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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

Part TWELVE of our Christ-Centered Relationship Series

Catch up on what you missed by continuing to scroll below

A Cowboy of the Cross is Bible Bootcamp Postive Thinking


     My name is Cliff McDonald and I just wanted to tell you the story of my life. I rodeoed here in the NorthWest way back in the 60s riding bareback and bull. I went to church once in a while but was not big on it. I am retired now and about 5 years ago a friend of mine passed away and there was a celebration of her life at a cowboy church. I went to that and as I walked into the building I just had funny feeling in my whole body. I went back to that church again the next Sunday just to kind of check it out and it just felt right.        I have been going ever since then and three years ago this Easter I was baptized and it felt so good. I was 73 years old and now I know what people say when they say God is with them.

      I thank you for listening to me and wish you the best.

                     Your friend. Cliff

A special letter

we received

God can change our lives any time, anywhere

Legitimate relationships must begin with God

By Jesse Horton/Cowboys of the Cross

Let’s face it. Relationships are hard. An 8-second bull/bronc ride can’t even begin to compare with the difficulty and emotional stress we experience in trying to make a life with someone who is desperately selfish and set in their own ways…and then you have to deal with her too!

     One of the first things I think we need to get out of the way in a biblical discussion of relationships is the counterfeit version. I’m well aware that people who handle money focus more on knowing the “real McCoy” versus studying the variations of counterfeit currency, but the problem with that analogy when it comes to relationships is that, in general, we have already accepted the counterfeit as legitimate. The pop-cultural practice of relationships goes something like this:

 1. Find the right person

 2. Fall madly in love

 3. Validate your feelings with physical intimacy

 4. Get to know your love-interest on a personal/social basis

 5. Move in together

 6. Make it official (get married)

 7. Live happily as long as they continue to fulfill your needs

 8. *If at any point this approach fails, go back to step one. The problem was that you found the wrong person.

I think most of us can either relate to this personally or have seen it in others we know. The premise is that finding the right person is what makes a relationship successful and that having found the wrong person is the only reason for failure. This approach is terribly unsuccessful and very risky. What if you are intimate with someone and a pregnancy occurs? You aren’t really committed, but are bonded for life. What about STDs? What if you buy a home, a car, or furniture together, or incur credit card debt together before you get married, then it doesn’t work out? There aren’t any provisions in the law for this sort of thing and it can ruin you financially! Aside from that, statistics prove that “shacking up” before getting married doesn’t help you have a successful marriage. It’s actually quite the opposite. People who live together before getting married are nearly twice as likely to divorce. Shacking up is just a way of planning for failure rather than planning for success. All you “positive attitude” guys should see that easily. If you plan for failure, you will fail. You can’t nod for the gate while you’re looking for a safe spot to get off! So let’s begin our discussion of relationships by discarding these views as illegitimate second-rate counterfeits of the genuine article.

“Shacking up is just a way of planning for failure rather than planning for success. All you ‘positive attitude’ guys should see that easily. If you plan for failure, you will fail.”

Real, legitimate relationships must begin with God. Left to ourselves, we are self-seeking narcissists concerned only with our own happiness, fulfillment, and success. To begin this part of the discussion, I want to point you to Ephesians 5:1-2. Beginning with 4:20, the Apostle Paul begins to affirm how we should relate to one another within the church (a body of believers, not a building); this can easily be extended to romantic relationships as it is applicable to all relationships. While the pop-culture approach to relationships begins with finding the right person, God’s instruction is that we should become the right person. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In your relationships, you should begin by imitating God, by trying to love people like Jesus who was willing to offer His very life to God on behalf of the people He loved.

So, step one: Be like God.

The importance of a relationship with God cannot be overstated. Seattle Pacific University Professors Les and Leslie Parrot write, “If you attempt to build intimacy with another person before you’ve done the hard work of becoming a whole and healthy person, every relationship will be an attempt to complete the hole in your heart and the lack of what you don’t have, and will end in disaster.” Being the right person means you don’t need someone to “complete” you apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. But if you still have that God-shaped hole in your heart, every relationship you have will be an attempt to make some imperfect, sinful person fill that hole that only God can fill.

Notice that Paul also commanded the Ephesians to “walk in love.” How do you do that?! Well, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (commonly referred to as “The Love Passage”) can give you a clue. Read that through now for yourself and pay attention to the verbs. This will give you a clue as to why I hate the term “falling in love.” Love is not a “be” thing. It’s a “do” thing. It’s a choice you make. Feelings cannot sustain a long-term relationship, but acts of patience, kindness, gentleness, and acceptance can. So, step two: Walk in love. And step 3: Place your hope for fulfillment in God, who withholds no good thing from those who do what is right (Psalm 84:11). And, if in your relationships failure occurs, go back to step one…be like God.

Feelings cannot sustain a long-term relationship, but acts of patience, kindness, gentleness, and acceptance can.

