Obed’s Inheritance

By Simeon Solomon – Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Public Domain

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.  (Ruth 4:10-16)

The previous night, at the threshing floor, Ruth and Boaz conspired together to enact a daring plan to save and restore the family of Elimelech.  Ruth petitioned Boaz to marry her while simultaneously calling on him as kinsman-redeemer to her deceased father-in-law, Elimilech.  Ruth simultaneously appealed to, and expanded, two separate Israelite laws.

It was the role of a kinsman-redeemer to make sure land that had been sold was redeemed so it would remain in the family.  However, the family of Elimilech had ended.  Elimilech had died and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving three childless widows.  No heirs remained for the family of Elimilech.  There was no family for whom the land should be redeemed.  It was an incredibly sad situation, but nothing could be done about it.

The levirate law was a separate law intended to ensure the continuance of a man’s family.  If a married man died leaving no heirs, the deceased’s brother was to marry the widow for the purpose of conceiving an heir to carry on the name of the deceased and inherit his property.  However, the levirate law only applied to brothers, not to more distant relatives.  So the levirate law did not apply to Boaz in this situation.

Moreover, Ruth was barren.  She had previously been married to Mahlon, son of Elimilech and Naomi.  However, Mahlon died, leaving Ruth childless.  There was no reason to believe Ruth could conceive and bear a child, since she had remained barren during the ten years of marriage to Mahlon.

Yet, that night at the threshing floor, Ruth proposed a daring plan to Boaz.  Appealing to Boaz as kinsman-redeemer, she proposed that he marry her for the purpose of bearing and raising an heir to the family of Elimilech.  The next morning, Boaz followed through with Ruth’s plan.  He redeemed the property of Elimilech to be inherited by a son they hoped would be born to Ruth by her marriage to Boaz.  Before the witnesses at the Bethlehem city gates, Boaz declared:

“You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

Ruth and Boaz took a leap of faith by investing themselves in a risky plan with little hope of success.  They set out to save and restore the family of Elimilech… through a not-yet-conceived son to be born of a barren widow.  Everything hinged on the birth of a son to inherit Elimilech’s property and carry on his family name…a hoped for future heir who could redeem the family from the brink of annihilation.

Then God directly intervened.

And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.

God honored their faith.  God honored their sacrificial loving-kindness to Elimilech’s family and to his widow, Naomi.  God enabled Ruth to conceive and bear a son.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Obed, the child born to Naomi by her barren widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, conceived by Elimilech’s kinsman, Boaz, saved the family from annihilation!  He was “redeemer” and “restorer of life” to Naomi and to the family of her deceased husband.

And this family line…the lineage of this miracle child, Obed, became the lineage of King David!

Does the story of Obed have a ring of familiarity?  It should.

For it was through this same family lineage…the family of Obed… the family of King David… that Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, was born into this world.

Much like his ancestor Obed, Jesus was the hoped-for future heir… future redeemer… future restorer of life.

In the Garden of Eden, God promised a “seed of woman” who would redeem mankind.  Later, God promised Abraham all nations would be blessed through his seed; through his seed God would provide a sacrifice of redemption; and through his seed a new covenant with God would be enacted.

Jesus… Messiah… promised heir… promised redeemer… promised restorer of life… was born of a Virgin.  Much like his ancestor Obed, his conception was through God’s direct intervention in impossible circumstances.

Like Obed, the inheritance of Jesus was not through his biological father, but through his adopted father, Joseph.  Through Joseph, Jesus is heir to the throne of David, heir to Abraham’s inheritance, and heir to Adam’s covenant with God as ruler over all the earth.

The book of Ruth begins with death… the death of Elimilech and his sons… the death of the family of Elimilech.  The book continues as a story of whole-hearted covenant faithfulness… of going above and beyond covenant obligations to bless a covenant partner… of believing God can and will do the miraculous to redeem and restore life.  The book ends with the birth of a miracle baby with an assured inheritance to restore life to a dead family.

The book of Ruth is the gospel message in a nutshell.

