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!

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.

Miraculous Evidence

I recently read a Facebook comment lamenting the lack of objective proof of God’s existence. The guy seemed very sincere.  He mentioned his own personal crisis of faith and feeling disillusioned with his religious heritage.

I wrote a few words intended to encourage. I meant to come back to the post, but it was lost in my newsfeed.

It’s not the first time I’ve read or heard such thoughts…nor am I immune to such thinking myself from time to time. When faced with such questions, I mostly feel inadequate to meet the need.  I usually say much less than I would like to say, because I don’t want to come across as trite.  My head and my heart are full of potentially appropriate responses, but I struggle with how to express myself in a meaningful way…in a way that might be meaningful to the questioner.

The question reminded me of some of the ‘atheist challenges’ I’ve seen on the internet. One I read a few years ago challenged Christians to demonstrate just one objectively verifiable miracle.  I didn’t respond to the challenge…I did ponder the perspective of the author.

What, exactly, is a verifiable miracle? I assume ‘verifiable’ as used in the challenge means eyewitness testimony doesn’t count.  I assume it also means video evidence and photographic evidence don’t count.  Which drastically narrows the number of potential qualifying events.

On the one hand, I understand the reasoning. People have been known to falsify claims of miraculous events.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.  Videos and photographs can be modified to show things that didn’t happen…or can be misconstrued to seem to show things differently from what actually occurred.  Someone feeling disillusioned is likely to feel very untrusting of such things and ask for more objective evidence of the miraculous.

Here’s where it gets tricky though. When we think of miraculous events, we’re usually talking about something extraordinary and transitory in nature, that cannot be reasonably explained or understood through natural laws or scientific explanation.  By definition, any transitory or temporary event we could name is already in the past…it has already occurred…which means the telling of the event now relies to some extent on circumstantial evidence.

Let’s say, for example, we’re talking about a miraculous healing. We could probably present the healed person for investigation to verify they are no longer afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, the reported health issue no longer exists and now relies on circumstantial evidence.  One could produce health records, scans, x-rays, test results and eyewitness testimony that the person had, indeed, previously been afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, all of these could be dismissed as not objectively verifiable.  Records can be altered.  X-rays, scans, and test results can have names and dates edited.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.

This sort of evidence would likely be admissible in a court of law where the bar is “beyond a reasonable doubt” but would likely be insufficient for the person demanding absolute objectively verifiable scientific proof.

For the person requiring objectively verifiable evidence of a miracle before they will believe, no transitory miracle will suffice…because transitory miraculous events rely on circumstantial evidence for context and verification of facts prior to the altered state.

So, if legal proof is insufficient, what about scientific proof? Scientific investigation begins with hypotheses and theories that must be tested and verified.  The usual standard for scientific evidence is experimental verification that can be replicated by other scientists.

This is where we start getting into questions of the definition of a miracle.

Fire touched to dry gunpowder instantaneously initiates extremely rapid oxidation resulting in a highly explosive release of stored energy. I would call that miraculous.  It is also objectively verifiable and consistently repeatable.

However, I doubt the questioner would accept this as an objectively verifiable miracle. Why not?  It is certainly objectively verifiable…as well as extraordinary.  However, because it meets the scientific criteria for objectively verifiable evidence, he would likely not consider the explosive nature of gunpowder to be miraculous.  We can replicate the explosion at will and provide some level of explanation as to how it works.  Therefore, it is considered a natural phenomenon explained by science rather than a miracle.

sunrise through fog

Sunrise through Fog

Do you see the problem? We have no lack of evidence of the miraculous.  As I type these words I am looking out the window at a brilliant sunrise.  What a stunning miracle!

Yesterday, I visited my son and held my 4-month old grandson in my arms. I watched his sweet smile.  I heard his laugh and consoled his tears.  So much personality and life wrapped in such a tiny fragile package of humanity.  What a wondrous miracle!

Daily I am overwhelmed, awed and humbled by the miraculous. Most of these miraculous events are objectively verifiable by any scientific standard.  Yet, because they are objectively verifiable, they are dismissed as not miraculous enough.  The issue is neither a lack of scientific evidence nor a lack of miracles.  The issue is of a more philosophical nature…as soon as we are able to provide objectively verifiable proof we stop considering the event to be of a miraculous nature…because it is scientifically verifiable.

So, what if we could find a miraculous event that was scientifically verifiable but for which we have no scientific explanation…a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding? Would that meet the standard of an objectively verifiable miracle?

If so, I have very good news for you. That miracle exists and is as close as the nearest light switch.

Light is truly extraordinary in nature. Light consistently defies our understanding of the natural laws.  Though not at all uncommon in our natural world, light obstinately behaves as though it belongs to some other realm outside our natural world. Every time we develop a new theory to try to explain the behavior of light, we make a new discovery that confounds the latest theories.

