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Meekness in Abnormal Times

Vern was back home but it wasn’t the same. After being away for over ten days, home looked familiar but there was something very different from when he left. Bee and the two humans who occupied the house were in place, but instead of being able to have free roam of the rooms, there were three additional little people running around and taking over Vern’s coveted space.

Vern was confused and clearly expressed it with the pee found on two spots on the floor. Hopefully, the humans will get the message. Even though the little people were always wanting him to play, all the little black dog yearned for was life to get back to normal.

Everyone can relate to Vern’s feelings. All we all want is life to return to normal. But as the virus continues to spread, no one can predict when normal will return, or if it ever will. And the hardest part is when we get stuck into thinking about the activities that we can’t do, instead of focusing on the blessings we have in front of us.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Initially, when we think of meek, we think of weak. But that is the furthest from the truth. Being meek is a word that was used to mean reigning in a horse. It is power to control ourselves from doing or saying something that we are tempted to do, and know we shouldn’t.

So in these times of wanting normalcy to return and making poor choices, Jesus tells us that if we can be meek, we can inherit the earth.  I believe this means that if we can reign in our actions or words regarding COVID, we can be happy with the place that we are in.

I am not sure if I can convince Vern of being happy with his changed life. But that is okay. The three little people are leaving today and he will have his home back to the way he likes it. Large and in charge.

Our Predictable Lives

Life for Vern has been different this week. Instead of having free reign over his environment, he has been living in confined spaces and directed with a leash to where he can roam.  For the first time in his predictable life, Vern has been taken away from all he recognizes and thrust into a world full of dogs of all sizes.

Vern could be seen through the eyes of a camera from our vacation home. Our little dog was viewed hopping in front of strange breeds, eagerly wanting them to notice him. From the perspective of the camera, Vern appeared happy in his short term location. But, the truth of how our little bully felt would never be known.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus spent the last three years of his life going from location to location, spreading the good news of the Gospel, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. People from all directions left the comfort of their homes in search of this man, hoping to find something that would fill the empty space in their hearts.

At one point in his ministry, Jesus and his disciples were headed to Bethsaida. But the men found themselves in the midst of a storm. So instead of Bethsaida, the small vessel slid onto the shores of Gennesaret, a small community on the Sea of Galilee. Once Jesus stepped out of the boat, he is surrounded by locals that have heard of this man that heals.  Word quickly spreads and people come from far and wide to experience the healing for themselves.

The people in this small village were healed because they believed in this man named Christ. No one knows the changes that took place in the hearts of the people that Jesus healed. Some may have gone home, but others turned from their predictable lives to discover the empty space in their hearts filled.

Vern will return to his predictable life today where he can once again know the freedom of life without leashes and cages. And even though the young Frenchie may never understand why he was removed and then returned, Vern will be fine.

Forgiveness

Vern’s feelings were hurt. Bee had snapped after a game of sniffing and playing with their chewed up bone. Why wouldn’t Bee play? She was always wanting to rest on her bed or sit at the door to wait for the humans to come in for a good head scratching. But that last growl was hurtful and all Vern wanted to do was take a nap and sulk.

We all react a little different when our feelings are hurt. Some become angry and feel justified for the unkind words that are spoken or the wrongful actions that are taken. Others pull inward and like Vern, spin a web of selfish thoughts. Either way, there is a strong possibility that we will sin as an outcome of the bottled up feelings that arise when we have been sinned against.

So when Jesus spoke to his disciples about prayer, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear him speak of the importance of forgiveness. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25)

Jesus knows that we will be sinned against and tries to equip us with the tools needed to overcome the sin that is sure to follow. On the other hand, given that Vern is a dog, he will soon forget what Bee has done and can be found playing tug a war with his favorite bone.

The Consequences of Worry

Vern, our handsome Frenchie isn’t eating these days. His approach to how he views food has changed. Instead of rushing over to his bowl and digging in, he stops a couple of feet away from the morsels nestled together in his bowl and looks around. If he discovers his sister Bee in eye shot, he walks away from the food.

What could be causing this behavior? Could he be afraid of the white and black female that is no larger than himself? Is he trying to hold on to something that he has control over, the ability to make the choice to eat or not to eat? Is he afraid that if he starts munching on his food, she will come over and growl?

One thing is true. He has created a scenario in his mind that is just as real as if Bee attacked him every time he ate. (Which is not true at all) But you can’t tell him that. As much as we want him to eat, he leaves his food and retreats to the couch.

