We hadn't lived in our "new to us" house very long when we discovered that the neighbors had a rottweiler.
The only thing we knew about the breed was that they were very territorial and could be vicious if anyone crossed into their world.
So we warned our children, then 8, 9 and 13, to stay on our side of the fence.
Of course, our fearless 8-year-old just had to test the boundary. I don't recall if it was a Frisbee or a baseball that went sailing into the neighbor's yard one day. I do recall glimpsing Patrick practically sailing back over to our side of the fence, the dog's bared teeth a hair's breadth from his behind.
Landing with an audible thud, Patrick leapt up from the ground. A sheepish grin on his face, he exclaimed, "The next time anything goes over that fence, I'm not going after it!"
The following year, our neighbor told us he would be putting in a privacy fence, eliminating any further opportunity for the dog to interact with our children. We happily contributed half of the cost of the raw material.
Before the new fence could be put in place, however, the old fence had to come down. When it did, there was nothing separating our two worlds.
There was no cause for worry. This dog didn't need a fence to know where his world ended and ours began. He knew where the boundary lines were drawn and would come to the fence line and stop dead in his tracks, watching and waiting to see if we needed a visible barrier. We didn't.
This dog was particularly well-trained, certainly far better trained than any of the half-dozen dogs that were part of our family at one time or another. None of them, not one, understood boundaries the way that rottie did. They didn't even come close.
Boundaries. You can go safely this far, but no farther. Beyond this line is a darkness, a reality that may lead to a point of no return with a single step.
The most basic moral boundaries require at least some formal training. Without it, we are prone to myriad dangers.
When I was 16, I found myself at the dime store, in front of a display of colorful nail polishes, with plenty of time and very little cash, never a good combination. At the time, my fingernails were actually worthy of polish, an unusual and short-lived reality for me at that age.
The temptation was immediate. I could see that the clerk was distracted and I was sure I could easily slip this pretty ruby red polish into my pocket and be out the door before she turned around.
"No. That's stealing and it's wrong," my good angel scolded.
The bad angel made an immediate appearance, and to each of the arguments offered by the good angel, he/she/it had a counter-point.
I aided and abetted the bad angel by repeatedly circling the display, picking up first one bottle, than another, admiring each one, imagining how beautiful my nails would look in this color or that.
I can't tell you how long this went on, but I finally left the store, sans polish. I'd love say that the good angel won the argument, but that isn't what happened. I spent so much time around that display that the clerk finally became suspicious and even ruby red nail polish wasn't worth the risk of getting caught.
If I had paid heed to that first admonition and walked out the door, I could lay claim to a moral victory. Apparently, my training was not yet complete. Only the threat of immediate discovery and the attendant shame and punishment deterred me from sin that day.
When Jesus encountered Satan immediately following his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, he was prepared to answer temptation, strong temptation, because he knew how to answer the siren call of sin. I seldom have extra time to wander the aisles of today's version of a dime store and even less frequently have an excess of cash in hand, but the temptation of that day hasn't returned. The simple straightforward answer "Thou shalt not steal," has quelled even the hint of a similar temptation emerging.
Is my training now complete? Not by half, I'm sure. Although ruby red fingernail polish has lost its luster, there are other temptations out there, just as dangerous, just as insidious. The only sure defense against any of the world's temptations is the straightforward response and an immediate retreat from that which tempts. After all, things could have ended differently on that day long ago if Jesus had given the enemy the opportunity to present a loaf of bread, fresh from the oven, the smell and warmth doubling then tripling the strength of the temptation.
Even with his excellent training, the rottie next door, given enough time and enough enticement, would have eventually crossed that fence line. And once he did, he would have continued to cross it, at every opportunity, and that would have had disastrous consequences -- for him and for whomever he encountered out of bounds. If I had successfully pocketed that bottle of nail polish that day, who knows what would have come next. I do know I would be a different person than I am today and I'm not sure I would like that other me much at all.
If Jesus had succumbed to Satan's enticement, then all of us would be in a world of hurt, if we existed at all.
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." I Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.