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ABOUT US: Welcome to Cowboys of the Cross: your resource for Christian cowboys. Cowboys of the Cross has been providing cowboy church for the rodeo and cowboy community for more than 15 years. The website is your source for stories of faith and encouragement as well as devotions and news and information affecting cowboys of faith. Cowboys of the Cross leads cowboy church at rodeos and bull ridings in both Ontario, Canada and across the north and southeastern United States.   MORE ABOUT US HERE

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Down the Road

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Help Keep us on the road

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

When Kris Furr made Jesus the Lord of his life last month, he had no idea God would throw a challenge and learning opportunity at him just hours later.

It made it very clear that God was working in his life.

Kris, a bull fighter from Statesville, NC, was trying to sell his camper on Craig's list when he got a call from a guy who asked if Kris would consider trading the camper for the guy's van. It would have been at a $3,000 to $4,000 loss between the difference in the value of the van versus the camper but Kris was stuck—he had just made Jesus his lord and savior hours earlier and now he was being asked to help a family.

The man had explained to Kris that he and his wife had recently become homeless and were living in that van and a tent and he wanted to trade. The camper would give them a chance to have better accommodation, especially for their two kids that they were trying to home school.

But, $3,000 is a lot of money to give up when you're trying to make your living as a bull fighter, full time, traveling the roads to work events across the country for very little pay. In order to be the best at it and be one of the few to make it to the professional level and the pay scale that goes with it, you have to sacrifice a lot.

But, $3,000. Would God really be asking Kris to give the equivalent of that much money to total strangers? Was this a test from God?

Those are the questions he had for me when we talked about the situation.

The short answer, of course, was that God could very well be asking that of Kris.

“I always knew who God was but until today, I had never given my life to Him,” said Kris as we talked about his whole experience that day, leading up to the phone call.

Now he was afraid to make the wrong decision about the camper. We talked about the difference between feeling guilty or feeling the Holy Spirit's conviction, what the Bible teaches about giving sacrificially, what it can mean to follow Christ beyond that moment of salvation, being a good steward of the resources God gives you and how to know when God is answering prayer about what to do.

We also talked about how emotions can manipulate us and can be used by others to do the same—that he had to be careful.

In prayerfully seeking wisdom from God, Kris realized that a starting point would be to at least meet with the man who called and look into the story more.

When he did, praise God, Kris determined the story was a scam but also learned straight from scripture that he was willing to be obedient to God, even when it was difficult and it meant sacrifice.

And praise God, Kris and I are working out a study plan to dig deeper into God's word since being in church often is difficult for Kris as he's on the road so much.

 

Center Gate Story A Cowboy of the Cross is Bible Bootcamp Postive Thinking

Tell us about your marriage; the kind of life you both led and how you thought it was going up until you realized how off track it had become.

We both had decent jobs. I worked just down the road from our home and she worked about thirty minutes from home. I was usually home with the kids for a while before she made it home, which was good “dad-time” for me. We had two kids – one from her previous marriage (to a guy who’s beer and weed budget continues to be more important than paying child support) and a new baby. That baby made it tough to leave home on the weekends – I’d have much rather been at home with my family, but rodeo was a pretty important part of my life because I saw it is a ministry opportunity. I wasn’t particularly committed in my personal faith, but I was growing and trying to make disciples, so I saw my weekend trips as really important for God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, my wife was home with the kids and generally didn’t seem to mind me being gone.

What did you learn was the reality of the path your marriage was on?

In hindsight, I see that my wife was struggling with her own identity. She had become wife and mom, which is defined by who she is to other people, but she really needed to have her own identity. She toyed around with finding that through revisiting old hobbies and reaching out to old friends on social media.