How often do we create a situation in our own minds that appears to be real but in reality doesn’t exist? I personally don’t like conflict. So if I have to confront someone about a problem, I usually create a horrific scenario that floats around in my thinking. This makes it harder for me to confront the situation and sometimes I even ignore it, hoping it will just go away.

But we are not hardwired to hold on to unresolved situations. When we do, bitterness and anger sprout up and take over. Psalm 37-38 states, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

I know that if I follow the instructions God has given in this passage, my life would be so much better. So I am going to try and put my hope in the Lord and fan off worrying about things I have no control over. If I could only convince Vern that his fretting over his food isn’t healthy, I am sure he would dig in. But given he is a dog, I doubt he would understand my logic. As for me, I need to put my trust in the Lord, even when it pertains to my four legged friends.

The Consequences of Fretting

Vern, our handsome Frenchie isn’t eating these days. His approach to how he views food has changed. Instead of rushing over to his bowl and digging in, he stops a couple of feet away from the morsels nestled together in his bowl and looks around. If he discovers his sister Bee in eye shot, he walks away from the food.

What could be causing this behavior? Could he be afraid of the white and black female that is no larger than himself? Is he trying to hold on to something that he has control over, the ability to make the choice to eat or not to eat? Is he afraid that if he starts munching on his food, she will come over and growl?

One thing is true. He has created a scenario in his mind that is just as real as if Bee attacked him every time he ate. (Which is not true at all) But you can’t tell him that. As much as we want him to eat, he leaves his food and retreats to the couch.

How often do we create a situation in our own minds that appears to be real but in reality doesn’t exist? I personally don’t like conflict. So if I have to confront someone about a problem, I usually create a horrific scenario that floats around in my thinking. This makes it harder for me to confront the situation and sometimes I even ignore it, hoping it will just go away.

But we are not hardwired to hold on to unresolved situations. When we do, bitterness and anger sprout up and take over. Psalm 37-38 states, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

I know that if I follow the instructions God has given in this passage, my life would be so much better. So I am going to try and put my hope in the Lord and fan off worrying about things I have no control over. If I could only convince Vern that his fretting over his food isn’t healthy, I am sure he would dig in. But given he is a dog, I doubt he would understand my logic. As for me, I need to put my trust in the Lord, even when it pertains to my four legged friends.

Voices

It was clear that Vern was not feeling well. He ignored his food and only wanted to lie down in front of the fire. Bee, on the other hand, was eager to go after the extra bowl of food that she didn’t need, given we are watching her waist line. All morning, we tried to place the bowl down in front of our little friend. But every time we did, Vern would walk away.

Later in the morning, Vern regurgitated several leaves that he must have eaten while spending time outside. After the third time of emptying his stomach, he seemed to be feeling better. Once we cornered Bee and held her back from the bowl, Vern finally finished his breakfast.

As much as I want to be upset with Vern for grazing on leaves, I know that I am guilty of doing the same thing. I may not eat leaves, but I have been known to consume an extra dessert every now and then or have a little too many evening drinks.

What really messes me up is my consumption of the voices that I don’t need to be hearing. Voices from the television that provoke me to feel anger and hatred. Voices from social media that paint pictures of perfect lives that cause me to feel jealousy or envy. Voices, voices, voices.

If only I would stop consuming the voices that cause my soul to get sick and turn my ear to the one voice that brings life. Jesus spoke, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

Vern is now resting comfortably beside Bee. The effects of consuming the leaves are past, and hopefully he will stay away from grazing on plants that are not meant for ingesting. And like him, I will also try to take in what is good and shut out the unwanted voices that cause damage to the soul.

Vern’s Break for Freedom

A break for freedom. All Vern could think about was making it through the gap in the door and out into the world where the possibilities were endless. He didn’t care that he had a huge fenced in back yard to play in. No, that wasn’t enough. He had to have more. More space and places to discover. More smells and underbrush to climb through.

Isn’t it funny to think about how we are all very similar to Vern? Some people have been given lots of space and others very little. But no matter how much we have, we all tend to hunger for more. If it isn’t space, it can be things. Just an additional this or that to add to what we already possess.

This past weekend, I was camping in a state park when I saw an older woman and a young boy come cruising around the corner on a golf cart. She slowed down to tell us how much she liked our camper and we began conversing. She shared that four years ago, she and her husband sold everything they owned and have been living in their camper that has only a little over 250 square feet for all of their belongings.