Paul continues chapter 5 of Ephesians, verses 3-13, to give us a negative command (do not ­ ­ ­ ­ ____) followed by a positive command (Do this!). Here he points out some things that can spoil our relationships, and to be perfectly honest, some of these things I’ve struggled with myself. Some of these are even stronghold opportunities for Satan, wherein he can get a foothold (Eph. 4:27) and negatively influence your decisions and, in turn, your relationships for a long period of time. We’ll talk more about that in a separate discussion. In our next part, which will be Posted Feb. 23, we will look at how  marriage should work according to God.


By Jesse Horton/Cowboys of the Cross

What does a biblical marriage look like? First, we should be (not find) the right person.

We should be full of the Holy Spirit because God is the source of love (1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us). Any love apart from God is selfish love and will not sustain a relationship. Now, on the wedding day, something miraculous should happen. Two people should leave their parents’ homes and direct influence and should cleave to one another, becoming one flesh (Gen. 2:24). This means that when they have their first fight, the Mrs. doesn’t run home to her momma to talk about what a selfish, inconsiderate oaf she married; instead, she stays home and works it out with her husband. Yes, you stay and hash it out – how we do this individually is unique, but there are some broad-stroke principles that can be applied to help us understand our roles. Let’s look at Ephesians 5:22-24 for some advice from the Apostle Paul.

Now, before anyone gets all bent out of shape over my use of the “S”-word in the following paragraphs, let’s back up half a verse to 5:21 where Paul says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submit is not a bad word (what were you expecting???). Here Paul tells us we should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We should put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own when appropriate. That’s a great way to show them how much you love them. Again, love is a “do” thing; it requires action.

So, here’s the verse most women shy away from and many men use inappropriately to be some kind of dictator in their homes. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” In Genesis 3:16, God told Eve that her “desire will be for [her] husband.” The Hebrew word translated here as “for” often communicates the idea of “to tend to.” Here’s why that is significant: Adam was already supposed to function in a leadership role being the more experienced of the two humans because of his existence before Eve. He was with her in the garden when Satan deceived her (Gen 3:6). Now, what kind of leader was Adam to let this serpent deceive the flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone? Not much of one! He was a passive and inferior leader.

In my opinion, that’s where sin began. Sin is described as “missing the mark,” and Adam certainly missed it in his leadership of his wife. But post-fall, the curse on Eve was that she would desire to tend Adam like she tended the garden…she would try to make him what he should be. She would try to make him into the leader God created him to be…and if he wouldn’t shape up, well, she’d do it herself. But, no, no. God told her, “he will rule over you.” You see, in every military unit, there is a leader who is ultimately responsible for all those under his command. Adam was supposed to be that leader for Eve. Men, we are meant to be that leader for our wives. But, let’s address this to whom it should be addressed as the Scriptures indicate: Women – submit yourselves to the leadership of your husbands. He is the one who will be held accountable for your family…not you. Equip him to lead. Encourage him to lead. And pray for him diligently as he does so.

“We should be concerned with the spiritual welfare of our wives”

Now it’s the men’s turn. Ephesians 5:25-30 gives us a charge that cannot be ignored and makes the job of submission much easier for our wives. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” A man who loves his wife the way Jesus loved the Church is easy to submit to.

But what does it mean to sanctify your wife? From the time we are saved (justification) we are slowly but surely being made into the image of Christ – this process is sanctification. It’s the process through which we leave behind our sinful tendencies and put on the righteousness of Christ. We should lead our wives, not only as protector and provider, but as a priest and prophet (which just means we proclaim the word of God, not that we tell the future). We should be concerned with the spiritual welfare of our wives and with covering her sin with grace. As we do the hard work of becoming the right person, we have to realize that we are “one flesh” with our wives; we should cultivate in them the same things God is cultivating in us.

Paul sums up his instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:33. YOU SHOULD ALL COMMIT THIS VERSE TO MEMORY! “Each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.” Dr. Emerson Eggerichs wrote a book called “Love and Respect” in which he writes about a situation he calls “the crazy cycle.” This is when couples get caught up in being inconsiderate of one another and it perpetuates like this: She is disrespectful to him, so he responds unlovingly toward her…so she’s motivated to disrespect him, which motivates him to be unloving. Men and women are made differently and respond differently to the same actions.

“Men feel loved by their wives when they are respected as the protector, provider, prophet and priest of their home”

Men feel loved by their wives when they are respected as the protector, provider, prophet, and priest of their home. Undermining them in any way in these areas will most often cause them to withdraw (because it’s not noble to fight with a woman).

Women, if you see your husbands withdrawing, ask yourself, “Have I disrespected him, maybe without even knowing?” And if your husband withdraws, don’t chase after him and especially don’t escalate the argument in an attempt to get him to engage – in “Man World” that’s looking for a fight, and he does not want to fight a woman. Men don’t treat other men that way unless they want it to come to blows.

