Worse than Death

I slowly walked through the Holocaust Museum, taking time to read each placard, look at each picture and watch each video. I was familiar with the historical period.  I grew up hearing my father talk about his time as a soldier in Europe during WWII…and reading books such as The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  I’d seen the pictures of emaciated men from concentration camps.

Although I was very interested in the museum, I didn’t really expect to learn anything new.

Then, about halfway through, I saw the pictures of the mass graves in Poland filled with naked corpses of women and children. That did me in!

I was horrified…and a bit surprised at myself…and a bit ashamed that I was more horrified by this picture than by others. I had read about the mass graves with women and children…it wasn’t anything I hadn’t known.  And I had seen pictures of the emaciated prisoners…as well as pictures of the gas chambers and ovens.  And, yes, that was horrible.  But something about seeing the naked bodies of perfectly healthy women and children piled in a mass grave made it more real…more personal.  For the first time, I could picture my own wife and children in the picture…and I was horrified.

Even more horrifying was the realization that most of them were there through the treachery of their neighbors…neighbors who passively chose not to get involved…and neighbors who actively turned them in…for the crime of being Jewish.

This was a repeated message throughout the museum.  The Holocaust was largely made possible through the involvement (and noninvolvement) of citizens. The Nazis relied on people turning in their neighbors.  They relied on fear, preservation instincts, and familial protection to be stronger than love or duty toward people of a different nationality and religion.

Without treachery by neighbors (both active and passive), nowhere near as many Jews would have been rounded up and murdered before the end of the war.

I pondered these truths on the flight home. Then I sat down with my family and told them about it.

I told them I believed this sort of genocide would probably happen again at some time in the future…maybe in our country…maybe in their lifetime. I told them, If it does, whatever you do, stand up for the oppressed! Do not let anyone rule you out of fear.  Do what is right, no matter what.  It is better to die for doing the right thing than to survive by becoming complicit in murder.  It is better to watch your family be killed for doing the right thing than to see them survive by turning against their neighbor.

I told them, I love you and I would do anything for you. But I want you to understand, I love you too much to want you to survive through an innocent neighbor’s betrayal.  And I ask you, please do not let anyone use me to cause you to betray a neighbor.  Better that you see me die or that you die, yourself, than to betray an innocent neighbor.  I know where I’m going when I leave this world, and I know where you’re going.  When we see each other on the other side, let it be with clean hands, a pure heart, and a clear conscience, knowing we stood up for the oppressed.

That was about twenty years ago. My children are all grown now.  I’m proud and thankful they have each matured into adults who care deeply for other people…who stand up for the marginalized and oppressed…who are not afraid to take a strong stand on unpopular positions.

Reflecting on this experience, I realized this is one of the differences between my perspective and that of many of my friends.

I understand the dangers of the world and how important it is to stand against wickedness and evil. I understand the need for border security and vetting of refugees.  I’m all for providing necessary tools and personnel to the military and police departments.  We should take appropriate and reasonable precautions against the many forms of terrorism.

However, I also live with a constant realization of how very little control we really have. Ramping up security may help, but it can never guarantee prevention of terrorist attacks.  Tightening vetting procedures may reduce risk, but it can never eliminate risk.

This fallen world we now live in is, by nature, a risky place filled with much danger, sorrow and wickedness. We cannot completely shut that out thru military might nor thru closing immigration.

And I live with a constant awareness of the much greater danger…the danger of becoming the very thing we fear.

What if our fear causes us to betray our neighbor? Click To Tweet

What if we become participants in abusing and neglecting the marginalized and oppressed out of fear of terrorism?

What if our fear of tyranny causes us to become tyrants? Click To Tweet

We cannot always prevent evil men from doing evil things.  May God protect us from the danger of aiding them in their wickedness…from allowing ourselves to be ruled by fear…

That would be a thing much worse than death.

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Fundamentals

texas sunset

Sunset over Texas Hill Country

The horsemanship clinic began with the clinician asking us to lead our horse around the arena while requiring the horse to remain at the end of the lead line.  If the horse started creeping up on us, we were to prompt him back to the end of the lead line again.

Once that was going well, he asked us to work on stopping and expecting the horse to instantly freeze in his tracks when we stopped.

After that, we spent some time backing the horse to the end of the lead line…then reeling him in…then backing him up…then reeling him in…all while working toward a smoother response on a lighter touch. Then we got even more particular, asking for exactly two steps forward followed by exactly two steps back…then one step forward followed by one step back.

Altogether, we spent over an hour just working on having the horse go forward or back on the lead line, in one form or another. After that, we started working on shoulder turns and hindquarter turns…being very particular about making sure the horse really reached out with his hoof…and very particular about separating front laterals from hind laterals.

