Target and Canada, What church planters can learn.

I ran across this article about Target’s closing its stores in Canada. Target had expanded into Canada just a year or so ago. They quickly failed. As I read this article it reminded me of some of the challenges of ministry in Alaska. On too many occasions, I had new arrivals from Outside (what Alaskans call everything else) tell me that they were disappointed they could not find a church “like back home” or “like Georgia” or wherever they use to live. After hearing that several times I tried to be nice, but finally succumbed to the Dark Side. From that time on I would usually say, “Then go back home.” When people would say, “Why don’t we do it like down south (again, meaning the Lower 48)?” My answer, “We are an Alaskan church. We don’t live down south.

You might find this article enlightening. Here is the address:

http://sarahbessey.com/church-planters-learn-from-target-canada/

 

It is Bigger Than Mark Driscoll

This week I have had several students ask for my opinion on the circumstances surrounding Mark Driscoll and the dissolution of Mars Hill. The issues involved go beyond the obvious ones presented in the most news articles. Not wanting to give a partial or disjointed answer I did not give an immediate response. May I now present the following for consideration?

First of all, I am saddened. I spent twenty years in Alaska and have a heart for the Pacific Northwest. Two of my sons are pastors in the region. Seattle is a beautiful city with a unique culture. Washington state ranks as one of the most unchurched states in the nation with 25% of its people having “no religion”.[1] By the time you add in people who are unchurched or attending religious bodies not teaching biblical truth the vast majority of the people of the Puget Sound need Christ. I do not agree with some of Mark Driscoll’s methodologies and theology. I love the book of Colossians. I hold to Paul’s words in Colossians 3:8, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” (NKJV) Like many of the emergent persuasion Driscoll’s view of social freedoms differ from mine. However, I have heard Driscoll state he regretted being known for his cursing. Perhaps, in time, we might move closer together. (Time does have a way of mellowing angry young men.) That being said, Mars Hill had a ministry reaching the area with the gospel. I have respect for anyone who is able to contextualize the gospel to a culture as challenging as Seattle’s. There is no joy in seeing Mars Hill disband.

I wish to address the issues of ecclesiology involved but first must say I disagree with the report from the Mars Hill leadership when they state:

We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry [2]

No pastor is perfect. We are all fallen creatures saved by grace; but a pattern of the above behavior is not acceptable for ministry. Paul states:

7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, Titus 1:7-8 (NKJV)

When the report summarizes the behavior as rooted in arrogance there should be cause for concern and censor.

The larger question I have concerning the Mars Hill is the model of the multi-campus, satellite, video feed church. I believe Mars Hill consisted of thirteen campuses in five different states. Mark Driscoll would preach from the central campus and the various congregations would receive the video sermon. This model is used by a number of American churches. The common thread of these churches is the dynamic, gifted pulpiteer. Mark Driscoll was Mars Hill to many of the people who attended the church. The disbanding of the campuses is probably the most logical course of action unless the church was able to find another strong personality with the drawing power of Driscoll. That is highly unlikely.

Mars Hill raises the question: What is the role of the pastor? In the multi-site model the pastor is the face of the “franchise”. He is the gifted public speaker who draws the audience. He casts the vision and serves as the CEO of the organization and, in the mother church; he functions as the senior pastor. The usual model has “campus pastors” assigned at each satellite location. They are responsible for leading the ministry for their campus and maintaining the corporate agenda while hosting the service when the video feed is off.

This model is a refinement of the televangelist strategy of the 1970s-80s. Now people can listen to a talented speaker on a large screen and also enjoy the corporate worship and a sense of participation in their campus church. Too many, it is the best of both worlds.

