Obed’s Inheritance

By Simeon Solomon – Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Public Domain

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.  (Ruth 4:10-16)

The previous night, at the threshing floor, Ruth and Boaz conspired together to enact a daring plan to save and restore the family of Elimelech.  Ruth petitioned Boaz to marry her while simultaneously calling on him as kinsman-redeemer to her deceased father-in-law, Elimilech.  Ruth simultaneously appealed to, and expanded, two separate Israelite laws.

It was the role of a kinsman-redeemer to make sure land that had been sold was redeemed so it would remain in the family.  However, the family of Elimilech had ended.  Elimilech had died and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving three childless widows.  No heirs remained for the family of Elimilech.  There was no family for whom the land should be redeemed.  It was an incredibly sad situation, but nothing could be done about it.

The levirate law was a separate law intended to ensure the continuance of a man’s family.  If a married man died leaving no heirs, the deceased’s brother was to marry the widow for the purpose of conceiving an heir to carry on the name of the deceased and inherit his property.  However, the levirate law only applied to brothers, not to more distant relatives.  So the levirate law did not apply to Boaz in this situation.

Moreover, Ruth was barren.  She had previously been married to Mahlon, son of Elimilech and Naomi.  However, Mahlon died, leaving Ruth childless.  There was no reason to believe Ruth could conceive and bear a child, since she had remained barren during the ten years of marriage to Mahlon.

Yet, that night at the threshing floor, Ruth proposed a daring plan to Boaz.  Appealing to Boaz as kinsman-redeemer, she proposed that he marry her for the purpose of bearing and raising an heir to the family of Elimilech.  The next morning, Boaz followed through with Ruth’s plan.  He redeemed the property of Elimilech to be inherited by a son they hoped would be born to Ruth by her marriage to Boaz.  Before the witnesses at the Bethlehem city gates, Boaz declared:

“You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

Ruth and Boaz took a leap of faith by investing themselves in a risky plan with little hope of success.  They set out to save and restore the family of Elimilech… through a not-yet-conceived son to be born of a barren widow.  Everything hinged on the birth of a son to inherit Elimilech’s property and carry on his family name…a hoped for future heir who could redeem the family from the brink of annihilation.

Then God directly intervened.

And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.

God honored their faith.  God honored their sacrificial loving-kindness to Elimilech’s family and to his widow, Naomi.  God enabled Ruth to conceive and bear a son.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Obed, the child born to Naomi by her barren widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, conceived by Elimilech’s kinsman, Boaz, saved the family from annihilation!  He was “redeemer” and “restorer of life” to Naomi and to the family of her deceased husband.

And this family line…the lineage of this miracle child, Obed, became the lineage of King David!

Does the story of Obed have a ring of familiarity?  It should.

For it was through this same family lineage…the family of Obed… the family of King David… that Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, was born into this world.

Much like his ancestor Obed, Jesus was the hoped-for future heir… future redeemer… future restorer of life.

In the Garden of Eden, God promised a “seed of woman” who would redeem mankind.  Later, God promised Abraham all nations would be blessed through his seed; through his seed God would provide a sacrifice of redemption; and through his seed a new covenant with God would be enacted.

Jesus… Messiah… promised heir… promised redeemer… promised restorer of life… was born of a Virgin.  Much like his ancestor Obed, his conception was through God’s direct intervention in impossible circumstances.

Like Obed, the inheritance of Jesus was not through his biological father, but through his adopted father, Joseph.  Through Joseph, Jesus is heir to the throne of David, heir to Abraham’s inheritance, and heir to Adam’s covenant with God as ruler over all the earth.

The book of Ruth begins with death… the death of Elimilech and his sons… the death of the family of Elimilech.  The book continues as a story of whole-hearted covenant faithfulness… of going above and beyond covenant obligations to bless a covenant partner… of believing God can and will do the miraculous to redeem and restore life.  The book ends with the birth of a miracle baby with an assured inheritance to restore life to a dead family.

The book of Ruth is the gospel message in a nutshell.

The Bible begins with life and creation, but quickly moves to loss and death… death of the family of Adam… cut off from their godly inheritance through a treacherous covenant with sin and death.  The Old Testament continues as a story of God’s whole-hearted covenant faithfulness… of going above and beyond covenant obligations to bless His covenant partners… of promises of a coming Messiah who will redeem, deliver, and restore life to Adam’s heirs.  The New Testament opens with a recitation of the lineage of Jesus Christ… with the birth of a miracle baby with an assured inheritance over all the earth to restore life to all who believe in Him.

This is the Good News of Jesus Christ!

[For a more in-depth study of the book of Ruth, I recommend reading The Gospel of Ruth, by Carolyn Custis James]

A Montana Ranching Adventure

While planning our trip to the TX Ranch, in Montana, I experienced difficulty explaining it to other people.  Part of the problem was I had never actually visited the TX Ranch, myself.  My expectations were based on second-hand information through friends and websites.  The bigger problem, though, was in trying to explain the unique experience offered by the TX Ranch.

“Dawson and I are planning a trip to a cattle ranch in Montana, where we will spend a full week working cattle from horseback,” I would say.

This was typically met with a response such as, “Oh, like the movie, City Slickers!”

“Well… sort of…  except hopefully a bit less touristy and a bit more real commercial working cattle ranch.”

“So, like a dude ranch?”

“No, not really.  I mean, yeah, it is a ranch with paying guests.  However, dude ranch usually means sleeping in air-conditioned cabins and going on guided trail rides.  That’s not what this ranch is about.”

So… having just experienced my first visit to the TX Ranch, I will try to describe what it is like.

The TX Ranch is located deep in the Pryor Mountains of southern Montana and northern Wyoming.  I had understood it to be located about a two-hour drive south of Billings.  I did not realize a full hour of that drive is off paved roads, mostly on pasture tracks winding back through the mountain meadows, up and down steep grades, crossing creeks in deep gullies, and stopping every mile or so to open and close gates.

The scenery is stunning.  Each curve and hill reveals yet another scenic panorama of soaring mountains slashed by deep ravines and steep valleys.  The spectacular Pryor Mountain scenery is a continual backdrop to every activity at the ranch.

The camp accommodations are quite rustic.  We slept on cots in tents.  We had no electricity or internet access.  Our only water supply was from a nearby mountain spring with a gravity-fed water line directing water into a plastic tank for our use.  Toilets consisted of outhouses.  Showers were accomplished via camp shower bags, whose temperature depended on the amount of sunshine on a given day.

The kitchen and dining hall are in a log cabin lighted by Coleman lanterns.  Meals are prepared on a gas stove fueled by propane bottles of an appropriate size to haul in the back of a pickup truck.

Overall, the accommodations are what one might expect at a working cow camp… which is exactly what this is.  That should be the first clue as to what the week was like.

We all signed on to spend a week experiencing the life of a historic western cowboy and the TX Ranch did not disappoint.  The owner, Hip, treated us like the latest group of newly hired employees.  Each morning after breakfast and saddling horses, Hip discussed the plans for the day.  Then we would split into smaller groups assigned to different areas and ride out to gather cattle.

The first day, we gathered cattle out near the horse pasture and pushed them to a hilltop where they were easy to hold.  There we roped, ear tagged, castrated, and inoculated the calves.

The second day, we wrangled horses across a 15 mile drive through rugged country to the Deadman Camp in preparation for the following day.

