Jim Bull is a horseman from Kentucky who writes, The Bull Pen for the Cowboys of the Cross website, devotions meant to teach and encourage through illustrations from life.
By Jim Bull / Cowboys of the Cross
As a teenager, I thought I knew what was best for me, at least what little I knew about what I wanted.
Admittedly, I really had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was content to wander aimlessly through it without much consideration to my future. When my mom would ask me about my plans I would give a lame thought or brush it off completely. When she would try to help me think about a job that would lead to a career or at least something that would make me happy and I would be good at, I knew she had my best interest in mind. But I wasn’t ready to listen. I would feign interest just to please her then go about my haphazard way of life.
This shows there is a difference between believing someone knows what’s best for you and listening to them. The same way there is a difference between believing in God and bowing down before Him.
Satan himself believes in God. James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Satan has talked to God and been in His presence. The belief Satan has is based on knowledge and does not include trusting, following or having a union with Christ. Satan’s belief does not lead to a changed life. That belief, or knowledge does not lead to salvation!
Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
However, your wholehearted, biblical belief in God through Christ will show itself in a spiritual and moral transformation. You shouldn’t need to tell someone you believe in God, they should be able to see it.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
The Kettle Campaign for the Salvation Army is just one of many places a Christian can volunteer and be able to serve others.
Thoughts while ringing the Salvation Army bell.
- Most people actually will look at you and speak.
- I was thanked for my service several times. I fought the urge to remind them it’s not that kind of ‘army’ but I knew what they meant.
- Just having to walk past you, you can tell some people feel ‘guilty’ or bad about not giving. We understand if they’re running errands, they’ll likely pass three or four more kettles—we’re not standing there judging you for passing us by.
- I know what a Code 7 is at Food City. A lot of people buy alcohol on a Wednesday afternoon.
- There is a huge shortage of volunteers. Locally, there weren’t even enough people they could pay to ring the bell. I found myself feeling guilty I couldn’t give more hours than I did knowing there were so many times there wasn’t someone standing with the kettle.
- Someone might yell at you for making too much noise.
- I have rhythm. A lady asked me if it was a recording because of the perfect rhythm I was keeping.
- A dollar is the going rate, at least in the locations I was at. That means it takes a LOT of volunteers and volunteer hours to bring in the funds needed for the Salvation Army to operate its assistance programs.
- A lot of people think the funds are to buy Christmas presents for kids. It does that but did you know they also run programs to fight human trafficking? They operate shelters for individuals and families, they provide emergency assistance to help people struggling to keep the power or water on and they provide drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and much more.
- The bell is an annoying sound to some but I’ve come to realize it’s the sound of hope – it’s the hope found in Jesus Christ that compels the Salvation Army and their volunteers to help anyone, regardless of their beliefs, values or background.
As Christians, we’re called to serve. Getting to work in ministry full-time makes it easy to overlook the need to serve in other areas inside and outside of a church body.
What a simple way for a family to volunteer with their kids
Bell-ringing for the Salvation Army couldn’t be easier and would make a wonderful Christmas tradition to consider next season. A family could easily do this with their children and introduce them to serving others. There’s no training needed, just simple instructions to follow and a willingness to greet people and be nice.
But there are so many places we can serve and it’s something we’re called to do.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
By no means does that mean it has to be through an organization or even our churches. It can be helping someone in your neighborhood
In our western culture, we are blessed with numerous organizations that help in structured ways. Many are Christian-based because of what the Bible teaches through instruction like that in Galatians, but many are simply there to help fill a need. Regardless of whether it’s Christian-based or secular, we’re called to help and the organizations out there provide opportunities.
I haven’t shared my own volunteering this year to call attention to myself but to try to encourage others that it’s easy. I’ve looked for more private ways to help or serve in the past but wish I had done something like this sooner, especially now understanding how much of a volunteer shortage there is.
As Christians, we don’t do it for ourselves, we do it to bless others and for the opportunity to show Jesus to them. But in the end, we end up feeling good after we’ve done it. Praise God for the joy that can be found in serving others at Christmas and any time of the year.
I was born and raised in the small Minnesota prairie town of Maynard. My family attended a local church and I grew up in a Christian home. I devoted my life to Christ when I was a child.