Women feel connected to their husbands when husbands find ways to say, “I love you.” REMEMBER, LOVE IS A “DO” THING! We have to DO things for our wives that say, “I care about you. I appreciate you. I want to be here with you.” There are thousands of ways you can do this, and each woman is unique and will value things differently. My suggestion is to listen to your wife. If she says, “Those drapes look awful,” put aside some time, and take her shopping for drapes. If she says, “I really hate cleaning toilets,” catch her gone and clean them before she can get to it. Buy her flowers just because…it lets her know you were thinking of her and that she’s a priority in your life.

Now, one more thing about that “Crazy Cycle” thing. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” And Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” When you put those two together, Christ loved us first and we’re supposed to function for our wives as a type of Christ. I’d say that gives us men a pretty good indication that, if we’re on the “Crazy Cycle,” we should take the initiative and be the first to step off by loving our wives. Don’t take the stance of, “When she respects me, I’ll show her some affection.”  

Don’t be a passive husband, like Adam was. Be a man. Lead your wife. Love her like Jesus does.

Love is a ‘do’ thing–it requires action


By Jim Bull/Cowboys of the Cross

      I finally worked up the nerve to talk to my now wife, Laura, on September 22, 1999. Just over 3 months later was New Years Eve and we, along with her roommate,  were hosting an End of the Millennium  party. Some of the girls’ closest friends were there and I had come to know and respect them. During this party, one of their friends pulled me to the side to tell me how happy she was for Laura and me; how great we were for each other and how great I was to her.

      I remember the feeling of the grin that spread across my face. The assurance, from a woman I barely knew, was a great boost to my ego but,  more importantly, made me want to do better. A little encouragement goes a long way to building relationships, your own, as well as people you know or encounter.

     Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,  but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

      My wife and I have been married for 16 years. In that time we have had great moments of expressing our love for each other. We have also had times of complacency, when we knew we loved each other but failed to make the effort to show it unashamedly.

     I have had times when I felt I was a failure as a husband because I knew my wife was feeling lonely and abandoned because I was wrapped up in work and not putting forth the effort to show how much I needed her; how much I loved her. I have also felt lonely, like a hired worker or a servant. It is in these times we were lacking communication and the expression of our love, not that we were ever lacking the love itself.

      Proverbs 31:28 says “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her”

     We are to tell our wives how blessed we are to have them.  Tell them all the wonderful things we see in them. Not just their outer beauty but,  tell them of the great care they take of us. Tell her you see her hard work and that you appreciate the effort she puts in daily to take care of the family and household. Be sure to acknowledge her being a lady so she will continue to be a lady.

     After all this time together, after all the changes we have both made with our interests, habits and looks, we are still blessed to have each other and work to acknowledge each other's need for each other.  My advice to anyone in a relationship or looking for that special someone in the future is to not be afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone when telling that special someone how you feel about them. Also,  we need to not be ashamed to tell friends that we see the way they are with their spouse or girlfriend.  Be supportive in the relationships of people you are around. You never know when you will say something that they need to hear to motivate a fresh start to a stale relationship.  

     1 Peter 4:8  tells us “Above all, love each other deeply,  because love covers a multitude of sins.”


Even the Bible says to keep fights off social media

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

Depending on which circles you run in the rodeo and bull riding communities, several of you that I know personally have noticed how 'ugly' it's been lately, particularly on social media. A lot of us have been experiencing everything from relationship meltdowns to slanderous rumors being made very public on social media. When it's bad enough for people to comment on it to me by phone, you know it's bad. But we can do something about it....While this will focus on marriage and dating relationships, it easily applies to all situations.

      You just caught your wife or girl friend cheating on you. Or at least, that's what you think has happened and it's the second time a buddy has told you she's been hanging out with that guy at the bar while you've been at a rodeo. You post it up for all your buddies to see on your Facebook page because, well, you've had enough and want her to get the message. Truth or not, you've just humiliated her and don't care because you're tired of being done that way.

      Your girlfriend is tired of you always putting rodeo first. Even though her birthday is next Tuesday, you just entered a bull riding on what she is calling her birthday weekend and have ruined the plans she has for going out to eat and see a movie, something you almost never have time to do together. She won't go with you because she feels like you guys have been gone every weekend the past two months and she's angry. When you get home at 3 a.m. Sunday morning from the six-hour drive, you find she's gone to spend the night at her parents' house because, whenever she's mad at you, her mother provides a good listening ear and will always be on her side.

      Although the first situation is more obviously going to escalate the conflict, neither of these scenarios sees the couple working together on their problems and both will only serve to make the situations worse. Yet both are common approaches we've all seen or experienced.

 1. Don't take it to Facebook or your friends

         and don't run home to momma.

      One of the worst courses of action you can take to resolving a conflict is to take it public. It fuels gossip, it leads to people giving ungodly advice and it even leads to other girls reaching out to comfort you or to try to give you what they think you're missing and, well, guess where that leads: at best to accusations you're cheating and at worst, to actually having an affair or otherwise crossing lines that hurt your real relationship.

      When there's conflict in the church, we're taught that the first step to resolving it is to address it with the person we are in conflict with, privately.