In trying to explain what light is, we may describe it as rays, or as waves, or as particles. Scientific evidence shows it is all three…and none of the above.  In some ways light behaves as rays…yet it also contradicts ray theory.  In some ways light behaves as waves…yet it also contradicts wave theory.  In some ways light behaves as particles…yet it also contradicts particle theory.

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do. – Albert Einstein

In an effort to explain light’s stubborn refusal to conform to the normal scientific laws of relativity, Albert Einstein developed his generalized theory of relativity. The speed of light has been verifiably proven to be constant no matter the relative speeds of the viewer and the light source.  Einstein theorized that time and distance must, therefore, vary as a function of velocity.  Einstein’s theory nicely provides the required mathematics.  Yet, he clearly demonstrates that rather than learning how light fits into our understanding of the natural laws, we must instead adjust our understanding of the natural laws to conform to the behavior of light.

In more recent years, a whole new branch of physics called Quantum Physics has emerged to study another property of light. Even when light is carefully released one photon particle at a time, it still behaves in a wave interference manner, as though it were being continuously released as waves.  This behavior is objectively verifiable and repeatable, but virtually unexplainable.

Even more inexplicable, the behavior changes if an observer records the photon paths in real time…the observer influences the outcome of the experiment by simply observing.  Without an observer, the carefully controlled experiment results in wave-interference patterns.  With an observer recording the path of each photon, the exact same carefully controlled experiment results in random patterns as predicted by particle theory.

In an attempt to explain this behavior, quantum physicists have developed theories involving alternate parallel universes interconnected by probabilistic timelines.

space time continuum with duplicate earths

Alternate Reality – pic by Victor Habbick

Again, we find we cannot explain the behavior of light through our understanding of natural laws. We must, instead, adjust our understanding of the natural laws, including relying on hypothetical alternate realities we have no way of directly investigating or verifying.  We must rely, instead, on indirect observations based on the properties of light within our own observable universe.

I have heard a saying among quantum physicists, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t.” So, here we have a scientifically verifiable phenomenon which the leading specialized scientists admit they do not understand, cannot explain, and must resort to hypothetical propositions of unverifiable alternate universes in an attempt to explain.

Surely, light qualifies as a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding!

Light is, indeed, an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis.

Light is an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis! Click To Tweet

No wonder Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world”! (John 8:12)

Jesus was in this world but was not of this world. Jesus did not conform to the natural laws of this world…the natural laws conformed to Him.

Born of a virgin…turned water into wine…walked on water…calmed a storm with a verbal rebuke…healed the sick…raised the dead…died and was resurrected. All verified by multiple eyewitnesses…carefully recorded for posterity…

Unbelievable? Not sufficiently objectively verifiable?

Surely no more unbelievable than the hypothetical alternate universes relied on in attempting to explain the miraculously supernatural nature of light…which is scientifically established as consistently objectively verifiable…

Confidence

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Last week I spent some time helping our 2-year-old stud colt, Archie, learn to back off a trailer. I taught Archie to trailer load when he was about six months old, so we could trailer him to vet and farrier appointments.  He loads with no issue and seems perfectly relaxed riding in the trailer.

However, he absolutely refused to back off the trailer. That big backwards step off a sheer drop scared him to death and no amount of coaxing would convince him to try it!

Archie is currently small enough, and our 3-horse slant trailer is larger enough, that it has not been a big deal to simply let him turn around and unload forwards. However, at some point he needed to learn to back off.

The issue was lack of confidence.

Stepping off backwards into an unseen abyss is scary business. I feel the same way reaching blindly for a ladder rung to climb off a roof.  Archie lacked confidence in his own ability to back off the trailer…and he lacked confidence in me instructing him to back off the trailer.

So, last week we spent some time doing confidence building exercises.

I started by backing Archie down the pond levy. Once he was able to back down the steep embankment without too much hesitation or dodging sideways, we moved over to a concrete slab where we first backed off a 2 inch drop on one end, then backed off a 5 inch drop on the other end.  Once he was acting fairly confident backing off the slab edge, we moved inside the trailer.

I was so proud of how well he backed off the trailer! He did great!  All he needed was some smaller steps to build his confidence to help prepare him for the big scary trailer edge.

I totally get it! I often struggle with confidence issues, too.

Over this past year I’ve been working a lot with our 5-year-old gelding, Knockout.  When I first started working with Knockout, he was a very frightened young horse who spooked at everything and was ready to bolt at the drop of a hat (literally).  Over time, his confidence improved to where we were doing trail rides together and hauling to different arenas to expose him to more environments.