Unfortunately, I did not fully grasp what it meant to be a follower of Christ and quickly I had a very legalistic relationship with Christ, that hinged on my performance and avoiding a whole list of things that were not acceptable by the church.
As a teenager, I really struggled with my faith. It wasn’t until my early 20s and after experiencing a few of life’s lessons that I started to realize that my “religion” was my salvation, and that I needed a savior. An untimely death of one of the church elders’ daughter at my new church really woke me up! Witnessing the need for Christ in my own life really opened my eyes to seeing the need for Christ and for His love in other people’s lives.
In 2010, I met and started to date my future wife, Sandra. Our life together has not been easy, but God has been at the center of our marriage and His grace and mercy have always been there for us. Sandra’s best friend died in a car accident in the summer of 2011, and it devastated both of us and pressured us to get our lives back on track. We struggled with sexual sin and with lies that came with it as we tried to hide our sins from our Christian families and our Church family. In the summer of 2011, we vowed to abstain from any sexual desire until we were married.
Unfortunately, we failed keeping this vow and broke it the night before we were wed, which lead to sexual tension within our marriage. I also struggled with an addiction to porn up to being engaged. Sandra refused to marry me if I could not break the addiction. It was not easy, but I praise God that I have been released from the hold of that addiction. By asking for forgiveness, and finally forgiving myself for my past sexual sins really closed the door on that issue in our marriage and it offered healing for both of us.
Paul knew what he was preaching about when it came to sexual sin the toll that it takes on a person. Thankfully, Sandra and I have been able to keep our marriage pure and it is a praise of His grace and mercy for that!
In the fall of 2013, my daughter Charlie was born and in the winter of 2014 my father in law David died. His death was extremely difficult to grasp, especially with the addition of my daughter that fall. David is dwelling in the Kingdom of Heaven and one day I will see him again!
In the winter of 2016 Sandra and I purchased our first house and we moved to Wood Lake, MN. Later that year, I moved my business to Wood Lake as well.
In fall of 2017, my son Zeke was born. After four months of bed rest, due to Zeke almost being miscarried and Sandra had to have a cervix stitch surgery to save the pregnancy. Sandra has infertility and had complications and had to receive a hormone regiment and we struggled to conceive for two years. We were very happy to see him, but something happened that we never expected. A couple of days after Zeke were born, Sandra was diagnosed with postpartum depression and she struggled to have a relationship with Zeke and even with Charlie at times. This lead to me taking extended time off of work at my full time job and stepping into a new role. All I can say, even in the worst of times, God is so good! That year was miserable, and watching my wife struggle with something that I couldn’t fix or quite understand just killed me inside.
God blessed us through friends and family and through my coworkers to help out where they could. I don’t know how many times I asked God to take it all away, to heal my wife, and the anger that I had from the effects of it. Sandra pushed through it and fought the depression the best she could, and one day it was gone… Thankfully we have our two kids, since we are not able to have anymore due the complications of the pregnancy Sandra had with Zeke.
This brings us to 2019. I am still making knives almost 12 years after the birth of Speh Custom Knives. Having this business has opened many doors for me to prompt Christ and to have contact with customers that have turned into very close friends. In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul tells us how to go about talking to others and I think its appropriate to share these verses as a new mission statement for myself.
Colossians 4:5-6 NIV – Be wisein the way you act toward outsiders;make the most of every opportunity.Let your conversation be always full of grace,seasoned with salt,so that you may know how to answer everyone.
We never know who God is going to put in our lives and simply showing the love of Christ to them is essential. Being accurate and loving with the Gospel is the goal that I am currently striving for in my own relationship with Christ. We can’t show someone Christ if we do not know Him ourselves, or if we don’t know the scriptures about His character, promises, and the hope Christ offers in salvation for all!
The armour of God can help in our fight against sin.
The Battle Against Sin Part 4
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
So we finally made it to the part of the series where I tell you the one trick to defeat sin in your life for good. Well, pard, I have some bad news: that’s not how this works at all. God didn’t design life that way. Like anything worthwhile, it takes effort and a whole lot of time. You can’t just become the next Wade Sundell, Trevor Brazile, or Juan Ulloa just because you decided one day you wanted to.
