By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
It’s arguably the most common hashtag used among Christian cowboys and bull riders but it’s also arguably the most misunderstood.
We place first, we get good results from the doctor, we celebrate an anniversary with our wife or girlfriend or we receive a gift worth sharing with everyone on social media and we immediately tell everyone with the accompanying hashtag or a comment about how blessed we are.
Let’s be clear, it’s not wrong to do that. Our friends care about us and, when we’re walking in Christ, they can celebrate with us. There aren’t too many bull riders or rodeo cowboys who don’t celebrate another guy’s win and they’re going to watch the video you post with the status: “God blessed me with a win tonight. My slump is over.”
There’s a hidden danger here that has greater impact than we realize because of how often we associate material successes and rewards with blessings.
The same beliefs we follow in Scripture are the same beliefs that are followed by Christians living in Nigeria where members of the Fulani people now outpace Isis and Boko Haram for attacks on Christians.
Where is the blessing if members of your family were murdered in their church by a group of Fulani raiders that came through your village and burned down your homes?
It’s there. It’s in hardship that we actually find a deeper understanding of what it means to be blessed.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.
Throughout scripture, we see blessings associated with hardship or lower standing compared to our culture, not success.
But when we associate blessings with success, we are unintentionally creating a false idea that when we’re struggling, God is somehow not there for us. It creates questions for people. Where is God when you your cancer is healed but I’ve got three weeks to live?
It’s here that we need God the most, when the cancer comes, when the bills are due and you lost your job and haven’t won money at a rodeo in weeks or your girlfriend empties out the house and leaves while you’re on a three-day run two states away.
In our culture, we’ve taught ourselves not to feel very blessed when life isn’t going our way and other cultures, that observe ours, are taught to pursue God to receive the gains we have when our country’s poorest are still seen as rich compared to them.
The misunderstanding of what blessings are can actually take our eyes off of God but when we understand what they are, they show us how much we need and depend on Him.
When we remain steadfast, refuse to waiver or back down as we fight through a trial, we have an opportunity to rely on God for that strength. It is in that dependence on God that we are able to grow closer to Him, become more Christ-like and it is in that way that we are blessed.
A very quick look at part of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers as seen in Matthew shows us more of this dependence on God and shift away from material blessings. (We’ll get into more detail on these verses in a later part of this series.)
Matthew 5:3-12 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
For example, in verse 4, we see a blessing come when we are mourning or grieving—that in those hard times, our blessing can come in the comfort we find in relying on God.
Even more, we are told we can rejoice in being persecuted for our faith because the greatest rewards aren’t in material blessings here but in what is yet to come as we prepare for an eternity and perfect life in Heaven.
It’s on that understanding that we have to rely on when standing up for our faith costs us our job, a more common form of persecution in western culture right now, or when our African village is destroyed by another religion that hates us.
You can only put your bull rope on one way. You can only put a headstall on one way. Designs may change over the decades but the equipment functions the same way today as it did 100 years ago.
Hebrews 13:7-9 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods,which is of no benefit to those who do so.
Verse 8 reminds us that Jesus is the same, always.
Our culture wants us to reject our faith. It wants us to choose a different pattern to run saying the way we do it now is outdated and doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the way the world lives its collective life.
But in his letter to the Hebrews, Paul is reminding us that no matter what other influences are out there, pressuring us to let go of what we believe, Jesus has always been the same and that’s what we are to follow from the example set by Christian leaders who have gone before us. The applications of scripture may change as our culture changes, but what those verses mean are just as consistent as Jesus is.
He cautions us not to get carried away by other teaching that’s out there. The values in our culture shift almost weekly and sometimes are changing so fast that they seem to contradict each other as we strive to not offend anyone and make everyone value the same morals and attitudes.
There are different faiths and beliefs out there beyond our culture and even within our churches, there can be false teaching, different from a pastor making a mistake with scripture, but choosing to teach popular ideas that actually contradict what the Bible teaches.
Matthew 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
That’s why it’s so important for us all to be at least familiar with what the Bible teaches.
