Overcoming Fear

In working with my current ‘project’ horse, one of my primary goals is helping him overcome fear.

Horses are prey animals. They’re designed to be alert for danger and run away.  That’s how they survive.

So, when a horse spooks at a puddle, bolts from a plastic bag, or balks at a creek crossing, he’s not just being cantankerous and troublesome. From the horse’s perspective it is a life and death situation in which he is doing what he must to survive.

Picture yourself riding horseback along a forest path. Everything is going fine.  You’re riding with loose swinging reins and the horse is stepping out with a long walking stride.  The sun is shining.  There’s a light breeze whispering the leaves.  You’re smiling, relaxed, enjoying nature’s serenity.

Then a deer jumps out! Your horse starts to bolt and you grab the reins.  He bucks you off and runs 30 yards down the trail before stopping.

From your perspective everything was going fine until your horse decided to act like an idiot over a harmless deer. From the horse’s perspective, he was running to save his life…you tried to stop him…so he did what he had to do to flee the mortal danger.

This is what we face when we decide to mount and ride. The horse’s perspective is very different from ours.  So, how do we get the horse to a point where he’s not running off every time the wind blows?

We help him overcome his fears.

We do it for our own sake, because this partnership can’t work if he’s always looking for a reason to run off. But we also do it for the horse’s sake…to help him become a better horse…to help him become a braver horse who isn’t afraid of his own shadow…to help him become a horse a rider can trust.

We want to help the horse become the best horse he can be.

So, how do we do that?

I actually began helping Knockout overcome his fears the first time I interacted with him. By simply greeting him in a friendly manner, I helped him overcome his fear of me.  Then I began teaching him to respect me and pay attention.  I began developing a means of communicating with him and started getting very particular about how he responds to my cues.

As Knockout learns to respect and trust me…as he learns to pay attention to me…as he learns to respond quickly to a soft cue…his confidence grows and he becomes less afraid.

The key to helping a horse overcome his fear is to gain his trust and hold his attention. If my horse trusts me, pays attention to me, and knows how to respond to my cues, he will be less afraid.

However, it can be very difficult to keep his attention when he faces new surroundings or encounters something he hasn’t seen before.

So I expose him to more stimuli. I take him places he hasn’t been before.  I introduce him to objects he hasn’t seen before.  I ask him to do new things he hasn’t done before.

I keep pushing him outside his comfort zone.

I don’t push him to make him bothered or afraid. Quite the opposite!  I do it to help him overcome his fear…to help him learn to be brave.  It’s a big world out there and he needs to learn to deal with it…to be confident and responsive in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I’m not setting him up for failure. I’m setting him up for success.  I’m not creating new environments just to bother him.  I’m gradually exposing him to existing environments he hasn’t seen before…environments beyond the little pasture he lives in.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, Knockout is learning to have faith in me. We are progressing toward a point where it won’t matter that he is in a new and unfamiliar situation so long as I am present….he doesn’t know the unfamiliar surroundings, but he knows me…and that is enough…because he trusts me.

I want Knockout to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to me for direction…to pay attention to me…to focus on what I’m telling him…and to trust me to guide him safely.

Does it sometimes seem like God is continually pushing you outside your comfort zone? Does it feel like you’re facing one catastrophe after another?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why, God, what did I do to deserve this?

I know I’ve sometimes felt this way…sometimes asked these questions…

I’m learning God doesn’t allow catastrophe and discomfort into my life to punish me or make me afraid.

He does it to help me learn to be brave. He does it to help me become a better person.  He wants me to be the best person I can be…to fulfill the destiny He preordained for me before the foundation of the world…to be conformed to the image of Christ.  He wants me to become who He created me to be…the image of God.

God is not setting me up for failure. He’s setting me up for success.  God is not creating toxic environments just to bother me.  He’s gradually exposing me to existing environments I haven’t experienced before.

Do you realize how many times the Bible tells us to fear not…to not be afraid…to be strong and courageous…to not be discouraged or dismayed? Over and over and over.  These are some of the most repeated phrases throughout scripture.

God is very interested in helping us overcome our fear. Why?  Because it’s a big world out there and we need to be able to handle it…to hear His voice and respond no matter what the circumstances.

How do we do that? Pretty similar to how a horse does it.

We spend time with the Master. We learn to communicate with Him.  We learn to listen and respond to His cues.  We learn to trust Him.  We learn to pay attention to Him…to keep our focus on Him even when we’re scared.

