In retrospect, the Labrador puppy may not have been the wisest choice. Goldfish? Goldfish do not chew vital things to shreds. Nor to my knowledge do parakeets, gerbils, hamsters, or even tarantulas, though that last option is one I rank somewhere just below a deranged clown on my favorite things list.
Echo. That is the name of the four-legged destructobot that is now eating yard signs, bushes, hoses, tool handles, fence posts, trash can lids, pieces of siding and the occasional muffler off of vehicles that have done her absolutely no harm. She was named (by my daughter) after Echo Sackett, the young heroine of the Louis L'Amore book "Ride the River."
At first, the chewing was cute, as in "Awwww, look at the cute puppy gnaw a stick. Good puppy!" But then the mastication became ever more menacing. The latest battle has surrounded our "Shelby Alarm" yard sign. I am a huge believer in alarm systems, and in signs advertising their presence to would be nefarious characters.
The dog (now approximately 60 pounds) pulled the entire sign out of the ground, post and all. I came home to find her gnawing on it. I scolded her and pounded it back down in the ground. I know she understood me; the repentant look on her face sent a clear message of "I am so sorry, I love you more than Milk Bones and I will never do it again, I promise."
The next morning I walked out of the house to find her gnawing on it again. Once again I scolded, and this time drove it much deeper into the ground. Ditto that night. And the next morning again. By now, I was getting perturbed (not angry, mind you; I do not tend to get angry, I prefer to get perturbed. What, you ask, is the difference? Chiefly that perturbed sounds classier.)
In frustration, I decided to change tactics. Clearly, this dog could pull up a sign post that reaches half way to China. I needed to find a way to make her not want to do so. And then the inspiration hit me: there is a particular flavoring sauce in our refrigerator that tastes something like a combination of Castor Oil, depression and broken campaign promises. (No, I have no idea what it is, why we have it, where it came from, or what we will ever use it for.)
I slathered it all over the sign. It stained it, badly. Nonetheless, it has been amazingly effective. It was only a matter of minutes before Echo came around back to where I was putting mulch around the peach trees, lolling her tongue about in a jerky manner, and looking at me as if to say "excuse me, I think your chew toy on a stick may have passed its expiration date. By a few hundred years."
So now I have a chewed, permanently stained sign and a dog that has moved on to chewing the insulation tubes off of our heat pump. I also have a victory, though clearly a pyrrhic one.
The key to the victory was to make the taste too bad for the dog to desire to chew the sign any further. But isn't that, in fact, the key to so many victories in the spiritual realm as well? Does God Himself not operate that way on our behalf?
Hebrews 12:5-6 says, "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."
A good way to understand those verses is this: if you are a true child of God, God will make any sin in your life very "distasteful" by the consequences he brings for it. God will never simply allow a true child of his to do wrong over and again without repercussions. No chastening, no child of God. This is one of the surest proofs of salvation; when a child of God does wrong, God chastens him and he knows why the chastening is taking place.
Pardon me now, please, I need to go back outside with the anti-Labrador sauce. I am pretty sure the dog is now gnawing the tires off of my vehicles.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist, and author of several books, including a kid’s fiction book about the Battle of Chickamauga, “Broken Brotherhood.” He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.