© 2016 Lynn Abbott
Growing up, I received a lot of hand-me-downs. And I loved hand-me-downs.
But hand-me-downs in my family weren’t the usual sort.
You see, I had no older sisters. Thus, everything I received secondhand came from my big brother.
My favorite hand-me-down was Albert Terhune’s wonderful novel, Lad: a dog.
In fact, I directly trace my fascination with all things canine to this classic novel.
But Terhune’s novel did more than pique my interest in dogs as pets. It provided me with a life-time of metaphors; in addition, it left me with an important spiritual visual aid that I have never forgotten.
In a few descriptive, narrative lines at the beginning of his story, Terhune significantly influenced my spiritual perspective:
“Any man with money to make the purchase may become a dog’s owner. But not man–spend he ever so much coin and food and tact in the effort–may become a dog’s Master without the consent of the dog. Do you get the difference? And he whom a dog once unreservedly accepts as Master is forever that dog’s God.”
A dog must choose to accept a Master. A dog can receive food and shelter from just about anyone. However, his overall well-being and success depend upon whom he chooses to follow.
It’s true for people, too.
In fact, the significance of such a choice is exactly what Joshua had in mind when he addressed God’s people after their conquest of the Promised Land.
Joshua had led Israel for many years. And Scripture reports that God “had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years…” (Joshua 23:1).
Like so many who foresee the end of their days, Joshua worried about those he would leave behind. His love for God’s people was great. Like a father imparting his final words of wisdom to his children, Joshua spoke to God’s people.
Joshua recognized that in his absence, many would try to step in and fill his shoes.
Some voices would direct God’s people well.
Others? Not so much.
After all, there were many ungodly voices that desired to rule God’s people. Many who wished to dominate the Israelis for personal gain. For this reason, Joshua warned the people.
In the final chapters of the book designated by his name, Joshua reminded Israel that God had brought them into the land and granted tremendous success. In fact, Josh noted that God had dramatically defeated their enemies for them.
Remember Jericho? Just one of the great victories that God gave His people.
However, Joshua knew that if the people were to turn from God and instead, identify with the nations around them who did not follow Yahweh, Israel would become vulnerable. The nation could be influenced, lead and manipulated by those who did not have its best in mind.
Thus, the people must choose their influences wisely for whomever they followed would have mastery over them.
Joshua said, “But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. For the LORD has driven out great and strong nations from before you…if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations…know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you…” (Joshua 23:8-13).
And in fact, when I stop to think about it, I must acknowledge that my loyalties do impact my destination. Jesus noted this when he said, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24a).
Undoubtedly, divided loyalties lead to turmoil.
Or as some might say… you can’t please everyone. And if you try, things get extremely muddled.
But there’s more… If I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that not all “masters” are equal. Some are definitely better than others.
Joshua knew the One who is superior to all…
One who desires only the best for us…
One who loves us more than any other…
One who unselfishly provides for us…
One more powerful,
more wise, more just, more gracious,
more merciful and more powerful than we can fully comprehend.
He, in fact, had demonstrated His power, faithfulness, love and goodness to Israel again and again.
For this reason, Israel’s aging leader called on the people to declare whom they would serve.
“…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” Joshua said (Joshua 24:15b).
Nevertheless, it is a given fact: whatever or whoever we choose to follow will influence our choices and ultimately impact our destination.
Israel’s choice, then, would certainly determine their future in the Promised land.
The nation could choose to serve God–the One whose all-wise, all-loving faithfulness guaranteed an ultimately blessed outcome.
Or the people could pursue the unpredictable and fickle human leaders around them. They could even pursue their own human wisdom… paths informed by finite vision rather than God’s omniscience.
Put it that way and it seems an obvious choice, doesn’t it?
But somehow, in the midst of life, I find I need Joshua to remind me to make a wise choice.
Unfortunately, my choices aren’t always very discerning. Indeed, I’m embarrassed to admit it…But some of them have been downright foolish.
Yet, I’m not the only one in this boat. All of humanity chooses from a great many masters. Some good. Some, not so good.
Some of us choose to serve ourselves, and so, scrap and fight for survival. Our success is defined strictly by our own abilities. And since we ultimately have no control over many of life’s events, our hardships serve little purpose but to thwart our will or to strengthen our resolve.