Then I decided to take Knockout on our Spring Break family vacation for a week of trail riding in the Texas Hill Country. This was a big test!  It would be Knockout’s first exposure to a lot of new things, including group trail rides over steep rocky trails through mountainous terrain.

To prepare Knockout, I had him shod and began riding him on the gravel roads near our house. At every opportunity, I threw a saddle bag with a couple of water bottles behind his saddle and we set off to explore the country roads and trails together.  While riding those trails, we practiced transitions, stops, and departures at walk, trot, and lope.  We practiced side-passing, turns, and laterals.

Through that trail riding training, Knockout and I began to really work as a team. I became more confident in our ability and he became more confident in me as a leader.  As the scheduled vacation approached, I told my wife that although I wasn’t positive we would have no issues, I felt confident we would not encounter any issues we could not overcome together.

Spring Break arrived and Knockout did great! He took to the mountain trails like an old pro, calmly leading through dense forest cover on narrow trails and calmly following over steep rocky grade.  When leading, he stepped out on a long swinging walk on a loose rein, without much trouble.  When following we kept a decent space between himself and the next horse, slowing to match the leading horse on a loose rein.

I was so proud of him!  🙂

But there was this one incident…this one scary incident. It wasn’t Knockout’s fault…it was all on me.  It involved loping my young horse with other horses while he was carrying heavy full saddle bags…and the heavy saddle bags flopped up and down in rhythm with his loping…miscuing him to a faster pace.  It had to do with my totally forgetting the saddlebags were even there.  It had to do with my totally misreading the situation…and subsequently mishandling it.  It had to do with my own fear of out-of-control speed.  Misunderstanding Knockout’s miscue…thinking he was a totally panicked runaway for no reason…responding in fear, myself…I bailed off.   I was wearing a helmet and I wasn’t injured…just a few minor scrapes from the coarse prairie grasses.

But my confidence was shot!  🙁

Logically, I explained to myself how none of this was Knockout’s fault…which I knew to be true. Logically, I reasoned that the same could have happened with any horse.  Logically, I consoled myself that it was a simple error on my part that was perfectly understandable…especially for a novice horseman.

But emotions don’t concern themselves with logic.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to ride. However, all my rides stayed within the constraints of our arena…and stayed at a gait of walking or trotting.  I didn’t ride outside the arena and I didn’t lope.  Each ride I would tell myself this time I was going to lope…and each ride ended for one reason or another without a lope actually occurring.

Eventually, I had to admit to myself that, yes, I was avoiding speed.

And the worst of it was, I know my horse tends to respond to my emotions. When I’m unsure he’s more likely to be unsure…more likely to spook…more likely to bolt…which is exactly what I was scared of to begin with…  Yikes!  Talk about a downward spiral of negativity!

Then I began training Archie, the 2-year-old…and I thought about Archie’s confidence issues and how we overcame them. I continued to work with Archie on things that were new to me.  I continued to work with Knockout on familiar transitions, stops, departures, and laterals at a walk and trot.

Finally, this past Saturday, I was working with Knockout in the arena at a fast trot, when he spontaneously rolled up into a lope…and I resisted my instinct to tug back on the reins…forced myself to keep the reins loose. We loped two or three big circles…and I relaxed a bit.  Then I asked for a stop by sitting deep in the saddle (still with loose reins) and Knockout responded with a big sliding stop and two steps back.  Then I asked for a canter departure…and followed that up with about 20 minutes of practicing transitions at walk, trot and lope.

I was elated! I realized Knockout was still the same horse he was before the saddlebags incident.  I had lost confidence in us…Knockout had not.

What a faithful friend!  🙂

The next day, Knockout and I rode the gravel roads near our house again.

Confidence is a funny thing. It takes time and effort to gain confidence, yet confidence can be lost in an instant.  Lack of confidence can be paralyzing.

So how do we regain confidence? By intentionally testing the relationship in small things.

For Archie, that meant learning to back down slopes and small steps before trying the scary trailer edge again.

For me with Knockout, that meant working with Knockout on smaller things while I rebuilt confidence in my leadership and in his response, before tackling my fear of speed head-on. As Knockout continued to prove himself faithful in small things, my confidence grew.

I’ve faced much worse things in life than an unplanned dismount from a horse. A failed marriage and subsequent divorce…custody battles…a cancer diagnosis…death of close loved ones…the list goes on…

Some of those life events hit me hard, shaking my confidence. Some temporarily shook my confidence in God and His love for me.  Others shook my confidence in my ability to hear God’s voice…or my ability to correctly interpret scripture…or my ability to wisely discern a situation or relationship.

So how do we overcome a loss of confidence in these larger life issues?

