Nourishing Signs

Has he or she made it to their feet yet? I wonder if they’ve nursed? Will they make it? All good questions; asked every time there’s a new calf born here at the Cross-Dubya. Last week, “Ronaldo” the bull calf was brought into the world through an effortless delivery by his mama, “Giblets.” Some may remember that last January, “Giblets” was the heifer (first time mama) who had a breached calf (“Maria Calabria”) and then prolapsed, requiring emergency surgery.

I’m blessed to have witnessed over 90 percent of the new births here on our little ranch. While I wish I could tell you 100 percent of them grow up to wean and become replacement heifers, steers, or private treaty sales, I can’t. An old adage in the ranching world is, “If you haven’t yet, you’re fixin’ to”; meaning it is inevitable that calves or cows die. Disease, injury, predators, compromised immune systems, and sometimes seemingly no reason at all, ranchers will experience losses.

Watching a calf’s birth is a wondrous yet nerve-wracking event. When calving, the baby should exit mama much like a diver entering the water. Its head is tucked between its front legs. The first thing I always watch for is two hooves, both facing down. That’s a sure sign the calf is correctly positioned in the birth canal. A few minutes later and we should see the nose and mouth appear. A few more contractions and the head is out.

I watch for eye movement or its mouth to open but have to be patient. The next hurdle is for the shoulders to clear. Once that happens, the rest is normally “automatic”. Of course, there’s always a risk of hiplock if it’s a large calf; but in my herd (and with my bull “Mavric”), there’s very little risk of that happening. Once the hips are cleared, the rest of the birth takes seconds. After delivery, your first priority is ensuring the calf is breathing.

Usually, clearing their nasal passage does the trick. I’ve learned to always have a long piece of straw handy when it’s calving season. There have been times when I’ve used my pinky finger, and once I even performed pulmonary resuscitation, but I wouldn’t recommend it (ewww). Once the airway is cleared, I back away and let mama do her job. This means a half-hour of cleaning the baby and stimulating it with her rough tongue. While mama cleans it, and sometimes eats the amniotic sac and placenta, the calf lays prone as they explore the world around them.

Twenty minutes later (on average) the calf tries to stand. It’s almost comical to see their first awkward attempts, but you can’t help but cheer them on from a distance. As mama encourages them with soft sounds, they struggle to stand up, rear legs first, and then finding their balance, they’re up. Once they stand, mama often noses them back down to the ground and the process begins all over. Is it intentional or being over-zealous? I’m not sure; but after a few attempts, the calf begins to naturally seek nourishment.

Somehow, most calves instinctively begin searching for mama’s teat. They’re not always sure where they’re located, and mama helps coax them into position with her head. Once they’re latched on, then I watch for wagging tails. I learned along the way that a nursing calf will wag its tail back and forth only when it is receiving milk. Of course, the mama has to let down her milk from her udder. When that doesn’t happen fast enough, the calf begins punching her udder with its head. I always yell, “Hurry up Mama; I’m thirsty” when I see that happening. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a calf suckle your finger, where they cup their tongue around it and begin sucking. I’m guessing they create about 10-inches (Hg) of vacuum.

When I don’t get to experience the birth firsthand, it’s usually only a few hours before I discover the new calf during a herd check. I always, even with calves I’ve watched nurse immediately after birth, check the quarters (the four teats from which milk is delivered) for the first few days. Seeing a depleted quarter, where the teat is less engorged and that portion of the udder is smaller than the others, ensures the calf is getting the needed nourishment.

The reason nursing early is so important is that calves are born without an immune system in place. They are extremely vulnerable to disease, and their stomach will only be able to absorb the needed antibodies during the first day or so. The nutrient-rich colostrum is produced by the mama for about the first five days immediately following calving. If the colostrum is not of high quality or the calf doesn’t get enough, it almost always dies unless you intervene.