On the other hand, many choose to follow other human beings. In such a case, we soar as high as those we choose to follow.
Of course, people also choose to follow things, chasing after material wealth and devoting their lives to protecting their possessions.
Or some give up control to any number of substances in order to escape all that disturbs their peace.
Yeah. It’s absolutely apparent that we have been given the power to choose.
And just as obvious is the fact that many court us, seeking to influence our choice. Many long to master us.
History, in fact, records many tragic instances of servitude. I’m sure that’s why, for so many of us, the term “master” or “lord” typically conjures up negative images.
Indeed, for a lot of people the idea of serving God as Lord, submitting to Abba’s sovereignty, is a difficult one to accept.
But Terhune’s book gives me a very different perspective of “master.” As I ponder my dog’s relationship to me, I observe a kind of lordship that is neither harsh nor unpleasantly restrictive.
The relationship is one of love.
That’s right. From Bentley, I have learned something about the ideal relationship with a master.
Bentley benefits profoundly as my pup. I doubt that he finds following me to be a hardship at all.
Indeed, from me, my dog has nothing to fear. Although, on occasion, I find I must correct Bentley, it is always for his benefit.
I enjoy spending time with him. Thus, I am never harsh or unreasonable. All that I do for Bentley I do in love. And his life is good.
Because Bentley obeys my commands, he enjoys great freedom. Even when I am away, he may wander without restraint throughout my home.
Under my care, he is safe, protected…despite any gathering storm clouds.
He enjoys all that I can give him.
Clearly, I love my dog; I want what is best for him.
Because I possess the greater understanding and power in this world, I protect, and guide Bentley. I also give him gifts.
After all, that’s what a good master does.
Indeed, Bentley knows my voice; he trusts me.
And although I am only an imperfect, human master, Bentley watches for me. When I go out, he eagerly awaits my return.
He listens for the rumble of my Jeep. He recognizes the click of the key in the entry door.
He may rest under the kitchen table; nevertheless, he remains alert. He looks for the signs of my return.
Thus, when I come home after a long day, I must push past my ecstatic pup who stands, nose to the door, and wags his body in delight over my return.
I smile to think of it.
Without a doubt, I also long to rejoice in the Master’s return.
Jesus described such anticipation in his parable recorded in Matthew 25. Ten brides waited for their groom. Five were foolish and five wise. The foolish did not bring oil for their lamps; however, the wise prepared.
Jesus told his listeners that all became sleepy, and dozed off. At midnight, a call came, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
The unprepared begged the wise to share their oil. But the prepared said, “…there will not be enough or us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves,” (Matthew 25:9).
And the unprepared missed their groom. Five were focused; five were distracted.
Jesus concluded his teaching with this simple application, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour,” (Matthew 25:13).
My son tells me that when I am away, it is nearly impossible to draw Bentley away from his post by the door. Although Bentley might be momentarily distracted if bribed with a treat, my faithful companion quickly catches himself. He glances back at the door and abandons the proffered reward.
And Joshua said, “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” (Joshua 25:15).
Choose. Yeah, grace doesn’t require that we serve the Sovereign God, the great I AM, (John 8:58).
Yet, Grace invites us to follow the One whose love is greater than any other. He promises, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:29a)
Following Jesus may lead to difficult roads, but following our omnipotent, loving Savior will be no hardship (Matthew 11:30). He loves us so much more than I love Bentley.
When storm clouds gather, He provides shelter, (Jude 24; Revelation 3:10).
Indeed, His children have nothing to fear. Although, on occasion, God must gently correct us, it is always for our benefit,(Hebrews 12:9-11).
He not only enjoys but also longs to spend time with us. Our heavenly Father is gentle and kind. All that He does for His children, He does in love (1 John 3:1; 4:9).
His sheep know His voice; they trust and follow Him, (John 10:27-28). With such a love relationship, is it any wonder that those who have truly chosen Him, watch and wait for their master-bridegroom with eager anticipation?
Yes, my dog has taught me a lot. But what I’ve learned about following the Master, our Savior-God, means most to me.
my Lord and Bridegroom,
my heavenly Father,
the King eternal,
the only wise God…
but that I will also eagerly watch for His return with a steadfast and undivided heart.
“…I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…” ~John 10:10-11; 14