Saturday, January 31, 2009

My dog and I walk a couple miles every day. Along our route we encounter two beautiful dogs that are mostly white with tan spots. Both have arresting crystal-blue eyes. They are mostly "outside" dogs and never, ever miss an opportunity to rush the fence and bark their snouts off. One day, their owner was outside doing yard work and I stopped to inquire about the pedigree of these gorgeous creatures. I instantly recognized the legendary lineage of these prize-worthy specimens and nodded my head knowingly.

"Simple mutts," the man allowed.

"Ah," I said, "the best kind."

So, every day, day upon day, week after week, for some four years now, these dogs have responded in a predictable way to our daily appearance. They bolt to the fence and they bark at us. This despite the fact that my dog, Ruthy, has never once engaged them. I have never tried to leap the fence. We have never so much as coveted a Frisbee, tennis ball or spare rib bone. But these dogs are on point. They are missional. The are single minded in their goal. Their raison d'etre is to defend and protect their space.

God wants our focus.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12: 1-3)

There are no doubt days those pets feel tired or dog-stereotypical lazy. Maybe they'd rather be lying belly up in a tuft of grass bathed in Texas sun. Maybe they'd rather be gnawing the heck out of a rubbery chew toy. But their innate focus is to stay focused on a priority that is instinctive to them.

What if we were so zealous in our faith as to never take our eyes off our mission in Christ? What if we were defenders of our faith and living as if our life depended upon bringing glory to our Creator. (Of course, in Jesus Christ, we are removed by faith from the burden of proving ourselves.) Still, it's worth some serious reflection as to where our mission lies and how we are living inside that mission.

How we lose focus.

So, the dogs are utterly predictable. We walk by, they go nuts. Yet one day, the pattern broke. As we approached the familiar house with its lovely canine residents, there was silence. No rushing, no barking, no nothing. Are they gone, I wondered? No, they were there. Planted like cake toppers at the bottom of a tree with those crystalline eyes fixed upwards.

"Hey guys!" I called. Ruthy cautiously broke from the path and edged over to where they were standing behind a see-through metal fence. It was as close as she'd gotten to these dogs ever. But they didn't so much as flinch. They were utterly oblivious to us even though, were it not for the fence separating us, I could have reached out and stroked them. I could have been a big, old slobbering mad dog. They didn't care! Ruthy could have been the Tarrant County Dog Catcher. They didn't care! Bloomin' Bigfoot could have been bearing down on them. They didn't care! The threat of enemy invasion was suddenly yesterday's rawhide. Because, you see, there was a squirrel in that tree. Now, the mission had shifted. Protect and defend had taken a back seat to catch that thing and eat it!

The snares of Satan.

And that's how it goes in our own lives so often. Satan shifts our focus. The real enemy is lurking and waiting to pounce while our eyes are fixed on something else. Satan even shifts our focus with counterfeit opportunities, hiding our real purpose and mission behind something that seems good but is, in fact, a drain on us or a distraction from God.

'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' (Isaiah 14:14)

Satan didn't express the desire to be different from God. He wanted to be like God. So, when we look for the traps of the devil in things that look expressly evil or stereotypical-Hollywood ghastly, are we missing the metal-teeth traps right in front of us? In the diminished mindset of those dogs, that squirrel was captivating and nothing, absolutely nothing else mattered. It wasn't a 102-pound bull mastiff or a 215-pound dog catcher that seized their attention... it was a small, vulnerable creature with a brain the side of a hazelnut that took them off mission.

Beware of myopia.

All of this makes me wonder what the dogs are doing when they aren't stirred to defend and protect (or lust). Which is a question for me, too. Did the mysterious unrevealed human author of Hebrews mean that I should immerse in Scripture and become a student of Jesus Christ to the exclusion of all else? That I should board up and shutter out the world around me? Is that what "fixing eyes" is all about? Am I to myopically stare ahead without regard to what's going on around me?

I believe we are to fix our eyes metaphorically, as revealed by the author of Hebrews. It is ultimately much more than a simple vision exercise. We need hearts and minds affixed to Christ, so that thoughts and actions and our very mindset adhere unwaveringly to truth that we find in Scripture. We're running a marathon and there are people lining the route that we need to invite into the race. There are also those running in our midst who have stumbled or fallen who need to be helped even carried. This requires that we look beside us, behind us and beneath us. That our consciousness is never removed from the familial bond and the family inheritance we have in Jesus Christ, but that we don't miss the lost, the struggling and the wounded because we fail to see them in a pursuit of knowledge.

Question: How and where are you most vulnerable to shifting focus from Jesus Christ?

Pic of Ruthy.

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