Anna does too!

Annie is our new, all-black German shepherd. Some good friends made it all possible. They called and asked, “Do you want a dog?” I said, “Nobody ever asked me that before; but, yes. In fact, Anna and I have been talking about getting another shepherd.” And they made it happen. Annie is almost two years old and she is great…gentle, obedient, loving, and smart.

We’ve owned a number of German shepherds over the years, but Annie is the first female. Since Annie is well-trained and we’re not, her trainers spent two days training us. I told them that I didn’t want Annie to be smarter than me, but it was fine if she sat when I said “sit,” came when I said “come,” went when I said “go,” and killed when I said “kill.” Annie is good with that...but I haven’t tried the “kill” thing yet. I’ll let you know.

A number of years ago, Richard Smith wrote a book about how everything he needed to know in life he learned from his dog. I wouldn’t go that far, but I’ve been reminded of God because of Annie.

For instance, Annie is an orphan and we adopted her. Even though she is only two years old, she has had two owners, and neither wanted to keep her. So we are Annie’s third owners. (Did you hear about the cat and German shepherd who both died and stood before God’s throne? When asked why he should be allowed into heaven, the dog replied that he knew how to serve his master. The cat stretched and said, “You’re sitting in my chair.”) Annie bonded with her masters...but two of them didn’t want her.

Paul wrote in Galatians 4:5-7 that God sent his Son, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” When you’re adopted and loved, and know it, there is often a bond that might be even stronger than a biological one, and certainly one built on shame, fear, and guilt. That’s been true for Annie. It’s true for me too.

Love is often a mark of adoption in dogs and in humans. My friend on Cape Cod, John DeBrine, is in his nineties and still has a German shepherd. I’ve often heard John say at conferences and churches when someone kidded him about being a lifelong bachelor, “When I come home, my dog greets me at the door with her tail wagging. Does your wife do that?” Annie has bonded with and loves Anna big, and follows her everywhere. (Annie loves me too, but a little less. She obeys me though. After all, I’m the “alpha-dog” around here.) And after she makes sure we’re not thieves, Annie greets us every time we come home with exuberant love and joy.

In John 21 the resurrected Christ asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Of course Peter loved him because after Peter betrayed and denied Jesus, did some sinful and stupid things, and kicked against the goads…Jesus loved him anyway. Jesus does that for me too. Do I love him? Given my actions, I sometimes wonder; but, yes, I do love him deeply and profoundly...not because of me, but because of him. John wrote in 1 John 4:19 that we love God because we’re loving people, he’s scary and demands it, and he is, after all, God. No, no, no! “We love because he first loved us.” I can’t help it and neither can Annie.

When you’re adopted and loved, and know it, there is often a bond that might be even stronger than a biological one, and certainly one built on shame, fear, and guilt.

That reminds me of something else I’ve seen in Annie. Now that things have settled in and she knows that she is loved and she won’t be kicked out, Annie pushes the boundaries and she isn’t as disciplined as she was when the trainers finally trusted her with us. She doesn’t come as quickly or obey as much as she did at first. When we say, “come,” Annie indicates that she will “in a minute.” When we say, “sit,” Annie walks around as if to say, “I will, but not now.” And when we tell her to stop something that displeases us, Annie seems to say, “Really? Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.” That’s not a pattern, but there are places where Annie is somewhat less obedient because she knows we’ll love her anyway. That will change (not our love, but her obedience) and it’s called “dog sanctification.”

I’m kind of like that too. I’m not sure why. Paul wasn’t either. In his famous confession in Romans 7, Paul writes that he doesn’t understand his own actions. Paul really wanted to be good, but did the opposite. “The evil I don’t want to do,” he said, “is exactly what I do.”

I’m often criticized for my teaching (I didn’t say it, God did) about God’s unconditional and radical grace. They say that it’s dangerous, and people will take advantage of it and they will do bad things. Duh! But of course! In fact, it’s a lot worse than they think. But nevertheless, one can’t compromise that truth or we’ll never get any better. We’re not going to kick Annie out and God isn’t going to kick me out either. I don’t understand that. In Matthew 18, Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sinned against him. “I’ve already done it seven times and that seems sufficient,” Peter said. Jesus’ answer was surprising. In effect (“seventy times seven”), Jesus said that there wasn’t any limit. That’s why Jesus said that when we pray we should pray, “Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” That presupposes God’s forgiveness without limit and without exception.

There is more to that 1 John 4 text above. This is what John said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). When one is no longer afraid of punishment, one is a bit on the wild side.

Another thing. Annie is learning to trust us. She’s never missed a meal, she’s always petted and scratched behind her ears, and she’s always provided with everything she needs. The other morning, I forgot to put water in her bowl. Do you know what she did? Like another of our shepherds, Quincy, who is now in doggie heaven, Annie just stood by the bowl and waited until I noticed and filled her bowl with water. You know Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” When Annie stands by that bowl, she’s learning the meaning of that Psalm too. As it were, I stand by the water bowl, and as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:32), God knows what we need. Just as Annie is learning to trust me, I’m learning to trust God.

But there is one more thing about Annie. It’s her joy. In fact, we almost named her “Joy.” I’m an early riser and it’s my responsibility to let Annie out before I head to Key Life. When we had Thor, our previous German shepherd who is also now in doggie heaven, he and I felt pretty much the same about early mornings. They were necessary, but not something about which we were happy. We both growled and complained. (“Do you wake up grumpy?” the friend asked. The wife replied, “No, sometimes I let him sleep.”)

Not Annie! When I open up her crate to let her out in the morning (in a couple weeks, we’ll leave it open during the night), Annie starts jumping up and down. As soon as I let her out, Annie wags her tail, licks my hand, and runs for the door as if to say, “Way cool! What kind of neat things are we going to do today?!” Throughout the day, Annie chases lizards, squirrels, and anything else that moves...all with great delight. The other day Annie fell into the pool and Anna led her to the steps so she could get out. Do you know what Annie did? She shook herself off (soaking Anna) and then, with great joy, seemed to smile and say “Way cool!” Then she jumped back into the pool.

Annie lives her life with such exuberance and joy that it has started affecting me. I’m finding myself far more pleasant and joyful than before, and friends have noticed. It’s Annie! Well, maybe not Annie, but the same thing that gives Annie her joy. Like Annie, I’m loved without condition and condemnation, God knows my needs, and I can trust him. After a fairly long teaching session on forgiveness, heaven, and provision in a bad world, Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Yeah, I know it’s the new year. I’ve decided that whatever I do this year, I’m going to do it with joy.

He told me to tell you that it would be a good idea for you too!

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