The most vulnerable herd members are the babes, in cows and in Christ. Click To Tweet

While working with my ranch foreman, John, to tag and intra-nasally vaccinate “Ronaldo”, I thought about how vulnerable new calves and new Christians are. Without the right nourishment, both calves and Christians can become weakened and unable to reach maturity. If the calf does not get the right nourishment, its chances of dying increase dramatically. If a new or immature Christian does not get the right nourishment, they cannot grow in their faith and reach a level of spiritual maturity needed to withstand this world.

Explained above, there’s clear, visible signs that a calf is receiving the nourishment it needs to survive. But how can we see signs of new Christians receiving spiritual nourishment? The immediate answer is that we more mature Christians have to provide it to them. We do this in the form of discipleship. I’ve seen too many times through the years new Christians have their faith derailed because the church has failed them. Too often, upon their salvation, new Christians are given a Bible, Baptism Certificate, tithe envelope, and a seat in the back of the church. Learning to live as a Christian is, I assume, expected to happen via osmosis in those cases. Many church members suggest new Christians take a watch and learn approach rather than a walk with me and we’ll grow together approach.

Few churches offer formal, qualified discipleship training today. In these cases, it’s up to mature Christians to reach out and offer friendship, fellowship, and committed mentoring to these babes in Christ. God’s Word calls each Christian to become both a disciple of Christ (Luke 14:26) and to make disciples of others (Matthew 28:19). Dr. Howard Hendricks (1924-2013), a long-tenured and much-loved professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, offers the most complete description about the importance of discipleship in a Christian’s life. He wrote, “When a person makes a confession of faith and is never taken through a formal discipleship process, there is little hope of seeing genuine spiritual transformation.” I have done my best to serve God as a disciple-maker in the past; and will continue doing so. There has never been an instance where, when a new Christian generally desires to learn and grow, I too have not grown in my faith.

Becoming a disciple-maker helps grow you as you help others grow. Click To Tweet

Watching calves run circles around their mamas, “high-tailing” it everywhere they go, and playing with the other calves are great ways to see a young calf is doing well. It’s not always that easy to see those nourishing signs in a new Christian. Some of the signs we can look for include:

  • Asking questions about scripture and what various verses and parables mean
  • Seeking help in how to read the Bible or learning to pray more effectively
  • Getting plugged into (participating in) various church missions, outreach, and other activities
  • Changes in character and habits that result from receiving spiritual gifts and evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit growing within them

It’s important to understand that not all new Christians will want to grow in their faith, and few actually reach out for help. If we are careful to watch for signs of malnourishment, then we can come alongside them early in their struggle and help guide them in ways that works for them. Like calves, each new Christian is unique and has different personalities and needs. Finding the right person who can help is imperative and is always made possible with God’s guidance.

I pray this week that each of us will look around for the one person in our church or community who needs a mentor and friend to come alongside them. Each of us is equipped by God for service to Him. Look for ways you can use your gifts to help someone in their journey as they struggle to find the spiritual nourishment they need.

God’s blessings,

46 thoughts on “Nourishing Signs

  1. My friend, the “walk with me and we’ll grow together approach” is definitely the best! It’s how we teach our children in many instances and these are our “spriitual children” so why wouldn’t this be best? I always love how you share these truths through your wonderful cattle.

  2. J. D., what a perfect analogy you shared. As a young married couple, we were instantly encouraged to start serving in the church. While service is expected and welcomed, new Christians and newlyweds need time to learn and grow and watch more mature Christians in their walk. In my career as an educator, we assigned mentors to new teachers. How desperately new Christians need a mentor and Bible study. I appreciate this wise statement: “Many church members suggest new Christians take a watch and learn approach rather than a walk with me and we’ll grow together approach.”

    1. Amen Ms. Jeannie. Well said ma’am. Serving is important, but finding help in growing in our faith in the process is a key to becoming a “complete Christian.” Sounds like many folks have been blessed by you and your husband as you’re passing on what you blessed to receive. Thank you my friend.

