Faith Vision

Pine Logs Do you see all those trees laying on the ground?

I realize most people looking at this photograph will just see a bunch of useless pine logs laying in a forest.  However, I see something entirely different.

Yes, I see the pine logs.  Yes, I see they are laying on the ground in the middle of the woods.

Nevertheless, I also see a new hay barn.

I see stacks of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber cut in lengths varying from 8 feet long to 16 feet long, neatly stacked and bundled, fresh from the sawmill.

I know what size and length boards will go where in the barn structure.  I know how the ends of boards will be coped to fit the required joinery.  I know how many screws to put in each connection, and have already increased some board sizes to make room for enough screws.

I have detailed plans for those prostrate pine logs and, because I have plans, I have a vision.  Yes, I see the pine logs.  Nevertheless, I also see a new barn.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

dirt padDo you see that dirt pad in our pasture?

I realize most people looking at this photograph will just see a pile of dirt and mud spread across the ground.  However, I see something entirely different.

Yes, I see the dirt pad in the middle of a pasture.

Nevertheless, I also see the site of our new barn.  I see the lumber (not yet milled) stacked neatly ready for construction.  I see the roof trusses being carefully assembled so they will all match and all fit.  I see the walls being framed and erected with concrete footings.  I see the fully framed structure standing tall and sturdy, well built and well braced.  I see the roof and wall cladding attached to close it in and keep the rain out.  I see a finished barn ready for hay to be stored, so our livestock will have food next winter.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

The substance of things hoped for…

Those logs have substance… but they are not yet a barn.

That dirt pad has substance… but it does not yet have a barn standing on it.

These are the substance of things hope for.  This is the wood from which we will construct a barn.  This is the site on which we will construct it.

The evidence of things not seen…

I cannot yet see that barn with my physical eyes.  It exists only in my mind… in my vision of faith and hope.  My plans stand as evidence.  Those pine logs are evidence.  That dirt pad is evidence.  I can point to that evidence and say, “See, this is how the barn will be built.  Here is where it will stand.  Here is the wood from which it will be constructed.  Here is a drawing of what it will look like.”

What ties this all together?  How do those pine logs and dirt pad become a barn?  What keeps the pine logs from rotting in the forest?  What keeps the dirt pad from washing away or being overgrown with grass and weeds?  What keeps them from becoming a distant memory without ever reaching the fulfillment of becoming a hay barn?

Faith, hope, and plans bring the vision to fruition.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He favored us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Him, regarding His plan of the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in the Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is a first installment of our inheritance, in regard to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Wow!  Now that’s some plans!  Plans made by God before the foundation of the world… plans involving you and me… plans about our eternal destiny as children of God.

In God’s plans, you and I are the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not yet seen.

You may look at me and see a flawed man… a man with a lot of limitations… a man who struggles discerning the right thing to do… a man prone to selfishness and sin… a man with a lot of insecurities.  And you would be right… just as those pine logs are right now a bunch of trees laying prostrate in the forest.

Nevertheless, when God looks at me, He sees me blessed with every spiritual blessing… chosen in Him… holy and blameless… predestined as His son… beloved… redeemed… forgiven… royal heir… sealed with the Holy Spirit… to the praise of His glory!

Glory!

God looks at you and me through eyes of faith… based on His plans… the substance of things hope for… the evidence of things not seen.

God has plans!

Lord, help me to see myself and others through your eyes of faith.

The Water’s a Rage’n!

Riding in the RainMy Grandpa (Robert) Mitchell grew up on a ranch in south Arkansas, raising cattle and horses.  We heard a lot of stories of his youth… though not nearly as many as we would have liked to have heard.

When Grandpa was getting up in years and had suffered a couple of strokes, he sometimes got confused or had trouble remembering what word he wanted to use.  One day he walked over from his little house next to ours, acting very agitated.  “The water’s a rage’n and the horses are runn’n!” he exclaimed, repeatedly.  Further investigation revealed a water line had ruptured and was spraying water all over his kitchen.  In his excitement he communicated his need for help as effectively as he could.  We got the message!  🙂

I have often wondered what event from his boyhood was recalled in his excitement over the ruptured water line.  It sounds like it must have been a pretty exciting moment in his young life.

Yesterday morning, I heard the wind pick up and rain start to fall.  I stepped out on the front porch in time to see the horses run into their shed (aka The Equestrian Pavilion) ahead of a curtain of hard rain sweeping across the pasture.  I smiled watching them run for shelter, then stepped back inside my own nice, warm, dry, cozy house.