The Bible begins with life and creation, but quickly moves to loss and death… death of the family of Adam… cut off from their godly inheritance through a treacherous covenant with sin and death.  The Old Testament continues as a story of God’s whole-hearted covenant faithfulness… of going above and beyond covenant obligations to bless His covenant partners… of promises of a coming Messiah who will redeem, deliver, and restore life to Adam’s heirs.  The New Testament opens with a recitation of the lineage of Jesus Christ… with the birth of a miracle baby with an assured inheritance over all the earth to restore life to all who believe in Him.

This is the Good News of Jesus Christ!

[For a more in-depth study of the book of Ruth, I recommend reading The Gospel of Ruth, by Carolyn Custis James]

A Montana Ranching Adventure

While planning our trip to the TX Ranch, in Montana, I experienced difficulty explaining it to other people.  Part of the problem was I had never actually visited the TX Ranch, myself.  My expectations were based on second-hand information through friends and websites.  The bigger problem, though, was in trying to explain the unique experience offered by the TX Ranch.

“Dawson and I are planning a trip to a cattle ranch in Montana, where we will spend a full week working cattle from horseback,” I would say.

This was typically met with a response such as, “Oh, like the movie, City Slickers!”

“Well… sort of…  except hopefully a bit less touristy and a bit more real commercial working cattle ranch.”

“So, like a dude ranch?”

“No, not really.  I mean, yeah, it is a ranch with paying guests.  However, dude ranch usually means sleeping in air-conditioned cabins and going on guided trail rides.  That’s not what this ranch is about.”

So… having just experienced my first visit to the TX Ranch, I will try to describe what it is like.

The TX Ranch is located deep in the Pryor Mountains of southern Montana and northern Wyoming.  I had understood it to be located about a two-hour drive south of Billings.  I did not realize a full hour of that drive is off paved roads, mostly on pasture tracks winding back through the mountain meadows, up and down steep grades, crossing creeks in deep gullies, and stopping every mile or so to open and close gates.

The scenery is stunning.  Each curve and hill reveals yet another scenic panorama of soaring mountains slashed by deep ravines and steep valleys.  The spectacular Pryor Mountain scenery is a continual backdrop to every activity at the ranch.

The camp accommodations are quite rustic.  We slept on cots in tents.  We had no electricity or internet access.  Our only water supply was from a nearby mountain spring with a gravity-fed water line directing water into a plastic tank for our use.  Toilets consisted of outhouses.  Showers were accomplished via camp shower bags, whose temperature depended on the amount of sunshine on a given day.

The kitchen and dining hall are in a log cabin lighted by Coleman lanterns.  Meals are prepared on a gas stove fueled by propane bottles of an appropriate size to haul in the back of a pickup truck.

Overall, the accommodations are what one might expect at a working cow camp… which is exactly what this is.  That should be the first clue as to what the week was like.

We all signed on to spend a week experiencing the life of a historic western cowboy and the TX Ranch did not disappoint.  The owner, Hip, treated us like the latest group of newly hired employees.  Each morning after breakfast and saddling horses, Hip discussed the plans for the day.  Then we would split into smaller groups assigned to different areas and ride out to gather cattle.

The first day, we gathered cattle out near the horse pasture and pushed them to a hilltop where they were easy to hold.  There we roped, ear tagged, castrated, and inoculated the calves.

The second day, we wrangled horses across a 15 mile drive through rugged country to the Deadman Camp in preparation for the following day.

The third day, we were dropped off at Deadman, where we each saddled a fresh horse (because our first horse had been ridden hard for two days in a row).  We then proceeded to gather cows from the Deadman area to drive back to a pasture closer to our camp at Lone Wolf.  That was a long, hard, dusty workday.  We worked 12 hours, with 11 hours in the saddle, gathering cows in mountainous terrain with dense brush filling the draws and creek banks.

On the ride back, we paused at each gate to cut the herd, making sure only TX-owned cattle passed through the gate.  I really enjoyed watching Hip and his daughter Des cut the herd.  They were amazing!  They each sized up at a glance which cows belonged.  Then, with a subtle side-step of their horse to leave an opening while applying light pressure, they would signal three or four cows to abandon the herd and walk away.  A slight shift the other direction and another cow walked off.  It was truly poetry in motion watching the two of them work together to cut out all cattle not belonging to the TX herd.