The third day, we were dropped off at Deadman, where we each saddled a fresh horse (because our first horse had been ridden hard for two days in a row).  We then proceeded to gather cows from the Deadman area to drive back to a pasture closer to our camp at Lone Wolf.  That was a long, hard, dusty workday.  We worked 12 hours, with 11 hours in the saddle, gathering cows in mountainous terrain with dense brush filling the draws and creek banks.

On the ride back, we paused at each gate to cut the herd, making sure only TX-owned cattle passed through the gate.  I really enjoyed watching Hip and his daughter Des cut the herd.  They were amazing!  They each sized up at a glance which cows belonged.  Then, with a subtle side-step of their horse to leave an opening while applying light pressure, they would signal three or four cows to abandon the herd and walk away.  A slight shift the other direction and another cow walked off.  It was truly poetry in motion watching the two of them work together to cut out all cattle not belonging to the TX herd.

The fourth day, we made another gather of cattle near Star Hill, including those we brought back from Deadman the previous day.  Then we roped, branded, ear-tagged, castrated, and inoculated the calves.

The fifth day, we gathered cows near the Lone Wolf Camp and nearby pastures and creeks.  We used the Lone Wolf corrals to sort out all the calves, then cut the calves to only those who were not ear tagged.  Then we worked the calves in the corral, which allowed everyone who wanted an opportunity to rope calves from the ground, without the added stress of managing reins and handling a horse while dallying to the saddle horn.

The sixth day was another gather, followed by working the calves, followed by moving the herd north to another pasture.

In six days, I rode four different horses.  Each horse was a solid mount willing to ride up steep hills, down into deep ravines, and through thick brush to flush out cattle.  Each horse worked hard all day, with enough energy to finish out the day pushing, holding or roping cattle.

Some days included a lot of dismounting and remounting to stoop down walking thru the thick brush to flush cows out.  I learned to always position the horse with the off side downhill for easier dismounting and remounting.  All the horses ground-tied fairly well.  My preferred mount, 773, stayed exactly where I dropped his reins, while I ran yelling thru the brush to flush cows. He then stood patiently while I returned to remount and ride off through thick brush to push the cattle into the growing herd.

I learned to ride with split reins… something I previously never felt comfortable doing.  A week of riding with split reins taught me they are no big deal.  Plus, they come in pretty handy for swatting a contrary cow on the rump.

The first day, when Hip asked for volunteers to rope, I volunteered.  As a result, I was part of the roping team for the remainder of the week.  Although I was not very proficient, I did manage to rope about fifteen calves across the week.

Those of you who have been tracking my personal story will recall learning to rope has been a goal of mine for a few years, now… since before cancer surgery took a major nerve in my right shoulder… limiting both strength and motion in that shoulder… as well as loss of muscle memory.  So… bear with me as I do my happy dance for a moment.

I roped calves!!!  Live calves… from horseback!!!   🙂

Dawson also roped… much more proficiently than I did.  In fact, Dawson was pretty much our top roper.  His experience competitively roping in the arena definitely proved useful.  However, he learned roping in the middle of a herd is a lot different from competitive arena roping.

I also gained confidence trotting, loping, and galloping across all sorts of rough terrain.  While gathering cattle, it was easy to forget to worry about my balance or the horse’s response, as both the horse and I focused on getting the job done.

Perhaps the best (and least expected) part of the trip was the people.  Both the TX crew and our fellow guests were wonderful!  Everyone worked hard, joked, teased, laughed, helped, and had a good time.  There is something about spending hours working hard together, backing each other up, followed by relaxing, eating and laughing together, that helps develop a close-knit team.

Thinking back across the week, several humorous moments stand out… mostly having to do with my lack of understanding.

For example, there was the long, hard, dusty day we brought cattle back from Deadman.  We were pushing the cattle along a trail with a poorly maintained barb-wire fence on the right side.  Several cows kept making a run to escape through holes in the fence and I was working hard to keep them going down the trail with the rest of the herd.  Suddenly two cows and a calf made a run for a spot where the fence was lying on the ground.  I pushed my horse into a lope, trying to reach the hole in time to turn them back, but they made it through the fence.  I tried to pursue them, but my horse hesitated at crossing the fence.  When I pushed him, he tentatively started to cross the low wire, then pulled back, momentarily snagging a front shoe on a wire.  By the time I got my horse settled and extracted from the fence wire, the cows were long gone into the brush along the creek.

Frustrated, I glanced toward Hip for direction.  “Why don’t you ride ahead to the next gate and make sure the cows go through the gate?” Hip suggested.

I rode ahead with Des following.  About 100 yards down the trail, we came to an unobstructed gap at a fence corner.  “Is this the gate Hip was talking about?” I asked Des.

“Yeah, just make sure the cows don’t wander off down that trail to the left,” Des responded.

“Do you mean we’re pushing the cows through a gate into the very pasture I’ve been working so hard to keep them out of?”

“Yep!” Des quipped, with a wry grin and a nod.

“Dang!  I was working my butt off keeping them on this side of that fence!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, you were!” laughed Des.

Later that evening, after dinner, I told Hip, “I’m confident I gave you 110% effort all day today.  However, I only had about 40% understanding what I was supposed to be doing.  Which means I was only about 44% effective and about 66% counterproductive.”

“That’s great!” Hip responded, “Joe, if I had a half-dozen riders all 44% effective, we could get a lot done in a day.”

I fell asleep pondering these events.  As I drifted off to sleep, Ray Hunt’s words regarding horsemanship came to mind, “Set it up and let it happen.”  Ray’s approach to horsemanship centered around setting the horse up for success, then letting him figure it out for himself.

As the week progressed, I realized Hip and Des seem to follow this model in pretty much everything they do.  Hip gave us only a bare minimum of verbal direction on what we were to do each day.  Then he left us to figure out the rest through a combination of watching and doing.

The best part of this approach is the freedom allowed each of us to try new things.

When I set out to gather a couple of cows spotted on a mountaintop, nobody called me back.  Nobody told me I would never be able to gather those cows and get them back in the herd on my own.  I was allowed to explore, try, and figure things out for myself.  As a result, I grew confident trying new things and riding rough trails… trusting my horse to go where I asked then get me safely back.

Sometimes it worked out as planned and sometimes it didn’t.  Either way, I had fun trying!

Isn’t that similar to the approach God uses in directing our steps?  He tends to give us a bare minimum of direction, then grant us the freedom to enjoy figuring out the specifics for ourselves.

When God told Abraham to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and travel to the land of Canaan, He didn’t provide a whole lot of specifics.  Abraham spent the rest of his life wandering around Canaan, trying to figure what he was to do next, while trusting God to fulfill His promises and provide what was needed.  Sometimes Abraham made wise choices and sometimes he didn’t.  Either way, he gained a deeper relationship with God based on a higher level of trust.

When God told Moses to go ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, He did not provide many specifics.  Moses had to act in faith with a bare minimum of understanding of the plan.  Then God provided further direction as needed.  By the end of his life, Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, through 40 years of living in the desert, and had gained a much deeper relationship with God and a greater reliance on God’s trustworthiness.

I see God working in our lives today in much the same manner.  God tends to give us a bare minimum of details in asking us to step out in faith.  Many times the details are left for us to figure out for ourselves.  Sometimes we make wise choices and sometimes we don’t.  Either way, we can trust God to work through our meager faith to work His will and purpose in our lives while drawing us into deeper relationship with Himself.