If we don’t have an idea of what scripture teaches, it is harder to recognize when we are listening to false teaching. False ideas that go against scripture are pushed on us by our culture and false ideas can even be pushed on us by those who say they are representing God when really, they are teaching something as opposite to that as a bush of thorns producing grapes.
Instead of false teaching and beliefs, Paul wants us to be strengthened by God’s grace, which is what we come under through a saving faith in Jesus. The grace we receive is this: that instead of being condemned for our sins, which God will condemn equally, we can all be seen as right and perfect before God through our belief in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the act of repenting and asking for forgiveness of sins. That comes through our understanding Jesus’ death on the cross was in place of our sins so that in faith, repentance and the seeking of forgiveness, we could be saved. That’s grace! Receiving forgiveness when we really deserve punishment.
In Hebrews, Paul wants us to recognize that following anything else is as useless as eating the food that is prepared in part of a different belief’s ceremonies. If Jesus never changes, following something different will do us no good.
You don’t have to be a barrel racer to know that to have a qualifying time, you don’t get to make up your own course. There is a set pattern that’s followed, even if it’s take from the left or the right, the cloverfield course is the same. As Christians, the path we follow is the one set out by Jesus and his teachings we find in the Bible.
His death on the cross and the salvation it brings us, isn’t changed by our culture. All we need to do is believe in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, confess we sin, repent and seek forgiveness. It will always be given, just as it was 2,000 years ago, as it will today and as it will tomorrow and so on.
I was born in a strong Christian based home was in church every Wednesday and Sunday. After many years of following Christ, I started to steer away from Him when I let worldly things and people trap me and bring me down.
I was in a dark place for awhile and was heading down a path that would surely end me in a place where many people wouldn’t want their worst enemyies to be. But I’ve always had a strong family and support from them. When I got back into rodeo and started riding bucking horses about five years ago, I started seeing the drive and passion it gave back to me and I knew it was His way of telling me it’s time to come back to me and follow Him.
I quit a lot of negative things in my life and slowly cut out a lot of people and started getting back to who I once was.
We all know the devil attacks in weird ways but the soldier in me told me to fight back with the only real weapon we have. And since I’ve regained Him in my life and let Him guide me instead of me following others, my life has been a non-stop finals experience. If I never win the world or even make the finals, that’s alright with me because as long as I make an impact on people’s lives along the way I know my God will take care of me and my family.
My advice to new followers is not to be afraid to fail and don’t be scared when the devil attacks or when you see great changes in your life. It’s because God has a plan for everything and and He will take care of us because we are His sheep and He is the Shepard. He will never let us wander too far from Him and will always welcome us back with open and loving arms. Romans 10 9-10 says, “don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” This is something we all should realize and feel. Don’t be scared or ashamed of what He has done for us and continues to do for us. Glory be to God. And all God’s people says:
God is good!!
Lane Fritz doesn’t find it easy but he’s trying to read his Bible more and encourage others to do the same.
That’s why you’ll sometimes see the Modoc, Indiana bull rider take a break during from the action at a bull riding to open it up and read it.
“When other guys see me reading it, they stop and ask what I’m reading,” he said, hoping that when others see him doing it, they can feel more comfortable opening theirs.
He recently gave his King James bible to a friend who didn’t have one but got a new Holman Study Bible from his church for graduating high school.
This past Saturday, Fritz had sat down behind the bucking chutes and opened the Bible up to a random Psalm and began reading when a traveling partner, Cody West, crouched down with him to see what he was reading.
They were at The Mack Arena, a Southern Extreme Bull Riding winter series run by Joe and Amy McQuillan. The event has been held all fall through spring for more than 15 years and is one of the places many Ohio and Indiana bull riders strengthen their grip on bull riding. It was the last night for the series and the second time this year that I got to go to lead cowboy church behind the chutes.
I talked with Fritz and West a little about their Bible reading and West asked a question that most rodeo cowboys and bull riders have: what’s the best way to read it?
