Behind the Bucking Chutes
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.
The Battle Against Sin Part 2
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
I mentioned earlier that it’s a good idea to know who you are up against in any fight, this week we are going to dive into detail on what has been identified as the three main sources of sin.
This describes us, our self-centeredness, our thoughts and motivations. One of the old timers of the faith once said, “We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”
My heeler isn’t a cow dog because he bites cows; he’s a cow dog, and therefore he bites cows. It’s in his nature. But unlike my heeler biting cows, sin is never a good or right thing for us as Christians. Sadly, it is our nature (Romans 3:23: …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.) I think one of the most important things for us to see is the sin in ourselves. Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:18-19, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” He points to the heart of the issue, and it’s our hearts.
It’s a very popular theme on Facebook and everywhere else nowadays to follow our hearts. In a way, I can see how that sounds good. Some might mean it as, “God has given you certain passions in life that aren’t sinful and you should pursue those for His glory, not your own,” and yeah, that’s okay. Unfortunately, most (if not all) people mean it as, “do whatever you want to make you happy and don’t let anyone tell you no.” In response to that, let me just bring up Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Or as one wise pard of faith put it, “The heart is an idol factory”.
“When we are told to not love the world, the Bible is referring to the world’s corrupt value system,” says GotQuestions.org. There are a lot of things that fit into the category of the world’s corrupt value systems: basically take anything except God and put it as the ultimate “thing” in this life. The world tells us that having that gold buckle is all that matters, or that shiny new stock trailer, or that nice, fully-tooled saddle with all that silver on it, or even the family ranch (yeah, listing some of these things hurts me a little also). But Matthew 16:26 asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Jesus is talking about the cost of following Him.
The promises of this world don’t last. “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). Does this mean we just throw everything away and become a hermit with a Bible? As Paul would say, by no means! (Or by a looser translation, heck no!) We are called to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15-19). There are a lot of good gifts God has made – horses, cattle, and blue heeler dogs being some of my favorites, and the occasional shiny silver bit or two – but I need to be watching to make sure I don’t make those things the ultimate part of my life where only God should be.
Depending on who you talk to, the Devil either doesn’t exist or is responsible for everything including that last cold, your recent buck off, and those yearlings breaking out (and now you have to sort out three different feed lot pens this morning!). I’m here to tell you, neither one of the above views is accurate.
As Christians, we know that there is a spiritual realm. God Himself is a spiritual being (John 4:24). We also know that God created spiritual beings that we call angels and demons (including the Devil). While it’s a good idea not to obsess about these created spiritual beings, the Bible teaches about them and about spiritual warfare so it is something we should have a grasp on. Jesus also had many encounters with demons during His earthly ministry which looked more like them begging to not be destroyed compared to a fair fight.
So who is the Devil? He is a demonic spiritual being. He is the serpent in Genesis 3, and in John 8:44 he is called the father of lies. 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls him the god of this world and his purpose is stated there: to blind the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the good news of the Gospel. The Devil and his demons do this blinding in a number of ways. Two examples would be getting people to believe God doesn’t exist or getting people to believe in a false god or spiritual force. Even things we might think are harmless, like yoga, visualization or meditation can be used to blind us. Before I go further I want to note that I’m not talking about stretching and exercise, picturing something in your head like the right moves to ride a bull and how to swing that perfect heel shot, or filling your mind with Scripture; I’m talking about the “New Age” practices that are far from harmless with their emphasis on going around God to attempt to influence our life and the world around it.
If you say, “If I visualize it in my mind I will achieve it” (visualization), you have basically made yourself God, which God calls idolatry (Exodus 20:3). If you get into the idea of meditation to “empty your mind” or to get to a sub conscious or unconscious part of your mind to be on the same brain wave as that bronc or bull, or ask for a spiritual guide, you just might get one in the demonic sense. If you get into yoga and start believing you need to find your “center” and that everything has a good or bad “aura” – or, heck, we’ve all heard someone mention the idea of karma – you’re embracing pagan ideas that come to us from Eastern mysticism. All of these and more are wrapped up in the New Age movement, what God would call witchcraft. Deuteronomy 18 :10-12 tells us: Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…”
Now these three enemies in the fight against sin might have you thinking, “How am I going to do this, even if I think I’m John Wayne?” The answer is found in Ephesians 2:4-10: “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 transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
We have been saved from these enemies and we are empowered by God himself to wage this daily fight. Verse 4 shows us the answer to our next question, the “why” in the battle against sin – which we’ll answer in a couple of weeks. #keepupthefight
Feel free to comment below how we can be praying for you in your fight.