We didn’t actually mount and ride until late morning.

If I had known in advance we were going to spend the first few hours of the clinic just doing groundwork, I probably wouldn’t have been very impressed. Frankly, I thought my horse already did fine on the lead line and wasn’t much in need of training in that area.

I was wrong in that assumption.  Like so many areas in life, we don’t know what we don’t know until we learn better.

joe on knockout

By the end of the clinic, Knockout was relaxed while I swung a rope from the saddle

Later that afternoon, I realized my horse was more relaxed and more responsive than he had ever been under saddle.

In the weeks since the clinic, I have been amazed at how much difference those simple lead-line exercises have improved my relationship with each of our horses.

The exercises require both the horse and rider to really pay attention to each other…to really listen to each other’s body language and relative position…and to develop precise timing of response. It requires the horse to walk in sync with the rider, moving as the rider moves.  And it builds confidence.  The horse gains confidence in the rider’s leadership, as well as in his own ability to properly respond to the rider’s cues.  The rider also becomes more confident as a leader and in the horse’s response.

Going forward and back on a lead line sounds a little dull. The idea of making it part of a regular routine sounds a bit stifled and unspontaneous.  Most people acquire horses for the adventure of riding, not to move the horse back and forth on a lead line.  Frankly, it could be dull and not very helpful if approached with a poor attitude.  If the rider treated it as some mindless routine to drudge through, or some requirement to rush past, it would probably yield little benefit.

Done well, though, it is an incredible communication tool! Lead line training provides an opportunity for the rider and horse to work together on really listening to each other, to work on improving timing and balance, and to sync their movements.  The movements are simple enough to allow both horse and rider to remain relaxed…to make it a lighthearted low-pressure game.  It provides a relaxed environment of open communication for building mutual respect and trust…for building muscle memory of cues, responses and timing.  Like a choreographed dance, the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…

I think similar tools can be applied to other relationships.

I love engaging my family in humorous banter.  I notice a potential word play on something said in conversation and feign misunderstanding.  Sherri starts to correct then glances up to see my smile and catch the humor.  She, in turn, plays off of my joke to escalate the nonsensical tangent…and we both crack up laughing.

It’s just playful silliness that may appear pointless.  But it requires paying close attention to each other…to really listen to what the other is saying…to watch body language to realize it’s a jest…to catch the double-meaning of the word play…and to respond in kind.  It is lighthearted playfulness that sets the mood for improved communication and building mutual trust and understanding.

I also value my daily quiet time with God for how it helps build relationship.

Similar to the lead line work, a daily quiet time can sound stifled and unspontaneous.  There have been times in my life when the discipline of a daily quiet time became something of a dry, legalistic chore.  I understand why some may struggle with such a commitment.

Like the lead line training, though, it is all a matter of attitude.  I now view Our quiet time as a time of intentional communication, where I practice listening and responding to the Holy Spirit’s cues…a time of getting in sync with His movement…and a time of building my confidence in Him and in my ability to hear His voice.

Good communication requires intentional focused listening…and important relationships are worth investing the time and effort to improve communication.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Over-Trying

The trainer called him training-resistant…said he forgot everything he’d been taught from one day to the next…said he advised selling him and buying a better prospect.

I decided not to sell him.

There was just something about him.

Partly, it was his excellent pedigree.  Largely, it was his sweet nature…his soft eye…the way he acted like he genuinely enjoyed human interaction.  Mostly, it was recalling how when we first brought him home it was obvious he had never been lead-line lunged, yet it took only a few minutes to have him walking and trotting smooth circles around me.

In short, I didn’t believe what the trainer told us, despite his credentials.  The trainer’s professional testimony didn’t match my own personal experience with this particular horse.

So I decided to take on his training, myself.

Now, after six months working with him, I feel I have the right to my own opinions of this horse’s sweet nature.

He’s definitely not resistant to training. In fact, he’s super smart and very eager to please.

In theory, that should make him really easy to train. However, he still manages to challenge my very amateur training skills.  I have no doubt he’s a great horse…I often question whether I can become a good leader.

We occasionally have days where everything seems to click and I find myself riding this wonderfully responsive majestic creature. Those days I truly feel I’m holding his feet in my hands as we smoothly transition from side-passes to counter-arcs and back again with a 2″ slide of my calf forward and back.  Those days, we transition up from a walk to and trot or from a trot to a lope on nothing more than an inhale of breath…then transition back down on an exhale and relaxing into the saddle…all on a loose rein.  Those days, it feels like the sky is the limit…like I’m only one ride away from teaching this horse to do anything I want him to do.  Those days are amazing!

