Reins

Speaking of horses… Riding one can be a challenge. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time!

Though I had taken some ‘pony’ rides as a kid, riding a horse at Village Creek Bible Camp two years ago was my introduction to the ‘real thing’. After being outfitted with a helmet and given some basic instructions on how to use my voice, hands, and feet to get my horse moving, it was time to give it a try.

And off I went! Or not so much…

If you want to understand the humor of this scene, you need to know that not only do I have very little hand-eye-foot coordination, I also don’t do “right” and “left”. On top of that, my short term memory when given a quick list of instructions is close to zero. I had no idea what I was doing!

Thankfully, Tim and the other riders were there to help me, and after a few minutes, my horse and I were in business. I certainly wasn’t a professional, but we were moving and, even better, moving in the right direction. I was in control!

That is until we started doing the “fun” activities. Which included a relay where I had to “race” (😂) toward a barrel, slow down and get close enough to the barrel to grab an object from on top of it, navigate around the barrel (without knocking it over), and then “race” back. Needless to say, my team did not win!

Controlling my horse was hard, but you know what would have been impossible? Trying to also control someone else’s!

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In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul spent a large portion of his words encouraging the believers to “complete [his] joy” by working on their relationships with one another (2:2). He filled up a whole paragraph with instructions to be like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble (2:1-11).

He then followed those words with this verse: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). At first glance, this verse doesn’t seem to fit into a discussion about unity and relationships, but it may actually be the key verse of the whole chapter.

“Salvation” is a spiritual process. Though our “sin” exists in the physical, its debt and true consequences are in the spiritual, meaning our liberation from it first happens in the spiritual. But it doesn’t stay there. We live in the physical, so salvation must be “work[ed] out” in the physical – and the place where it gets the greatest workout is in our relationships.

You would think that among those of us who are “saved,” it would be easy to work as a like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble team. But obviously it’s not or Paul wouldn’t have needed to write about it!

Living according to Paul’s instructions is hard and it’s mostly hard because we forget about the “fear and trembling” part. I like being “saved”. I like knowing that I’m forgiven and that the Holy Spirit is working in my life to change me. But, it’s easy to get comfortable and start thinking I’m somehow in control of my horse – and everyone else’s.

If I was in control of how “salvation” works, everyone would “get it” right away and change would happen fast! All those hurts, habits, and hang-ups would disappear and we’d get moving to share Jesus with the world!

But how quickly I forget the length of time it took for me to “get it” and that change in me hasn’t and isn’t happening anywhere close to my timeline. If I can’t even rein in my own horse, why do I think I can reach over and control someone else’s?

To “work out” my salvation with “fear and trembling” is to remember that the God who saved me is still the God who is saving me – and everyone else I come in contact with. I deserved wrath, but instead have been showered with mercy. I did nothing to deserve it – and neither has anyone else. He’s the one who “reigns” and His reign is over all (Psalm 93:1). His work in people’s lives is His work and because He’s God, He knows how to do it best.

When we walk out of that place of “fear and trembling,” pride becomes our god and we start trying to grab each other’s reins. But when we stay there, like-minded, loving, tender, compassionate, others-focused, and humble teamwork is possible!

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Narnia

If you haven’t read the “Chronicles of Narnia” books, perhaps you’ve seen the movie or at least heard of the magical storybook land. Sung into existence by Aslan the Lion, and under his powerful and faithful protection, Narnia is a place unlike any other – and especially unlike its neighbor to the south – Calormen.

Which is where the third chronological book of the series, “The Horse and His Boy,” (which Ada and I are currently reading) begins. Calormen is a country ruled by a monarch called the “Tisroc” (whose name, when spoken, must be followed by the phrase “May he live forever”) and a ruling class called the “Tarkaans”. But more than the monarch himself, the forces of rank, entitlement, and therefore, strife, preside over Calormene society.  

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The main character is a boy named Shasta who, as we are introduced to him, is about to be purchased by a Tarkaan to become his slave. But while the transaction is being finalized, Shasta meets the Tarkaan’s horse – who just happens to be a talking horse from Narnia. Shasta listens as the horse, whose name is Bree, describes his homeland:

“Narnia,” answered the Horse. “The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.”*

It turns out that Bree, who had been kidnapped and brought to Calormen, was waiting for an opportunity to escape and return to Narnia, but needed a rider in order to not be captured for being a ‘stray’ horse. Shasta, also eager to escape, agrees to be his rider. Bree is slightly concerned, though, as young Shasta has never ridden a horse – which leads to this very important part of the conversation:

“Poor little beast,” said the Horse in a gentler tone. “I forget you’re only a foal. We’ll make a fine rider of you in time. And now—we mustn’t start until those two in the hut are asleep. Meantime we can make our plans. My Tarkaan is on his way north to the great city, to Tashbaan itself and the court of the Tisroc——”

“I say,” put in Shasta in rather a shocked voice, “oughtn’t you to say May he live forever?”