     Matthew 18:15-20 teaches about church-based conflict resolution but the very first instruction we're given in verse 15 is this: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  

     The remainder of the verses teach how to sort out a conflict through the church, with steps involved elders and the congregation, but for these circumstances, we can take and apply from this approach to conflict the seriousness of working it out ourselves.

     For a couple who is married, Ephesians 5:31 gets emphasized here (Part 2 and 3 of this series looks at all the Ephesians verses about husbands and wives). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

     What you do needs to be done together from the decisions you make to the way you resolve conflict. Our parents are no longer the influencers in our lives as, in marriage, we now depend on each other.

      For those who are still dating, remember, the main point of being together, for Christians, is to find someone you intend to marry so when the conflict arises, while you have not taken the step that fulfills this verse, the same seriousness could also be applied in how much you care to resolve the conflict without involving others.

     As we understand from other parts of the verses in Ephesians, the man's role in a relationship is to lead your wife into an understanding that it's not okay to involve her parents or friends in your conflict (and you must not do the same). If you aren't sure what to do in your situation and need counsel, seek the advice of your pastor or an elder/deacon in your church, or if you don't have a home church  yet, seek the counsel of someone you know is mature in his faith and capable of both keeping your situation confidential and being impartial. Be willing to hear hard truths about your own part in the conflict and be willing to...


     Forgiveness is more than telling the person, “It's okay, I'm over it.” It means letting go and never bringing it up again. When we are forgiven of our sins through our saving faith in Jesus Christ, God no longer sees our sin. It doesn't matter what we have done in the past and, while the Bible is clear that we shouldn't see our salvation as a blank slate to continue sinning, it doesn't matter what mistakes we might make in the future, God has forgiven it all and only sees us as righteous—made perfect before Him.

     Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted,forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

     If we have been so completely forgiven and know that despite our sins and mistakes, Paul is telling us that God loves us enough to give us eternal life with Him in Heaven, how can we not forgive others for whatever they have done against us.  In the case of our wives or girlfriends, how can we not forgive them for whatever it is that made us angry.

     God extended grace without limits to us. How can we not do the same when our wife or girlfriend offends us or makes us angry? Jesus teaches us to have limitless forgiveness through a conversation with the disciple, Peter.

     Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

     While Jesus is giving a specific number here, he is simply giving a strong illustration that we are to continue to forgive as much as is needed. That's how big God's forgiveness is of our sins that otherwise separate us from Him without a saving faith in Jesus.

 3. When you argue,

    be careful what you say and how you say it

      Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

     Guys, being tenderhearted doesn't mean being walked over, but there are right ways to approach a situation. We all know what happens when we give police attitude when being pulled over—what could be a warning ends up being a ticket or a ride in the back of a police car. In an argument with your wife or girlfriend, it gets just as ugly.

      But if we work on staying calm and focus on what Paul is saying in Ephesians about keeping unity i  the church, unity can be kept in the home or relationship as well. Whatever the disagreement is about, if we stop and think about these verses we can use that as a pause to calm ourselves, ask God for help staying calm and then approach the situation with kindness. You can be encouraging to a person while telling them something is a bad idea. You can be polite and assure the person you love or care for them and that's why you want to just talk out the circumstances you are wanting to see changed. You can walk away from the disagreement without making threats or keeping a father from his child in the malice Paul tells us to take away. You can decide not to treat each other poorly and find a way to disagree while communicating in a way that builds the other person up rather than most people's default position, to tear a person down.

     Jesus does this all the time—he turns it all upside down on how we want to respond or normally will approach a situation and gives us a better way that results in helping someone grow to be a more Christ-like person.

      You can accomplish all these approaches with time and practice and a true understanding of the popular rodeo and bull riding verse,

     Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.



 By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

We've all admitted that even Christian relationships struggle but that the bulk of the relationship examples we see in the rodeo and bull riding industry are not built around Biblical principals. As a result, there's a wide range of problems and consequences that come out of our relationships and in this particular teaching series, that's meant that we've been faced with a lot of “dos” and “don'ts”.

 If we're not careful, we can find ourselves feeling pretty beat up or like we're not measuring up.

 That's not the point of all this.

 The point of the series is to get our hearts on Jesus and pursue our relationships in a way that keeps him in the center of it through understanding the Bible's teachings.

 And a key teaching to understand is grace, a major component of our salvation.

 Our sin, any sin at all, separates us from God who judges and condemns sin. We can't enter Heaven through our sin. Jesus came to die on the cross in place of our sins so that by having a saving faith that he was the Son of God, lived here, died here and rose again to live eternally with God in Heaven, we also could be saved. Through Christ's sacrifice, we are given God's grace. Instead of being condemned to Hell for our sin, we are given eternal life in Heaven with God, our Father by simply repenting of our sin and asking for forgiveness through that belief in who Jesus was and who Jesus is.  Nothing else we do can earn it. Nothing we do can make God take it away. Jesus died so that we could freely receive God's grace through his sacrifice on the cross.