The fourth day, we made another gather of cattle near Star Hill, including those we brought back from Deadman the previous day.  Then we roped, branded, ear-tagged, castrated, and inoculated the calves.

The fifth day, we gathered cows near the Lone Wolf Camp and nearby pastures and creeks.  We used the Lone Wolf corrals to sort out all the calves, then cut the calves to only those who were not ear tagged.  Then we worked the calves in the corral, which allowed everyone who wanted an opportunity to rope calves from the ground, without the added stress of managing reins and handling a horse while dallying to the saddle horn.

The sixth day was another gather, followed by working the calves, followed by moving the herd north to another pasture.

In six days, I rode four different horses.  Each horse was a solid mount willing to ride up steep hills, down into deep ravines, and through thick brush to flush out cattle.  Each horse worked hard all day, with enough energy to finish out the day pushing, holding or roping cattle.

Some days included a lot of dismounting and remounting to stoop down walking thru the thick brush to flush cows out.  I learned to always position the horse with the off side downhill for easier dismounting and remounting.  All the horses ground-tied fairly well.  My preferred mount, 773, stayed exactly where I dropped his reins, while I ran yelling thru the brush to flush cows. He then stood patiently while I returned to remount and ride off through thick brush to push the cattle into the growing herd.

I learned to ride with split reins… something I previously never felt comfortable doing.  A week of riding with split reins taught me they are no big deal.  Plus, they come in pretty handy for swatting a contrary cow on the rump.

The first day, when Hip asked for volunteers to rope, I volunteered.  As a result, I was part of the roping team for the remainder of the week.  Although I was not very proficient, I did manage to rope about fifteen calves across the week.

Those of you who have been tracking my personal story will recall learning to rope has been a goal of mine for a few years, now… since before cancer surgery took a major nerve in my right shoulder… limiting both strength and motion in that shoulder… as well as loss of muscle memory.  So… bear with me as I do my happy dance for a moment.

I roped calves!!!  Live calves… from horseback!!!   🙂

Dawson also roped… much more proficiently than I did.  In fact, Dawson was pretty much our top roper.  His experience competitively roping in the arena definitely proved useful.  However, he learned roping in the middle of a herd is a lot different from competitive arena roping.

I also gained confidence trotting, loping, and galloping across all sorts of rough terrain.  While gathering cattle, it was easy to forget to worry about my balance or the horse’s response, as both the horse and I focused on getting the job done.

Perhaps the best (and least expected) part of the trip was the people.  Both the TX crew and our fellow guests were wonderful!  Everyone worked hard, joked, teased, laughed, helped, and had a good time.  There is something about spending hours working hard together, backing each other up, followed by relaxing, eating and laughing together, that helps develop a close-knit team.

Thinking back across the week, several humorous moments stand out… mostly having to do with my lack of understanding.

For example, there was the long, hard, dusty day we brought cattle back from Deadman.  We were pushing the cattle along a trail with a poorly maintained barb-wire fence on the right side.  Several cows kept making a run to escape through holes in the fence and I was working hard to keep them going down the trail with the rest of the herd.  Suddenly two cows and a calf made a run for a spot where the fence was lying on the ground.  I pushed my horse into a lope, trying to reach the hole in time to turn them back, but they made it through the fence.  I tried to pursue them, but my horse hesitated at crossing the fence.  When I pushed him, he tentatively started to cross the low wire, then pulled back, momentarily snagging a front shoe on a wire.  By the time I got my horse settled and extracted from the fence wire, the cows were long gone into the brush along the creek.

Frustrated, I glanced toward Hip for direction.  “Why don’t you ride ahead to the next gate and make sure the cows go through the gate?” Hip suggested.

I rode ahead with Des following.  About 100 yards down the trail, we came to an unobstructed gap at a fence corner.  “Is this the gate Hip was talking about?” I asked Des.

“Yeah, just make sure the cows don’t wander off down that trail to the left,” Des responded.

“Do you mean we’re pushing the cows through a gate into the very pasture I’ve been working so hard to keep them out of?”

“Yep!” Des quipped, with a wry grin and a nod.

“Dang!  I was working my butt off keeping them on this side of that fence!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, you were!” laughed Des.