A few minutes later I glimpsed a horse’s rump round the barn… outside the fence.  Uh-oh!  😮

I hurried to the back door where I slid on mud boots, drovers coat, and oilskin hat before hurrying out to investigate.  All six front-pasture horses were wandering loose.  They had somehow opened the gate at the Equestrian Pavilion.

The freedom rush combined with the wind and the rain had them full of themselves… running around with heads high and tails lifted.

I grabbed a couple of flags and started trying to coral them back toward the pasture gate.  I got in a good position and applied some very gentle flag pressure.  They took off running straight for the gate and I smiled at how easy that was.

But then our stallion realized how close he was to the mare pasture, and it started falling apart.  Archie ran to the mares.  The others followed him before splitting up in different directions.

Realizing I would never get them to regroup and move together now, I put the flags back and grabbed a halter instead.  I haltered Archie and led him back.  Then I haltered Knockout, with Modelo following after, and got both of them back in the pasture.

By this time, the other three horses had run thru another fence into our cow pasture.  As my father-in-law started pulling fence back together, I haltered Buck and led him back where he belonged, before returning for Sonny and Cinch.

By this time Sonny and Cinch were running wild.  The wind was blowing the rain nearly horizontal as those two ran from one end of the cow pasture to the other and back again.  Each time I approached they just ran off.

Watching them run wild in the wind and the rain, I smiled as I recalled Grandpa’s words, “The water’s a rage’n and the horses are runn’n!”

Yes, Grandpa, they sure are.  The wind and water are sure rage’n and those horses are runn’n like crazy!  🙂

I stayed calm and spoke gently as I approached the horses in a corner of the pasture.  Cinch was the wildest, so I focused on Cinch.  I approached him casually, while positioning myself to head him off if he started to leave.  I petted his withers, and slipped the halter over his head.

Sonny was pretty easy to catch after that, and I put the last horses back in their pasture without any more issues.

Sometimes life is that way.  Sometimes we are caught in the storm.  The wind and water are a rage’n and all we want to do is run wild!

But the Master’s voice calms us.  We calm because He is calm… and because we know we can trust Him.  We look to the Master, and all of a sudden the raging storm doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all, as our spirit is flooded with His peace.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:37-39)

Your thoughts?

Alert Patience

Saturday morning, I saddled Knockout and rode out in the pasture to check cows.  We counted every cow, calf, and bull, checking off ear tags as we went.

Once all the cattle were accounted for and verified as healthy, we rode the fence lines looking for any problems.  We found an electric fence down on the front pasture.  I dismounted, dropped the rein on the ground with the word, “Stay,” and walked over to investigate.

I started at the creek, which is usually a troublesome spot.  Creeks are always a challenge to fence and we usually have to add extra wire strands to address the shift in elevation from creek bank to middle of creek.  Sure enough, wires had been drug everywhere.

I walked back to Knockout and unzipped the cantle bag to retrieve fencing pliers and a bag of insulators.  Then I returned to the creek to repair the damage at that spot.

Once I had the fence repaired across the creek, I started working my way back lifting the fence wire off the ground back onto the post insulators.  About three posts down, I found the break in the wire and started looking for the other wire end.  It was a few more posts before I found the other wire end and started walking it back toward the break.

I ran out of wire about 20 yards short.  That didn’t seem right, so I left the wire end and started walking north to investigate.  I found a wire splice hung on a post insulator.  I moved the splice past the insulator and started pulling wire thru.

Something still didn’t feel right and I could see a dead branch laying on the wire a little further down.  I walked down, moved the dead branch, then gave another pull on the wire.  I could see now that more insulators were missing.  I replaced the missing insulators lifting the wire back in place as I went.

When I pulled the slack, something still didn’t look right.  I could see the wire tighten between me and the next post, but it hung slack after that.  I walked to the next post to discover another wire splice hung on a post insulator.

From there, I saw an insulator missing from a tree and decided to come back to that one with Knockout, since I needed nails from the cantle bag.  So I skipped that one and walked to the next post to lift the wire back on the insulator.

By the time I had the fence back on the posts and free of obstructions, I had worked my way down around the corner from Knockout.  Knockout was about 300 yards away and out of my sight.

I started back, carrying my tools.

Knockout waiting

Knockout watching and waiting

As I rounded the corner, I saw Knockout standing exactly where I left him.  His head was up, alert, and turned toward me, watching for my return.  As I came into his view, he lowered his head and relaxed.

I drug the wire ends together, tightened and spliced the fence, then returned to Knockout to stow my tools back in the cantle bag.

What a great horse!

Altogether, Knockout stood ground-tied about 45 minutes while I walked up and down the line repairing fence, and occasionally returning to retrieve tools and materials from the cantle bag.  That entire time, he stood motionless, exactly where I asked him to stand.  He watched me work, and when I was out of sight he patiently watched and waited for my return.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do?

