By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Draw a picture of a horse. Mine will look more like a stick horse unless I have something in front of me to draw from, then it will get a little better. The next person will draw a picture with amazing shading and detail. Another will use unrealistic colors to create their own style. The next will ask, “What kind of horse?” And another will draw the horse and include a barn setting for a background.
Romans 12:4-8 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
We all have a couple common tasks that Jesus gave us: to love others and to share the gospel and make disciples.
Through looking at scriptures about what Jesus did in his time here, we can get some idea of how he approached and treated others and we can pull from that just how it is that we’re supposed to carry out those tasks. But we also know that each of us has been given different gifts from God.
Just like how our task to draw a horse will be completed differently, how we love others or how we connect with them or even the methods we use to share the gospel will be different. But the result will be the same. A horse will be drawn. The gospel will be shared. In these few verses from Romans, it’s also made clear we’re to use the gifts we have to the best of our ability. My stick horse might be the best I can do but the horse will still get drawn. I can still take care to draw each line as straight and smoothly as I can.
But Jesus isn’t telling us to draw a horse or do something that doesn’t use skills God has given us. He’s telling us we all have different gifts and gives us examples like showing hospitality or mercy. You may not feel like you’re the best communicator, but you can still explain the gospel to a friend in the best way you know how to share it. A person whose gift is teaching may have an easier time of explaining the gospel to someone but it may be the kindness you show through your gift of hospitality that may be what God uses to make it easier for that person to really listen to the gospel message.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
I love how honest the authors of Scripture were. For starters, none of the fathers or leaders of Israel were portrayed as perfect examples of religious leaders. Abraham’s failure to trust God was recorded three different times (Gen. 12:10-13; 16:1-4; 20:1-3). Moses failed to trust and honor God with his obedience at Meribah, losing the opportunity to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Num. 20:12) and to enter it himself (Deut. 1:37). King David was an adulterer, a murder (2 Sam. 11), and a passive father (2 Sam. 13). Jacob (later renamed Israel) was a conman (Gen. 27:1-40). Joseph was a braggart (Gen. 37:1-11). The examples go on and on, even in the New Testament.
The Scriptures of true Christian faith are set apart from the writings and teachings of all other religious sects in that they are blatantly honest about the shortcomings of the heroes of faith whom they portray without excusing or making light of their sins. The Scriptures do not promise us a squeaky-clean or easy and comfortable life in return for our faith. Even with strong faith, we will continue to sin, and we will continue to suffer simply because we live in a world that rejects and rebels against God.
Jesus assures us that if we follow him, we will be hated and persecuted (John 15:20). That’s precisely why John recorded in such great detail Jesus’s final words to his disciples in chapters 13-17 of his gospel message concerning Jesus. Jesus warns his disciples that they will be killed by those who think they are serving God (16:2), and that they will all be scattered (16:31). These aren’t the only things Jesus promised to his disciples, however. Over and over again, he reminds them of the grace he will provide for them throughout their most difficult trials. Jesus assures his followers that he will not leave them like a bunch of orphans (14:18), and he comforts them with the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit living in them (14:25ff).
Ultimately, the disciples’ reason – and ours – for hope is summed up in the final words of John 16: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (33). The world is a tough place. Rodeo is a tough sport. Ranching is a tough lifestyle. It’s easy to think we can handle a lot but there will be times when rodeo and ranching feel easy and we feel like we do not have what it takes to deal with everything else we’re facing.
There will be times when we feel like we’ve been singled out to endure particular difficulties. There will be times when we face regret for our past and fear for our future. Yet, in spite of all these things, you and I have a real reason for peace and hope. It’s not the peace that comes when everything in life is going as we think it should, when the people around us respond the way we want to us and our desires, or when our health and finances are good.
There is a firmer foundation for peace found only in knowing that our heavenly Father is not afraid of, nor will he be defeated by the things that make us afraid or defeat us. Peace comes when we rest in the fact that by grace we are connected to the One who has overcome everything that might cause our hearts to faint, and nothing can sever that connection.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
Back in my bull riding days I was a regular at a weekly event that a small association sponsored from April thru October each year. A few times, they chose to do a bull riding clinic. It was an opportunity for the more experienced riders of the association to spend some time with the new guys who were eager to learn and advance their skills in the sport. Participants usually had the opportunity to get on five bulls throughout the day and get some feedback on their rides, learn how to avoid common mistakes and receive encouragement to always fight to move toward the “sweet spot” with each jump and kick. We usually didn’t have paid bullfighters at these events, so the instructors would step in and do what they could to give riders a reasonable opportunity to get up and get out of the way after they came off their bulls.
At one of these clinics, a young rider was thrown early in his ride. When he hit the ground – not so hard – he laid there; he looked up to see that the bull wasn’t coming back for him, then he laid his head down. At this point, I sat everyone down and made this comment: “There are no bullfighters here. We (the instructors) will make one pass to get the bull’s attention and give you time to get up and get out of the arena. If you decide to lay there and get stomped and hooked, that’s on you. The only valid excuses for lying there after you buck off are paralysis or unconsciousness.” I was pretty mad because his thoughtlessness and inaction put me and others at risk unnecessarily.
It really is difficult to do life with other people. Sin not only created a rift in our relationship with God, but it has also caused brokenness in our bonds with one another. We all have our own ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be done, and we tend to value our own lives and opinions over those of others. That’s why when we come together as a group it’s beneficial to have some kind of understanding of what we can expect from one another. My son is a Boy Scout. At every meeting, scouts recite the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. These recitations remind them of who they are called to be and what is expected of them as scouts. If you are found in breach of these expectations, you may be dismissed as a member. The U.S. Armed Forces, the Masonic Lodge, the Ruritans, and most other groups all have expectations and for the good of the group and its missions, will all dismiss those who don’t follow those expectations.
The Church is no different. Yes, there is grace for when we fail – and we will fail, but there is a call on our lives to be true disciples of Jesus and expectations that go along with that call. In Philippians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul, encouraging unity and harmony among the Philippian believers writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He goes on to acknowledge how Jesus, though he had the full authority of God being equal with the Father, emptied himself of his own glory to become a servant of sinful human beings. You and I are not so important that we should expect to have our own expectations fulfilled by the group. In fact, the group’s mission should define our expectations.
So, what are the expectations of a group who professes to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples? There are many, but it begins with the commitment to follow Jesus. That commitment is defined by Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That means my desires give way to Jesus’ mission. My life is no longer mine, but his to do with as he pleases.
That commitment has implications for how we do life together in Jesus’ Church as well. I encourage you to read Ephesians 4-6 now to see how Paul elaborates on this topic. He calls us to humility, gentleness, and patience “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3). He calls us to put away falsehood and speak the truth with one another, and sometimes truth is difficult to accept when we have been deceived. He calls us to deal with our anger quickly and apart from sin rather than letting things fester and sour our relationships with one another. He commands the thief to stop stealing and work with his hands so that he’ll have something to contribute to those who are truly in need. He commands our speech to be only that which encourages and strengthens one another, not the kind of speech that slanders and demeans. We are to reject bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice as necessary evils in our relationships with one another. Instead, we should be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because God has forgiven us for our sin against him, so we have no valid reason to withhold forgiveness from others – we are not God!
It is time for us to embrace God’s mission for us as individuals and for us as a body of believers. We can either embrace a lifestyle of complaint or one of gratitude. One will divide. The other will unify. One will create discontentment. The other will cause us to receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Won’t you join me in pursuing peace by embracing the biblical role and the expectations of a disciple of Jesus?
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.