To understand how this developed, you have to understand that she had a horrible relationship with her father. She was the unexpected child of his middle age. He felt like she was a mistake and he told her so. He had a son who was several years older when she was born – he got into drugs really early, so his dad was consumed with “helping” (enabling) him. The boy was the apple of his eye, while my wife was collateral damage in the battle to keep him out of trouble (read Genesis from about chapter 27 forward to see how the favoritism of a parent affected Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers; that’s pretty clear in this case as well). So she developed this really hard exterior. If her father refused to be there for her, she’d be tough enough not to need any man. She grew stubbornly independent, but she never realized how all her relationships were an attempt to heal the wound her relationship with her father had caused. Each relationship she had was a desperate attempt to fill that void, but the moment there was a perceived sign of male domination or she felt any dependency on him, she’d break free and look for someone else to fill the void. So there was always that tension of needing male companionship versus not depending on him.

That’s what began to happen with us. She began to try to break away from me, but that didn’t come without that same old void that begged to be filled. Her social media accounts became a way for her to reconnect with guys from her past that she had liked and her hobbies were a time away from me and the kids that enabled her the freedom to meet face-to-face sometimes, but not privately.  I found out about these things and confronted her about them, and quickly realized how my absence had affected her, but I saw it as her problem (instead of our problem).

Where do you think you could have been more helpful?

From what I understood from the Bible, she needed to leave those past things behind and, in biblical terms, “cleave” to her husband. Because I didn’t change my behavior, it communicated to her that I didn’t really care…just like her dad. So she began to pull away even harder. She developed a very poisonous friendship with a girl who was going through a divorce. Her “friend” encouraged her to badmouth me and hoped she would divorce me, giving her a single friend to party with. From there on, my wife seemed to become really intentional about making sure I was hurt by her attempts to make guy-friends by doing so with guys in my rodeo circle. She was really spiraling out of control at this point, and I didn’t know how to handle it other than to quote Malachi 2:16 to her (God hates divorce) and try to tell her I loved her. I didn’t understand how I could demonstrate it, and she wasn’t about to help me figure it out at this point, when it’s something I should have already been helping her with.

What were your reactions and what did you do when you found out your wife was having an affair?

When I became confident that she was seeking to have an affair, I fell on my face and wept to God. I had no clue how to pray, but I knew enough at this point in my own faith to understand the Holy Spirit could make my needs clear to God regardless of how much I was struggling with what to say to God. I see that, now, as the most definitive point in my faith. That day, it was clear that I would serve God fervently…but note that it was not through my determination and strength; it was through my brokenness and dependency upon God as a result of my weakness. These are biblical teachings that it takes time to learn and understand but are so important for Christians to understand.

On a lunch-time call, I confronted her with the evidence of her affair which included admission of guilt from her partner in crime. She denied it, and I knew she was lying, but lying is one of those sins she had learned was ‘normal’ from her father.

Having become a Christian, repentant of sin and saved by the shed blood of Christ and God's overwhelming grace for your own mistakes, what steps were you able to take to confront the situation and how was that initially received?

When she got home that evening, I left the kids with grandparents, sat her down, and told her I knew she was lying. I told her I loved her because it was my choice to do so – not because she earned it and deserved it. I told her that I would continue to love her, but under no circumstances would I allow our lives to continue down this path. It was time for her to come clean and move forward in forgiveness and reconciliation, or to get out. Thank God in heaven, she confessed and repented. We prayed together and began the long and tedious (but rewarding) process of healing. The spiritual growth that has resulted from this would not have been achieved apart from it.

When your wife ‘cheated’, you had already been a Christian for several years.

What might have been different if you weren’t a believer when this happened?

For a year or so before this happened, I had begun to listen to Christian radio and could even do so at work. I heard great preaching and teaching from Living on the Edge ministries, Focus on the Family, and Family Life Today – all great Bible-based Christian institutions. Apart from what I had learned from these folks through the Holy Spirit, I’d have reacted in anger, and justly so. But I’d have taken my own revenge and done so to an extreme that would have forever changed the lives of everyone close to us.

While denominations may emphasize different Biblical teachings on divorce, it is commonly understood that 'cheating' is the only grounds for divorce. We also know how much God honors and loves marriage. Leaving would have been the easy way out.

How did you forgive?