Aren’t we each called to stay where God puts us and continue doing His will while we patiently wait and eagerly anticipate His return?

But as for me, I will be on the watch for the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me. (Micah 7:7)

Whether we are waiting for direction on what to do next, awaiting an answer to prayer, or awaiting the Lord’s triumphant return, we are each called to patiently wait as we eagerly watch.

And what are we supposed to do as we watch and wait?  Continue doing His will.

God’s specific will for each of our lives in each of our unique circumstances will vary.  However, His will in each of our lives has one constant theme in common.

Little children, I am still with you a little longer. You will look for Me; and just as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-35)

Watch.  Wait.  Love one another.

Until He returns.

Partners and Friends

I am currently alternating working with three different horses.

Pistol at sunrise

Pistol, our one-year-old filly, is trusting, inquisitive, and friendly.  She is still several months away from being ready to ride, as her muscles, tendons, and joints are still developing.  However, we are already working on lead line training and basic ground manners.

Pistol is fun to work with.  She is super curious about everything, which is a wonderful trait in a horse and something I intend to encourage.

Pistol’s natural curiosity tends to be a little distracting.  While we are working on paying close attention to backing or advancing step-by-step as cued, she is likely to turn off to sniff the pile of horse poop beside her.  She is very young with a short attention span.  So, I try to take that into account.  If I ask for a right turn on the hind and she distractedly gives me four half-hearted vague steps then one pretty decent turn with her right forefoot reaching out a ways, I will immediately stop and praise her like she was the smartest filly in the whole world.  At this stage, I’m not sure she even knows what she’s being praised for.  However, with time and consistency, she will learn expected responses to different cues.

Pistol is a beginner who is still trying to figure out basic communication and simple expectations.  Accordingly, I reward small tries and small improvements.  It’s not about getting it right… it’s about beginning to understand.

Archie managed to trap himself in the hay ring one morning

Archie, our five-year-old stallion, is coming along really well.  Archie is a calm, friendly horse who doesn’t get very bothered by much.  In general, Archie is pretty solid, but needs more riding.  Sometimes, he is responsive and light.  Other times, he can be fairly willful and sluggish.

Yesterday, I rode Archie around our pastures.  The chilly, damp, windy January weather had him feeling a little forward and he was quick to spontaneously move up from a walk to a trot or from a trot to a lope.  Because he was feeling so forward, he was also quick to misinterpret cues.  I would give a leg cue for a step to the left and he would interpret it as an excuse to pick up to a lope.

Archie knows the cues and on a good day we communicate well.  However, he needs work on consistency.  In chilly weather or with distractions, he is likely to focus more on what he wants to do than on understanding what I’m asking for.

Accordingly, I have to keep things pretty black-and-white with Archie.  Corrections need to be clear and decisive.  With Archie, I can’t give a lot of latitude for doing things his own way.  I have to be clear in my communication and I have to be particular in insisting on the correct response.

At the same time, I have to use good timing and be quick to remove pressure when Archie does what I ask.  I try to help Archie feel a distinct difference between comfort going with what I ask versus discomfort resisting what I ask.

I am much more particular with Archie than with Pistol.  Archie knows a lot more and I expect more of him.  At this stage of Archie’s development, rules are enforced fairly rigidly.  I do try to listen to Archie and consider his perspective.  However, he is at a stage where it is pretty important for him to learn consistency in promptly responding to my cues regardless of the circumstances.

Most pictures of Knockout are from this view

Knockout, my nine-year-old gelding, is just a real pleasure to ride.  He is a willing, solid horse, who is responsive and tries hard to please.  I have been working with Knockout more than four years and we have a good relationship.  Although we are still learning from each other, the communication tends to flow fairly easily.

As much as I enjoy working with Pistol and Archie, they are a lot of work requiring careful attention.  With Knockout, I can just relax and enjoy the ride.  Whether we are opening and closing gates, checking cows, repairing fence, or moving cows around, Knockout knows what is expected and is eager to please.

Knockout saddled and ground tied

With Knockout, I don’t have to be so rules oriented.  I tend to point Knockout in the right direction then let him choose the exact path.  When crossing a creek, if Knockout wants to move a few yards downstream to a place he feels more comfortable crossing, I let him choose.  I don’t have to wonder if he’s trying to avoid the crossing.  I know he’s just looking for good footing… which is his responsibility.

Going home, I usually just give Knockout his head and let him choose the path.  He knows to keep it to a walk unless I cue otherwise, and he knows the way home.  It’s sort of fun seeing which direction he’ll choose.  Sometimes, he surprises me by choosing a round-about route.  Other times, he’ll choose a shorter route even though it has more obstacles to cross.  I view the homeward path with Knockout as a chance to let him share in the decision making without fear of reprimand for doing the wrong thing.

