Covenant Vows

Shortly after Israel’s great deliverance from Egypt, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel that He would be their God and they would be His people.

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:4-6)

Notice the if…”if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant…”

Like most covenants, God’s covenant with the nation of Israel had conditions. Covenant conditions may take the form of terms (as in a written contract), vows (as in a marriage) or commandments (as between God and man).  The covenant conditions are the basis for the covenant relationship…they define the relationship agreed to in the covenant.  If the covenant terms are not kept…if the vows are violated…if the commandments are broken…the covenant is broken…it becomes null and void.

We see an example of this in Jeremiah 3:8 where God said:

And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.

The Kingdom of Israel (comprised of the ten northern tribes of Israel) had so egregiously violated God’s commandments for so long that God finally divorced them, legally dissolved the covenant, and allowed them to be conquered and cease to exist as a people group. Today, scholars refer to them as “the ten lost tribes of Israel.”

In God’s covenant with Israel, the covenant terms were The Ten Commandments, which God spelled out immediately after saying He would make a covenant with Israel (Exodus 20:1-17). Later, God wrote The Ten Commandments (the covenant vows) in stone and they were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant.

One of the ancient customs associated with covenants was to write the covenant vows on paper, then roll the paper up in a tiny scroll and place it inside a locket worn as jewelry…similar to a charm worn today on a bracelet, necklace, or headband. Similarly, God instructed Israel to build the Ark of the Covenant in which the stone tablets containing The Ten Commandments were to be placed.  The covenant vows were placed inside the covenant box.

What about the New Covenant?

We know Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant (both the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant) on our behalf. We now reap the benefits of the old covenant when we enter into covenant with Jesus Christ.

But what are the conditions of the New Covenant?

Jesus clearly spelled them out at His last supper with His disciples.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

Do you see how closely His wording parallels the words God said to Israel? “If you keep My commandments…”  The commandments are the covenant terms…the covenant vows…the conditions on which the covenant relationship is based.

So what are the commandments Jesus was referring to? God gave Israel The Ten Commandments as their covenant vows.  What are Jesus’ commandments for the New Covenant?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

Remember, this was the same meal at which Jesus enacted the New Covenant. It was also a Passover Meal…the remembrance meal of the Old Covenant…an annual renewal of Israel’s covenant with God.  In the last supper, Jesus simultaneously fulfilled the Old Covenant and enacted the New Covenant.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

At the same covenant meal, Jesus both declared the New Covenant and declared the covenant terms…a new commandment to accompany the new covenant.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Jesus had previously explained very clearly the difference between those with whom He is in covenant and those with whom He is not in covenant…those whom He knows and those whom He “never knew”…those who keep His commandment and those who do not.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)

Israel had ten commandments…ten covenant vows. We have one…love one another as Christ has loved us.

God carved the commandments of the Old Covenant on stone tablets to be placed inside the Ark of the covenant. Where is the commandment of the New Covenant written and kept?

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:24)

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

The terms of our covenant with Christ…our New Commandment…the covenant vow of the New Covenant…is written in our hearts and sealed with the Holy Spirit who transforms us to His image, enabling us to keep our covenant vow. He gave us the commandment…and He gives us a new heart so we can keep the commandment.

The New Covenant is not, as many claim, an unconditional covenant. It is very much a conditional covenant and the conditions are clearly spelled out.  However, it is a covenant in which our covenant partner enables us to keep the vows through His transforming power.

What a wonderful Savior!

 

Your thoughts?

 

Law, Grace, and Common Sense

Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:14)

A direct command…very specific…straightforward and to the point.  It doesn’t leave much room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

In terms of importance, this is one of the Big Ten…the commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself…given to Israel as their covenant vows…placed inside the Ark of the Covenant.

Most pastors, preachers, and teachers today would agree this is an important commandment that is still as relevant today as when God gave it to Moses.

A high percentage of those same pastors, preachers and teachers also support the death penalty…believing the Old Testament laws calling for capital punishment set a standard that is still relevant today.  Likewise, many Evangelical pastors in The United States strongly support the right to bear arms…to carry lethal weapons for use in defense.  Most Christians also strongly support the need for an armed military to protect and defend our nation.

How can these men agree the very direct, very specific, very clear law written in stone by God, Himself, “Thou shall not kill,” is relevant today, yet support killing people…for any reason?

It is because they are able to look past the letter of the law to the principle behind the law of the sanctity of life.  They are able to apply common sense and realize that sometimes killing is necessary in order to preserve life.  And they are able to see the many biblical examples demonstrating that following the principle behind the law sometimes requires violating the letter of the law.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

Another very direct command…very clear…very concise.  This one is also one of the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself.  Surely, there can be no doubt as to the meaning, significance or importance of this command.

Fortunately, this command doesn’t carry as much moral dilemma as the previous.  This one should be easy to keep.

Yet, other than the Seventh Day Adventists, almost no Christian churches today keep the Sabbath.  We do not treat Saturday as a holy day set apart for worship.  We have no issue with working hard on Saturdays.

How can this be?  Why would one of the Ten Commandments written in stone by God, Himself, be treated so lightly by people professing to serve Him?  Why would people quick to declare the Bible as their guide…quick to say “God has not changed His mind”…quick to say “the Bible says” so easily treat this law as insignificant?

It is because we believe we are keeping the spirit of the law by worshipping on Sunday.  Yes, we realize Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh.  Yes, we understand the Bible is very clear that Saturday is the Sabbath and we are to keep the Sabbath holy.  However, since Christ arose on a Sunday, we feel confident we are keeping the spirit of the law by worshipping on Sunday.  After all, hasn’t the Christian church worshipped on Sunday for thousands of years?  And didn’t Jesus say, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”?

So, once again, we choose to neglect the letter of the law to follow the spirit of the law…this time with no moral dilemma to justify the deviation…just traditions.  Yet, knowing we are under grace, not under law, we feel confident the letter of the law may be sidestepped in keeping the spirit of the law.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… (Exodus 20:4)

Another very direct command with little room for misunderstanding.  Another of the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God, Himself.  Surely, this command is clear and easily followed.

Yet, look at the number of statues and monuments we have erected.  Look at the current social and legal battles being waged over Confederate monuments.  Aren’t we fighting to preserve what God has forbidden?  Could the Bible be any more clear?

Yet, we justify these as cultural icons that have nothing to do with religion.  We argue these are not idols or objects of worship and, therefore, do not fall under the biblical prohibition.

But wait…isn’t the purpose of the Bible to affect how we live our secular lives?  Is it really a good idea to separate the spiritual from the secular to the extent we violate a direct biblical command under the justification it is a secular matter rather than spiritual?  And don’t the intense emotions and fierce defenses, themselves, bear witness to these monuments carrying some deeper meaning than simple artistic décor?

If we make defending a monument a higher priority than loving our neighbor, doesn’t that border on idolatry?

If we make defending a monument a higher priority than loving our neighbor, doesn't that border on idolatry? Click To Tweet

My home state of Arkansas is currently waging a legal battle over a Ten Commandments monument recently erected on the grounds of the state capitol.  Frankly, this one has me shaking my head.  Knowing it would almost certainly draw legal battles, our state legislature somehow decided it was important to have a Ten Commandments monument erected at the State Capitol.

How ironic that we would erect a stone monument engraved with the words, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.”

How ironic, our state legislators would consider The Ten Commandments to be so important they needed to be included in a monument at the state capitol…so important the monument is worth the expense of multiple legal battles…yet not important enough to actually obey the commandments.

To so revere The Ten Commandments that one would erect unto them a monument…in direct violation of the commandments themselves…I don’t get it.