 In Romans 3:20-24, the apostle Paul shows us some of this:   Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God痴 sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.  21  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  22  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

 In the Old Testament, the people of Israel followed the Law of Moses; a strict set of rules they had to follow including complicated sacrifices to atone for their sin in order to be righteous, in good standing, with God. Now, with Christ having made that final sacrifice to atone for our sins, the law becomes something that helps us understand what our sin is, but obeying it can do nothing to restore us with God.  Paul also shows us that this sacrifice was no longer just to cover the people of Israel (the Jews) but everyone else (the gentiles). Every single one of us sins and that keeps us from God but thanks to God's grace, we can be saved.

 That means through true repentance and a saving faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven our sins and no mistakes we've made in the past can keep us from eternity with God. No children we've had out of wedlock, not wives we've divorced because we decided we didn't love them anymore, not sex with ten different girls from the bar, not cheating on a wife or girlfriend, not meddling in our ex-girlfriend's lives by telling lies because the breakup was so bad--just some of the mistakes we've made along the way—can separate us because of God's grace.

 Now, two things: that doesn't mean we get to continue to sin and live how we please and, because of there is no way to measure how enormous and endless God's grace is for us, how can we not give that to others such as our wives or girlfriends when they do mess up and disappoint or make us angry (and women, the same for the men in your lives).

 Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

 Paul is telling us, and further in the passage goes into much greater detail, that God's freely given gift of grace does not give us permission to just continue sinning however we want so that there can be even more grace given. It's been given to us once and forever, but if we have truly repented of our sin and been saved through Christ's sacrifice, we no longer will have a desire to live sinful lives. And remember, there is a difference between intentionally setting out to sin and making a mistake. Even though God now sees a saved believer as flawless and perfect, we actually aren't perfect but undergoing the process known as sanctification—becoming more and more like Christ. But we're still going to make mistakes and fail or commit sins that we don't even understand yet are sins as we begin to learn more and more about what the Bible teaches. In those mistakes, we're still forgiven through God's grace, we just aren't granted permission to live intentionally sinful lives.

 Whatever kind of life you are living in this moment, Jesus died on the cross for you, just the same as me. This can be the moment you walk away from your sin and turn you life over to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This can be the moment God is reaching out to you with His gift of grace.

 For those who have received it, the challenge now is to give it to others, starting with those closest to us like our wives and girlfriends.

Grace: we need to be reminded of what that is when we struggle



Is the special woman in your life important? Tell her

Our relationships often show we don’t trust the Bible

 By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

No amount of looking at relationships from a Biblical perspective will matter if we don't believe God's word is true and if we don't let it change us.

Out of our salvation comes grace that covers our sins but out of our joy and understanding of what we've been saved from (God's wrath against our sin and His judgment that sees us eternally separated from Him in hell), comes a desire to learn from God's word and be changed by it.

Every day, we see social media statuses or hear from our friends complaining about the relationships they are in, arguing with their exes in public, upset they can't see their kids, upset their ex doesn't spend time with his kid, upset the ex brings other guys around their kids and so on.

We see people who claim to be believers, who we sometimes see pray or thank God for a bull riding or rodeo win and talk about how blessed they are, act like they have never seen or opened a Bible and learned anything from God's word.

Real faith grows and changes us

If God was working in their lives, changing them, we'd see what is called fruit—the product of the Holy Spirit working in us to make us more like Christ. We'd see a desire to know what is in God's word and to let it change us. Not to earn anything from God but because a natural desire to let His word guide us.

Instead, we ignore God's word, either by choosing not to read the Bible ourselves or choosing not to learn from those around us who teach it.  We're willing to believe in God and even that praying is important, but we live like we don't believe a word He says to us in scripture. If we believed God's word was as real as He is, we'd want to live out what it teaches.

Especially if we believe this: that the Bible is God's living word to us and perfect for everything.

2 Timonty 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Do we live like we believe the Bible can teach us everything we need to live the way God wants us to live?

We believe in God but do we live like we believe the Bible is true?

When it comes to how God would have us pursue relationships, this series is a chance for so many of us to learn from the mistakes we have made going after relationships our own way and move forward into healthier ones, centered on God and His word. It's from understanding what's in scirpture that we can build foundations for a relationship that is meant to move into marriage, which is meant to be forever.

Mark 10:7-9 “...a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

In this section of scripture, Jesus is teaching about divorce but these particular verses also show us just how important a marriage is to God—that it should be so tightly formed that nothing could separate it.

Yet among our friends, we see people going from one bad relationship to another, often having children outside of marriage, destined to be raised by broken homes. In one situation, part of what inspired the need for this series and for us to take it seriously, we saw a little girl tied to members of the rodeo community, murdered by her mother's boyfriend. It was such a complicated mess, the boyfriend was not the father while the mother was pregnant in jail with a third guy's kid.

This is the reality for much of the non-believing world, where hookups, casual sex and even friends with benefits, is normal. If a marriage should happen to come out of the weak foundation we start out from, divorce is as simple a solution to end it when we realize we made a mistake, as abortion is when a woman decides she isn't ready or doesn't want to have a baby.

