Many Christmases ago, Josh and Jacob gave me a very special present. I had always wanted a chocolate lab, a brown Labrador Retriever, not a chemistry shop where you make chocolate. That would be Doris’s special present. I’m getting sidetracked.
We opened the last gift under the tree. The boys went out into the garage and came back with a beautiful little brown puppy with a red bow around it’s neck. It was love at first sight, until the puppy ate the red ribbon, threw up on my new flannel shirt, and made a latrine out of the bedroom slippers Doris had given me. Thus began a 14 year, love-hate relationship with Coco. Coco was a chewer. She would chew anything and everything that she could get to. Garden hose, tennis racket, neighbors kid; if Coco could reach it, she would gnaw on it.
One day I brought home a brand, new riding lawnmower. It was late, so I left it out for the night, planning to fully unwrap it the next day. When I came out the next morning, Coco had stuck her nose under the steering wheel of my new Huskee lawn mower and chewed all the wires out of the ignition. I was so mad I took a bright orange extension cord, plugged it into an electrical socket and threw it out on the deck, telling Coco, “Go ahead. Chew on that.” If there was trouble to get into, Coco would find it. Cats to chase, trash to tear open, traffic to play in, Coco had a penchant for creating catastrophes.
After a while it became apparent, if Coco and/or I were going to survive, we needed a fence. We put a fence around our backyard and Coco’s life changed dramatically, as did mine. As long as she stayed in the fence, and I put away the garden hose, we got along great. She could run and jump and pee on bushes to her hearts content, but the fence kept her in a safe, healthy place, and out of the dangers and temptations of life that had threatened to do us both in. I built the fence, not to punish or confine her, but to make her life better.
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses is reciting the long, sometimes wonderful, sometimes wicked, history of the Children of Israel. It felt like they and God had a long love-hate relationship going. They would do well, follow God, listen to Moses, and God would bless them and make them prosper. They would start chewing on things, running out in traffic, doing their own thing, and trouble would ensue. So, one day, God, because He loved them and wanted to keep them safe, built a fence.
He took Moses up on the mountain. There was a lot of smoke and fire and thunder. Moses went through a whole box of Bic pens and about a dozen notebooks. Finally, he came down from the mountain with a tablet of stone and ten boundaries that God had set up for the betterment of His children. In fact, God added to the Ten Commandments this thought, “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear Me and obey all My commands. If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
God, out of His great heart of love, built a fence for us and said, “If you’ll stay inside these parameters, your life will be great.” Sometimes, a lot of times, I stand at the fence and look out at the cars whizzing by on the highway and think, “I’d love to go play out there.” Or I look over at the neighbor kid’s baseball glove and say, “I’d sure like to go chew on that.” I rail against the restraints and chafe against the confinement. But then I remember that God is really, really good; and really, really smart. And everything that He has put in place is to make my life better. He is a wonderful God of grace. He is not “making a list and checking it twice to find out if I’m naughty or nice.” But His commands are for my own benefit. I am better for them.
We live is a season in the Christian faith, where we delight in the freedom God has given us. That’s a good thing. I grew up saying, “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with the girls that do.” That was all I knew of God. Rules and rule keeping were the central pillars of my belief system. Not good. God is so much bigger than that, so much more loving, so much more grace-full. But to “love God and do as I please” is to forget the whole other amazing side of His love for me, His fences.
Holy living, Godliness, following the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, is not about God’s meanness of harsh authority. It is about His desire to keep me safe and healthy and to make my life better. I revel in His incredible, amazing grace but I am learning to delight is His very loving law. Both things are good and necessary for me and my descendants to “prosper forever.” To truly understand and appreciate the grace of God it is also necessary for me to be grateful for His law. I don’t HAVE to keep the rules so that He will like me. Because He loves me as He does I understand how much richer my life is when I follow His Word and His ways.
Josh was in the 10th grade when he and Jacob gave Coco to me. He was married and had a family on the day that he, Jacob and I loaded Coco in the van and took her to the vet for the last time. She had turned from chocolate to gray. She had gone from a runner and a chewer to a big old floor mat, laying in the sun by the back door. At the last, her arthritis was so bad that she was in constant pain and couldn’t stand up. We knew it was time. I picked her up and carried her to the van. Josh went back in the garage and came out with one of her old chew toys, or maybe it was my running shoe that she had destroyed. I don’t know what dogs think, if they think anything at all. If Coco did think, as we walked through the gate in our backyard on that day, I am guessing she looked at the fence and thought, “Man, these guys sure did love me.” And maybe, “I’d like to get ahold of that garden hose one more time.”
(As is our custom, keep reading, Deuteronomy, Proverbs and I Corinthians, 6 and 7 over the weekend, but there will not be a devotional. I like to sleep in. We will start again on Monday with chapters 8.)