The Battle Against Sin, Part 1
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
We’ve all heard it somewhere in the sport of rodeo: it’s “man versus beast” or “you versus the clock.” Or, for those of us out cowboying on some empty section of range, “it’s you against the elements”. All of these things are battles we face, things we prepare for, and take very seriously – as we should. In this series of articles, I want to talk with you about the most serious battle any and all Christians face, our daily battle against sin.
Before I go on I want to address the fact that this series of articles will be directed toward those who have already submitted to the Lordship of Christ and trusted Him as the one and only Savior from their sins, i.e. Christians. If you are curious what that means, feel free to contact this ministry for more information.
As with any battle, we need to know who we are fighting, right? If we drew a bronc we might talk to others that have been on him before or the stock contractor to find out if he’s trashy or a nice, honest bucker. Or that bull – is he going to “blow or spin”? (Bonus points for the movie reference.) If you’re out helping the neighbor gather some cows, it definitely helps to know the lay of the land, where the adjoining fences are, and surrounding neighbors’ brands.
So what is this thing called sin? According to GotQuestions.org, “sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God and rebellion against God”. In Genesis 2:16-17, we see God’s first “law” to His creation:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Not long after, in Genesis 3:6-7, we see Adam and Eve violate this law bringing the curse of sin into all of creation.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
God’s original creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), we could say perfect or without sin. None of us knows what this world looks like, as every part of our lives is affected and infected with sin. If you don’t believe me, just ask any rancher who is battling any number of weeds in his pastures. (Genesis 3:18: [The ground] will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.) Look how you treat the judge after a “bad call” or how we treat each other working cows. Heck, just turn on the news or check Facebook and you can see the whole of creation is cursed with sin.
Throughout the Church’s history, people a lot smarter than me have recognized three main sources of sin: the flesh, the world, and the devil. In Part 2, we will look at each of these.
Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams or Chasing God Part 9
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Chase those dreams!
God has made us who we are and when we put Him first, we should enjoy the freedom to chase our dreams.
Sometimes it’s going to go well and sometimes it’s going to be hard but those are important truths we can embrace from the message found in Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15.
1To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
2a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build,
4a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6a time to search and a time to count as lost, a time to keep and a time to discard,
7a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
God’s Works Remain Forever
9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden that God has laid on men to occupy them. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end.
12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to rejoice and do good while they live, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his labor—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God does it so that men should revere Him. 15 What exists has already been, and what will be has already been, for God will call to account what has passed.
God is in control of it all and there is a purpose behind it all whether we ever see or understand it in our temporary lives here. We have to trust this. Nothing will be wasted no matter if it’s something we go through that we see as good or bad. That’s hard to understand whether it’s as big as having cancer or a buck-off streak that lasts more than six months. These are the struggles we go through in the “time for every purpose under heaven” we see in verse 1.
Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, shows our desire to know the purpose of it all. The disciples wrestle with this in the New Testament, as we read about them trying to understand what Jesus really came here to do—take the punishment of our sins so that through his death on the cross, we could be saved from the punishment of our sins.
We know we’re made in God’s image and we know He sees us as perfect once we’ve asked to be forgiven of our sins through a saving faith in Jesus and an understanding he took the punishment meant for us for our sins.
In verse 13, we see that we should see everything as a gift from God—those good times and those bad times, because through those gifts is the opportunity to glorify Him.
Be satisfied in this life! Paul taught us in Philippians to be content in the circumstance we find ourselves in. James teaches us to find joy, even in our struggles, trusting God is using them to build us to be more like Jesus.
Through our successes AND our struggles, becoming more like Jesus is something we CAN be excited by when we understand how significant that is.
The pain we feel or the joy, it can all be used for God’s glory so whatever it is we pursue, when we understand this, we can see purpose in it. Win or lose, it isn’t about getting that buckle or reaching the next goal—it’s about glorifying Him along the way and understanding we’re part of His perfect plan.
Let God guide your steps, look for how you can glorify Him and chase it all as hard as you can, knowing as we do good and take pleasure in the work He’s put in front of us, we belong to Him. However we see ourselves and however many mistakes we make on the way to our goals, He wants us with Him in Heaven when our dream-chasing here is done.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Once you’ve chased down that dream and that gold buckle is on your belt or in a case with some others, you now have a perfect, modern day example of what Jesus was telling us in Matthew.
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
A buckle understandably becomes something we treasure. You worked hard to earn it. You had adventures along the way with stories to tell your grandchildren when they ask about that buckle on the shelf. All those are good things but we have to look at what we value more.
