BRISTOL, Tenn. (BP) -- Everyone who knew him just called him "Red." He was my best friend and we spent a lot of time together.
We romped in the fields and woods, swam together in the creek and talked a lot. Well, I talked -- Red mostly just cocked his head to one side and listened attentively. In the fall we would run through the woods together in search of 'coons, 'possums, skunks, squirrels, rabbits -- whatever.
One day I got to thinking about what the preacher had said about heaven and hell, and I became concerned about Red's eternal destiny. So I sat him down and "preached" to him, explaining the severity of his condition as best I could. He failed to show as much concern as I felt he should but he listened patiently with his eyes glued to mine. Then he wagged his tail and licked my face.
That would have set me to giggling, usually, but this was too serious to my 8-year-old mind. So I told Red I would have to baptize him. Being a Baptist, I didn't even consider "sprinkling." On the other hand, I didn't want to risk drowning my best friend, so I just stood him on his hind legs, held his front paws to his nose and dipped him in a pretend baptistery. Even without the water, I felt better about Red, and he never complained.
A few days later Red turned up missing. Daddy said he thought he had seen him lying in a ditch by the road not far from home -- hit by a car -- but he couldn't be sure it was Red. For weeks I held out hope. But I never saw him again.
Years later, with my theology strengthened by Bible study and a seminary degree, I confess that there was a flaw in my doctrinal position in those days. Fact is, I could not even define "theology" or "doctrine" as an 8-year-old. One thing is certain, though, as a young boy I was more concerned about Red than many church members seem to be about their friends and neighbors and family members. Of course I looked foolish "baptizing" a dog in the dog pen, but I didn't care how it may have looked to whoever may have witnessed the process. I loved that old coonhound.
Many of us are embarrassed to invite our friends to church or show someone we truly care about them. Sometimes we are afraid to "discuss religion" even with our own family members. And maybe some of us think we are too sophisticated to talk about Jesus.
As an 8-year-old, my theology needed a bit more depth, but at least my heart was in the right place. We must be willing to share our faith from a heart of love, because people need the Lord.
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness," the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, "but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a hospital in Bristol, Tenn., a newspaper columnist and college instructor.