Riding Knockout doesn’t feel like training.  It feels more like enjoying the company of a trusted partner while working together to get a job done.

With each of these horses, my goal is relationship.  I want a trusting partnership where we each are heard.  I want the horse to be a willing partner, rather than coerced or forced.

Because these relationships are at different stages, rules play differing roles.

With Pistol, rules are mostly for the purpose of establishing a means of clear communication.  While I strive for consistency in expectations, I’m also not super particular so long as she shows good effort.

With Archie, rules are fairly yet rigidly applied.  On a good day, corrections are mild and rare.  On a more distracted day, corrections are more frequent and more abrupt.

With Knockout, I don’t really think in terms of rules.  We’re just communicating and working together.  Correction, when required, is mostly just clarifying communication.

I think these three developmental stages can be seen in the Bible, in regard to our relationship with God.

In the Old Testament, before The Law, God was establishing communication and any attempt to do the right thing was rewarded.

After God gave the law to Moses, the relationship was much more rules oriented.  The Law defined God’s expectations and God was more strict in enforcing the rules.

Through Christ, The Law has been fulfilled, and the New Covenant gives us a closer relationship with God, whereby we are indwelt and transformed by The Holy Spirit.  In the New Covenant, as we pursue God’s heart and seek to please Him through the prompting of The Holy Spirit, rules cease to be so necessary.

This is the glorious message of the New Testament gospel!  What God desires is relationship with us.  The Law was never a goal unto itself… it was just a means to an end… a step toward establishing communication and revealing God’s character to us… so we could be restored to intimate relationship with God.

Throughout his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul repeatedly discusses the differences in relationship with God before The Law, under The Law, and through Christ:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of mankind through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16)

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law none of mankind will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, but it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (Romans 3:21-25)

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not counted against anyone when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the violation committed by Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

The Law came in so that the offense would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, so also grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

Paul continued this same theme through several of his other letters:

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:23-25 KJV)

The Apostle Paul was a wonderful expositor on this topic. My favorite, though, is the succinct words of Jesus Christ to the twelve disciples:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15 NIV)

Friends!  What wonderful relationship!

Your thoughts?

 

Mythology versus Theology

This morning I am thinking about recent conversations with friends who are escaping abuse… and realizing anew how horribly the Divorce Mythology commonly believed among Christians turns the biblical message upside down.
The Bible has a recurring theme of redemption and deliverance with numerous examples of God redeeming and delivering His people from covenants of bondage… yet people in abusive marriages are often told by their pastor that God requires them to remain married to their abuser.

When someone asks me for biblical support for divorce for abuse, I often point them to the second chapter of Malachi where God so clearly denounces treachery against a covenant partner and specifically addresses treachery against a spouse.  Yet it is from this wonderfully liberating chapter that people pluck three words out of context of a 36 word verse in the 17 verse chapter in the four chapter book and tell abuse victims “God hates divorce!”  No!  No, He doesn’t!  Or at least He does not hate all divorce.  And the entire chapter read in full makes it very clear that what God hates is abuse against a covenant partner.

When someone asks me for biblical support for remarriage after divorce, I often point them to the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul clearly tells us multiple times that it is not sin for a divorced individual to marry again, and that marriage is preferable to unnecessary temptation.  Yet it is from this same chapter that people often pluck one verse completely out of context of the 40 verse chapter to tell divorcees they must forever remain single.  No!  That is not the message of this chapter at all!

When someone asks me whether it is better to divorce or to permanently separate without divorce, I may point them to the fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus clearly denounces permanent separation without divorce.  Yet, people often use the exact same verses plucked out of context of the 48 verse chapter to tell divorcees it would be adulterous for them to marry again.

The Divorce Mythology not only makes an idol out of marriage, but in the process of defending that position it turns the biblical message of redemption and deliverance upside down, making God out to be a calloused uncaring individual not at all like the God portrayed in the Bible.

Let’s remember the words with which Jesus announced the beginning of His public ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
Your thoughts?

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!

When Evil Prospers – Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I shared a little of my personal story and discussed the importance of processing, at a deep emotional level, the reality that we are not alone.  Others who have gone before us have experienced similar struggles, pain, sorrow, horror, grief, and unanswered questions.

In Part 2, we discussed what it means to be God’s image bearers in a fallen world filled with darkness.

In this post, we will discuss how Jesus understands and shares our suffering.