And slowly, over time, with consistency and patience, we learn that His presence is enough. No matter what the circumstances, we don’t have to be afraid, so long as He is with us…because we’ve learned to trust Him.

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

God wants me to learn, in unfamiliar situations, rather than being nervous and unsure what to do, to simply look to Him for direction…to pay attention to Him…to focus on what He’s telling me…and to trust Him to guide me safely.

And He wants the same for you!

 

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

 

Rilian’s Dual Destinies

Prince Rilian of Narnia was a man with two destinies.

Two opposing prophecies had been spoken over Rilian…two opposing powers had predestined plans for his life.

In some ways the two destinies may seem similar…but they were actually polar opposites.

Prince Rilian was born son of King Caspian X and his wife, Lilliandil. As sole heir to the throne, Rilian was destined to become King of Narnia after Caspian.  He was expected to rule Narnia with kindness, justice and honor.

When Prince Rilian was twenty years old, his mother, Queen Lilliandil, was killed by a green serpent. In his grief, Rilian relentlessly pursued the serpent, seeking to avenge his mother’s death.  He spent extended periods hunting the serpent until one day he did not return, and many knights and champions were lost searching for him.

Two children from our world, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, together with their guide Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, were sent by Aslan on a quest to find Prince Rilian. They eventually found the prince in Underland, in the depths of the earth below Narnia.  Initially they did not recognize the prince, and Rilian, himself, claimed to have no knowledge of Narnia, King Caspian, nor his own identity.

As they conversed with the prince, he told them:

…Sirs, I am a man under most strange afflictions, and none but the Queen’s grace would have had patience with me. Patience, said I?  But it goes far beyond that.  She has promised me a great kingdom in Overland and, when I am king, her own most gracious hand in marriage…

The land is already chosen and the very place of our breaking out. Her Earthmen have worked day and night digging a way beneath it, and have now gone so far and so high that they tunnel not a score of feet beneath the very grass on which the Updwellers of that country walk…

Then the thin roof of earth which keeps me from my kingdom will be broken through, and with her to guide me and a thousand Earthmen at my back, I shall ride forth in arms, fall suddenly on our enemies, slay their chief man, cast down their strong places, and doubtless be their crowned king within four and twenty hours.

The Queen of Underland turned out to be a witch who held Prince Rilian under an enchantment. The Overland country they planned to invade was Narnia, and the witch was the serpent who killed Rilian’s mother.

As Rilian said, after his enchantment was broken by killing the serpent, “All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer.”

The witch offered Rilian a kingdom and her hand in marriage. While under her enchantment, that sounded to Rilian like a very nice destiny indeed.

In actuality, the kingdom was already his by birthright.

The ‘strong places’ they planned to throw down were actually Prince Rilian’s strong places. The ‘chief man’ he was to kill was his own father, King Caspian.

The witch offered Rilian nothing that wasn’t already rightfully his. Had he remained under her spell, Rilian would have usurped his own throne and ruled as the queen’s slave.  He would have attacked and defeated his own kingdom, ruling over it as a tyrant.

Two destinies…both as King of Narnia…

One destiny was to be the rightful king, ruling lawfully in honor, justice, and love.

The other destiny was to be a usurper of his own throne, murdering his own father, and ruling as a puppet-tyrant enslaved by the witch who murdered his mother.

Thankfully, he was delivered from the enchantment in time to choose the destiny of honor and justice.

The Bible tells a similar story of dual destinies.

God created man in his own image and placed them in authority over the earth, to rule over it.  Then the serpent came and tempted them to disobey God, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

They were already like God! Click To Tweet

God created Adam and Eve in His own image and had already placed them as rulers over all the earth.

The serpent offered them nothing that wasn’t already rightfully theirs. Click To Tweet

Much like Prince Rilian, the choice before Adam and Eve was whether they would rule as rightful rulers or whether they would usurp their own kingdom and become slaves of the serpent…ruling as the serpent’s puppet-tyrants.

Catastrophically, they chose the serpent’s enchantment.

As a result, we all inherit their dual destinies. Every one of us, as a descendant of Adam, are born with a dual destiny to become either a child of God or a slave of Satan.  This is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin which God warned of…this is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…this is what it means to be in covenant with good and in covenant with evil.

What about The Silver Chair from whence the book derives its name?

While under the witch’s enchantment, for one hour each day Prince Rilian was in his right mind and wished to be delivered.  Yet he was bound in a silver chair that held him captive until the hour of lucidity passed.