Can “campus pastors” fulfill the biblical responsibilities of shepherd without being the regular Bible teacher/preacher? I think not. A pastor’s effectiveness depends upon his relationship with his congregation. It is a relationship built on love. Thom Rainer affirms, “[Effective pastors] communicate love, sincere love. . . . Their members know that their pastors love them. And that love is contagious.”[3] The relationship between the pastor and his congregation forms the basis of his evangelistic ministry to the community. Multi-site supporters will say the campus pastor does have that relational role. However, I agree with John A. Broadus. Broadus was the first professor of Greek and preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In his homiletics text, which was used by almost all Protestant seminaries for over half a century, Broadus recognized the power of preaching combined with pastoral ministry. He believed that the relationships that develop between a minister and his community gave power to his sermons. Visitation of the unconverted and sick, catechism of young believers, and counseling of troubled individuals builds a receptivity within the congregation and community. When the pastor who has spoken for God from the pulpit visits “[the visit has] a meaning and a power of which otherwise it must be destitute.”[4] The campus pastor is not seen as the teacher/preacher, and the video preacher is not seen active in pastoral ministry. The powerful combination of proclamation and incarnation is divorced.

In the case of Mark Driscoll, most of the Mars Hill congregants never had the opportunity to see Mark interact with his family, church leadership, people in need, or in the community. He was just the face on the screen; the author of the books, and the public personality which attracted them to the ministry.

I know there are a number of gifted pulpiteers in the video campus movement, as there were in the TV churches. But, I must confess I have never seen the attraction of listening to someone over a video link. I will also admit that I have been a member of some churches where the preaching was not stellar. I could have stayed home and tuned in one of the TV churches. However, I believe there is a blessing being involved in a local church family and knowing the man behind the sermon. The biblical requirements/descriptions of the pastor make sense when the job entails living among the flock. All the church planting gurus affirm the importance of contextualization of the gospel. Ministers must be able to exegete their community. When you have multiple campuses in different towns, and even states, as does Mars Hill, the challenges of contextualization multiply. When I was serving as interim pastor in Ketchikan, Alaska, we had a guest speaker from Texas. He made a comment about “two ticks on a dog.” My congregation began looking at each other and mouthing, “What did he just say?” He finally realized he had lost the congregation and stopped speaking at which time I explained they did not know the expression because there are no ticks in Alaska.

I suspect the popularity of multi-site campuses reveals a weakness in American Christianity. Our brothers and sisters in third world countries walk miles to worship in churches without padded pews, air conditioning, professional level music, and all the other trappings expected, and sometimes demanded, by American church goers. Growth requires struggle. Most pastors do not present an entertaining, scholarly, transformational sermon each week. (Some weeks I struggle to even have a respectable message.) We have good weeks and bad weeks. Pastors are required to faithfully present God’s word. We should strive to present sound doctrine in as compelling manner as possible. We should never cease striving to improve, but the congregation should realize the benefits of working through a Bible presentation instead of having it handed to them on a homiletical “platter”.

That said, it seems church attenders want the pastor to do all the studying, meditating, and applying a scripture passage. Too many Christians want to walk in, sit down, enjoy the show, receive a prepackaged Bible message, and then go home. My dad had stomach cancer. After his surgery he could not handle solid food. Until his death he lived on a diet of Ensure. An Ensure diet does not require cooking, chewing, doing dishes, etc. It is convenient. It seems congregations migrate from church to church depending upon who is offering the best “package” and the greatest convenience. The multi-site church model is strong on convenience. You don’t even have to drive across town to participate.

The Free Church tradition came out of the Anabaptist of the Radical Reformation. The two foundational characteristics of the tradition are baptism and the disciplined church. The Lord’s Supper required both to be in place. Key to church discipline is a membership bonded together by covenant. The ability to maintain discipline declines when the local church becomes a multi-campus body. We usually think of church discipline as involving members. However, the Bible also presents the criteria for a church dealing with an erring pastor. I do not know Mars Hill’s position on church discipline, but the satellite campuses would not be aware of the on-going problems with Mark Driscoll because he was just the face on the screen. Such is the short-coming of the technologically dependent multi-site model.

