In farm country, where I am from, cattle are often marked. They aren’t marked for vanity with tiny little cow tattoos. They are branded for their own good. As far as the general rule of farming . . . it is customary to sell the cows for their beef or their hyde – farming is a way of life. For most people.
I come from a very small town in the south. I mean, the south-SOUTH. You can’t go more than three miles without running into a pasture of something. My family on my mother’s side always relied greatly on the land. Our little dirt road mostly consisted of family, LOTS and LOTS of family. There were blackberry vines and cornfields, chickens, goats and ponies. But the biggest part of our dirt road not even listed on your GPS was probably best memorable for the cattle.
My Uncle Bethel was the most unique cow farmer I think I have ever seen. He never sent his cows to slaughter. They never became beef or somebody’s Gucci purse. It started with one cow. Now there is a massive field of what is better known as over sized pets. He cares for each of them. They recognize his voice. And because there are SO many other pastures in our area . . . I wonder if in some weird way they understand the alternative of the other side of the fence.
Another thing you aren’t likely to ever find on my Uncle’s cows is a branding mark. In farm country where cows are a dime a dozen many people mark their cattle for their own good. If an animal gets out there is less fear for them being taken for it is clearly belonging to the farmer’s brand. This means that someone else might come calling in the middle of the night with a rope around a familiar looking cow asking “This yours?”
I always loved that about my Uncle Bethel. He didn’t need a brand to recognize his cows. He paid careful attention to keep them within his pasture because they were not just animals to him. He loved them. He even loved the cows on their very first day in the pasture!
I will never forget when one of his brand new bulls escaped. He had built this bull up to be so beautiful, so strong and then I looked out the window and the cow was running full speed ahead towards the church! I will never forget his reaction when I called him up to tell him the cow was on the lamb!
“Can you see it?” He asks worriedly. “Please go out and see if you can chase it back towards the pasture!” By the time I made it to the end of our long driveway there was my Uncle’s truck gaining speed fast on the wayward cow. He was already right behind him and I hadn’t even made it to the mailbox!
This is so much like our Heavenly Father. He knows what is best for us. To the cow I’m sure the world outside the fence looked tempting. But my Uncle knew life outside the pasture was dangerous. He dropped everything that day to save a cow on a road that didn’t even show up on a map.
This brings to mind one of my favorite parables of Jesus Christ . . .
“Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”
He loved us so much He didn’t just jump in the truck and head towards the church. He laid it all down FOR the church but the sinner most of all. In Psalm 23, David gives us one more account of the Lord and the greener grass syndrome through the eyes of a shepherd’s heart.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.”
I wonder if my Uncle’s cow ever knew his run down the highway would come back to haunt him. The first few steps from the pasture felt like freedom but when he hit the turns of the paved road things got hairy and fast! In tractor country if there is no tractor on the road, and chances are not many cars, speeding can be a big problem. I’m sure no one would have ever thought that there would be a cow in the middle of the yellow lines. And that could have been very dangerous for cow and human alike!
Jesus said the thief would come and when he did he would show up looking like your salvation. Just like that poor little bull that is now infamous, the first steps away feel good. If they didn’t you wouldn’t take them. But the further you get away from God the more dangerous things become. The devil tricks us with the grass is greener syndrome. He dangles something that looks so lush in front of us. But he doesn’t tell us the price that comes with what he offers. The price is often high. Far more than we can afford. Our lives can be ruined on the first step from the Good Shepherd’s pasture – or they can be ruined on the hundredth. But rest assured when it comes crashing down . . . it crashes down HARD.
There is always a price for sin. This is why leaving the flock is so dangerous . . . and pointless. The devil comes to kill and steal . . . our joy, our families, our health, our hearts . . . Jesus came so that we might live and live fully! The price for a GOOD life and a BAD life are equally costly. The difference is in what you get in return. You can pay it all for a crumby existence or you can opt for the spectacular life. No charge. No strings. No take-backs. As David said, the Lord’s pasture “lacks nothing” and your residence is already paid and full.