What is (or was) our silver chair? In those moments when the Holy Spirit penetrated the fog of our self-deception and willful blindness…when we saw with clarity how enslaved we were to our own sin…when we wished to be delivered to live a life of honor, justice and love…what kept us bound until the hour passed?

Could it have been our pride? Perhaps our love of things of this world? Our personal comfort? Misplaced loyalties? Anger? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? Discouragement? Fear?

We are all born with dual destinies. Click To Tweet

We have before us two covenants…a covenant with good…and a covenant with evil.

Two destinies…one choice…

Which destiny do you choose?  Are you ready to see your silver chair destroyed?

 

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

 

Aslan’s Will

In rereading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I’ve been fascinated by Lewis’ portrayal of how Aslan’s will is worked out in Narnia.

In the Narnian creation portrayed in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan literally sings creation into being.  Aslan’s will is worked out through his own voice with changes in melody and rhythm preceding changes in the appearance of newly created beings.  The creation scene is portrayed as a beautiful symphony of creative expression of Aslan’s will.

Similarly, in the biblical Genesis account we see the earth’s creation spoken into existence through a series of “Let there be…” imperatives from God, the Creator. Then at the start of his gospel account, John, speaking of Jesus as The Word, said:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1)

Reading these two biblical accounts I sense a joyful creative expression of God’s will, similar to that described in Lewis’ fictional portrayal.

On the day of the Narnian creation, Aslan also instated a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve as the first king and queen of Narnia. From that point on, we see a very different approach to Aslan’s will being carried out.  Once mankind is established as rulers over Narnia, Aslan begins working out his will primarily through humans or in response to the prayers of humans.

Even on the first day of creation, Aslan sent Digory and Polly on a quest to retrieve an apple to be planted by Digory to protect Narnia from evil. Aslan could have simply sung the protective apple tree into creation, himself.  Instead he saw fit to assign that task to Digory.

We see this same pattern in the biblical record. Prior to creating Adam, God carried out His will directly through His Word.  After instructing Adam and Eve to rule over the earth, His will was carried out on earth primarily through mankind…through His children…and through their prayers.

In Prince Caspian, both Cornelius (Caspian’s tutor) and Glenstorm (the centaur who was also a prophet) repeatedly referred to signs in the heavenly bodies indicating that the time had come for a major positive change in Narnia.  These signs and prophecies clearly indicate a predestined will of Aslan for Narnia to be freed from the oppressive rule of Miraz and for Caspian to be crowned as king over all Narnians.

However, supernatural help was withheld until Caspian blew Queen Susan’s horn…the magical horn given to Susan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that was promised to always bring help in time of need.  When Caspian blew the horn, his cry for help (prayer) called the four children from their world and ushered Aslan’s return.  Clearly, Aslan’s will was being worked out throughout the story.  Yet, his active participation awaited Caspian’s plea for help and was largely enacted through his servants, the Pevensie children.

In The Silver Chair, Aslan’s will for Prince Rilian to be freed from his enchantment is carried out by Eustace, Jill, and Puddgleglum the marshwiggle.  Although the three adventurers failed to follow three of the four signs given by Aslan, they still persisted in searching for the Prince.  Aslan’s will was carried out despite their many errors, as they were easily distracted and made many mistakes.  Yet Aslan’s will for Rilian to be freed was carried out through them.

At the beginning of the quest, Aslan explained their task to Jill.

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much…

“I was wondering – I mean – could there be a mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know.  It was we who asked to come here.  Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in.  And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

So, we see this intermingling of Aslan’s will with human will. Aslan’s sovereign will is carried out through the stammered prayers and flawed actions of humans.  Yet His will supersedes and orchestrates their wills.  Were it not for Aslan’s involvement, the quest would surely have failed through the many errors of the humans.  And they would never have even prayed their stammered prayer had He not called them…and even in their prayer they did not know even a fraction of what they were asking for.  Yet Aslan orchestrated His perfect will to be carried out through their imperfect pleas and choices…without ever violating or forcing their wills.

Through these fictional tales, Lewis portrays complex biblical truths.

There are numerous biblical examples of God’s will being carried out through His people. One example is the Great Exodus from Egypt.

In Genesis, God told Abraham:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.

So Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their Exodus was all part of God’s preordained plan, foretold to their ancestor, Abraham, hundreds of years in advance.

