When Evil Prospers – Part 4

Lessons from Job

This is my fourth and final post in this series addressing the topic When Evil Prospers.  In this post we will discuss some of the lessons I have gleaned from the book of Job.

If you have missed the earlier posts on this topic, you can link to the beginning by clicking here.

Bad Things Sometimes Happen to Good People

The book of Job is an amazing story of faith maturing through overwhelming trials.  One of the difficulties we have with this story is the lack of definitive answers.  We instinctively want to know, what did Job do to cause such tremendous catastrophe in his life?

However, we are told at the very beginning of the book:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. (Job 1:1)

And:

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8)

I have heard several preachers try to nail down exactly what sin Job committed.  However, their explanations fall short and directly contradict the text.  This is exactly what Job’s friends tried to do… help Job figure out where he sinned, so he could repent.  Job resolutely defended himself and declared he had done no wrong.

In the end, God agreed with Job and rebuked his friends.  So, we must put away any thoughts that Job somehow got what he deserved because of sin.  God said Job was blameless and upright before Him.

I think we find this particularly troubling because the obvious implication is the same thing could happen to any of us.  If Job did nothing wrong yet suffered horribly, what is to keep the same thing from happening to any of us?  In our legalistic mindset, we want to find ways to ensure bad things will not happen to us or our families.

The reality is bad things can and do happen to good people.  Job stands as a testament to the fact that horrible tragedy is not necessarily a sign of sinful lifestyles, nor is it a sign of God’s absence or displeasure.  Job lived a righteous life.  Job loved God.  God loved Job.  Yet, Job suffered catastrophic loss.

Trials Transform Theory into Reality

At the beginning of the book we are told Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  This was Job’s reputation and we have no reason to doubt it.  However, in the first chapter, these are only the words of a character witness with nothing solid to hang them on.  Hearing someone is righteous does not carry the same weight as actually seeing them live their life with integrity.

By the end of the book, we are absolutely certain Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  We can feel Job’s integrity in our bones, along with his sorrow, pain and numerous questions.

Job’s faith was only theory at the beginning of the story, but through trials it became reality.  Faith must be tested before it is real.

In the beginning of the story, Job believed God was faithful, just, and worthy of worship.  Through the trials, God confirmed all of these things to be true.  In the end, Job did not believe God’s faithfulness because of what he had been told, but because of what he had experienced.

From the beginning of the story to the end, we can see Job’s faith transform.  Initially, Job trusted in his own integrity to ensure no harm would come to his family.  By the end of the story, Job learned to trust God’s goodness and faithfulness despite the harm that had come to himself and his family.  Job learned to be honest with God in his frustration and anguish, and God praised Job’s honesty.

Satan asked to test Job.  God used the test to transform Job’s theoretical faith into reality and to deepen Job’s trust in God.  By the end of the story, Job did not trust God because of the physical blessings in his life.  Rather he learned to trust God regardless of circumstances, because he had come to know God’s character.

God is Always in Control

When God finally responded to Job’s questions, it was with a lengthy list of what God can do.  For a full four chapters, God reminds Job of His power, might, and wisdom.

No matter how horrible things may seem, no matter how confusing our circumstances, God is still all-powerful and is still in control.  Although He may not seek our counsel or tell us His plans, He is still in control, and we can trust Him.

Going back to the first chapter of Job, we read:

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:9-12)

God had a hedge of protection around Job.  Satan could not touch Job without God’s permission.  Yes, bad things sometimes happen to God’s children… but not without God’s permission.  God did not bring calamity upon Job… that was Satan’s work.  However, Satan had to ask God’s permission and follow God’s parameters.

I find this realization simultaneously discomfiting and comforting.  I’m not crazy about the realization that calamity could strike all at once for no apparent reason.  However, it is extremely comforting to know God… who loves me deeply and wants nothing but the best for me… is in complete control and sets bounds on what He allows Satan to do.

Trials Teach Us to Depend on God

In the end, Job made this declaration to God:

“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

Through his trials, Job gained a fresh perspective on how much he does not know, on how awesome God is, and on how totally reliant we are on God.

Healing Begins with Ministering to Others

When Job was at rock bottom… when he had lost his children, his wealth and his health… when his friends had all accused him of sin he wasn’t guilty of… when God had put Job in his place by reminding him how little he knew of God’s power and might… then God told Job to pray for his friends.  These are the same friends who came to minister to Job in his misery, but wound up lecturing him.  Job was told to pray for them.

The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. (Job 42:10)

As Job began to minister to others out of his poverty, he began to find healing himself.  I have found this to be true in my own life.  Healing often begins with ministering to others.

A Higher Purpose

The book of Job opens with a mysterious scene:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:6-8)

The scene described is some sort of heavenly counsel with God presiding over the angels, and Satan shows up.

What is Satan doing in a heavenly counsel?  Why is he allowed to stay?  Why did God call his attention to Job?  Why did God permit Satan to test Job?

No clear answers are provided.  No doubt, one major reason was for Job’s own benefit.  As previously discussed, the trials transformed Job’s faith and deepened Job’s relationship with God.

Yet, there seems to be something more going on here.  The narrator presents this heavenly scene as though it is a common occurrence… as though Satan often enters God’s presence and frequently converses with God about the hearts of humans.

Although the Bible provides no definitive answers, I think it is worth speculating to see what we can glean.

Revelation gives us a little more insight:

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)

Satan is described as “the accuser of our brethren… who accuses them before our God day and night.”

