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My neighbor’s dog

Discipline is necessary for maturity. We should not be discouraged at trials, because the Lord’s perfect love is behind his discipline.

Several months ago a family moved in next door. We live on a lake, but their house is maybe 50 feet below mine, as I’m on a steep slope going down to the lake.

Everything was fine for a while. They seemed like a nice family, though because they’re on a different road than me we never got to meet.

But then there was the dog.

When they moved in, the dog was about six months old. Cute. No problem at all. When the kids got home from school they’d talk him on a leash. We waved and said hello.

I don’t know what changed, but a bit later the dog suddenly started whining and barking. The dog was inside, so the effect was muted, but I wondered about it.

That stopped about three months ago, when the owners created a wire run for the dog. Now the dog was outside, and the lake was his sounding board.

And he used it. The moment he was on the run he began barking, whining, and howling. Loudly. Incessantly. Annoyingly. Intolerably.

I saw the approaching problem, and prayed that the folks would have sense enough to know that this was an unacceptable situation. I hoped they would exercise some discipline on the dog.

I felt sorry for the dog. As I listened to his bark, I sensed the root of it was he was lonely and didn’t want to be excluded from the family. I love animals, and can often sense what they’re feeling. My best friend ever was the last dog I had, who died about a dozen years ago. I learned much about life from that dog.

I determined not to say anything, to let the Lord work this out. I bound the enemy. I blessed the family and the dog. I prayed divine order for them, an abundance of love, and the wisdom to discipline.

It worked for a while. Twice when I bound satan, the dog miraculously stopped barking for the remainder of his time outside. But eventually the barking came back, and worse than ever. Each morning at six o’clock it would begin, and there would be several afternoon and evening sessions as well. My patience was exhausted.

Finally, last Saturday morning, after the dog had barked a solid hour, and when I was expecting an important visitor, I had had enough. What to do? Call the cops? Go down and talk to them?

I don’t do this often, but I instinctively took the brute force approach. I opened my back door and bellowed out, “Q-U-I-E-T!” I was ticked.

I didn’t know that the man was home, but I immediately heard him without a word take the dog inside. I was partly angry, partly embarrassed, and partly relieved. There ensued little to no barking for a few days, but I wondered if anything had permanently changed.

Since then, the family has responded by only letting the dog out for twenty minutes at a time. That’s changed. But while he’s out, he barks. That hasn’t changed.

I view this as an opportunity lost. The dog needs his time outside. The issue isn’t being outside, it’s the barking. The family is essentially using a workaround to get around the problem, rather than dealing with the root. And like all such workarounds, it will require constant effort to keep going, and it will end in resentment.

How I wished they simply would have rolled up a newspaper, and tapped the dog on the snout when he barked, along with speaking a firm “NO!” The discipline would have been exactly what the dog needed to make the transition from spoiled immature puppy to reliable mature adult. And that’s the difference between a dog that is respected and loved, and one that is resented and merely tolerated.

The ironic thing is that the dog that is respected and loved knows it, and does not have to whine and bark for attention. And contrapositively, the dog that is resented and merely tolerated knows that as well, and has a desperate urge to whine and bark for needed attention.

If this were just a story about a dog, I would not have bothered to write it. But as I’m sure you know, it’s much more. The principles taught by this story are exactly the ones that God uses with us.

God loves us with perfect love and wants the best for us. He knows that in order to achieve our best, we must be conformed to the mature character of Christ. For that to happen, it is going to take pressure that drives the necessary change to the root of our being. We are going to have to endure discipline and suffering that take us out of lower selves, and up into higher pastures where we will live for God.

The book of Hebrews puts it this way:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. – Heb 12:5-10

True love disciplines. Ignoring misbehavior is not love, it’s apathy or cowardice. What’s more, there’s a chain of responsibility that is set up with regard to discipline. It works like this: if my neighbor does not ensure that his dog is not an annoyance to me, I am going to call the cops. They in turn are going to become a very intense annoyance to him, at which point my neighbor will have a lot of incentive to finally act. He then will either skirt the real problem by getting rid of the dog, or he will face it by administering discipline the dog.

I hope it’s the latter. I suspect people don’t discipline their dogs because they themselves lack the discipline to do so. They project the condition of their own souls onto their animals. How could it be otherwise?

All this is crucially important, because how we respond to God’s discipline in our lives determines whether we progress or not. Each trial that befalls us is an opportunity for God to work character in us. In this life it is not carnal pleasures, but spiritual warfare that must come first.

That’s why Paul tells us:

But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. – 1 Co 11:31-32

We need keep a good conscience before God, so that we will know what his purposes for us are in every trial we face. But all the while we need to be assured that God is not trying to condemn us with his harsh discipline, indeed, he is trying to save us!

That Hebrews pericope above deals with that as well. On one hand, we are not to take the Lord’s discipline lightly. We should be seeking to understand what He is doing through the various disciplines that he allows into our lives. But on the other hand we should not collapse under their weight. To bear up under the disciplines of God we should fill ourselves with His praises and promises and love and joy, knowing that our loving Father is right here with us, helping us to carry the burden through to victory.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,

and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. – Heb 12:11-13

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