The book of Exodus opens by telling us a new Pharoah arose who did not know Joseph…was not faithful to his covenant with Joseph’s descendants.  The new Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, forced them to hard labor, and killed their newborn sons.

Then we are told:

And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

The Israelites prayed to God, and God was faithful to His covenant with them.

As the story unfolds, we see that God worked through Moses to redeem and deliver the Israelites from their bondage to Pharaoh.

So, God’s redemption and deliverance of Israel was in response to their prayer and was enacted through Moses. Yet, it was all part of His perfect pre-ordained plan given to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

Just as in C.S. Lewis’ fictional tales of Narnia, God works out His perfect will through the imperfect prayers and flawed choices of His people.

Do you sometimes feel as though you are unimportant? As though your contributions to the world are insignificant?  As though you make too many mistakes to be of any heavenly good?

If you are God’s child then you are His chosen vessel through whom He works His will and purpose in this world. Click To Tweet

That’s how God’s will gets done in this world…through us…through our prayers and our actions.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9).

Be who God has created you to be…and trust Him to work His perfect will and purpose through you.

Aslan’s Redemption

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch?

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill?  Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea?  You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

In my current rereading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I was struck by this passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Those familiar with the story will recall that Aslan goes on to forfeit his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. However, Aslan later comes back to life…through the power of the Emperor’s older deeper magic that the Witch did not know.

What a clear illustration of our redemption through Jesus Christ!

Notice who Edmund’s accuser is…and who his defender is:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

Edmund betrayed Aslan. He betrayed his own brother and sisters.  He betrayed their woodland friends.  Edmund sought out the Witch to tell her where his siblings were hiding, who was hiding them, where they were going, and where they were to meet Aslan.

Edmund became a traitor to Aslan by allying himself with the Witch.

Yet, Aslan offered Edmund forgiveness while the Witch accused him.

Lewis’ illustration is consistent with biblical teaching. The Bible calls Satan the accuser of the brethren…who accuses them before our God day and night and says Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

Realizing we have sinned against God, too often we mistakenly act as though God is angry with us, looking for any excuse to condemn us to Hell for any unconfessed sin. Yet the Bible clearly says Satan is our accuser and Jesus is our defender.  God’s position toward His children is loving concern and a desire to deliver us, rather than of angry vengeance.

Even for those who have not believed in Christ, we are told, “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Like Edmund, we were all traitors. We all treacherously allied ourselves with Satan in his war against God.  Yet Jesus, in accordance with the Father’s will, died so we could be rescued from Satan’s dominion.  Even while we were still traitors against God…still allied with Satan…Christ died for us.

Why was it necessary for Aslan to be killed?

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund. Edmund belonged to her.  She owned him, as a slave, to do with as she pleased.

“You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund’s life. Aslan gave his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Notice there was not a question of strength. The Witch knew Aslan was powerful enough to take Edmund by force.  Her claim to Edmund relied completely on legal rights for which she called on Aslan’s righteous justice.  If the situation were reversed, she would not have followed the path of justice.  Yet she relied on Aslan to be just.

So, Aslan offered his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Aslan died to redeem Edmund from the Witch’s claim…one life exchanged for another…so Edmund would be free of the Witch’s claim…free to live a life of honor, love and justice in right relationship with the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.

The Bible has much to say on the topic of redemption.  Today, we often use the word redeem in a rather loose manner to refer to anything good that comes from a bad situation.  However, scriptural use of the word redeem is much more specific.

In Leviticus 25, Moses gave us the Law of Redemption, in which redemption clearly refers to transfer of legal ownership being restored back to the rightful owner.  In biblical context, redemption means to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God is being held captive.

According to Leviticus 25, right of redemption is a reserved right by the rightful owner.  When an Israelite sold land or sold themselves into servitude, they retained right of redemption…the right to cancel out the purchase contract by refunding the purchase cost.  The reason given for the right of redemption is that they belong to God.

What Aslan did for Edmund is what Jesus did for us.

Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours. Jesus died and descended into that shadow world called Sheol (Hades or Death) to redeem us from Satan’s valid legal claim over us.

I once belonged to Satan. Satan once had a legal claim over my life which the Father acknowledged to be valid.  Satan could not hold me by strength, as God is much stronger.  Rather, Satan held me by legal claim, for which he completely relied on Father’s justice.  So Jesus gave His life in exchange for mine.  Jesus redeemed me from Satan’s legal claim, so I could cease to be a slave to sin and can now walk in righteousness and love, as a child of God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Your thoughts?

 

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 ]