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The Gospel According to Rex

August 29, 2011

When I was two years old, my mother often took me outside to the front yard of our small frame house and put me in a playpen for some time in the sunshine.  For my entertainment, she placed several toys in the enclosure.  My favorite was a brightly colored rubber ball.

One day while I was in the playpen, the telephone rang. My mother stepped inside the house, only a few feet away, to answer the call.  In her absence, I threw the ball out into the yard.  To my dismay, a large German shepherd dog retrieved the ball and leapt over the barrier into the playpen to return it to me.  When my mother saw the enormous dog towering over me, she screamed.  The German shepherd left as quickly as he had come.

As a result of my playpen encounter, I have experienced some ambivalence regarding German shepherds. Through the years, I have been the proud owner of a beagle, a cocker spaniel, a Scottish terrier, an Airedale, and other dogs of the Heinz 57 variety.  I have never owned a German shepherd.

Several years ago, I was invited to be the guest preacher at a Family Life Conference at a church in North Carolina.  Sunday morning, I was seated on the platform.   Down the red carpeted aisle of the sanctuary strolled a German shepherd. The large dog came all the way to the front row and positioned himself at the end of the pew.  He clearly had a designated place.  When the congregation stood, the dog stood.  When the congregation was seated, the German shepherd enjoyed complete repose.  As I recall, the dog slept all the way through my sermon that morning.  I am sorry to say, he was not the only one.

On Sunday night of the Family Life Conference, I was formally introduced to Rex.  I remember musing that a Latin name seemed somehow inappropriate for a German shepherd.  I thought he should have been named something barbaric like Attila or at least something Germanic like Kaiser, but he was Rex, the Latin word for King.

A young woman named Elizabeth owned Rex.  She was almost completely blind, and her dog served as her eyes.  After I had been introduced to Elizabeth, she said, “Pastor Kirk, Rex is my Seeing Eye dog.”  Then she continued, “Rex, this is Pastor Kirk.  I don’t think he’ll bite.”  I did not bite, and neither did Rex.

Elizabeth and Rex attended the conference throughout the week.  Each night I greeted them before the service.  I gave Elizabeth a hug, and I scratched Rex behind the ears.  As well as I can remember, he slept through all of my sermons.   I was privileged to discover the gospel according to Rex.

The German shepherd has unusual abilities to hear, see, and smell. Intelligence, combined with keen senses, makes the German shepherd one of the most versatile of all breeds.  Originally used as a herding dog, German shepherds have been trained as guards, as law enforcement specialists, and as rescue workers.  Countless human lives have been saved by these courageous animals.

Many of us come into this world with an aggressive streak.  When threatened, we defend ourselves. When frightened, we may fight.  When angered, we are prone to attack.  It is a part of our nature.  The good news is that we, too, can be trained.

On the final evening of the Family Life Conference, a soloist sang the words of Psalm 23. When I hear the words of the Shepherd Psalm, I am reminded of the gospel according to Rex.


 Kirk H. Neely
© August 2011

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