But how many of us who claim to be Christians, continue to live in this cycle? The relationships many of us pursue are about a physical attraction, built around lust, not love. They almost always lead to disaster, sometimes with children brought into the world with mothers and fathers that have no chance of staying together to raise the child.

Our faith is dead if we don’t believe scripture

Remember, grace covers our mistakes. The good choices we make and good actions we carry out don't earn us anything from God but are a product of our faith, called works.

 James 2:17-20 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Simplifying this, James is telling us that it isn't enough to believe in God. Even the demons out there acknowledge who God is. If we believe in God but ignore his instructions, what good is our faith? As James says, it's dead. Pretty direct and pretty serious.

 Our culture says to divorce if it gets too hard. The Bible shows us how to work it out and rely on God when it does get rough. When it comes to relationships and we live like we believe God's word is true, we begin to have relationships that last and we break out of the circles found in the rodeo communities. Instead, find a woman who also believes God's word is real. Neither of us will be perfect, but we'll have God's perfect word to guide us from dating through to a marriage built to last though the “for better or for worses”.

Part Seven

Sex is so much more than we understand

By Jesse Horton/Cowboys of the Cross

As uncomfortable as it may be, in order to teach the full council of God on relationships we must explore the topic of premarital/extramarital sex. This conversation will be of an adult nature. As such, children should read this only with the permission and accompaniment of a legal guardian, though I would highly recommend that parents digest this material first for themselves, and then discuss it with their children 11 years of age or older. In this session, we will answer the questions, “What does the Bible say about sex?”, “What does the world say about sex?”, and “Which view does the raw data support as the more practical option?”

What does the Bible say about sex?

Many have attempted to argue that the Bible in no way prohibits premarital sex. This may be true in a technical sense, but it is obvious that if a man had sex with a young woman who was not married, he was expected to become her husband. “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and he has sexual relations with her, he must certainly pay the bridal price for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must pay an amount in silver equal to the bridal price for virgins.” (Exodus 22:16-17).

Some contextual understanding is required here to understand the full gravity of the situation. In Ancient Near East culture, a young woman was expected to be a virgin until she was married. The bridal price was paid to the family of the bride, not because she was property to be sold, but to demonstrate the seriousness of the covenant (agreement). The bridal price was a tangible way of expressing the formal and proper nature of entering into that covenant. It was not to be done without the agreement of both families. Since a woman was expected to be a virgin at marriage, the giving of her virginity was the unbreakable symbol of the covenant of marriage. If she had no virginity to give, that brought into question her value as a wife and her ability to enter into and to keep such a covenant. Let’s look at that practically for us: Guys, if you had to pay a bridal price – something that might equal about a year’s wages – every time you chose to have sex with an unmarried woman, wouldn’t you find a way to control your urges? Now, if God said marriage was that serious of a covenant, what makes you think he’s changed his mind? There is one consistent admonishment given in the Bible to young people with respect to sexual immorality: FLEE IT!

The creation account in Genesis 2 describes Eve as being a part of Adam taken out of him to be a companion. Adam was created in the image of God. God took something from him to create Eve. Men no longer have that component individually – everything that we call feminine was taken out of man to make Eve. That’s why men and women are so very different in some respects. It is also why sex is such serious business. Genesis 2:24 says, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Apostle Paul quoted this verse in his first letter to the Corinthian church saying, “Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body?  So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her?” Therefore, it is obvious that Paul equated sexual intercourse with “becoming one flesh.”

How many of us have broken somone over sex?

I know many of you are realizing that you have become “one flesh” with a lot of other people. Unfortunately, I must include myself with you. There are many negative implications here. Some of you have seen the movie Fireproof where the main character is facing what seems to be an inevitable divorce. A good friend explains to him that he and his wife are one flesh, bound to one another for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. As he does so, he super-glues a plastic salt and pepper shaker set together side by side. Afterwards, the main character grabs the shakers and starts to pull them apart, but his friend warns him that if he does he will break one or both of them. How many of us have suffered brokenness because we became one flesh with someone who didn’t value our hearts? How many of us have broken someone else for the same reason? Oh, the pain I might have been saved from feeling and causing had I only understood this 20 years ago! Breaking the bond created by intimate involvement with another person always involves pain. An additional problem becomes that of comparison when we get married. Men especially are so visual that we store these images of our past sexual exploitations in our minds. As I will elaborate on later, our minds are just as much part of our sexual experience as our bodies. The lustful images of past experiences are adulterous to our marriages, and more than that, they are unfair and unloving to our wives.

