I own a beagle named Lasso. We named him that because when he found me in my backyard, I tied a clothesline rope to his collar and we walked around the neighborhood trying to find his home. At this, my daughter (she was 7 then) said, “It looks like you lassoed him.” So the name stuck, even after I bought him from his previous owners who were not equipped to care for him (they had named him “Nike” anyway, which is a stupid name so I changed it). I had to adapt my life a bit, and somewhat change my life to be a dog owner, but I was happy to do it. I did it for no other reason than I liked the dog and wanted him to live with me.
There are two kinds of dog people: people who like dogs, and people who think dogs are as important as people. I am the former. Don’t get me wrong, I really like dogs. I think they are great companions, and Lasso is my good and loyal buddy. But buddy or no, he’s still just a dog. So he isn’t allowed on the furniture, for his own protection he can’t leave the yard without a leash, I regulate what and how much he eats, I tell him what to do and what not to do, he sleeps in the mudroom at night, and he absolutely does not come on vacation with me. I pay someone to check on him when I’m gone, since apart from home I have no use for him. Because he’s a dog. Again, don’t think me heartless or crass; I joyously steward my friend and care for his needs. But again: he’s a dog. He’s a pet. I literally own him—paid money for him so I could have a friend who never remembered my faults and was always happy to see me.
After a vacation this summer, I jokingly mentioned to a couple of people, “I wish anyone in my life were as happy to see me as my dog is when I come back from vacation.” Now, obviously, there have been members of the human species who have been very happy to see me in the past. But man … the dog … well, he just acted like no one has ever in a million years known someone so amazing and awesome as me. To him, I am the greatest person in the world. When he first saw me after a week, he was jumping and whimpering and laughing in that howling way only dogs can laugh. If he could talk, he would’ve said, “Hey! I knew you’d come back! Hey! I just knew it! Hey! And here you are! Hey! My friend is back! Hey! I love you!”
It occurred to me then that there are parallels here between a dog-liker and the spiritual tendencies of the casual Christian:
We tie a rope around God’s neck, leading him around as if he belonged to someone else, wondering if anyone else is going to claim him. We don’t know where he came from, what his name is, or if we even want to keep him.
We routinely shut the door on Christ, storing him in a small room until next Sunday when he should be so lucky that we let him out again.
We build fences to keep the Holy Spirit in, pointing and speaking sternly if he dares to escape the boundaries we prepared for him.
We pay someone else to do our spiritual chores while we go off on vacation without him. We don’t even give God a thought because it would’ve been kind of a headache to take him with us; besides, the church will be there when we get back.
You’d think that God might remember how we treated him, how unimportant we valued him. Maybe he’d ignore us. Maybe he’d bite us in resentment. Maybe he’d run away, never to be seen again. But he doesn’t. He actually does the opposite. Like the Prodigal’s father, he leaps for joy at the sight of us. He laughs and sings and celebrates when we’re near him. It doesn’t matter how short or long our absence was, he is always happy to see us.
For no other reason than he loved us and wanted to, God changed his whole world so we could live with him. He became a man and died and rose for us. God isn’t just a casual liker of people. He is a deeply passionate God who elevates the human race beyond any other creature to bear his image. He speaks to us in words we can understand. He fences around us like a protective hen. He feeds us his own body and blood in good measure. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He is reliable, loyal, forgiving, and always present. Even when we forget all about him, he never forgets us.
Summer is almost over, and with the fall comes the vacationing summer folk trickling back into church. If you are a casual Christian, I hope you grow to place your spirituality in a more central location in your life. If you are more spiritually mature in your walk of faith, I hope you see others with the same excitement and joy that God displays when he sees you:
“Hey! I knew you’d come back! Hey! Are you hungry? Hey! Are you thirsty? Hey! It’s so great to see you! Hey! I love you!”