Listening in Distress

The Morning View from My Front Porch

It is a beautiful mid-July Saturday morning in south Arkansas!  The sun is bright.  The grass is green. The dew is still on the grass. A cool refreshing breeze stirs the leaf-covered tree limbs, and the oppressive heat has not yet set in for the day.

This week has been a series of peaceful early morning rides before work. Knockout and I have ridden out in the cool dawn hours to check cows before the sweltering daily heat sets in…and before I have to leave for work.

Knockout has been super calm and responsive with everything I’ve asked of him.  The cattle have all been calm and sleepily serene.  All has been quiet and peaceful.

This morning was different, though…

This morning, Knockout was reluctant and distracted from the start.   He balked as I led him out of the pasture, so we took a few minutes to regain his attention.

Coming through the pasture gate, Knockout was distracted and spooky. So we spent a few more minutes focusing attention.

Then our dog started barking and Knockout totally spooked sideways at what turned out to be a stray cat hiding in our fence line.

As I groomed, saddled and mounted, Knockout seemed calm. We rode out to check cattle and all was going peacefully until a group of calves spooked and loudly ran up into the middle of the herd. That caused Knockout some concern, but I convinced him to calmly continue walking forward as the calves rushed around and past us.

We checked all the cows in the back pasture, but were missing a few that I saw over in the front pasture. As we headed toward the open gate to the front pasture, something spooked the whole herd and they all started bawling and running toward the front pasture.

With a bawling running herd of cattle on our heels, Knockout was quite nervous, but we walked (on a loose rein) through the gate and down to the nearby creek. As we crossed the creek, cows surged up behind us from both sides, and Knockout bounded up the creek bank just ahead of them.  Safely across the creek, I guided Knockout to the side, where I turned him to stand and watch the cattle file past us, as they slowed to a single-file procession and began grazing.

Once all the cattle were accounted for, we checked fence and repaired a loose wire before returning to the arena, where we walked a couple of barrel patterns on a loose rein before calling it good for the day.

It was a good ride!  🙂

As I unsaddled, I realized how my expectations in a horse have changed.  I used to think the perfect horse was one that would never spook at anything and would remain calm no matter what happened.

Now, I expect a horse to sometimes get disturbed at stuff. What I want is for him to still listen to me even when he’s disturbed.

This morning’s ride was every bit as enjoyable to me as the preceding uneventful rides.  Knockout’s distress at unexpected events was not a setback.  It was just an event to be handled…and he handled it well…listening to me and following my cues.

Isn’t that how our relationship should be with God?

Throughout scripture, angels, prophets, and apostles frequently encourage God’s people to not be afraid.  Jesus, Himself, told us:

For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:22-32)

I’ve heard some people label worry and fear as sinful… an obvious lack of faith.  I’ve heard people label as commandments the many scriptural calls to not be afraid.  I have even heard pastors preach against using anxiety medications, saying people just need to trust God and have faith.

I don’t read these passages that way at all!

I see these calls to not be afraid, not as commandments, but rather as encouragement… much as I tell Knockout, “easy boy” when he acts distressed.  I don’t get angry with Knockout for being afraid.  Rather I seek to encourage and comfort him in his fear.

I comfort Knockout in his distress by calmly giving him something to do.  I may ask him to calmly walk forward.  I may ask him to turn and stop.  I may ask him to walk a small circle.

See, what I’m doing is helping Knockout remember to listen to me in the midst of his distress… and as he listens to me and responds to my cues, he becomes less distressed.

I don’t look at Knockout’s fear as a failure on his part.  I look at it as an opportunity for us to work on clear communication and direction during his distress.

I believe the same is true of my relationship with God.  He doesn’t expect me to never be distressed.  He simply wants me to listen to Him and follow His prompts in the midst of my distress.

After all, He is the Master Horseman!

In the Valley

This past year, Knockout and I have checked cows together fairly regularly. Although we are both far from expert, I have begun to think of Knockout as well on his way to becoming a good cow horse. He is calm checking the herd. He has good instincts for how to behave around cows. He absolutely loves working with me to move cows from one pasture to another. He has the breeding, the athleticism, and the instincts needed to become a good cow horse. He just needs a little more experience.

The spring calving season has provided more experience than anticipated, however.

Initially, Knockout was curious and friendly toward the young calves. He would approach to sniff and touch noses. However, when a couple of calves responded by bawling loudly and running to their very protective mother cows, Knockout learned to be a bit more cautious in his approach.

As calving season progressed, I added ear tagging tools to the fencing tools I already carried in my cantle bag. While checking cattle, if we find a new baby calf, I dismount, drop the rein to ground-tie Knockout, retrieve a tag and tools from the cantle bag, and tag the calf. Then I enter the tag number, date, sex, color, etc. in my i-phone spreadsheet, before remounting and continuing.

It’s a pretty good system that lets me enjoy working from horseback while exposing Knockout to more things.

Most of the time, the calf is fairly recently born and I’m able to do all this without much fuss. Once in a while, we find a calf that’s a couple of days old, a lot faster on its feet, and more cautious of humans. When that happens, there may be more fuss and the calf is likely to start bawling. If the calf gets bothered and noisy, so does the mama cow. Knockout responds, accordingly, by also getting pretty bothered.

As the season has progressed, I’ve noticed Knockout becoming more and more evasive of young calves…and downright jittery if a calf starts bawling. In other words, my promising young cow horse has begun developing a fear of noisy calves…not a good thing in a cow horse.

Two weeks ago, this negative trend reached a new valley of concern. I ground-tied Knockout to tag another calf…one I knew was a couple of days old and whose mother was very skittish and protective…but we had a job to do. So, I grabbed the ear tag tools and started toward the calf. The calf stood still until I tried to grab it. Then he bawled loudly, escaped my grasp, and ran straight toward Knockout…followed by his mama cow. Knockout completely panicked, fled the scene, and has acted downright paranoid of calves ever since.

So, the last week or so I have begun intentionally working with Knockout to overcome his fear and learn, once again, to relax walking around the cattle.

One of the ways I have addressed this is by trying to make the cattle herd a place of comfort and rest. For example, a couple of days ago we rode out to check cattle. We approached three cows with their calves and I cued a whoa to look the cows over and check their ear tag numbers off my list. Knockout promptly stopped on cue…but then immediately started moving again. I checked his movement and he responded correctly…then started to move again with more energy. Since he was obviously too tense to feel confident standing still, I went ahead and let him move the direction he wanted to go…then promptly put him into a turn. We spent about two minutes doing vigorous turns and figure-eights before ending with a right spin. I walked Knockout back to the same spot and cued another stop. He stood calmly while I checked the cows and logged them in my spreadsheet. Then we moved to the next group of cows.

This process was repeated several times throughout the ride. Sometimes Knockout would stop and stand calm just fine. However, if a calf bawled, or a bull acted bullish, or a cow approached from his hindquarters, Knockout would get antsy and start moving. So, we would go right back to circles, figure-eights, and spins before returning to the same spot to cue another whoa and stand relaxed.

All this movement is intended to accomplish several things. First it addressed Knockout’s felt need to move while keeping him from fleeing the scene. Second, it gave him a chance to think. While we were calmly circling and spinning, he was able to see the cattle calmly continuing to eat and see they were no real threat. Third, he was learning that moving off without a cue was a whole lot more work than standing calmly like I asked. In other words, standing still in the middle of the cattle herd was a whole lot calmer and more comfortable than moving off.

And this is the fundamental goal…to help Knockout see the cattle herd as a place of comfort rather than a place of fear.

