Stay on Task

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This nasty cold subzero weather we have been enduring lately has me praying often for ranchers who are calving. I used to calve in February and remember well the struggles of keeping calves alive and well when these cold fronts hit. You just did what you had to do, no matter the cost in sleep, comfort or resources. The life of every calf is precious, not just for money but because you love your animals—the money could never be enough to motivate all that you endure for these critters.

If you visit or talk to any rancher who is calving in weather like this, if they had time to talk, you would find that they have or have had brand new wet calves in the cabs of their pickup trucks, in their kitchens, even in their bathtubs, sometimes all at once and at all hours of the night and day. While the ranchers themselves are emanating the pungent aroma of old and new afterbirth, manure and sour milk as they guzzle coffee and try to thaw out their feet in time to go catch the next calf.

I have an old black and white photo hanging in my church office, counting my years as a children’s pastor it has been in my office for almost 20 years now. I found in at the big museum in Cody WY years ago and instantly fell in love with it because it so captures that spirit of doing whatever it takes to care for your animals, staying on task no matter the cost.

Charles Belden circa 1920-1930

It’s a picture of a Cowboy taken in the 1920’s near Meeteetse Wyoming. The cowboy is on a horse in a blizzard, bundled up as best he can against the cold, and he has a new Herford calve draped across his lap as his horse struggles up a hill against the wind driven snow. It hangs in my office as a reminder to me that ministry is not always easy nor fun. That reaching the lost and caring for the flock is seldom convenient nor is it a part time, yeah, I think I’ll stay in tonight, everyone will be just fine without me kind of assignment.

What does that have to do with end times? Everything. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 

No matter what you hear, no matter the forecast, the rumors or the challenges—you need to keep trusting in me and the strength that I will give you to complete your task of reaching the lost.

If you read through all of this chapter 13 of Mark and catch the heart of what and why Jesus is telling the disciples of the storms to come, it is so that they are not caught off guard, that they know he expects them to keep seeking the lost, to stay on task and no give up no matter the struggles and difficulty of the times and places they find themselves. And that goes for all of us who follow Jesus and are called according to his purpose.

Every life, every soul, is precious and worth facing the storms for.

Are you ready to face the storms? How have you been holding up in the storms? These are important questions and are exactly why Jesus warns us of them, so that we do not get discouraged and thinks it’s all over, that this is our end. It is not, remember, there is no past tense for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Mark 13 is an entire chapter devoted to Jesus’ warnings of the tribulations to come.

The big scary end times, death and destruction, persecution and tribulation, desecration and desolation, Jesus is coming and the angels are going to gather the elect from the four corners of the world chapter.

“For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.Mark 13:19-20

It’s scary both to read and to try and teach on because Jesus gives us just enough detail to let us know scary big events are coming, but not enough detail to know exactly when and how they are going to happen. And Mark, as per his usual style, just records the facts and leaves the commentary and analysis to the many generations of preachers and scholars to come.

It’s not scary to me personally, I actually love that Jesus gives us these words of warning and encouragement, detail wrapped in mystery. An eternity altering mystery whose clues will not entirely be understood until they all fall into place as they happen and we who knew the clues say, “yes, yes, yes,—that’s it, that’s what it all meant, the prophecies were true and God is in control!”

But as a pastor it’s scary to teach on because so many have such strong opinions as to what it all means and will argue it as though their salvation depends on it.

That’s just wrong. Your salvation does not hinge on how you interpret end times prophecies—on when you think you will be whisked away, from bliss to bliss or from tribulation to bliss. Nor does it depend on where you think we are in the timeline of God’s plan for the last days. Your salvation depends on one thing, or one person rather, and that is Jesus Christ and whether you have accepted him as Lord and Savior—period.

Jesus is not concerned with how good we are at solving prophetic riddles, he is concerned with how seriously we take the need to stay on task no matter the chaos and challenges around us—Chaos and challenges we were promised and warned would come.

But he also promises to ride the storms with us, giving us the strength and the passion to complete our mission. Don’t give up cowboy, the big roundup is still to come.

The Pure Milk

Instinct

One of the things I miss most about not ranching anymore is the adventure of calving. It can be one of the most challenging and stressful times in a ranch operation but also the most rewarding because, that is after all, the whole reason that you do what you do as a rancher—to bring those calves into the world to either sell in the fall, or use to build the herd that your whole operation and much of your life is centered around.

But each calve that hits the ground on your ranch is more than just a paycheck, it is a miracle—another life, vibrant, warm and curious, looking at the new world with big dark eyes, and within minutes struggling to stand up and get on with the business of life.

The most fond memories to me to me are of the ones who came in the middle of the coldest and darkest nights. Memorable because I had a nice cozy barn where I could get them in if I knew a cow was about to calve. I would herd an imminent mother into a stall where there was warm straw on the ground and enough light that I could keep an eye on them.