To so revere The Ten Commandments that one would erect unto them a monument...in direct violation of the commandments themselves...I don't get it. Click To Tweet

Yet, whether I understand it or not, hundreds of thousands of my fellow Arkansans…my Christian brothers and sisters…strongly support the monument…and apparently see no contradiction in its erection.  The very clear letter of the law is shoved aside in eager support of what they believe to be the spirit of the law.

Do you see how readily we set aside the letter of the law while claiming to embrace the spirit of the law?  How easily, we justify a law as being of lesser importance under our New Covenant of grace?  How fluidly we apply common sense to biblical examples to justify violating the letter of the law?  We are quite adept at it…and very willing.  In fact, we may even feel a sense of pride in steering clear of legalism to pursue the intent of God’s heart.  Which is great…so long as we truly are pursuing God’s heart!

Let’s look at one more commandment:

Thou shalt not divorce.

Oh, wait…where’s the reference for that one?  Not one of the Big Ten?  Well, surely it’s somewhere in the Bible…

No.  It’s not.  There is no such commandment.

In fact, the law God gave to Moses very clearly makes provision for just divorce…very clearly tells how a divorce is to be administered…and very clearly declares both parties are free to marry someone else after the divorce is final.

Now, some may say Jesus prohibited divorce in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapter 5.  As I pointed out in this recent post, that interpretation contradicts the whole premise of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Besides, if we’re going to assume Jesus’ intent in Matthew 5 is to literally add to the letter of the law (in contradiction to what He said He was doing) then we should be throwing people in prison for being angry with one another:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

And we should be gouging out eyes and cutting off hands of people guilty of lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Obviously, we know better.  We understand Jesus was not adding to the law, but rather was transcending the law by demonstrating righteousness cannot be attained by rigid adherence to external laws.  Righteousness can only be attained thru a new heart by the power of The Holy Spirit.  By applying common sense and understanding of grace, we are able to see past the letter of the written command to the intent and the character of God, and act accordingly.

Why is it then, that on the topic of divorce so many Christians do the opposite?

With very clear direct commands, “Thou shalt not murder”; “Thou shalt honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy”; “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven images” we are able to look past the letter of the law and apply the principle behind the law…pursuing God’s heart with an understanding of God’s grace and situational common sense.

Yet with divorce, in the absence of any clear scriptural prohibition, many theologians and preachers pluck verses out of context to create their own supposedly biblical understanding of a supposed prohibition…to rigidly apply to every situation with no latitude, grace, or common sense whatsoever.

This is precisely what Paige Patterson, John Piper, and others like them have done in telling abused spouses they cannot divorce.  They have fabricated their own commandment where there was none, then rigidly applied it with no grace or common sense whatsoever.

If we were going to be legalistic, shouldn’t we at least be legalistic on points of clear direct scriptural command?  If we were going to be rigidly legalistic on some topics and less rigid on others, shouldn’t we be less rigid on topics on which scripture provides no clear prohibition?

Why would we find latitude to skirt very clear scriptural commands, then rigidly apply man-made doctrinal rules where scripture provides no clear prohibition?

Why would we find latitude to skirt very clear scriptural commands, then rigidly apply man-made doctrinal rules where scripture provides no clear prohibition? Click To Tweet

Doesn’t that stance reveal a heart consumed with arrogantly defending doctrinal positions rather than humbly acting in love through faith by the leading of The Holy Spirit in accordance with scripture?

 

What do you think?

 

Relationship versus Rules

Saturday morning, Knockout and I started out on a relaxing pasture ride.

We rode through the arena, out into the back pasture, where we checked the cattle. We crossed the creek and headed toward the back corner, where we entered the woods.  We meandered thru several loops of woods trails, crossing creeks as we went.

It was one of those wonderfully light rides where everything feels effortless. My cues were light and Knockout was soft and responsive.

Yes, I was directing Knockout, but not in an overbearing way. It was more of a conversation, where I politely asked and Knockout willingly responded.  Sometimes, Knockout anticipated before I asked and I just went with him.  Other times, Knockout suggested a turn and I said no…but even the no was light and Knockout’s response was soft.

It was wonderful!

Then we turned up toward the gate to the front pasture.

At first, Knockout willingly complied…but then he started drifting right toward the arena. I brought him back toward the pasture gate…and he promptly drifted right, again.  We did that several times, then Knockout tried going left.  I brought him back to center and he over-responded going too far right.

Knockout’s intent was clear. He didn’t want to ride in the front pasture.  He was ready to go back to the arena and unsaddle.  Knockout was ready for the ride to be over.

I’ve dealt with this sort of dodgy behavior before, so it was not a big deal. I gathered the reins in both hands, holding them wide, low, and forward with just a small amount of slack.  This left Knockout with restricted freedom between left-and-right rein pressures.  So long as he stayed in the middle there was no pressure, but if he turned his head to either side he ran into pressure.

At the same time, I reinforced the rein pressure with leg pressure, holding my body firmly forward so that any turns to left or right were countered with simultaneous rein and leg pressure.

That is how we rode thru the pasture gate…with Knockout trying to dodge left or right while I held him firmly to a forward path.

Once thru the gate, Knockout settled a bit and we continued our ride without further incident.

Do you see what happened, there?

The whole first half of our ride was smooth and light…enjoying each other’s presence…attentively listening to each other…respecting each other’s input. The whole first half of our ride, Knockout was actively seeking and following my will.  I was polite and soft with my direction and Knockout was willingly responsive.  I barely touched the reins, because there was simply no need.  My seat, legs and reins were used for communication, rather than for forcing my will on Knockout.

But when I pointed Knockout toward the pasture gate, that all changed.

Knockout was not disobedient or disrespectful. He still followed my cues.  Knockout still went where I told him to.  But he stopped seeking my will.  He stopped seeking to please me.

Rather than willingly responding to a light cue, he started ignoring the light cues…as though he hadn’t heard my ask.

When I reinforced the light cue with a firmer cue, rather than appropriately responding, Knockout over-responded. I asked for a step right, and he took three steps right.

Knockout was still following my rules…but he was no longer seeking my will. Knockout stopped using my soft cues as a communication tool to understand and do my will.  Instead, he began over-responding to my firmer cues in an attempt to use my cues to accomplish his will.

At that point, Knockout reverted to legalism.

For that stretch between the end of one woods trail to the front pasture gate, Knockout was rigidly following firm rules with no regard for my will. For that short stretch, our relationship ceased to be about understanding…and reverted to rigid rules-following.  Knockout responded to my cues, not by seeking my will, but by swinging too far one way, then too far the other.

This is what we do when we attempt to use the Bible to replace the work of the Holy Spirit. We start seeing scripture, not as a revelation to draw us into relationship with Christ, but rather as a mystical rule book filled with rigid rules of behavior complete with exception clauses and loop holes to be broadly enforced in all life circumstances.  The more we focus on ‘the rules’ the less attention we pay to pursuing God’s heart…because we assume we’re abiding in His will by following ‘the rules.’

Much like Knockout obeyed my cues while ignoring my will, we attempt to follow God’s rules while completely missing God’s heart.

Scripture is not intended to tell us what to do in all of life’s circumstances. Scripture is intended to lead us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  The written word is intended to be just one of multiple means of communication between us and God.

Yes, scripture is important…very important…much as my reins are important while riding. When the relationship is working well, the reins are a communication tool to help telegraph my body language, rather than an enforcement tool to impose my will.

Trying to live a life pleasing to God by simply following scripture, without listening to the Holy Spirit, would be like Knockout following my prompts without trying to discern my will. Yes, we eventually got thru the pasture gate…but it was a lot harder than necessary and not very enjoyable for either of us.

Rigid rules and inflexible edicts are a form of communication…but they tend to lead toward resistance rather than understanding.