Once we had checked the whole herd, I rode Knockout into the middle of the herd, cued a stop and dismounted. I dropped the rein to ground-tie him and loosened his cinch so he could relax. Then I opened the cantle bag where I retrieved his halter and a zip-lock bag of feed. I haltered Knockout, gave him a handful of feed to nibble, then poured the rest of the feed on the ground for him to eat.

As I was retrieving the halter and grain from the cantle bag, something struck me as very familiar…almost a deja vu moment. The feeling of familiarity nagged at my subconscious as I haltered and fed Knockout. Knockout calmly ate as we watched a storm approaching, and I continued to turn it over in my mind.

Then I realized. I had just reenacted a portion of Psalm 23 with Knockout. By guiding Knockout’s path during his distress, then providing comfort and food in the middle of the scary cattle herd, I was doing the same thing King David described God doing with us.

A while back, I wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 23, from the perspective of a horseman rather than a shepherd. Below is my paraphrase of David’s psalm:

The Lord is My Horseman

The Lord is my Horseman;
I have everything I need.
He provides me with safe, lush, green pastures.
He directs my steps to places with plenty of fresh water.
He restores my sense of peace, safety and comfort.
He leads and directs my steps in the paths of His choice
To accomplish His purpose in my life.

Yes, even if I walk through a dark, narrow, gloomy valley full of dreaded spooks,
I will not be afraid, because You are with me.
Your seat in the saddle and Your grip on the reins comfort me and give me confidence.
You feed me fresh grain and nutritious hay in the middle of scary environments.
You groom me, caring for my coat, mane, tail, and hooves.
My water trough stays full to overflowing.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will live in the pastures of The Lord, forever.

Isn’t God good to us?

Step by Step

When we first brought Knockout home 3 1/2 years ago, he was a bit hesitant about trailer loading.  So, trailer loading was one of the very first things we worked on.  It did not take long for him to become confident and even eager to load up.  For the last three years, he has been a super easy loader with no issues.

Until lately…

Across this winter, Knockout has become increasingly hesitant about loading.  It started as a small thing…just a slight hesitation at the trailer door on a dark night.  I started going in front of him to lead the way and bolster his confidence, which seemed to help.  However, as time passed, he started hesitating even with me leading…and the hesitation became much more than momentary.  I was always able to get him to load, but it sometimes took several minutes.

Now, I am usually quick to address issues as they arise.  Far better to deal with minor issues than to wait and let them become major issues.  However, with the protracted rain and cold through the winter months that just hasn’t happened.  Most of the winter trailer loading was to visit the farrier, usually in the dark, cold, and wet…usually running behind schedule for our after-work appointment.  So, I would make a mental note that we needed to spend some time addressing the issue within the next few days…but the time never came…because the rain and cold virtually never let up.

So, last week when I unloaded Knockout at a local roping practice, I took the time to work with him a little.

I asked Knockout to back a couple of steps, stop, then come forward a step.  Then back one step, stop, and come forward two steps.  We did several minutes of simply going back and forth, one step at a time, inside the trailer.  Initially, when Knockout backed, he wanted to turn his head to look behind him, but I asked him to face forward and look at me, instead.

Finally, I backed Knockout to the very edge of the trailer and signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He responded by going all the way out of the trailer…which is not what I asked for.  So, I asked him to load back in the trailer.  We went back and forth, one step at a time, a few times, then I again backed him to the very edge of the trailer, where I again signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He stepped off and I signaled a stop.  Knockout stood still with his hind hooves on the ground and his front hooves in the trailer while I petted and praised him.

Next, I asked Knockout to step his hind hooves back in the trailer.  He did so without moving his front hooves forward, so he was just sort of teetering on the edge.  I praised him then asked him to step his hind hooves off again.

We repeated that a few times, then I asked him to go ahead and back all the way off.  Then we loaded just his front hooves on and backed off again.  Then we loaded him all the way on, walked to the front of the trailer, backed all the way to the edge, unloaded his hind hooves, paused, then unloaded his front hooves, backed out of my way so I could get off the trailer, and called it good for one lesson.  We saddled up and enjoyed the practice.

Later that evening, when we got home, we repeated the same lessons at home before feeding and turning out to pasture.

So…why did I handle the lesson this way?  What was the point of the step-by-step back and forth both on the trailer and at the trailer edge?  Why did I ask him to face forward and not look behind himself while backing?

To understand the reason we have to understand the source of the issue.  Knockout’s refusal to load was not stubbornness or defiance.  He was not being disrespectful or willfully disobedient.  Knockout’s issue was a lack of confidence.  He felt unsure of going inside that dark trailer, and the longer I let his fears go unaddressed the more fearful he became.

The solution to overcoming his fear was to build his confidence in me, in regard to moving inside the trailer.  I asked for the fine control of one step at a time, because that requires Knockout to really focus and pay attention to me.  When he’s paying attention to me, he has more confidence in me, and his fear of circumstances just sort of dissolves.

Likewise, I asked him to face forward and not look back while unloading, because I want him to place his total trust in me and learn he can trust me to direct his feet and to let him know when to step down.  So long as he is looking back, he is relying on his own instincts…including his instinct that the trailer is a scary place.  To move past his fear, we needed him to place his total trust in me and to focus his attention on listening to me one step at a time.

See, the solution to overcoming Knockout’s fear is to replace his fear with faith in me.  And the best way to help him increase his faith in me is to let him practice trusting me and finding me faithful by putting him in a situation where he has to trust me to guide him one step at a time.

Looking at it from Knockout’s perspective, I was asking him to remain in the scary circumstances much longer than necessary.  I could easily have simply let him unload from the trailer and gone about our business.  However, if I had done that we would have missed a really good learning opportunity.  He would have been out of the trailer quicker…but would not have learned to trust me to direct his steps…and the next trailer loading would have been a much more stressful and lengthy process than necessary.

Whether Knockout realizes it or not, staying longer in the trailer and working through his trust and confidence issues was for his own good.  He has become a braver, calmer, more trusting horse through that process.

Isn’t this similar to how our Heavenly Father teaches us to trust Him?

I can think of numerous situations in which I asked God to address a difficult situation.  In nearly every case, God allowed me to remain in that situation much longer than I would have liked.  However, through that situation He was faithful to remain with me and direct my steps.

Most of the major learning experiences of my Christian walk have been things I have learned during these difficult situations.

Walking thru a divorce, single parenting, and child custody battles…walking thru the closing of a company where I had been employed over 20 years…walking thru cancer diagnosis and treatment…

Each of these was a very trying situation and in every one Jesus proved Himself as my faithful friend…not by removing me from the situation…but by walking with me thru the situation…guiding me one step at a time…teaching me to trust him…helping me learn new perspectives…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24 KJV)

God is such a faithful friend!

Abortion Conversations

As a general rule, I try to avoid controversial topics on which I have no direct personal experience.  Partly, this is to protect myself from unnecessary confrontation.  Mostly, it is to avoid being presumptuous on topics where others have much more knowledge and experience than I.

This past week, the topic of abortion law has once again become a hot topic, and social media is swirling with memes and opinions…mostly unhelpful, oversimplifying memes treating a complex issue as though it were a binary logic decision.

As usual, I have remained silent.  I have no direct personal experience on this topic.  I have no medical background.  So, I really don’t have anything of value to add to the discussion.