The same way. We test the relationship in small things. We spend time with God.  We follow His direction in small things and witness His faithfulness…as we learn to trust Him in the big things.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

What a faithful friend!  🙂

 

Have you ever lost confidence?  How did you regain it?

 

Three Days

“The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Matthew 9:31)

This week, Christians around the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has much to say about these events.  Four eyewitness accounts are given of these events in the gospels, and the New Testament epistles provide further elaboration.  These events are the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Yet, we’re told surprisingly little about what happened in Sheol (or Hades…the place of the dead) during the three days Jesus was in the grave.

The four gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony by the apostles and others. Since all the eyewitnesses were living, we have no direct account of what transpired in Sheol.

We are told Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, that He now holds the keys of death and of Hades, and that many of the dead were raised.  Yet we know very little of what actually transpired in Sheol during those three days Jesus was in the grave.

Since I often write on the topic of redemption, it is not surprising I am sometimes asked what I think happened during those three days of silence from the tomb. It is a topic I have somewhat avoided, because the Bible simply does not provide an authoritative answer.  Although I certainly have my own speculations, they’re exactly that…speculations.

But maybe it’s worth speculating…

Although the Bible is largely silent on what transpired during the Great Exodus from Sheol, it provides rich details of what transpired during the Great Exodus from Egypt. Since the Great Exodus from Egypt is clearly a prophetic precursor of Christ’s work in Sheol, let’s see what we can learn from it.

God’s covenant people were enslaved in Egypt, held in bondage by covenant to an abusive ruler. While enslaved in Egypt, they occupied a separate region called Goshen, where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

In much the same way, God’s covenant people were enslaved in Sheol, held in bondage by covenant to Satan. While enslaved in Sheol, they occupied a separate region called Abraham’s Bosom (or Paradise), where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

God told Moses:

Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:5-6)

What transpired afterward is the well-known Exodus story we are all familiar with…the story that is commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast…and which has inspired numerous movie depictions.

What transpired was that God showed up in Egypt…accompanied by ten plagues…each more devastating than the last. Each plague specifically targeted one of the false gods of Egypt, exposing them as frauds.  God countered the false gods, not with empty arguments, but with power and judgment.  The truth of God’s identity rolled over the lies of the false gods like a tidal wave of destruction.

The final plague, the death of the firstborn, targeted Pharaoh himself…the Egyptian sungod…cutting off the inheritance of the Egyptians much as Pharaoh had attempted to cut off the covenant inheritance of the Israelites by murdering their infant sons.

God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh…bringing about their just divorce from Egypt and dissolving all legal ties and all covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

Most redemptions require a payment on behalf of the person being redeemed from slavery.  However, in Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the only payment made to Egypt was the ten plagues…while Israel was paid Egyptian silver and gold.  These were the payments deemed by God as just redemption from Egypt.

In the end, Pharaoh was so desperate for God to leave Egypt that he ordered the Israelites to leave, thereby dissolving their covenant.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

I speculate that Christ’s redemption of His people from Sheol was similar to the redemption from Egypt.

Sheol is described as a place of darkness, despair, and torment. Into that dark kingdom of death strode the Lord of Light and Life.  The lies of Satan were steam-rolled by the power of the living Christ.  The pillars of deception and despair were vaporized by the truth and hope of Christ.  Satan’s stronghold began to crumble and those enslaved found new hope.

And I speculate that Satan was so desperate for Christ to leave that he begged Jesus to take all His chosen ones out with him, thereby dissolving his covenant claim.

“…for under compulsion he will let them go…”

Here is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah’s dual work of judgment and redemption:

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“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.  When the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.

“As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means. (Isaiah 28:15-19)

Glory! What a Savior!  Our Redeemer lives!

He joins us in our place of bondage.  He protects us as He judges our oppressor.  He redeems and delivers us into liberty in Him.  He resurrects us to new life.

 

Your thoughts?

 

God Became

[Reposted from November 2014 with minor edits]

god became manDoes God change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God became man.

In the Old Testament, we’re told,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author of Hebrews tells us,

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

Jesus was perfected through suffering…

God changed…He was perfected.

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

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

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

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

What a marvelous wonder!

God became

Your thoughts?

Guilty Stain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The One Ring

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Over the holidays I’ve gotten back into the JRR Tolkien spirit by watching the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie series again. As usual, I find rich metaphors in Tolkien’s writing…and hope you’ll indulge my sharing some with you… The … Continue reading

Light in the Darkness

Gallery

[Reposted and updated from January, 2012] The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2, also referenced in Matthew 4:16) Have you happened … Continue reading

Come Lord Jesus

Gallery

My father wrote this Christmas hymn many years ago. Lately, I find myself humming or singing snatches of it while I drive or feed animals. That God Became Henri D Pote That God became our brother through Christ’s birth, When … Continue reading