to do perfectly, the bondage of  shame can melt away and we can mature to the point that no matter what comes our way—that distraction, that pleasure, that event, that aggressive person harassing us—we learn to listen to the Savior’s voice and act out of who we want to be instead of letting all these other things define us. Just like a dog owner must be humble enough to say he or she needs help with their dog struggles with, we have to be humble enough to take an honest look at ourselves and identify the areas with which we struggle. For when we are honest, we can focus on recognizing and hearing our Master’s voice and learn to obey as we learn to ignore the many distractions that could keep us from the most important an most fulfilling relationship in our lives.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!