Trusting thru Concerns

Riding the back fence line at Lazy Colt Ranch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your thoughts?

 

Hot Wire Authority

Knockout and I finished checking cows, then swung around at a lope toward the corner of the pasture to check fences. Slowing to a brisk walk, we entered the woods trail paralleling the back fence line.  At the corner, we turned north, continuing our ride through the woods until we crossed the creek to ride through the gate to the front pasture.

Coming out of the woods, we recrossed the creek, then picked up into a trot along the west fence line. Seeing a small tree branch on the hotwire, I cued a stop and dismounted.  Dropping the reins to ground-tie Knockout, I walked over and tossed the limb into the woods on the other side of the fence.  Knockout stood quietly as I gathered the reins and remounted.  Uncharacteristically, he started moving before I was settled in the saddle.  So, I cued a stop, backed him, and asked him to stand quietly a moment before continuing our ride.

Two fence posts further along, the wire was off an insulator. Again, we stopped and Knockout stood ground-tied as I inspected the fence.  Since the wire was not sparking against the steel post, I knew it was safe to touch the wire…and something was wrong with the charging unit.  I replaced the wire in the insulator and reminded myself to check the battery and connectors.  This time, Knockout stood quietly as I remounted, and he awaited my signal before moving on.

Next we dropped down a steep bank for our third creek crossing. This crossing is my favorite and Knockout’s least favorite.  The creek bottom lies about ten feet below pasture level with steep banks on each side.  A few weeks ago, Knockout avoided this crossing, but now he takes the steep decline in stride.

Just on the other side of the creek, we stopped again to replace the wire on another insulator and to check the charging unit. The battery was dead, which explains the fence condition.  I made a mental note to make sure we replace the battery before dark, then remounted to continue the inspection.

Riding through a pine thicket, I noticed the top wire was sagging low between several posts. So we continued to the end of the electric fence where I again dismounted and left Knockout standing ground-tied.  Walking over to the corner post, I started untwisting the end of the wire as Knockout calmly nibbled a clump of grass pushing through the thick carpet of pine needles.

Once the wire end was free, I started pulling it tight. As there was quite a bit of slack going down several fence posts, it took a bit of tugging to get it pulled tight.  About the time I got the slack out I caught movement from the corner of my eye.  Turning my head, I saw Knockout eyeing the fence as he sidestepped away.  Glancing back, I realized this section of fence had several long strands of bright flagging that were now bouncing and waving wildly around as I tugged and pulled on the wire.

“Whoa, Knockout!” I called as I took a quick turn of the wire to hold it in place.

Knockout turned tail and continued his retreat in his best quarter-horse imitation of a saddle-bred’s quick gaited walk. To his credit, he did not panic and run.  However, he was clearly uncomfortable with that wire bouncing around flapping all the mysterious flagging…and was distancing himself from the source of his discomfort.

I had to move fast to catch up! Fortunately, Knockout stopped and let me scoop up the reins.  I backed him vigorously a few steps just to remind him he wasn’t supposed to walk off while ground-tied.  Then we returned to finish the fence repair.

I stuffed the end of the rein in my hip pocket, leaving both hands free to work while still keeping the rein close in case Knockout walked off again.  This required Knockout to approach closer to the fence than before…which he was pretty hesitant to do.  I just hung in there asking until he stepped close enough for me to work.

I finished securing the fence wire without further incident.

With the fence repair completed I turned back to Knockout. “Now, let’s talk about this wire and flagging that got you so distressed.”  Holding his rein in my left hand, I gave the wire a vigorous shake with my right hand.  Knockout backed to the end of the rein and braced as I continued shaking the wire.  After a couple of seconds, Knockout softened and took one step forward.  I responded by immediately stilling the movement of the wire.  I praised Knockout, then did it again.  We did that a few more times until Knockout would stand calmly before stepping toward the wire while I vigorously shook it.

Then we had a little talk.