The issue of multiple campuses and video links developed while I was a resident faculty member teaching church planting. I developed my position from a safe distance. For the last six years I have been pastoring a young church and living in the “shadow” of a multi-site church. My church is also near a seminary. I have watched new seminarians arrive, church shop, and settle into the area churches. A large number of them end up attending one of the campuses of the area mega-church. It is an appealing place to go. The pastor is a gifted communicator, solid theologian, and great guy. It is also an easy place to go on Sunday (or Saturday night), have a great experience, and have any level of commitment you desire. It is convenient. It is safe. My church cannot “compete”. All we can offer is basic ministries, hard work, and a supportive church family. I do not see any evidence of the problems experienced by Mars Hill, but I have the same reservations. I also wonder how long the multiple campuses would last without the present pastor.

My hope for American Christianity is not in the ministry model currently in vogue. Models will change. My hope is in a Sovereign God sending His revival. When the Body of Christ is revived, we will have Christians who will not be drawn to the best attraction or most comfortable place to “worship”. We will see the Body of Christ seeking the tough places, the lost people groups, the greatest needs. The power of God will be evident in the churches when people are not drawn by great public speaking, but by our marvelous Christ.

[1] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/2002/2002-03-07-no-religion.htm

[2] https://marshill.com/2014/10/15/pastor-mark-driscolls-resignation

[3] Thom Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996), 195.

[4] John A. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1905), 2-3.

Daniel 1:1-8 “Counter-culture Faith”

1 Samuel 28 The Truth about Spirits

Simple Discipleship: A Resource for the Church

For over a decade I have been teaching evangelism and church planting courses, and for the last eighteen months a discipleship class for Liberty Seminary.  There are numerous discipleship materials available, but few walk a pastor through the implementation of a comprehensive strategy. Another major deficiency common in the genre is the lack of assessment strategies. We want to make disciples, but never have a means to evaluate if we are truly accomplishing the task. As a result, little changes. Tom Cocklereece’s Simple Discipleship satisfies these concerns. The following will give you an overview of the text.  This would be a great addition to your ministry library.   Remember, the Great Commission is all about making disciples, which encompasses evangelism, missions, and results in church planting.  -Bill

Simple Discipleship: A Comprehensive Disciple-Making Plan

Many people think that Simple Discipleship (SD) is merely a collection of Bible studies designed to enhance the spiritual growth of individuals, but that does not describe SD. Simple Discipleship grew out of my reading of Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in which they challenged pastors to become designers of disciple-making ministries. Happily, many pastors have accepted the challenge, but organizational development is not a strong point for many church leaders. I was immediately attracted to the challenge. I observed that while Simple Church listed four characteristics of disciple-making churches (clarity, measurement, alignment, focus), the authors did not provide sufficient detail as to how church leaders might develop a ministry that was in fact a simple church. In short, to develop and write Simple Discipleship I took their work to a new level. Perhaps a look at disciple-making methods would be useful, as there are six disciple-making methods used in varying degrees by church leaders:

  1. Platform Discipleship- Virtually all churches use platform discipleship as the pastors preach and teach during the worship and Bible study time each week using sermons, sermon series, testimonies, drama, and other worship arts. In Simple Discipleship it applies to the Worship dimension in which people Connect with Jesus Christ.
  2. Program Discipleship- Many churches employ programs that use curricula that is developed by their denomination or other organization outside the immediate church. Think of programs as already prepared spiritual meals for various aged groups and provided to help people spiritually grow. Many churches administer all of their primary ministries using a program approach. Large churches use this method as it is an easy delivery system for large groups of people. However, the effectiveness is difficult to measure and the programs can become self perpetuating silo-style ministries that may or may not be effective.
  3. Peer-group Discipleship- When people join a small group Bible study, they become part of a partnership with everyone in the cluster. We might call this koinonia or fellowship disciple-making. The strength of this method is that it provides collaboration and cooperation in an accountability format that is caring for all involved.
  4. Personal Discipleship- One-on-one discipleship may be the least used by churches even though Jesus Christ used it with great effectiveness. It requires commitment and the development of discipleship coaches and leaders who are proficient in developing other people as they grow spiritually.
  5. Proficiency Discipleship- One may think of the three years the apostles spent with Jesus as he helped guide them to become the leaders of the church after his ascension. It may include aspects of each of the other methods listed above.
  6. Process Discipleship- This is the preferred method, as it not only incorporates all of the other five methods, but it also does so with an intentional desire to move people from where they are presently to the next level of spiritual growth. Additionally, process discipleship recognizes the need for spiritual balance as growing disciples must be actively involved in worship, Bible study, ministry in the church, and sharing Christ outside the church.

