Strong Horses & What Delights God Most

Percheron mares, aged 3 and under 4: Please enter the ringsounded over the arena loudspeaker. 

His pleasure is NOT in these strong horses? resounded in my bemused brain.

The draft horse stable is just inside the east gate at the Walworth County Fair. Each year we stop to see the horses. 

And each year, in awe, I gawk.

His delight is not in the strength of a horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.       

Psalm 147:10-11, ESV

The Strength of a Horse

Immense strength envelop exquisite equine form. Burly, bulgy backsides and shimmery, sleek shoulders bear witness. Divinity designed such elegant power.

draft horse

From the war horse (heavy saddler) to diligence horse (heavy coacher or light draft) to the true horse of heavy draft, the breeders of Le Perche sculpted away on their beloved indigenous breed for hundreds of years, altering the animal to meet the demands of the times and to entice the buyer.

In the case of the Percheron breed, French breeders played a big role in harnessing living, breathing strength:

God himself praised these creatures as he questioned Job,

Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with strength? Can you make him leap like the locust? 
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword

Job 39:19-24

Entice they do. I stand in awe of the Belgian Drafts, Clydesdales, and Percherons. To lay eyes on these beautiful hulks is to marvel.

God seems duly impressed by his creation. So what does God mean when he says he doesn’t take pleasure in horses? 

The Danger of Delighting in Horses

I found John Piper’s explanation helpful:

God is not displeased with horses, but in those who hope in horses—or in whatever our modern equivalent is for the strength and security that horses once delivered.

To take pleasure in visible strength is natural. Big bank accounts and a clean bill of health can make me feel secure. Top Gun Maverick had a similar effect. I left the theatre feeling confident.

But it displeases God when we put our hope in militaries, missiles, or health—or in anything other than him. Because God cares for us. He wants the best for his children. And he knows that all of those are false security, and worse than false.

When we swell secure with anything less than the Lord, we not only dig broken cisterns, but forsake the living water (Jeremiah 2:13). When we think we can buy or be our own strength, we reject God our strength (Psalm 81:1).  

Fear & Hope: What God Delights In

God helps those who help themselves isn’t in the BIble. Military might and financial force don’t dazzle Almighty God.

But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

If you want to swell the heart of God, fear him and hope in his love

Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes that fear and hope not only may, but must go together:

In the same heart at the same time, there must be both a reverence of his majesty and a complacency in his goodness; not that we hang in suspense between hope and fear, but we must act under the gracious influences of hope and fearOur fear must save our hope from swelling into presumption and our hope must save our fear from sinking into despair.

Commentary on Psalm 147

Oh, for this holy, God-pleasing, Christ-exalting draw-near fear, for this fear co-mingled with hope! It is hope that will not disappoint us because God has poured out his love in to our hearts (Romans 5:1-5). It is fear that does not paralyze or make us run away. Perfect love casts that fear out. 

I got all that from a little trip to the fair.

Some might argue that these muscle-bound beasts have served their purpose. After all, horse pulls are just for show.

To them, I simply say “no.”

Every year at the fair, God uses them to remind me. These strong horses point past themselves to a God who is not impressed even by their splendid strength, to a God who is strength itself.

The LORD is the strength of his people…

Psalm 28:8a, ESV

2 Things Great Lovers Do

Baby Jesus in manger love come down
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Love is spelled T-I-M-E but that’s not the only way to sound love out. It’s also spelled I-N-I-T-I-A-T-E. Initiate.

1. Great Lovers Initiate

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Initiate. There’s not much zing to this 4-syllable, 8-letter ‘i’ word. Love is spelled time has a better ring.

Don’t get me wrong. Love is spelled time. But sometimes we get it best and feel it most when love comes in other languages like gifts or touch or kind words or service. Love is spelled a lot of ways.

But great lovers initiate. They forgive first and confess first. They invite you before you invite them.

Great lovers take the lead.

When Love Goes First

If you remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go be reconciled. Matthew 5:23b-24

This is a very hard thing. It takes supernatural strength and superhuman love to go to an offended brother or sister and initiate peace.

First, be reconciled. Go to her. Don’t wait for her to come to you. Initiate.

The best lovers go first to make peace.

I know this because Love came down at Christmas. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). God sent. He went first to seek peace, to bring life.

Because of his great love, God being rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:4). That is the only place in the New Testament when God’s love is called great love.

Great love brings life. Eternal life is peace with God. Great lovers seek peace. He loved us to life when there was nothing lovable in us. We were dead.

So the Great Lover took the lead and made dry bones live and stone hearts soft as flesh.

Because the best lovers don’t wait. They peace make. They initiate.

2. Great Lovers Risk Rejection 

He came to his own and his own received him not. John 1:11

I can barely face the risk of my own favorite books being unloved, rejected. If you don’t like this book, would you please give it back? I’ll find you a better one.

One year, I actually did jot that note and slap it on the front of the book. Talk about tacky.

But I fear bigger rejections too. I fear the rejection of my invites, children, writing, ideas, and efforts. I grow weary of going first. Confessing first and forgiving first, clearing awkward air and making peace are risky. They’re all rife with the risk of rejection. And there’s a real chance we’ll be misunderstood.