Forgiveness is tricky. When God forgives us of our sin, he puts it behind Him so that he sees it no more. He separates us from our sin as far as east is from west. He figuratively buries them in the bottom of the ocean. Each of those is a choice on God’s part to do so. He doesn’t forget our sin, but he chooses not to remember them (bring them up again). Forgiveness is a choice, and it’s not a “one and done” occurrence. Every time we are reminded of the hurt and betrayal, we must choose between forgiveness and being bitter. God’s Holy Spirit is absolutely critical for this to happen. That’s what enables me to see my wife as God sees her – someone who made mistakes but is loved and is being changed by God’s love. To an extent, she’s being changed by His love to her through me. Jesus reminded the Pharisees when they were concerned that He allowed a prostitute to wash His feet, that “He who has been forgiven much loves much.” I get to be a part of God loving my wife and of her learning to love God more for his abundant grace toward her. It’s really awesome to be used that way.

How did you restore the marriage?

We are learning to be honest with ourselves and with each other about how we feel and the things that are going on under the surface that fuel our actions/reactions. We’ve also learned to recognize and be sensitive to those underlying issues when they aren’t particularly acknowledged. We can’t expect to grow at the same rate; we’re two different people. But we can speak truth in love to one another. It takes practice.

You can’t address some things in the heat of the moment – you have to wait until the right time (when neither of you is tired, hungry, angry, etc.). Farmers know all to well, they have to prepare the ground before planting a seed; if the ground isn’t ready to receive it, the seed won’t grow and is lost. You needed to trust she was faithful and she needed to trust you love her.

How have you built trust in each other again?

I thank God for her growth with respect to this. I tend to be detail oriented, and without comprehending the details it becomes difficult to understand the big picture. So I had to know the details, and as painful and shameful as it was, she was willing to be honest about it all. That was step one.

Step two was transparency moving forward. I won’t say it went completely unspoken, but it was readily understood that she needed to be accountable for her time and whereabouts. Not only had she had an affair…but she lied about it even when she was caught red-handed. It took a lot of maturity and humbleness on her part to accept the consequences of that for us to move forward.

On my part, I made it a point never to hold any of this over her head. I never bring it back up as a means of condemnation, guilt, or shame. I’ve never used it as a way to manipulate her. And even in a much busier lifestyle than we used to have, I try to make sure I do things that communicate love to her and appreciation for her. I also try to give her those fleeting moments of sanity to get away from me and the kids for a few minutes and be herself.

How might that have looked if this had happened a few years earlier?

As I said, the Holy Spirit led me to some great teaching on marriage and family issues. I come from a broken home and my father had a monster temper, though he was never physically abusive. I have that same capacity for misguided anger in me, and I knew when I got married that if she ever cheated, I’d kill her cohort for sure, and maybe her…and maybe myself afterwards. I had been made a fool of in relationships before and was determined that would not be the case in the future. I had a stronghold of pride, and that’s one of the three things God detests (a haughty spirit). Thank God for his mercy and grace toward me. I responded as enabled by his Holy Spirit rather than in my pride and hurt.

What is different in how you treat each other? What's still hard?How do you deal with struggles?

We still fight. Sometimes pretty hard. But all in all, she knows this: I’m not going anywhere; I choose to love her and stand by her. That’s been huge for her growth from her childhood experiences with her dad. When I’m missing the mark of a good husband and focused on other things, she calls me out on it, and I try to make amends. Sometimes she’s a nag over that kind of thing, but she’s still growing and I try to keep that in mind – but nagging a man almost always produces the opposite of the desired result. Don’t tell a guy about his shortcomings and how he needs to change. Just tell him how you feel – he’s a natural fixer! Just let that instinct drive him! We are at very different places in our spiritual walk so it’s hard to get on the same page entirely. But, for the most part, I’m obedient to the truth I know and she’s obedient to the truth she knows, and where there is separation due to that difference, there is grace to bind us together.

What would you have done different in the beginning  with the Biblical knowledge you now have?

 I would have read the Bible with my family every day – just a chapter, maybe a Psalm a day, and then prayed through what that passage teaches. God’s word is powerful and effective for breaking down strongholds – my stronghold of pride, and her stronghold of independence. I’m confident that would have made the difference, because God’s word  will show the motives of our hearts, and if we had understood why we react the way we do, we would have been able to see the error of those reactions, to stop the process, and to respond (rather than react) with God’s mercy, grace, and love.