Later that evening, after dinner, I told Hip, “I’m confident I gave you 110% effort all day today.  However, I only had about 40% understanding what I was supposed to be doing.  Which means I was only about 44% effective and about 66% counterproductive.”

“That’s great!” Hip responded, “Joe, if I had a half-dozen riders all 44% effective, we could get a lot done in a day.”

I fell asleep pondering these events.  As I drifted off to sleep, Ray Hunt’s words regarding horsemanship came to mind, “Set it up and let it happen.”  Ray’s approach to horsemanship centered around setting the horse up for success, then letting him figure it out for himself.

As the week progressed, I realized Hip and Des seem to follow this model in pretty much everything they do.  Hip gave us only a bare minimum of verbal direction on what we were to do each day.  Then he left us to figure out the rest through a combination of watching and doing.

The best part of this approach is the freedom allowed each of us to try new things.

When I set out to gather a couple of cows spotted on a mountaintop, nobody called me back.  Nobody told me I would never be able to gather those cows and get them back in the herd on my own.  I was allowed to explore, try, and figure things out for myself.  As a result, I grew confident trying new things and riding rough trails… trusting my horse to go where I asked then get me safely back.

Sometimes it worked out as planned and sometimes it didn’t.  Either way, I had fun trying!

Isn’t that similar to the approach God uses in directing our steps?  He tends to give us a bare minimum of direction, then grant us the freedom to enjoy figuring out the specifics for ourselves.

When God told Abraham to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and travel to the land of Canaan, He didn’t provide a whole lot of specifics.  Abraham spent the rest of his life wandering around Canaan, trying to figure what he was to do next, while trusting God to fulfill His promises and provide what was needed.  Sometimes Abraham made wise choices and sometimes he didn’t.  Either way, he gained a deeper relationship with God based on a higher level of trust.

When God told Moses to go ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, He did not provide many specifics.  Moses had to act in faith with a bare minimum of understanding of the plan.  Then God provided further direction as needed.  By the end of his life, Moses had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, through 40 years of living in the desert, and had gained a much deeper relationship with God and a greater reliance on God’s trustworthiness.

I see God working in our lives today in much the same manner.  God tends to give us a bare minimum of details in asking us to step out in faith.  Many times the details are left for us to figure out for ourselves.  Sometimes we make wise choices and sometimes we don’t.  Either way, we can trust God to work through our meager faith to work His will and purpose in our lives while drawing us into deeper relationship with Himself.

Listening in Distress

The Morning View from My Front Porch

It is a beautiful mid-July Saturday morning in south Arkansas!  The sun is bright.  The grass is green. The dew is still on the grass. A cool refreshing breeze stirs the leaf-covered tree limbs, and the oppressive heat has not yet set in for the day.

This week has been a series of peaceful early morning rides before work. Knockout and I have ridden out in the cool dawn hours to check cows before the sweltering daily heat sets in…and before I have to leave for work.

Knockout has been super calm and responsive with everything I’ve asked of him.  The cattle have all been calm and sleepily serene.  All has been quiet and peaceful.

This morning was different, though…

This morning, Knockout was reluctant and distracted from the start.   He balked as I led him out of the pasture, so we took a few minutes to regain his attention.

Coming through the pasture gate, Knockout was distracted and spooky. So we spent a few more minutes focusing attention.

Then our dog started barking and Knockout totally spooked sideways at what turned out to be a stray cat hiding in our fence line.

As I groomed, saddled and mounted, Knockout seemed calm. We rode out to check cattle and all was going peacefully until a group of calves spooked and loudly ran up into the middle of the herd. That caused Knockout some concern, but I convinced him to calmly continue walking forward as the calves rushed around and past us.

We checked all the cows in the back pasture, but were missing a few that I saw over in the front pasture. As we headed toward the open gate to the front pasture, something spooked the whole herd and they all started bawling and running toward the front pasture.

With a bawling running herd of cattle on our heels, Knockout was quite nervous, but we walked (on a loose rein) through the gate and down to the nearby creek. As we crossed the creek, cows surged up behind us from both sides, and Knockout bounded up the creek bank just ahead of them.  Safely across the creek, I guided Knockout to the side, where I turned him to stand and watch the cattle file past us, as they slowed to a single-file procession and began grazing.

