I recently had a friend bring something to my attention that brought up another question that I have often been unsure, or at least uncomfortable addressing. It all started when Lisa and I decided recently to buy our first horse that we have owned since our grandchildren have come along. We had owned a little un-broken stud pony for a short period of time when our own children were smaller. This was a gift from one of our dear friends, the late Mr. Charles Tice, who gave us the pony to surprise our children one Christmas when they wanted one and we could not afford to buy one. He also assured us that when we no longer needed the pony (which would be after only a few months of getting bucked off), that he would take the pony back home with him and everyone would be happy. In the rare case that we actually 'broke' the little stud, he would also geld him for us and let us keep the little saddle that came along with the pony.
The second horse we owned was a real sweetheart, dead broke, Tennessee Walker/Quarter Horse cross that we bought for our daughter while we were living in Kentucky going to seminary. Like her mother at that age, Ashley who was in junior high school, just had to have a horse. It was all she dreamed about. So after dealing with a lot of 'questionable' horse traders without any success, one of our neighbors found Buddy for us. He was a really beautiful and sweet gelding who had spent most of his life with a child on his back. His only vice was that as soon as Ashley got on him, all he wanted to do was graze with the bit in his mouth. Lisa and I could ride him fine, but when Ashley got on him, Buddy just assumed he had permission to not listen and to do what he wanted to do, which was graze. Ashley was too scared to bump him to get his attention and she was not strong enough to pull his head back up, so she just sat on him while he ate.
The horse we just bought, 20 years after Buddy, is a 19 year old quarter horse who is just as sweet as he is beautiful. The lady who owned Sonny for 15 years before we bought him, raised him right. He is healthy, sound, athletic, but still as child safe as a horse can be. Another friend and cutting horse trainer, Chris Cain, found Sonny for us and assured us that he was the horse we needed for beginning riders. He would also be a good starter horse for learning and developing roping skills. When our older grandsons are ready to upgrade to a younger and faster horse, Sonny will still be just what we need for the younger grandchildren.
Technically, Sonny is Grandmama's horse (Lisa's), so that all the grandchildren who want to ride him can, but they all claim that Sonny is their horse. For someone who said they would never own another horse (because I am and have always been scared of them due to bad childhood experiences), if the last two weeks are any indication, one horse will not be enough! Y'all pray for me!
Those who know me have to be asking the question: "What is Glenn doing buying a horse? Well, Lord knows I have asked myself that same question a few times, but here is what it boils down to: First of all, the farm life is just a good environment to raise children. It provides so many opportunities to teach them about the God of creation, about God's magnificence and power, to teach them about His love, care, and provision for His creation--especially for them as His children. It teaches them patience, discipline and endurance. They learn that they have to get back up when they fall or get thrown off. It provides opportunities to teach them good work ethics and to be responsible and respectful. It also puts them around other children and families who are learning and teaching the same values and principles.
Now I know we do not necessarily need a horse to do that, we could show cattle, chickens, goats or some of the other farm animals we have, but since I am gone much of the time and since Lisa knows and loves horses, a horse just seemed to be a good fit and something that could be done when I am not available.
Another reason I wanted to give them this opportunity (especially the two older ones that live nearby) was to get them involved in something besides travel ball. One plays travel baseball and the other travel soccer. There is nothing wrong with either sport (though I don't understand soccer); there is a problem when they are on the ball field (or anywhere else) two to four Sundays out of the month instead of being involved in a church and growing in their knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ and His Word. Not only are they at the ballpark on Sundays, so are their families. Even Lisa and I have traveled a couple of Sundays to watch them play and it goes against everything in me. I do not want my grandchildren or any other child to grow up thinking that ballgames, horses or anything else is more important than their relationship with Jesus Christ and their obedience to His Word in shaping their lives and transforming the lives of others.
I know that many will make the argument that they can worship God while just experiencing nature whether it be in the pasture, in a deer stand, on a lake, on a ball field, or at home in their recliner, etc..., and that is absolutely true. But, the Bible does teach us not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together as the Church, as the Body of Christ, because we all need it! We all need individual and corporate Bible study, discipleship training, prayer, worship, encouragement, accountability and like minded fellowship. Even if there is a time when we do not feel that we need it ourselves, someone else needs it from us!
Even more importantly, a lost and dying world needs the Church and the message of hope and salvation that only the Church can offer through the Good News of Jesus Christ. Individuals and institutions cannot give what they do not have. Only Christians who have experienced and possess the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, salvation and the forgiveness that comes through relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ can offer Him to someone else. When Christians come together for that purpose, we are being the Church.
On the flipside, I also know that just going to church, being baptized, teaching, preaching, singing, speaking in tongues, mouthing the right words, toting a Bible and going through the motions does not make one a Christian no more than sleeping in the garage will make them a Cadillac. However, it is very difficult to survive on junk food or in solitude and still be healthy--whether it be physically, spiritually or emotionally.
The Lord knows that there is too much of this going on in the churches today. It is so easy to do church, though fewer and fewer in our culture are even doing that. However; it is quite another thing to 'be the Church' where we are pointing and leading others to faith in Jesus Christ, where we are loving, caring for, and meeting the real needs of others wherever they are, and where our lives are light in a dark, fearful and dying world (not just our own congregations or communities).
Going to church does not cost us anything but a couple of hours of our time, but most will not even give that on a regular basis. Living for Jesus may cost us everything that we think we have, but in reality, we gain everything in the Kingdom and all that belongs to the King we serve. He gives us Himself, His power, His presence, His peace, His love, His affection, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, and the salvation and eternal life that He purchased for us through His life, death and resurrection. When He returns, He will give us a new body that will never die and a new heaven and new earth on which to dwell that will be greater than anything we have ever seen, heard about or been able to imagine.
This brings me back to the first sentence of this article where I mentioned a comment that a friend made when we purchased our horse Sonny. He said: "Since you have a horse, you now have a ranch where before you just had a cattle farm."
Whether you call it a ranch or a cattle farm often has to do with where you live, but I have always been a little embarrassed when someone else asked me where our ranch was, because I always thought of a ranch as being much larger than our operation and a place where horses were used to work the cattle. We bred 135 head this year at our Alabama based Cattle For Christ farm. We bred 11 head at our Texas based Cattle for Christ ranch!
Whether we call it a cattle ranch or a cattle farm, we are still raising the highest quality cattle the best we can, though the number of acres, quantities of cattle, types of working facilities, and management practices may vary. There are however, cattle ranches and farms that carry the name but have little interest or investment in reproduction.
I believe the same is true for churches. Those who are actively reproducing, leading new believers to faith in Jesus Christ and who are diligently impacting 'the world' with the Gospel message are being the Church. The others, well they just dress the part and have church. Let's not let that happen or continue to happen. It is high time for the Church to 'be the Church' in this dark world!