Monday, October 31, 2005

Dig a well

I love this modern parable about well diggers and fence builders. It harkens me back to my days in the South Dakota Department of Agriculture when we were helping protect rangeland by promoting cross fencing and water system improvements. It rapidly became evident that 1) Cows aren't stupid; and 2) if you want the cows to move away from the streambanks, you have to provide alternative water sources.

The cows, in pure self-preservation instinct, stay close to the water supply that they know. They will destroy all of the grass around that area if water in another location is not provided. And even after the water is available, the cattle have to be led to it. And putting up cross-fences with gates is a good way of getting them to go to the new pastures.

There is a ministry lesson there. First, we need lots of water sources to steer people toward. And not all of them have to be inside the church walls. Second, we have to lead and prod when necessary. Cows get comfortable with the known, and tend to stick with what they know works. Churches are like that too. Sometimes it takes a leader to move them to new pastures and new sources of sustenance. The trick is finding a leader willing to lead and matching him/her with a congregation willing to move.

The churches who don't move end up with weeds along the banks and little good food and muddy water. And they wonder why they don't thrive.



Stuffing the Dog

What a mental image that is. Not that we are thinking of it in light of the previous posts about our dog's health issues. Rather, it is about our tendency to hang onto that which has passed. Instead of burying the dead, we tend to try to hang on to it, like Frank in the Hotel New Hampshire. He stuffed the family dog in an attack position as a Christmas gift. The law of unintended consequences causes a grandparent to open a closet, the stuffed canine to fall, and the grandparent to die of a heart attack. Lesson here - bury the dead or bad things happen.

Check out this article on this subject. Too often in the church we hang on to programs and services that have had their day and need to be buried. I'm not going to go into the holy wars over service types and times. But numbers and interest do not lie. If the people have walked away, bury it, hold a service and move on. Put your energy among the living and energetic. Jesus didn't spend his time converting Pharisees and Saducees. He went where there was potential and interest. He didn't go to the field of dry bones, he went to the living. And we should do no less.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A long goodbye

We received some good news this week. Hannibal, our beloved 12-year old Lab/Golden Retriever mix, is not as near death as we thought he might be. The vet told us he had about 6 months to go in April, and he is noticeably thinner, but she said he looks pretty good, all things considered. But even in the midst of the good news, I managed to find a negative. I began to think that he might die in the winter, which will greatly complicate our plans for his final resting place. I can't dig a hole in frozen ground very easily.

God forgive me. Here I am worrying about how this will inconvenience me as a rush to say goodbye to someone who has selflessly given himself to me for so long. He has been the best dog we could have hoped for since his days as a little furball chewing machine through our children growing up and beating on him and now in his golden years the stiff movements and confusion that seems to be setting in.

I know he is a dog, not a person. But we can learn a lot about grieving, love, suffering and friendship from our pets. Sometimes I have to carry him up stairs or pick him up when his hips give out. I have to entice him to eat by changing up foods, adding special treats and other things because he is losing weight so rapidly. But I owe him that.

He has been our ever-present companion for years. He protected my wife when she was pregnant, guarded the kids, played with the neighbors and kept the squirrels off of the pumpkins on our porch. He was always ready to play, tolerated us dogsitting for friends, and traveled from South Dakota to Michigan several times.

It's hard to watch him go slowly. But his quality of life is still pretty decent. And I keep reminding myself it is not about me. It's about me serving another. It's about compassion and love, not scheduling.

Pray for me. This is a life lesson I need to learn. It won't be the last time I lose a friend and loved one.