When I asked her how difficult it was to give up her stuff, she said that it was quite freeing. Instead of obtaining things and space, she had given it all up for a lifestyle of travel and exploring our great country.

Jesus was also a man with no possessions. When he headed out of Nazareth to preach to the world about an eternal kingdom, he had no belongings. And never once did he ask for a material thing. Instead, he spent his time sharing about a kingdom that wasn’t physical but spiritual in nature, where people could find joy and peace that would outlive all of the things of this world. If only we could change our mindset about the things we covet so close to our hearts.

Thankfully, Vern didn’t make it far. He was caught in the neighbor’s yard and brought back inside where he is now sleeping peacefully on the couch. I am sure he will try and escape once again. And when he does, I will remember how similar we are, and forgive the little guy as he returns safely into our arms.

Misplaced Power

Bee stood in the way of Vern’s food. She sat down and wouldn’t budge. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Vern was under her spell. No matter how many times we placed the food near Vern, he refused to eat. Instead, he scanned the room to note where his female companion could be found and wouldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Vern has grown to be the size of Bee and is stronger than her. So why would he allow this mellow Frenchie to have so much power over him? Before we start calling Vern a coward or calling Bee a bully, we need to turn inward to where we misplace our power.

Jesus knew that we would struggle with placing our feelings onto people that don’t seem to care for us in the way we want. In his day, he was particularly concerned about the people that were trying to please the religious leaders that set unbearable rules and regulations onto the masses. Jesus knew that it was impossible to please this establishment and it hurt him deeply.

In today’s world, we struggle with wanting approval as well. It could be from the church we attend but mostly it is from social media. With technology allowing us to share our lives for everyone to see, we can get caught up in our self-worth being defined by the number of likes we receive.

So what is the answer? Jesus gives it to us in Matthew 11:29. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Instead of striving to impress others, take on the yoke of Jesus and learn from him. It is where rest for our souls can be found. Give it a try. Instead of reaching for Facebook, pick up your Bible and learn from Jesus.

As for Vern, he finally did eat his breakfast and shook off the shackles of being under Bee’s power. More than likely, it will happen again. But thankfully, we don’t have to live with misplaced power.

The Neon Lights of Fear

Vern’s cries could be heard upstairs. Not sure why there was such a commotion, I peered down to find Bee in front of the fire. The place I left Vern only moments earlier. And there lying on the carpet steps away from the ideal spot was Vern with body creeping ever closer to the place he gave up.

There is only one reason Vern would give up such an idyllic location. Fear. Plain and simple. Even though his sister is smaller and much older, the little French Bull dog is afraid of the bully that he resides with.

Why is he afraid? Before giving him such a hard time, look at your own fears. The unwelcome thoughts that come through your mind coupled with the emotions that enhance them. The road blocks that stand in your way of going down the path that God has etched for you.

Are you afraid of failure? How about success? Or what about change? Could it be a conversation that you need to have with someone you care about? And it goes on and on. The four letter word that can take over, if we aren’t careful.

So when the neon lights of fear flash in front of you, what should we do? Ignore them and they will come back, hold back and they will take hold. The answer is simple and complex all at the same time.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

If we can place our focus on our God, our mighty and compassionate Lord, He will lead us through the fear and create a confidence within us.

As for Vern, it is hard to predict if he will overcome. As long as he succumbs to Bee’s stern approach, fear will hold a grip on our little bully. Only time will tell.

Close to Home

Vern only knows what is directly in front of him. He doesn’t know how other dogs live. He only knows about his yard, house, and what he spots when we walk around the block. Vern knows what he will be receiving when I say “treat” or “dinner”. But if he wanted a different yard to play in or a different kind of food, he would be out of luck.

So far, life has treated the little French bulldog well. But if he was to get hurt or lost, he would have a difficult time without our assistance. And as little as our puppy knows, he does have the sense to realize how much he needs us for direction and protection.

In Mark, chapter 6 a multitude of people come running after Jesus. They didn’t have food for the day or a way to protect themselves from the elements. But they came anyway. And what is Jesus’ reaction to these people that appeared to be lost? Mark 6:34 states, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.”

Have you ever thought of yourself as lost or unprotected from the hurled rocks that are being thrown at you from all directions? If so, you are just like these people that came to Jesus. And just like them, there is a shepherd that wants to guide you home.

Vern rarely tries to get out of the fence or squeeze through the screen door. He has become content in knowing that if he stays close to his human provider, he will be safe and loved.

If only we could imitate the animals that God gives us to help us home….