By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We all want to hear from God. We want to know that he exists, that he loves us, and we want to know what he has planned for us and what he wants from us. We know from these messages over the past several weeks that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures, but that he also speaks to us through prayer and other people (especially other believers). We finish our discussion of communicating with God by noting how God communicates with us through circumstances and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout Israel’s history, God has communicated through circumstances that he is with his people. He has confirmed his power and his leading by sovereignly arranging the world he created to speak to his people who are listening closely for his still, small voice. God spoke to Jacob and Joseph through dreams (Genesis 28:10-17; 37:5-8). Joseph and Daniel even interpreted the dreams of others to lead God’s people and prove God’s sovereign power by foretelling future events (Genesis 40:1-41:36; Daniel 2:1-45). Abraham’s servant had Rebekah confirmed as Isaac’s future wife when God led both the prayerful petition of Abraham’s servant and the generous actions of Rebekah (Genesis 24:1-28). There are countless other times throughout both the Old and New Testaments where God directed his people and confirmed his will both through miraculous and mundane circumstances. The key to our ability to hear God’s voice in these things is our relationship with God. Apart from the disciplines of Bible study and prayer in humbly seeking a relationship with God, he could part seas and raise the dead (as he did with Moses/Pharaoh and Lazarus, Jesus/Pharisees) and we will still not hear what he’s trying to tell us. We all need to ask this question: Am I placing myself in a posture and position to hear from God?
It’s equally important to remember that followers of Jesus live in a world that actively rejects and fights against them. Therefore, some of the affirmations we receive will be hostility and opposition. Jesus reminded his disciples that because he chose us out of the world, the world hates them (John 15:19). That same world decided that Jesus was a threat to their self-importance and autonomy, and that Jesus needed to be killed for them to keep that which they believed to be most valuable to them. When we follow Jesus – truly follow Jesus – we can expect the same opposition. Unfavorable circumstances that are the direct result of faithfulness to God are often a confirmation that we are where God wants us – standing in the place of Jesus.
Another way we hear from God is through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Triune God, (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit). He is not some elemental force or feeling. He is a person. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He can be quenched (denied the right to do the work he intends to do) (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If our bodies are the Temple of God because of the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), then the Holy Spirit is God.
Jesus tells us what the work of the Holy Spirit is in John 14:15-17, 25-26 and 15:26-16:15 (please stop and read these verses carefully now). Here, we learn that the Holy Spirit is God in us, just as Jesus was God with us. Like Jesus then, the Holy Spirit has a mission that includes revealing the Father, redeeming us from sin, leading us to worship him in Spirit and truth, and equipping us to join in God’s mission to the world. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit will be all and only that which is consistent with the mission of the Father and the Son.
Because Jesus is the ultimate and final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-14), the Holy Spirit does not reveal new things to us, but instead brings greater clarity to the full revelation Jesus has already provided. He did this for the disciples by causing them to remember things he said and did and to view those things in light of his death and resurrection. That is why their witness about who Jesus is remains the most uniquely authoritative Christology in existence. No one else who has ever existed can both possess the Holy Spirit and remember all that Jesus has said to them. The Holy Spirit-enabled Apostolic witness of Jesus is the final witness of Jesus. Any teaching contrary to their witness is heresy.
The Holy Spirit is also at work through us to redeem the lost world back to God. He does that through a ministry of conviction. He convicts us of our sin to demonstrate our need for the Savior. He convicts us of our insufficient self-righteousness. We all think we’re “good people,” but our definition of what is good falls short; our definition of righteousness misses the true mark of God’s holiness. What we call “righteousness” is nothing more than filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts us regarding judgment. Because Jesus’ resurrection proves his claim to be Messiah, Son of God we are assured that his judgment is true. Jesus is victorious; Satan – the ruler of this world – is defeated…and so are all who continue to be a part of this world by rejecting Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and God.
So, as the Holy Spirit fills-out our understanding of the revelation of the Father through Jesus Christ, and as he convicts us and the world concerning sin, “righteousness,” and judgment, we need to remember this very important thing: the Holy Spirit will always be consistent with the Scriptures. For that matter, any communication that is not consistent with the Scriptures we can immediately and confidently reject as not from God. God won’t tell you it’s okay to have sex before marriage. God won’t tell you it’s fine to take out loans you know you can’t repay. God won’t reveal to you that the original Apostles had it all wrong and that Jesus was a created being or being from another planet. Revelation from God is always consistent with the Scriptures.
This week as you read your Bibles and pray, be still. Be quiet. Assume a humble posture that is prepared to hear from God and to act on his word. Listen and look for God’s communication to you through people, circumstances, and the Holy Spirit. All of these should be leading you to a better understanding of who Jesus is and encouraging and equipping you to be involved in God’s mission of revelation and redemption. We all have our part to play. You are the Temple of God. Go out and reveal him to the world.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Next to me was a metal tub roiling with a mixture of gasoline and dry ice. Set inside were several numerical brands being super-cooled for the process of cold branding bulls. The process causes their hair to fall out and then grow back with the pigment forever changed to white.
