I absolutely love dogs. Anyone who’s been over to the Settecase house for dinner knows my family can’t make it very long without turning the conversation to dogs. Dog hero stories, dog horror stories, happy dogs, horny dogs, hairy dogs, furry dogs, it really doesn’t matter we will go there, we love dogs. We even talk about Dog theology. Have you heard the one about a dog’s theology vs. a cat’s theology? My dad tells it the best but i’ll give ‘er a try:
What’s the difference between a dog’s theology and a cat’s theology?
A dog says: “you feed me, you must be God!”
A cat says: “you feed me, I must be God!”
Yeah, we’re not big on cats in my fam but I will say they are pretty sweet to watch as they hunt outside. Throughout my life God has taught me a lot through dogs and especially when I came down here to Puerto Rico for the year.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs meant you knew every dog in the neighborhood, which ones were nice and which one would attack you as you rollerbladed past their fence (it was the 90’s so relax, everyone rollerbladed!). I never saw a stray dog in my town or any of the neighboring towns in my area. If you saw a dog you didn’t recognize you’d chase it down and hold onto it because chances are it’s owner was right around the corner in hot pursuit.
After traveling a bit for sports or family vacations I’d seen a stray dog or two randomly. But it really wasn’t until this past summer in Mongolia that I saw stray dogs in big quantities. They were everywhere and it gave me a case of the feels. In my head dogs are a huge blessing, they are man’s best friend and to see they on the streets with nasty tempers or broken legs was a big deal to me. I know you know what i’m talking about, we all watch pictures of poor kids during the commercials but when Sarah McLachlan starts singing we change the channel because we can’t handle seeing sick puppies. I’m not saying it’s right, i’m just saying. Actually we should have way more compassion when we see sick Children then when we see sick animals because humans are made in God’s image and animals are not, but for most of us what ought to be isn’t what actually is.
When I got here to Puerto Rico in August I saw even more dogs than in Mongolia. They are everywhere here and they are all super friendly, the strays are at least. The one’s who belong to someone are a mixed bag, some are nice, some are mean like you’d expect. Sometimes when I miss my boys I go for a walk around my neighborhood so I can hear all the different barks from my neighbor’s best friends. Puerto Ricans take good care of their dogs but a lot of the strays here aren’t so lucky, most are really jacked up with broken legs and missing eyes and stuff. At least once a week you see a dead dog on the road. I started getting used to it but it’s still rough seeing man’s best friend getting hit by cars on a regular basis. You’d think nothing good can come from these depressing events but even in these God has revealed His love for me in profound ways.
I’m here in PR to teach student athletes about Jesus so naturally we study the Bible. When you’re a missionary you constantly talk about how the “harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”. This means people are ready to hear the good news about Jesus but there aren’t very many people speaking about him. So a lot of times I will reference this verse to my guys to encourage them to get back out there and tell their teammates, their friends, their family and anyone who will listen that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. The full section goes like this:
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,’The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'”
Matthew 9:35-38 ESV
I’ve read these verses dozens of times in my life but one day here in PR something stuck out to me and I haven’t seen this section or stray dogs the same since. As I was trying to come up with profound examples about sheep and shepherds it hit me, I didn’t grow up around sheep, and most of the guys I talk to didn’t grow up around sheep. We aren’t shepherds, yeah sure we get the concept and we could talk about a lot of cool examples of shepherds tracking down lost sheep, breaking their legs and carrying them on their shoulders so they learn to stick close, or even about the lost sheep that had like 60 pounds of wool on it’s back from not being sheered in years but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about dogs.
Some might be uncomfortable with this and i’m open to being corrected and rebuked but I substituted dogs for sheep. I didn’t write it in my Bible or anything but I just imagined the compassion I have for stray dogs. That really hits home for me. Poor little guys wandering around without a master. That could bring tears to my eyes if i’m not careful, here’s why: these stray dogs aren’t wolves or dingos, they are domesticated pets. They’ve had their instincts bread out of them. They have been modified to be gentle and dependent on humans. Then at some point someone abandoned them or their mother. Now they are left to eat trash, avoid cars and try to survive. They are mangy and mangled, broken and hurting. When I look at a stray dog I can’t help but feel compassion for them, and I think this is similar to what Jesus felt as he looked out on the crowds and said they are like sheep without shepherds.
Now every time I see a stray dog i’m reminded of the compassion Jesus has for his lost sheep, his lost men and women. It’s incredibly convicting, I have more compassion for the dog on the corner than the man with a change cup in his one good hand. But it’s a good starting place to at least feel that and pray that God will help me feel that way about his stray people. The crazy thing is I get this lesson 3 or 4 times a day as I see stray after stray wondering in the heat. I’m reminded God has His people on this Island, the harvest is indeed plentiful. His lost people are broken and they need a master, they need a Father who loves them, they need to be reconciled to their Creator through the good news of Jesus Christ.
This dog parable continued to hit closer and closer to home the more I learned about these strays. One day I asked one of the students if they know of anyone who’s rescued one of the “gratis perros” (my gringo Spanish for free dogs). The student told me that when you try to bring them home and wash and feed them they just run off again and again because they are used to being free. That’s when I realized the application for my own life. I was a stray dog. I was wondering around aimlessly, I was filling myself with garbage, I had all sorts of spiritual sickness in me, my soul was in danger and I was returning to my vomit daily. But God, being rich in mercy and grace, came and got me. He saved me, He adopted me as His own. He cleaned up up, gave me my shots, washed me, gave me a collar, fed me, and loved me. But I ran away. I returned once again to the vomit of my old life, thinking it was freedom, not knowing it was really the path to death. But God came and got me again, cleaned me up, washed me off, gave me a swat, and continued to love me. But I ran again, not as far but I still didn’t trust Him enough to stay. He came and got me again. Time and time again i’ve ran from the Lord, chasing the wind and thinking more garbage, more vomit would satisfy me. But Jesus is the good shepherd and for this parable the good Owner, he continued to track me down. He’d discipline me for sure but it was for my own good. Over time i’m learning not to run, i’m learning to trust God more and more, i’m learning that what I once thought was freedom is really the highway with speeding semis and the trash heap not the buffet.
Sure the parable breaks down, and maybe I should have just stuck with the sheep, but I think some dog lovers out there can resinate with this. I think this lesson is from God and I know it’s caused me to love Him more, and work on loving my neighbor as much as I love his K9 best friend. I hope this has been an encouragement to someone, and maybe an eye opener to the stray that’s reading this, God loves you, Jesus is the greatest master, his burden is light, his yolk is easy, you can keep pretending to be free and try to be your own master or you can submit yourself to the One who knit you together in your mothers womb.