A Guy Walks into a Barnyard

It’s 2 A.M. The cloudless, moonless firmament reveals a stellar view of constellations and, appropriately for a cowherd, a little galaxy we call the Milky Way.

My barnyard rhythms kick in. Those rhythms I noticed in a Sunday church service and I am now trying to intentionally weave into my mundane, workaday lifestyle.

Why? First, because we are what we love. Second, because there’s a serious gap between what we say we love and what we really love.[1]

First up, God Calls Us. I stop midway between my trailer and the barn, and gaze skyward until awe sinks in. That’s when I hear, with those ears of my soul, God’s Barnyard Call to Worship.

I hear Him say, “You’re Mine! You’re Mine! You’re Mine!”

Those words are crammed with meaning. My Covenant God[2], who knows me by name[3], thinks things about me too marvelous to absorb fully. Things like, I’m His beloved. I’m part of a royal people[4]. I’m His son.

Pretty deep stuff to ponder for a guy in Muck boots and Wrangler jeans, just stumbling out of bed, carrying a thermos of coffee to, eventually, sharpen my senses. But His words go to work in me. They are shaping something in me no less than my core identity. Carving truth in stone in my deep places. Like all good rhythms, whether encountered in a church service or a barnyard, it takes time and repetition for the shaping to work. I wish it would happen quickly, but transformation, in me, seems almost imperceptible. It usually takes a test or trial to reveal if it’s real.

Like me, I’m guessing you, too, love to recognize God’s Presence. To aid in this, have you considered the weather? The wind? Clouds? Hot? Cold? Storm? Calm?

Because I work outdoors for a portion of my days and nights. I noticed the negative impact weather has on my attitude. God can never seem to get it right. You know the feeling, “Snow, again? Too much, too little rain. The crops will suffer. Dang, the manure is so frozen, it’ll take me hours more to clean the barn. Or, it’s too hot/cold in this milking parlor.”

Farm-folk are notorious for complaining about the weather since it has such direct impact on their livelihood. But somewhere deep down, farm-folk get a grasp of God’s Sovereignty as they bend their trust toward Him.

I can point to a new shape, a new love growing in me, transforming my heart by drawing me towards God. One example involves wind. You and I know that His Spirit is wind, breath, life. His Spirit broods on us, lives in us, moves us, guides us, comforts us. Could my perception of something as common-place as wind become a fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of God I long for?

Maybe you could try this at home. I discovered another little rhythm to incorporate into my trip to the barn and periodically throughout my work day. A rhythm well-suited to God’s Barnyard Call to Worship. I call it, “Where are You, wind?” I pause to notice. Okay, tonight under a sky crammed with stars, gentle breezes waft from the Southwest. I turn to face it. Then, I adjust my stance a few degrees left, then back right, one part of one degree until I know its direction precisely. I feel it on my beard.

I wanted to sense the Presence of God? There He is!

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: In a brief, sacred moment, on the way to work, I both noticed God’s Presence and hear Him speak intimate words to my soul. Such a beautiful rhythm, mirroring a church service, to launch into my labors. I step down into the milking-parlor pit. What could possibly go wrong?

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalms 139:5-7, NIV) 

Prayer: O my Creator, my abiding Holy Spirit, quicken me. Amen.

Photo Credit: The Old Homestead, Currier & Ives

[1] These thoughts provided by James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love-The Spiritual Power of Habit, 2016, BrazosPress

[2] For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15, NIV)

[3] The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NIV)

[4] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

A Sinner Walks into a Church

I love God’s rhythms. Maybe seasonal rhythms, cow, or sparrow rhythms I notice around the Barnyard of Heaven. Or, especially, rhythms I participate in with others at a church service. The rhythms we take part in which shape our loves.

No need to tell me what you really love? Just show me your rhythms.

I can’t pinpoint when I fell in love with the ancient rhythms of a church service beautifully orchestrated by my pastors. It simply grew with repetition. Maybe it was the crescendo I felt moving me in a Gospel reenactment toward the climax – a meal with God.

Maybe it was the discovery that God was working inside the rhythms, top-down, to transform my heart. A worship service wasn’t a place for me to explore creative new ways to express myself to God, though I did. It was more like a dance between lovers where neither partner feels compelled to impress each other. But oh, the intimacy flowing between us!

After hundreds of repetitions, I’m still stunned by the order of the first two elements of the ancient rhythms passed down by our spiritual fathers. First element: God Calls Us. Second element: God Cleanses Us.


Shouldn’t these elements be reversed? God knows, and I know, that I’m dragging myself into church a sinner, poor and wretched, weak and weary, sick and sore. But that’s okay. I join my fellow worshippers with a greeting of peace, recite together a Psalm, pray, sing a song and hymn of praise.

Then, God cleanses us as we confess our sins corporately and individually, punctuated by a scriptural reminder of God’s promise of forgiveness.