Once all the cattle were accounted for, we checked fence and repaired a loose wire before returning to the arena, where we walked a couple of barrel patterns on a loose rein before calling it good for the day.

It was a good ride!  🙂

As I unsaddled, I realized how my expectations in a horse have changed.  I used to think the perfect horse was one that would never spook at anything and would remain calm no matter what happened.

Now, I expect a horse to sometimes get disturbed at stuff. What I want is for him to still listen to me even when he’s disturbed.

This morning’s ride was every bit as enjoyable to me as the preceding uneventful rides.  Knockout’s distress at unexpected events was not a setback.  It was just an event to be handled…and he handled it well…listening to me and following my cues.

Isn’t that how our relationship should be with God?

Throughout scripture, angels, prophets, and apostles frequently encourage God’s people to not be afraid.  Jesus, Himself, told us:

For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:22-32)

I’ve heard some people label worry and fear as sinful… an obvious lack of faith.  I’ve heard people label as commandments the many scriptural calls to not be afraid.  I have even heard pastors preach against using anxiety medications, saying people just need to trust God and have faith.

I don’t read these passages that way at all!

I see these calls to not be afraid, not as commandments, but rather as encouragement… much as I tell Knockout, “easy boy” when he acts distressed.  I don’t get angry with Knockout for being afraid.  Rather I seek to encourage and comfort him in his fear.

I comfort Knockout in his distress by calmly giving him something to do.  I may ask him to calmly walk forward.  I may ask him to turn and stop.  I may ask him to walk a small circle.

See, what I’m doing is helping Knockout remember to listen to me in the midst of his distress… and as he listens to me and responds to my cues, he becomes less distressed.

I don’t look at Knockout’s fear as a failure on his part.  I look at it as an opportunity for us to work on clear communication and direction during his distress.

I believe the same is true of my relationship with God.  He doesn’t expect me to never be distressed.  He simply wants me to listen to Him and follow His prompts in the midst of my distress.

After all, He is the Master Horseman!

Step by Step

When we first brought Knockout home 3 1/2 years ago, he was a bit hesitant about trailer loading.  So, trailer loading was one of the very first things we worked on.  It did not take long for him to become confident and even eager to load up.  For the last three years, he has been a super easy loader with no issues.

Until lately…

Across this winter, Knockout has become increasingly hesitant about loading.  It started as a small thing…just a slight hesitation at the trailer door on a dark night.  I started going in front of him to lead the way and bolster his confidence, which seemed to help.  However, as time passed, he started hesitating even with me leading…and the hesitation became much more than momentary.  I was always able to get him to load, but it sometimes took several minutes.

Now, I am usually quick to address issues as they arise.  Far better to deal with minor issues than to wait and let them become major issues.  However, with the protracted rain and cold through the winter months that just hasn’t happened.  Most of the winter trailer loading was to visit the farrier, usually in the dark, cold, and wet…usually running behind schedule for our after-work appointment.  So, I would make a mental note that we needed to spend some time addressing the issue within the next few days…but the time never came…because the rain and cold virtually never let up.

So, last week when I unloaded Knockout at a local roping practice, I took the time to work with him a little.

I asked Knockout to back a couple of steps, stop, then come forward a step.  Then back one step, stop, and come forward two steps.  We did several minutes of simply going back and forth, one step at a time, inside the trailer.  Initially, when Knockout backed, he wanted to turn his head to look behind him, but I asked him to face forward and look at me, instead.

Finally, I backed Knockout to the very edge of the trailer and signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He responded by going all the way out of the trailer…which is not what I asked for.  So, I asked him to load back in the trailer.  We went back and forth, one step at a time, a few times, then I again backed him to the very edge of the trailer, where I again signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He stepped off and I signaled a stop.  Knockout stood still with his hind hooves on the ground and his front hooves in the trailer while I petted and praised him.

Next, I asked Knockout to step his hind hooves back in the trailer.  He did so without moving his front hooves forward, so he was just sort of teetering on the edge.  I praised him then asked him to step his hind hooves off again.

