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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ranch lessons, part two -- water

Heard a story last week about a horse. We sat on the slope above a waterhole that was slowly drying up in the 105 degree heat. The rancher was talking about a horse that came to the ranch. Always before, this horse had been kept in a small pen with ample feed and water provided by her owners. On the ranch, the horses may range for miles looking for water and enough grass to sustain life. The herd of horses started the summer around one particular water hole, but as this oasis dried up, the herd wandered off in search of deeper canyons, more faithful springs. All except the new horse. Because this new horse had only ever found water in one place, she didn't go with the herd when they went looking for water. Because she'd never learned to go seeking water, she waited by the water hole, believing water would come as it always had. But no water came. The rancher had checked on her the first few days when she came to the ranch, and since she was with the herd he figured she'd be alright. Retelling the story, he looked down over the mud flats and the little seep of water in the middle. "She just thirsted to death," he said. "She didn't go with the herd to find water, and she died."

Somewhere between Montana and Minnesota on the long drive back, I thought of this story as a parable of the church. Christians have been pretty comfortable for many years doing church like we've always done it. We've found our water in an oasis of traditional hymns, liturgies, buildings set aside for worship, professional clergy, and the like. But things are heating up, and that waterhole is drying up. A few churches still make do in the mud flats around the edges, but there's not much water left there. Do we have what it takes to move? Can we look at the other horses -- I mean churches -- and see who looks like they have enough water? Where are they finding it? How are they connecting with Jesus and with his body? How are they seeking the water of life?

I've been reading a book the last few days called Total Church. If these questions get under your skin, if you feel thirsty and the temperature seems to be rising, I highly recommend it. It might challenge your ideas about what the church is and what it's called to do, but you might also find that God's Spirit is welling up through some new areas like a spring.

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