  3. One of the highlights of this very descriptive and encouraging piece, of course, is the news that Ronaldo is doing well :). Beyond that, your admonition regarding discipleship is one that the Church desperately needs to hear. By “the Church,” I mean all of us flawed but redeemed followers of Jesus. One of the things you make clear is that the work isn’t over when the calf is brought into the world, it’s only beginning. All of us need to be reminded that the nourishment a new calf–or convert–receives and the protective antibodies tha come with it, especially in the early days, are vital to its development. The lesson is clear that all new life is dependent on those outside of itself to meet those needs. Our church is committed to the objective of having everyone actively involved in one of our community groups (of which there are over 200). They offer a place in someone’s home where where mature believers provide guidance in the Scriptures and an opportunity to connect with others in mentoring relationships. My wife and I have been involved in that kind of endeavor for most of our adult lives, and it is one of the most fulfilling things we’ve ever done. God bless you for this very compelling analogy, J.D., and for the encouragement it brings. I’m not sure I want to get involved in the birthing process at the Cross-Dubya, but I’m anxious to meet the next new follower of Jesus, and to connect help him or her with the nourishment and antibodies they will need to develop into powerful leaders of others. Another well done lesson, my friend.

    1. Thank you Mr. Ron. Some great insights here sir. My wife and I are discovering “Life Groups” at our new church, and are truly enjoying the ways we are connecting with small groups of people in a more intimate setting than purely corporate worship. Both are needed, but it’s when we “Do Life Together” with others that we gain insight and understanding as to how we can help one another as individuals. I pray daily for the Spirit’s guidance on identifying and finding the best way to help others, as so many others help me in my personal walk. God’s blessings dear friend.

  4. When I was a new Christian, I found I had to seek out nourishment and help from others as it wasn’t just readily offered, J. D. Looking back, I really can see what a difference a pro-active approach might have made in helping me grow in the faith. I hope and pray that I can be a mentor for others as this journey in Jesus continues on.
    Absolutely loved your analogy, my friend! Blessings!

    1. I sometimes wonder how much “Farther Along” (I love that song) I would be had folks came alongside and truly discipled me early on. Instead, I struggled for many years, eventually walking away from church and any form of Christian worship. Yet God patiently waited for me to reach the point that I desired to turn back to Him. When I did, I discovered how important it was (in my walk anyway) to keep my eyes upon Him and not man. While many of them failed me, God never has. I’ve been blessed since that return to have some mentors come alongside me in the past 30 years or so, but the greatest disciple-maker of all remains to be the Lord, Jesus Christ and His Word. I join you in those hopes and prayers that God can use me to help ease the journey and deepen their relationship with God for those coming behind me. Thanks Ms. Martha!

  5. I so enjoy your stories of ranch life and how you connect the happenings to your spiritual life. I, too, grow in faith when I help new Christians along their journey. My writing also grows my faith which is motivation enough to keep at it.

  6. Although I’ve lived on a farm my entire life and we had both beef and dairy cows, I have never witnessed a calf being born. I’ve always regretted that. Thank you for sharing the process–I learned a lot. Now to the “meat” of your message–nourishment for new Christians. I think throughout the history of the church (especially the “modern” church), we have fallen far short on discipleship. Part of it, of course, is that we don’t know how, we’re unsure how to know when it is needed, we aren’t confident in our abilities, or we lack motivation. No matter the reason for our failure to nourish, it has the same results as a mother (of any species) not nourishing her babe. I pray that we can do better. Your message should inspire and motivate us to learn how to disciple and then do it. Thank you, sir.

    1. Some spring, you and Heidi are just going to have to come visit Ms. Katherine. I’ll do my best to convince one of my “girls” to hold on until you arrive. 🙂 Your point, we’re not always sure what to do (and therefore often take the “hands off so I do no harm” approach), so we do nothing to help those coming behind us. I think that’s why it’s so important to formalize discipleship and help develop disciple-makers in every congregation. What I’ve learned is that not everyone can learn the same way, and I have to adapt my teaching and mentoring style to those I’m seeking to help. I’ve also learned, and I know you can appreciate this, that teaching and mentoring are quite different and require different skillsets. There is much I still need to learn, and I’ve made countless mistakes along the way, but making the effort is what counts most I think. Thank you so much for commenting, and how I long to sit and discuss teaching and learning at your feet my friend. God’s blessings; and thank you for caring for others as you do.