Jesus came to show us the Father’s heart…and He sent the Holy Spirit to lead us in understanding.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:39-40)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:25-26)

So, how can we know when we’ve gravitated toward legalism rather than relationship?

Scripture provides a good measuring stick:

He has told you,
O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

When defending doctrinal position leads us to focus on arrogantly telling people how they should behave, rather than on justice and kindness, it’s a sure sign we have let legalistic rules blind us to God’s heart.

Jesus said it even more succinctly:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34)

Love others as Christ loves us. This is our commission.  This is our calling.  This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Free Gear

Knockout in his new headstall

A few weeks ago, I won a beautiful new headstall in a drawing at the Carson James on-line horsemanship group. This headstall is much fancier and more expensive than any I would have bought for myself.

The last three headstalls I purchased were just plain brown leather. They’re good quality, but very plain looking.  They serve their function without being decorative in any way.  They are on the lower end of the expense scale and serve my need just fine.

This new headstall has lots of fancy stitching, colorful thread decoration, and big shiny conchos. This new eye-catching headstall is designed to be decorative as well as functional.

It is not at all the sort of headstall I would have bought for myself. It has way too much expensive glitz that does nothing to improve my riding.

But it sure is pretty!

As soon as the new headstall arrived, I fitted it with Knockout’s favorite bit and my favorite reins. Next morning, I tried it on Knockout to see how it fit.

It looks great on Knockout!

I must say, it’s pretty cool having such nice gear to use. It’s even better having fancy, expensive gear I didn’t have to pay for.

I like the new headstall so much, the next week I put our fancy new saddle on Knockout for our Sunday morning pasture ride.

Knockout in our new Ken Raye custom saddle

Now, this saddle is a really nice, very unique, very expensive saddle. Much like the new headstall, it is way fancier and far more expensive than I would ever have bought for myself.

We won this saddle in a drawing almost three years ago, at the horse sale where we bought Knockout. The saddle was custom made by Ken Raye’s Custom Saddlery, especially for the 2015 Return to the Remuda Sale, held at the Four-Sixes Ranch in West Texas.  It has the brands of the six participating ranches inlaid in the hand-tooled leather.

At this particular sale, the lot number of each horse sold was placed in a bucket for a drawing at the end of the sale. We bought one horse at that sale.  In fact, I entered only one bid in the sale.  I placed one bid on one horse.  I bought the horse at the price we wanted and won a saddle valued somewhere on the range of what we paid for the horse.

I told Sherri she can’t take me to any more horse sales…I’m completely ruined…my expectations are now way too high.  🙂

I usually think of expensive prizes as requiring a lot of talent to win. In the western horsemanship tradition, belt buckles, saddles, and tack are awarded as prizes in competitions.  As a general rule, the really nice expensive prizes are associated with higher stakes and more difficult competition.  A horseman has to be very skilled to win such nice prizes as these.

But…it turns out, you don’t need competitive skills at all…you just need to be lucky! 🙂

That beautiful, custom-made saddle has sat unused in our house for almost three years. Last week, I finally rode with it.

What took me so long?

Well…it’s complicated…

Partly, it is simply that the saddle is so nice and so expensive we want to take really good care of it. We don’t want it ruined by rain, mud, spur scars, scratches, etc.  It’s a beautiful saddle and we want to keep it looking good.

Partly, it is that I don’t do much riding in public. Almost all my riding is done right around our farm and most of it is solo.  I’m not a competitive rider, nor do I aspire to be.  So, for my purposes, a fancy saddle requiring special care and cleaning after each ride is just more hassle than grabbing my usual saddle that I don’t have to worry about.

But there is another factor, too. Maybe it’s best described as a worthiness factor.

I tend to associate nice expensive saddles with high levels of horsemanship skills. As a novice horseman, it sort of felt like I would be putting on airs if I started using an expensive decorative saddle.  Having done nothing to earn such a nice prize, I didn’t feel worthy of using it.  I know it may sound strange, but I was sort of waiting to reach a higher level of ability…waiting to become a real horseman…before I used that saddle.

And the problem with waiting to become a real horseman is that the finish line keeps moving. Like many other things in life, with horsemanship, the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know.  I am a much better horseman than I was two years ago.  Yet, the distance between where I am and where I would like to be is now much further than it was two years ago.

So that beautiful, fancy, new, custom saddle sat unused in our house…until last weekend. Last weekend, I decided a free saddle is a free saddle.  The whole point of free is that it doesn’t have to be earned or deserved…it just has to be appreciated and enjoyed.

That saddle wasn’t being properly enjoyed sitting in the house. And my goal of waiting to become a real horseman before I used it was an unrealistic and unnecessary requirement.

I still want to take good care of the saddle. So, for now at least, I plan to use it for Sunday morning rides before church…because I intentionally keep those rides low-key and fairly short.  My Sunday morning rides aren’t so much about training as they are about relaxing and enjoying.

Sunday morning is about listeninglistening to my horse…listening to my heart…listening to My Father…listening to His creation. Sunday morning is about enjoying and appreciating…enjoying fellowship…appreciating free gifts…appreciating God’s grace.

Much like my fancy new headstall and expensive new saddle, God’s grace cannot be earned or deserved. I don’t have to be good enough to merit His grace.  I just have to be lucky enough to discover it…and thankful enough to enjoy it.

On Counseling Against Divorce

picture of a divorce decreeAs discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago, Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) has been in the news, lately, for audio recordings of statements made in 2000.  In those recorded statements, Patterson purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

As disturbing as this 18 year old recording is (and it is definitely disturbing), even more alarming is Patterson’s current refusal to recognize or admit (the biblical word is ‘confess’) there was anything wrong with his prior statement.

Patterson has issued several statements claiming to have been misrepresented or misunderstood.  He has apologized for a separate incident in which he spoke of a 16 year old girl in a sexually objectifying manner.  He has ‘apologized’ for people having misunderstood him.

However, on the topic of his counsel to an abused wife, not only has he refused to apologize, but he has also doubled down…asserting the advice he gave was sound advice and biblically based.  He clarified that he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”  He then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

Sadly, many Christians have backed Patterson’s position as being sound biblically-based counsel.

So, let’s review Patterson’s position.

Patterson (with the support of many Christians) counsels abused wives to focus on praying, “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.

This is horrendous counsel!  Study after study has demonstrated being more submissive generally invites more abuse.  It props up the abuser’s skewed perspective that he is somehow justified in abusing his spouse.  Likewise, study after study has demonstrated that the abuse tends to escalate over time, becoming increasingly harmful as the abuser seeks higher levels of power, control, and self-gratification.

The counsel of Patterson and other proponents of Divorce Mythology condemns an abused spouse to a lifetime of continued, ongoing, escalating abuse, with no hope of escape or peace.

That counsel does not sound much like the Good News of the Gospel.  It has little in common with the oft-repeated biblical theme of Redemption from covenants of abusive bondage.  It has no place in the description Jesus gave of Himself at the start of His earthly ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

Nor is it reflected in how our God of Divorce modeled divorce from an abusive partner who repeatedly and willfully violated the covenant vows.

Yet, despite strong biblical evidence to the contrary, Patterson and his supporters (in apparent idolatry of the institution of marriage) have concluded divorce is forbidden…thereby condemning those they counsel to a lifetime of slavery to evil.

Now, this is the point on which Patterson and his supporters call foul, claiming he has been misrepresented and misunderstood.  After all, Patterson claims he has “on more than one occasion” counseled women to leave their abusive husbands.

Clearly, by “leave” Patterson did not mean “divorce,” since he also said, “I have never recommended or prescribed divorce.”

So, he counseled them to leave…without divorcing…which leaves the abused spouse still legally bound to her abuser…for life.  The legal bond provides easy access for the abuser to continue tormenting her.  In many cases the marriage gives him legal access to her finances, providing yet another avenue of ongoing abuse.

