By Galen Dalrymple
Of all the dogs that have been a part of our family, one of my favorites was Ramses the Great, named after the great pharaoh of Egypt, Ramses II. And Ramses did carry himself with wisdom in his eyes and dignity in his jaw, as though he were master of all he surveyed. Ramses was our first male boxer, and he was all boy!
One Saturday morning when my wife had gotten out of bed earlier than I, I awoke to see Ramses' noble face resting on her pillow. He was on his side, sound asleep, facing me. His short muzzle was slightly twisted from the weight of his head upon the pillow, and the very tip of his tongue was visible through his thick black doggy lips. As I lay there looking at him, I thought it was a good thing that his Egyptian subjects should not see him looking so indisposed. I also thought of all the lessons God had taught me through my dogs.
If God can teach us about himself through inanimate things like mountains and valleys, then surely the animate creatures that share the gift of life have much to teach us about God as well. And if God could communicate to Balaam through a donkey, how much more articulate he must be through such a noble beast as the dog!
This will be the first in a series of reflections I will call "Lessons My Dog Taught Me."
The first lesson, on the importance of stretching, occurred to me that same morning. Ramses, befitting his name and title, is a fairly large dog, bordering on 75 pounds, and he is entirely oblivious to the effect his stretching might have on anyone lying beside him (and a Pharaoh should not concern himself with such things besides). He is so strong that he nearly pushes me out of bed when he pushes with his legs!
As I watched him stretch and return to sleep that morning, I could not help but think about how God wants us to stretch as well. Ramses generally slept at the foot of the bed, but he often climbed into the spot just vacated when my wife or I got up in the morning. He liked to nestle into a place where the blankets were still warm, and, perhaps, where it still smelled of us (why he would think that's a good thing in my case, I don't know). It's nice to have routines. It's easy to do the same old things over and over, comfortable things we could do with our eyes shut. But God also wants us to stretch and grow. As Hebrews 6:1-2 reads,
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
If we never stretched, we would never move outside our comfortable patterns, never move past the simple stuff to the more profound aspects of a relationship with God and knowledge about Him. The writer of Hebrews tells us what the elementary things are in these verses, including instruction in baptism, prayer, the resurrection, and judgment. So what are we supposed to move on to? Things that really challenge us as Christians, things that make living the Christian life exciting but also difficult: like dealing with trials and temptations, demonstrating God's love to others when they hate or persecute us, wrestling with evil and suffering and how they can fit in a universe with a supposedly wise and loving God, understanding Christ's present priesthood on behalf of the believer and our role as a nation of priests to the world, our responsibilities as stewards of God's creation and our accountability for the world and our fellow humans.
Important though it is, stretching can be painful. Athletes stretch before a competition, and runners stretch before a race, to avoid injuries and perform at their best. But once you've been asleep for a long time, stretching can also feel good. Ramses the Great often stretched with a long and luxurious groan. On his usual routine, he had crawled into a safe and warm spot -- and stretching was just what he needed.
Perhaps you've been spiritually asleep for a long time and it is time for a good stretch. God is challenging you to move past fundamental, elementary things in your relationship with Him and to take up a new challenge and mission for Him in your neighborhood, your workplace, your family, your church, and in your world. We can never, ever forget the elementary things about Christ because they are foundational. Yet we cannot be satisfied with just those things, either. God has much more in store for us.
So where are your warm spots in the bed of life? Time to stretch! God will not stretch you so far you will break. You've got His word on it. Trust him.
Further installments in the "Lessons My Dog Taught Me" series will appear each Monday at the Evangelical Portal.Galen Dalrymple pastors Vineyard Hills Christian Church, a non-denominational Evangelical church in the wine country of California. His daily meditations, Daybreaks, are received by readers all over the country.