In short, Simple Discipleship is a ubiquitous disciple-making strategy using platform, program, peer-group, personal, and proficiency discipleship delivered in a process manner. Use of the material presented in the book Simple Discipleship will provide church leaders with a new comprehensive disciple-making plan that will grow people and grow their churches.

Find out more and order the book from http://www.simplediscipleship.com

Dr. Tom Cocklereece

A Few Thoughts on the GRC: Where is our Judea?

Like many bi-vocational pastors I have been busy in my ministry and employment with little time to focus on other issues. Being in that position is like an exhausted man sitting on a railroad track. He doesn’t move until he has to do so. Since the annual convention in Louisville, the Great Commission Resurgence train has gathered enough steam that I am forced to decide either to jump on board or move off the tracks.  So, in the last month I finally started gathering information to assist in my decision. The Great Commission Resurgence was formally introduced at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in a chapel message by the seminary president, Danny Akin. His April 16, 2009, message entitled “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence” presented twelve “axioms” for renewing the Southern Baptist Convention’s evangelistic effectiveness and missions efforts. After reading the text, I must ask, “Where is North America in the Great Commission Resurgence?”

I was a laymen or pastor in a number of churches during my twenty years in Alaska and served on numerous associational and state convention boards.  At the time of my departure from the state, I was serving as First Vice-President of the Alaska Baptist Convention. I taught North American church planting and evangelism for nine years in one of the SBC seminaries. Therefore, when I read the GCR, I look at the issue from the perspective of a New Work convention and the lostness of North America. Unfortunately, the tone and content of the document are disquieting.

The majority of Akin’s message consists of points that every Bible believing Baptist must affirm with a hearty amen. However, two axioms and their supporting points reveal the flaws of the GCR:

Axiom VIII “We must recognize the need to rethink our Convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission.”

Axiom X. “We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments but also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live.”

I have grave concerns about the implications of Axiom VIII. The statement reveals a lack of understanding the North American mission context and, in particular, the challenges of the New Work conventions. However, due to limited space, I wish to address most of my concerns with Axiom X. Axiom X also reveals the underlying perspective that colors all of the GCR as stated.

The GCR rightly states the importance of international missions. However, North American missions is largely absent. Notice in Axiom X, pastors are to lead the way in “calling out the called for international assignments.” In the GCR there is one calling worthy of attention, international missions. There are international missionaries, and then there is everyone else. Only the international missionaries are called. Notice the pastors are to equip “all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live.” That includes the laymen in the pew, the person called to pastoral ministry, the North American church planter, and the person called to work in the vast fields of North America’s lost population. I know North American church planters who have faithfully faced financial, spiritual, and physical challenges, yet feel they are second class missionaries because they are in North America. This impression was instilled during their seminary training. The GCR fails to present North America as the third largest unchurched population in the world.