The Suffering of Christ:

The truths shared in the two prior posts are truly wonderful!  Yet, they can still, at times, come across as a bit sterile and cliché.

Yes, it is great knowing God is good… that He loves me… that He never leaves me.  From a philosophical perspective, we can discuss and debate how His goodness combined with His omnipotence still fail to restrain evil and suffering.  We can understand God’s sacred respect for human free will and the consequences of living in a fallen world.  We can understand that somehow God uses all of the experiential garbage of living in this fallen world to bring about His will and purpose in our lives.  We can understand how brokenness is a necessary part of effectively ministering to people in broken circumstances.

Yet, when burdens weigh the heaviest… when our desperate prayers for mercy, justice and relief seem to go unheeded… when evil seems to prosper unchecked… when our anguished souls cry out to God in grief… it can still feel insufficient.  A God who allows His children to suffer deep loss and horrible travesties while promising to work it all out for good in some manner only He understands at some future date only He knows, with no promise of relief in the here and now, can seem cold and distant… maybe even cruel.

Sure, God sees the big picture and sees His plan unfolding across the millennia, but that seems poor comfort for us mere mortals suffering in the here and now of this fallen world.

How can God sit back and watch His children suffer while doling out platitudes and proverbs?  If God is such a good and faithful friend, why does He allow us to suffer so?

No matter how we rationalize the reasons… no matter how we explain the biblical context… in that moment of deepest sorrow and darkest evil it still feels inadequate.  Although we intellectually concede our assent, our raw emotions still cry out this question.

If God is such a good and faithful friend, why does He allow us to hurt so deeply for so long?

I have no answer sufficient for this question.  Yes, I have all the previously discussed answers for the intellect.  Yet, I have no answer sufficient for the raw emotional suffering.

But we do have Jesus!

We have the account of Jesus praying in the garden where he sweated great drops of blood.  He have the anguished cry of Christ pleading, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!

How did the Father respond to the cry of His beloved only begotten son?

He sent angels to minister to Jesus… then sent Jesus to be stripped, whipped, and nailed to a cross to die.

Simple Sketch of Crucifix

Jesus understands our suffering.  Jesus knows what it means to cry out to God for relief and still be left to suffer the deprivations of evil.

Our God has not stood off at a distance objectively watching our suffering while offering empty platitudes of how it is for our own good.  Our God has chosen to join us in our suffering.  He has chosen to suffer with us.  He has chosen to experience the full range of human life in a fallen world.

The author of Hebrews tells us Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

Think about that for a moment.  Our good and perfect God, creator of heaven and earth, was made perfect through suffering.  How can that be?  How can God, who was already perfect, be perfected?

Jesus was already the perfect God.  Through suffering, Jesus became our perfect Savior and our perfect Advocate.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Jesus knows.  Jesus understands.  Jesus has suffered as we suffer.

I may not understand God’s plan, but God does understand my suffering.

Jesus understands my suffering… has experienced it Himself… grieves with me in my loss and bewilderment.  Knowing this, I can trust God’s plan.

This is not the plan of an emotionally distant God with little concern for the pain experienced by mortals.  No, this is the plan of a God who is so deeply personal that He became a mortal Himself, suffered with us and for us, and has sent His Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and comfort us.

Jesus knows God’s plan and Jesus knows our suffering.

Jesus knows!

 

This is the third part in a series on the topic “When Evil Prospers.”  Please join the next post in which I will discuss Lessons from Job.

When Evil Prospers – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I shared a little of my personal story and discussed the importance of processing, at a deep emotional level, the reality that we are not alone.  Others who have gone before us have experienced similar struggles, pain, sorrow, horror, grief, and unanswered questions.

You are not alone!

In this post, we will discuss what it means to live as God’s image bearers in a broken world.

We Live in a Broken World

For me, this is a good starting point in beginning to make some sense out of things.  The Genesis account tells us God created the heavens and the earth.  He created the seas and the dry land.  He separated light from darkness.  He created the marine life, the land animals, and the birds of the air.  Finally, God created mankind in His own image, placing Adam and Eve in authority over all the earth.

God said it was good.

As God completed each step of creation, He declared it to be good.  When God finished creation, He declared all of creation to be good.  Then God rested.

God did not create a world filled with sorrow, pain, and evil.  God created a world that was good.

God did not create mankind filled with wickedness, selfishness, greed, and hatred.  God created man in His own image, both male and female, and they were good.

Then something went horribly wrong.

The serpent entered the garden, spinning his lies, planting seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction.  Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s web of deceit. They betrayed God and entered into covenant with evil.

God had warned Adam, “In the day you eat thereof, you will surely die.”  From that day to this, sin and death have ruled this world.