How do you feel when you look the struggling relationships in the rodeo community around you and what advice would you give the young generation of cowboys and bull riders?

It’s so painfully obvious that most of us have bought into the lie that who we choose to love is more important than who we are in Christ. The bottom line is that a marriage involves two imperfect, selfish people and you cannot expect the other  person  to make you happy. Be content first with who you are in Christ. Try to grow where God’s word reveals a short-coming and let what you’re learning take effect on your relationship. Don’t expect your significant other to be on the same level as you and love them the way God loves them to the best of your ability. That’s what marriage is intended for. It’s the only example in the entire Bible that takes something that is entirely human and uses it to explain Christ and the church and our relationship to God. We should be one flesh with our spouse and as a church. We should be more concerned with others than with ourselves, just as Christ was for His church. When we do these things, marriage works. Family works. And most of all, God’s church becomes a powerful force for kingdom work and spreading the gospel. Imagine a world where no one could point at any member of the church and say, “Hypocrite!” Imagine God’s love reaching our neighbors through us, our entire communities through them, and bit by bit the whole country sees how powerful and effective the word of God truly is. That starts with the family, which starts with one man and one woman, committed to Christ and to one another. And the benefits we reap from that commitment is invaluable to us personally beyond buckles and world championships. Changing our marriages is the first step to changing our world for God’s glory and for our own good. I’m fully convinced of that.



This bull rider lost and found his son and moved his family across two states to be with him again

PART ELEVEN

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

To help ensure his son is raised with Christianity in his life and to better plant himself in a church community he could connect with, bull rider Josh Ray moved his wife and two daughters across two states to be closer to where his almost eight-year-old son was being raised by an ex-girlfriend.

Although he was born in Ohio, Josh ended up growing up in Maynardville, Tennessee where he eventually had his son with a girlfriend there. When Bryton was a year-and-a-half years old, Josh and his girlfriend spilt while she was living with her parents. Not long after that, she shocked him in an argument that erupted over him trying to take back his hunting and fishing equipment.

“She ripped my son out of my arms, her dad pushed me out the door and she said I'd never see him again,” said Josh. They had been together almost five years prior to their breakup and it meant also not seeing her other son, who Josh was like a father to, having been in his life since the boy was six months old.

But for a short visit one Christmas, entirely outside in the cold, Josh wasn't allowed in Byrton's life again for more than two years.

Devastated and now unemployed because he had worked for her father, Josh moved to Ohio to find work, where much of his family was living. At the time, only his grandmother was in Maynardville, though his mom, who was living in Colorado since his own parents had divorced back when he was 15, would soon come back to Tennessee.

Josh had tried to see Bryton before leaving but his girlfriend refused and then changed her number, cutting off any access Josh had to his son.

A couple years later, she reached out to Josh's mom to get his number and they started speaking again, though now, Josh had met Mindy, who he would eventually marry and have a daughter together while adopting Mindy's first daughter from a previous relationship.

A Christmas visit was arranged.

“I had to spend Christmas outside. I had to let [both boys] open gifts outside. I didn't get to spend that much with them,” said Josh. By then, Bryton was 2.5 years old and his girlfriend's other son was six.

“To her, I walked out on him because I moved to Ohio. I wanted to see him but she wouldn't let me,” he said.

Josh couldn't find work in Tennessee and began working at a ranch in Ohio and other work he found, saving money for a lawyer to try to fight to see his son. Mindy and Josh were married the summer after that cold Christmas visit and she continued to support Josh's efforts to reunite with his son. Mindy had bought Josh the movie Courageous, a Christian film that pushes father's to be committed to raising their kids and a police officer whose daughter dies.

“It killed me. I had to leave and go to the bedroom because I was tearing up. I wasn't a part of my son's life and wanted to be,” said Josh.

“I was raised in church. Not being a part of my son's life was never an option,” said Josh of his upbringing and Christian values. To him, raising his son as a Christian father was a biblical priority.