“Knockout, you have every reason to fear that wire when I’m not with you. Yes, you know from experience that touching an electric fence results in a very unpleasant sensation.  I’m glad you know that.  I’m glad you know to stay away from the fence when I’m not with you.”

“When I’m with you, though, it’s a completely different deal. That fence won’t hurt you when you’re with me.  I have authority over that wire.  It only carries a charge when I tell it to carry a charge.  When you’re with me, you can trust me to know whether or not the fence is charged.”

I remounted and we rode home.

As we rode, my words to Knockout echoed through my mind…except different…in a still small voice…

“Joe, you don’t need to worry about everything going on in the world. Yes, American politics is going crazy.  Yes, the country is increasingly divided.  Yes, the number of mass shootings is escalating.  Yes, terrorist acts are increasing.  These are all reasonable things to be concerned about.”

“When you’re with Me, though, it’s a completely different deal. I have authority over all these things.  I have authority over sin and death.  Nothing can harm you without My permission.  When you’re with Me, you can trust Me to care for you.”

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

Yes, Jesus!  You have authority. Thank you, Lord!

Divine Will

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)

What’s the deal with this passage? Although God spoke as though Israel was opposing His will in asking for a king, He told Samuel to listen to their voice and do what they asked.  Samuel then warned the people of how a king would mistreat them, yet the elders still insisted they wanted a king.

This is an interesting passage. The elders of Israel seemed to be going against the Lord’s will in asking for a king.  Yet, they were also seeking God’s will in the selection of a king.  They didn’t just go out and anoint their own king.  They asked the prophet, Samuel, to appoint a king over them.

Samuel complied, and based on God’s guidance anointed Saul to be king over Israel. Later, Saul disobeyed God, and God subsequently rejected Saul as king and had Samuel anoint David as king in place of Saul.

What’s going on here? If the elders of Israel are rejecting God in asking for a king, then why are they asking for God’s selection for a king?

Why did God first indicate He didn’t want Israel to have a king…then anoint Saul as king…then reject Saul as king…then anoint David as king? Does God really have that much trouble making up His own mind?  Does God not know His own will?  If it wasn’t God’s will for Israel to have a king, why did God tell Samuel to appoint a king?

In an attempt to make sense out of these apparent contradictions, some people explain this passage in terms of God’s divine will versus God’s permissive will.  The general idea is that God has a perfect divine will He wants us to follow, but also has an imperfect permissive will he allows us to follow.  So, they would say it was God’s divine will for Israel to not have a king, but in His permissive will God allowed them to have a king…and to suffer the consequences of their bad choice.

The whole divine will versus permissive will explanation doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, though.

This perspective sets us up to try to view God as having multiple wills. Rather than helping us better understand the passage, I think it just makes it more confusing.  How could God have a divided will when everything about Him is perfect?  God knows all things and can clearly foresee future events before they happen.  He is not constrained by time and space as we are.  So how could He have a divided will, or how could He change is mind?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Reading this passage reminds me of the evening I decided to train Archie, our young stud colt, to tail lead.

What I mean by the term tail lead, is simply that if I lightly pull a horse’s tail to the right, I would like him to step his hindquarters right. If I lightly pull his tail to the left, I would like him to step his hindquarters left.  This is not usually considered a super important horse training lesson.  A vast majority of horses go their entire lives without ever learning to tail lead and it doesn’t cause their owners any concern.

I’ve come to like teaching a horse to tail lead, mostly because it is useful when handling, grooming, maneuvering tight spots, etc. Most horses know how to step away from pressure applied by the handler.  Sometimes, it is more convenient to ask the horse to step his hindquarters toward me (rather than away from me) and tail leading allows me to effectively communicate that intent.

Also, tail lead training is a good lesson in building communication between horse and handler. It’s just one of many…but the many small things add up over time to result in big changes for the horse.

On this particular day, I had Archie at our farrier’s barn along with several other horses. While our farrier was trimming and shoeing other horses, I decided to use my time to train Archie.  The timing was intentional on my part.  By teaching Archie something new while in an unfamiliar location, I was also helping him learn to focus on me and respond to my cues no matter where we are.