    1. Thank You Ms. Gena. So grateful you enjoyed the post ma’am. I think every church needs to step back and take a look at how it can better serve those “babes in Christ” in our little part of God’s kingdom. Having wonderful teachers like you, Bill, and some I’ve met online through your virtual services, I think those newest members of your herd have some great mentors to learn from. 🙂

    1. “Wisdom” is not a word I associate with myself Ms. Karen, but thank you so much for thinking so my friend. I’m so glad you enjoyed ma’am. God’s blessings to you, Mr. Russ, and your girls.

  7. You are so right that new Christians are usually left to “figure things out on their own.” The one who led the person to Christ, should make sure they follow up and sees that the new Christian gets into a church that will disciple them. And if the new Christian meets Jesus in church, then definitely the church should disciple them and make sure they are included in the church.

    1. Too many times, it sure seems that way Ms. Edwina. I know there are lots of good programs and training out there; and yes, when we help lead someone to Christ, we have a personal responsibility to helping them grow and mature. In churches, I think that every member of a congregation, who is willing, should take an opportunity to volunteer as a mentor or work with a New Member training group, etc. to help new Christians and new members navigate their new surroundings. Another analogy I like to use is “The Welcoming”, wherein when a new calf is born and mama is allowed her bonding time with her child, then every member of the herd lines up and comes over to introduce themselves to the new calf. The herd becomes responsible for the safety and security of that new calf and helps it to learn to be a member of their herd. That is what discipleship is to me.

  8. What a great and needed message for the universal church and God’s people. I’ve always loved Howard Hendricks and quote him often. I’ve read his writings and saw him speak on more than one occasion. One of my all time favorites.

    I was blessed in college to be taken under the wing of a female staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ. She discipled me in the ways of Christ and I know it is in part the reason I still want to grow in Christ and hunger and thirst for him. And why I discipled many teen and college girls, and young women over the years in ministry. While the Proverbs 31 woman is a model in Scripture, I also want to always be a Titus 2 woman. 🙂

    1. I never had the blessing to hear him speak but have sure enjoyed reading some of his works. A blessing indeed Ms. Karen. I can’t speak from a woman’s perspective, but I am so grateful to see my own wife learning to model the best from Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 in her life. I am truly blessed indeed to be able to walk with her my friend; and I’m certain your dear husband feels the same. Thank you so much ma’am; and please do keep on sharing, because you reach a far larger audience than just those you formally disciple.

  9. Love this analogy!

    So true. Many grow old physically and age little spiritually. Discipleship is important and sharing our growing up experiences is vital for new Christians.

    Great post, JD!

    1. Yes, I could tell Ms. Connie. Me too! Is there anything sweeter than that feeling ma’am? I’ll always cherish the way “Maria Calabria”, the little calf I had to pull and bottle feed for a couple weeks, would always come running up to me whenever I arrived in her pasture. A bond of trust was created that was founded in love. I think we do that same thing when we disciple someone in Christ. Look at that; your words brought another smile ma’am. 😀

  10. Your comparison gives us such a splendid picture of the new birth in Christians. Seasoned believers should be watching over the new babes to make sure they get that nourishment and protection in the food of the Word. And in your play by play of calving, I couldn’t help thinking about the birth of Norman in City Slickers! Lol Thanks for sharing this wonderful analogy.

    1. I’m going to have to watch that movie one day Ms. Barb; but I’m pretty sure I’ll be the Jack Palance character. LOL Thank you so much for your kind comments ma’am. Much appreciated. God’s blessings my Korean-based (for now) friend.

