M. R. Wells, page 9
They became inseparable friends. When Max was little she brought him to visit her dad for a weekend. She had a babysitting job that night and was gone for many hours. When she returned, she found Max curled up on her sweatshirt. Max had recognized Meaghan’s scent on the shirt and refused to move until she came back.
Max didn’t have separation anxiety issues when Meaghan popped out on short errands to the store or even when she spent the day at school. He knew she’d be back in a reasonable period of time. But after years of childhood bonding and daily routine, it came time for Meaghan to go off to college. She would be absent for much longer periods of time than a babysitting job or a day in high school—and Max always knew.
He would sit on the stair-step he always sat on and sadly watch as Meaghan put her bags by the front door. When Meaghan tried to say good-bye, Max would turn away. He couldn’t look at her. Meaghan finally had to take Max’s face in her hands to give him a hug and a kiss. A few minutes later, Meaghan’s mom would call to tell her that as soon as she left, Max broke from his perch and rushed to the window to watch her drive off. He’d stay at that window, staring out, long after the car was gone. Did he feel abandoned? Was he anxious and fearful that she might never return? Or was he simply blue because he knew she’d be away for many a moon?
We can’t be sure what dogs are thinking, but we know what people think. We’ve all felt sad when a loved one was going away for a long time, whether it was off to college a few hours from home or a job transfer to the far side of the world. The first time my wife and I dropped our three-year-old son off at preschool, we saw a look of disorientation, then tears trickling down his face as we “abandoned” him to strangers. We knew he felt unsure if we would ever come back to get him. Or if we did return, would it be weeks, months, even years? However, when we did return for him that afternoon and every subsequent day he was dropped off, he began to gain confidence we would come back soon—just as Max felt comfortable that Meaghan would come back soon from a short errand or a day in high school. Both my son and Max were building a certain spiritual muscle necessary to believe that the one leaving would return. The stronger the muscle, the stronger the belief. This muscle is called faith.
It takes faith to believe in something you cannot see. When Max was peering out the window with that sad look on his face, it was impossible to test the strength of his faith. When Meaghan was going to be away a long time, was Max a dog of little or much faith? Was he wondering if she’d ever come back or did he strongly expect her return? It’s open to speculation.
An interesting spin on believing or not believing in what you can’t see is the concept of object permanence, a term coined by famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. Object permanence is a form of faith that develops in infants between eight and nine months of age. Before this time, most babies perceive the world in “out of sight, out of mind” terms. That is, if Mommy or Daddy leaves the room, the three-month-old has no idea if they still exist or if they’re ever coming back. In the game of peekaboo, first you’re there, then you hide behind a blankie and you’re gone! Just as Baby gets anxious, you whip the blankie away and Baby giggles with delight that you’re back from limbo.
Object permanence is that developmental milestone which makes a child no longer “fun” to play peekaboo with—when they believe that a person or object still exists even though that person or thing can’t be seen. Or to say it another way, their faith muscle has grown strong enough to hold on to the reality of Mom or Dad even though they’re not in the same room.
Faith in Jesus is a developmental milestone for those who profess to be Christians—or as some call themselves, believers. Christians are people with strong enough faith muscles to believe in Jesus even though He’s not in the same room or even on the same physical planet. And as if that’s not enough heavy lifting to strain our faith muscles, we also must believe in the Son of God even though we’ve never actually seen or touched Him.
At least Max actually got a kiss from Meaghan before she vanished off to college. And how crazy would it be to expect Baby to believe in Mommy and Daddy if Baby had never actually seen or touched them?
But that is exactly what we believers are called to do: have faith muscles of the buffest kind. We must be the spiritual counterparts of those big grunting Olympic power lifters. We need more faith than a Yorkie waiting for its master’s return from college. More faith than a three-year-old waiting for Mommy to pick him up from preschool.
Does that seem unfair? Ridiculously difficult? Are we at a disadvantage compared to all those first-century believers who actually saw their Lord and Savior in the flesh? And what about Mary Magdalene and the disciples who not only walked and talked with Jesus while He was alive—but had the privilege of seeing Him resurrected a short time after He was crucified? It’d be a lot easier to believe in Jesus—and His eventual return—if we had had a few of those seeing-is-believing experiences.
But we haven’t. It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus last walked the earth. No one alive on planet Earth has ever seen Him or talked to Him, broken bread with Him, or hugged Him. But we’re not at a disadvantage. If we can still believe in the object permanence of Christ under our present circumstances, we are not at a disadvantage at all. In reality, we’re blessed! We have the opportunity to find God’s favor in a very special way.
Take a look at the story of a disciple of Jesus who didn’t catch on to the concept of object permanence the first time around. He obviously needed to get off the couch and work out more in the faith gym. This scene takes place after Jesus had risen from the dead.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29).