“Why?” asked the Horse. “I’m a free Narnian. And why should I talk slaves’ and fools’ talk? I don’t want him to live forever, and I know that he’s not going to live forever whether I want him to or not. And I can see you’re from the free north too. No more of this southern jargon between you and me! And now, back to our plans.”*

Being a “free Narnian” meant that Bree had no obligation to bow to the Calormen monarch. Even though he existed in Calormen and even though he could have faced consequences for not saying “May he live forever,” he didn’t because he knew he didn’t have to. Bree knew something greater, Narnia, existed and he knew he was securely a citizen of Narnia, and so he was able to exist within Calormen, but not be enslaved to its forces.

The “Calormen” that we live in isn’t much different. Instead of the Tisroc, though, it’s our own fragile egos that we hold up and bow down to in worship, “May they live forever!”. Balanced on the pedestal of our own moral or personal superiority, we can’t help but criticize (and panic at the slightest criticism of ourselves). Obsessed with getting what we believe we’re owed, we walk in entitlement (and then can’t.handle.life. when we don’t get what we think we should get). Turning all of our energy toward the uplifting of the “self,” we’ve become angry, stressed, and depressed.

In his gospel, John tells us that Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). Jesus existed in this land of rank, entitlement, and strife, but because He knew something so much greater existed and that He was securely part of that and returning to that, He did not ever, even for a second, bow down to those forces. Rather than pulling rank, demanding what was rightly his, or striving in competition, He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

And contrary to our instincts, the result of this emptying and service was not anger, stress, or depression – it was freedom. Because Jesus did not exert all of His energy in the grasping and lifting up of His human ego, He was released from slavery to it.

As a follower of Jesus and a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, I have a secret! I know about “Narnia”. I know there is something greater than all this rank, entitlement, and strife, and I know I’m securely a part of it. As a “free Narnian,” I don’t have to bow down to my own fragile ego. I don’t have to worry that someone’s going to push me off my pedestal – because I know I don’t belong there anyway. I don’t have to be disappointed when people don’t give me what I want – because I already have everything I’ve ever needed in Jesus. I don’t have to be offended when someone doesn’t lift me up – because I’ve already been given the greatest uplifting ever as a child of God.

Liberated from the burden of having to hold my “self” up, I’m free to follow Jesus’ example. If I’m not busy making a big deal about me, then I’m free to “count others more significant than [myself]” (Philippians 2:3). If my mental space isn’t consumed by figuring out how to get what I’m owed, I’m free to look “to the interests of others” (2:4). Without carrying the weight of a heavy shield of defense, I’m free to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14).

Although Bree the talking horse was born in Narnia, he had lived the majority of his life in Calormen. So though he knew about Narnia, he had some anxiety about returning there.

Near the end of the journey, Bree encounters a friendly Hermit who gives him some advice:

“It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.”*

Contrary to our instincts, freedom comes from the surrender of self rather than the exalting of it. Holding my ego up is an exhausting, 24/7/365, full-time job that Jesus has released me from!

*”The Horse and His Boy” by C.S. Lewis

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Overcorrect

Speaking of driving… You know those video games where you have to drive a car or steer some sort of random wheeled object along a narrow, winding, hazard-filled course? I’m terrible at them. While some people (i.e. my husband and children) hit every speed-boost, avoid every obstacle, and make every turn with ease, I miss every boost, hit every obstacle, and crash on every corner!

Because I’m a chronic over-corrector.

Though some seasoned video-game-drivers have the patience and skill to navigate a course, I’m an impatient panic-er! I see myself headed toward a wall, so I steer left as hard as I can. Which immediately sends me headlong into the wall on the left. And when I see that coming, I jerk the controls back to the right and you know what happens next – CRASH!

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Us over-correctors know the struggle applies not only to video games, but to the rest of life as well.