Jesus faced rejection. The Man of Sorrows was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3). His great love would be misunderstood and spurned.

But for Love Himself, it was beyond risk. In sure and certain omniscience, he knew some would not receive his gift.

He knew some would reject His love. His life. Him.

Follow Love’s Lead

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Relationships are risky. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Jesus was rejected. If we’re reflect his light, we will be too. The old carol says, To Show God’s love aright, She bore to men a Savior when halfspent was the night.

Lovers take risks. Friends take risks. Parents take risks. To show his love aright, God’s kids take risks.

You’re invited! Aren’t those about two of the most happy-making words ever? It was only November 13th and there it was. An Evite Invite to the Greene’s New Year’s Eve party. Their early invite showed love.

I got it covered! Or how about when your husband not only cleared his schedule, made the reservation, but also arranged childcare so he could take you away for a night? His initiative spelled love.

Want to walk in an hour? Christin texted me to ask for a walk before I asked her. It’s risky to invite because you might be rejected. What if I already had another walking date? Her text expressed love.

These are little risks. We can only love like this because he first loved us.

But he did love us first. So we can follow his lead.

Know This Love

God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who he has given us…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:5, 8 

Initiate and risk rejection for God’s sake.

That’s what’s ringing in these ears this Christmastime. It’s two sides of love I hadn’t much seen. Maybe I’m feeling it now as I ache for someone to initiate, to invite, to take a chance on me.

Then I remember.

A Great Lover did.

Come; see the place where the young child lay. Look at the manger: there is Lamb for the burnt-offering,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

These little tender hands shall yet be torn. These feet that have not yet trod this rough earth shall be nailed to the tree. That side shall yet be pierced by a Roman spear; that back shall be scourged; that cheek shall be buffeted and spat upon; that brow shall be crowned with thorns—and all for sinners!

Is this not love? Is it not the great love of God? 

Horatius Bonar

Redeemed: How Milky the Cat came Back

The day the cat came back.

It’s a strange feeling that comes when you must pay for what is already yours; when you must buy back to keep what you own.

There’s a story about that with a boy and boat. But I’m going to tell a different one, about how Milky the cat came back.

Losing Milky

I admit: it was my great idea to take Milky and Oreo back to their barn of origin while our family vacationed in Florida. So a month ago, we carted the cats back to Mom and Dad’s farm.

Mom thought crating them a day or two in the barn would be good. Then they could acclimate to their former home.

I didn’t think that’d be necessary. Milky and Oreo wouldn’t need that. They’d remember their old kitten haunts and the smell of the sheep and the hay and their cousins.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Stray Cat Dirge

The second the boys left the van, was the second the cats exploded in a mad dash from their hands. Milky south through the corn field, Oreo north through the garden. Like spooked cheetah cubs escaping a lion, they ran.

Gabe raced after Milky a few steps, but in the dusky light they were instantly out of sight. And as he burst into tears, Sam shook his head.

It’s all your fault Mom. You ruined vacation.

I miss my cats. They’ll never come back.

Those were the words to the song. The dirge that Sam and Gabe sang as I packed the van for a sunny spring break away.

They sang them again ten nights later, upon our catless return.

Fast forward 20 days from the day the cats escaped.

The Cat Came Back

Your cat has been found, the voicemail said. Please contact Lakeland Animal Shelter at 262-741-1000.

I did. And learned,

A trucker found the cat at a rest stop [10 miles from Mom and Dad’s] and picked him up. But he figured a cat so cool must be someone’s pet so he took him to a shelter in Milwaukee. They read his chip and called us and the trucker brought him back down. So your cat is here.

And just so you know, it’ll be a $20 handling fee and a $25 repeat occurrence fee when you pick him up. (Yes, repeat. But I’ll save that story for another time.)

Milky Is Redeemed

Jim redeemed Milky from the shelter an hour later at a cost of $45. Our “free barn cat” was worth much more now than he was when the boys found him behind between bales in the haymow last fall.

Milky was our cat. But he had strayed. Milky needed to be redeemed. And the cost to buy him back was infinitely- any amount is infinite from zero- more than the cost to own.

But now he was ours. Because we loved him. Milky was worth it.

And you, Christian— you are worth it too. The way you’ve been redeemed is proof.

We Are Redeemed

The Greek word for redeemed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 1:18 is “lutroo.” It means “free by paying a ransom, redeem…set free…rescue.”

Titus 2:14 shows Jesus’ death has rescued us from a life of slavery to sin: “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good work.”

The same word is used in 1 Peter 1, “knowing that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1:18-19).

We redeemed Milky with an infinitetesimally smaller price. Jesus gave himself for us. Himself. As a lamb without spot or blemish. He gave himself.

We only gave 45 perishable, measly little dollars for Milky the cat.

We’ve been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

More Sinful Than You Know, More Loved Than You Imagine

Do you know this? That the only thing you contributed to your salvation was the sin from which you had to be saved.

God redeemed you from that.

