By the time Riley, our faithful mutt of questionable heritage, had turned ten, he had gotten very grumpy. Not with any of us, mind you, not even with any people, but with any other dog that happened by. Not wanting him to manage to hurt anyone else’s dog, I made the hard decision to sentence him to life in the fenced-in backyard.
It is not a bad life, I suppose, as prison goes. It is a pretty good-sized area with a lovely shade tree to spend all day lounging around under. But it certainly is not the unlimited freedom he was used to way out in the country where we live.
Riley, though, was not our only dog at that point. There was also Echo, the ADHD/not too bright/boundless energy Labrador. When we brought Echo home as a puppy, she immediately ran under the porch and hid for the next two weeks. Then when she finally came out, she informed us in no uncertain terms that she owned the place and would forever be calling the shots.
She and Riley became fast, inseparable friends.
The day that we sentenced Riley and placed him in his domain for life, Echo was utterly bewildered. She ran the three sides of the fence repeatedly, barking, jumping, and making her displeasure known.
After a while it seemed to dawn on her that things would never be the same. And so we Wagners, including Echo (I thought) settled down to the new normal. What I did not know is that Echo, who had the full run of untold acres, had picked a spot and was secretly carrying out a great “inscape.” A few days later we were sitting on the couch and one of the kids shouted, “Echo is in the back yard!”
I went out to check and, sure enough, there she was. It did not take me long at all to find her tunnel. She had dug under the fence and was as pleased as punch to be reunited with her buddy.
Now, it should come as no surprise when I write that neither of my dogs were geniuses. Echo was twice as big as Riley, as was the hole she dug. And yet Riley was oblivious to the fact that her means of ingress could easily serve as his means of egress. Even after I removed her, he remained in the back yard.
I filled the hole, she quickly re-dug it. There was simply no way to keep her out, which I desperately wanted to do since the garden was also in the back yard and she was already in the process of annihilating it and encouraging Riley to do likewise.
If I am ever imprisoned, do not send me money or letters; just make sure I get a cell on an outside wall, and put Echo outside of my cell.
If any of my friends are ever imprisoned, please know that I will think about you and pray for you often, but I am not going to join you.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Perhaps the writer was thinking in general terms of true friends, but I rather suspect he was speaking prophetically of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he left heaven for earth. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he took on the frailty of flesh. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he was born into an impoverished and despised family. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he grew up and preached messages that the ruling elite did not want to hear. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he walked resolutely into Gethsemane’s garden. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he willing stood before Pontius Pilate. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he laid down on a cross and allowed the soldiers to pierce his hands and feet. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he allowed all of our sins to be poured out on him. Knowing exactly what it would cost him, he suffered and died.
Yes, he rose three days later; but he still did all of that for us. There has never, ever been a better friend than Jesus. He did not break into a lot, like Echo; he stepped off of the throne in order to go to a cross.
You will never find a better friend than him.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C. He is a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.