How lost is North America? According to NAMB and the 2000 Census:

  • The United States has 195 million unchurched people. (Unchurch means they are not attending any religious group, i.e., mosque, synagogue, church, Wicca coven, etc.)
  • Canada has over 20 million unchurched with an approximate 4% Evangelical population.
  • There are more Buddhists than Episcopalians in the U.S.
  • There are more Muslims than Presbyterians.
  • 11.2% of the U.S. population was born in another country.
  • 49% of people under 18 years of age are non-Anglo.
  • 25% of Washington State’s population has NO RELIGIOUS preference.
  • Eight other western states and Vermont have at least 19% of their population with NO RELIGIOUS preference.
  • Los Angeles has the second largest Iranian and Mexican populations in the world.
  • 40% of Communist China’s leaders study in the U.S.
  • 30% of international students are Muslims.
  • Many of these international students are studying in small town colleges or universities.
  • Canada has 31 cities of 10,000 or more people without an Evangelical witness.
  • The “Triangle,” (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), has over 13,000 Chinese.
  • 86.6% of the population of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, is unchurched.
  • Montana Baptists, using IMB criteria, have identified 200 unreached people groups.
  • North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing in percentage to the population.

I could go on. The world has come to America. I am currently hosting three Indian college students who are attending a local university and have hosted a visiting professor from Pakistan in the past. As a host, I have more opportunities in a year to talk in-depth about spiritual matters than many international missionaries will have during their first tour.  The professor, a devout Muslim, asked me many questions that could have resulted in his death in his own country.  I can take you to many places in middle class America where you will meet people who have never attended church, read a Bible, or heard the Gospel. Most of New England is three generations removed from participation in Christianity.

As I read the GCR Axioms, I do not see a grasp of North America’s lostness. There are the sentences dealing with church planting “that assaults the major population centers of North America” and  “urban centers such as New York, Washington, DC, Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle” which are “almost completely bereft of evangelical influence.” But a few comments out of a fourteen page text reveals North America’s need as an afterthought.

The North American church, including Southern Baptists, has been given a great opportunity. Do the cities need to be reached? Yes, but God may choose a church plant in Bozeman, Montana to reach New York City. We never know how God will work. In the last few years, 50% of the new residents of Bozeman, Montana are “trust fund babies.” These are individuals who have never worked and have decided to move to Montana to get away from New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Is it possible they may be brought to Christ away from the “major population centers” and then used by God to reach their home cities?  They have the resources, know the culture, and have the relationships essential to an urban strategy. I have seen the same occur with Latino converts.

I do not see an appreciation of convention entities in Axiom X. As a person with a New Work convention perspective, I do not recognize the world of “bloated bureaucracies” and “If folks in the pew knew how much of their giving stayed in there (sic) state they would revolt and call for a revolution!” One would believe by reading the GCR that our associations and state conventions hoard the money and need to release it for international missions. Is there some redundancy and occasional waste? Yes, but it is less common than conventions who are committed to reach the lost in their state. The GCR assumes the worst and paints with a large brush. I have visited almost every state in the U.S. and three of Canada’s provinces. Most of the Baptists I have encountered are struggling against daunting odds. Our state conventions have some of the finest missiologists that can be found.

I fear that instead of seeking a revival in our land, and the subsequent awakening, the GCR will divert our focus by shuffling organizations and labels instead of prioritizing the spiritual. There are many elements I can affirm, although I reject the underlying tone. I wish there were some people from the mission fields of North America as members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, instead of so many institutional leaders and mega-church pastors. North America should be a pivotal piece of our world evangelism strategy. I pray that the GCR would have as great a burden and urgency for North America as it does for the rest of the world. Jesus began with Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea when he commissioned his disciples.  At this point, I will be stepping off the tracks as the GCR rumbles by and will continue working in the fields that are white unto harvest with people from all over the world.

POST SCRIPT ON FEBRUARY GCR TASK FORCE STATUS REPORT:

The GCR Task Force gave a status report at the SBC Executive Board which had six main points. I have not read the full transcript of Ronnie Floyd’s  presentation, but I am pleased with what I have read. It was good to see the emphasis on the need for spiritual awakening and the recognition of North America’s lostness. For years I have held the position that we need to use our international missionaries wherever their particular people group may be. The CIA and FBI may not be restricted by borders, but God’s work needs a global strategy. We have a tremendous influx of internationals who need to be reached. Our international missionaries can be a resource for our work in North America. I look forward to the final recommendations which will be presented at the summer Southern Baptist Convention.  2/26/10

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)

pups

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?