Being the next world champion in the sport of rodeo takes time and a lot of practice. You have to lay aside bad habits and cultivate good ones. It’s like working with a young horse: getting a good handle on him is a process that you’ll be working on and refining for the rest of that horse’s life. So how then do we get the upper hand in this fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Well, like in roping or riding you can never stress the basics enough.
So what are the basics in this fight? Read your Bible, pray, and find accountability.
Read your Bible
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
Whether you compete in rodeo or are out ranchin’ somewhere, one of the most obvious ways to get better at your trade is to talk to some top hands. Maybe that means going to a practice pen where they hang out, going to a horsemanship or stockmanship clinic, or seeking out some of the older, wiser folks in the area. We need to have someone to help us with our issues and be honest and straightforward when we need it. We seek out these people because we know they can be trusted. They’ve been there, done that, and know how things work.
If we want to know how things work in our fight against sin, we need to go to the most trustworthy source: the Word of God. 2 Timothy says, “all of Scripture is God breathed.” That means the whole Bible is the very Word of God and because God is perfect and cannot lie, His Word can be trusted.
Since the beginning of creation, the Devil has been trying to get us to doubt what God really says and sometimes reading through our Bibles can be confusing, but if we want to truly know God and how to fight our sins we need to use “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (from Ephesians 6:10-18).
In the gospels, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, His response always started with, “it is written.” He always brought to mind the truth of Scripture and the God-glorifying nature of it. Speaking for myself, it’s easier for me to fall to temptation and roll over to sin’s demands if I haven’t been reading my Bible. It always reminds me of who I am and who God is.
I strongly encourage getting into the habit of daily Bible reading of some kind. I confess that I’m in a stage right now where I don’t sit down and “read” mine daily, but I instead listen to the day’s passages in the YouVersion Bible app (the #keepthefeast reading plan) while I feed cows in the mornings.
So this one seems pretty simple, right? To sum it up, it’s how we talk to God. We use prayer to worship God, to thank Him, to repent of our sins, and to ask Him for things. Jesus is our example in this life and when asked how to pray he gave this model:
“…Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13
Now, this doesn’t mean we just repeat this prayer and that’s the only prayer God will hear. This prayer should be used like the tree on a saddle: it provides the form and shape, but we can add our own personal touch to it. When we are really struggling with temptation to sin, praying to God with this form in mind will be helpful. This prayer reminds us God is holy, our wants should be what God wants, He supplies our needs, He forgives us of our sins, He will help us in our struggles, and He will deliver us from the power of the world, the flesh and the devil.
“Our prayers might be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference,” Max Lucado
I personally think this one is going to be the hardest to apply. Most people don’t like having to rely on others for anything, especially something like dealing with the sin in our lives.
If you’re on the rodeo road or out in the saddle moving cows somewhere you might be able to get by alone for a while but you won’t go very far trying to make a hand if you’re the only expert in any room. God didn’t design the Christian life to be lived out alone. It’s made so that we will be in friendship with other Christians. Just like we need other people to help encourage us and give us pointers if we’re going through a bad stretch of buck offs or if we can’t get that heel trap to lay just right in the branding pen, we need other people to help us fight the sin in our lives. This is why being a part of a church is so important. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:4-5.
As Christians, we are a part of Christ’s universal Church that covers the whole world. But if we follow the example given to use in the Bible (specifically the New Testament), we are called to be involved with a local church wherever we call home. With rodeos on the weekends or feeling like you can’t leave the ranch for any number of reasons, it’s easy to make excuses about why going to church on Sunday isn’t that important. But it is. Being a part of a church isn’t just showing up on Sunday to check it off the list or to do it because “that’s just what we do.” It means being under the authority of a pastor and elders that will hold us accountable and having friends in the congregation we can be `100 per cent honest with about our lives and about our daily battle with sin.
As we jerk the saddle off this series and turn it out to pasture, I hope and pray this has been an encouragement to y’all. We all have good days and bad days in this fight against our sin but remember
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
The Battle Against Sin Part 3
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
Last time around, I said verse 4 in Ephesians 2 gives us the answer as to why we should fight sin: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!”
I’m going to focus here on the part “because of His great love for us,” or God loving us by saving us from our sins (which is to say, God saving us from the World, the Flesh, and the Devil). Author and teacher, Matt Chandler, when he preached on 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, made the point that “the love of Christ compels us,” so God’s love for us should be the Christian’s primary motivation for obedience (i.e. fighting sin). This is the same love we see in Romans 5:6-8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loved us so much that even when we were sinners, (i.e. traitors, haters of God), Christ died for us. If God loved us that much, shouldn’t we love Him in return?.