Together, we’re an image of God

When a man and a woman (two parts of the whole God created in his own image) come together intimately that is when they most completely reflect the image of God. It’s simple math, really. If initially Adam = IMAGE OF GOD and Eve was taken away from Adam, then the equation becomes Adam + Eve = IMAGE OF GOD. Now, that is not to say that this is the only way that we can reflect the image of God, for as individuals we still carry some of the attributes of God that he gifted us with in the beginning. It simply means that a more complete image is seen when a man and a woman give themselves selflessly to one another, not just sexually, but in every relational way possible. Why? I’ll submit one reason for your consideration: Individually, we find it easy to be who we are and be comfortable in our own skin, but when we are doing life with a spouse our individual selfishness collides with theirs in a way that must be dealt with or intimacy is compromised. Marriage is a sanctifying relationship like no other, forcing us to examine and modify our selfish behavior.

Purity isn’t something to laugh or roll our eyes at

Now, a warning from the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon in the Bible) for all of you who have maintained your purity to this point in life. “Young women [and men] of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and the wild does of the field: do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time,” (2:7). This book has been wildly misinterpreted as an allegorical description of Christ’s love for the church, but keep in mind: all Scripture was written to a specific audience and must have application for them as a primary point and for us as a secondary point. No Scripture was ever written solely to someone in the distant future! This is a love song, describing the dreams and desires of two young lovers, of whom in all likelihood King Solomon was jealous, though in his wealth he had denied himself no pleasure known to man. The bride in this story warns her friends many times with these exact words not to awaken the desires of love until it was time to be married (repetition is always, ALWAYS used for emphasis). The verses leading into each admonition are descriptions of her desire for her betrothed – then, realizing how carried away she was getting, she warns her friends: “This is really intense! I cannot control it, and I’m glad I don’t have to much longer! You would be wise not to awaken these desires until you are married.”

The line isn’t just drawn at sex itself

Again, let’s apply this practically. It means we avoid arousing desires that cannot be legitimately fulfilled apart from a covenant marriage relationship. That might look different for different people. For most all of us, that means no heavy kissing and petting, no lying in the bed together, no being alone in a private setting, etc. For some it might mean no kissing at all, no holding hands, no chest-to-chest hugs, etc. The idea is that you don’t want to start something you can’t finish without dishonoring your call to purity as a Christian. Here’s an important thing for you to understand: The issue of purity is not based on virginity! The question we often ask is, “How far can I go before I’m guilty in God’s sight?” The question we should ask is, “How holy and pure can I be in God’s sight, and what do I need to avoid to maintain that?” Jesus taught that if we have looked at a woman with lust, we are guilty of adultery. The issue goes far deeper than physical actions. Your mind and heart should be set on purity, and your body will follow suit. If your mind and heart are focused on lust, your body will fail you as well. Rather than approaching the line where on our side is holiness and on the other side is sin, and getting as close as humanly possible without going over, we should run the opposite direction where a greater degree of holiness is found. In other words, there needs to be some margin between us and sin – then at least when we falter in our convictions we do not do so on a grand scale.

More from Jesse on this  in two weeks!


By Jesse Horton/Cowboys of the Cross

(Please scroll to the bottom to read Part Eight first)

All this talk about how sex fits into our Christian lives might seem to some a list of rules given by some cosmic killjoy who wants you to be miserable. Nothing could be further from the truth. When God says don’t, he means don’t hurt yourself (James MacDonald).

God’s laws are guardrails that are intended to keep us out of harm’s way and lead us to the best. There may be some good things just on the other side of those guard rails, but they are not God’s best for your life. The world around us, especially in Western culture, tells us that we should constantly be striving for our own satisfaction. We should be happy. Make sure you’re looking out for number one. The idea of sin has been nullified in some circles by humanism and relativism that insists there is no truth apart from that which you decide to be true for yourself.

The world says religion is like shackles that demand some Victorian idea of purity where sex and all desires of the flesh are evil. The Bible says that God created us with sexual desires, to be fruitful and to multiply, that the marriage bed should be holy and undefiled, and that God rejoices in our unselfish union to one another in sex. God is not a prude. He wants you to have sex. But he wants you to have GREAT sex! Not the second-rate kind the rest of the world is getting apart from his instruction.

Which view does the raw data support?

I can almost hear it. Somebody just said, “How can you say that married people who have only had sex with one another are having better sex and are more fulfilled than people who have more experience and who make sure they are sexually compatible before they get married?” I’m glad to answer that question.

An ABC News poll shows that 77% of married couples under 30 years old are very satisfied with their sex lives and 55% say their sex lives are very exciting, while sexually active singles of the same age group report only 53% are very satisfied and 36% define their exploits as very exciting.  That’s 77%/53% and 55%/36%.

Data from a non-religious source says if you want satisfying, exciting sex GET MARRIED! Additionally, people who have been monogamous and did not have sex prior to marriage report a 39% higher rate of sexual satisfaction than those who aren’t monogamous and/or did not abstain from sex prior to marriage. Again, a secular source tells us that people with fewer sex-partners who didn’t “test the waters” before they got married are having the most satisfying sex. God wants you to have the best sex…not second-rate sex. Good is often the enemy of the best!