The sorrow, pain, and evil we each experience in this life are a direct result of living in a fallen world.  This is the fruit “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” of which Adam and Eve partook.  We were created good, in the image of God, in covenant with Him.  We have fallen into covenant with evil, whose image we now also bear.

Why Did God Not Intervene?

Sure, God created a good world filled with good animals, overseen by good people created in His own image.  Yes, Adam rejected God’s goodness and embraced the serpent’s lies.  Yes, we now live in a broken fallen world filled with sinful people… a world in which evil flourishes and godliness seems all too rare.  Yes, our pain, sorrow, grief and loss is a direct result of living in this fallen world.  Evil is a consequence of Adam’s belief in the serpent’s lies… not anything God has wrought or willed.

Yet, we cannot help but wonder.  Knowing God is all-powerful… knowing God is creator of all… knowing God declared His creation to be good… knowing God is good… knowing God loves us deeply… we cannot help but wonder… why does God not intervene?

Why did God not intervene in the garden to prevent Adam and Eve from embracing the serpent’s lies?  Why did God allow the serpent to enter the garden?  Why did God create Adam and Eve with a weakness susceptible to the serpent’s temptation?

On a more personal level, why does God allow evil to flourish today?  Why does God allow His children to suffer at the hands of evil abusers?  Why does God allow judges to make unjust decisions?  Why does God allow pastors to side with abusers against the abused?  Why do wicked people seem to flourish while godly people seem to suffer?  Why does God not intervene?

God does intervene!

In the garden, God warned Adam in advance.  God warned Adam to stay away from evil.  God clearly told Adam the consequences of eating the fruit “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” “for in the day you eat thereof, you will surely die.”

God did intervene, but God also honored Adam’s free will.  God had given Adam authority over all the earth… which meant Adam also had the authority to plunge the whole earth into darkness if he chose to.

Today, God still intervenes.

God has spoken to you.  God has called you to right relationship with Himself.  He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you as you place your trust in Him.

God has also spoken to your abusers.  He has spoken to the judges who have made decisions.

I can say with a high degree of confidence, if you look back at your life and the events surrounding your trials and grief you can see glimpses of God’s intervention… the temporary softening of an otherwise hardened heart… miraculous protection from danger… provision made when it was needed most… strength to do what was needed… wisdom provided to make hard choices.

God has not been silent.  God has been intervening all along.

However, God also honors human free will.  God has answered your prayers to speak to your abuser’s heart… but has not forced the abuser to submit his will to God.

Evil flourishing is not a sign of God’s lack of power nor lack of concern.  Rather, it is evidence of how respectful God is of the free will with which He has gifted each of us.

All Things Work for Good

Pain, sorrow, grief, suffering and temptation are part of the human experience in a fallen world.  For believers and unbelievers alike, for both the wicked and the righteous, these are simply a part of life.

For the believer, though, God provides comforting promises.

First, God promises to be our faithful friend who never leaves nor forsakes us.  God does not promise to spare us the consequences of living in a fallen world.  He does, however, promise to be with us as we traverse those trials.

Second, God promises “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose,” for the fulfillment of His divine will.  For all who believe in Christ, God has preordained a divine destiny to be conformed to the image of Christ… much as Adam was created in the image of God… to reflect His glory… each in our own unique way… as we were created and destined to do.

God uses every experience, every life circumstance, to bring about this purpose in our lives.

No, God does not bring evil into our lives.  No, it is not God’s will for His children to suffer.  However, God uses the evil wrought by wicked people to bring about His good will and divine purpose in each of our lives.

As Joseph said to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God has used for good.

A Light in the Darkness:

The New Testament gospel accounts describe Jesus as The Light of the World and proclaim, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light.”

The ministry of Christ includes being a light in the darkness.  In a fallen world filled with sin and blindness, Jesus is the light.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Christ calls us to the same ministry.  We are called to be a light in the darkness.

Photpgraph of nearly full moon

Reflected Glory!

Being a light in the darkness requires living in darkness while walking in the light of God’s truth.  This means we still experience the darkness.  We still experience the consequences of sin, both our own sin and the sins of others.  We still experience the fruit “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

Yes, God could whisk us home to Heaven the instant we ask Him to be our Savior.  He doesn’t do that.  Instead, He commissions us to the ministry of being a light in the darkness… which includes the experience of living in a world filled with darkness.

As we give those painful experiences to God, He uses them to equip us for ministry.  He uses them to draw us into closer relationship with Himself.  He uses them to help us let go of those stale legalistic assumptions of being able to prevent bad things from happening if we just live righteously enough.  He uses them to help us learn to rely completely on Him.  He uses them to help us relate to and empathize with others going through similar experiences.  He uses them to give us wisdom we can share with others as we point others to Christ.