Holding Archie’s lead line in my left hand, I grasped his tail with my right hand. Then I firmly tugged on his tail.  As expected, Archie promptly stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  I simply held the same tail pressure and moved with him.

Now, at this point, anyone watching me (like my farrier maybe?) might have questioned what I was doing and why. They might have wondered about my intent…my will for Archie’s behavior.  I set out to teach Archie to step toward me when I lightly pulled his tail.  Instead he was strongly resisting the pressure and continually stepping away from me…while I simply went with him.

After a few minutes of moving around in circles, Archie paused…and I promptly dropped his tail. I petted and praised him like he’d just won the Kentucky Derby!  All he had actually done was stop moving away from me.  Anyone watching me at this point might have wondered if that was my intent…for Archie to simply stand still when I tugged on his tail.  I certainly praised him plenty for simply standing still for a moment!

Still holding the lead line in my left hand, I once again grasped Archie’s tail in my right hand and tugged. Again, he stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  Again, I simply went with him and waited until he paused moving.  Again I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

We did this several more times with the same results. Except, with each repetition it took him less time to stop moving.  Each time he acted a little less bothered and was a little quicker to stop moving away from me.

Then, one time Archie only started to move away, before deciding to stand still. I simply held the same tail pressure.  Again, he shifted his weight away and moved one hind hoof away…then he moved the hoof back to his left and I immediately dropped his tail and praised him.

Next time, Archie braced right without actually moving right. After a few seconds, he softened and tentatively stepped left.  I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

After a few more minutes practice, Archie got to where he would move left toward me fairly quickly when I tugged his tail.

Then I switched things up. I moved to Archie’s right side and repeated everything again, from the right side.  We went through the same process from the right side, and after a few minutes Archie would step right to a right tail-pull.

Then I move back to Archie’s left side…and Archie was totally confused!

At that point he was totally lost on which way I wanted him to step when.  He understood I wanted a step and he was willing to do what I asked, but he was very confused on the proper response to a cue from left or right.

So, we kept working on first one side and then the other until Archie was able to tell the difference between a left cue and a right cue…and the proper response to each.

At that point, Archie understood what I wanted and responded fairly well. However, his first response was to brace against the tug, before deciding to soften and go with me.

So, we continued to work on it with lighter and lighter cues.

By the time we quit for the night, I could stand to Archie’s left and lift his tail. Before I even applied any pressure, Archie would softly shift his weight left.  Then when I actually started drawing his tail toward me, Archie would smoothly step over before any real pressure was even applied.  And he responded just as softly and promptly working from his right side.

It was a really fun training session in which we accomplished all I had hoped for!

If anyone had been watching the entire training session, by the end it would have been pretty obvious Archie and I had accomplished what I had planned from the start.

Early on, that would not have been as obvious. The first time I tugged Archie’s tail, he stepped away from me and I simply went with him.  At that stage, it didn’t look like I was teaching Archie to tail lead.  It looked more like I was just letting Archie drag me around by his tail.

Then when Archie paused his movement for just a moment, I dropped his tail and profusely praised him, as though he had done exactly what I wanted…even though it wasn’t anything close to what I really wanted. If we paused the scene at that one spot, it would have looked as though I didn’t know my own mind and was doing a poor job of communicating my intent to Archie.

In actuality, I had a specific intent for that training session, and the entire session went according to my plan. Archie exercised his free will in accordance with his instincts throughout the whole training session.  Yet I had anticipated his choices in advance and had already planned for them.  Even as I allowed Archie to do what felt comfortable to him, I was working out my plan to bring about my will and purpose for Archie.

Furthermore, at no time in that training session was Archie rebellious toward me. Archie simply followed his natural instincts to respond to my cues in the way that felt most comfortable to him.  Archie was not intentionally subverting my will.  In fact, he seemed perfectly willing to do what I asked once he came to understand my intent and was allowed time to become confident doing what I asked.