BUT…I have the privilege of being closely related to some truly amazing women!  My sisters, nieces, cousins, and daughters are continual sources of wisdom and insight.

This week, I have had the privilege of reading an on-line conversation between some of my nieces.  These ladies are devoted Christians who are firmly in support of pro-life and also have lots of medical experience.  They are also wonderful mothers to their own children.  Their stories carry so much more compassion and understanding than the typical pro-life meme!

Also, this week, a dear cousin shared a painful story of loss from her own experience…and how that experience has given her a deeper sense of grace and compassion toward others.

I still have nothing of value to add to the conversation…but they do.  So, with their permission, I am sharing their unedited stories.

Niece 1 – a labor and delivery nurse close to finishing her CNM (certified nurse midwife) MSN degree:

In years and years of working with women, I have only met one or two who were thinking of abortion because they saw a baby as an inconvenience. Most were in some terrible situation and saw no way out. Also abortion has fallen dramatically in this country in the last few years because we have gotten better with birth control availability, among other things. If we really want abortion to continue to decrease, we need to take care of the mothers. Abortion will not go away if it is illegal. Women died by the hundreds from illegal abortions throughout history. If we really want to take care of the babies, we will take care of the mamas.

And we need to tread lightly and with gentleness around this issue. Many, many women every year have to face unfathomable choices when they are diagnosed with severe health problems, or their baby has a disorder incompatible with life. People think this is more rare than it is. I have personally cared for many women and babies in this situation. Women usually do not have the choice of “my life or the baby’s.” If the mom dies, the baby usually will too. And even if not, who am I to tell a woman her life is less valuable than her baby’s?

I am pro-life, but the pro-life community makes me crazy. The closer you are to the issue, the more gray you see-—vast areas of gray full of hurting women that should be given compassion and care instead of judgments

And in case anyone thinks I am making this up, things like preeclampsia, severe heart disorders, severe diabetes, liver disorders, aggressive forms of cancer, certain disorders and implantations of the placenta, clotting disorders, severe hyperemesis–ALL can be seriously life-threatening in pregnancy. If your own pregnancy was a breeze, be thankful…and remember with kindness those that have faced decisions or losses that are unfathomably difficult. Stepping off my soap box now.

Niece 2 – an oncology/hematology nurse:

I have to add- I see a major problem with the medical community telling women their only choice (when faced with life threatening complications) is abortion. There are many (but not enough) pro-life doctors who will closely monitor and help both the mother and baby find a viable solution. Working in oncology, we would sometimes have a pregnant mother who we could give low dose chemo until the baby is viable (about 24wks) then give the high doses after delivery. But a lot of women are being told they don’t have a choice- when they really do. That nothing can be done- when there ARE options. Even when trying to bury an early miscarried baby there is so much red tape to go through. The conversation needs to change from- ‘this is what you have to do’ to ‘here are some options, I’m here for you and your baby.’

Niece 1:

Absolutely!! And offer effective contraception for those that have life-threatening illnesses. Had a lady that went into heart failure with one pregnancy, then got pregnant again. Women need us to be honest about all their options and possible outcomes. Then respect their choices.

Niece 2:

Yes, and be honest about side effects of contraception. I’ve been told ‘there are no side effects with this.’ Then I had to reveal I’m a nurse and educate her on that. Also, remembering that only abstinence is 100%.

Cousin‘s post:

I like to keep my Facebook page funny and inappropriate. I never talk about personal shit because let’s be honest, no one wants to hear it. But after reading so much hate the past week, and being unfriended by a couple people yesterday due to an article I shared, I feel compelled to tell MY story. One a lot of you know. One a bunch of you lived with me. One that I’m asked repeatedly to relay to women who are struggling.

I woke up on March 25, 2011 just like every other day. My now ex-husband and I were happy. I had the most amazing 3 year old stepson. AND I was 10 weeks pregnant with our “Pumpkin.” Life was good, y’all!

And then, it wasn’t. Later that day, I was rushed to the hospital after passing out in a parking lot. 20 minutes later, I got to hear my baby’s strong heart beat and felt relief! And 10 minutes after that, I was told they couldn’t save our baby because he or she was stuck at the very end of my fallopian tube, causing it to burst, and I was bleeding out. I was rushed into emergency surgery where they cut my LIVE baby out of my belly. I lost half of the blood in my body. I spent 3 days in the hospital and had 4 blood transfusions. My baby almost killed me, literally.

My relationship never fully recovered. We gave it the old college try for 3 more years, but ended up divorcing in 2014. I’m still haunted by the loss of a child, all these years later. I’m not the same person I was before then. I’m bitter and I’m jaded. My life has been forever changed. And not for the better.

My situation isn’t the same as what you’re seeing in the news. Not even close. I didn’t have an abortion that day. I didn’t get to choose. But the guilt and agony and sadness that I live with every single day PALES in comparison to what these mothers must be feeling when presented with such a horrific choice.

I cannot even fathom the heart wrenching decisions these women have to make when told the baby they’ve carried and loved for however many weeks, whether it be 8 or 37, won’t make it. Or that they could potentially die if they continue their pregnancy. Contrary to what you may think you know, no healthy woman is walking into a clinic after carrying a healthy child for 9 months and saying “nah, I’m not feeling it, just kill my baby.” These mothers will never recover. They will be heartbroken and changed for life. Believe me.

So until you’ve lived it, or some version of it, don’t assume to understand it. Save the “here’s what I would do,” because you have NO idea what you would do. I hope you never have to find out.

Don’t judge what you don’t know.

Pray for these mothers. Pray for the fathers.

That’s all. Thanks for listening.

We need more of these sorts of conversations.

 

Note: Any derogatory comments will be immediately deleted.  Discussion is welcome.  Disrespect is not.

Fear of Fear

My first horse – Modelo

A few years ago, my wife bought me my first horse, a young bay thoroughbred/quarter-horse cross, named Modelo. I was like a kid with a new pony…in more ways than I even realized.  I loved having my own horse and rode at every opportunity.  However, I knew almost nothing about riding or horsemanship and it didn’t take long for Modelo and me to start developing bad habits.

The very first time I mounted Modelo, he side-stepped a little as I swung into the saddle. Sherri commented, “Oh, we’re going to have to watch that.”  Not understanding the importance, I shrugged and we continued our ride.

The next time I mounted, Modelo sidestepped again. Sherri told me, “You need to stop him from doing that.  It could get to be a bad habit.”

Now, at this point I was not very concerned about the side-stepping. It just did not seem to me like a big deal.  More than that, though, I had absolutely no idea how to correct it.  Since I wasn’t telling Modelo to move, I had absolutely no idea how to tell him to not move, especially while I was in the middle of swinging myself into the saddle.

I asked Sherri, “What do you mean? How am I supposed to stop him?”

I honestly don’t recall exactly what Sherri told me at that point. I just remember her response seemed very vague and not very helpful.  I pressed for specifics and the response seemed to become even vaguer.   Finally, she said I should probably ask a friend of ours who was a professional horse trainer.

As a side-note, I should point out that over time I have learned vague sounding responses from experienced horsemen are quite common. Many of the best horsemen learned experientially from their horse and have difficulty explaining the concepts to a beginner.  Ray Hunt is widely acclaimed as one of the best western horsemen of all time, yet reading his books for the first time left me feeling more puzzled than helped.  The problem is in finding a way to convey finely developed sensual experiences to a novice with no understanding or experience.

So, faced with a seemingly minor issue which I had no idea how to correct, I simply ignored it and kept riding. Why make mountains out of molehills?  Right?