Moreover, the whole premise of forbidding divorce is this crazy notion that no matter how egregiously the marriage vows have been violated, no matter how unrepentantly the abuser has trampled the sacred vows in his treachery against the spouse he swore to love, honor, and cherish…that somehow the abused spouse is still under obligation to the covenant vows.

With divorce forbidden, the pressure to reconcile with the abuser is incredibly high.  If divorce is forbidden, she is still married with all the legal and covenant obligations that implies.  The abuser, knowing this, will take full advantage, faking repentance to regain control…and conning church members, family, and friends into becoming allies of the abuser, “How can you be so cold-hearted toward your husband?  He feels really bad for what he did.”

And because he is still her legally wedded husband, she has no good response…and may be ensnared in the trap of returning to her abuser.  After all…doesn’t the Bible have much to say about how we are to treat a lawfully wedded spouse?

Meanwhile, Patterson apparently sits unconcernedly on the sidelines, claiming “as a minister of the Gospel” he has no other choice.

Contrast Patterson’s position with God’s position toward Israel when they were enslaved to Pharaoh:

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:6)

God made a point of saying He would not only deliver Israel from bondage, but He would also redeem them.  He not only physically separated Israel from their oppressor, but He also brought about the dissolution of the covenant bonds, so they had no legal obligations or ties to Pharaoh.

Since Patterson claims he is following scripture in giving this counsel to leave without divorcing, let’s see what scripture actually says on this topic.

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. (Deuteronomy 24:1-2, KJV)

The Law given to Moses by God clearly makes provision for divorce by requiring a certificate of divorce to legally dissolve the marriage, leaving both partners free to remarry.

Note that the certificate of divorce is scripturally required.  If a man separates from his wife, God requires him to legally divorce her.  A man is not biblically permitted to separate from his wife while trying to retain some sort of legal control by refusing to divorce.

God did not forbid divorce.  He did forbid separation without divorce.

God did not forbid divorce. He did forbid separation without divorce. Click To Tweet

Some claim that Jesus gave commands concerning divorce that reversed the commands God gave Moses.  But that makes no sense.  In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Jesus did not replace, reverse, add to, subtract from, or abolish the law given to Moses.  He supported the law and transcended the law by showing righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external rules, because true righteousness is a condition of the heart.  In the same sermon, Jesus went on to say,

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

Our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, because the Pharisees were seeking to attain righteousness thru strict adherence to external rules.  Jesus continued His sermon with a series of examples beginning “You have heard…” in reference to the law and continuing “…but I say unto you…” with a demonstration of how God calls us to transcend the law through our heart attitude.

In the first of this pattern of examples, Jesus said,

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus starts with the law, “Thou shalt not commit murder,” then goes on to transcend the law by showing that just keeping the external law is insufficient.  Righteousness is a heart condition, and a heart that harbors bitterness and anger cannot be righteous.  Jesus did not overturn, void, replace, add to, or take away from the law, “Thou shalt not murder.”  Rather, He transcended the law by demonstrating that righteousness is more than rigorously keeping external laws.  Righteousness is a matter of the heart and can only be attained through the power of the Holy Spirit in giving us a new heart and making us a new creation.

Then Jesus moved on to the second in this pattern of examples:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Again, Jesus is agreeing with the Old Testament Law as being righteous and true…and He again transcends the law by showing external behavior is insufficient for righteousness.  If someone desires in their heart to commit adultery, their heart is evil, even if they don’t physically violate the law.  Stricter rules do not help.  We need a new heart thru the power of the Holy Spirit.

In His third in this pattern of examples, Jesus addresses the Law of Divorce from Deuteronomy:

 It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ASV)

Again, Jesus quotes the law from Deuteronomy, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.”  He does not reverse the law, alter the law, nullify the law, add to the law, nor take away from the law.  Once again, Jesus transcends the law by demonstrating the heart issue:

…but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife (separates without a certificate of divorce), saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away (separated without a certificate of divorce) committeth adultery. (emphatic parenthetical phrases added for clarification)

In quoting these two verses, I chose the American Standard Version as being truer to the original Greek and consistency of translating the same word the same way throughout.  Many English translations use the word “divorce” to replace “put away” in some instances.  However, the original Greek uses the same word (apolyo) all three places in these verses, and the most literal translation is “put away”…which could be either with or without a certificate of divorce.

The law Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy explicitly requires a man to provide a certificate of divorce if he puts his wife away (separates from her).  We know Jesus was not contradicting, changing, overturning, adding to, or taking away from the law given to Moses…as Jesus had just stated He was not doing that.  We know Jesus was, in fact, transcending the law by demonstrating righteousness is a matter of heart condition that cannot be attained through rigid conformity to external rules.

Therefore, it is clear that just as in the two previous examples, Jesus was supporting and agreeing with the original law while also demonstrating its insufficiency without a righteous heart.  In these two verses, Jesus agrees with the law that, yes, a man must provide a certificate of divorce if he separates from his wife.  Then He goes on to say that if the man separates from his wife without legally divorcing her, then he is guilty of causing her to commit adultery…and causing anyone who marries her to also commit adultery…because she is still legally wed to her first husband who failed in his obligation to grant her a legal divorce when he separated from her.

Jesus did not forbid divorce (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave to Moses).  Jesus agreed with the law forbidding separating without divorce.

Jesus did not forbid divorce. He forbade separating without divorce. Click To Tweet

Jesus did not equate remarriage after divorce with adultery (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave Moses).  Jesus transcended the law by saying a man who separates from his wife without legal divorce has taken upon himself the guilt of any future adulterous relationships she may enter into.

Lest anyone mistakenly turn this into a gender-biased issue in which God’s intent for a woman separating from her husband is somehow different from a man separating from his wife, the Apostle Paul expounds on this same theme.  In giving pastoral direction to a woman who is separated from her husband but still legally married, Paul instructs her to either reconcile with her husband or divorce.  Paul is very clear in admonishing her to not indefinitely remain married-yet-separated.

…but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband… (1 Corinthians 7:11)

In this verse, ‘unmarried’ (agamos) clearly means ‘divorced.’  I discuss this further in this post and this post.

The counsel Patterson claims as the only advice he could give “as a minister of the Gospel” directly contradicts what the Bible says on the topic.

I want to add one more thing.  Some of the people reading this post may currently be separated from their spouse while legally married.  This post is not intended to heap guilt onto your already overly-stressed life.

As Jesus so eloquently demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount, righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external laws.  No law could ever address every possible situation in human relationships.  Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us in difficult life decisions.  It is not my place to tell you what needs to be done in your unique and very personal situation.

Furthermore, I believe temporary separation to find safety, to find healing, to make decisions, is often wise.  I believe permanent separation without divorce is usually unwise and tends to lead to a very stressful unsettled state of existence.

This post is intended to demonstrate the falseness of counselors claiming biblical authority in always counseling abused spouses to never divorce…to separate if needed but never divorce.  As a general rule, this counsel is usually both unwise and biblically unsubstantiated.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Rules of Relationship

Knockout sporting his new headstall

Saturday morning, I opted for a leisurely ride with Knockout before the rest of the family awoke.

I had a quick cup of coffee, took care of a few chores, grabbed a halter, and headed for the pasture. I greeted Knockout and talked about the beautiful weather as I slipped the halter on him.  Knockout seemed happy to see me and willingly followed my lead.  We exited the pasture gate and headed for the tack room, where I promptly dropped the lead line on the ground and opened the door.

Some folks say to never drop a lead line on the ground. The horse is liable to run off.  He may freak when the lead moves as he moves.  Or, he may step on the lead, trap his own head, startle, and throw a fit.  People and horses have been injured doing this.  It’s a really bad idea.