“I ended up using bull riding money to pay for my lawyer. It was $5,000 just to get started,” said Josh.

The process involved DNA tests to prove he was the father since he had been left off the birth certificate and eventually filing for visitation after defeating allegations of abuse and other attempts to keep them separated. His efforts led to supervised visitation and eventually semi-regular access to his son though sometimes she would deny his visitation, leading Josh to initially pursue an attempt to gain full custody which he has since dropped since moving to Tennessee.

Once a visitation schedule was reached, Josh, who had qualified for the Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association national finals more than once, began missing bull ridings to make the seven-hour drive to Tennessee to watch his son play baseball or football or to pick him up and bring him back and forth between Tennessee and Ohio on weekends he had visitation scheduled.

“The Bible says to raise your kids in a godly way,” said Josh, so church became a part of Bryton's life whenever Josh had him. “God intends you to raise your children knowing Him.”

In Ohio, Josh married Mindy and they had a daughter, Dixie, who is now three and last summer, Josh adopted Mindy's first daughter, Iliy, who is now 10. Iliy's dad, who was in jail during the adoption process, chose not to contest.

With his family growing, it was hard not being together and at the same time, Josh's faith was strengthening again. He felt called to be a preacher when he was 15 but when through a period of struggling, turning away from God and toward the party lifestyle that easily be found in the rodeo industry.

When Cowboys of the Cross began leading services at bull ridings in Ohio during the summers, Josh was able to attend and felt himself being drawn back to his Christian roots. He soon became focused on church again and began leading Bible studies at home near Urbana, Ohio for other cowboys and people he knew in the area.

While he was growing in his faith, Josh felt like more than just his son was missing.

“I felt like God was leading me back to Tennessee to get closer to Him, not only for me but for my kids.” he said, feeling like God was finished with him in Ohio.

“My biggest prayer was for my son to be able to be raised in church,” he said.

 He found work this past spring with Clayton Homes and Mindy and the girls, although apprehensive, agreed to start a new life in Maynardville where she also found work through Clayton Homes.

 “Mindy struggled at first but it's got a lot better,” said Josh, who now has split custody of Bryton and dropped pursuit of full custody because he and Bryton's mom are working well together communicating over decisions about the boy.

Since making the move he said, “I've got stronger in my faith and my family has too.” They plugged into his grandmother's church and Josh began coaching Bryton's baseball team, with plans to coach football as well.

While he is still looking at getting back into rodeo, church and family are becoming a priority and Josh is hoping to eventually start being involved in cowboy church-type outreaches in his area of Tennessee, with Cowboys of the Cross possibly able to help him get started.

“I try to live my life so people can see I live for God. By raising my kids in church, they learn right from wrong and your kids follow in your footsteps. I want to be a good example for them,” said Josh, adding that Bryton, now almost eight, is asking questions about Baptism and sin as Josh's prayers turn from being with his son and having him to church, to Bryton finding a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

He wants to continue to represent Jesus in the rodeo and bull riding industry as well.

“You don't have to drink, cuss and carry on to be a bull rider, but that's the image they have. Always do the right thing whether anyone is watching or not,” he said, hoping he can eventually be an example to up-and-coming riders.


PART TWELVE

By Josh McCarthy/Cowboys of the Cross

John 4:13-14ESV 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you decided to take a trip to eastern Montana, where I'm ranching, you'd notice a distinct lack of water. This part of the country has been suffering from extreme drought all summer, so for someone taking care of cattle like my brother Jesse and I, keeping them watered has been a challenge. Although cows can be smart sometimes, they can also be pretty dumb; for example, they'll hang around a muddy, half-dried-up reservoir thirstily when there's a perfectly good water tank just down the draw. Thankfully for those cows, they have my brother and I to saddle up and move them to good water.

Some people (myself included!) would cuss those cows for hanging around a place that’s never going to sustain them, but honestly, we aren't so different. People focus and "hang around" on things that won't sustain them. Like cattle need good water, we need God, but we're happy with our dried up reservoir. Like it says in Romans 1, we've traded the creator God for His creation. In the book Recovering Redemption, Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer describe four wells people will go to for sustenance.