Except the issue did not remain minor. Over the next few months, it gradually got worse.  Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time (remember I was a beginner) the side-stepping started looking a whole lot more like startling.  Since I was mostly solo riding, the escalation went largely unnoticed.

My solution was to simply try to mount faster. Mounting felt vulnerable to me, but once I was seated in the saddle with reins in my hand, I felt more in control.  So, I started rushing my mount to get securely in the seat quicker.  I even bought a pair of pointy-toed cowboy boots so I could find the off-side stirrup easier and gain a secure seat quicker.

For a while, this strategy seemed to work. Sure, Modelo still seemed a bit energetic during mounting.  However, I learned to mount quickly to gain control, then all was good for the rest of the ride.

Until, one morning, Modelo was faster than me. The instant I began putting weight in the stirrup, he erupted into a wide-open full-gallop bolt!

From there, things spiraled from bad to worse for a while.

We eventually got it figured out. With a lot of input from others and a few weeks of going back to the start and teaching Modelo to simply stand still and relaxed for mounting, we got it figured out.  I learned how to mount without putting so much torque on the saddle and horse.  I learned to correct movement while mounting.  I learned to go slow and not rush mounting.  I learned a lot of things.  Little did I know, I had just taken my first step on the journey of horsemanship, by learning to recognize I was the one who needed to improve before the horse could improve.

For several years, I have viewed this experience as an example of the importance of consistently addressing little things before they become major issues. I have thought of it as personal evidence that in every interaction with a horse we are teaching him something, whether we realize it or not.  If we are not intentionally teaching him something desirable, then we are likely unintentionally teaching him something undesirable.  And that is all true.

Lately, though, I have been contemplating this whole experience from an emotional perspective.

The first time I mounted Modelo, I’m sure I was clumsy and awkward. I can only imagine how much I must have pulled Modelo off balance.

Modelo responded with a side-step…a quite reasonable response to maintain his balance during my awkward mounting. So far so good.

Except I never got any better at mounting. Not realizing I was causing an issue, I simply continued mounting the same way.  Which meant I continued pulling Modelo off balance each time I mounted.  Plus, to make matters worse, I failed to do anything to address Modelo’s inappropriate movement.

Consequently, Modelo learned to anticipate discomfort during mounting, and he learned (because I unintentionally taught him) the appropriate response to that discomfort was to move his feet.

As things escalated, Modelo digressed from responding to discomfort to responding to fear of discomfort, and his sidestep turned into a startle. He began startling in anticipation before he ever felt discomfort.

For my part, I responded by trying to get in the saddle quicker. Why?  So I could control Modelo.  While mounting, I felt vulnerable…out of control…scared.  So I learned to try to mount as quickly as possible to try to regain control.  My response to a scary situation that left me feeling vulnerable was to pursue a higher level of control.

My response to a scary situation that left me feeling vulnerable was to pursue a higher level of control. Click To Tweet

I didn’t realize at the time that my rushed mounting was only making things worse. It was a bit like sneaking…it was quite similar to a predator’s behavior…and it caused Modelo to become tenser rather than calmer.  Consequently, things escalated to the point Modelo started reacting out of fear of fear.  As soon as I started putting any weight in the stirrup…long before he could have felt any discomfort…Modelo reacted by bolting in terror.  He had learned mounting was something to be feared and the appropriate response to fear was to move his feet.  So he ran.

Based on my understanding at the time, the fundamental issue was my lack of control. So, I responded by trying to gain control quickly.  The more things spun out of control the more right it felt to pursue control.  It was a scary situation that needed to be brought under control, quickly.

The real issue, though, was Modelo’s fear and discomfort. The true solution was found not in trying to gain control as quickly as possible, but rather in addressing Modelo’s fear and discomfort.

As long as I viewed the situation as a need for control, the problems continued to escalate from bad to worse, with each of us escalating our behavior in response to the other. When I finally let go of my felt need to quickly seize control, I was finally able to begin seeing things from Modelo’s perspective and start addressing his fears.  That was the beginning of starting to work together to address root issues and find real solutions in a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.

Looking at the American political scene over the past several years, I see a similar escalation of fearful responses.

During the Obama administration combined with a liberal-leaning Supreme Court, our country saw several changes intended to help people who felt marginalized and mistreated.

We saw the end of the don’t-ask-don’t tell military policy toward homosexuality. We saw the end of legal barriers to homosexual marriage.  We saw policies implemented to address transsexual bathroom privacy concerns.  We saw religious diversity inhibition concerns addressed through prohibition of public Ten Commandments displays on government property.  We saw a heightened awareness of religious and cultural sensitivity in public expressions of “Merry Christmas” often being replaced with the more generic “Happy Holidays.”  We saw a heightened awareness of unintentional racial profiling and resulting use of lethal force.

We saw all these changes and more in a relatively short period of time.

These changes were welcomed by those who were positively impacted. Many felt they had been marginalized by society for decades.  These folks embraced the change and felt empowered to speak out in favor of more change.

For other folks, however, all these changes on multiple fronts within a relatively short time period felt very uncomfortable. Change always feels a bit uncomfortable.  Change perceived as being forced on us by others feels very uncomfortable…scary even.

Many people felt attacked. Perspectives they had taken for granted their whole lives were suddenly being challenged and overturned.  They feared what more changes might be coming.  Would pastors be legally required to perform marriages that conflicted with their religious convictions?  Would bathroom privacy cease to exist?  Would Christians start to experience legalized persecution for our religious beliefs?

We saw a rise in talk about “war on Christians,” “war on Christmas,” “war on marriage,” “war on traditional family values,” “war on law and order,” etc. We saw state legislatures introduce bills to ensure pastors continued to have legal right to exercise personal religious discretion in which marriages they agree to officiate.  We saw bills introduced to forbid men using a women’s restroom.  We saw state legislatures act to specifically permit public Ten Commandments displays on state government property.  We saw legal battles over county clerks refusing to process marriage licenses.

Why? Because people felt threatened.  People felt as though we were losing our national identity in all these changes being enforced by powers outside their local jurisdiction.  People felt attacked and responded defensively.  Facing a scary situation, people felt vulnerable and responded by trying to quickly regain control.

Facing a scary situation, people felt vulnerable and responded by trying to quickly regain control. Click To Tweet

Fast forward a few years to the present. Donald Trump has been President for the past two years.  For those first two years, both Congressional houses were majority Republican.  Two conservative justices have been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Last week, we saw video of an encounter between a group of high school kids from Kentucky, a group calling themselves Black Israelites, and a group of Native Americans. There was a lot of early misinformation, conflicting accounts, conflicting first impressions, and conflicting final impressions.  Fortunately, the altercation ended without violence.  The ensuing discussion has clearly illustrated that for a high percentage of Americans, the simple act of wearing a red hat bearing the words “Make America Great Again” is now viewed as an openly antagonistic display of racism.

Why?   Because of the racist undertones of rhetoric associated with the political group currently in power…because of the openly white supremacist organizations who have publicly supported that political group…because of the racially motivated violence and threats that seem to have been emboldened or inspired by the rhetoric…because of fear of what more might be coming.

Also last week, the state of New York passed a new abortion law. The new law has been celebrated by its advocates as a great victory for women’s rights and women’s health.  The new law has been denounced by its opponents as a horrible travesty against innocent unborn babies.  When I read information on the new law, I was puzzled.  So far as I can tell, the new law sparking all this controversy does absolutely nothing.  It simply conforms to the Supreme Court status quo on the topic of abortion.  It neither expands nor reduces legalization of abortion in New York.