Blessed are we who live in the twenty-first century.
Blessed are we who have not seen Jesus and yet believe.
Blessed are we who wait eagerly for our Lord and Savior.
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him (Lamentations 3:25 NKJV).
How has God strengthened your faith muscle to grow your trust in Him? What else might He be asking you to believe without first seeing? How have you been blessed by your faith?
And the Dog Came Back
Surrender Your Wish List
Commit every particle of your being in all
things, down to the smallest details of your
life, eagerly and with perfect trust to the
unfailing and most sure providence of God.
JEAN-PIERRE DE CAUSSADE
When my beloved Biscuit and Morgan were well into their senior years, I began thinking of adding to my canine family. I had a younger dog, a little Pomeranian named Becca. She was not quite six years old, and I thought a boy dog anywhere from about one to four years of age would be a perfect playmate. I began checking a popular pet adoption website and soon found a pooch that seemed a great possibility.
I made contact with the rescue group that had this dog. He was in foster care. Angie, the head of the group, was away on vacation. But she talked with me by phone. She thought someone might already be interested in the dog I had chosen. But she had another wonderful pup that might just suit my situation. She emailed a photo of an adorable papillon mix—and I fell in love. As we continued to communicate, it turned out both dogs might be available, and I emailed asking to meet each of them.
I had a hesitation, though. I lived in the city of Los Angeles. There was a legal limit of three dogs per household. I had rationalized that I wouldn’t have four dogs very long. After all, my oldest was 15 and had a heart murmur that required medication. But even so, I was breaking the rules, wasn’t I? When I called local animal control to ask if the regulations had changed, my guilt was reinforced. I decided I was doing the wrong thing. Scripture urges us to obey the laws of the land. I left a message for Angie that I’d had second thoughts. I especially hated to lose out on that papillon mix, but I surrendered him to God.
Little did I know how quickly God would give him back. I got a message from Angie a few days later. She had returned and found both my request to meet the dogs and my message backing off at the same time. She wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. When I phoned to clarify, she had just been to visit the papillon mix in foster care. He was not in the best of shape. He had skin issues, and seemed miserable in his foster home’s desert heat. She pleaded with me to take him on a temporary basis. She had no one else to care for him. She’d just prayed for a solution. Somehow it seemed the right thing to do. I agreed.
I didn’t know, but God knew, that within a month I would lose the younger of my two senior pooches. I adopted the papillon mix I named Munchie. He proved older than we’d thought (eight years of age instead of four), but it didn’t matter. He was clearly meant for me—a special gift from God. He and Becca get along famously, and Munchie is perfect for my home and a joy in every way.
God asked me to surrender a dog. He asked Israel’s King David to surrender a building project. David longed to build a temple where God would dwell. God said no to that fond wish because David’s reign had been filled with war and bloodshed. God ordered that the project be deferred to David’s son Solomon, who would enjoy a reign of rest and peace. David laid his desire on God’s altar and obediently prepared the way for Solomon to erect Israel’s first temple.
I love Munchie, but I love God more. Nothing else I could want holds a candle to Him. I also realize that like King David, I don’t always know what’s best, so I lay my desires before the One who does.
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this (Psalm 37:4-5).
Have you ever surrendered a deep desire to the Lord? How did it affect your faith? What is hardest for you to surrender now? What might help you do so?
I Am the Tailgate
Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for someone who
is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
It was summer of ’76, Southern California—a scene out of a Beach Boys song.
Mark and his buddies were jammed into an old station wagon, surfboards lashed on top, radio blasting, heading back home from a long day of catching rays and waves. As Mark cruised through the remote coastal area, out of the corner of his eye he saw a huge odd-looking dog limping along the road. Mark wondered what a dog was doing way out here in the middle of nowhere. He slowed down and focused on this beast. It was more shadow than substance, a walking skeleton. Only it wasn’t Halloween.
As Mark stared out the window, his friends knew him well enough to read his mind. Someone in the backseat laughed and shouted, “Don’t pick it up; it’s a devil dog!”
Indeed, the “devil dog” was a frightening sight. It was the size of a small horse and jet black—or covered with so much grime it appeared to be black. Its body was twisted and bent, its spine arched in a painful C like a canine hunchback—perhaps the result of a recent accident. As to this monster’s breed, it appeared to be a Great Dane/black Lab misfire or a hideous reject from the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein.
In the eyes of Mark’s surfing companions, this dog was a totally worthless untouchable, a four-legged leper of the lowest canine caste. When Mark passed the dog, his pals breathed a sigh of relief. Mark wasn’t that crazy after all. Then Mark pulled a U-turn and came up behind the devil dog. Mark was that crazy.