Fritz said he mostly just opens it up at random to try to learn something and I was able to encourage him to use the study notes that come with the Bible and focus on reading smaller amounts at a time to be sure he understands what he’s read before moving on. He said not knowing who all the people are and how they are connected makes it confusing. He also said the ‘slang’ in the language is sometimes hard to understand but he is wanting to do better at reading his Bible more.
I went over a few basics to try not to overwhelm them and suggested to him and West that they start with John to learn more about Jesus and the gospel first but that they also might try James as a shorter book but one that is more to the point. I find for the cowboys and bull riders just getting started with their Bibles, that sometimes that is an easier book to get comfortable with studying the Bible in general.
It can be hard to get participation but I’ve started a group to do an online Bible study and will be including the people who have normally come to the cookout/Bible studies we’ve done in Ohio in the past as well as anyone else who has a genuine interest in learning more about the Bible. The text-based format will make it slow going but there will be a chance for the guys (and a few spouses) to answer questions after looking at sections of scripture to help them understand the text better.
Many of the guys carry Bibles with them but it seems less often that you see them open it up. I used to give away what are known as ‘cowboy Bibles’ which are inexpensive New Testaments designed to be compact and kept in their gear bags or glove boxes. They have rodeo-related covers on them and some are printed with cowboy testimonies in them. I switched a few years ago to giving out compact Bibles I can sometimes get at a chain of Christian bookstores for just a little more than the cost of the cowboy Bibles, but that way, they have the complete set of Scriptures. They have tooled covers that fit the cowboy style and for those I know are really trying to understand their Bibles, I will get them a study Bible.
It’s always exciting to me to see someone bring theirs into the group when gather for cowboy church. I know another bull rider who also happens to be from Indiana who will slip away somewhere before the bull riding starts to read some from his away from the distractions around him but Fritz said he prefers to read his in the open to be an encouragement to others.
It was definitely an encouragement to me to see the two of them talking about what Fritz was reading.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
I was talking with a young bull rider about a second walkout at his school over gun control at a bulls, broncs and barrel race in Tennessee in April.
As a supporter of carrying firearms, the graduating student was frustrated by the walkout and went outside to ask his classmates why they were out there and what they thought it would accomplish. He said no one had an answer. For that reason alone, their cause lost any ability to have influence over someone they were needing to reach if their reason for being out there was really to bring about change. It only pushed the bronc rider further away from their cause.
Many barrel racers go down the road alone and we know some of them are armed, if not of their own choosing, often by husbands and boyfriends concerned about what happens when they stop at 2 a.m. for gas in the middle of nowhere. Some of us think reforms are necessary. Many rodeo cowboys and bull riders carry.
But this isn’t about gun control and what side of the issue we’re on. It’s about needing to know what we stand for and how to defend it as Christians.
The message gun control advocates had for this young bronc rider was completely lost when all they could say was they were ‘for it’, not knowing what ‘it’ was.
Many of us will tell people we’re a Christian, but when we’re asked about what we actually believe, we don’t have an answer. We’re ‘for Jesus’ but we don’t necessarily know what we mean by that.
If we don’t have an answer, we’ve lost credibility in a culture that is more and more skeptical or even aggressive against what we believe. If we don’t have an answer, we can’t share what, according to our beliefs, is the most important
It’s like telling a dying person that you have the cure for cancer, you just don’t know how to tell him what it is. Think about that for a moment, please, because it really is that serious. Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and that we know the only way to be sure of going to Heaven is a saving faith in Jesus Christ. We have to be able to tell others about it because it’s the difference between someone gaining eternal life or eternal suffering.
1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Jesus is the hope that is in us and Peter is telling us we need to be ready to tell someone about him at any time, especially when the faith comes under attack. In this section of scripture, he acknowledges we may suffer for our beliefs but that we need to be prepared to defend them.
The second part of this verse speaks to another side of how we’re to communicate our beliefs: with gentleness and respect. Whether it’s gun control, police brutality or the fight for a living wage, the message is often lost in shouting, riots or any kind of manipulation or force. As Christians saved be grace through faith in Jesus Christ, nothing matters more than getting our message of hope out there in a way that people will be willing to listen.