I reached inside the tack room to grab a handful of treats. I gave two treats to Knockout and shoved the rest in my pocket.  I handed out the rest of the treats at intervals during the grooming session.  Knockout made sort of a game of politely asking for a treat as I completed different stages of grooming.  Of course, I laughed and obliged him.

Some folks say to never give horses treats. Giving horses treats causes them to become disrespectful and pushy, always trying to grab treats from pockets.  Some people have been bitten or run over doing this.  It’s a really bad idea.

I fly-sprayed Knockout, then sprayed conditioner on his mane and tail, before combing out the tangles. I picked his hooves then thoroughly brushed him, working front-to-back down his left side, around his hind-quarters, then up the right side.

Some folks say to never walk directly behind a horse. You could get kicked.  People have been seriously injured doing this.  It’s a really bad idea.

As I groomed, Knockout stood calmly relaxed. Occasionally, he would drop his head to grab a mouthful of grass.  Sometimes, he would take a step to grab a particularly tempting clump of grass.  I simply applied soft pressure to guide him back to the original spot and went right back to grooming.

Some folks say to never let a horse eat grass while he has a halter and lead line on. The horse could form a bad habit of constantly stopping to eat instead of paying attention to the rider.  It is a hard habit to break and incredibly annoying.  It shows disrespect.  It is a really bad idea.

Next I stepped inside the tack room for the saddle pad and saddle, placing each on Knockout before flopping the stirrups and straps into place and tightening the girths and breast collar.

Some folks say to never saddle a horse without having the lead line secured. The horse could spook and run.  If the saddle gets knocked off he could panic and learn to fear the saddle.  It is a really bad idea.

Then I took Knockout’s halter off, set it aside, and slipped his bridle on.

Some folks say to always latch the halter strap around the horse’s neck while putting the bridle on. Otherwise, you have no way to control the horse if something happens.  The horse could run off and cause all sorts of problems.  It is a really bad idea.

I gathered the reins and mounted. Knockout stood still as I got situated and petted him.  Then he calmly walked off.

Normally, I’m pretty insistent on requiring a horse to stand still until I cue him to move. This time was interesting, though, as I was just ready to cue when he started moving.  It seemed like Knockout knew what I was going to ask before I asked it, and acted accordingly.

Some folks say to never let a horse walk off without a cue from the rider. It teaches the horse to do what he wants instead of following the rider’s cues.  It is very disrespectful, leads to bad habits, and can get dangerous.  It is a really bad idea.

Since Knockout started walking before I actually cued him, I decided to wait and see where he went. I planned to ride thru the arena gate, out the other side of the arena, and into the pasture.  But I was interested to see what Knockout had in mind.

Knockout walked calmly to the arena gate, turned to align his body with the gate, and stopped with the latch beside my stirrup. I reached down, unlatched the gate, swung it open, and we rode into the arena.  Then I prompted Knockout to turn, back up, and side-pass as I closed the gate.

I don’t know if Knockout somehow knew my plans through some subtle signal I unintentionally gave, or if we just lucked out with him wanting to do what I already planned to do. Either way, it was pretty cool!  I wonder if this is what Ray Hunt was talking about when he wrote, “Let your idea become the horse’s idea.”

Some folks say to never let a horse decide where to go. The horse should always follow the rider’s prompts.  If you start letting the horse make his own decisions under saddle, he could start ignoring the rider and just doing whatever he wants.  It is a really bad idea.

As we headed out of the arena toward the back pasture, Knockout walked toward the path we usually take. However, the cattle herd was on the east side of the pasture and I wanted to check on the young calves.  So, I gently asked Knockout to head that direction.  He promptly turned where I asked…then just as promptly started swinging back toward the familiar route.  So, I repeated the soft cue.  Again he promptly responded then started swinging back to familiar paths.

On the third prompt, Knockout stayed with the direction I asked for and simultaneously picked up into a trot. I’m not sure why he increased his gait.  Maybe he saw the cows and thought we were going to drive them…he enjoys pushing cows out of the arena.  Or, maybe he was just enjoying the nice cool morning and felt like trotting.  Either way, I decided to just go with him and let him set the pace.  Then, as we neared the herd, I slowed him to a walk so we wouldn’t startle the cows.

Some folks say to never let the horse change gaits without a prompt from the rider. The horse may start thinking he can do what he wants.  That leads to bad habits and you will soon have a horse who bolts uncontrolled.  The rider must always be firmly in control.

The young calves and the mama cows all looked healthy. I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a few pictures before we continued on.  As we left the herd, Knockout again picked up into a nice smooth trot which we continued all the way around the back of the pasture until I slowed him to a walk as we entered the woods.

Other than a pesky swarm of a gnats, we both enjoyed the freshly trimmed woods trail. Not far from the entrance, Knockout sort of half-stepped to the right toward a little cut-thru trail.  He wasn’t pushy or demanding about it…more of a tentative request, “Shall I turn here?”  I lifted my left stirrup to let him know I didn’t want the right turn.  As we continued on, I petted Knockout and told him I appreciated him paying attention and asking politely.  “We’ll take that path another time.”

As we neared a big mud hole I started looking to see the water level. If it is full of water, I usually ask Knockout to go ahead and walk thru it.  However, if it is just yucky, sticky mud I usually prompt him to cut thru the woods to the left.

This time, the mud hole was a sticky, muddy mess. But before I could prompt Knockout to turn, he made the decision himself, confidently turning left thru the woods.  I just went with him.  Why correct a horse when he’s making good decisions?  Yay, Knockout! 🙂

We stopped to trim a few vines from the cut-thru trail. Vines tend to dangle and swing with nothing to brace against.  So, I wound up dropping the reins in front of the saddle to stand in the stirrups, grasping the vine with my left hand while trimming with my right hand.

Some folks say to never drop the reins. The horse could spook and run.  The reins could fall over his head and tangle in his hooves, causing him to panic and resulting in an accident.  Horses have been injured doing this.  It is a really bad idea.

All went well and Knockout was calm throughout…except the time a leafy branch landed square on his head and hung on his ears, refusing to drop to the ground even with vigorous head-shaking combined with a little side-stepping. I laughed, leaned forward, grabbed the branch, and dropped it to the ground.

As we approached the creek crossing, I was looking at two possible routes, trying to gage which was better since the last rain. Before I decided, Knockout confidently turned to the nearest of the two and hopped across.  Hey…that looked like as good a decision as any…and he is the one who has to make the crossing after all.  Why correct a good decision?

The whole ride sort of went that way. I gave Knockout more liberty than usual, trusting him to do the right thing.  Knockout responded by becoming more confident in his decisions.  So long as he was going pretty much where I wanted, I let him decide.  If we needed to make adjustments, I let him know that, too.

My cell phone rang…summoning me back to the house.

I prompted a canter departure and Knockout responded with a nice smooth lope across the back pasture. As we approached the pond levy, I slowed him and we walked across and back to the arena.

Some folks say to never canter on the way home. The horse is liable to run away in over-eagerness to get back home.  It is a really bad idea.

As we entered the arena gate, Knockout turned right, walked past the roping chute into the roping box, turned around, and backed into the corner. “Dude, you have got this down!” I laughed, as he calmly waited for me to dismount, loosen the cinch, and lead him back to the tack room.

It was a pretty awesome ride…one I hope to build on as we grow in trusting each other and listening to each other in this partnership.

Did you notice how many times I disregarded various rules I’ve heard?

People have a lot of rules for handling horses. Most of them are good rules.  They’re important.  Most of these rules have been learned and passed on by people who have personal experience with just how quickly and how badly things can go wrong when working with horses.

Reading this post, you might get the impression I don’t have much use for rules. You might even think I recklessly flaunt rule violations.

