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Two weeks ago, thirteen puppies entered this world. More specifically, they came out of my dog and into a plastic kiddie pool that is covered in blankets. It was pretty amazing to watch. Also, it was pretty disgusting. But now, days have passed and as I sat watching them today, a few spiritual lessons came flooding in. 

Instinct reinforces the legitimacy of Theism. 

Miller (our dog) is a female Goldendoodle. She is a little over two years old. Before she got pregnant, I still looked at her as a puppy, because honestly she was. Lots of energy. Ocassionally peeing when excited. There was a part of me that wondered if she was too young to become a mother. 

But as those puppies showed up, one after another, enclosed in a sac and Miller’s instinct broke through. She proceded to rip open the sac, eat the sac and then proceed with some disconcerting, aggressive licking. 

No one taught her. She just knew. 

Naturalism has no answer for this phenomenon. Atheists recognize this. In some ways I find the presence of “instinct” more compelling evidence for the existence of God than the moral argument, which asserts innate moral objectivity in each human, endowed from an intelligent Being. 

The Heavens declare the existence and glory of God. So does the presence of instinct. 

Sometimes they just don’t make it. 

This is Miller’s first litter. 13 puppies. Impressive. But after the second day, it seemed clear that the runt wasn’t going to make it. We tried to help her latch on. We tried to bottle feed. But she was too tired, too weak. I chose to not extend her suffering. She died that day.

Day 5 brought another sad revelation. Another puppy seemed super lethargic. We began to make sure she had her opportunity to feed, putting the rest of her siblings in a laundry basket. By nightfall, she was barely moving. I tried three times during the night to bottle feed her. I almost choked her because I was forcing formula down her throat. But nothing helps. I left that morning to run an errand. By the time I returned, fluid was draining out of her mouth. No heartbeat. Another one gone. 

This made me think about the local church, specifically pastoral ministry. Sometimes you do everything you can and people just leave. Maybe they are spiritually indifferent. Maybe they don’t like your sermons. Maybe it isn’t like their old church. Maybe their doctrinal preferences change. Maybe the music isn’t their jam. No matter what the reason is, the reality is people are going to leave. 

These are the moments seminary doesn’t prepare you for. Sure, my mentors have warned me of this, but the rehearsal never has the same pressure as the ceremony itself. 

Please understand I have no one in my mind right now. This is not a passive-aggressive poke. I am not like that anyways. I will always look you in the eye and shoot straight with you. But goodbyes are part of this existence. Most of the time I know I did what I could. I labored, I prayed, I listened and most of the time, I sacrificed. Not all the time. Sometimes it is my fault. I have to live with that also. 

Being alone is not normal. 

We had 13. Now there are 11 puppies. I am pretty sure we are in the clear. 

These puppies are just starting to open their eyes. But for the last two weeks, they seem to sense the presence of Miller and scoot to find warmth or a meal. Now when Miller leaves to relieve herself or eat, the puppies naturally clump up together. Laying on each other. I would guess for warmth or maybe a sense of security. But then we noticed that one of the puppies would often lay alone, detached from the pile. Initially, we were concerned about the health of this puppy, but there seemed to be nothing wrong. It just seemed wrong, abnormal. 

There are no lone rangers in our pursuit of Jesus. We need each other. Maturity is accelerated through the fellowship of other believers. 

Now of course, solitude has its role. Jesus often went off alone to be with the Father. But He spent three years living, sleeping, eating and enjoying 12 men from all different walks of life. 

Being constantly alone should alert others that something is not right. If this is you, rejoin the group. Be vulnerable. Remember there are others that struggle with this too. 

It is hard to know when you are helping or enabling. 

Survival of the fittest. I know it is an evolutionary term, but watching these puppies fight for a spot—I get it. 

Without a doubt, if I did not intervene, both puppies would have died earlier, maybe at birth. And yet as I sit on my kitchen chair, staring at the cool blue plastic pool, I wonder if by pushing away the bullies of the pack, I am hindering the development of these puppies. I mean, at some point, you have to fight to exist, to thrive. Life runs over the weak. Character is built in moments like these.

As a pastor, I wonder sometimes if I am helping or enabling. Tough love is more and more rare. The opposite side of the coin is that I am not always the most compassionate. I am hard on males. I guess because I am hard on myself. 

I expect men to sacrifice, to be selfless. For family, for country, for church. I expect Christians (especially if they have been in the faith a while) to strive for unity, to be involved, to speak the truth in love. But then I remember the men that walked with me, even while I was running from God. They didn’t rebuke or excommunicate me, they kept their doors open, prayed and waited. They didn’t tough love me. They were patient, long-suffering and safe. I thank God for them. 

So what is the answer? I don’t know if there is one. God will show you, if you ask Him. I know that much. 

You must feed yourself so you feed others. 

Miller is really skinny. You can feel her hip bones. All the books we read told us that you have to feed your dog more often, more calories, and more calcium. I cook probably at least 30 to 40 eggs a week, supplementing her normal meals. 

Spiritually speaking, this is also true. Your soul will wither away if you are not pursuing spiritual meals. Is that a problem? Absolutely. Not only because you may be acting like a hypocrite, but you are unprepared for imminent spiritual battles, looming on the horizon. Pastors are the most vulnerable here. Just today, I have had three important conversations, helping the spiritual trajectories of people. Pride creeps in. Self-sufficiency loudly dismissing the necessity of prayer.  

Is it worth it? Eleven puppies? I don’t know. But I appreciate the subtle lessons, reminding me that God often speaks in the moments you aren't looking for Him.