And those days are usually followed by a day that seems a bit disappointing in comparison…where nothing seems to click quite right…where communication is a struggle…where transitions are jerky…where I have to over-cue to get the desired response…where it seems we’ve forgotten everything we learned from the last ride. On those days, the trainer’s words come back to haunt me as seeds of doubt sprig up.

Then I listen to my horse…really pay attention to his responses…and I realize. The issue is neither stubbornness nor stupidity.  The issue is a really smart horse working really hard to please…whose expectations don’t quite match my own.  He wants so much to please that he tries to anticipate what I want before I ever ask.

Yesterday we backed thru turns after stops…so today he follows every stop by immediately starting to pivot inward. When I block the turn, he starts to pivot the other direction.  When I block the outward turn, he tries to back up.  When I block the back, he side-passes to the fence to stop and relax…because yesterday we finished out the ride learning to relax standing parallel to the gate.

He’s not being resistant. On the contrary, his every move is an attempt to do what he thinks I want…before I have a chance to ask for it.

He definitely remembers yesterday’s lesson!

This is not a poor memory issue.  This is an issue of miscommunication and mismatched expectations.  He remembers enjoying the smoothness of yesterday’s ride as well as I do.  And after thinking about it overnight, he has resolved to do even better today, by doing what I want before I even ask for it.  But what I really want is for him to respond promptly and smoothly when I asknot before I ask.

At this point, I have a choice. I can get frustrated at his seemingly erratic behavior, tense up, and try to straighten him out by over-cuing everything.  He, in turn, will likely respond with confusion and frustration of his own.  He will become tense, making learning more difficult, and we’ll wind up finishing the ride on a bad note, both baffled by the other’s behavior.

Or, I can laugh! I can lighten up, recognize his attempts to anticipate for what they are, laugh at the miscommunication, and appreciate this wonderful animal for his good-natured willingness to try to please.  I can set the mood for lightheartedness and joy…and he’ll respond with softness and grace.  The ride may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And that’s a lesson I can carry into other relationships.

When frustration mounts, I can choose, instead, to laugh! I can lighten up, recognize the miscommunications for what they are, and appreciate the other person for who they are.  The moment may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And I suspect my Heavenly Father often laughs at my miscues just as I laugh at my horse’s misguided anticipated moves. How often do I persist in doing what I think will please Him when all He really wants is for us to enjoy time together as I learn to listen and respond to His ask?  How often does He choose to lighten up and laugh at my miscues, while appreciating my willingness to try and my desire to please?

How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
And by Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And by Your favor our horn is exalted. (Psalm 89:15-17)

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

God Became

[Reposted from November 2014 with minor edits]

god became manDoes God change?

Your first instinct is probably similar to mine…”Of course not!  God is God…He is perfect and unchanging…the first and the last…the beginning and the end…the great I Am…Who is, Who was, and evermore shalt be!”

And that answer is both correct and biblically supported.   Many Bible passages discuss God’s unchanging nature.

Every good thing and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  (James 1:17)

But, just as we begin to get truly comfortable with the concept that God has not, does not, and will not change, we find this word became.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…  (John 1:1 & 14).

Did you catch that?  The Word is God and the Word became flesh.  God became flesh!  God became

The word became denotes change.  Not minor change, but fundamental change.  He didn’t temporarily disguise Himself as human…He became human.

God became man.

In the Old Testament, we’re told,

God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent…  (Numbers 23:19)

God was not a man…but He became a man.  God was not a son of man…but He became a son of man.  In fact, Jesus often referred to Himself as the son of man.

God became!  He changed…God became something He previously was not.  Almighty, perfect, unchanging creator God became a created being.

God did not change His nature.  Jesus still does not lie, nor need to repent.  Although, as the Son of Man, Jesus did receive the baptism of repentance.

In becoming human, God did not lower the standard of deity…rather, He raised the standard and condition of humanity.

For us, God changed who He is.  His identity is forever changed.  God became one of us…human.  Jesus will forever be human.  Jesus will forever bear the nail scars of His covenant with us…scars that were not there before, but now are…for us!

The author of Hebrews tells us,

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through suffering.  (Hebrews 2:10)

Jesus was perfected through suffering…

God changed…He was perfected.

God was already perfect.  He had no need to change…no need to be perfected…no need to become anything other than who He already was.

But we needed a redeemer…a deliverer…a savior.

For our sake, God became a man...through suffering He became our perfect savior! Click To Tweet

He was already perfect deity.  He became our perfect savior.

What a marvelous wonder!

God became

Your thoughts?

Dark Scary Places

Sonny and KnockoutI absolutely love spending time with our horses learning horsemanship!