We repeated that a few times, then I asked him to go ahead and back all the way off.  Then we loaded just his front hooves on and backed off again.  Then we loaded him all the way on, walked to the front of the trailer, backed all the way to the edge, unloaded his hind hooves, paused, then unloaded his front hooves, backed out of my way so I could get off the trailer, and called it good for one lesson.  We saddled up and enjoyed the practice.

Later that evening, when we got home, we repeated the same lessons at home before feeding and turning out to pasture.

So…why did I handle the lesson this way?  What was the point of the step-by-step back and forth both on the trailer and at the trailer edge?  Why did I ask him to face forward and not look behind himself while backing?

To understand the reason we have to understand the source of the issue.  Knockout’s refusal to load was not stubbornness or defiance.  He was not being disrespectful or willfully disobedient.  Knockout’s issue was a lack of confidence.  He felt unsure of going inside that dark trailer, and the longer I let his fears go unaddressed the more fearful he became.

The solution to overcoming his fear was to build his confidence in me, in regard to moving inside the trailer.  I asked for the fine control of one step at a time, because that requires Knockout to really focus and pay attention to me.  When he’s paying attention to me, he has more confidence in me, and his fear of circumstances just sort of dissolves.

Likewise, I asked him to face forward and not look back while unloading, because I want him to place his total trust in me and learn he can trust me to direct his feet and to let him know when to step down.  So long as he is looking back, he is relying on his own instincts…including his instinct that the trailer is a scary place.  To move past his fear, we needed him to place his total trust in me and to focus his attention on listening to me one step at a time.

See, the solution to overcoming Knockout’s fear is to replace his fear with faith in me.  And the best way to help him increase his faith in me is to let him practice trusting me and finding me faithful by putting him in a situation where he has to trust me to guide him one step at a time.

Looking at it from Knockout’s perspective, I was asking him to remain in the scary circumstances much longer than necessary.  I could easily have simply let him unload from the trailer and gone about our business.  However, if I had done that we would have missed a really good learning opportunity.  He would have been out of the trailer quicker…but would not have learned to trust me to direct his steps…and the next trailer loading would have been a much more stressful and lengthy process than necessary.

Whether Knockout realizes it or not, staying longer in the trailer and working through his trust and confidence issues was for his own good.  He has become a braver, calmer, more trusting horse through that process.

Isn’t this similar to how our Heavenly Father teaches us to trust Him?

I can think of numerous situations in which I asked God to address a difficult situation.  In nearly every case, God allowed me to remain in that situation much longer than I would have liked.  However, through that situation He was faithful to remain with me and direct my steps.

Most of the major learning experiences of my Christian walk have been things I have learned during these difficult situations.

Walking thru a divorce, single parenting, and child custody battles…walking thru the closing of a company where I had been employed over 20 years…walking thru cancer diagnosis and treatment…

Each of these was a very trying situation and in every one Jesus proved Himself as my faithful friend…not by removing me from the situation…but by walking with me thru the situation…guiding me one step at a time…teaching me to trust him…helping me learn new perspectives…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24 KJV)

God is such a faithful friend!

Emmanuel – Seed of Eve

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

What an astonishing sign!

A child called Emmanuel (meaning God with us) was to be born…born of a virgin.  How can that be?  Why was the virgin birth so important?

God explained the plan way back in the Garden of Eden:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Genesis 3:15)

This first Messianic prophecy was spoken by God, to the serpent, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God promised a coming Redeemer even before He banished them from the garden.

…her seed…

In scripture, the seed is pictured as coming from the man, while the woman’s womb is pictured as a fertile environment for the seed to develop into a child. Yet here God speaks of the woman’s seed. From the very beginning, God had already planned for Messiah to be conceived without an earthly father…to be born of a virgin. Jesus is the seed of the woman.

And I will put enmitybetween your seed and her seed…

The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ. Who is the seed of the serpent?

Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father. … You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies…” (John 8:39-45 – emphasis mine)

The seed of the serpent are those who do the deeds of Satan…those who are at enmity with God…those who walk in sin. The seed of the serpent are all the descendants of Adam who reject Jesus as Christ (1 John 5:1&19).

Adam was created in covenant with God (Genesis 1:27 & 2:7, Hosea 6:7). When Adam sinned, he entered into covenant with the kingdom of darkness. This is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…being in covenant with both good and evil.