One final word for those who are teens and those who have teens: The age at which a child begins dating is a highly determinative factor as to whether they will have premarital sex or not. A study done by the University of Utah found that the longer dating was postponed, the less likely a teen was to have sex before graduating (and thus, before marriage). Dating at age 12 leads to a 91% chance of having sex before graduating. At 13, a 56% chance (did you see that jump?!), at 14, a 53% chance, at 15, a 40% chance, and at 16, a 20% chance. All of us with a few years behind us would say that we were not mature enough for serious dating with the intention of marriage until our early to mid 20’s. I

n the teenage years, we are so unstable due to hormonal changes it can be scary. Boys are so infatuated with legs, breasts, and behinds they will do almost anything to get some exposure. I lied to myself on several occasions, tricking myself into believing I cared for someone as a means of justifying my attempts at my own selfish sexual satisfaction. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone or to lie, but I did. I had girls do the same thing to me with different motives. Girls often think that when sexual pressure is manifested, if they do not take the next natural step, the relationship will end.

Oddly enough, when you pair both of those together, sex actually is the end of the relationship; he gets what he wanted and realizes that was the extent of his “emotional” connection, and she either feels guilty for having taken a step she knew was premature, or senses the bondedness sex creates and becomes clingy in hopes of keeping the infatuation alive and keeping him – all while he is trying to pull away. Young people and parents: guard against these mistakes with the wisdom of the Bible, being fully convinced that research data supports the fact that the Biblical approach will provide the best results.


God created man and woman with sexual desires. Those desires are good and bring about intimacy and sanctification when applied as God intended. Sex is like a fire. In a fireplace, it provides light and heat and is beneficial, but when it escapes the fireplace it is dangerous and destructive even though it can still provide light and heat. There are confines within which fire is safe, and outside of those confines we risk injuring ourselves and others. Similarly, sex is safe within the confines of monogamous marriage, but can be very detrimental to us outside of that covenant protection. Don’t settle for good. Don’t despise God’s instruction. The guardrails he has set up will lead you to the best things you can possibly have in this life and keep you from second-rate, harmful forgeries.

God’s laws are to protect us, not ruin our fun

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

Our culture puts sex in front of us regularly and makes it hard to see sex as anything but fun and something to be pursued for the pure pleasure of it. Buckle bunnies wait for us at every bar and half of us are on Tinder and other dating sites without necessarily looking for someone we want to spend our lives with but someone we want to hook up with and then, meh, see where it goes.

 We just finished taking a look at some of the Biblical reasons why Christianity teaches that sex is meant for marriage, not the casual way that we engage in it.

It makes it easy to forget that as Christians who have been changed by a saving faith found through the shed blood of Jesus, we're no longer bound to the traditions of this world that say sin comes first.

Because here's the trap about a lot of sin—it feels good. At least temporarily. Until you're struggling to pay child support for a child you didn't plan and rarely get to see; until the rush you feel from getting into a bar fight leads to your willingness to pull a knife or gun; until you spend more time looking at porn than you do videos of 90-point rides that you used to watch to inspire you to win; until  you find you can't get through a day without alcohol or drugs. These are all very real situations some of us have found ourselves in, all as a result of chasing sin.

‘It’s the pursuit of sin that destroys our marriages and relationships.’

Look how much our culture is pushing the recreational use of pot. Our culture pushes sin through ideas that whatever makes you happy should be pursued and it's the pursuit of sin that destroys our marriages and relationships and leaves us with a rodeo and bull riding community that is filling with children from broken homes. And while many of those children are loved, some are discarded and one more than one in our rodeo communities has been murdered. It's that serious guys, but for the Bible to be true, many of us have to be deaf and blind to the truth.

In Mark 4 and in Matthew 13 as well, Jesus describes to the disciples how they are fortunate to hear and learn from his teaching but that he teaches people with parables (stories with a message and point to them) because they are not able to 'hear' or understand his teaching. In essence, many were deaf to what he was trying to show them, which were teachings that went very much against the culture of the time, and now ours. Mark 4:9-12: And He was saying, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.

Earlier, in Matthew 7, Jesus speaks about the narrow gate and path to Heaven and that few will enter. Again, for the Bible to be true, the harsh and sad reality is that sin will keep its hold over many of us that will never hear the truth of God's word and experience the freedom that His grace gives us from our sins once we are forgiven.

‘Those who follow Christ

will still face struggles with sin.’

Those who follow Christ will still face struggles with sin and temptation. What makes them different is that we have God's grace and forgiveness for when we do mess it up and we have the Holy Spirit alive inside of us to help push us toward what is good.

In Romans 12:1-2 , Paul urges us with these words: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

And in Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us with this: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Both are encouragements to push away sin by focusing on what is good and from God.

As we learn more from the Bible, we learn that God wants for us to pursue marriage and relationships that are built around the pursuit of marriage. He wants us to raise our children as married couples who work through their problems biblically and stay together. Applying Paul's two teachings here, we know that the focus of our thoughts shouldn't be on sex, but on building a relationship with another Christian who is also intent on pursuing a relationship that will head toward a marriage meant to last.

It would be easy to avoid sin,

If sinning wasn’t so much fun



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



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.