We are called to be God’s image bearers in a world filled with darkness.

 

This is the second post in a series on the topic “When Evil Prospers.”  Please join me for the next post in this series, in which we will discuss how Jesus Christ understands and shares in our suffering.

 

When Evil Prospers

I was raised in church by Christian parents.  I grew up with a strong sense of God’s goodness and love.  In addition to the numerous Bible stories, I also heard personal stories of friends and family testifying to God’s goodness… to His love for us… to his caring concern for our well being… and of Christ’s sacrificial love through which we may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

From early childhood, my faith in God’s loving goodness has been as natural as my faith in water being wet and sunlight being warm.

Yet, during the summer of 2000, I reached a point of faith crisis during which I questioned whether God really loved me.

I have learned my question is not unique.  Many believers reach a point of questioning whether God really loves them, or whether God is really good, or whether God truly exists.

For me, the faith crises occurred as an abusive marriage spiraled toward divorce, following many years of praying and believing God would somehow heal that relationship.  The crush of failure… coupled with the sorrow of relational loss… the pain of ongoing emotional abuse… the firm (though incorrect) belief that divorce was never the best choice… and the apparent lack of response to years of fervent prayers spoken from a heart of deep conviction and faith… led to this dark place of concluding God must not really love me.

For me, the faith crisis was short-lived.  The Holy Spirit ministered to me, enabling me to cling to what truths I could latch onto as He continued to recall numerous scriptures to my mind, as well as personal evidence of God’s loving faithfulness.  Over the next few months and years, God gave me a fresh understanding of what it means to rest in Him and trust His grace… as well as fresh insight on the biblical account of God’s interaction with mankind.

Although my story is personal to me, I want to try to share some of what I have learned in the hope it may help someone else with similar questions.  This is a difficult topic for me to write about.  Although it is rooted in the Biblical account, it has been fleshed out through deeply personal experience.  Even as I try to explain, I am deeply aware my current position has less to do with knowing answers than it does with trusting God with my lack of understanding.

I know enough of the pain and sorrow of this world to understand nothing I say here can ever be enough.  My word and my testimony will never be sufficient for explaining why someone else has had to endure the pain and sorrow they have born.  Any scripture I quote is likely to come across as trite and hollow compared to the experiential devastation of one who has seen evil prosper to the very personal detriment of themselves and their loved ones, as they have clung tenaciously to the hope that God would surely sweep in and somehow rescue them.

Knowing that… I ask you to bear with me as I try to piece this together, prayerfully hoping God will somehow use my words as a catalyst in renewing your hope in Him.

You Are Not Alone

Although this may seem obvious, it bears repeating.  That point of faith crisis feels incredibly lonely and isolated.  Yet, it is quite common.  In fact, I have come to view it as an almost crucial step of maturing in Christ.  As the Holy Spirit guides us through, we learn to let go of our many assumptions about God, allowing Him to lead us closer to His heart… into deeper relationship with Himself.

The Biblical record is filled with stories of people clinging tenaciously to faith in God in the midst of evil circumstances.  Most of the stories work out in such a way we are able to clearly see God’s hand from the beginning.  However, it is important to recognize, in the middle of the crisis, they could not see the hope-filled ending.

I remember, during some of those dark years of an abusive marriage and subsequent divorce, several friends encouraged me to read the Psalms.  However, they advised me to stick with the encouraging psalms and avoid the ones with a darker bent, where the psalmist pled with God for answers as to why evil is allowed to flourish.  They especially advised me to avoid reading the book of Job, because it is just too depressing.

I found, however, that reading Job and similar stories of incredible suffering for no obvious reason and with no end in sight were exactly what I needed.  I needed to feel their suffering… to know others have experienced similar circumstances… to acknowledge with Job, David, Solomon, Naomi and the many other biblical characters that even when life makes absolutely no sense to me, God is still in control and He still loves me.

Job suffered devastating sudden loss, yet continued to trust God’s goodness.  Although Job’s friends implored him to search his heart and repent of whatever sin had led to such devastation, God rebuked the friends and confirmed Job as righteous before Him.  Job was in right relationship with God, God loved Job, and God was in control.  Yet Job suffered horrible losses.

Even more puzzling, the biblical record tells us God, Himself, brought Job to the attention of Satan, removed His protection from around Job, and invited Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life.  Job was left to wonder why.

For the moment, I don’t want to explore the why of Job’s suffering… we will get to that later.  For now, just soak up and absorb Job’s confusion, pain, sorrow and grief… while continuing to cling to faith in God’s goodness.

You are not alone!

