By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We all do it. We scoff when others do it but fail to recognize how much we do it ourselves.
We all work to convince ourselves that we are better off than we are, that we are not that sinful after all. We compare ourselves to others who seem more sinful than we are when the truth is that we probably just hide our sin better than they do. We evaluate our holiness based on the sin we see around us and conclude that we aren’t so bad rather than evaluating our holiness through the perfect mirror of God’s word.
The truth is that any means by which we tell ourselves we’re okay with God is a form of sinful self-righteousness and self-atonement. They are all shocking denials of our sin and minimize our need for the sinner’s only hope – God’s amazing grace.
Listen to me: God knew this would be our tendency – to self-justify. So, he designed a means for us to be confronted again and again by the depth of our sin and by the expansive provision of his grace in the person and work of the Lamb, the Savior, the Redeemer – the Lord Jesus Christ. He ordained that we gather together on a regular basis to be confronted with our true identities, both as sinners and as recipients of grace and therefore, his children.
It is only when we admit the disaster of our sin that we become excited about the grace of Christ Jesus. Corporate worship (church) confronts us with the fact that we really are worse off than we thought, and that God’s grace is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. We will continue to need that reminder regularly until we are finally perfected by God’s grace, until sin is ultimately defeated, and we are glorified in Christ’s image. Corporate worship is not a thankless duty of the truly committed; it is another gift of mercy – evidence of God’s glorious grace to us so that we might live our lives in increasing faith and reliance on him.
Romans 3:9-20 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 5:1-11 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Grace and peace be with you! Pastor Jesse
Difficulty is something we all experience. Each of us is either in the midst of difficult circumstances, just beyond something difficult, or will face something difficult in the very near future. Yet, for whatever reason, many Christians believe that accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior is going to somehow exempt us from the trials that are common to every person’s life, or at least from the more serious trials. But the truth of the matter is that even Christians experience difficulty, and sometimes our troubles are more intense because of our faith in Christ! Many Christians will see trials as a failure of their faith, or worse, as God’s unfaithfulness or inattention. Often, our hearts are left crying out, “Why, Lord?!”
The answer? God is redeeming us from a broken world and misplaced trust and conforming us into the image of his Son. It’s often only through the pressures of life that our true character is revealed. It’s often only in loss, discouragement, and pain that the true object(s) of our hope is revealed. And it’s in those moments that God calls us to set aside our idols and our selfish responses to embrace Jesus as our rock and firm foundation, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds into the very image of the Christ we claim to follow.
1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The only way our faith brings praise and glory and honor to God is if we find Jesus to be faithful, and we can’t find Him faithful if life is always pleasurable and comfortable. In Eph. 5:25-27 Paul reminds us that the reason Jesus gave Himself for the sake of the church, His body, was so that He might one day present the church to himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” And James 1:2-4 tells us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The splendor and perfection Christ seeks to achieve for us is only produced through trials!
God is at work today. There is a purpose for this interim between Jesus’s ascension and His second coming. That purpose is the perfecting of the faith of the body of Christ so that we might bring Him praise and glory and honor. The difficulties we experience until our redemption is complete are evidences of the zeal of God’s redemptive love. God’s work today is not so much about providing us with predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He is not working to transform our circumstances; he is using hard circumstances to transform us.
Now, may the God of peace give you – even in the midst of these present circumstances – peace that surpasses all understanding through our Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope, our rock, and our firm foundation, the Author and Perfector of our faith!
Pastor Jesse Horton
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Last year, I jokingly posted to social media an online order for a cattle prod. I don’t have cattle. It was a tool I wanted to carry with me to keep people the full six feet away from me that we were learning was part of the guidelines for dealing with the pandemic we were just beginning to face.
But all of Scripture isn’t about keeping people at a distance, it’s about God wanting us to be with Him, free from His judgment of our sin.
James 4: 7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James gives us just one of several direct references in the Bible of God wanting us to draw near to Him. Here, he is stressing the importance of turning from sin and repenting, first by telling us to submit to God, fight the devil and the temptation of sin and to turn to God instead.
James tells us if we move toward God, God will come toward us but stresses we approach God with a heart purified of sin.
Regardless of how people have felt about the pandemic and how it has been handled across the country and around the world, we’ve spent the past year either fighting against being kept apart from each other in our communities and churches or we’ve been willingly staying apart in effort to protect people we care about like vulnerable grandparents. Either way, it’s been difficult and challenging for Christians who understand we’re meant to be in community together just like we’re meant to be close to God.
We’ve been dealing with a lot of situations that have felt contradictory to what we believe.
And James gives us another seemingly contradictory statement in verse nine.
Here, he tells us something that sounds like it’s contradictory. We know through other books of the Bible and through our own experiences that our salvation brings about joy, understanding that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, we have gained a perfect eternity in Heaven. Fruit of the Spirit is something that forms in us when our salvation is real and one of those fruits is joy. Yet James is telling us to grieve and move from joy to gloom.
But what James is telling us in this single verse is just how serious our repentance of sin should be.
Our sin separates us from God and He will judge and condemn it. But He sent Jesus to briefly live among us, close to us, fully God and fully man. While his disciples didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was here to die and take the full punishment that was meant for them and all of us. Through his sacrifice, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. Through believing Jesus was the son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, we must repent of our sin and ask to be forgiven. When our faith and repentance is real, we’re given a perfect, eternal life in Heaven instead of eternal punishment in hell.
James wants us to grieve our sin that has kept us separated from God. He wants us to be humble before God but with the understanding God will come close to us—close enough to ‘lift us up.’
How wonderful is that to worship God who despite all our mistakes and failings, wants to be that close to us?
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Instead of what was said by someone running their mouth about you, imagine it eventually getting back to you that someone was out there saying what a great person you were or what a great thing they saw you do.
When we have a saving faith in Jesus, he changes us and we begin to do good works. Works are the words and actions we put out there based on what we know the Bible teaches us is right and good and that we know will glorify God.
Instead of talking at Waffle House with your buddies about why ‘that gunsel’ keeps getting on bulls or entering the sorting when he can’t even sit right in his saddle, what a life-changing moment it could literally be
for someone to have it get back to them how you never see them without a smile or laughing, even when competing in the mud.
Find the good, share the good.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
When Jesus is truly in us, good starts to come out of us as evidence our salvation is real. We start to do “good deeds.”
Jesus tells us that if we’re in Christ, we’ll produce good fruit. In Matthew 7, he’s specifically talking about how to tell if someone is a false prophet or not but we learn from him that those who are real followers o Christ will be producing good fruit, which again, would be the good works we do. The words and actions that show our faith is in Jesus because they follow his teaching.
Matthew 7:17-18 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
He also teaches us that all of it comes from God.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
None of the good we do can be accomplished without God doing the work in us and through us. It’s done together.
No one that competes in rodeo succeeds without some help. It can be the spotter behind the chutes, it can be borrowed equipment,the loan of a horse or it can be advice. Even the biggest loner determined to accomplish something on his ‘own’ power, has help somewhere along the line.
We need God to accomplish what He has planned for us. We may do the ‘good works’ but they are given to us by Him and it’s by His power we succeed and He gets glorified.
On one hand, when our faith is real we can’t help but do good as God works through us, but on the other, the author of Hebrews is telling also us to look for ways to help others do good. It’s still God through us, but the encouragement or help we provide helps someone else to do good. Find the good, share the good.