The training session was never about punishing Archie or forcing him to conform to my will, nor was I ever angry with Archie. From start to finish, I worked with Archie in what was comfortable to him, even as I taught him to understand my desired response and helped him become comfortable doing what I asked.  I broke the task into small training segments that Archie could understand and helped him learn one stage at a time until he had accomplished all I wanted for that training session.

I am a novice amateur horseman. Yet I was able to plan well enough to incrementally work out my will and purpose through my horse’s imperfect choices, to bring about my will in his life.

God is creator of heaven and earth…the great I Am…the one who is, who was, and who is to come. How much more can God incrementally work out His will and purpose through our imperfect choices, to bring about His perfect will in our lives!

Throughout the Old Testament narrative, a primary objective of God’s will was to bring a Savior into the world. The first messianic prophecy was given in the third chapter of Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, when God foretold the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head.  From there, God continued to unfold further revelations of His plans for the coming Messiah (Christ).  Among those revelations are several prophecies that Messiah would be a descendant of King David, that He would inherit David’s throne, and that He would rule over all the earth.

This was God’s divine plan from the beginning.

God always wanted Israel to have a king. That King is Jesus Christ, direct descendant of King David and heir to David’s throne.  What we see in 1 Samuel is the incremental unfolding of God’s divine plan being worked out through the imperfect choices of His people.

Samuel was offended the people wanted a king to take care of them. God simply went with them as they sought comfort in a king, much as I went with Archie as he initially moved away from me when I tugged his tail.

God personally selected a king based on what the elders were looking for. They wanted a strong domineering king who would build up an army by force and defeat Israel’s enemies in battle.  God responded by giving them Saul, who was all they asked for.

Several years later, the people came to realize they wanted more from a king than what Saul offered. After Saul died in battle, they wanted a godly king…a king who pursued God’s heart…a king who acted justly and loved mercy.  They were ready to covenant with David to be king.  And, eventually, Jesus became heir to David’s throne.

God was not being double minded nor was He changing his mind. God simply worked with the elders of Israel from their perspective at that time, to bring about His perfect will in their lives, through their imperfect choices.

This is what God does. This is what God still does, today, in the lives of His children.

God works thru the imperfect choices of His children to bring about His perfect will. Click To Tweet

Perhaps someone reading this post is in an abusive relationship. Perhaps you have been living in quiet despair, believing you must have taken a wrong turn and made choices outside God’s will for your life.  Perhaps you have stopped believing God’s best plan for your life is even a possibility and have simply been hoping for some measure of God’s mercy in trying to live out a second-best life in God’s “permissive” will.  Perhaps you have even started to believe maybe you deserve the abuse as punishment for your wrong choices.

If that’s the case…if you are in a situation similar to what I have described…then let me assure you God’s perfect plan for your life is not off track. Nothing you have done has taken God by surprise.  He has known His plan for you from the beginning and is continuing to bring about His purpose for you through your imperfect choices.  Just as I worked with Archie from where he was, God is working with you from where you are.  If you belong to Christ, you can trust Him to bring about His perfect plan for your life.  And God’s perfect plan includes your walking in liberty in Christ, free of any abusive covenants of bondage.

God established Saul as king over Israel based on their imperfect choices. Yet, when the time was right, God removed Saul from the throne and established David as king…with the ultimate goal of establishing Jesus as king.

You can trust God to do the same for you. God is faithful!

Divine Direction

Divine direction is a difficult concept to discuss or explain. We talk about relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We sing worship songs asking Jesus, “Help me, I pray.  Show me the way, one day at a time.”  Yet, we struggle to really explain what that means lived out in real life.

I can say, based on my own personal experience, there have been times in my life when I felt God very personally guiding me one step at a time. Usually, this was during particularly stressful times in my life and the step-by-step guidance felt a little scary…because I really wanted to see the whole path mapped out in advance.  Yet God asked me to simply trust Him and do what He asked at each step…and God proved Himself faithful.