It’s thought to be a less painful form of branding verses hot branding that scars the hide to make the brand.
I was waiting for everyone to gather together for a cowboy church message as the tub was boiling away and it got me thinking about the guys that actually will shape a coat hanger into a brand, heat it in a campfire and brand themselves.
While it’s not an extremely common practice, it’s certainly tied most closely to the cowboy and rodeo communities and it becomes a pretty clear way to show to the world around you that you’re a cowboy.
When we become Christians, followers of Christ whose lives are changed by a saving faith in Jesus, we’re permanently changed by that experience the way the bulls’ hair was going to be permanently changed by that cold branding.
But there’s no outward mark on our bodies that shows we have been changed and while a brand shows what cattleman a herd belongs to, there’s no outward physical change that shows we now belong to Jesus.
John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
In this chapter of John, Jesus is describing us as sheep belonging to him and that no one can take us from him. We belong to him.
There is no need for us to be marked for Jesus to have to prove to anyone that we are his and that no one can take away the eternity Jesus bought for us with his death on the cross.
But, we still can’t help but outwardly show in other ways that we belong to Jesus. The Bible refers to that is fruit—the words and actions we carry out because of how much our salvation means to us and is changing us.
Matthew 7:16-18 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 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.
Jesus is warning here against false teachers, letting us know that we can tell who they are but the fruit they produce. Bad will come about from a false teacher but those who belong to Jesus are going to produce good fruit. Sure, Jesus may not have put a brand on our arm to show we belong to him but we won’t be able to hide it either through our words and actions, especially if we carry out his commands to tell others about him and to love others the way he loves us.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
It can become hard to serve others when your services makes them feel like they have to return the favor. The best advice I ever received about being able to serve others in our culture is to actually ask them to serve you first.
It sounds like it goes against what the Bible teaches but here’s what happens: if I’m the new guy in the neighborhood and I try to do something for my neighbors as a way to serve them and get to know them, we unintentionally put them in the position of needing to return the favor; they owe us.
Buuuuut, if you ask THEM to help YOU first, you are now in the position of owing them a favor and unless they are just horribly unfriendly people, most are going to be willing to help you when you ask. You still get to know them, a relationship with the neighbor can start and it will be easier to serve them when opportunities arise.
My friends that explained this to me had this happen with a new family that moved in the neighborhood. I don’t remember the details but they had an opportunity to just jump in and help the family with something fairly significant but after that, found the couple was avoiding them. It wasn’t until my friends tried asking them for help that they all then started talking freely across the street and my friends realized they were being avoided because the couple felt they were in debt for the help and felt awkward.
I’m still the new person on the mountain and have a handful of neighbors where I live near Gatlinburg. One of the couples are descendants of the original family that settled the mountain and eventually sold portions of it that have become a handful of homes and rental cabins that make up our little mountain neighborhood.
When I first got up there, I did a terrible job of meeting more than the closest neighbor who sits a bit behind and above me on the ridge we share.
For awhile, we were mostly just “hey neighbors” or “wave as you go by neighbors” so for the ones I waved “hey” to the most, I decided to bake some cookies as we got close to Christmas two years ago. It’s the only time I do something like that, making shortbread like my mom had made when I was little. I had put plates of them in three neighbor’s mailboxes with Christmas cards and a note with my contact information to sort of introduce myself.
One never said anything, another put a bunch of candy canes back in mine and another didn’t find theirs until a bear had knocked the mail box over that next summer because I put them in a long-since gone relative’s box by mistake. I got a panicked voicemail from the neighbor feeling terrible that they had never acknowledged the gift, not even knowing what it was that the bear had eaten. She apologized repeatedly when I called her back because she felt terrible and I ended up feeling terrible because it had made her feel like she was in an awkward spot.
So I tried the advice I had overlooked the first time around by dropping off cookies. With the neighbor closest to me I had an extended road trip that was taking me away for more than a few weeks and I was able to meet him by actually going over to ask him if I could get him to cut my lawn once while I was away. I offered to pay but he refused.
Perfect. I now owed him.
We have visited multiple times now since then and I’ve been able to help him pile wood with no sense of obligation anymore. We now are both comfortable asking for help if we need it.