Think about the people you love or care about: your spouse, family members, the crew you work with, or your traveling partners. How do you treat them? Do you purposefully hurt them or disrespect them? Do you ignore them when they ask you to do something? If we are called to love God over everything else, do we treat Him like these others (when we should treat Him better than anyone else)? Or does the way we live our daily lives show that we don’t really love God and therefore don’t fight sin – we just act like my heeler when he gets disciplined, rolling onto our backs and letting sin run all over us? If you hear someone say they really love getting on broncs but you’ve never seen them on one and don’t even know if they own a saddle, you’d question the truthfulness of that statement. Well, if we say we love God but never attempt to show it or fight the sin we know He hates, it makes those words pretty hollow. John 14:15 gets straight to the point: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
Before becoming a Christian, I saw things like the Ten Commandments or commands in the New Testament as expectations I could never live up to. After God saved me, I now see these commands as ways God loves me – like a father instructing his son on how to handle life or the cow boss helping out the new hire on the ranch. Those commands are for our good.
In that sermon I mentioned above, Chandler says that we don’t always love God the way we should. Sometimes we struggle or doubt in those seasons of life. That’s when secondary motivations come in. Two that I think are important are knowing the cost of sin and noticing our drift toward sin.
The cost of sin
As Christians, we know the punishment for sin is the death of the sinner. We know that punishment should be against us, for our rebellion against God – but praise Him for the grace He extends on His people! In the Old Testament, God used the death of animals to atone for sin in the sacrificial system as a foreshadowing of Christ’s death.
Imagine for a moment having to watch something die because of the sin you committed. I don’t know about you, but for me one of the most nerve-wracking things about calving time is if you have to tube a fresh calf to give it milk to keep it alive. Even with plenty of experience there’s always the chance that if you screw up, that calf will have to pay for your mistake by drowning in the milk you’re trying to give it . In ranching or rodeo, we know death is a part of life. When you have a sick cow or an old horse that’s been your work partner for years but won’t survive the winter, sometimes the best option is a bullet. It’s a tough but necessary part of the job. Most of the world doesn’t see that side of ranching. Instead, they just see some nice clean packaged steaks by the time their meat arrives in the store.
Just like the people in the store, I think most of us miss what sin actually costs. This cost wasn’t just any death though. It was bloody and gruesome. Just go look at the sacrificial system in the Old Testament or the crucifixion of Christ in the New.
1 Peter 1:18-19 tells us: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.”
I think we cheapen the price God paid for us in our salvation. We need to remember, especially in moments of temptation, to think of how bloody and awful it must have been for Christ on the day of His crucifixion. Remember how much pain He endured to save us when it was pain we deserved. That should make us think twice when we are ready to roll over to sin’s demands.
Our natural drift toward sin
If you’ve dealt with cattle in steep country, you know that if left on their own for very long they will eventually drift down to the flattest spot or along a waterway. Much like cattle, if God would leave us alone we would just drift down further and further. Cows don’t just appear at the bottom of the draw and we don’t just “happen” to go deeper and deeper into sin. We make decisions that don’t seem that bad at first but will eventually trap us in our old sinful way of life. If we don’t fight our sin it will just keep growing, kind of like my horse’s feet. If I don’t trim them up or put shoes on him, they’re just going to get worse and worse. As John Owen put it, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
While as Christians, we have a new heart and a new nature, our old nature and old habits are still with us.
In Romans 7:21-25 Paul is talks about his flesh or the sin that is in him and how it wages war against his new nature in Christ. “So this is the principle I have discovered: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law. But I see another law at work in my body, warring against the law of my mind and holding me captive to the law of sin that dwells within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Praise God we have been rescued, and don’t have to drift towards sin. God gives us the ability as Christians to fight our sin and honor God with our daily lives.
I pray that on the days when we are really in a knock-down, drag-out fight against our sin – or heck, any day – we’ll remember how much God loves us and that His love will compel us to keep up the good fight. I’ve heard it said that practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. So in the next and final part of this series we’ll get into the “how to” in this fight against sin.