Reins of Legalism

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I first started riding horseback, I viewed the reins as the controls used for steering and stopping the horse.  To steer the horse one moved the reins to right or left, much like the steering wheel of a car.  To stop the horse one pulled back on the reins much like the brake of a car.

Funny thing though…the more I used the reins to steer…to control the horse’s direction…the more he tended to wander off from the direction I wanted him to go.  So, I had to correct.

It was sort of like driving a car in need of a front end alignment.  Get the horse pointed the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders to the right.  Use the reins to tug him back to the desired direction and lower the reins.  The horse wanders right, again.  Tug the reins to the left of the desired direction.  He drifts right, again.

I decided the problem was too much slack in the reins.  I would have to take tighter control to keep him from wandering off.  When the steering mechanism has too much slack, make adjustments to remove the slack, right?

So, I shortened my grip on the reins and rode with both hands rigidly holding the horse’s head position.  The horse stayed on track.  Problem solved!

Except for one little problem…

I could only be confident of holding our direction by rigidly holding the reins in position.  Micro-managing the horse’s every move does not make for a relaxing ride.  Both horse and rider have more tension and stress than necessary.  Watching more experienced riders I could see they were much more relaxed and usually rode with a loose rein.

“Maybe it’s just a matter of time,” I thought.  “I have to keep tight control for a while to let the horse know I’m boss, then I’ll be able to loosen the rein a little.”  But every time I loosened the rein, the horse started wandering off track again.

Then I started riding a horse trained to foot prompts that had not yet learned neck reining.  That was even worse!  I fumbled to remember the foot prompts…the horse over-responded…I over-compensated…and we zig-zagged along wherever I tried to go.  “Keep at it,” my trainer suggested, “You’ll get it figured out.”

It was horribly frustrating!  My horse and I could not walk a straight line.  I knew it was my fault but felt helpless to correct it.  The horse promptly over-responded to my every foot nudge just to have me immediately over-correct him back the other direction.

Finally, one day I made an amazing discovery.  Every time I turned my body at the waist my horse responded by going the direction I was turned.  “Hey, this is just like snow-skiing!” I thought, “Turn and look to change direction.”

That moment of epiphany, though just the beginning, became a major turning point in my understanding of horseback riding.

Today, I view my reins and boots not so much as a means to control the horse’s direction as a means of telegraphing my body language to the horse.  I see the horse not as a riding machine to be controlled, but as a partner to be communicated with.  I am still a very inexperienced rider, but the paradigm shift has definitely helped me progress.

Lately, I have thought about these riding-lesson truths while pondering Paul’s words about the roles of law and faith.

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. (Galatians 3:23-26)

In early training, the reins are used to teach the horse to yield direction to the rider.  Later, the reins are still in place to serve a similar function.  However, as both horse and rider gain experience and trust, the reins are used less and less as a means of directing and more and more as a means of communicating.  For a very skilled rider on a superbly trained horse, the reins become superfluous and are no longer needed.

In the same way, as immature Christians we start out studying God’s word to learn how we are to behave, and we sometimes use scripture to micromanage one another’s lives.  One person finds a scripture indicating Jesus drank wine while another finds a scripture indicating alcohol consumption is to be avoided and they beat each other up with their disparate understandings of scripture.  But they are both showing their immaturity by missing the whole point.  Both are still viewing the reins (scripture) as being for the purpose of controlling behavior.  The real purpose is to facilitate communication…to lead us to Christ…to teach us of God’s heart…and to train us in understanding and following the Holy Spirit.

Following the law (as legalists), we hear of a fellow Christian going thru divorce and immediately feel the need to learn every detail of their very personal marital relationship so we can discern (judge) whether or not their divorce is biblically permissible (as legalistic a term as ever was) so we can provide sound biblical counsel (verbally beat them up) to aid them in their Christian walk (control their behavior).

Under grace, we simply ask how we can pray for them and what we can do to help, trusting that as mature Christians they are able to hear and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in their personal lives.

See the difference?

In what areas have you learned to loosen your grip on the reins and trust God’s grace?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]


Rodeo Dad

IMG_1871Labels are funny.  Some we embrace and some we avoid.  I find myself resistant to accepting new labels.  I’m cautious about the changes in expectations…expectations of others…and of myself.