No matter the weather or the lateness of the hour it always seemed warm and safe in the barn. There is just no way to describe the feeling of being alone in the quiet of a barn in the night with an animal who trusts no other human in the world besides you.

To either witness and assist, as in the case of a heifer having her first calve, or to find the new born calve of a seasoned cow struggling to it’s feet shortly after being born, it’s always wonderful and amazing to behold.

One of the things that never ceased to amaze me about the whole calving scenario, and to me speaks volumes to the undeniable fact that there has to be a creator, is the fact that every calf within minutes of hitting the ground knows where to find the milk.

Think of it. Here is a calf who has just seen the world for the first time, has no experience in anything whatsoever except being shoved through a tight dark tunnel and dropped unceremoniously onto the cold hard ground in a heap of slime that moments earlier had been it’s whole world, it gets licked off by this giant four legged creature with a familiar sounding moo.

And the next thing you know it is pushing its hind end up on wobbly legs followed by first one, then two front legs, being perfectly placed under the front shoulders to push the calf up the rest of the way. And what is the first thing it does? From there it could go in any direction or no direction at all. It could fall down and decide it’s just too much work to do any more.

But no, it heads straight for the tiny little space just under the belly of the giant creature standing nearby, and latches onto the even tinier little spigot tucked underneath and makes the prefect sucking motion with its never before used mouth to get the pure milk that will give it everything it needs to keep it alive and strong for the next few hours, and will sustain it for the next several months as it grows by several hundred pounds.

You can’t tell me that that little pea brained calf who doesn’t know a barb wire fence from a chokecherry bush, or an ice cold creek from a bed of straw at that point, yet knows exactly where to go for it’s first meal, was not given that knowledge by the God who designed and created her.

How about you? With all your vast knowledge and life experience, do you know where to go for milk? Is that calf smarter, more blessed than you? You know where to go, you just have to guard your heart against thinking that you have had enough or that there are other things that will help you more.

There is not.

The calf, knows right where to go, if it doesn’t—it dies.

And once that calf starts in on that milk, I have seen it happen again and again, you can see the energy start to flow through and into the body of that calf, the life giving colostrum rich milk warming from head to toe, the nutrients and antibodies surging into and through the blood stream and affecting and protecting every cell of it’s being.

You can see the lights coming on in the glazed and dazed eyes as they start to shine with life and the sucking becomes more voracious, the head starting to butt the bag above it, stimulating even more milk to be dropped down into the milk filled bag that will be her sole source of life for a good long time.

And she will come back again and again, each time more aggressive and needing more and more—”Milk, I need, I want, milk! I have tasted and seen that the milk is good and I need nothing more!”

That’s what Peter is telling us here. If you have tasted the pure unadulterated and unaltered milk of the word of God, been given life itself, you should want nothing more than to keep coming back to it for more nourishment, so that you can grow thereby.

The pure milk of the word that has given you life, pulled you from darkness to light, death to life, has to be—and this should not even be a question or something you need to be reminded of—your continuing source for strength, for healing nutrients and immunities.

As long as I have walked with the Lord it has continued to baffle me how a person can receive Jesus, be born anew, forgiven and regenerated, and not absolutely fall in love with the word of God and desire more and more of it.

As long as we walk this earth we are still growing and maturing in the Lord and we must keep going back to the place our hearts just instinctly know it must go, to find what you need to sustain that new life.  If not, perhaps you heard the wrong gospel and never truly tasted that the Lord is gracious. — IF indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious -Peter says.

There are a lot of false or incomplete gospels out there.

What is the gospel? It is as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs . . . you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. . . .

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”. . .

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” -Acts 2

That’s the gospel, direct from the Holy Spirit through the lips of Peter mere moments after the church was born on the day of Pentecost . The pure gospel.  That is the pure milk of the word of God. That’s the colostrum that gives you life and delivers you from the old world of darkness and ignorance to the world of light and enlightenment. You want to be woke, live in and for the word of God.

All else is rubbish.

And that is the message the world has and is rejecting and why this world is such a mess. And the world, who has not left the womb of ignorance and darkness, is now trying to shame us into turning away from the pure milk of the word.

They are not just rejecting us, they are not just rejecting the word of God, they are rejecting the Lord himself, the precious living cornerstone.

But we who do believe, who do not reject the truth will by no means be put to shame.

Love Completes Us

I realize it’s the middle of a hot summer but please indulge me a bit as I take you back to a cold February night- maybe it’ll cool you off a bit.