That would be a false impression.

I’m actually quite safety conscious. I’m the only male western rider I know who regularly wears a riding helmet, for example.

Every rule I listed is a rule I have followed in the past. And I’m pretty sure I have passed most of those rules on to children, grandchildren, and guests who have visited our horses.  If I was handling a strange horse I didn’t know, I would carefully follow these same rules, at least until I got to know him better.  In fact, with our own horses who I interact with daily, I follow these rules to varying degrees, depending on what I’m doing with which horse.

As I see it, these rules have a time and place. They are important, but not as important as a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

While working with horses, one must always be safety-conscious. Horses are big, powerful, fast animals with natural flight instincts.  We humans are quite fragile by comparison, and easily injured.  Those rules I mentioned are wisdom handed down to help keep riders safe.

The rules are an attempt to keep the rider in control, so as to be as safe as possible. The only problem is, the longer I work with horses the more aware I become that I am never truly in control.  The horse is so much bigger, faster and more powerful than me, I can never really control him.  I can ask all I want, but I can never really make him do anything.  I’m much too puny compared to his awesome strength.

To safely guide a horse, I need the horse to trust me. I want him to look to me as a leader he will willingly follow.  And when he is startled or frightened, I want him to look to me for guidance.  Otherwise, he will blindly follow his instincts to balk, bolt, or buck.

In other words, my ongoing safety in working with a horse is dependent on our building a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. And following the rules too rigidly interferes with the building of that relationship.  Following the rules too rigidly for too long can actually make the situation less safe by not letting the relationship of trust develop.

Rules are based on trying to control. Relationship is based on trust that doesn’t require rigid control.

The rules are important…but they have a time and place. The rules are important…but should not be rigidly applied to all situations with all horses all the time.

And the more the relationship develops into mutual trust and respect with clear communication, the less helpful the rules become.

In the beginning the rules are important, and things are more black and white. But once mutual trust and respect blossom thru consistency and clear communication, the rules have sort of served their purpose and become less important than the relationship.

The same is true in my relationship with God.

The Bible says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” As Christians we have all seen respected leaders fall to the sin of adultery.  We have multiple examples in scripture of spiritual leaders such as Samson or King David committing adultery.  So, we create safety rules such as never be alone with someone of the opposite sex…even in a public setting.

The Bible admonishes to whole-heartedly live out covenant vows and to not treat a covenant partner treacherously. So, we create safety rules that divorce should always be avoided…no matter what.

The Bible admonishes against habitual drunkenness. We have all known folks who were addicted to alcohol and have seen the destruction it can lead to.  So, we create safety rules that prohibit drinking alcohol..ever..for any reason.

The list goes on and on. The Bible exhorts us to modesty…so we create rigid dress codes.  The Bible exhorts us to not neglect gathering together…so we set specific dates and times.  And the more a given group stresses the need to rigidly live by the rules, the more rules they come up with.  Every infraction is dealt with by adding a new rule to attempt to minimize temptation or maximize righteousness.

Much like the horse safety rules, these rules of Christian living are generally good rules based on wisdom someone gained through experience and passed on to others. They are intended to keep people safe.

The only problem is, trying to live by rules can never keep us safe.

Our safety can only be assured through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, based on trust and respect, built on clear communication in the Holy Spirit. Trying to live by the rules actually interferes with the development of that relationship.

Rules are based on trying to control. Relationship is based on trust that doesn’t require rigid control.

In the beginning the rules are important, and things are more black and white. But once mutual trust and respect blossom thru consistency and clear communication, the rules have sort of served their purpose and become less important than the relationship.

Speaking to religious leaders who were experts in biblical rules, Jesus said,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:39)

Paul reinforced this principle in his letter to the Galation believers who were becoming focused on rigidly following rules,

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galations 3:23-26)

The rules are important…but they have a time and place. The rules are important…but should not be rigidly applied to all situations for all Christians all the time.

The rules are wisdom to help keep us safe as we develop relationship. Once the relationship begins to blossom in trust through clear communication, the rules are no longer necessary and become a liability, interfering with relationship building.

 

Your thoughts?

Enduring Hardship

Knockout sporting his new headstall

Sunday morning dawned a cool, clear, beautiful Spring day!  🙂

I rose early to sip a cup of coffee before slipping quietly out of the house to saddle Knockout for a quick ride before church.

I carried a pair of shears for trimming brush along the path.  The first time trimming brush with Knockout went so well, I decided to trim another short trail loop.

After a relaxed trot to the back pasture, we entered the woods and I pulled out my shears as we approached the first overgrown bush.  Knockout showed considerable concern.  He was clearly uncomfortable with both the shears in my hand and the close proximity to the bush!

Honestly, I was a bit surprised.  A few weeks ago when I first introduced Knockout to trimming brush, he was much calmer than I had anticipated.  So, I was expecting to pick right up this time.  But that’s not where Knockout’s head was that morning.

So, I followed Ray Hunt’s advice to “work with the horse you have today.”  We took a few minutes to incrementally rebuild Knockout’s confidence with both the shears and close proximity to thick brush, and within five minutes Knockout was nice and relaxed as I snipped away with leaves and small branches falling on his head and around his shoulders.

About halfway through the trail, I moved Knockout toward an overgrown pin oak branch.  Knockout acted tense about this particular branch and kept trying to move away from it.  This surprised me, since he had been so relaxed up to that point.

Thinking Knockout might be bothered by the shear number of little branches and leaves on a pin oak, I decided to start snipping at the edge and gradually work our way closer.  That worked pretty well, but then we reached a point Knockout started acting nervous again.  I thought maybe the small pine log lying in the trail was a concern, but studying it carefully I didn’t see any sign of snakes or other danger…and decided if the log was causing him angst, then he needed to learn to relax near the log.

So, once again we spent a couple of minutes rebuilding confidence, until Knockout was standing relaxed with his front hooves straddling the log.  He stood for several minutes in that position as I snipped all the branches I could reach, then I asked him to step closer to the tree.

AND…he backed completely out of reach!  …and acted hesitant about coming any closer…

That’s really not like him.  So, once again I scanned the area to try to figure out what he was concerned about.

That’s when I saw it.  That pine log he had been straddling was completely covered in fire ants!  The ants were hidden beneath the log, but swarmed Knockout’s front legs when his weight disturbed their home.

I felt so bad!  Poor Knockout!  🙁

I quickly dismounted and brushed the ants off his legs as best I could.  Then I remounted and we found another way to access the pin oak branch without stepping near the fire ants’ log.  Knockout was good as gold the rest of the ride, and we finished trimming that particular trail loop.

Riding home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how stoically Knockout stood relaxed for several minutes while fire ants swarmed and stung his legs.  Simply because I asked him to, he stood there unflinchingly enduring the pain of those stings, until I asked him to move.

Had I known what he was enduring, I never would have asked him to stand in that specific location.  It was never my intent for him to be stung.  Yes, I wanted him under the pin oak limb, where I could reach to trim.  However, it was never my intent for him to suffer needless hardship.

I wonder how many times I do that with God?  How many times do I remain in a difficult or painful situation far longer than necessary, believing that is where God wants me?

I don’t mind asking Knockout to do hard things.  Knockout was initially uncomfortable standing near the thick brush, and I asked him to do it, anyway.  I had a plan and a purpose in asking him to do that.  My purpose included working together to clear the trail.  It also included building Knockout’s confidence in uncomfortable situations.  So, clearly, Knockout’s comfort is not my highest priority.  I don’t mind putting him in uncomfortable situations…but it is always for a good purpose.

I would never intentionally make Knockout uncomfortable unnecessarily.  Being close to the shears and the dense brush was a necessary discomfort that was part of my plan to fulfill my purpose for Knockout.  However, the fire ants were a source of needless pain that served no purpose.