As I’ve posted before, I am not a horseman…and definitely not a cowboy.  It’s not that I object to the idea.  It’s that I lack both the skills and the experience.  I like horses.  I enjoy caring for them.  I enjoy riding horseback.  But I shrink back from giving the impression I know about horses, because I know just enough to be very aware of how much I don’t know.

And yet…we own eight horses…and my stepson is a rodeo athlete…

For the last two years I’ve hauled my stepson and his horse to every available roping practice.  I’ve attended numerous rodeo events where I’ve helped ready his horse and cheered him on.

For the last two years I’ve spent as much time in the saddle as I could, trying to learn a little more about this whole horsemanship thing.  And for the past several weeks, I’ve hauled both our horses to weekly roping practices, so I could start to learn a little about this sport my kid is so into.IMG_1870

Yet, I still do not think of myself as a cowboy or even a horseman.  Rodeo is such a cultural thing…usually a multigenerational cultural thing.  And it is not the culture I grew up in.  I love the people.  I’m learning to like the sport.  Yet, I still feel like such an outsider…not that folks aren’t friendly and helpful…they are.  But because I am so aware of how little I know and what a novice I am.

This year we signed our young rodeo athlete up with another rodeo association.  That commits us to attend rodeos almost every weekend for the next nine months…and half of those are doubles…two rodeos in one weekend…an all-day rodeo on Saturday followed by an all-day rodeo on Sunday.

So, now we’ve purchased a living-quarters horse trailer to facilitate all these weekend-long rodeo events.  Basically, that’s a full-sized RV for the family plus horses and equipment.

IMG_1896[1]This weekend it hit me.

I have officially become one of those crazy rodeo people who spends all their free time (and money) camping out to attend rodeos.

Yeah…that’s me.  I am officially a Rodeo Dad.  It’s become a part of who I am.

Still not a cowboy…still not a horseman…but very much a Rodeo Dad.

And…I like that!  :-)


Have you ever picked up a new label that felt uncomfortable at first?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]


Dear Anna Duggar

An open letter to Anna Duggar…and to others finding themselves in similar situations…

Dear Anna Duggar,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you or Josh.  I have, however, frequently thought of you and prayed for you over the past few weeks, as the daily news has dissected your marital relationship while exposing Josh’s infidelities.

According to reporters, your friends say “Anna will not leave him,” “She is fully and permanently committed to her marriage and her children,” and “Divorce is not even something that will be discussed.”  Your friend reportedly went on to say that you will try “on some level” to “absorb some of the blame…Maybe not publicly, ever, but privately, there will be some suggestion of whether or not she should have been more aware of the pressures Josh was under, of the issues he was facing, and how she could have better counseled him or helped him.”

Anna, your decisions and struggles during this time are yours alone, and I (a complete stranger) would not be so brazen as to attempt to tell you what decisions are right for you in this situation.

I want you to know my heart breaks for you.

I have some idea of the pain and confusion you must be experiencing, because I have faced similar situations.  Like you, I was raised believing that marriage is godly while divorce is ungodly…that divorce is always the fault of both parties…that God hates divorce…and that divorce is not an option for a true Christian.  And like you, I was faced with the reality of a repeatedly unfaithful spouse.  Although that marriage eventually ended in divorce, for many years I held the position your friend reportedly says you hold.  Determined to choose what I believed was the most godly course…to do what I believed was best for my family…I repeatedly renewed and restored fellowship, determined to avoid divorce.

My prayer for you is that you will learn of God’s grace through divorce more quickly than I did.  I pray the Holy Spirit will guide your reading of scripture and open your heart to understand God’s tremendous heart of grace and redemption toward His children who are in a covenant relationship with an oath breaker.  For your sake and the sake of your children, I pray you will at least seriously contemplate the possibility that divorce may be your best and most godly course of action.

I don’t know if divorce is the best choice for you.  How could I?  I do know you have some very difficult decisions before you.  I do know there is no easy path before you…that whether you choose divorce or reconciliation your path is filled with sorrow and anguish.  Divorce at least limits the anguish to a finite period of time allowing you and your children to heal and get on with life.  Reconciliation to an unrepentant adulterer is a path of never-ending pain and sorrow…lies continually renewed with freshly broken vows.

And therein lies the wrestling with your most difficult question, “Is Josh truly repentant?”