Remember those fictional stories about people making deals with the devil then despairing because Satan gained legal right to their souls? This was the issue facing mankind after Adam’s fall…the devil had legal claim over Adam’s soul.

In the Old Testament, covenant is a father-to-son inheritance. The sons inherited not only the father’s property, but also his covenant relationships, including his debts.

So, not only was Adam in covenant with evil…so were all his descendants. What a hopeless seeming situation! How can we escape an evil legacy inherited from birth? Every human child is born into Adam’s covenant with evil.

Every child…except Jesus!

Jesus was born of a virgin! Jesus is the seed of the woman, conceived with no earthly father from whom to inherit Adam’s covenant. Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was born in covenant with God but not in covenant with evil.

As the only descendant of Adam born with no covenant ties to the kingdom of darkness, only Jesus was qualified to act as our Kinsman-Redeemer. Only Jesus could redeem us from the kingdom of darkness.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone,
A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
I will make justice the measuring line
And righteousness the level;
Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies
And the waters will overflow the secret place.
Your covenant with death will be canceled,
And your pact with Sheol will not stand… (Isaiah 28:16-18)

Only Jesus was qualified to be our Kinsman-Redeemer, and His virgin birth was an essential part of God’s plan of redemption.

Not only did God become a man, but He also became our Savior and Redeemer…the only person qualified to redeem us from Adam’s covenant with sin and death.

Hallelujah!  Glory to God in the highest!  Thru Emmanuel, we are redeemed!

Limitless Power – Limited Control

Traveling south on Highway 29 thru Hope, Arkansas, the intersection at South Main Street marks the end of the four-lane bypass. Four lanes of traffic (two each direction) navigate the traffic light, but about a hundred yards south of Main Street the right lane is forced to merge and Highway 29 continues south as a two-lane road.  Knowing this, I usually make a point of entering the intersection in the left lane.  Otherwise, I would have to battle the left lane traffic to merge before the right lane disappears.

Approaching the intersection yesterday morning, I observed three cars awaiting the light change in the left lane while the right lane was empty. So, I moved to the right lane while gently applying the brake.  I carefully timed the deceleration so my car was still slowly moving when the light changed to green.  I promptly accelerated past the motionless line of cars in the left lane and merged back over.

Timing…pressure…release…finesse…deceleration…acceleration…smooth control of power feels good!  🙂

As I accelerated back to speed, I felt the initial forward surge of power smoothly taper off as I gently reduced pressure on the accelerator.

I smiled, thinking of canter departures.

Canter departures…so similar yet so different from accelerating a car through a traffic light…

The familiar surge of power in response to applied pressure…the deceleration as the intended cruising speed is approached…timing…pressure…release…finesse…acceleration…deceleration…smooth control of power feels good!  🙂

That is…it feels good when it is smooth…and under control.  Power can feel pretty awkward…even frightening…and not at all smooth…when out of control.

With the car, my mind works in concert with my body to operate the mechanical controls on the car. Unless the car is broken, it responds the same way every time.  There is only one mind and one will involved in the speed control process.

With a horse it’s different. Asking Knockout for a canter departure, I gently squeeze my legs applying pressure similar to the pressure applied to an automobile accelerator.  If Knockout is alert and ready for the cue, he promptly responds with a forward surge of power.  And, similar to accelerating a car, I have to gauge the acceleration against my desired speed to smoothly transition.

Riding a horse, though, involves another mind and will…requiring another level of communication. It’s not just mechanical linkage.  I have to communicate to Knockout what I want him to do, and Knockout has to figure out what I want in order to respond appropriately.

Sometimes, Knockout isn’t paying close attention. Sometimes, we’re plodding along in a relaxed state and my cue to canter sort of catches Knockout by surprise.  So, there’s this brief hesitation as Knockout realizes I’ve asked him to change gaits.  So, after the momentary delay we get this forward surge of power…but Knockout doesn’t yet know what speed we’re aiming for.  Do I want a trot, a lope, a canter, or a gallop?  Because, I use pretty much the same cue for all of them…the only difference is level of pressure and how long the pressure is held.  So, Knockout is surging forward in response to pressure from my legs…but because of the brief hesitation I have already applied more pressure longer awaiting his response…so now my timing is off.  If I drop pressure too quick I’ll get a trot…hold it too long and I’ll get an all-out gallop.  So, I try to time it right to drop into an easy lope…and sometimes we miss.  Sometimes, we drop into a trot and I ask for more.  Sometimes, we spring into a full gallop and I ask him to back off.  Sometimes, it is not at all smooth…sometimes I experience a moment of alarm wondering how fast a speed we’re headed for and whether I can ride it.