I’m still not much of a horseman, but am constantly learning. I’m at a stage now where I get a big kick out of small changes.  Sometimes it’s a small improvement in an area we’ve worked on…other times it’s a problem that crops up and is handled using newly learned tools.

Last night, I trailered three of our horses to the farrier for hoof trims and shoeing. All three horses are accustomed to trailers and load very easily…until last night.

For some reason, when loading to leave the farrier, each horse hesitated at the trailer door refusing to go in. I’m not sure why…maybe the unusually bright moonlight made the trailer interior look darker and therefore scarier.  Whatever the reason, each horse balked at the trailer door, and no amount of coaxing could persuade them to step inside.

If this had happened two years ago, I would not have known what to do. Facing the same event two years ago, I would probably have tugged and pulled trying to force the horse into the trailer while asking someone else to apply pressure from the back end.  And who knows…I might fall into that same pattern next week…this horsemanship gig is a tortuous journey full of surprising twists and turns for both me and the horses.  It’s a lot like parenting.

Last night, though, was different. Last night, when the first horse refused to load I realized this was neither about lack of understanding nor lack of willingness.  It wasn’t even about loading or not loading.  In fact, it wasn’t really even about the trailer.

The issue to be addressed was lack of confidence.

For whatever reason, that particular horse on that particular evening was not confident about loading in that dark scary-looking trailer. His confidence had been replaced with fear…and it was up to me to regain his confidence.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.

His fear was rooted in the trailer and his lack of confidence was rooted in self. It had nothing to do with me, really.  He was not afraid of me, nor was he challenging me.  He lacked confidence in himself out of fear of the scary-looking trailer.

The solution, however, had nothing to do with the trailer and everything to do with me. I needed to get his focus off the trailer and onto me.  I needed to boost his confidence in me.  His lack of self-confidence needed to be replaced with confidence in me.

We took a few steps away from the trailer and spent about two minutes doing a few basic exercises: step back, step forward, right shoulder turn, right hind-quarter turn, left shoulder turn, left hind-quarter turn, back two steps, forward two steps, back one step, forward one step.

Then I led him into the trailer. No fuss, no bother, no fear…just confidently following me into the trailer to stand quietly while I closed the stall separator.

Then I did the exact same thing with the other two horses, with the same results.

It was wonderful!  🙂

I love when things work out so well.  More importantly, I love when I am able to read a situation well enough to know the solution.  And I love knowing my horses have enough confidence in me to follow my lead.

This morning I realized there are a few life lessons in last night’s events.

Lesson 1: When I am scared, the issue is whatever I fear combined with lack of confidence.  The solution is to move my focus off what I fear and onto Jesus.  With my focus on Jesus, lack of self-confidence is replaced by confidence in Him.

Lesson 2: Placing my focus and confidence in Jesus is best accomplished by simply obeying Him in small things…by following His lead in little things that have nothing to do with the big scary thing.

How does that play out in real life? Lots of ways, but let’s take one current event.

I think most of us are a little (or a lot) concerned about what’s going on politically in the United States, right now. Whomever any of us may have voted for and whatever outcome we hoped for, right now we have a lot of uncertainty as to how exactly things will pan out post-election.  There are a lot of unknowns, and it is natural to fear the unknown (just as it is natural for a horse to fear a dark trailer interior).

The solution is to move my focus off the uncertainties and onto Jesus. I do that by spending time alone with Him and by following His command to “Love one another.”  I do that in daily little things…by treating others with love, respect, and understanding.

As I follow Christ’s lead in these little daily things, my confidence in Him builds and my fear of uncertainty is replaced by confidence in Him.

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Guardians

As US Highway 82 runs through Greenville, Mississippi, the speed limit drops from 65 mph to 35 mph with a series of traffic lights. The traffic that flowed smoothly through the countryside bunches up and crawls in fits through the city of Greenville.

I was halfway through town, heading west toward the nearby Mississippi River, when I stopped for a traffic light. There was nothing extraordinary about the stop.  As I approached the intersection, the light changed from green to yellow, followed by red.  I began braking the moment it changed to yellow, and the light was red well before I reached the intersection to stop behind the white line painted across the asphalt highway.

The logging truck behind me was less responsive. A glance in the rearview mirror showed him bearing down on me while vigorously plying both brake and horn.  I punched the gas to jump across the spacious cross-walk and stop halfway into the cross-lane, leaving just enough room for cross-traffic to squeeze by.  The trucker took full advantage of the extra stopping footage, grinding to a halt a couple of feet behind my bumper.  Too close for comfort, but no harm done!  I relaxed into my seat, thankful a collision had been avoided.

Seconds later, the truck driver stomped up and slapped my window as though trying to break the glass, then proceeded to cuss me out. “What the h*** do you think you’re doing?  Do you think an eight hundred thousand pound load is easy to get stopped?”