He got out and approached the dog. It turned to face him. This was the moment of truth. Would the poor downtrodden animal accept Mark’s kindness? Or would the devil dog use its last gasp of strength to tear out Mark’s throat?
Mark’s friends watched from the safety of the station wagon. Without taking his eyes off the dog, Mark slowly opened the station wagon’s tailgate. The next moment seemed like an eternity. Then, the dog wagged its tail. It was a barely perceptible wag—as if to wag any more would knock this poor animal over. Without hesitation, the beast staggered toward the open tailgate. This dog accepted Mark’s invitation—no questions asked, no second thoughts.
When Mark reached down to lift the dog in, he almost threw the animal over his head. This dog felt hollow! It was skin and bones draped over a balsa wood frame. Mark realized it was probably hours from starving to death.
Once inside the car, the dog collapsed. It couldn’t move a muscle. Mark dropped his eye-rolling friends off and took the dog home. His sister was visiting with her own dog, a young female in heat. Mark’s dog, a male, even though close to death, perked up in the presence of this girlie pooch. Mark saw the twinkle in his new dog’s eye and knew his skeletal pal would pull through just fine.
Mark named the dog Big Sid. He weighed 45 pounds when Mark rescued him. After eating like a horse for a couple of months, the dog doubled his weight. Mark kept him for two very happy years, until Big Sid finally contracted cancer and had to be put down. Mark fondly remembers Big Sid as the most appreciative dog he’s ever owned. Big Sid never lost his attitude of gratitude.
This is a story that could raise a number of interesting questions. But I always wondered why Mark stopped to open the tailgate. And once he did, why did Big Sid come without hesitation?
Mark said he felt “prompted in his spirit” to stop the car. He’d seen many stray animals—but he felt a special connection with this particular lost and broken dog. He wasn’t sure what would happen. He only knew he was supposed to open the tailgate. Then it was up to the dog. Mark wouldn’t grab the dog or tempt it with food. He wouldn’t call to it or do anything to force it to get into his car. But if it chose to come forward on its own, Mark knew the dog was his.
This story illustrates a great biblical truth. Jesus says in John 10:9, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
That’s pretty clear. If you want to be saved and spend eternity in heaven, you have to enter through a gate named Jesus. Jesus doesn’t go out and yank you in. He doesn’t flash a wad of money or open a box of chocolates to lure you. He simply is the gate. It’s up to you whether to enter…or not.
It’s a choice with an obvious upside. So why doesn’t everyone dash through this gate?
For one thing, the gate is small. The road that leads to eternal life is narrow and only a few find it (Matthew 7:14).
As if that’s not tough enough, Jesus says in Matthew 19:23-24 (NLT), “I tell you the truth…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” So, does that mean multimillionaires and the ultra-powerful, super-wealthy Old Testament guys like Joseph and King David couldn’t get into heaven? I don’t think so. I think the kind of rich that keeps us from entering the kingdom of God refers to whatever baggage blocks us from entering the gate. It’s whatever inflates self and ego and tricks us into viewing ourselves as bigger than God. We become so rich in self-importance and self-reliance that we don’t see our need for Him. We fall for Satan’s original pickup line to Eve: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). And if we are like God we certainly don’t need a savior like the pitiful, poor, wretched, blind, and naked of the world do.
Jesus is the gate. You’ve got to enter through Him to be saved. But you have to be small enough to fit. You have to be skinny enough to travel the narrow road. You
So, what does all this have to do with Big Sid?
Big Sid was a nothing—the Worst in Show. He was big in size, but small in every other way. He was a walking skeleton. He had nothing, owned nothing, was nothing. He didn’t hesitate to enter Mark’s car because he was a broken-down, worthless pile of skin and bones with absolutely nothing to lose.
Could this be the same way God wants us humans to spiritually enter the kingdom of heaven? Sometimes our egos and self-importance are too inflated to let us squeeze through that small gate. Our obsession with accumulating too many temporary worldly possessions makes us too wide to travel the narrow road. Basing our security and our identities on the size of our savings accounts, 401Ks, and stocks and bonds makes it impossible for us to pass through the eye of the needle.
Bottom line: We’ve got to be like Big Sid if we want to get into the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus opens the tailgate we must not hesitate to enter in and choose Life. But if you’ve got too much stuff and you can’t let it go, you won’t be able to fit in that wagon.
You say you just can’t dump your fancy designer clothes and shoes to live life in sackcloth and sandals? You don’t have to. You just have to have an epiphany that will change your life. You just have to realize the truth of Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
We all need a spiritual reality check. We all need to open our eyes and see ourselves as God sees us—without all the external worldly trappings that cloak our true spiritual selves.