A slow buzz filled the air as my sandal-clad foot stepped into the grass at the edge of the field. The buzz increased in speed dramatically with the second step, and the perfectly camouflaged head of a three-foot Western Diamondback rattlesnake lifted from its coils, causing an involuntary shudder to race through my nervous system.
As a lifelong outdoorsman, I have experienced several encounters with snakes. Usually the incidents ended with each of us travelling in opposite directions; neither of us much worse for wear. However I have never encountered a Western Diamondback fully coiled and rattling furiously in my travels until this day. And this day I was in shorts and sandals, poorly prepared for such a meeting.
In fact it was worse than that. Twenty yards away lay another rattler, under a cedar bush. And literally three feet away was a very active water moccasin with a copperhead just as close.
My wife was at my side, and normally I would have been looking for an escape route for her and a weapon of some sort for me. However this encounter was a bit different. We had stumbled upon a snake proofing class offered for dogs, being held at a local sporting goods store.
Dogs investigate their world primarily through their noses. When they detect the scent a snake, the natural response is to move in and stick their nose as close to the curious smell as possible. That type of encounter with a pit viper ends up as a painful and potentially deadly lesson for the dog.
Years ago, bird hunters who invested large sums of money and long hours of training in their dogs sought a way to keep their pointers and setters safe from snakebites. A training method of using de-fanged snakes and shock collars (called electronic collars or "e-collars" by the industry) was developed.
The training goes something like this: the trainer places de-fanged snakes in a field. An e-collar is placed on the pooch in training, and the owner leads the dog on leash into the field, usually downwind of the snake. When the dog notices the snake and moves in for a better sniff, the trainer hits the remote sending an uncomfortable shock to the dog through the collar.
While we watched, we saw a bouncy Golden Retriever go from loving the world one moment to trying to become the first dog in a self launched low earth orbit after an encounter with the collar. Usually only one application is needed, and customers are encouraged to bring dogs back annually to check to see if the lesson stuck. A couple of dogs we saw being rechecked remembered the lesson, and when they smelled the rattler, they tried to head in the opposite direction in a hurry.
Before my wife got any ideas about the potential of training a husband in such a manner, I suggested we head out to complete our errands.
An electronic collar, though temporarily painful, is a good corrective tool. The intent is to change bad behavior into good behavior for the benefit of the dog.
I have one of these e-collars at home that I used to train my Labrador. The remote has multiple settings that allow me to apply varying amounts of power to the collar. I noticed in snake proofing, the trainer used the remote's high power setting when training the dogs. The effect was both immediate and apparent to both the dog and any onlookers.
It reminded me of another corrective tool. 2Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
One of the ways to have scripture available to us is to memorize select passages. Most Christ followers know at least one or two verses, like John 3:16. While that is a wonderful verse, it doesn't apply in every situation. What if I was having trouble in my marriage and only had John 3:16 to apply to my situation? It's almost like the dog trainer having an e-collar remote with 15 power settings but only using the lowest setting. You may get some results, but only in certain situations.
But what if in addition to John 3:16 I also memorized Ephesians 5:25 which says "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."? Well, now maybe my remote can reach power level 2.
You know, sometimes things happen at work that make me worry. And as great as John 3:16 and Ephesians 5:25 are, they really don't help me a lot in those times. But if I memorized Philippians 4:6-7, I would know "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Hey, power level 3!
Ok, so we are now well on our way to having full power with scripture, like the trainer had with his remote. But let me ask you; how effective would the remote have been, with all its power, if the trainer didn't apply it?
That's how we as Christ followers are sometimes. We have the power of scripture available to us, but do not apply it to our lives, allowing it to change us. It’s like the dog trainer ignoring the use of the powerful remote in his hands, and wishing that the dog would change its behavior. It doesn't work, and ultimately does nothing to change the dogs behavior in a way that protects it from a dangerous snake.
James says it this way, in the first chapter of his book beginning in verse 22, " Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
Whether it is for our own correction and training, or for those whom we are entrusted to train and protect, why not commit today to hide scripture in your heart, allowing it to conform you to the image of Christ so that you "... may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."?