When I see a flaw in my self, I want to fix it. I’m aware of the wall I’m about to run into and, in my attempt to avoid the crash, I send myself headlong in the other direction. It seems so clear in the moment: “This is what I need to do and I’m going to do it!” But then I try and no matter how hard I try to steer that wheel in the right direction, I can’t seem to control myself and I end up flailing toward some ticking-time-bomb hazard and blowing up anyway.

It’s hard to rest when there’s so much work to be done on me. Following Jesus means transformation, and even though I’m not who I once was, I’m still not the follower I’d like to be. And it’s not just about me – all the people I interact with would certainly benefit from my transformation as well!

In his letter to the Romans, Paul follows up his presentation of the gospel message with a practical application of our salvation:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:1-2a)

Paul goes on to talk about the transformed life as it works itself out in our relationships, summing it up with these words in chapter 15:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

In both of these passages, the important thing to note are the verbs that indicate how the change in us happens. Notice that we are to “be transformed,” not “to transform” and that it is God who “gives” us the attitude of mind that Christ Jesus had, not ourselves. It’s also important to note the “so that” which is the motivation behind His work.

There are many “pattern[s] of this world” we are tempted to conform to, but one of the most dangerous is the self-help model. Motivational quotes, books, and articles promise a “better” you if you’ll just take these three easy steps. The “you” you want to be is within your reach! Put in the work and that “self” you’ve always desired will be yours.

The problem is that nothing in the self-help model matches up with Romans 12:1-2 or 15:5-6. Because there’s nothing in there about a “better” me or three easy steps. I don’t see the “me” I want to be listed in there as a goal. And the only “work” mentioned is a word that implies the opposite of “self”-help.

Offering my body as a sacrifice means just that – sacrifice. The “me” I want to be is being laid on the altar along with “my” desire to change “me” so I can be “better”. Offering something means releasing ownership of it and offering me means giving up my attempts to perfect “me”.

Self-help leads to extremes because our “selves” are hard to control. But when I offer myself, I rest. It’s not that effort is not required, it’s that the focus of my effort is no longer on changing myself. Rather, my effort is directed in the offering of myself, on a moment by moment basis, submitting to God so that His glory might be displayed in me.

I’ve been convicted as I write this that even my most noble efforts at change are still “self” focused. Because even if my goal is to have a “better” marriage or be a “better” parent, it’s still rooted in my own fulfillment! I need to change that! 😉

I’m so glad God is not in a hurry to make me the “me” I want to be and that even in my overcorrecting He’s still working. The “me” He wants me to be is His work in progress and He’s got all the patience and skill needed to make it happen!

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Bumps

Speaking of our elementary school… It’s only a block or so from our house, but I never drive by it.

Why? You might ask.

Speed bumps! I would answer.

Unless I am going to the school for an event, I avoid that section of Caley Road at all cost. As I do with Keebler and several other roads in our area. I will take the long way around (even if it takes more time) because I do not like my sense of movement to be interrupted!

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Nothing hinders “rest” in our lives than bumps in the road. We had a plan, we saw the vision of where we were headed, and we were moving in that direction at a good pace. But then ughhh – something came up and slowed us down. We think we’ve finally got it together, but a change in circumstances stalls the progress. Or someone we thought we could depend on isn’t coming through with their piece of the puzzle. We like our plans to work out and when they don’t seem to be, we get restless.

As a speed bump avoider, I can relate to King Saul’s predicament in 1 Samuel 13. Having gathered troops for battle with the Philistines, Saul’s instructions were to wait for the prophet Samuel, who would offer a sacrifice to the Lord before the battle. The massive Philistine army had approached and encamped, and Saul’s troops were “quaking with fear”. So…

He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. (v. 8)

Ughhh. Speed bump. This was not part of the plan! With his chances of winning the battle shrinking by the minute, he had to get things moving.

So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. (v. 9)

But…

Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” (v. 10-12)

Like Saul, my restlessness always leads to me feeling “compelled”. Compelled to speed things up a little. Compelled to keep moving to avoid the angst of sitting still. Compelled to take things into my own hands.

“You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (v. 13-14)

That “man after [the Lord’s] own heart” was David, the writer of these words:

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God. (Psalm 38:15)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1)

When we trust, we rest. There’s no fast-track to God’s plan, and I’ve found that more often than not, He builds the bumps into our routes to force the drop in speed and, in that, reveal whether our hearts are after His plans or our own.

What’s your “Samuel” today?

God, I thought ________________ was part of the plan and that it would have happened by now. Help me to trade my restlessness for trust so I’m no longer compelled to do things my own way. Amen.

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