One recent Saturday morning, my son Carson and I decided to go on a little hike on the Acadiana Park Nature Trail in Lafayette. Ill-advisedly, we decided to bring our chihuahua, Deuce. Just us three guys hanging out.
Deuce is named after famous New Orleans Saints running back, Deuce McAllister, who retired after the 2006 season.
So as you may have already guessed, Deuce (the chihuahua) is getting up in years. He is 14 years old. And it shows. He can’t run as fast or jump as high as he used to. His joints give him problems. He also suffers a bit with asthma. Not to mention, he can also get rather cranky if you have the audacity to pet him while he’s taking one of his frequent power naps.
Deuce doesn’t do “leashes.” They give him panic attacks. So Carson and I decided to risk it and bring him without a leash, trusting that Deuce would keep pace with us.
The main problem is Deuce is starting to go blind and deaf. He can still see and hear fine enough. But not nearly as well as he used to. So with every twist and turn along the trail, we had to call out to Deuce so he wouldn’t lose us.
The other problem is Deuce gets easily distracted. There are too many plants and trees on a nature trail for a dog to just keep moving. Anything and everything in sight becomes an opportunity to “mark territory.”
So what should have been a relaxing stroll along the trail became a bit of a minor fiasco. Every few seconds, I had to turn back and call his name. “Deuce!! No!! Come here!!”
Yesterday morning I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book Discipleship. In the first chapter, Bonhoeffer brings out a very interesting point about Simon Peter.
In Jesus’ initial invitation to Peter to become his disciple, notice Jesus’ words to him:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)
Three years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he reinstates Peter (after his denial in Caiaphas’ courtyard) with these words:
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (Luke 21:18-19)
Between these two calls, much had occurred on Peter’s journey. Lots of twists and turns, highs and lows. Distractions. Confusion. Misunderstandings. And ultimately a denial of even knowing Christ.
But all along the journey, Christ was patient with him. Calling his name. Re-capturing his focus. Drawing him forward. Showing him the way. The Calvary way. “Follow me.”
There is a difference between following Jesus and following a model, institution, or “systematic theology” that bears his name. Models, institutions, and systematic theological frameworks are fine so far as they go.
But they tend to be static. Rigid. Inflexible.
The journey of following Jesus does not look like a straight-away highway. It is more like a winding trail. Trails change. They twist. They dip and rise.
I first submitted my life to Jesus at the age of 13. I am now a 37-year old pastor. Over the last 24 years, much has changed. Along this journey, there have been lots of twists and turns in my theology. I’ve encountered the bumps and bruises of heartbreak, betrayal, and disappointment. Distractions of many kinds have pulled me off course numerous times.
As a pastor, these distractions have often come in the form of trendy church growth methods and consumerism-driven “success” metrics.
But my rabbi continues to call me by name. He doesn’t move on in disgust. He accommodates my pace. He pauses and lets me catch my breath. He remains patient with my mistakes.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name. (Psalm 23:1-3)
I have no idea where this trail will take me. But I am excited to be on the journey. And I have never been more fascinated with following Jesus than I am now.