Hoping to defuse the tension, I responded calmly, “The light was red, bud.”

“F*** the light!” he screamed, stalking back to his truck.

As the light changed to green, I pulled ahead of the heavy truck. A few blocks further, I stopped at another red light.  Glancing in my mirror, I saw the road-rage driver two blocks back in the left lane, abreast another logging truck in the right lane.  Both trucks barreled straight through a red light to stop where I was…one to my left and one behind me.

That seemed like a pretty aggressive move, intended to intimidate. I wasn’t really scared, but I was concerned.  Accelerating through the green light, I reached beneath the car seat, retrieved my hand gun, and placed it on the seat beside me, as I breathed a prayer for protection and wisdom.  I wasn’t really expecting an altercation, but wanted to be prepared just in case.

As we neared the edge of town, the car in front of me turned right, and I saw a police officer signaling me to do the same. Something struck me as odd.  Traffic was rolling on down the highway, ahead.  There were no detour signs or flashing lights.  No police cars were in view.  Yet this police officer was looking straight at me, clearly signaling me to turn right, off the four-lane highway, onto a narrow residential street.

As I slowed for the turn I called, “Turn right?” “Yes, turn right,” he responded, then said something else about broken glass.  I’m not certain, but it sounded like he said, “Yes, turn right.  We want you to avoid broken glass.”

I made the right turn, thinking there must be a crew ahead cleaning broken glass off the highway. I glanced in my mirror expecting to see a line of traffic following, with the two logging trucks on my bumper.  Instead, I saw the police officer standing in the middle of the road, facing away from me as he watched the highway traffic roll by.  Nobody else was diverted.

It must be a mistake, I thought. I must have misunderstood something.  I needed to get turned around and back on the highway.  Then I saw another police officer two blocks ahead, waving me on.  “Go straight?” I queried as I eased past her.  “Yes,” she responded, “keep going straight.”

So I kept going straight. Three blocks further on, the road teed into another street at a stop sign.  I had to turn either left or right.  I looked around.  No more police officers to direct me.  Still no detour signs.  The car in front of me had turned right, but he appeared to be headed toward a specific destination within the residential neighborhood.  Right would take me back east…opposite my direction of travel.  I turned left.

Within a couple of blocks, I intersected a four-lane street at an oblique angle. This could be US-82 if it had curved right.  Or it could be another street altogether.  The street sign read Grand Avenue…not much help as I was watching highway numbers not street names.  Left would take me back almost to the point I was diverted, so I turned right.  Within five minutes a sign informed me I was traveling north on State Highway 1.  Knowing the next Mississippi River bridge was miles out of my way, I turned around to head back south toward US-82.

As I approached US-82, I glanced left. There was the street I’d been diverted onto, just a couple of blocks back.  There was no police officer in sight.  No signs, no flashing lights, no accident, no broken glass…just normal traffic flow.  I turned right and headed for the river as I pondered the strange occurrence.

By the time I was crossing the river, I was starting to feel a little peeved. Why did those officers divert me?  They wasted a good fifteen minutes of my time, for no good reason!

About the time I entered Arkansas on the other side of the bridge it occurred to me that those two logging trucks were now fifteen minutes ahead of me…with no idea I was still traveling the same direction.

Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!

Now, I’m pretty quick to see miracles in everyday events such as a pretty sunset or a baby’s laugh. I’m also fairly quick to give God credit for miraculous timing of events…things that come together with too much precision to be reasonably counted as random coincidence.  I am not, however, overly quick to call things supernatural if they can be reasonably explained as natural events.  I give God full credit for both natural events and supernatural events.  However, I don’t generally feel the need to label something as supernatural when it could be divine timing of natural events.

This one has me puzzled, though.

It really would not be reasonable to assume two police officers just decided to coordinate together to play a prank on a random stranger. It would be even less reasonable to assume they decided to single out one random vehicle out of a highway full of vehicles as the subject of a joke.  And it becomes even less credible to assume they would decide to play the joke without using any flashing lights or police cars.

Logic drives me to the conclusion that I was intentionally singled out to be diverted for a specific purpose. The most obvious purpose would be to separate me from the pair of road-rage truck drivers.  However, to accept this means I must also accept this was a divinely inspired plan for my protection…and that those were no ordinary police officers.

In the Bible, angels served two primary roles, as guardians and as messengers. Whether natural or supernatural, those two police officers acted as guardians and messengers on my behalf.  They were my angels.

Which means, I am greatly loved and under divine care.

Glory!  🙂

 

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Submit?

Submit…what emotions and images does this word evoke for you?