See, riding a horse is really more like back-seat-driving rather than driving a car. I don’t directly control the horse’s feet.  I communicate with the horse and the horse controls his feet.  The control is one step removed and we are always only one potential miscommunication away from an error.  It’s a bit like teaching a beginner driver…instructing their stops, starts and turns…while hoping they fully understand and promptly do what you ask…and knowing it will rarely be as smooth as you’ve envisioned.

I try to imagine navigating that South Main intersection around a stopped line of cars in the left lane with a student driver. I try to think thru how I might try to time my verbal instructions to start slowing early as though stopping…but try to go slow enough that we don’t have to actually stop…to watch the traffic light to time it so we reach the intersection just as the light changes…to accelerate past the line of stopped cars before they get moving…to accelerate smoothly without punching the gas…yet quickly enough to get ahead of the line of cars…to gently ease off the accelerator while simultaneously merging over before the lane ends.

I simply cannot imagine attempting that maneuver with a student driver.  It just requires too high a level of clear communication with precise timing.  With a student driver in that situation, I would simply instruct him to stop at the traffic light in the left lane.

Then I consider what it would be like trying that maneuver as a student driver…trying to time everything just right when I don’t even know what the next step is or what goal we are shooting for. I try to imagine relying completely on a driving instructor’s step-by-step verbal direction to manage that maneuver with smooth precision.  No way!

Yet, this is what I ask of my horse on a regular basis.

This is both the thrill and the terror of riding a horse. It’s more about clear communication than it is about control…because I am never truly in control.

I see riding a horse with confidence as a combination of striving to communicate clearly, while embracing the lack of control, yet confidently trusting the partnership. I have to realize that miscommunications and mistakes will happen.  I have to accept that things will not always go as planned.  Yet, I have to trust that Knockout and I will get it worked out.  When we make mistakes, we will adjust, make corrections, and improve.

Over the years, I’ve come to view life from a similar perspective.

There was a time I saw life as more direct cause and effect. If I made good decisions then good things would result.  If I did things God’s way, God would bless my life.  Follow the rules and good things would follow.  When bad things threatened to happen, I would double-down to figure out what I was doing wrong and correct it…or I would work harder to do things right so the issue would be resolved.

Of course, this view is really just a way of trying to establish control. It assumes I can keep bad things from happening if I just do the right things.

It is a legalistic mindset that assumes control of outcome can be governed by following a rigid set of rules.  The back side of that assumption is that anyone experiencing bad things must be assumed to have not done the right things well enough.  Because, if they did all the right things and still experienced a bad outcome…then the same could happen to me…which means I would have no control at all…which is (for many people…including myself at one time) simply too scary to even contemplate.

As an example, look how many books, sermons, and videos are available on the topic of how to divorce proof your marriage or how to raise successful children.  People want to believe they can control the outcome by simply doing all the right things.

The problem is it’s not true. No matter how well one follows the rules, bad things can still happen.  We simply do not have that much control.  In fact, we are never truly in control.  At any moment some major life-changing event could happen that is completely unrelated to anything I did or did not do.

I now view life more like how I view riding a horse. I strive to communicate clearly, while embracing the lack of control, yet confidently trusting the partnership.  I strive to actively listen to The Holy Spirit while clearly voicing my concerns and needs.  I realize I won’t do everything right…that mistakes will happen.  I also realize bad things will happen that have nothing to do with anything I did or did not do.  Yet, I trust God’s faithfulness as He works His will and purpose for my good.  I trust Him to work with me thru the many miscommunications, folding my mistakes right into His plan.  I trust God’s power to be far greater than my mistakes or any evil that may befall me.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)

Thank you, Father, for your faithfulness!

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!