Yes, I am very proud of Knockout for being willing to stand quietly, enduring the pain of fire ants, for my sake.  But that was never my intention for him, and I was quick to brush the ants off and help him avoid their abuse.

I think we sometimes have similar miscommunications on God’s intent for our lives in regard to abusive or toxic relationships.

Yes, God often calls us to do things outside our comfort zone.  Yes, He asks us to love others with some level of vulnerability and giving of self.  He makes it clear that our comfort is not His highest priority in our lives.

Yet, when He asks us to do uncomfortable things, or to endure uncomfortable situations, it is always with a plan and a purpose.  God does not delight in seeing us endure needless pain.  Yes, He delights in our willingness to trust Him in difficult situations…but that doesn’t mean He wants us to endure needless pain.

God loves us much more than I love my horses.  If I grieve over Knockout’s needless pain at the sting of fire ants, how much more must God grieve over our needless suffering at the fickle whim of an abuser?  And just as I hurried to brush the fire ants off Knockout’s legs, our Heavenly Father hastens to deliver us from abusive relationships.

God does not call us to needlessly suffer for Him.  He calls us to trust His faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.

For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

What a faithful friend!

 

When is Divorce Permissible?

wedding band placed over definition of divorceWhen is divorce permissible?

This question is asked over and over.  People want an itemized list of the precise situations in which divorce is permissible, accompanied by specific scriptural references to back it up.

Most pastors are more than happy to provide such a list.

The tradition in which I was raised said divorce is permissible only for adultery or abandonment.  Then they would hasten to add that divorce is never required, only permitted…implying divorce is never the best course of action…just an option for those of lesser faith.

Some were quick to add, “Divorce really shouldn’t even be in a Christian’s vocabulary”…as though they hadn’t just made use of the word divorce themselves in forming the sentence prohibiting its use…and as though divorce were such an awful thing we’re better off pretending it doesn’t even exist.

If pressed, they would emphatically state that divorce is always sin…though sometimes permissible.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why would sin ever be permissible?  And if it is permissible, how could it be sin?

They had a ready list of scripture references to back up their position…Matthew 19 for adultery…1 Corinthians 7 for abandonment.  They called these the exception clauses…because divorce is prohibited except for these exceptions in which it is permissible…though not required.

Notice the use of legal language, here.  Make no mistake.  This is a legal discussion.

The topic of biblical divorce is almost always discussed in theological circles as a point of legality.  What does The Law say about divorce?  Except they don’t use the words legal or law, because the New Testament scripture is quite clear in telling us that those who are in Christ are not under the law.

So, we have this legal debate amongst theologians making use of legal terms to argue their points…in which all participants are making their arguments based on the assumption that The Bible (i.e. The Law) generally prohibits divorce, but then provides these exception clauses for which divorce is permissible in some circumstances.

And it is these exception clauses that everyone is debating.  It is the exception clauses that parishioners ask questions about.

When is divorce permissible?

Does physical violence count as abandonment?  Does emotional abuse count as abandonment?  Does emotional withdrawal count as abandonment?  Does being too lazy to work to provide for your family count as abandonment?

And we have a wide array of legal points being continually debated…with most parties very emphatically stating their position in very confident tones…as though only an idiot or a reprobate could possibly fail to agree with their position.

Sadly, many are also more than willing to sacrifice an abused woman’s health, safety, and well-being to protect the position they’ve staked in this legal debate…despite acknowledging that as a Christian she is not even under The Law.

And this legal debate has literally been going on for thousands of years.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matthew 19:3)

Theologians (also known as lawyers…because in a theocratic society they are the same thing) were having this same debate over 2000 years ago, when Jesus walked this earth.

When is divorce permissible?

If the answer is as clear as these legalistic theologians would have us believe, why has it been a point of debate for thousands of years?

I’ll tell you why.  It is because scripture is not at all clear in answering this question.  In fact, the biblical authors seem to almost go out of their way to be intentionally vague on this topic…persistently refusing to answer this question.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4,  the Mosaic Law very clearly makes provision for divorce.  It requires that if a husband sends his wife away, he must also give her a certificate of divorce, so that both parties are free to remarry, with no obligation to the marriage vows.  Furthermore, if the woman marries another husband and he also divorces her, then the first husband is forbidden from remarrying her.

Most theologians today agree that in this Deuteronomy passage God was protecting women from a form of legalized prostitution that was common at that time.  For enough money, a man would verbally divorce his wife (put her away without providing a certificate of divorce) and allow another man to have sexual intercourse with her.  Then the second man would divorce her, and the original husband would reclaim his rights as her husband.

So, in order to protect women from this immoral practice, the Mosaic Law required a certificate of divorce be issued, and forbade a former husband from remarrying a wife who had married another man.

The Mosaic Law is virtually silent on the topic of when divorce is, or is not, permissible.  It simply says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…”  The Mosaic Law made no attempt to define what all circumstances might be considered “some indecency.”  Although it clearly made provision for just divorce, The Law never defined under what circumstances divorce was permissible.

This was, in fact, the point of the legal debate the Pharisees brought to Jesus in Matthew 19.  They were in agreement that The Law required a certificate of divorce to be issued, as Jesus noted in Matthew 5:31.  However, they had an ongoing legal debate as to what was permitted under “some indecency.”

At that time, some were exploiting the lack of legal definition of permissibility to say a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever…including because he found another woman more desirable…or because another man found his wife desirable.  So, they were right back to the wife-swapping tricks of their ancestors, except with slightly more protection for the abused wife in the form of a divorce certificate.

One publicized example of the day was King Herod’s marriage to the wife of his brother.  John the Baptist incurred the wrath of both Herod and Herodias by calling them out on their adultery.  As a result, John was imprisoned and beheaded.  The Pharisees were probably hoping for a similar demise for Jesus when they asked him this question.

Jesus did not hold back in denouncing this immoral wife-swapping practice of divorcing for the explicit purpose of marrying someone else.  Jesus called it adultery.  However, Jesus clearly upheld provision for divorce as being necessary, yet fell short of giving a detailed list under what circumstances divorce is permissible.  Here’s what he said:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matthew 19:8-9)

If Jesus wanted us to have a well-defined legal list of conditions under which divorce is permissible, this was a perfect chance to provide that.  Yet He did not.  Jesus said Moses made provision for divorce because of hardened hearts…one spouse’s heart becoming hardened against the other.  He went on to say divorcing for the purpose of wife-swapping is adultery.  Yet, he included the phrase “except for immorality.”

And theologians today debate the phrase “except for immorality” in exactly the same manner the lawyers of Jesus day debated the phrase “some indecency.”  In both cases, they are attempting to draw specifics that simply are not there.  Both phrases are intentionally vague…intentionally open-ended.

Why?  Why did Jesus and Moses both refuse to explicitly answer the question, When is divorce permissible?

I would submit the question is never answered because it is not a valid question.

The question presumes divorce is forbidden except for specific clearly legally defined circumstances.  The question presumes divorce permissibility is first and foremost a legal issue.  The question presumes it is the right of a judge, or pastor, or fellow Christian to judge for someone else whether or not they should divorce…as though anyone else besides God could possibly know and judge the deeply personal issues that can arise within the intimate bounds of marriage.

I would submit that scripture is silent on this topic specifically because each individual Christian must search out for themselves the guidance of The Holy Spirit in determining the best course of action in their specific marriage.

If that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should spend some time prayerfully contemplating why you are uncomfortable with Christians relying on the guidance of The Holy Spirit for major life decisions…and why you feel the need for legalistic rules by which to admonish others.

Jesus was, apparently, quite comfortable with that.

 

Escaping Abuse

The topic of divorce to escape abuse has been much in the news this week.