Such a simple word…with such complex relational and emotional overtones…

Listening to an authoritarian or patriarchal pastor teaching on the topic, one gets the impression that submission is the very means to salvation…as though the salvation of a wife and the salvation of her husband are both dependent on the level of her willingness to cheerfully and unquestioningly obey her husband in all things, no matter what.

For a Christian abused wife raised under such teaching, submission may be hell on earth…an impossible, unachievable task designed to make life increasingly more unbearable. Both her husband and her pastor may have beat her down with Ephesians 5:22 so many times she is in danger of losing herself in a bottomless pit of submissiveness.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22 KJV)

Ephesians 5:22-33 is the foundational text for those who hold a view that in all biblically based marriages the husband’s role is to make all the decisions and the wife’s role is to unquestioningly acquiesce to all of his decisions. But they are staking their entire doctrine on the word submit meaning what they believe it means.

What if submit doesn’t mean obey unquestioningly?  What if submit simply means to honor and respect?  The contextual evidence strongly supports such a position.

Verse 25 of this passage says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it,” and verse 33 says, “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself…”

There is nothing about these verses to suggest the husband is to be anything other than sacrificially loving toward his wife. There is nothing about this passage to suggest it is okay for a husband to lord over his wife in disregard for her feelings or opinions, nor that the wife should meekly submit to such authoritarian misbehavior.

So, what about this word submit in verse 22?  It is important to note that this same exact word also appears in verse 21:

Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Clearly, the word submit as used in verse 21 cannot mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.  So why would anyone assign such a meaning in the following verse?

Many people view the end of verse 21 as being the end of a topical section…a chapter divider, of sorts. In the first twenty-one verses of the chapter, Paul is exhorting the church to walk in love and purity.  Verse 22 is seen by some as the beginning of a new topic discussing marital relations.

Viewed from this perspective, one could argue that the same word can have a different meaning when used in a different context. By this argument, the word submit in verse 21 could mean all Christians are to honor and respect each other, and the same word used in verse 22 could mean the wife is to unquestioningly obey her husband no matter what.  While I don’t find this to be a compelling argument, on the surface it does appear to be a potentially arguable point.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation of verse 22 recently caught my attention:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

The italicization of be subject is what caught my attention. In NASB, italicized text is used to denote words added by the translators, for clarity or easier reading.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered Ephesians 5:22 is one of the few verses with a substantive difference between Textus Receptus and the Morphological GNT, as shown in the BlueLetterBible.

The Textus Receptus used for King James Version (KJV) translation includes the word “hypotasso” (G5293 Strongs) which KJV translates as “submit.”

However, the Morphological GNT used in NASB translation (which is considered more reliable) does not include this word in verse 22.

Ephesians 5:22 entry in Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible entry for Ephesians 5:22 with Morphological GNT shown at top and Textus Receptus at bottom. ‘Hypatosso’ is not included in the Morphological GNT text.

Essentially, this means the first century Greek texts considered to be the oldest and most reliable do not include the word hypotasso in verse 22. These texts include no primary verb for verse 22, relying on the reader to understand that the verb hypotasso (submit) is carried over from the previous sentence (verse 21).  Presumably, some scribe added the verb hypotasso to verse 22, for clarity…to make sure the reader understands the verb hypotasso applies to both verse 21 and verse 22.

So, based on the oldest and most reliable texts, verses 21 and 22 would have read something like this:

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (verses 21-22 NASB with italicized text removed)

From the perspective of translation, this is a seemingly unimportant detail. Whether or not the word hypotasso is specifically included in verse 22, it is clearly intended to be used as the primary verb in both 21 and 22.  In the end, NASB arrives at the same basic meaning as is conveyed in the KJV.

However, in trying to understand the intended usage of the word submit in the English translation, it is very important.  Verses 21 and 22 cannot have two differently nuanced meanings of the same word, because they actually share the exact same instance of the word.

…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ; wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Not only is verse 22 not starting a new topic, it is not even starting a new sentence. It is an extrapolation of the same thought, sharing the same verb.  Whatever meaning Paul intended to convey with the word hypotasso (submit), he intended the exact same meaning for husbands as for wives, both toward each other and toward other believers.

So, submit, as used in this passage, cannot possibly mean to unquestioningly obey no matter what.

I believe submit, in this passage, is intended to mean love, honor and respect.

What do you think?

 

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

 

The Summons

The Summons
A poem by Joseph J. Pote
July 2016

It’s a normal evening at home;
Bright lights, air conditioning,
Television blaring, family busy
With chores and bedtime preparation.

I step outside for a moment.
Closing the front door, I breathe
The peace and calm of a mild summer
Evening in south Arkansas.

Looking around the moonlit lawn,
I feel the first tug.
The moonlight beckons;
The shadow world calls.

