My Life as a Dog ~ Obeying the Master

Sign showing a man with a dog on a leash

As requested, here are the sermons I delivered at worship services on October 20, 2013.

Before reading the sermons, click and read the Bible verses I’ll refer to:

Psalm 19:7–14
John 8:3–11
John 14:10–24
Matthew 22:34–40
2 Timothy 4:1–5

Youth Message ~ YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

What’s a boss?

When grownups talk about their boss, they probably mean the person at their job who tells them what to do, maybe the person who owns the company they work for. The dictionary says a boss can be anyone who makes decisions, exercises authority, controls, dominates, and so on.

Have you ever heard someone say, “You’re not the boss of me”? What was the situation?

I thought that was a modern expression from a TV show or something. But I looked it up and discovered it’s been said in books for more than a hundred years. Usually the situation is that an older brother or sister told a kid to do something, or to stop doing something. The kid doesn’t want to obey and is sick of getting ordered around by someone who has no right to give orders. So the kid snaps back, “You’re not the boss of me!”

Now, if [a parishioner] said to me, “Linda, shut up and sit down,” I could say, “You’re not the boss of me!” and keep right on talking, because I don’t have to obey [the parishioner]. I wouldn’t actually say that, because that would be pretty rude. Saying that could get you in trouble, especially when the person telling you “Do this, don’t do that” really is the boss of you!

Who really is the boss of you? Who has the right to tell kids what to do? Parents? Teachers? Those are the main people you’re supposed to obey.

But there is one more, who’s really important.

I looked up another word on dictionary.com. The definition was: “a person who has authority, control, or power over others; a master, chief, or ruler. One who exercises restraint or direction over; dominates; commands.” Sounds a lot like the definition of a boss, right?

The word I looked up was Lord. For thousands of years, people have called God “Lord,” and Christians call Jesus our Lord and our Master. Why? Because he is the boss of us. He’s the boss of everyone.

Message ~ MY LIFE AS A DOG: OBEYING THE MASTER

Well-trained dogs

I get a kick out of watching the annual Westminster Club Dog Show on television, seeing all the various breeds with their different sizes and shapes and temperaments. One thing they all have in common is being trained to obey commands. They sit. They stay. They jog around the ring on a leash.

I’ve never seen one bite the judge. They don’t jump all over him and sniff his pants. Sometimes a dog gets overly frisky, but generally show dogs behave very well, thanks to their training.

Search and rescue dogs, sled dogs, herding dogs, hunting dogs, therapy dogs, service dogs that assist people with physical handicaps, and many more, undergo special training to perform tasks chosen by their masters. Their effectiveness in carrying out these jobs, just like success in the show ring, depends on the dog’s obedience to the master’s commands.

In a family setting, whether or not a pet dog obeys a few house rules can make the difference between pleasant companionship and constant aggravation.

A not-so-well-trained dog

We’ve had several dogs on our farm—pets, not herding dogs. We inherited Chip and Belle from the people we bought our farm from. After both of those dogs died, a couple from a nearby village gave us a young dog that was half German Shepherd and half Doberman Pinscher. We should’ve known what we were in for when they said they had to get rid of Jessie—er, find Jessie a new home—because she needed lots of room to run. Living on a farm would be ideal.

Well, it may have been an ideal arrangement for Jessie and her former owners, but not so much for us. That dog was fast and strong and totally undisciplined. When she was on a leash she dragged you wherever she wanted to go, or tore your arm out of its socket if you tried to hold her back. When the leash came off, she was off too, like a shot, racing all over the farm.

Commands? You might as well command the wind not to blow. I could practically hear Jessie thinking, “You’re not the boss of me, lady!” Maybe with time and effort I could have trained Jessie eventually. But when we caught her chewing up kittens, that was the end of Jessie’s stay on the farm.

Untrained but eager to please

Photo of Linda with her children and Charlie the dog

Charlie and his family, 1991. Charlie’s tail is blurry because it’s wagging, as usual.

Our last dog was a Lhasa Apso mutt named Charlie. His previous owners were moving and couldn’t take Charlie along. I brought him home with me, and believe me, their loss was my gain. Charlie wasn’t trained, but he was a naturally loyal, friendly dog. The beauty part, after the Jessie fiasco, was that right from Day One Charlie pegged me as the alpha dog in our family pack. Whatever made Linda happy was what Charlie wanted to do, to the best of his doggy ability.

Jessie wanted to run wild. Charlie devoted himself to doing what his master wanted. I wonder which of them was happier?

What would be dog happiness to you?

Imagine you were a dog. What’s your picture of a good, happy life as a dog? Being a pampered pet, cuddling and getting your belly scratched? Performing a challenging service job? Strutting your stuff on the show circuit? Riding down the road with your head out the truck window and your tongue flapping in the wind?

All those scenarios require a master, don’t they? Would anyone honestly prefer to run free?

Not me. I wouldn’t want to scrounge my meals in the wild, trying not to be a meal for the coyotes. Nope. Give me a master who loves me, protects me, and provides for my needs. And throws me an occasional doggie treat for good measure. 

What does obedience to the master mean in human terms?

Obviously I’m going somewhere with this, not just telling dog stories. As human beings, which of these brings us true happiness: Acknowledging the Lord as the alpha dog, seeking to obey his commands, and enjoying his companionship? Or rebelling against his authority and chasing after what we think we want?