So why bother passing such a law at all? Because of fear of change.  With two new conservative Supreme Court justices, people are concerned women’s health and privacy rights could be reduced.  So, they made a pre-emptive move to try to preserve their existing rights as state statutory law.  Much like the bathroom laws and the Ten Commandments laws of a few years ago, this new abortion law is simply a reaction to change combined with fear of further change.  Facing a scary situation, people felt vulnerable and responded by trying to quickly regain control.

I find myself thinking of a horse named Modelo and the lessons we have learned together.

As long as we view the situation as a need for control, the problems continue to escalate from bad to worse. Each group escalates their behavior in response to the other, in an attempt to retain control.

We need to let go of our felt need to seize control, begin trying to see things from each other’s perspective, and start addressing each other’s fears.  Only then can we start working together to address root issues and find real solutions based on mutual trust and understanding.

We need to let go of our felt need to seize control and begin trying to understand each other’s perspective. Click To Tweet

I realize I am grossly over-simplifying things in my horsemanship metaphor. Yet I still believe the comparison is apt.

Fear begets fear. Both parties react to fear by trying to seize control.  Attempts to seize control beget more fear.  We are becoming more divided and more fearful and the situation continues to escalate to the point we are no longer even reacting to each other’s actions.  Rather, we are reacting to our fears of what the other party’s actions might become…or to theoretical “slippery slopes” of consequences.  We have begun reacting out of fear of our own fears.

As Americans, we need to come together and try to understand each other’s perspectives and concerns.

As Christians, we need to trust God.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

I encourage you to find someone this week with a political position that opposes your own and try to understand their perspective.  Ask questions without judgment, debate, or argument.  Just try to see things from their perspective.  Try to understand their concerns.  You don’t have to agree…but don’t express your disagreement.  It’s not about who is right or proving a point.  Just ask questions, listen, and try to understand.  Maybe start the conversation with, “Can you help me understand…?”

Listening to understanding is the beginning of releasing fear and the felt need to control.

Emmanuel – Seed of Eve

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

What an astonishing sign!

A child called Emmanuel (meaning God with us) was to be born…born of a virgin.  How can that be?  Why was the virgin birth so important?

God explained the plan way back in the Garden of Eden:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Genesis 3:15)

This first Messianic prophecy was spoken by God, to the serpent, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God promised a coming Redeemer even before He banished them from the garden.

…her seed…

In scripture, the seed is pictured as coming from the man, while the woman’s womb is pictured as a fertile environment for the seed to develop into a child. Yet here God speaks of the woman’s seed. From the very beginning, God had already planned for Messiah to be conceived without an earthly father…to be born of a virgin. Jesus is the seed of the woman.

And I will put enmitybetween your seed and her seed…

The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. Who is the seed of the serpent?

Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father. … You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies…” (John 8:39-45 – emphasis mine)

The seed of the serpent are those who do the deeds of Satan…those who are at enmity with God…those who walk in sin. The seed of the serpent are all the descendants of Adam who reject Jesus as Christ (1 John 5:1&19).

Adam was created in covenant with God (Genesis 1:27 & 2:7, Hosea 6:7). When Adam sinned, he entered into covenant with the kingdom of darkness. This is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…being in covenant with both good and evil.

Remember those fictional stories about people making deals with the devil then despairing because Satan gained legal right to their souls? This was the issue facing mankind after Adam’s fall…the devil had legal claim over Adam’s soul.

In the Old Testament, covenant is a father-to-son inheritance. The sons inherited not only the father’s property, but also his covenant relationships, including his debts.

So, not only was Adam in covenant with evil…so were all his descendants. What a hopeless seeming situation! How can we escape an evil legacy inherited from birth? Every human child is born into Adam’s covenant with evil.

Every child…except Jesus!

Jesus was born of a virgin! Jesus is the seed of the woman, conceived with no earthly father from whom to inherit Adam’s covenant. Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was born in covenant with God but not in covenant with evil.

As the only descendant of Adam born with no covenant ties to the kingdom of darkness, only Jesus was qualified to act as our Kinsman-Redeemer. Only Jesus could redeem us from the kingdom of darkness.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.
Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand… (Isaiah 28:16-18)

Only Jesus was qualified to be our Kinsman-Redeemer, and His virgin birth was an essential part of God’s plan of redemption.

Not only did God become a man, but He also became our Savior and Redeemer…the only person qualified to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with sin and death.

Hallelujah!  Glory to God in the highest!  Thru Emmanuel, we are redeemed!

Limitless Power – Limited Control

Traveling south on Highway 29 thru Hope, Arkansas, the intersection at South Main Street marks the end of the four-lane bypass. Four lanes of traffic (two each direction) navigate the traffic light, but about a hundred yards south of Main Street the right lane is forced to merge and Highway 29 continues south as a two-lane road.  Knowing this, I usually make a point of entering the intersection in the left lane.  Otherwise, I would have to battle the left lane traffic to merge before the right lane disappears.

Approaching the intersection yesterday morning, I observed three cars awaiting the light change in the left lane while the right lane was empty. So, I moved to the right lane while gently applying the brake.  I carefully timed the deceleration so my car was still slowly moving when the light changed to green.  I promptly accelerated past the motionless line of cars in the left lane and merged back over.

Timing…pressure…release…finesse…deceleration…acceleration…smooth control of power feels good!  🙂

As I accelerated back to speed, I felt the initial forward surge of power smoothly taper off as I gently reduced pressure on the accelerator.

I smiled, thinking of canter departures.

Canter departures…so similar yet so different from accelerating a car through a traffic light…

The familiar surge of power in response to applied pressure…the deceleration as the intended cruising speed is approached…timing…pressure…release…finesse…acceleration…deceleration…smooth control of power feels good!  🙂

That is…it feels good when it is smooth…and under control.  Power can feel pretty awkward…even frightening…and not at all smooth…when out of control.

With the car, my mind works in concert with my body to operate the mechanical controls on the car. Unless the car is broken, it responds the same way every time.  There is only one mind and one will involved in the speed control process.

With a horse it’s different. Asking Knockout for a canter departure, I gently squeeze my legs applying pressure similar to the pressure applied to an automobile accelerator.  If Knockout is alert and ready for the cue, he promptly responds with a forward surge of power.  And, similar to accelerating a car, I have to gauge the acceleration against my desired speed to smoothly transition.

Riding a horse, though, involves another mind and will…requiring another level of communication. It’s not just mechanical linkage.  I have to communicate to Knockout what I want him to do, and Knockout has to figure out what I want in order to respond appropriately.

Sometimes, Knockout isn’t paying close attention. Sometimes, we’re plodding along in a relaxed state and my cue to canter sort of catches Knockout by surprise.  So, there’s this brief hesitation as Knockout realizes I’ve asked him to change gaits.  So, after the momentary delay we get this forward surge of power…but Knockout doesn’t yet know what speed we’re aiming for.  Do I want a trot, a lope, a canter, or a gallop?  Because, I use pretty much the same cue for all of them…the only difference is level of pressure and how long the pressure is held.  So, Knockout is surging forward in response to pressure from my legs…but because of the brief hesitation I have already applied more pressure longer awaiting his response…so now my timing is off.  If I drop pressure too quick I’ll get a trot…hold it too long and I’ll get an all-out gallop.  So, I try to time it right to drop into an easy lope…and sometimes we miss.  Sometimes, we drop into a trot and I ask for more.  Sometimes, we spring into a full gallop and I ask him to back off.  Sometimes, it is not at all smooth…sometimes I experience a moment of alarm wondering how fast a speed we’re headed for and whether I can ride it.