From ‘neath the front porch
Shelter, I venture forth.
Through the shade of slender pines,
Breathing their aromatic scent.

Onward to the open moonlight
Gazing full on her shining face,
Drinking in the mystery
Of a shrouded world filled with light.

Yet the summons bids me onward
Toward the pasture gate.
Hesitantly, I lift the latch,
Wondering how long I’ll tarry.

Stepping through the gate,
I gaze in wondrous awe,
Not on our familiar pasture,
But an enchanted magic land.

Though scent of damp earth
And dewy grass combines
With distant cicada song
To anchor heart to ordinary world,

All else tis transformed
To moonlit fairyland
Glistening and shimmering
‘Neath light of lustrous moon.

Where our stagnant pond should lay,
A mirrored lake reflects moonlight;
O’er which a giant sentinel watches
Where our sweet-gum should stand.

Boots swish through damp grass
As my quest leads ever onward
Down hill and up levy to feet of
Giant sentinel who calls.

Yes, calls…though silently.
Not a word he speaks.
No wisdom imparted here,
Just beauty and outstretched arm

Pointing onward into the depths
Of lunar wonderland,
Where shrouded gnomes silently watch
My passage ‘cross wandering stream.

Emerging on the distant bank,
Four mythical creatures of legend
Stride solemnly toward me
On hooves of silent sureness;

Regal their bearing, yet warm,
The creatures draw near to
Counsel with me there, ‘neath
Wondrous moon in enchanted land.

We speak of many things both
Great and small; not in clumsy
Tongues of men, but in fluid equestrian
Language of touch, motion and breath.

I was honored by their counsel
And they by my visit to their world.
We talked ‘til time to take my leave,
Then stood a moment, silent.

What magic moonlight’s wrought to
Transform mundane pasture into wonderland
And ordinary horses into mythical creatures
Of legendary wisdom and majesty!

Back in my everyday world again,
A part of me remains behind…
And part of that magic moonlit night
Remains in me.

Permissible

picture of a divorce decreeOne July morning in 1994, I found myself sitting in my pastor’s living room. He had graciously responded to my desperate phone call with an invitation to come over and talk.  My wife had left me, and I had no idea what to do.  All I wanted was God’s best for our family of four young children.

“Joe, you know divorce is permissible for adultery and abandonment. If you divorce, you would still be eligible to remarry.”

His words supported what I had been taught…and he meant the words to be gracious and helpful. He was sharing the truth of God’s word as he understood it, viewing the permissibility of divorce for specific situations as God’s grace to deal with harsh realities of life in this world.  In fact, by even bringing up divorce as a valid option, he was being much more liberal than many pastors would have been.

But at that moment, those words were no help at all.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In the New Covenant, we live under grace, not under the law. So, I was not interested in what was permissible…what I could get by with.  My heart was, and is, to wholeheartedly pursue God’s will and seek God’s best!

See, this whole concept of divorce being permissible only for specific rigidly predefined situations is founded on a false paradigm. First it assumes that divorce is sin, although the Bible never calls it sin.  Second, it interprets Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7 as providing rigidly narrow “exception clauses” for when divorce is permissible.

Now, there are some basic logic errors in this paradigm.

As discussed in this post, sin is never permissible.  Therefore, since both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul discussed situations where divorce may be a godly course of action, divorce cannot be inherently sinful.  The sin is either in what led to the divorce or in how the divorce is handled, not in the act of divorce, itself.

Also, if Matthew 19:9 is interpreted as Jesus saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of adultery, and 1 Corinthians 7:11-15 is interpreted as Paul saying all divorce is forbidden with the solitary exception of abandonment, then we have the Apostle Paul contradicting Jesus.  They cannot both be providing a rigid solitary exception in which the solitary exception is not the same.  So the whole paradigm of divorce being unlawful with the exception of certain specific narrow instances listed in scriptural exception clauses falls apart.  It is based on flawed logic.

But that summer morning in 1994, I was not thinking about flawed logic and biblical hermeneutics. At that time, I accepted the prevailing Divorce Mythology as truth.  It was what I had been taught by men I respected and trusted.  I had never had serious reason to question its validity, and to be honest, I had never studied the topic closely enough to recognize the obvious errors.

What I was struggling with that morning was of a much deeper emotional nature.

See, this whole concept of divorce being forbidden, but then having narrowly defined exception clauses for when it is permissible…it fundamentally assumes divorce is never the best course of action.

When presented in sermons, we can almost always count on the preacher to immediately add, “…but not required.” For example, in a sermon on Matthew 19, he might say, “Divorce is permissible for adultery…but not required.”  The implication being it really would always be better to not divorce …that the truly godly course of action would be to find a way to reconcile…no matter the circumstances.  It implies that no matter what led to the divorce, people who have divorced are somehow less spiritual, less faithful, less holy than if they had remained legally married.