Gone are the days of trying to perform, behave ourselves, or pretend we’re not filthy. He wants us. He wants to hear our praise. But leave the cleansing ‘til later. He’ll get to it. He’ll be the one to do it. He’ll take a basin and towel and wash our dirty hearts. Whoa!

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17, KJV)

Prayer: My beautiful, dynamic, loving, Triune God. I hear Your call to worship. Your acceptance of me is astounding. You call be by name. I respond to that call with praise. Thank you for cleansing and healing my body and soul. Amen.

Photo Credit: Pharisee and publican

“Big Mama gets a Fitbit.” or “Why So Restless?”

Big Mama’s back on her feet after recovery from milk fever, back in the milking-string.

So, Blossom got her a Fitbit for Mother’s Day.

She, and 250 other members of the “Sisterhood of Tail-Swishers” now sport the orange ultra-model with the chic design for cows who move to their own beat.

I love when my friends post their fitness activities on Facebook. Whether running, walking, biking, skateboarding, picking up milk from the grocery store (wink), or maybe a drop-in to the local Buff-n-Svelte athletic club, the technology-derived data fascinates me. Distance, activity, mph, calories burned. Cool! But my favorite part is the GPS map of the route. Sometimes it’s circuitous. Sometimes it’s not, and I wonder, “How’d you get home?”

Personally, I’m not sure I need a Fitbit yet. Not sure if it syncs with my flip-phone? The data I’d generate would be unimpressive. On the Barnyard of Heaven I travel several miles per day, but at the speed of Holstein. My route, feeding and fetching cows, might catch the GPS satellite’s attention, but when I’m in the milking pit, not so much. Twenty-four feet up, twenty-four feet back, repeat. After 6 hours of that routine, the satellite records a black dot.

Say, do you know your Rest:Restlessness ratio? That’s actually one of the main purposes of Big Mama’s Fitbit. It records how many steps she takes and the number of times she lays down each day. For Big Mama, the stats churned out by a computer flags restlessness. “Hey, cowherd, something’s wrong, go check out Big Mama! Is she resting and chewing her cud, ruminating, meditating on what she just ate? Did she eat?”

The only time restlessness is good is when Big Mama is in heat. If that’s the case, I’ll arrange a little rendezvous between Big Mama and one of the best Holstein bulls on the planet waiting for this moment in a small, plastic straw stored in a semen tank in liquid nitrogen at -3200F.

What about the restlessness you and I experience? Could it be a signal that something’s wrong, lacking, or maybe devoid in the depths of our soul? Is it a craving for something, someone, more desirable than our selfish, individualistic impulses? How do we go about fulfilling that holy longing?

St. Augustine captures the issue:

“… for you have made us for yourself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”[1]

David provides a solution:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation;  he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (Psalms 62:4-5, NIV)

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: I know for me, there’s a constant, often ignored restlessness or boredom roiling in my soul. It’s a two-edged sword. It can lead me to sinful decisions to dull the roar. Or, it can remind me that, though I live in a broken world, God may be wooing me to gaze on His beauty, to be satisfied and at rest, in Him and Him alone.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as I sense the restless urges of a life that feels like wilderness, open my eyes, lift the veil, so I might see Your beauty. Open my ears to hear Your invitation to find my rest in You. Amen.

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions, pg. 3, 2007, Published by Barnes and Noble Books.

Photo Credit: S.A.E. Afikim AfiAct Pedometer Plus


“Back from the Brink” or “Big Mama meets Marshawn Lynch”

Things got messy.

Big Mama, near death from a condition called milk fever, needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. She’s sprawled out on her side but needs to be on her sternum, no easy feat. Even the pigeon’s, roosting in the barn rafters, silenced their cooing.

I sat in the near-frozen slurry of muck beside her with my back against hers, my feet in a tucked position ready to give a heave to set her upright. Her warmth radiated through my layers of coats and shirts to give a momentary respite to my shivering. Screwing up my courage for the task, I launched backward with every muscle, bone and sinew of my frame against her 1200-pound slumped mass.

My legs churned. Picture a combination of Marshawn Lynch leg-strength and Road Runner leg-speed. In reverse. My raucous grunts and Big Mama’s mournful moans echoed through the cavernous cowshed.

It worked.

Big Mama was now in position for remedy. The pigeon’s resumed their soft cry.

I pulled the remedy, a bottle with calcium and other minerals dissolved in liquid, from the bucket of warm water I’d brought along. It served as an incubator and took the chill off the tonic. Next, I plunged a large IV needle into Big Mama’s jugular vein protruding, like a garden hose, along the furrow running between the muscles in her neck. The solution slowly dripped through rubber tubing to replenish the calcium devoid in her bloodstream and craved by her brain.

Thirty minutes after I removed the IV needle, Big Mama stood!

