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Lessons from Shadowland
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Lessons From Shadowland

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer I love my dog. His name is Shadow, and he's a beautiful Golden Retriever/Collie mix. My kids named him after the gentle Golden Retriever from the Homeward Bound movies from a few years back -- and for good reason. He is just like him. He has the perfect temperament for children. He's playful when they're playful, and he becomes totally mellow when it's time to settle down.

I always let Shadow out first thing in the morning into a section of our yard that I built just for him. We lovingly refer to this area as "Shadowland." He usually runs right out the door and into the yard. But on one particular morning, just as he was about to dart out into the yard, he stiffened like and board and for a split second the hair on his back raised straight up. I was puzzled by his actions and I looked out to see what was going on, just in time to observe a family of ducks waddling through the yard.

Shadow is a Retriever, so his nature is to pursue these hapless creatures and bring them home for dinner. I looked down at Shadow and noticed that he had relaxed slightly. He looked back at me with those sad Golden Retriever eyes, as if to say, "Everything in me wants to go after those ducks, Dad. But I know that would displease you, so I'm not going to do it."

I was filled with so much love for Shadow at that moment. I got down on one knee, hugged his neck and said, "Shadow, you are the best dog in the world."

Once the ducks were safely out of the yard I let Shadow out into the yard and began getting ready for my day. But throughout the next hours that moment kept playing again and again in my mind.

You see, Shadow wasn't always so obedient. We live on a busy street and I won't allow the dog to go out in front of the house. When I work on the front yard, I often leave the garage door open and Shadow wanders out to watch. He knows he is not allowed in the front yard and so he sits at the edge of the garage with his paws right on the line where the concrete driveway meets the house. He knows what his boundaries are, and he usually obeys -- that is, until that one fateful day.

I was out working in the front garden and Shadow was at his perch in the garage. Suddenly a rabbit dashed out from between the houses and ran into the busy street. Instinct took over and Shadow was after him like a flash. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Shadow cross the line of safety, running headlong into the path of danger. In a split second I sprang up, spun around and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Shadow, no, no, no!"

Shadow and the von Buseck kidsShadow knows his father's voice and before he could reach the street he stopped cold and crouched down in a humble position, looking back at me. I was relieved, but I still rushed over to grab him by the collar -- I knew that his hunting instincts might yet overcome his obedience to me. Once he was firmly in hand I chastised him again, leading him back into the house. After a stern warning I leaned over and hugged my dog, thanking God for protecting him from himself.

As a child I had lost two dogs that were dear to me. One had run away, and the other had been hit by a car. I remember the pain I felt then and I was glad that my kids would not experience that same anguish on that day.

After that day Shadow never darted out into the front yard again. But when those ducks waddled past our door I know that it took every fiber of love and respect that Shadow had for me to keep him from enjoying the hunt and the kill.

We humans are a lot like Shadow in that way, aren't we. In our fallen nature we have desires that seem almost overwhelming. These passions may be different from one person to another, but we all have them. Some people have the urge for wealth and power, others are motivated by the desire to be accepted and loved, others just want security and peace. If we're not watchful, these desperate urges can manifest themselves in destructive behavior that the Bible describes as sin -- sexual sin, drug and alcohol addiction, gambling, verbal or physical abuse, greed, violence, murder, rape, envy, lying, stealing, cheating -- the list goes on and on.

Over the years I have lovingly cared for Shadow. I have taught him to obey the rules that I set for him -- rules that I establish for his protection, because I love him, not to keep him from having fun.

Now if Shadow grew up in the wild, he would never have had the input of a loving father, and he would be subject to the dangers of this world. He would be ruled by his instincts -- and those instincts would have mastery over him. Had he been a wild dog chasing that rabbit, he very well may have followed it out into that busy street, and the very urge that drove him could have brought about his destruction.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The Bible tells us that we humans are fallen beings who are ruled by our sinful nature. In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul details our wretched condition apart from God's mercy:

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:21-24).

Sounds a bit like Shadow, doesn't it? In our sinful condition this is our tragic lot. But as Paul writes, "The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord." The first couple of verses of the next chapter in Romans gives us the key to freedom from this slavery to sin.

Now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death (Romans 8:1-2).

When you yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life -- when you recognize that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross to pay for the sins of every person who ever lived -- when you accept Him as your Savior, the grace and power of His shed blood brings freedom to your life like you can't even imagine.

Those worldly things that seemed so fun and important suddenly lose their luster. The sinful things that once brought such pleasure seem empty and meaningless. The habits that held you in bondage are weakened and in time completely broken by God's grace.

And most wonderful of all, you learn that you are a child of your Heavenly Father. You discover that He speaks to you, He guides you, He instructs you by His Holy Spirit -- and like a good earthly father, He disciplines you because He loves you.

When I disciplined Shadow that day it was because I love Him and I could see what he could not -- that obeying his instincts could lead to death, but obeying my instructions would lead to life. Over time Shadow has learned to trust me. He has learned that I am a loving father who is interested in his good. That day when the ducks waddled by he demonstrated his trust and love for me by resisting his instincts and looking instead to his loving father.

The Bible says that God sets the choice before us. Will we obey our sinful instincts, or will we submit to the direction of our loving Heavenly Father? We can chose life or death. The reality is that no matter what we choose we are a slave to something or someone -- either a slave to sin, or a slave to God.

The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). If you submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ you are a slave who is given complete Liberty. If you stay in your sin, however, your slavery will ultimately lead to your death -- physically here on earth, and spiritually in eternity.

You can trust God to free you from your sin and to give you a victorious life in Him. You don't have to be ruled by your instincts. When temptation arises you can look to your Heavenly Father and know that His way is the best way.

It's not always easy, and sometime our instincts get the best of us -- just like Shadow's. But it is also comforting to know that when we blow it our Father is always there to forgive us, to instruct us and to bring us back to a place of love and safety.

Learn more about freedom through Jesus.

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