It felt to me at the time as though divorce would be a deviation from God’s best plan for my life… condemning myself and my family to a life of something less than God’s best…some sort of second-rate grace begging scraps from the children’s table.

This false assumption of divorce never being the best course of action is reinforced even in the terminology.

Consider the word permissible.  It means permitted or allowed, and that’s exactly how it is treated… as though divorce is always wrong but sometimes grudgingly permitted under specific narrowly defined exceptions.  Many churches treat divorce as something that should always be discouraged, never encouraged…no matter the circumstances.  In effect, divorce is sometimes permissible…but always discouraged.

Then there are these exception clauses used to rigidly define when divorce is permissible.  Do you see how legalistic this whole paradigm is?  Even the terms forbidden, permissible and exception clauses are legal terms, illustrating the inherent legalistic nature of this false paradigm.

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently spoke against the legalism of the religious leaders, repeatedly demonstrating that righteousness is a heart matter. He often condemned the system of rigid rules, legal loopholes, and exception clauses debated among the religious leaders of His day.

Yet, somehow, many Christians (including many learned theologians) have embraced an unscriptural paradigm making Jesus out to have (on the solitary topic of divorce) replaced the law of Moses with a much more stringent law, including rigidly applied exception clauses for legal loopholes. This is the epitome of legalism and the very thing Jesus denounced the Pharisees for doing!

That summer morning, as I was reeling from shock trying to figure out what to do next, I didn’t need to be told divorce was permissible for my situation.  I needed to be told God is the God of divorce just as He is the God of marriage.  I needed to be told, divorce is sometimes the best and most godly course of action.  I needed to be told God’s blessing in my life and the lives of my children was not dependent on my staying married to their mother.

Who can you encourage with a message of God’s blessing and faithfulness through divorce?

 

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

 

A Way Out

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’m still not much of a horseman.

However, in working with our two young horses (a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on the topic of horse training.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface, I am really having a lot of fun learning!

I’ve noticed a common training theme that is frequently repeated in every chapter and/or video. Some call it the principle of pressure-release.  Others call it making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  I just finished reading Ray Hunt’s book, Think Harmony with Horses, in which he calls it putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out.

It is a very simple training principle with a myriad of practical applications. Carson James has a whole library of videos applying this basic principle to different training situations.

In a nutshell, the idea is to set the horse up in a situation where it is easy for him to do what you’re trying to teach (this is the out), but difficult for him to do anything else (this is the bind). Then apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to find the out (do what you are trying to teach).

The instant the horse makes a try (takes a step, shifts weight, turns head, etc.) in the right direction, release the pressure.  Take a moment to encourage and reward the horse (pet him and talk to him) then do it again.  Repeat until the horse responds smoothly with the desired response.

One benefit to this technique is that rather than trying to force the horse to do what the trainer wants, the trainer is letting the horse figure it out for himself. Rather than trying to over-ride the horse’s free will, the horse is learning to voluntarily adjust his will to submit to the trainer’s will.

Another benefit, as explained in Think Harmony with Horses, is the bond created between man and horse.  Using this technique, the horse learns to consider the trainer as a trusted friend, because the trainer always leaves the horse an out.  Over time, the horse gains confidence in the trainer and in his ability to follow the trainer’s prompts.

The concept is amazingly simple. The application, however, is an art requiring lots of practice.

The first trick is knowing the horse’s personality and training level well enough to know where to start and how much pressure to apply. Difficult tasks often require breaking learning down into smaller steps, so the horse can gain confidence and understand expectations before learning the difficult task.

Also, the trainer must apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to search for the out, but not so much pressure as to panic the horse.  As training progresses, the trainer should use less and less pressure, so the horse can learn a quick response to a light touch.

The second trick is timing. Pressure must be applied to encourage desired behavior and instantly released at even a tiny try toward desired behavior.  The release is what lets the horse know where the out is, and the out needs to be as easy to find as possible.  However, as the horse progresses in learning the out, the trainer should hold pressure to insist on a more specific try (such as a full step rather than just a head turn or a weight shift) before releasing pressure.

As I contemplated this concept of putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

God, who intimately knows my personality and training level, sets me up in stressful situations while always leaving me an out. He knows just how much stress to apply to help me find the out without being unduly panicked.  He is my faithful friend throughout…helping me find the right way and helping me learn to follow His prompts.  He never forces me, but helps me learn to voluntarily submit my will to His.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

What a faithful friend and personal trainer!

 

Your thoughts?

 

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