She cast a glance my way wondering, “Why all the fuss?”

Back from the brink, she spun to get a mouthful of silage hay from the feed bunk, eyed an obstacle, then,

Big Mama kicked the bucket!

She did it with an attitude of, “Where, O death, is your sting!?”

I retrieved the dented pail, felt God’s profound pleasure, and turned my attention to other duties, including a clean pair of Wrangler’s.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. Is the barnyard crammed with heaven? Can I see Christ in this story? Is there a gospel parallel hidden in the events of my ordinary life?

Ponder with me:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4, NIV)

Prayer: Glorious Heavenly Father, I am but dust and will return to dust. But, that’s not the end of the story. Just as You raised Your son Jesus from the dead, You deliver me from the brink of eternal death. You raise me, too, from death to a new and glorious eternal life with You. Thank you for revealing this glimpse of Your glory as I participate in caring for Your creation. It comforts me as I tread this broken world waiting for the return of my King. Amen.

Photo: Ron Silflow, Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, MT

Big Mama Asks, “Who’ll Get in the Muck with Me?”

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

Location? Muck.

Even at the Barnyard of Heaven, life’s messy. Big Mama collapsed from milk fever, slid a few yards in the muck, and bloodied herself in a futile effort to regain footing. Her bloodstream, her brain, devoid of calcium needed for nerve and muscle function, left her helpless, half dead.

I pictured the man Jesus described in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) attacked by robbers, stripped naked, beaten and left half dead. Big Mama needed a neighbor.

You know the story, but indulge me with the liberty to modernize it. I imagined a priest passing by on his way to Jericho to teach a leadership seminar. “Sorry about the muck you’re in, good sir, but I’m running late and can’t afford to soil my suit. Looks like you could benefit from the principles I’m teaching. Stop by if you can, I’m in town all week.”

Next came a Levite noting the man’s struggle to breathe. “Looks like it’s time to give up those cigarettes, my friend. Stop by and see me for a helpful 5-step program I’m presenting at the synagogue. I’m in town all week.”

Finally, a Samaritan saw the urgency of the stranger’s situation, had pity on him, and got down in the muck with him.

I’m a cowherd. I tag along behind cows I don’t own. I take care of their needs. I know Big Mama needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. But, she’s sprawled out on her side. I first need to reposition her on her sternum, no easy feat. So, I got down in the muck beside her.

Why? Because numerous times, I’ve been the half-dead man in the muck. I’ve had friends, family, pastoral caregivers, even strangers have mercy on me, get down in the muck with me. They prop me up, attend to my thirst, bandage me up and care for me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. I hope you’ve experienced this neighborly care, too. I hope you’ve gotten down in the muck with the broken ones in your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, lover of my soul. Thank you for having mercy on me, for pitying my broken, wretched condition, and for joining me in the muck to quench my soul thirst. I gaze on your thorn-crowned head, your body pierced with nails and spear, beaten, abandoned to die. You died for me. And I live. Amen.

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, Daniel Borup, Sculptor

Big Mama Staggers, Collapses

I could see it in her eyes. No glint. Her ears drooped. No perk.

Big Mama staggered a few steps, muscles twitching, brain reeling, struggling to make sense of it and then, stumbling forward, collapsed. “What’s happening!?” Yesterday’s furious dash through cattle loafing-shed alleyways pursuing me and her newborn calf Blossom, dissolved into a life-threatening tragedy. The fight to regain control, to stand and defend her young, to simply be a fruitful milk cow now seemed futile.

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

We’ve all had tragedy strike abruptly. Acute pain. Debilitating emotional, physical or relational pain. Perhaps even worse, chronic pain.

You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ (Jeremiah 45:3, NIV)

Our questions, our accusations, roll out from deep places in our soul, like those expressed by our spiritual forefathers:

“What’s wrong with me, God?”

“What’s wrong with you, God?

“What’s wrong with your people, God?”

 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
(Psalms 88:3-5, NIV)

Then comes that sacred moment, that Deep Breath of Remember. Smack in the middle of our asking, “Why won’t you fix me, God?” comes that reply, “I have suffered for you, died for you, your sins are forgiven.”

“What!?” In that instant, we recognize that beneath the severity of our pain or unbearable circumstances lies a worse condition. Our sin. Our daily sin.

Our eyes lift to Jesus. We make the great exchange. We join Him in a daily rhythm of repentance. We roll our sins onto our only remedy, pierced with nails. We listen to His promise of forgiveness. We hear Him call our name, Beloved. We discover it’s our suffering and our sin that brings us back to Him, reminds us of our constant need for Him, the One who suffers with us. 

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (KJV)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6 (NIV)

Prayer: Jesus my savior, I lovingly gaze on You. O suffering servant, look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Amen.

Photo Credit: http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/163/19.cover-expansion