  11. Great message that all our churches (and us) need to hear. From my research, new Christians in Bible times spend at least a year in training to help them mature in their walk. But, on the flip side, I think many today just want to check off the box of faith, they aren’t looking for discipleship. Thanks for pointing out ways to spot those wanting more.

    1. I think you’re right Ms. Yvonne; many today seem to want to “check the box” on their salvation. I can’t imagine what it might be like to stand before the King (assuming their salvation is real, which I sort of question if they have no desire to grow and change) and have nothing to lay at His feet at the Bema Seat (Judgment Seat of Christ). I know we can’t help everyone, but I pray I am never found to have “not offering help” to someone who reached out to me for it. God’s blessings sweet friend.

  12. I love reading about your experiences with the animals. The love and tender care you provide reminds me of the love the Father has for us. I am thankful for the mentors God has placed in my life. Those wonderful folks help deepen my relationship with the Father. You are one of those people. 🙂

    1. As are you to me precious lady. You may have noticed that I don’t claim to “own” the Cross-Dubya, but refer to myself at its “caretaker.” The reason is that I truly believe God owns it all, and I am only a steward of all His blessings in my life. God’s blessings sweet lady.

  13. Such important insights, again, from the ranch. You make the ranch come alive in my imagination, J.D., and you inspire me with your applications. Thank you.

  14. Thanks for taking us to the neonatal unit today. As always, I found it fascinating.
    The application to new Christians is so true. Our denomination has a mission statement, “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Well, how’re we doing with that? (SMH – shaking my head) We are weak. I saw someone on Twitter say, “instead of just making disciples, we need to make disciple-makers.” Instead of trying to change the world, I need to look around and start right where I am.

  15. Such a sweet picture of calving, J.D.! Spring’s coming! And you’re so right that few churches these days do a good job discipling new believers and that’s so important !!Hope all your calves are born safely this spring!

    1. Thank you Ms. Kathy. So far, we’re 100 percent; and that’s all through God’s manifold blessings ma’am. Praying spring finds you soon also ma’am. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of breaking ice, feeding extra hay, and tromping through mud up to my ankles. 🙂

  16. So true about all Christian not wanting to grow in their faith. I have raised (and pray fervently for) my 4 children in the Christian faith but these “calves” have set those teachings aside for lesser alternatives. Your example here out on the farm with the birth of a precious calf is powerful. We must be careful to ease them along and offer nourishment found only in Jesus laced with a lot of grace. Thank you for the spiritual insight, JD.

    1. I sure understand your “calves” comments my friend. I think back to a time in my life when I too set the teaching of my adoptive parents aside. Oh, what a season of heartache I underwent. I pray too that your calves return to the herd and find the peace that has eluded them. Lots of grace sweet friend.

  17. I would love to see a calf born! How special to watch the mama lick it and teach it to nurse. I love your ranch stories! 🙂

    And I agree with your point about a lack of those who disciple new believers. I remember years ago studying the Paul-Timothy relationship (and Paulette-Timothette). Am I dating myself, lol? We need to go back to our roots in so many ways in the church, but especially this one. You have motivated me to pray for the Lord to send me someone to disciple! Blessings, dear friend.

    1. Indeed we do Ms. Karen. I think of Revelation 2 often, in that some must return to their first love. Oh, how I pray none are lost. God’s blessings dear sister; and I too pray that one day you can witness a birth here at the Cross-Dubya.

  18. Uh-oh! Scrolling back through last month’s emails I discovered an unread Cross-Dubya blog. That can’t happen! sorry for the delayed response. I enjoyed the education and walking with you through a calf’s birth. I wish they all could survive. I love all of your great ranch analogies to the Christian walk. So appropriate.

    Here’s my formula of colostrum for the baby Christian.
    Colostrum = Bible, prayer, fellowship, and teaching

    1. I like that thought Ms. Karen. We must make sure to give those newborn Christians the nourishment they need to develop, thrive, and prosper in Christ. Great analogy ma’am. You impress me! God’s blessings ma’am.

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