Black Labs and Passion

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.”  Col 1:9-13 (NKJV)


I do not know if all dogs will go to heaven, but I am pretty sure that Labrador Retrievers will. My wife and I have always had a soft spot for Labs. We had only been married a few years when we succumbed the first time to Lab fever. Although we were on a limited budget and living in a no pet apartment complex, we bought a Lab pup. We found an apartment that allowed pets and experienced our first struggles of parenthood. When Pepper’s puppy teeth fell out we panicked and called the vet. (Years later when our oldest son’s baby teeth did the same it was no big deal.) We sat up with Pepper as she whined over her separation from the litter. We experienced the canine equivalent of potty training and found that consistency of discipline is as important for puppies as children. The one advantage of an ill disciplined dog over an ill disciplined child is the dog has a shorter life. Actually, you can also put a dog to sleep. In turn, watching your pup on her first retrieve doesn’t compare to seeing your sons become godly men.

The first weekend Pepper joined the family we took her to my parent’s place at the lake. We laughed when she jumped out of the bass boat to grab the plug and put her head underwater to bite a stick in the shallows. She rode across the U.S. to Alaska in the jeep with us when Kathy and I moved back after graduate school. She retrieved her first duck at six months. It was a cold day on the Juneau tidal flats with a thin layer of ice on the water. Pepper didn’t hesitate an instant on the retrieve. She swam about thirty yards to the teal and began swimming back. In the mean time I decided to enter the water myself and had reached a point midway up my chest when Pepper decided I was closer than the shoreline. Before I knew it Pepper had swum up to me placing her front paws on my shoulders and her back paws on the top of my waders. Quicker than I could scream in agony my chest waders filled with ice water. Needless to say I waded to shore looking like the shepherd carrying the lamb around his neck in the Sunday School poster. Pepper and I had a short discussion in which we both agreed that we were ready to go home, and we did with all due haste.

We lived in a small cabin on the beach in Juneau and would leave Pepper inside during the day. One day we came home from teaching to find that the winter winds had uprooted a Sitka spruce. Spruce trees have shallow root structures, perhaps only three feet deep, but they will spread out over forty or fifty feet. We had 147 steps between the road and our cabin. That day we walked down the first one hundred. The remaining steps had been thrust into the air and were now a horizontal gangway to the roof. In rearranging the staircase, the tree’s root system also lifted the porch as though it was hinged at the front door. If we thought that the outside of the cabin had been rearranged by the tree, we had a bigger shock when we were finally able to get inside and see what a frightened 55 pound female Lab can do. We had (emphasis on had) a new hide-a- bed couch. Pepper relieved her stress by dragging the couch all over the cabin. It had taken her multiple attempts, each evidenced by chunks torn from the frame where she had gained a hold for her moving efforts. All the plants had been ripped out of their pots, and the dirt was flung all over the cabin in Pepper’s efforts to expose their roots.  The house was a shambles to say the least. Again, Labs are like children. You love them even though they drive you to the poor house.

Our second Lab was Onyx, again black and female. We had returned to Alaska from seminary and could not imagine our sons growing up without a dog, so we began looking for a Lab. I was a charter boat skipper for one of the local lodges and became good friends with another guide, George. George spent his summers in Southeast Alaska running charters and fishing the commercial openings. He spent his winters in Oregon managing a goose hunting operation. Over the years he worked for a nationally recognized kennel and was able to pick a pup for payment. George did not need another dog so he offered to sell me the pup for $250.00. Considering that the pup’s dame and sire were national field trial champs and the kennel advertised in magazines that also had ads for $10,000 double rifles, $250 was a steal.

Onyx arrived on a flight from Portland during Thanksgiving week. For three young boys it was as exciting as Christmas. We took the ferry to the Ketchikan airport and signed for the pup at airfreight. Onyx came out of the kennel ready to take on the world and all the little boys in it. At home we filmed her running around the house and skidding across the kitchen linoleum. Kids need a dog. Caring for a pet teaches a child responsibility. Training a dog helps a child understand the value of discipline.

Onyx displayed her breeding. She lived for retrieving and running full out until she was exhausted. With her blood lines I knew I wanted to breed her. I only needed to find the right male. Max was a proven hunter. He was laid back until you brought out the training dummy or shotgun. I figured that Onyx and Max would produce some first rate pups, and I wanted one for myself.  Until you have a litter of eight black Labs, you don’t think about telling them apart. One method is by painting different color spots on their hips. Each time a prospective buyer would check out the pups I would try to match him with the right one. As the weeks wound down to the scheduled adoption day, I had one left, the male with the red spot on his hip. Lab males usually have more classically shaped heads and muzzles. Red also had the most expressive reddish brown eyes. If Red could talk he would have had the voice of a real Bubba. Onyx loved to run; Red loved to put his head on your feet. Red was about a year old when Onyx and Max had a second litter. One day I heard Red howling with a plaintive tone. I walked out to check on him and found him standing at the water bucket looking like he was dunking for apples. He would stop, howl, and dunk again. Onyx sat in the corner with a detached expression. Still trying to figure out what was going on I walked out to the kennel. When I looked into the bucket I found one of the pups struggling to stay above the water. Red tried to save his little brother but only managed to push him under each time. Onyx had arrived at the point of exasperation in her continuing role of being a chew toy for the growing pups. I think she figured one less pup the better. I remember the time I was home alone and I opened the kennel door. All eight pups made a wild dash for freedom. It is almost impossible for one man to catch eight puppies and put them into a kennel with a three foot wide door. I would put three in and have four escape. Nearing exhaustion I finally closed the door and looked at Onyx in the far corner. A mixture of amusement, and satisfaction, could not have been better expressed by any human. I am sure she said, “See what you make me put up with every day. How long will it be until we get rid of these things?”