This sounds like a court room scene… a King’s court where people come for justice and the King dispenses justice in His wisdom.  Satan, the accuser, is there bringing his petitions before God.  Jesus, our advocate is also there:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1)

Note that Satan is our accuser and God is our defender.  That is good news!  Too often, God’s justice is viewed as His raging against our sin.  However, the Bible presents God’s justice as being exercised in our defense against Satan, the accuser.

So, what is Satan accusing us of and why?  Based on the passage in 1 John, Satan is accusing us of sin.  But why should he care if we sin?  Isn’t Satan in the business of tempting us to sin?  Why would our sin be the basis for Satan to file a petition against us?

Besides, as John stated, Jesus, “Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  So, if our sins have already been dealt with, why is Satan bothering to continually accuse us?  What does he hope to accomplish?

Jesus has already redeemed us from Adam’s covenant with sin and death.  He has already made propitiation for our sins.  He has already cut a new covenant with the Father on our behalf.  All that remains is for each of us to add our yes and amen to the work Jesus has already accomplished, and to walk in that new covenant as children of the living God, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

From Adam to Jesus, Satan had a lawful claim over the souls of mankind, as well as authority over the earth.  Jesus has already defeated Satan and redeemed mankind.  Soon, Jesus will come again to reclaim the earth.

Satan is now playing the only card he has left to play… our free will.

God uses covenant to enrich and bless.  Satan uses covenant to enslave and abuse.  God does not hold us in covenant against our wills.  Satan does.

Satan continually accuses us of sin, before God, to try to make the case that we are rejecting our covenant with God and embracing a covenant with Satan.  Just as he did with Adam and Eve at the beginning, Satan is using our free wills against us to try to entrap us, in order to retain control over our souls as well as over the earth.  For His children, Jesus continually advocates.

So, what is our role in this court?

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:11)

This verse just amazes me!  I know we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ.  I know our salvation is “by grace, through faith, not of works.”  Yet, this passage adds something.  We get to participate in our own salvation… in Satan’s final defeat.

As that court scene is played out, Satan is defeated not only by the blood of Christ, but also by the word of our testimony and by our faith in action.  We are called to give testimony and our testimony aids in defeating our accuser.

Satan comes before the throne of God with his list of grievances… the rampant evil and wickedness found in his “wandering to and fro upon the earth”… presented as evidence against the human race… proof that our hearts truly belong to him and not to God… proof that we are more his children than God’s… proof that we don’t really want to be in covenant with God at all.

God responds, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

In that moment, Job’s faithfulness is God’s evidence presented to counter Satan’s accusations against the human race.  From this perspective, Job’s suffering serves a higher purpose in the final battle against Satan.

Yes, God is the final judge.  However, as a just judge, He considers all the evidence and allows all arguments to be presented.  In the final judgment, all will know God is just.

Could it be that I have, in some small way, been a part of this epoch court battle?  Could it be that God at some point has called me to the witness stand, “Have you considered my servant Joe?”

I hope so!  I hope my testimony has been found worthy of presenting as evidence.  I hope I am a credible witness.  I hope I have played my small part in defeating Satan, our accuser.

No wonder the apostles rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer for Christ!

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.

Rules of Relationship

Knockout sporting his new headstall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That would be a false impression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same is true in my relationship with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Your thoughts?

Blessed!

I’ve always considered myself to have been truly blessed with unusually good health.  With the exception of that one year in fifth grade when I had measles, mumps and chicken-pox all in one year, I just haven’t had much illness.  At 52 years of age, I take no regular medicines, have had no major health issues, and few illnesses.  I have never been admitted overnight to a hospital.  I’ve had no surgeries requiring general anesthesia.  Never had an IV, nor a scan more sophisticated than a basic X-ray.

Last week all that changed.

Last week, I learned I have throat cancer.

Last week I went from being the guy holding a loved-one’s hand while dealing with medical issues to being the guy with medical issues.  I quickly became a pro at accepting an IV and lying still for CT Scans and PET Scans.  I am not yet recovered from one surgery and am preparing for another surgery tomorrow morning.

My head is still spinning.  I give full credit to my medical team for moving quickly to assess and address the situation.  Emotionally, I’m not sure I’ve caught up yet.  I’ve always been the guy blessed with unusually good health.  How do I accept, across one week, that I’m now a cancer patient?

And yet…in some ways, I feel I’ve prepared my entire life for just this sort of event.  I’ve lived my entire adult life very aware of my own mortality, careful to live with no regrets, never taking anything for granted.  Always quick to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” because we never know whether we’ll have another chance…generally choosing walking over driving just because I can, because my legs work well and we never know how long that will be true.  Taking the time to enjoy each sunrise, each sunset, each rainbow, each moonrise, because it is in these moments we glimpse His glory.

More than that, my life has, of necessity, been lived learning to trust God…to trust that He knows what I do not…that He loves me immensely…that He has my best interest at heart even more than I do.

I can still point to so many areas of rich blessing.  I am blessed to have a good prognosis with an excellent chance of returning to a healthy active lifestyle after completion of surgery and treatments.  I am blessed to have such a wonderfully supportive loving family to encourage and pray for me.  I am blessed to have a good job and good health insurance with no immediate financial concerns.  I am blessed to have a peaceful home surrounded by pastures with cows and horses to enjoy as I recuperate.

And yet…I become increasingly aware that these are all rich manifestations of my deepest blessing.

The true blessing of the believer is God’s presence. Click To Tweet

His loving companionship is the blessing that will never be removed…that accompanies me every step of the way…from life to life through all eternity.

Because I am His, I am blessed beyond measure.

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

For thou art with me;

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

Thou anointest my head with oil;

My cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (Psalm 23)

 

Have a very Merry Christmas, enjoying the blessing of Christ’s presence!

 

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

 

Relational Idolatry

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  Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even … Continue reading