Your instinct will likely be (as reported by your friend) to believe he is truly repentant…because believing otherwise turns your entire life upside down.  And maybe he is…only God knows.

I pray you at least consider the very real possibility Josh may not be truly repentant…that he may go right back to the same traitorously adulterous behavior.  As harsh as that reality is to face, it is a very real possibility meriting serious exploration before making final decisions in regard to you and your children’s welfare.  Josh has repeatedly proven himself to be completely untrustworthy and entirely willing to egregiously violate his sacred marriage vows, fully realizing both the pain that causes you and your children as well the damage inflicted on your relationship.  Josh did not unintentionally ‘fall’ into an adulterous relationship with an acquaintance…rather he used the internet to actively seek out and pursue adultery.  To now take his word at face value would be neither wisdom nor faith.  Rather, it would be a refusal to accept reality.  Choosing to fully trust the proven untrustworthy is not inviting God into the situation.  Rather it is shutting the full reality of the situation out of the decision making process.

I pray you will not allow yourself to carry the burden of Josh’s guilt.  To do so is both unhealthy and unbiblical.  Yes, I’m sure you have made mistakes yourself.  That does not make you responsible for Josh’s sin.  There is a huge difference between unintentional minor mistakes and intentional egregious violations of sacred covenant vows.

Finally, my prayer for you is that God will use even this experience for your good and for His glory.  That whether this marriage is renewed or ends in divorce, you will learn God’s faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.  I pray you will emerge from this with a deeper understanding of God’s heart of love and redemption and a fuller grace toward all of His children.

May God continue to richly bless and keep you, now and through eternity.



Your brother in Christ, Joseph J. Pote


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

Guilty Stain

The Guilty Stain of the God-slayers
A poem by Joseph J. Pote
[republished from April, 2014, with minor revisions]

It began in the Garden of Eden,
With fruit from the forbidden tree.
Adam chose to disobey God,
Believing sin would set him free.

No longer desiring to hear God’s voice,
Nor willing to be God’s slave,
Adam conspired to usurp God’s throne,
To claim what his heart did crave.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the burden; the pain!
Paradise lost, and nothing to gain!

Rejecting the morals of his creator,
Seeking only to make himself greater,
By denying the Truth of God’s word,
Adam became a traitor.

Adam displaced God’s authority,
Though God’s Spirit dwelt in his heart.
He slew the best of man’s spirit,
Forcing God’s Spirit to depart.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Emmanuel’s dead, and Adam’s to blame!

And so the killing continued.
Cain murdered his brother, Abel.
Fleeing his guilty conscience,
Cain treated God’s law as a fable.

Cain’s hands were covered with blood;
Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance.
Yet God showed Cain His mercy;
Though marked, Cain was not sentenced.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Abel is dead, and Cain is to blame!

In Noah’s day, man’s wickedness spread.
Their hands were covered with blood.
Seeing how corrupt the world had become,
God slowed the infection by sending a flood.

One lie leads always to another;
One murder demands another’s death.
The stain of sin just keeps on spreading.
A contagious disease, it infects with a breath.

Oh, the horrible spread of that bloody stain!
We all are dead, and ourselves to blame!

The Israelites sacrificed blood
To pay for the guilt of their sin.
Seeing the stain on their bloody hands,
They confessed the lost state of men.

The sheep’s blood did not remove guilt,
But acted as promissory note.
A lamb’s blood cannot pay for sin,
Nor can the blood of a goat.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sorrow; the pain!
Who can remove this awful stain?

God gave his word through the prophets,
But all of the prophets were slain.
Killing God’s prophet was easier, far,
Than facing the guilt and the pain.

God belongs on the throne of man’s heart,
But all have gone their own way.
We’ve all conspired to usurp God’s throne,
And now there is Hell to pay!

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sorrow; the pain!
All hope is lost; God’s spokesmen are slain!

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Oh, hear the angels sing!
Unto us a child is born;
A Savior, Christ, the King.

Jesus is the Word of God;
God, born in human flesh.
He gave sight to human hearts,
God’s truth conquers death.

Oh, the wonderful joy; the hope; the life!
God’s Son has come, to end all strife!

Jesus died a criminal’s death,
Nailed to Calvary’s tree.
The immortal slain by a murderer’s hand;
Now, who can set us free?

Men chose darkness rather than light,
Because of their wicked ways.
They hated God’s truth; it showed their sin.
Darkness conceals the stain.