One such example was when my employer of over 20 years decided to close the business. That was a pretty stressful time.  I felt I needed to take action, but was not at all sure what direction I should take.  During that time, God frequently comforted and assured me He was in control, and asked me to simply wait and trust Him.  In the end, I was employed by another company in the same industry who decided to open a facility in the same town.

Another example was a couple of years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Throughout that whole ordeal I very much faced life one day at a time, relying on God every step of the way.  Sometimes, it was simply one meal at a time, “Please, God, help me to swallow this meal down and keep it down.  Lord, help me get the nourishment my body needs, today.”  Once again, God proved Himself faithful.

Most of the time, living under divine direction is a lot more fluid. I don’t usually ask God for direction on what to eat each meal.  I don’t wait for the Holy Spirit to tell me when I should bathe or wash my hands.  God generally expects me to use the good sense and experience He gave me to make these decisions myself.

Nor do I rely on God to directly intervene and tell me to love others. He already told us that numerous times in the Bible.  Jesus modeled what love looks like.  However, the Holy Spirit does sometimes prompt me to lovingly take a specific action toward a specific person.

So, it is not all one or all the other…it is a blending and mixing of cognitive decision making and relying on divine direction.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way. (Psalm 37:23)

The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)

I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

Riding my horse, Knockout, last weekend, I realized the timing of direction I give Knockout is similar to the timing of direction God gives me.

Riding off-trail through the woods, picking our way through trees and brush, we travel at a walk with me literally directing the placement of every foot. In those situations, I have to plan a viable path in advance.  We must avoid low hanging branches that could knock me out of the saddle.  We must avoid rubbing against trees that could injure me.  We must avoid deadfalls with entangling branches and vines that could snag and trip Knockout.  We must avoid holes that could injure a horse’s leg.  So, I step-by-step direct Knockout’s path and Knockout responds accordingly, as we weave our way through the obstacles.  Knockout does not know what path I have planned, so he must await my direction on every step.

Riding off-trail through woods reminds me of how God guides me step-by-step through difficult life situations, much as I guide Knockout.  Since I cannot see the path, I must rely on God’s guidance for each step…and He is faithful.

Riding the gravel roads is a completely different situation. With no tripping hazards and a clear path, I don’t pay much attention to exact placement of Knockout’s feet, and we often travel at a trot or canter.  I have a destination in mind and a preferred gait and speed I want to travel, and I expect Knockout to respond accordingly.  With the clearly marked road, Knockout does not require frequent input from me.  He also does not have much need to make decisions.  Knockout’s task is to simply follow the road at the speed I set until I ask for a change.

Traveling gravel roads reminds me of God’s direction during my normal daily living, where I pretty much know what He expects and don’t need to constantly ask.  Like Knockout, my job is to keep following the path He has laid out for me until He asks for a change.

Trotting or loping across our pasture presents yet another set of challenges. Our pastures are not perfectly smooth or groomed.  We have lots of little patches of brush a horse can trip on.  We also have lots of dips and mounds that can act as tripping hazards.  While trotting or loping in the pasture I tend to focus on the end goal…the point at the other end of the pasture we are traveling toward…and I hold Knockout pretty much to that path.  However, I allow a lot of flexibility in the exact route.  Knockout must watch for potential tripping hazards and navigate around them.  So long as he returns pretty quickly to the intended direction of travel, I expect him to make minor navigation decisions on his own.  And when Knockout stumbles, I use the reins to lift him up and urge him on.

Trotting or loping across the pasture reminds me of how God guides me through temptations and difficulties during normal daily living.  He sets the long goal with clear direction, but gives me the responsibility of watching for issues and adjusting course accordingly…as He continually brings me back to focus on the goal of loving others as I am conformed to His image.  And when I stumble, God lifts me up and urges me on.