Over the weekend, Paige Patterson’s comments in an audio tape from 2000 resurfaced.  In that tape, Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

According to the Washington Post, Patterson pushed back this week, claiming he had been misrepresented and mischaracterized.  He went on to clarify he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”

Patterson then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

According to Christianity Today, many evangelical Christians agree with Patterson’s perspective on divorce.  Even the many recent strong statements against abuse mostly fall short of taking a strong position in favor of divorce as a godly response to abuse.

Yes, the Bible does make clear the way in which God views divorce…which is drastically different from how Patterson seems to view divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 God makes clear His intent that divorce should include an official certificate of divorce to ensure both parties are declared legally free of obligation to the covenant vows, with both parties free to marry another if they so choose.

In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus reaffirmed the words of Deuteronomy, declaring the law given to Moses made provision for just divorce, because of hardened hearts…the heart of one spouse being hardened against their covenant partner.

In Jeremiah 3:8, God boldly proclaimed He has divorced the Kingdom of Israel, issuing a Certificate of Divorce in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy, for this very reason…because Israel had continually hardened their hearts against Him, their covenant partner, in repeated abusive violations of their covenant vows.

And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul clearly states that a divorced person is free to remarry, and that marriage is preferable to undue temptation.

When the nation of Israel was enslaved by Pharaoh who abused them and issued orders for their infant sons to be killed, did God stand idly by, encouraging them to submit to their covenant partner?  Did God tell them they must remain true to their covenant no matter how abusive their partner might be?

No!  God was not idle.  He actively worked to deliver Israel from bondage.  God redeemed and delivered Israel from their covenant with an abusive partner!

When we were enslaved to Satan, did God stand idly by, encouraging us to submit to our covenant partner?

No!  Jesus redeemed and delivered us from our covenant with the kingdom of darkness, delivering us into the Kingdom of Heaven!

Yes, the Bible is very clear on the way in which God views divorce.

So…why is Patterson, like so many evangelical Christians, so confused on the topic?

Maybe it’s time to stop viewing scripture through the lense of our religious cultural perspective and pay closer attention to what it really says.  Maybe it’s time to stop treating scripture like it was a legal document to be studied and interpreted by lawyers digging for rules, loopholes, and exception clauses…and start reading scripture as a revelation of God’s character.

 

Your thoughts?

 

 

Safe!

knockout after riding

Knockout after Saturday’s amazing ride!

It is time to clear our woods trails, again.

Brush is starting to encroach from the sides, narrowing the trails.  Overhanging limbs are extending lower, becoming riding obstacles.  As spring advances, it will only get worse until a trail ride becomes an obstacle course.

Those overhanging branches are a bit of concern in general, but especially when riding Knockout, our 7-year-old quarter horse (Can he really be seven? Wow!  2 ½ years doesn’t seem long from my perspective, but the difference in age between a 4-year-old colt and a 7-year-old horse is huge.  He can’t be called a colt anymore…he’s a young adult horse).

Knockout doesn’t like low-hanging branches…never has. He also doesn’t like branches brushing against my helmet as we ride.  He’s not nearly as reactive to them as he was two years ago.  Some days he ignores them completely.  Other times he’ll startle-in-place at the first few occurrences before settling down to ignore them.  Overall, the low-hanging branches are not too big a deal anymore.  But I still ride with an awareness of potential spooks and guide him thru a route that avoids unnecessary brushing against branches.

So, cleaning up the trails would make my rides a little more relaxed. Plus, it would open the trails back up to being able to ride two-abreast rather than single file.

I’ve learned trail clearing is best done from horseback. The horse becomes a mobile scaffold from whom high branches can be reached.  He also acts as a visual guide as to how high the branches need to be trimmed.

For clearing trails, a really calm, mature horse is needed…a horse who is perfectly comfortable standing under low hanging branches while I stand in the stirrups, reach around at odd angles with clippers, and drop small branches on his head.

Sonny, our 18-year-old paint, is the horse for trail clearing. Sonny can sometimes be a bit persistent in his wilfulness, but he is not spooky.  Sonny can be relied on to stay calm even in very distracting circumstances.

Last weekend, I had a (silent) conversation with myself that went something like this:

Me:        One evening this week, I need to saddle Sonny and go clean out those woods trails.

Self:       Sounds like a good idea!  Why Sonny?

Me:        Sonny stands calmly while I trim branches above his head.  I’ve used Sonny for this task before.  He’s the only horse I really trust for that sort of work.

Self:       Why don’t you take Knockout?

Me:        Are you nuts?  Knockout isn’t mature enough for that.  He sometimes startles at low-hanging branches.  Knockout’s concern with brush is a primary reason I want the trail cleared.

Self:       It sounds like you’re making excuses for Knockout.  How can he ever develop into the horse you want him to be if you keep making excuses for him?

Me:        I’m not making excuses.  I just don’t want to overwhelm Knockout and lose ground on all the progress we’ve made.  He trusts me and I don’t want to lose his trust.

Self:       So, start slow and build up.  Trim one small branch to the side, see how Knockout responds and go from there.  You’ll never know what he can handle if you don’t let him try.  You need to trust your horse.  This is a perfect opportunity to build Knockout’s confidence with low hanging limbs.

So that’s what we did.

Monday evening, I took Knockout on a trail ride and we trimmed trees for one full trail loop…including the super-scary trail thru the creek bottom at which Knockout used to always spook.

Knockout did great!  🙂

Knockout stood still while I reached out with the clippers and trimmed branches. He did not startle when the branches brushed my helmet or dropped on top of his head.  At times, I let go of the reins and stood in the stirrups to grasp a branch in my left hand while using the clippers in my right hand.  I often switched hands for better reach.  I often asked for a side-pass, shoulder turn, or hind-quarter turn to reach the next branch.  And Knockout bravely tolerated all of it.

To be clear…Knockout did not like it. He was not at all thrilled to duck under low-hanging branches.  He was hesitant about sticking his head in thick underbrush so I could reach the intended branch.

Sometimes, when I asked for a right side-step toward the brush, he responded with a left side-step away from the tree…clearly indicating he was uncomfortable with where I was asking him to go.  Yet, as I persisted asking for a right side-step, firming up as necessary, Knockout complied with my request.

Once positioned where I needed him, I dropped all pressure and he relaxed, standing quietly as I went about the task of trimming.  He stood quietly relaxed as branches dropped on his head, as leaves rustled overhead, as I drug branches out of clinging vines to cast aside.  And when I asked him to move he responded…sometimes hesitantly…but he responded.  And when I dropped pressure, he relaxed again.

I was quite impressed with Knockout’s courage!

It’s no big deal performing a task one is comfortable with.  It requires true courage to perform a task one is very uncomfortable with, then stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation.

How did he do it? How does a prey animal wired for flight perform a task he is clearly uncomfortable with?  How can he stand quietly at ease in the midst of a stressful environment?

Trust!

Knockout trusts me. It’s that simple.

Because he trusts me, Knockout is willing to go places he is uncomfortable going. Because he trusts me, Knockout can stand quietly relaxed in a stressful situation, simply because he knows he is where I want him to be, and I am with him.

Knockout knows, when I am with him and he is where I want him to be, he is safe.

What was it Jesus said?

…lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:27)

Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

Sometimes, God asks me to go places I am uncomfortable going. Sometimes, I find myself in very stressful situations.  My mother’s illness and departure from this world…my daughter’s surgery…my grandchildren in an automobile accident…addressing issues with my teenage stepson’s journey toward adulthood…health concerns of family and friends…political unrest…economic concerns…wars and terrorism across the globe…

This world is a scary place and I often find myself in stressful situations.

And yet…because He is with me I don’t have to be afraid. So long as I trust Him, I am safe.

 

Your thoughts?