1) Self: People think a better version of themselves will ultimately fulfill them - if they can just be more fit, live up to this standard, reach that goal, etc. To quote the book, the problem with this is that no one has failed, lied to, or disappointed you more then you have. So a better version of you will always want a better version of you.

2) Others: I’ll be happy if I can just be a part of this group, have that person as a traveling partner for rodeos, work on that cowboy crew, or marry "the one". The issue with this “well” is that everyone you know is an imperfect person that will at times fail you. If you expect anyone to "complete you" or if you get your self-worth from others, you will be setting yourself up for failure.

3) The world: Say you just got a brand new pickup to either go to the rodeo or haul cattle in. If you’re cruising around you'll feel pretty good about yourself, but you aren't any different. We have this need to feel wanted, loved, and comforted so we'll run to God's stuff instead of to Him. We'll self-medicate with new horses, pickups, saddles, food – you name it - as long as we don't have to be responsible to God for it. God's creation is there for His glory and our good but only when used the way God has described in His word. We try to use His creation to fulfill us but like the other “wells,” it doesn't last.

4) Man-made religion: This one is basically number one with a church robe on. We think that to please God we just have to do our best with this set of rules and that’s all we need. The problem with this one? We can never completely follow through. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

All four of these wells, like a muddy reservoir, won't sustain us but will dry up and leave us dying of thirst. Thankfully, God in His grace and mercy comes along and "moves us to the water tank." He shows us what we need, which is Himself through a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you're a Christian feeling dehydrated, go before God in prayer and be replenished through reading His Word. If you aren't a Christian, I'm asking you to please repent and turn to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you have any questions on what it means to follow Jesus or anything else feel free to contact this ministry. God bless.

Josh McCarthy is a ranch cowboy with his brother Jesse and is a Cowboy of the Cross who writes devotions to the site. Josh and Jesse were recently out fighting one of the more than 1,000 Montana wildfires, one of which threatened Cross Four Ranch near Miles City, Montana. They also fought a second fire that threatened the home of a elder at their church  Josh said the biggest challenge is keeping the fire out of canyons or trees where it can more quickly spread. “Basically we took shovels, a tool we call a beaver tail or whatever we had and beat out the flames to make a fire line ahead of the water pickup that would come behind us and spray the line so we could contain the fire to a certain area,” said Josh. The ranch fire was put out in a matter of hours by ranch hands and county services but Josh said the one at his elder’s place was tougher with eight ranchers who were finally able to put it out the next day. “It got a little toasty a couple times,” said Josh.

Josh was challenge to look for ways God has shown Himself in the situation and here is the devotion God inspired for us through Josh:

Cattle often have to be moved to good water,

God sometimes has to do the same for us

Josh McCarthy photos

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

For 81-year-old rodeo clown Charlie Poteat, coming out of retirement recently was an opportunity to be used by God one more time, a reason he believes he kept clowning for as long as he did.

 Mr. Poteat, from  Boiling Springs, South Carolina, officially retired about five years ago to care for his wife who was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. He said at his age now, it was hard after a break like that to dig all the jokes back out of his own head but at the recent Maryville, TN rodeo by H Bar M Rodeo Company, he had the crowd laughing throughout two performances.

Mr. Poteat said times are hard right now and he knows families struggle in ways they never did before. There might be a couple in the crowd who have been fighting and he said, “If I can make them laugh together, maybe God will use that to push the bad away.”

The chance that God might use his ability to make people laugh to make a difference is part of what kept Mr. Poteat working in the industry into his mid-seventies, long after most have retired from all aspects of the sport.

Mr. Poteat, who mentored current funnyman Eugene Fowler, also of Boiling Springs, stepped back in the arena as a favor to Eugene and producer Mike Moore who were short contract personnel that weekend. Eugene took on the announcing role for the first time and was faced with the added pressure of being the straight-man for a change to his mentor’s acts.

Clown trusts God to use laughter to help others