Christian Bull Righter and pastor Stephen Bruner and his wife Tori Bruner from Indiantown, Florida
Well it all started back in 2007 when I stumbled across Gethsemane Ranch by “happenstance” or what I call a divine appointment.
They were looking for a bullfighter to help protect the kids at the bull riding, and I was on my way to pursue a professional rodeo career in just that event. The only problem was that I was leaving God behind and headed out to glorify my own name. So, being that this church just “happened” to be only a mile down the road from the camper I was living in, I headed on over (without God) to get some practice.
Long story short, that’s when I really met Him again…
I met Jesus first when I was very young, from the years of private Christian school to always being at the Baptist church, but I had walked away from Him during my adolescent years and without really understanding, I was really mad at God about the things He allowed during my childhood. I had heard all the truths about how much He loved me, but it all wasn’t adding up in the environment I was in.
There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse by both my parents, which led to many forms of child abuse and neglect. From there I set out to disguise the hurting little boy inside me who wanted to feel “real” love and approval. All the way through high school and college I looked to the world for approval; never to find it until my rodeo career and God sent me to that place called Gethsemane Ranch. That’s when I met Him again. That’s when God, through His faithfulness, and the loving and caring people at that church, reminded me how much He loved me and that He had a purpose for me!
I was challenged by God to be a real man and not just a boy. I could not live in the past anymore or identify myself by my circumstances and the lies the devil had told me for so many years. It was time to grow up spiritually!! So I pushed hard into God’s word to get the truth! I needed to hear God tell me how special I was and how much He loved me!
I heard him louder than ever.
I made a commitment to never walk away from Him again or put anything before Him. He has brought me through so much; from broken relationships, broken necks, stage 3 cancer, unforgiveness toward my earthly father (the biggest challenge) and so much more! He has never left me or forsaken me. He has completely restored my physical body and is constantly restoring my spirit! He has given me so much back and a lot of my family. Most importantly, He has blessed me with a wife who has been the greatest “help mate” ever! He is constantly teaching me how to love her like Christ loved the church!
We are so blessed to get to serve as ministers of the Gospel and travel around the country sharing that there is hope in Jesus Christ no matter what! We are sure grateful to be a part of God’s business and all the kids’ lives God has allowed us to be a part of! No matter who you are or where you come from, God is dying to love on you and use you!! HE LOVES YOU A LOT!
Triple T Bulls and Practice Pen
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboy of the Cross
Standing in a barn outside the arena set up to be a practice pen for bull riders leading cowboy church, I would have never imagined that was where my life was going to take me.
I had different dreams of working my way up the corporate ladder driven not so much by a job I loved but almost seven weeks of vacation and the possibility of a six-figure income—not a move into ministry that meant living part time in my van in a church parking lot.
But when we start following God instead of ourselves, our dreams and goals sometimes change.
We often have this idea that what we want is what God will give us but we forget that when we follow God, our heart changes and what we desire changes. Romans offers a lot of teaching about salvation and the changes we encounter when we become a Christian.
Romans 13:13-14 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Instead of pursuing our normal, sinful natures, we begin to pursue Jesus and recognize that God calls us to a life meant to glorify Him. Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians that we’re made new in Christ through our salvation—that we become a new person that no longer lives for ourselves but for Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
As we start to live for God and not ourselves, we start to realize that even when circumstances don’t go our way, God is at work. We recognize that regardless of our own plans, even what feels bad to us, will work out toward God’s purpose. Even what feels like a failure or loss for us, will bring a chance to honor and glorify God.
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We trust that we are a part of His plan, working toward His purpose.
For some, that can mean success in the rodeo or bull riding arena where God can be glorified through your success and the attention it brings Him. For others, it could mean their entire life shifting. I was working behind the scenes helping with rodeo marketing and working as rodeo photographer part time while pursuing a bigger income in a giant media company. As I let my life be changed by my relationship with Jesus, my focus changed and I began working in ministry as well, helping others with cowboy church and eventually taking on managing Cowboys of the Cross. That became the focus of my life, directed by God, and my goals and dreams changed.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
It’s through God’s word that we can begin to discover the direction He has for us. As we allow ourselves to be changed by what we read and learn in Scripture, what we value and pursue can change as God directs our steps.
That’s how finding myself standing in a barn leading cowboy church on a Sunday afternoon in May can be a dream come true.
Bull Rider Daylon Swearingen’s dream of making the PBR’s Unleash the Beast has come true, but faith and putting God first remains a priority.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 1 — Following your heart or following God?
People outside the industry don’t think of rodeo cowboys or bull riders as being people who dream big but there are song and book titles that play on the phrase, “gold buckle dreams.”
Bull riders dream of making it on tour with the PBR and ropers dream of making the National Finals Rodeo. Many dream about riding just once at Cheyenne or the Calgary Stampede. Some dream of making an association finals in their home states.
For some, dreams come true. I’ve been fortunate enough to know a few young men who have recently seen their dreams come true of getting a place in one of the PBR’s coveted top spots.
At 19 years old, Daylon Swearingen is one of those young men and I had a brief conversation with his mom, Carrie this week about how to be praying for Daylon.
“This has always been Daylon’s dream,” said Carrie.
But along with following dreams comes the idea of following your heart and that’s where the trap can come in for Christians. It understandably sounds good and I’ve seen many cowboys and bull riders talk about it and give advice encouraging it. But the Bible warns us about uncontrolled emotion and it especially warns us about the heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
The prophet, Jeremiah, is writing to the Jews who at the time are in exile in Babylon after failing to follow God’s path for them but instead, becoming like the pagan cultures they embraced around them.
But we were made with the same hearts and emotions as the Jews back in this time and can take this warning for ourselves as well. Our heart will deceive us. Following our hearts can lead us into sinful decisions more easily than it can lead us toward fulfilled dreams.
One thing that Carrie asked for prayer was that people would see God in Daylon.
“This is God’s platform, looking forward to seeing His plans!” said Carrie.
Yes! Exactly. They understand while this is a dream come true for Daylon, it is God who orchestrated it and the priority isn’t on the dream, it’s on our heavenly Father who gave that dream and directed the family’s path.
By keeping our focus on God and not our hearts, we can see how our dreams are part of God’s plan.
And if following our hearts isn’t how we chase our gold buckle dreams, then what is? That’s found right here in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
It’s God that we’re to trust instead of our hearts and in trusting Him, he will direct us where He wants us to go. For Daylon, it is a time with the PBR. For me, it was into full time ministry. For you, it could be anything but when you follow Him, your dreams will follow His path and He will be glorified through all you do.