Similarly, when crossing creeks with steep muddy banks, I allow Knockout some discretion on moving a couple of feet to the left or right, as he sees fit. After all, he is the one who has to find secure footing for our crossing.

Crossing creeks with steep banks reminds me of the many times I have sought God’s direction on a specific decision and God pretty much told me it was my choice…that neither path was inherently right or wrong…and He would be with me whatever I chose.

When we track a cow, Knockout’s discretionary decision-making ratchets up a notch, as I actively ask him to make some of his own decisions. I want him to learn to track and read a cow with minimal input from me.  So, once we’re trailing the cow, I stop giving much guidance as long as Knockout generally continues to follow.  I mostly try to stay out of his way and let him do his thing, unless it looks like he needs a little help.  Knockout must pay close attention to the cow while also being always prepared to respond to a cue from me.

Tracking cows reminds me of the seasons of learning when God has pushed me outside my comfort zone and prompted me to pursue a passion…as He provides additional guidance as needed.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit guides me one step at a time. Other times, His guidance is more general with a lot of decisions being left to my discretion.  Always, He is faithful!

He is faithful to walk with me and guide me.  He is faithful to always guide me back to the Paths of Righteousness.  He is faithful to continually complete the good work He has begun of conforming me to His image.

He is my faithful horseman!

Purpose

The last few months, Knockout (my 7-yo AQHA quarter horse gelding) and I have been spending a lot of time checking cows and checking fence. Most weekday evenings we do a quick check before dark.  Most weekend mornings we do a more relaxed and thorough check, spending a little more time getting acquainted with each cow.

It would sound a lot cooler if I said we’ve been working cows…but that might be a bit misleading.  We’re not out there roping, branding, or doctoring cows.  In general, we’re not even moving cows…though we have started playing with gathering and pushing a little bit just to get a feel for it.  We even pushed a few calves back into the pasture after they got out, the other day.  Most of the time, we just ride around making sure all the cows look healthy and sound, read ear tag numbers to check off my list, and count the calves to make sure everyone is accounted for.  Then we ride the fence to make sure it’s in good repair…and ride by the electric fence chargers to make sure they’re clicking and flashing like they’re supposed to be.

It’s pretty simple stuff. I suspect this is the sort of stuff that once made up the lifestyle of a historical cow-boy.  Before the dangerous Texas cattle drives through Indian Territory added the sense of adventure, and before the dime novels romanticized the western cowboy lifestyle, a cow-boy was simply a boy who took care of the cows…much like a shepherd takes care of sheep.

That’s what Knockout and I have been doing the last few months. We check cows.

I’ve been amazed at how checking cows has changed the dynamic of our rides. We used to ride the same pastures and woods trails we’re riding now.  Previously, though, the focus was on us and our teamwork.

Sure, I enjoyed the beauty of nature as we went, and we would sometimes stop to watch the calves play. However, my main focus was on Knockout.  Was Knockout responding promptly to my cues?  Was Knockout keeping his attention on me?  Was Knockout responsive to my body language?  Was Knockout tense or was he relaxed as we rode?  Was Knockout compliant or resistant?  Was Knockout traveling in straight lines at constant rates of speed?

Then there was also a lot of focus on myself. Were my hands light on the reins?  Did I have plenty of slack in the reins?  Was I practicing good rein management?  Were my cues light?  Was my timing good?  Was I carrying an independent seat?  Was I dropping all pressure when headed in the desired direction?  Was my body positioned facing the direction I wanted to go and eyes focused on a distant goal point?

Similarly, Knockout’s main focus was on me and my cues…except when he was focused on where he wanted to go…like back home. Or when he was focused on what he could startle at…like my helmet brushing a branch as we rode under it.  When these things happened, my focus became making sure Knockout’s focus returned to me.

Now, none of these are bad things. For the stage we were at, they were necessary areas of focus.  Furthermore, they have never stopped being necessary.  I still pay attention to these things…but now they’re more in the background…not subconscious but not at the forefront of my focus, either.