Which means,

You are both more sinful than you know and more loved than you imagine.

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

That is the Gospel.

It’s the priceless key to both true humility and truly feeling valued. You- we are more sinful than we know and more loved than we imagine.

After all, it took the precious blood of Christ to redeem us.

And our Lord Jesus Christ did do that.

Redeemed from the Curse

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). We can have peace with God because Jesus became the curse for us.

Which also means nothing in the life of the redeemed soul is wasted: no trial (they make us mature), no wait (God works for those who wait for him), not even sin (who is forgiven much loves much). God can even redeem the years the locust have eaten, the lost years, someone said.

And when he does that, just what are the redeemed to do?

What The Redeemed Do

Well, Milky lapped up two bowls of milk then purred loud and long in Gabe’s arms. But Milky’s just a cat.

Just what is the redeemed soul to do? The Psalmist wrote, Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Or sing so: Let the redeemed washed by his blood come and rejoice in his great love.

O praise Him!

Alleluia!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Galatians 4:4-5

P.S. -As of 4/20/19, Oreo the cat is still on the lam.

A Measure of Love: On Christmas Eve (at 1 AM) in the Morning

christmas-1812692__340.jpg

Whom God loves, he loves to the end:

And not to their end, and to their death

But to his end.

And his end is that he might love them more.

John Donne

Mom! Oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, my 13 year-old moaned. My stomach hurts so much. Mama, please come. 

I wished he’d called for Papa instead. Because Mama was nestled and snuggled in bed. The heat was set low and she didn’t want to go.

After a week of short nights, this, I’d hoped, would be her night for a long winter’s nap.

Love Rolls Out of Bed

Mom, please come, he cried again.

I rolled over. It was 1:04. I’d been with him at 9 and 10 and checked in again with meds at 11. Then to bed and sugarplums.

Coming, I called with a sigh.

“So this is Christmas,” I thought as I lay in the dark, groping about for glasses and socks.

I forced myself out of my snuggly, warm bed and shivering, stumbled my way toward the groans. Then halfway down the hall, it hit me.

That this IS Christmas. That this might actually be closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.

That, really, Christmas is more like leaving the warmth to show love in the cold.

This is love come down.

Love Came Down At Christmas

The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” Paul put it like this to the Philippians,

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to death, even death on a cross.

I left my warm bed to care for my sick, pitiful child. The Son left the glories of heaven at his Father’s side- the bosom of the Father some translations say- to care for his sin-sick children.

Choosing discomfort to serve another: this is one measure of love.

A Measure of Love

Comfort is overrated. And when it comes to love comfort might not rate at all. In fact, our own discomfort might be a much more accurate indicator of our love for others.

When I weigh my love on this measure, I’m not very loving. Honestly, if Sam’s moans had not been so loud, I might have ignored them. Because I’m a master of excuses for staying in my comfort zones: I deserve this sleep. Jim can go. I warned this son about all that soda and candy and cake.

But God loves us too much to leave us as we are. He calls us to deny ourselves and prefer others and gives us the grace to do it. Christ gives us victory over our selfish, comfort-loving hearts.

We’re more than conquerors through him who loved us and more than conquerors don’t stay stuck in comfort zones. They step into discomfort for love’s sake.

They move into cold driveways and hard conversations.

Discomfort For Love’s Sake

Mom, will you come out and play PIG with me? Please? 

That from the 11 year-old who invited me out for a game of PIG in the driveway. Who called me out of the a cozy house on a 29° day.

Sure Gabe, I’ll come. This time, love won.

It happened again when love pushed me to talk to a relative to whom talking didn’t come naturally.

So Mike, how is it going with work?  I asked. It wasn’t easy, but it was good.

By the measure of choosing others’ “interests” over my comfort, my love is low. The fact that these events are memorable at all shows how vast the room for my love to grow.

Think how you would like to become a slug.

Puritan Anthony Burgess marveled too, at “discomfort” the Incarnation must have been for the Son.

He that was in the bosom of His Father- an expressing showing the intimate, close and secret delight and love He had from the Father. How unspeakable is it that He should deprive Himself of the sense of it? To put himself, as it were out of heaven and into hell? This is deeper love than ever we can imagine or conceive: no wonder the apostle calls it “the unsearchable riches of grace.” 

This is deeper love than we mere mortals who dread to get out of bed in the cold middle of the night can imagine. The Son left the warmth of the heavenly Father for our sakes.

For our sake, Love left heaven for sick, cold earth. This is unsearchably rich grace.

C.S. Lewis made the comparison, too, in more graphic terms than Burgess.

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. 

Yes, real love is humble and comes down and goes out into the cold. Out of warm beds and warm homes and comfortable conversation zones.

How Love Came Down

Love came out of heaven’s bright glory and was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, because there was no place…in the inn. 

My Bible footnote on Luke 2:7 says that Christ could have been born in a stable or cave, but that “mangers were often outdoors, so it’s possible that Jesus was born in the open air.”

Open air or stable or cave- they all sound uncomfortable and cold.

But that is how Love came down.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

1 John 4:9-11