“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
And the highest title of Hunting Retriever Champion goes to…Isaiah 40:31!
Who would name a hunting dog after a Bible verse? That is what avid hunter and fisherman Hank Hough, a businessman and founder of Kingdom Dog Ministries, found himself answering every tie his chocolate Labrador retriever would advance in the highly competitive venue of hunt test retrieving competitions.
It all started when Hank, from Houston/Spring, Texas, finished the Bible study, Experiencing God. The message he learned is that in all things we say and do, we should glorify God. One day Hank asked his wife, Jayne, “How could this dog be used to glorify God?”
“Let’s watch and see, and in the process, you might learn something yourself!” she replied.
Hank renamed his puppy for his favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31, giving God the glory in all the dog would do. The call name of Monk was given after Jayne said the puppy reminded her of their son, Brian, who liked to wear a brown hooded friar’s robe.
Hank began to enter Monk in retrieving competitions, and as the dog progressed up the competition ladder, his name was posted on the leader board, prompting passersby to ask the question, “What is Isaiah 40:31?” Hank soon found himself talking about and quoting the Bible during retriever competitions on pastureland and South Texas rice fields.
As Hank and Monk trained, a message of freedom in obedience began to come forth. “You know it’s ironic, but the more that Monk learns to sit, the more places I am willing to take him,” Hank pointed out. “If Monk listens and obeys, I take him to play in the park; now he comes to my office. He really lives a great life for a dog.”
Though it never was intended to become a ministry, Hank and Monk’s message of obedience quickly spread by word of mouth, and they found themselves in front of church youth groups, high school football teams, inner-city street ministries, hunting clubs and even as keynote speakers at a local job fair. In one year, Kingdom Dog Ministries’ message of obedience went from 10 kids in a youth group to thousands locally, to hundreds of thousands around the world courtesy of a Christian Broadcasting Network broadcast of The 700 Club.
Hank began to realize the relationship as Monk’s master had a lot in common with his own relationship to God, his Master. “We all want freedom in life – the ability to do our own thing, when we want, where we want, how we want,” Hank explained to a group of students at a local high school assembly. “Most try to find freedom by rebelling against authority, against the system. When a dog disobeys, he gets locked up, put on a leash, or he’s run over, dead in the street. It’s not much different for people, is it?”
“In the Bible, it clearly points out that blessings are linked to obedience.” Hank points to Luke 11:28: “’Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”
Monk as a dog was nothing special as far as pedigreed champion retrievers are concerned. He wasn’t the fastest, strongest nor even the smartest dog. In fact, he was average in relation to the standards by which dogs are judged. “It is obvious that Monk and I have a lot in common,” teases Hank. Nevertheless, what Hank was to soon find out was that God is not looking for the best, the smartest nor the most powerful to do his work. He is looking for the obedience servant – one who will answer his call to serve as a messenger.
Hank demonstrated obedience by tempting Monk with dog cookies. He knew that dog cookies represent a huge temptation for the chocolate Lab. So he laid cookies to Monk’s left and his right, informing their audience that if one of them was sitting in Monk’s place that he would soon discover how to tempt them as well. Temptation to us might be an ungodly relationship with a girl, or a girl living out flirtations with a blue-eyed hunk of a football player, or it might be a fast car, designer clothes, or whatever it is in life that you think will make you somebody. Hank takes one last cookie and throws it in front of Monk – temptation that the enemy knows is an ultimate weakness. This last cookie represents the secret temptation, the one you don’t want anyone to know about.
“’The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy,’” Hank quotes from John 10:10, and then adds, “and offer you the ‘cookies’ in life. ‘I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’”
With temptation all around him, Monk kept his eyes on Hank, his master. Hank related the relationship between him and Monk to the relationship we have with God. Without knowing that there is anything behind him, Monk wheels around at Hank’s command to go backward, demonstrating how a person should run on faith, fleeing temptation and accepting that his master has sent him on a course that will be rewarded.
“What does an abundant life look like for a dog?” Hank asked. At the end of Monk’s 100-yard jaunt, Hank blew his whistle and Monk retrieved and returned with a two foot rawhide bone in his mouth. “Monk on faith has been rewarded with a treat that he can chew on forever!”
“What does God’s abundant life look like for you? Do you know the Lord?” Hank asks. “Do you have the master relationship with him that you can trust what he says, to put down the ‘cookies’ and ‘go back’ on faith for a blessed life?”
At the end Hank draws his audiences closer and reaffirms that “because Jesus gave his life as the ultimate act of obedience, you too can have a relationship with the master! The same God the fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish is the same God that took this dog to glorify himself all over the world,” Hank exclaims. “Who says God is not a God of exponential numbers?”
Hank’s pastor, Steve Sohns, has followed the Kingdom Dog message from its inception. “This dog story has been a great opportunity to talk about the one who was obedient to the cross, Jesus. Just as the love of the master pours out to a dog, we find the love of our mast and Lord pouring from the cross to us.”
Monk died several months ago, but Hank continued carrying the Lord’s message with another Lab, this one black. Her registered name is Isaiah 6:8 “and the voice of the Lord said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ … ‘Here I am; send me.’” Her call name, of course, is Send Me.