Welcome and good morning baby-

It’s just after 11:00 on a cold late February night and I go down to the barn to check on a heifer I had locked in a stall because I saw earlier that she was thinking about calving.  I could tell because she had gone off by herself, as cows do, when they are getting ready to calf. Because she was a heifer I wanted to have her in a place where I could help her should she have trouble.  Well sure enough, she was having trouble.  Her water had broken some time ago and she was up and down- alternating between laying down on her side and walking around in circles mooing for her, as of yet, unborn calf, a sure signMoultonBarnNightClouds1.

Now, this heifer knew me as the one who fed her in the winter and kept her in good pastures in the summer but she was still not totally trusting of me, she was after all a range cow, spending much of her time totally away from all human contact.  I did not have a head-catch at this time so I had to use a lot more finesse in doctoring cows, getting them to trust me enough to help them.

I could see she would be needing help soon so I quietly slipped into the large stall and squatted down with my back against the wall at one end of the stall while she eyed me nervously to see what I was up to.  I just sat there on my haunches and waited, reassuring her now and then, letting her hear my familiar voice, low and calmly saying; “its ok girl, I’ll be here when you’re ready.” 

So I settle in and wait and as I sit there I become acutely aware of the stillness around me.  No sound but the occasional rustling of the heifers’ shuffling feet in the straw I had thrown out in the stall for her. It’s like there’s no one in the world but me and this heifer right now.  I turn off my glaring flashlight and let my eyes adjust to the dim light from the moon that’s filtering in from outside through the unfinished barn walls.  I see that the heifer is starting to worry less about me and getting back to the business of calving.

It’s cold but I’m warm in my insulated Carhartt coveralls and wool Scotch cap.  The cold crisp air mixed with the musty smell of the heifer and the dusty straw gives me a sensation that all is right with the world.  A feeling that really can’t be described but once experienced is never forgotten.

The heifer lies down again as the contractions come hard and heavy, the steam of her breath coming in sharp bursts like a geyser that can’t decide if it’s ready to blow or not.  Then I see a small hoof appear under her tail, she is oblivious to my presence now as she alternates between pushing and just laying her head heavily in the straw to catch her breath.

It’s time- I crawl on my hands and knees through the straw, which is now becoming well mixed with the manure beneath, to the rear of the heifer, I take off my gloves and slowly slip a hand into the heifer to feel a velvety nose lodged firmly in the birth canal.  I work both the front hoofs of the calf out as far as I can while the heifer lifts her head to look at me and then pushes once more.  I reach into the back pocket of my coveralls and pull out a zip-lock bag containing the O.B. chains as the steam rises off my hands now covered with warm amniotic fluid.

I work the chains onto the small hoofs being careful to get them above the fetlocks, I hook the hand held puller to the center of the chains, brace my feet against the rear of the cow and working with the contractions of the heifer I begin to pull.  We are totally in this together now and after several pulls with all my strength timed to coincide with her pushes we suddenly have a head.  I get up off my −back where I landed when the shoulders cleared and quickly get to my feet to easily slide the calf the rest of the way out.  I catch my breath as the heifer−now a cow−relaxes, and the calf, a coal black bull with a bright white face, takes its first gasping breaths.

I wait only moments before I drag the calf around to the front of the cow to make sure she gets a good snoot full of her baby’s scent. She soon gets to her feet and gives the calf another good sniffing before she begins gingerly to clean him while mooing gently with the moo that cows only use for their babies.  Praise God!  She’s accepted the calf and has the mother instinct.  I get out of the stall and hang around only long enough to make sure the calf gets up and stumbles over to where the milk is, amazed once again that a minutes old calf always knows where to find the milk.

“Welcome and goodnight baby, see you in the morning.”

 

Thoughts

Sometimes we just need to be there.

Being the church of Jesus Christ means loving our neighbors and – one another, learning to take care of those who are right in front of us.  Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations… we make disciples by sharing the good news and then by being there to encourage them on. New believers will quickly wither and die if they are not loved into health and seasoned believers will not continue to grow and bear fruit if they are not continuing to be loved−and sharing the love.

As we mature in our relationship with Christ it is sharing the love that really keeps us healthy and fulfilled, that encourages us, no matter the cost, the fulfillment that comes from living a life of love is priceless.

I was sitting in that cold barn in the middle of the night because I cared, sure that calf was worth 500 bucks at weaning time but that’s not what I was thinking about; there isn’t a rancher around worth his salt who doesn’t genuinely care for his animals.  And when I left the barn that night I felt good, real good, even though I was covered with manure and afterbirth and had missed several hours of sleep.  That is not the kind of feeling you get from simply earning a buck, it’s the kind of feeling you get from making an impact on another life. It’s a deep down satisfaction. 

It is the same feeling that comes from doing something good for someone who has entrusted you with their friendship and their heart. It’s the unique deep down soul satisfying feeling of being blessed because you allowed God to use you to be a blessing to someone.  It’s not about conquering the world, it’s about saving and discipling individuals, it’s about being there.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:11

Love completes us.