See, riding a horse is really more like back-seat-driving rather than driving a car. I don’t directly control the horse’s feet.  I communicate with the horse and the horse controls his feet.  The control is one step removed and we are always only one potential miscommunication away from an error.  It’s a bit like teaching a beginner driver…instructing their stops, starts and turns…while hoping they fully understand and promptly do what you ask…and knowing it will rarely be as smooth as you’ve envisioned.

I try to imagine navigating that South Main intersection around a stopped line of cars in the left lane with a student driver. I try to think thru how I might try to time my verbal instructions to start slowing early as though stopping…but try to go slow enough that we don’t have to actually stop…to watch the traffic light to time it so we reach the intersection just as the light changes…to accelerate past the line of stopped cars before they get moving…to accelerate smoothly without punching the gas…yet quickly enough to get ahead of the line of cars…to gently ease off the accelerator while simultaneously merging over before the lane ends.

I simply cannot imagine attempting that maneuver with a student driver.  It just requires too high a level of clear communication with precise timing.  With a student driver in that situation, I would simply instruct him to stop at the traffic light in the left lane.

Then I consider what it would be like trying that maneuver as a student driver…trying to time everything just right when I don’t even know what the next step is or what goal we are shooting for. I try to imagine relying completely on a driving instructor’s step-by-step verbal direction to manage that maneuver with smooth precision.  No way!

Yet, this is what I ask of my horse on a regular basis.

This is both the thrill and the terror of riding a horse. It’s more about clear communication than it is about control…because I am never truly in control.

I see riding a horse with confidence as a combination of striving to communicate clearly, while embracing the lack of control, yet confidently trusting the partnership. I have to realize that miscommunications and mistakes will happen.  I have to accept that things will not always go as planned.  Yet, I have to trust that Knockout and I will get it worked out.  When we make mistakes, we will adjust, make corrections, and improve.

Over the years, I’ve come to view life from a similar perspective.

There was a time I saw life as more direct cause and effect. If I made good decisions then good things would result.  If I did things God’s way, God would bless my life.  Follow the rules and good things would follow.  When bad things threatened to happen, I would double-down to figure out what I was doing wrong and correct it…or I would work harder to do things right so the issue would be resolved.

Of course, this view is really just a way of trying to establish control. It assumes I can keep bad things from happening if I just do the right things.

It is a legalistic mindset that assumes control of outcome can be governed by following a rigid set of rules.  The back side of that assumption is that anyone experiencing bad things must be assumed to have not done the right things well enough.  Because, if they did all the right things and still experienced a bad outcome…then the same could happen to me…which means I would have no control at all…which is (for many people…including myself at one time) simply too scary to even contemplate.

As an example, look how many books, sermons, and videos are available on the topic of how to divorce proof your marriage or how to raise successful children.  People want to believe they can control the outcome by simply doing all the right things.

The problem is it’s not true. No matter how well one follows the rules, bad things can still happen.  We simply do not have that much control.  In fact, we are never truly in control.  At any moment some major life-changing event could happen that is completely unrelated to anything I did or did not do.

I now view life more like how I view riding a horse. I strive to communicate clearly, while embracing the lack of control, yet confidently trusting the partnership.  I strive to actively listen to The Holy Spirit while clearly voicing my concerns and needs.  I realize I won’t do everything right…that mistakes will happen.  I also realize bad things will happen that have nothing to do with anything I did or did not do.  Yet, I trust God’s faithfulness as He works His will and purpose for my good.  I trust Him to work with me thru the many miscommunications, folding my mistakes right into His plan.  I trust God’s power to be far greater than my mistakes or any evil that may befall me.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)

Thank you, Father, for your faithfulness!

Trusting thru Concerns

Riding the back fence line at Lazy Colt Ranch

The first Sunday afternoon in November, I loaded Knockout in our 3-horse trailer and carried him to a friend’s ranch.

Since we mostly ride on our own farm or down the gravel roads near our farm, I wanted to carry Knockout somewhere else to expose him to riding in different locations.

I was pleased to see Knockout was calm and relaxed as we unloaded from the trailer and saddled up. I swung into the saddle and set out to follow my friend’s instructions to explore and have fun.

We left the yard at an easy trot, headed toward the back pasture. Passing thru the open gate, Knockout acted a little concerned, but I just asked him to keep going and he did.  He eyed the sorting pens warily as we rode past.  He pushed thru my seat cue to step left and avoid a scary looking mud puddle…so I turned him to ride back thru it.  The third time around, we calmly rode straight thru the puddle.

We passed a big black bull on the left…no different than the bulls in our own pasture. Bulls in other people’s pastures look scarier, apparently.  Knockout tensed a little and kept a wary eye on the bull until we were past.

The first fifteen minutes of the ride went like that. Water troughs, gates, salt blocks, even trees were cause for extra wariness.

Knockout never panicked…never spooked…never balked or bolted. He was just concerned about everything.  Everyday objects no different than what we see every ride somehow looked more ominous when seen in unfamiliar surroundings.  Yet he still trusted me through it all and continued to respect my cues.

When we reached the back fence line, we stopped to do a few exercises intended to help Knockout focus on me. We did some backing on light cues, practiced turns both directions on fore and hind, side-passed and counter-arced.  Then we rode into a strip of woods where we wound a path between trees, circled trees both directions, and backed circles around trees.

By the time we rode out of the woods, Knockout was relaxed and focused. The wariness had all disappeared as he focused on listening to me.

Tuesday, I had a PET-Scan. There was no specific concern other than it had been two years since my last scan.  Although all checkups were going well, my doctors felt it would be prudent to do another scan just to be sure.

I was surprised to realize I was concerned. For over two years I’ve been going to doctors’ appointments every couple of months for checkups and scopes.  I’ve never been concerned by any of it.  It’s just another checkup with expectations of a good report.

For some reason, the upcoming PET-Scan was more concerning to me. It was a break from the usual routine.  It felt less familiar and a little more intimidating.  I didn’t expect any issues…but then that is what the scan is for…to see if there are any issues.

Much like Knockout riding in an unfamiliar pasture, ordinary things are just a little more concerning in unfamiliar circumstances.

Wednesday, a nurse from the ENT doctor’s office called to tell me the PET-Scan showed a small uptake at the base of my tongue and they were going to schedule a CT-Scan to investigate further.

I’ve had CT-Scan’s before…but not recently. And what about that small uptake?  I knew it was quite likely a false positive…but it was enough of a concern for my ENT to order a CT-Scan.

My level of concern was elevated. Much like Knockout, I was still trusting the one who directs my paths.  I was not panicked.  But I was concerned and a little wary.

Friday, I kept my appointment with my Oncologist, who reviewed the PET-Scan, scoped my throat, and performed a thorough examination of my mouth, throat and neck. All looks good!  He believes the small uptake was reflective of a minor throat infection.

I’m still keeping the CT-Scan appointment just to verify. But you know what?  I no longer feel the elevated concern.  I feel relaxed and confident…focused on listening to The One who directs my paths.

Jesus is such a good horseman to me!  He is my friend who will never leave me.

 

Your thoughts?