This Fall’s magazine topic is aiming for the mark. As you read that title, did your mind focus on your ability to aim or was it focused on the mark (target) in life that you’re after? I find this topic of interest because as a dog trainer, in order for my dog to win the prize he must be able to retrieve (of all things) multiple marks. Of course there are numerous other things that a master dog must be able to accomplish to win the prize. He must be able to sit in obedience, submit to authority, and know, as well as, respond correctly to his master’s commands. Also, he must get along with other dogs, wait his turn, handle diversions, identify decoys, and go into the unknown. However, the one action that disqualifies more dogs than anything else is sinning (yes, I said sinning).

So what do I mean by sinning? How can a dog sin? Well, in competitions a dog must be able to retrieve every mark thrown. What is a mark? It’s anything that falls from the sky. In every event ,or test, at least three marks are thrown that a dog must be able to retrieve. They are thrown from different directions, various angles, and from various distances ranging in short to out of sight.

But what does this mark have to do with sin? It’s helpful here to look at the definition of sin. Sin is a Greek archery term that means you have missed the mark. It’s that simple. You have missed what you were aiming for. You have missed the target, the center, the thing that you needed to hit. You missed the very thing that would have brought you the most joy. Isn’t it interesting that when my dog missed the mark that was meant to retrieve, he is sinning? And yes, there are consequences for sinning even for a dog. They are disqualified. Does that mean when my dog sins I don’t love him anymore? Does that mean he is of no value to me anymore? Does that mean I won’t forgive or use him anymore? No, although I expect him to repent and to turn from disobedience to obedience. It simply means that he has not given me the honor he could have by winning the prize at hand, and in turn has not received the greatest joy he could have received.

I used to think that sin was for God; that it was his way of controlling me. That is, until I saw my champion dog sin by returning without the mark that he was aiming for. When he had sinned, when he had missed the mark, it was me, his master, who was the most disappointed and dissatisfied. However, it was him that was empty and incomplete. His head was down and his tail was not wagging in joy. He had failed to obtain that which would have brought him the most joy; honoring me. He had not accomplished what he had been made to do in life.

So where does this sin get it’s power? What makes my dog miss the mark? It happens when he is not focused on the prize at hand, but on himself, or something or someone else other than me. It is when he believes that something (that temptation, or that other smell, or that other dog) will bring him more pleasure than honoring me. It is when he loses sight of what is really important and focuses on the pleasures of this world. I believe the same is true in our own lives. When we sin we miss the mark that God has required of us. Becoming so much less than all we could be for Him.

It is not uncommon for a great dog not to know where the mark is, but instead of leaning on his own understanding , a champion dog will turn and look to his master for directions. We make a lot of decisions in life without knowing what or where the mark we should be aiming for is. If we would just stop and look to God’s word instead of to the world for answers we would get a clearer understanding of what we should be aiming at in life. My dog must spend time with me to understand the meaning of my words. Only then will he learn the very words necessary to set him free and set him apart from all other dogs. Likewise, I must spend time with God to understand his words. These are the very words necessary to set me free and set me apart from the pull of this world. If you are aiming, you better know what you are aiming at. If you hit what the world has dubbed the mark (success, wealth, family) but not God’s mark, you are sinning. Spend time in God’s word and keep your eyes on the Master.

One last thing, here is a simple training tip for your puppy. While your puppy is too small to carry a bumper (five to six weeks old), every chance you get, hold him with one hand and throw a treat (something he wants to eat) with the other hand onto the rug or into short grass. He may not want to focus on a mark but he will want the treat and will subconsciously begin to really focus on where the treat falls. This ability to focus will show up later in life when the marks are out at 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 yards. Good luck and keep your eyes on the mark the master has thrown for you.

As always, in great need of His wonderful grace.

Hank and the DOGS

P.S. Monk says to be really careful as to what you aim at in life. You might just get it.

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