Job is just one of many.  Look at the story of Joseph.  How his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery.  Even as a slave, Joseph continued to serve and trust God.  Yet, his integrity landed him in prison, falsely accused of attempted rape.

Consider Joseph sitting in prison wondering why he was there.  His faithfulness to his father, Jacob, was rewarded by slavery.  His faithfulness to his master, Potiphar, was rewarded by prison.  His service to fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s steward and cook, had been fruitless.

Joseph was eventually freed from prison and placed in authority over all Egypt.  Yet while languishing in prison, Joseph did not know that.

Consider Jacob, Joseph’s father.  There were the many years of competing with his brother Esau for his father’s favor.  There were the years of serving his Uncle Laban and being tricked into marrying the wrong girl.  There was the deep sorrow of his beloved wife, Rachel, dying in childbirth.  Yet all the sorrows of his dysfunctional family and marital losses paled in comparison to the loss of his beloved son, Joseph.

Jacob eventually learned Joseph was still alive and reunited with him.  Yet, we must remember Jacob’s many years of grieving Joseph’s death, certain he would never again see Joseph in this life.

We could go on and on.  In fact, I recommend spending time doing exactly that.  It is important.  We need to understand at a deep emotional level that we are not alone in our pain, sorrow, horror, grief, and unanswered questions.

You are not alone!

This is the first of a multi-part series on the topic of “When Evil Prospers.”  Please join my next post as we discuss what it means to live as God’s image bearers in a broken world.

Riding Off Trail

Sunday morning, I saddled Knockout for an early morning ride before church.  It was a cool morning with a refreshing breeze.  The ride was near perfect.  Knockout was attentive and responsive, throughout.

We checked cows, especially making sure the one-day-old calf is doing fine.  Mama cow got a little defensive at our presence… and Knockout got a little tense at her defensiveness… but everyone responded calmly.

After checking cows, we repaired one section of electric fence that was down, then rode the perimeter checking fences and paying special attention to recent repair spots.

Then we finished up with a woods trail ride winding through the back corner of our property.  Other than the abundance of spider webs this time of year (and the tension induced by a big spider crawling down my neck), the trail ride went smoothly.

Toward the end of the trail ride, I decided to change things up a bit.  We were cutting across the corner of a pasture to the start of another trail when I decided to turn and ride off-trail through the woods.

Knockout responded well.  He never balked or tried to turn aside.  He went where I asked.

However, when I first turned, Knockout slowed.  His steps became choppy and reluctant.  He moved his head side-to-side as he cast around for a trail… a definitive direction to travel.  But there was no trail.  There were paths… multiple paths… with no clear destination.  Knockout didn’t know where we were going.  How could he know?  I wasn’t sure, myself.  The turn off-trail was a last minute whim.

As Knockout searched for a path, I was doing the same thing.  I knew the next few steps and guided Knockout accordingly.  However, I was also looking further out, trying to see where each path led.  Trying to find a way through the woods without getting tangled in vines or brush piles.  I don’t mind asking Knockout to step over a few logs, but prefer avoiding piles of brush.  I don’t mind asking him to go under low branches where I would have to duck, but need to avoid branches too low for me to navigate from the saddle.

After the first couple of steps into the woods, Knockout relaxed, paid close attention to my cues, and carefully went exactly where I asked him to go.

While we were on trails, Knockout pretty well knew where we were headed and how to get there.  He still listened to me and responded, but my cues mostly just confirmed what he already knew to do.  Once we were off trail, he momentarily felt lost.  He had no idea where we were going or how to get there.  He had to rely completely on my prompting, step by step, turn by turn.

That little off-trail excursion was my favorite part of the whole ride.  Off-trail requires each of us to trust the other at a deeper level.  It requires both of us to pay closer attention to each other as well as our surroundings.

I was reminded of this recent post by my niece:

I know God got the wheel, but sometimes I think we off roading.

Reading her post, I chuckled at the familiarity of the feeling expressed.  I have often encountered situations in life where I felt like we had left the path.  Although it is a very uncomfortable feeling, each time God has proven Himself faithful.

Right now, I have a couple of personal situations where I feel pretty lost and unsure.  I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be going, much less how I am supposed to get there.

This morning I prayed:

Lord, please show me.  Show me how to be a godly man in these situations.  Lead me in following your will in each of these situations.  Lord, please guide my steps.  I feel so lost and unsure.  Lord, please help me to relax and trust you.  Help me to hear your voice and respond, each step of the way.

Much like Knockout, I find myself feeling very unsure, searching for the right path.  Yet, also like Knockout, I know I can trust my Master to lead and guide me, step by step.

How about you?  Done any off-roading (literal or metaphorical), lately?