by Michael Krigline, December 1, 2006. www.krigline.com ⇔
Before “puppy training” even starts, our new puppy has already started to educate us! ⇔
As I write this, Vivian is going through the cabinets to pull out our Christmas decorations. Two days from now, as is our custom, we have invited eight young people over to help decorate our tree. Six were my students last year; two are classmates studying Chinese with me, one from Thailand and one from Vietnam. Several have said they are excited because they have never had the chance to decorate a Christmas tree before.
That phrase, “excited because they have never had the chance,” strikes me. Not only does it show how much we take our rich Christmas traditions for granted, but it also reminds me that Christmas is about newness and excitement.
A week ago, a Dachshund-Beagle-Basset puppy joined our family. Andrew (age 13) named her Gimli. During the world’s first Christmas, the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth included long journeys, suspicious relatives, “no room at the inn,” and the wrath of a jealous king. The circumstances surrounding our “new addition” were also less than perfect (the seller lied to us, the store was filthy, the location wasn’t convenient, it was very cold that day…), but once the puppy was in our arms, a sense of excitement overwhelmed each of us. On the ride home, I think Andrew put it best when he said something like: “This is an experience I’ve thought about, but never expected I’d get to have.”
The gift of this puppy made it feel like Christmas, and our excitement made me wonder how the Heavenly Father feels every time someone new enters His family. The Bible says He rejoices like a shepherd who has just recovered a lost lamb, or like a woman who has just found a lot of money that she had somehow lost. The same passage says that when someone realizes he/she is not perfect, and turns from a self-centered life to follow The Way, there is great joy in heaven. To us, it’s like being “born” again, so to the Father it must be as exciting as seeing a child born into your family. (Luke 15:4-10; John 3:3.) That thought took on new meaning the first time we brought Gimli home; joy flooded our taxi and I thought “it must be like Christmas every day in heaven.”
It is amazing that someone who is perfect and who has everything He could ever want or need would get excited over us! Like newborn babes, or worm-filled puppies, we have very little to offer in return. Imperfect people are messy; after they are born again their hearts need to be “de-wormed” and their habits need to change. Gimli had to learn that the stuff she had been standing in is dirty and unhealthy; new believers have to learn that many of the things they enjoy (like certain movies and songs, excessive drinking, and sleeping with someone you’re not married to) are also dirty and unhealthy in Heaven’s eyes. Gimli had to get used to new surroundings, a new bed, a new language, new faces, new rules—I’m sure it is overwhelming for a puppy. Likewise, tremendous challenges face those who are saved from a secular western culture, from a false religion, or from no faith in anything but themselves.
I have no idea what it was like in Gimli’s cage before we met her, and it is sometimes just as difficult to imagine what new believers face when they enter the Father’s family. But the Father knows how much such people must face. He knows how difficult the transition will be. And He rejoices over the possibilities with unspeakable joy.
Those first few nights, as Gimli howled and cried for the cage and filth she was used to, I wanted to say: “Don’t you know how lucky you are? Your brothers and sisters are still freezing on metal bars, while you have a panda-shaped hot water bottle to rest on. The dogs that used to surround you will still have worms and maybe something worse a year from now, but you will get healthy food and first class medical attention. Your old owner lied about your age and heritage just to get rid of you (for money, no less), but now there are three people who already love you and want you to be healthy and happy. Don’t you understand that you have been set free? This small fence is not a jail; it is here to protect you from stairs, wires, and all the things you might choke on. Stop shivering! Be happy!”
Similarly, once the first glow of the Father’s overpowering love becomes familiar, many believers tend to forget how blessed and loved we are, too. Like the puppy, we also can find it hard to understand that the Bible’s rules are not a jail but a path to health and freedom.
The best way to make Gimli stop shivering is to cradle her in our arms. Perhaps it is the warmth; perhaps she is reassured by the heartbeat; perhaps she just needs to be close to be convinced that she is not alone; but her need presents us with the chance to meet that need, and this brings us great joy. Wouldn’t our creator feel the same way when we look to Him to meet needs that we cannot handle on our own?
For the past several weeks we have been reading and preparing for the changes that a new dog would bring into our lives. We knew she would affect our budget and our schedules. Her presence means extra work for us as we strive to keep harmful things away, and to provide toys and time to help her deal with all the adjustments. We also clean up a lot of messes, and frankly, we don’t mind all the trips downstairs out into the cold or all the gooey stuff we have to clean up. But we also don’t expect Gimli to be a puppy forever. We expect her to figure out where the messes belong. We expect her to come to understand which places she must avoid, which wires and shoes she shouldn’t chew, and which commands she must obey. For the moment, all we get is puppy kisses in return. But if we are consistent in training her, we will also get to share our lives with an intelligent, faithful K-9 companion until Heaven decides that our time together must end.
Similarly, Heaven is always at work behind the scenes, making things ready for His new children, and preparing people for the changes that must take place if they are going to experience new life. Our choices, religious and otherwise, affect our budgets and our schedules, but abundant grace from above is available to help us deal with the adjustments. Furthermore, our Father doesn’t mind the messes a new believer makes, but there comes a time to grow up. He expects us to study His book and learn which messes need to be removed from our lives, which places we should avoid, and which commands we must obey. It will be a lot easier on all of us if we trust Him, even if we don’t really understand why we can’t be doing “what everyone else is doing.” If we choose not to grow up in our faith, then we will never have much more than puppy kisses to give for all this love and grace, but those who have risen to the challenge of Christian maturity have brought the world some of its greatest advancements and have helped countless others experience the blessings of adoption into our Heavenly Father’s family. I’m also sure that they have been welcomed into their eternal home with Fatherly affection, the likes of which we cannot even imagine.
Christmas celebrates the time when Heaven reached down to earth and sent His son into our world. Maybe we have kept celebrating Christmas for 2000 years to remind ourselves that the Master of Heaven still enters lives every day, and still invites imperfect people to join His family. Today, our world needs a savior more than ever because too many people either love the darkness, or have somehow come to believe that there is no light. But no one is destined to live in darkness. It is my family’s hope that our bright Christmas tree and holiday lights help proclaim that the True Light of the World has come.
Getting a puppy this Christmas has taught us a lot about our needs and about the blessings we often take for granted as Christians. We love our new dog, and she becomes more and more a part of our family every day, but this love and relationship are about as dim as a candle in comparison to the sunshine of love and grace we have come to know because of the special baby born on Christmas some 2000 years ago.