Not too many people naturally jump at the obedience option. I sure don’t.

Let’s face it. Our culture isn’t big on subservience. Who says, “I want to be an obedient servant when I grow up”? Rather, we glorify the qualities of freedom and independence and individualism and leadership. We aspire to run our own lives (preferably other people’s, too), make decisions, and look out for Number One—namely, ourselves. We don’t like other people being the boss of us. We view it as demeaning. Degrading.

We put up with people controlling us to some extent, in exchange for benefits like a paycheck or government services. Even then, we keep the power in our own hands. If we object to what our employer tells us to do, we file a grievance or quit. If we don’t like the laws our government officials give us, we campaign for laws we like better and vote the bums out. If kids don’t like the rules laid down by parents or teachers, they stick out their tongues and say, “You’re not the boss of me!” and do what they want.

But none of us has that kind of power over God. He is the ultimate boss of us.

So, what do we do if we don’t like God’s rules?

You don’t have to look far to find people who simply ignore the fact that God is the boss of us. As far as they’re concerned, God doesn’t exist at all, or he’s up there somewhere but they don’t have to pay any attention to him and what he wants. And sin? That’s a bogus concept invented by religious fanatics who enjoy punishing people for no good reason.

We Christians know better, right? Right? Hmmm … I’m not so sure. We like the warm and fuzzy Jesus who refused to condemn the adulteress, a lot better than the righteous Jesus who added, “Go and sin no more.” We say we want to be more Christ-like, but what is more Christ-like than obedience to God? Jesus constantly defined himself and everything he did in terms of obeying his father’s commands.

In Psalm 19, David praises the law of the Lord in song: “Perfect, reviving the soul.” “Rejoicing the heart.” “More to be desired than much fine gold.” “Sweeter than honey.” Other psalms praise God’s law in similarly exuberant language. In your wildest dreams, can you imagine anyone saying such things today? Who sings nowadays about the delights of God’s ordinances, precepts, and law?

No one. Now we’re all about Love, not Law.

Who can argue with Love? Love is good. Jesus himself said that all the Law and Prophets could be summarized in two commands: the first and greatest, to love God; the second, to love one’s neighbor.

But how does that play out, exactly?

Loving God shouldn’t be a problem. We enjoy that warm and fuzzy feeling of devotion to the Lord. But, wait. Jesus said those who love him are those who obey his commands. Obedience? Ouch!

Human beings can be pretty resourceful, especially when it comes to bending the rules. We’re not crazy about being reminded that we have a divine boss, so we quickly bypass the first and greatest commandment and slide on over to the second one: to love our neighbor. Much more comfortable! Loving people gives us plenty of wiggle room for self-serving interpretations.

I suspect Paul had something like this in mind when he told Timothy, “People will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (NLT) Yes, we do that. We claim the virtue of loving one another when we accommodate one another’s desires, even when those desires violate God’s law. Do we think we’re fooling God? If we think we’re pleasing him, we just might be fooling ourselves.

How to obey both of Jesus’ greatest commandments: good examples

A couple of years ago a writer friend related how her daughter’s boyfriend had requested permission to marry the girl. He didn’t promise to feel warm and fuzzy toward her forever. He didn’t promise to give her everything she wanted, to make her happy. No. He promised to do everything in his power to safeguard her soul so that she would enjoy eternal life in heaven. Wow! This young man could have relished the role of top dog in that marriage. Instead, he put God’s authority first, to secure his wife’s eternal happiness.

Isn’t eternal life with God the greatest gift of love you can give?

Jesus thought so. He gave his beloved—us—that gift on Calvary.

My dog Charlie set a good example for me, too, in his humble doggie way. When I showed up with his leash in my hand, Charlie never gave me that look that said, “Hey, you’re not the boss of me, so get your leash away from me!” Just the opposite. He wagged his tail for all he was worth, ready to go on whatever adventure Linda had in mind.

Not that Charlie didn’t have normal canine impulses, like when he really, really, REALLY wanted to cross the road and chase those geese (who were bigger than Charlie, by the way) out of our cornfield. But when I commanded him to stop, he stopped and waited for my signal that I was ready for us to cross the road together. As much as he wanted to chase geese, he wanted even more to please his master. That was happiness to Charlie, more to be desired than even much fine meat scraps, to paraphrase the psalm.

Obeying the sovereign Lord who created me and provides my every need, plus companionship and the occasional equivalent of doggie treats, can be and should be my happiness. There’s nothing demeaning in that. Acknowledging that my position in the universe is subordinate to God’s isn’t any more degrading than being subordinate to a good human master is degrading to a beloved dog.

Of course, I’m not a dog. I’m a person. But the fact is, I have a divine master. I am obligated to speak when my master says, “Speak!” When he slaps the muzzle on me, I’m obligated to shut my yap. I must trot by his side down whatever road he chooses, and stop or go as he commands.

Now, I wonder, can I learn to obey my master with a fraction of the joy, humility, and devotion that Jesus, and even my faithful little dog, showed in obeying theirs?

— Linda

P.S. Does this blog post mean that I consider myself the big authority on sin and obedience?

Uh, no.

There’s another expression you might have heard: “Who died and left you boss?” Well, Jesus didn’t die and leave me boss. He died and stayed the boss! May each of us find eternal happiness in walking by his side and obeying his every command!

 

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