Onyx and Red epitomize why I love Labs. Onyx lived to retrieve. One Saturday the boys were in the front yard playing with Onyx. We lived on a gravel street that had little traffic so the boys would often throw the tennis ball across the street into an overgrown lot to give Onyx a more difficult retrieve. No sooner than the boys threw the ball, a teen age driver slid around the corner and stepped on the gas. Fortunately, according to the family vet, the girl’s car hit Onyx in the head. I will never forget Onyx trying to pick up the tennis ball to return it to the boys. Even with a broken jaw she still wanted to carry the ball.

When we moved south we realized that the dogs would have a hard time adjusting to the heat, and a townhouse was not the place for two outdoor Labs. I placed them with a friend in Port Alsworth, a small community on Lake Clark. The last time I checked on the pups Joel told me that Red’s favorite place in the house was at the top of the stairs laying under the window that looked out on the Lake. While we were talking Joel said that his three year old daughter was using Red as a stool to look out the window. Red was in Lab heaven, living on a lake with a little girl who thought he was her best friend and play toy.

God designed man to be in relationship with Him, and only God can fill the spiritual void in a person’s life. You cannot beat Labs for being a family dog because they love to please their master. Have you ever watched a dog show? Whenever the dog does as commanded the trainer will slip it a treat. You don’t have to bribe a Lab with tidbits. A Lab just needs to be praised. He lives to hear his master’s voice praising him. A cat will rub your leg if he wants something from you. A Lab just wants you. But that is not all. I imagine a Chihuahua likes people. A Lab doesn’t just love people, it is a retriever. Just look at the face of a Lab as he is standing at your feet waiting for you to throw the dummy, ball, stick, or anything he can retrieve. His eyes sparkle. HE IS LIVING! Men often seek fulfillment through their careers or hobbies. Those things may bring temporary pleasure but it will not last. God has gifted each of us with natural talents, spiritual gifts, and personality traits that are to be used to His glory and in doing so we experience a greater sense of fulfillment than the world can ever give. One day I hope to hear my master say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” In your spiritual life are you a cat or a Lab?


Hope for Youngsville

This summer we (North Star Baptist Church) decided to do a church version of a staycation. “Hope for Youngsville” is our ministry to our town. The chief of police and the town manager accepted our offer to paint their buildings. When Tracy and I first asked them if there were any projects that we could do for them they said, “No.” Then we pointed out to the chief that his building needed a paint job. The Chief agreed but with the present economy was not able to do so. You should have seen his face when I explained that we were wanting to do the work and supply the materials. Needless to say we agreed to paint town hall, the police department, and the maintenance building.

The mission project was scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Thursday and Friday were scheduled as back up days for weather or other unforeseen events. We had several objectives for our home town mission trip: we wanted maximum participation of our membership, to build community awareness of our ministry, to cultivate a servant’s heart in our church’s DNA, to meet a community need, and to build church community.100_2382

Most of our membership could not get off work for all three days.   The church membership signed up for the two different shifts each day, 8-12 and 4-8. Only two of the church families were not able to participate. One had work and health conflicts, the other had work and school conflicts. Needless to say I was pleased with our people. We had guys who had worked all day in the heat show up at four and put another half day in on our project.

Not only did our people work, we grew closer. There is something about spending hours painting a wall with someone that promotes great conversations. They ranged across sports, theology, “Name that Country Tune,” fishing, and almost every other topic known to man (and woman).  This summer we have been using our Sunday nights to build the sense of church family. We alternate weeks between small group activities and church wide activities. Each week we have a devotional then engage in various games. It is funny to see grown ups playing dodge ball with the kids. This coming Sunday night we will be playing softball. Too often our congregations rush in and out of our services and never spend time together. Becoming a family requires shared  experiences. This week gave our people time to accomplish a project that benefited their community.

On Monday night we grilled hamburgers and had a cookout for the policemen. We scheduled the meal as the shifts changed so we had two shifts attending. As usual, we had some great food. At the end of the job the Chief asked if several of us could attend next week’s Town Board of Commissioners meeting. The board would like to officially thank us for the work we accomplished.  The Franklin Times carried a story last week and then another one this week on our church. There are presently five church plants in the Youngsville/ Wake Forest area. There are also several good churches. At the same time there are thousands of unchurched people. Hopefully, our ministry to the town of Youngsville has helped identify North Star as a church that is here to serve.

Jonathan is our minister of Worship,  Media, and Missions. He was responsible for the project.

Jonathan is our minister of Worship, Media, and Missions. He was responsible for the project.

Town Hall is on the left and the Police department on the right.

Town Hall is on the left and the Police Department on the right.