Oh, the horrible guilt, despair, and shame!
God’s Son is dead, and we’re to blame!

Jesus died to pay for my guilt.
‘Twas my sin He bore on that tree.
He gave his life to pay off my debt.
He died so I could be free.

The nails which tore so cruel through his flesh
Were driven because of my pride.
My rebellion was the cause of his death.
My sin thrust the spear through his side.

Oh, the horrible guilt; the sin; the shame!
Christ Jesus has died, and I am to blame!

Jesus, save me from this horrible guilt!
Forgive the deeds I have done!
I’ve removed you from the throne of my heart;
I’ve murdered God’s only Son!

When I confess this most loathsome of sins,
I am cleansed from the guilt and the pain!
The very blood which should seal my fate
Removes all my guilty stain!

Oh, the wonderful joy in confessing the blame!
I’m free from my guilt, since I called on His name!

Adam tried to conceal his sin;
He said that Eve was to blame.
We must confess the sins of our heart,
If we want to be cleansed of the stain.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

Oh, what a glorious irony!
Emmanuel’s death brought the guilty stain;
His blood brings the victory!

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]


That Dress

that dress

Does this dress make me look color blind?

By now, you’ve likely seen the infamous white and gold picture of the blue and black dress and read some of the discussions.

On the one hand, it’s nothing unusual.  We’ve all seen pictures that were either over-exposed or under-exposed to take on colors that don’t match the original.  And it is certainly not newsworthy to realize that we don’t all see things exactly the same.  A sports coat that looks navy blue to me is likely to look royal blue to my wife…or a pair of socks that looks black in the bedroom is navy blue in full sunlight.

What makes this picture so unique is the drastic contrast.  Two people look at the exact same picture in the exact same lighting, and one sees a blue dress with black trim while the other sees a white dress with gold trim.  Yes, there are others who see something in between…such as a light blue dress with olive trim.  Those in-betweens are understandable by all…and expected.  We’ve learned to accept some minor variance of perception.  The startling reality is in realizing that color perception can vary so greatly as the difference between white and dark blue…or between gold and black.  That’s a major difference in perception!

Just as startling is the realization that nothing changes the personal color perception.  We have all been informed that the actual dress is dark blue with black trim.  I have no problem accepting this as fact…but it does absolutely nothing to change the equally factual truth that the picture I see is white with gold trim.  And no amount of anyone telling me the color of the real dress does anything to change what I see when I look at the picture.

This is the challenge we continually face as a bloggers.  Our goal, in every blog post, is to share a snippet of our perception with others…to enable the reader to catch a glimpse of life as we see it.

Many times, a reader is able to readily identify with a post, which is very rewarding.  It’s good to know others share perceptions similar to ours and to know we were able to verbally capture an emotion or experience.

Other times, a reader will have their perception of a topic altered by what we shared.  These moments are extraordinarily rewarding…to know God used our words to change someone else’s perception.

Most often, though, readers having a perception different from mine leave my post with their perception unchanged.  They see blue and black where I see white and gold, and nothing has changed that for either of us.

In the case of the dress picture, it doesn’t really matter.  It’s an interesting realization, but the fact that we see the colors in the picture differently doesn’t impact how any of us live our lives or how we interact with others.

In regard to some of the topics discussed on this blog, it matters greatly.  I am often discussing biblical truth rather than color perception.  And the topics I discuss are the sort that can make the difference between a person continuing to live in bondage or escape to liberty…the difference between seeing oneself as an object of God’s love or an object of His wrath…the difference between treating a fellow believer with compassion and mercy or treating them with rigid legalistic indifference.

I frequently intentionally write about topics on which I am well aware my perception is substantially different from that of many popular learned scholars.  And my goal is not to simply throw out an opinion, but to alter a reader’s perception…to help them see that the picture they’ve always viewed as one color is actually a different color…that the scripture passage they’ve always seen as saying one thing actually says something quite different.

And to top it all off, I write with the constant awareness that my perception is also flawed and incomplete…that I often have as much to learn from readers as they from me.

It’s a monumental task…an impossible task…a God-sized task.  It is a task that can only be accomplished through the power of The Holy Spirit.

It sure is fun to see Him at work!  :-)


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life ]


Condemned or Redeemed?


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Unmarried or Divorced


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God of Divorce


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