The road in front of our property is actually the divide between city and county. Folks on the west side are in the city limits of our tiny town and those of us on the east are in the county.
A couple of months ago, as I turned onto our road and saw the traffic jam, my heart fell. If there's a cow out, it's ours. If there's a critter in the road, that would be ours.
It was our cow, but thankfully she wasn't in the road. As this cow has done in the past, Miss Kitty decided to calve near the road - and ended up with quite a gaggle of spectators - some actually blocking the road to get a peek at our newest blessing.
Living in a rural area is a blessing in more ways than one and as we get progressively busier this time of year, I am struck by how much application farm lessons have to real life; especially real life in Christ.
Over the few days after the birth of Kitty's baby, I delighted to watch the scene we see over and over - and pondered how we humans could learn a few things from some cows.
When Kitty had her baby, she was to the west of a ditch that runs north-south through our front pasture. While you can cross the ditch in many places, it really is a rather wide ditch that I usually have to jump to get across. Obviously, it's a bit too wide for a newborn to cross. As you might imagine, though, Miss Kitty stayed near her baby until she was big enough to find a way across a little more than 24 hours later. After giving the new mama and her baby a little time, the rest of our small herd came over to get acquainted. With excellent cow manners, they never left the area to any significant degree until the new arrival could cross the ditch.
As I watched this interaction with awe - as I do every spring - I thought about how backward we Christians have it. Far too often, our spiritual "new arrivals" are lovingly brought to the point of obeying the Gospel and then, without further ado, right after the baptism they are often told nothing more than, "see you next Sunday!"
We would never do this with a biological child, and yet we do this with regularity to our brothers, sisters, and children in the Lord. Can you imagine a mother laboring to bring forth her beloved child and upon his birth telling him she'll see him next week? Of course not...but we do it all the time.
In the pasture, the animals who "know the ropes" hang around while the new calf gets her land legs. They encourage and keep watch - always fairly nearby. In fact, a phenomenon I love about cows is that they babysit for one another. If it's naptime for the calves, you will always find at least one mama staying with them as the rest go out to graze. While the cows lower in the pecking order are more frequent babysitters, every mama babysits (and even the occasional steer or bull does so as well) and the little ones are never left to fend for themselves until they are fully capable of doing so.
Contrast that to how we often treat a babe in Christ. Far too often, our only interaction with them is at regular church times. If there is any danger to their new life in Christ, we rarely know it.
There is nothing like mama love - and this is true for cows as well. Any time we bring a dog down when we feed the cows with calves, the mamas are on alert. If they think there is any danger for their babies they call to them. If they happen to have a stubborn calf who won't respond to mama's call, mama comes to the calf.
All of this is a beautiful thing to behold - and, truly, we Christians should learn to emulate many of these herd dynamics. The most intriguing thing, though, is why cows behave this way.
They are prey animals.
Cows have a God-given survival instinct that kicks in because they are food for others. They know to look out for themselves, for one another, and especially for their babies, because of the existence of predators. And they learn how to do this from one another.
In case you haven't figured out where I'm going, you are a "prey animal."
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Predators pick off the sick and weak of the herd unless the strong protect them - unless the strong enable the weak to grow strong. In fact, a cattle herd that behaves like the average group of Christians would not last long at all.
We have all been surprised to hear that a Christian we know has been picked off.
Adultery. Pornography. Divorce. Some kind of criminal activity that shocks everyone.
"But, they were such good Christians - we had no idea..."
We had no idea because we did not know them - really know them. Though we should have known that our enemy, the devil was after them - as he is each of us - we didn't pay any attention.
We didn't even have the sense of a herd of cows.
Because unlike cows, we underestimate our enemy.
Fortunately, God provides the recipe for our own protection:
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Unfortunately, verse 25 is often given as a mandate to attend church, and I think that is similar to saying that your promise to love, honor and cherish your spouse amounts to going out on an anniversary date every year. This passage isn't talking about mere church attendance; it's talking about life.
This passage is talking about gathering together often for the purpose of stimulating and encouraging one another in the Lord - understanding that our enemy is lurking, waiting to pick off those who are young in the Lord, weak in the Lord, struggling in the Lord...
Here's what I've learned about caring for babes in Christ from watching our cattle herd:
Never leave anyone behind. Understand that the devil is waiting for that very thing because he knows what we often forget: there is strength in numbers.
Babes in Christ need care - for a long time. How else will they learn where to cross the ditch and where the best grass is?
It is irresponsible to bring forth a "babe" and not help him mature. The whole herd helps a calf learn the ropes until he is not only wise enough to no longer need much help, but strong enough to fend for himself for the most part. It is irresponsible to walk away from a babe in Christ leaving her to fend for herself the other 164 hours of the week she's not at church.
The herd always looks out for predators, warning the others when they see one. The herd doesn't hole up watching t.v. and boating at the lake every weekend - they are on the look out for the evil one and they warn others when they catch a sighting. We have to care what is going on in the lives of our brothers and sisters and we have to love them enough to tell them when we see Satan making a play in their lives.
I don't know quite how we lost sight of the importance of nurturing the young in Christ, but hopefully we can learn a thing or two from some cattle.
Written By: Shawnele Surplus
Shawnele Surplus lives with her husband in Oregon where they raise cows, horses, chickens, bees, dogs, the occasional pig, and children. She writes about raising critters and kids, "farmschooling", and following Jesus with crazy abandon on her blog, The Farm School.