But there was still that problem with the original mountain family. That wonderful old-timey culture is deeply rooted. The phone call about the Christmas card found months later at least opened the door for me to drop in the next time I saw them outside. Caught unprepared, the wife excused herself, went inside and came out with a jar of apple butter she had made back in the fall. I had created this need for her to give back. So after a trip home to visit family in Ontario, I came the next time with a box of cookies you can only get in Canada. Because I had expressed interest in it during our conversation, I left with the moon-phase guide to planting a garden they kept on their refrigerator. Next time, having learned she couldn’t eat much sugar, I came with some chips in a style you can only get in Canada and left with a wooden wagon planter from her porch.
Finally, a couple weeks ago, I was getting ready for another trip to Ohio and Ontario when my covid test for the border crossing came back inconclusive and I was going to have to go to town again to take another test. At the same time, my lawn tractor backfired and died on me right as the husband was driving by on his own to cut the lawns on the two rental cabins down from me. I really did need some help and was able to approach him to ask if he had enough gas and time to keep cutting one more while I ran back to town for the second test.
He wouldn’t accept offer of payment and also said he’d help figure out what was wrong with the mower when I get back.
My hope is that by finding myself in real need of help, this has broken the cycle of gift-giving and opened the door to where they won’t mind asking me for help or that I can pitch in when I see a need without having to be given something off their porch.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The idea of asking for help instead of offering it seems contrary to scripture except it can be an effective way to build a bridge that opens the door to more easily serve those neighbors and develop a closer relationship that allows the gospel to be shared.
Rodeo and bull riding give us all a great opportunity to ask for help and I think in that environment, it’s easier for us to do it either way. If we need help, we’re going to ask for it and if we see someone who needs help, most of us are pretty good at stepping up and helping without being asked. It’s just a natural way of doing things so it doesn’t create that sense of obligation.
But what are some ways we can either serve or ask to be helped in order to build connections with others around us outside the sport? We help others so we can show Jesus to them but however we do it, we need to build connections so we can also tell them who Jesus is and what he did for them.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We continue to consider how God communicates with us this week. We already know that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures. He also speaks to us through prayer, which includes us doing more listening and less talking. Today, I’d like to consider how God speaks to us through other people.
Rodeo cowboys and bull riders know what it means to give and seek advice. They do it all week long when it comes to decisions about what events to enter to how to set their saddle, how much reign to give or for a barrel racer, how to handle to ground at a particular venue. But even the smallest decisions shouldn’t be made without taking into account our need to hear God.
As a general rule, it’s always wise to seek the advice of trusted counselors before making any decisions that have potentially important alternative outcomes. Proverbs 12:15 tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” None of us has perfect or complete insight into any matter. We all have our own blind spots. That’s why we need to consider the wise and varied perspectives of others. To assume we have it all under control and forego the discussion of important decisions and the various possible outcomes is nothing short of foolishness. On the other hand, we need to be cautious when someone comes to us claiming to have a word from God for us that is not confirmed by Scripture, our prayer time, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Not all the voices we hear are the voice of God!
Nevertheless, we need the advice of others, and we may need lots of it. In fact, there is great wisdom in seeking advice from several different people prior to making an important decision. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Our understanding is never perfect – not of the world around us, the circumstances we live in, nor of ourselves. The experiences and perspectives of many varied counselors can be important in increasing our understanding and leading us to make a better-informed decision.
In addition to seeking God’s will for us through prayer and fasting, it is often necessary to discuss our plans with multiple other people who may be involved and affected by the decisions we make. We do not exist in vacuums, isolated from contact and interaction with the world. Proverbs 11:14 reads, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” The people we live with, work with, and serve with each day may need to be considered before we drop a bombshell on them and expect them to deal with the fallout. They may buck at the thought of being forced on a path of our determination or be able to offer other attractive alternatives.
So, whom should we seek to provide wise advice? First, mature followers of Christ will always be a wise place to seek advice for a biblical viewpoint. Additionally, people who have more life-experience than us will almost certainly provide perspectives from both their successes and their failures irrespective of their faith convictions. Likewise, anyone who knows us on a deep and personal level can help us search our hearts and motives, even if they don’t align with our religious beliefs.
It is critical that we not be unwilling to accept advice from others. Equally important, however, is that we do not insist upon someone else making our decisions for us. Often, fear and anxiety can become crippling and leave us stagnating with indecisiveness. While it is important that we seek the advice of others, it is also important that we come to a decision in a timely manner. Just as it is detrimental to go off half-cocked and make a rash decision, it is also to our harm – and maybe those with whom we interact – to sit paralyzed on the sidelines while the world keeps turning.
My advice is that when you have a big decision to make, come up with a reasonable deadline by which you’d like to have your decision made. Then determine 1) who will be directly affected and needs to be “in-the-know,” 2) who knows you well enough to be able to anticipate your decision, and 3) who might have some relevant life-experience to offer. Most importantly though, you need to seek the counsel of mature brothers and sisters in Christ who love you enough to tell you even the most difficult of truths with an eye on giving God glory in all things.