Now my primary focus is on the cows and fencing. Where is the herd?  Is the herd together or scattered?  What is my best approach to make sure I check each cow?  What is my best route thru the herd as I check ear tags?  Which ear tags can I check off from a distance just by knowing the markings of individual cows?  What is my best approach to each cow, to get a good look at her ear tag without spooking her into turning away from me or walking off?  Are any cows hidden behind that wall of brush near the back fence line?  Are any cows lying down in the shade of the woods?  Why am I coming up one cow short in my count?  Where is the missing cow hidden…or did I just overlook her as I rode through the herd?

Likewise while checking fence, I’m focused on seeing a thin wire. Is it tight or sagging?  If it is sagging, where’s the break?  Is the wire on each post insulator?  If not, I need to dismount to put the wire back in place at each fence post.  Is anything shorting the fence out?  Does that fallen branch need to be moved?  Why isn’t the electric fence charger ticking?  Is the battery connection loose?  When did we last charge the battery?

Now, behind all that, I’m still riding. I’m still doing rein management and hopefully using appropriate pressure with good timing.  But that is no longer in the forefront of my thoughts.

And you know what? As my focus has changed, Knockout’s focus has begun to change, too.  He’s no longer looking for a chance to go back home.  We’re riding through rougher terrain with more high brush and low branches than we ever did before, yet Knockout rarely startles at anything.  Like myself, Knockout is focused on the cows.  As I leave one cow and turn to head toward another, Knockout is already looking to see which cow we’re approaching next.  As we approach a cow, Knockout is eagerly waiting to see if we’re going to direct the cow somewhere or just read an ear tag and ride on.

Knockout loves directing cows! We’re not very good at it, yet, but he sure loves doing it.

As we work together, Knockout and I are both learning to plan approach angles and speed. We’re learning to adjust our speed to intercept a moving cow without spooking her.  When pushing a cow, we’re learning to be aware of speed, flight zone, and balance point.  We’re learning to trust each other to do our jobs even as we learn together and fill in for each other.

While checking fence, Knockout has begun to keep one eye on the wire just as I am. He knows to stay near the fence line without getting too close.  He is beginning to learn when something is wrong with the fence wire we are going to stop for me to dismount and correct the issue.  And he has learned to stand patiently ground-tied while I fix the fence.

I’ve also noticed I have less tendency to micromanage than before. When we’re tracking a cow, I’m likely to just let Knockout go, confident he knows what to do.  When we’re checking fence, if I can see Knockout is paying attention to tracking beside the fence, I’m likely to just let him go, confident he knows to follow the wire.  When fixing fence, I just drop the reins on the ground and go about my business, trusting Knockout to stay put until I come back.  When crossing a creek, I’m likely to let him move over a couple of steps if he chooses…after all he’s the one who has to maintain his footing as we cross.

Tending cows is becoming a common goal we both work on together. Rather than focusing on our teamwork, we are beginning to work together as a team for a common purpose.  Rather than practicing transitions, we frequently transition speed and gait as part of the job.  Rather than practicing turns and laterals, we turn and move as needed to get the job done.

It’s sort of like the difference between a football practice and a football game. Yes, the practice is important and necessary, but the game is where the team really comes together toward a common goal.

Working together on necessary tasks has given our rides a sense of purpose. Knockout and I have both embraced that purpose, resulting in a closer sense of partnership.  We don’t work against each other as much, because we’re busy working together toward a common goal.

Isn’t that what God does with us?

When Jesus discipled the twelve apostles, they didn’t just sit around soaking up Jesus’ teaching and enjoying the fellowship. Jesus sent them out to minister to others.  He gave them very explicit instructions on how they were to conduct themselves, and told them:

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

Jesus didn’t just minister to the disciples. Rather He asked them to join Him in ministry.  He entrusted them with an important job.  Jesus gave clear and explicit directions without micromanaging.  He called the apostles to a mission with purpose.

Jesus calls us to the same purposeful mission:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Notice we are not alone in this mission. Jesus is with us.  We’re working together toward a common goal.

At His last supper with the disciples, Jesus gave them further instructions:

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

This is our mission, our purposeful common goal. Go make disciples and love one another.

This is how Christ draws us into closer relationship with Him…by inviting us to join Him in working toward these common goals.

Are you working with Christ to accomplish these necessary tasks?

In Him

Horses are social creatures. They like being around other horses.  In many ways, they are very dependent on other horses.

In a herd, horses depend on each other to watch and warn of danger. So, when one horse takes off running, the rest of the herd runs too.

It goes beyond flight, though. Horses tend to be very attuned to the emotional state of other horses.  If one horse acts nervous, other horses are likely to pick up on it and start acting anxious themselves.  Likewise, if a horse is unsure about crossing a stream, they will often do better following another horse across.

In working with Knockout (my 7-yo gelding) the last couple of years, we have done a lot of solo riding with no other horses around…and we had to work through minor issues with him not wanting to leave the rest of the herd.

We’ve ridden with other horses…and we have had to work through minor issues with Knockout taking his cues from the other horses rather than from me.

One evening last week, I decided it was time to trim the oak branches hanging low over our driveway.

Rather than climbing up and down a step ladder, moving it a foot at a time, I decided to just do it from horseback…using Knockout as a living scaffold of sorts.

We’ve done basically the same thing trimming our woods trails, so I didn’t expect any issues.

The first tree went pretty much as expected. Knockout let me know it wasn’t his favorite thing to do. But when I insisted he willingly complied.

Knockout stood patiently as I reached, clipped, and tugged at branches. He didn’t complain as twigs fell on his head and hung in his mane and bridle. Even when I shook the reins to free a large twig he stood patiently, apparently understanding that’s what was needed.

Then we moved to the next tree which happens to be adjacent to our horse pasture.

No sooner did we start on the second tree than five of Knockout’s pasture mates ran up to investigate from the other side of the electric fence.

Knockout didn’t even look at the other horses, so I just kept trimming as they milled about, reaching for leaves to eat.

At one point I stood in the stirrups grasping a branch in my left hand to pull it into reach of the clippers in my right hand. Yes…that’s a very vulnerable position…apparently I trust my horse…

At that moment, one of the horses on the other side of the electric fence must have touched the hot-wire. They all spun and dashed off in a panicked flurry of hooves. I tightened my grip on the limb in anticipation of being left hanging.

But Knockout never moved…never flinched…never twitched a muscle or even acted interested.

So I just kept right on clipping branches.

I am so proud of this young horse!

It is sometimes hard to believe this is the same horse as the green-broke, spooky, flighty, prone-to-bolt young colt I started working with a couple of years ago.

In that moment when I was most vulnerable and relying completely on Knockout, Knockout chose to rely on me. He ignored the other horses.  He completely disregarded their drama and panic.  In that moment, Knockout chose to simply rest in my assuring presence.

Isn’t that what Christ calls us to do?

When all around, people are swept up in drama and fear…when angry voices cry out for attention…when arrogant voices ridicule and mock…when self-righteous voices condemn…can I calmly trust in Jesus?

Can I rest in Christ like Knockout rested in the assurance of my presence?

Lord, teach me to abide in you!

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4)

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

 

Your thoughts?

Law, Grace, and Common Sense

Thou shalt not kill. (Exodus 20:14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at one more commandment:

Thou shalt not divorce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What do you think?

 

Relationship versus Rules

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

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

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

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

It was wonderful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see what happened, there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that point, Knockout reverted to legalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scripture provides a good measuring stick:

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

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

Jesus said it even more succinctly:

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

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

Free Gear

Knockout in his new headstall

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

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

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

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

But it sure is pretty!

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

It looks great on Knockout!

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

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

Knockout in our new Ken Raye custom saddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What took me so long?

Well…it’s complicated…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rules of Relationship

Knockout sporting his new headstall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be a false impression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same is true in my relationship with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your thoughts?