The Bible has much to say about idols. Many of the descriptions involve protecting the Israelites from following the false gods of the cultures all around them but an idol is anything we put before God. If we’re chasing that buckle, chasing that relationship or chasing that bigger truck, harder than we are chasing our relationship with Jesus, then we likely are dealing with idolatry.
John 5:21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
In this verse, John has just finished explaining who we are in Christ and how important it is to know we’re separate from the rest of the world; that we are following something that is good and true, moving away from our sinful natures.
He then kindly warns us to stay away from idols that could take our focus away from God.
That doesn’t mean we don’t pursue our gold buckle dreams. What Jesus is telling us in Matthew is that everything we can earn here or gain here is temporary and can be taken away. Our time here is short and our eternity in Heaven, where we truly belong, is where our focus should be.
If our hearts are on God and not what we’re trying to accomplish, what we work toward can easily become something that honors Him instead of an idol or something that will only give us temporary comfort or pleasure in this life.
By focusing our attention on God and looking for ways to glorify Him in our pursuits, our hearts on Him and what is yet to come in heaven and in that way, we’re storing up treasures in heaven. When we’re seeking God, everything else falls in line behind that. Nothing can become an idol and everything we do becomes about God.
Sometimes that might mean what we pursue changes. If something is becoming an idol in our life, if we can’t find a way to turn it toward God, then it becomes something we might need to let go. However our dreams might change or our paths might be altered, when our focus is on God and our treasure in heaven, then we will be at peace, even joyful, with the changes in our lives.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you’re chasing your gold buckle dreams, do you see God as a means to success or is glorifying Him your purpose?
The answer will tell you a lot about your relationship with Him and changing your focus could bring about success in an unexpected way. Even what the world measures as failure or loss can be success when it points others toward a saving faith in Jesus.
Whatever we do, win or lose, it’s going to bring God glory, even if we never fully see how the pieces fit together.
Ephesians 1:11-12 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
There’s so much teaching out there that overlooks the what’s in the Bible about struggles and the purpose they serve or the presence of sin that causes the struggles to exist in the first place. A few verses out of context can give us the idea that God will give us our heart’s desire. The only way for that to be true is if our heart’s are focused on Him and His desires for us.
When we seek God, and it’s His plan we’re following, he WILL give us what we ask because it is what he wants for us to begin with.
A verse that often has people thinking God will make wishes come true, suddenly means that yes, of course God will give us what we seek when it’s Him and His glory that we’re seeking.
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
If a person with a terminal cancer diagnosis demonstrates joy and perseverance and points out to others it’s because of his or her faith in God and understanding of the Bible, they can find themselves at peace with their situation. It doesn’t mean they don’t pray for and believe that God could miraculously heal them. Sometimes that’s part of His plan. I’ve seen a bull rider go from expecting to die from lung cancer to the spreading disease completely disappearing between specialist appointments to talk about how they might extend his time here. I’ve seen a barrel man’s kidneys fail and the poison build in his body to the point they were preparing to move him to hospice to die, but suddenly find them working again and home from the hospital a few days later. And I’ve listened at church to the story of a young man in the congregation who had a disease that slowly suffocated him to death, sharing until the very end his trust and love for God.
Romans 8:18 I Consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul is teaching through this section about the security we have in our salvation and that no matter what we go through here or how hard it might be, God will use us to reveal Himself. When we understand our time here is short compared to eternity and when we understand that our eternal home in Heaven is perfect, no matter what we go through here, we can be encouraged by knowing it can help others find their way home too.
Our gold buckle dreams are worth pursuing in our time here when God is at the center of them and we know He’s using us to bring Him glory, but the rewards we might gain here pale in comparison to what is coming in Heaven.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
If you ain’t first, you’re last. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. Second place is just the first loser. These are de-motivational comments from movies and those with a sense of humor. However, we put the same pressure on ourselves without realizing it when we use motivational speak to build ourselves up without understanding some simple Biblical truths.
We know that God only wants what’s good for us but what’s good will serve His plans. When we start chasing dreams without God, we can find ourselves off track and feeling like we’re failing when we’re simple focused on the wrong object: our gold buckle dream and not God’s plan. Sometimes it’s the same. Sometimes it isn’t.
We know that when we focus on God’s plan, it can take us away from our original dreams and set us on something even bigger because it becomes chasing something that glorifies God and not ourselves.
We know that sometimes our gold buckle dream is exactly what God wants us pursuing because His plan it to use that to glorify Him and that His glory gets shown not by whether or not we win that gold buckle but by how we handle it when we win OR lose. We know that losing is okay.
So when our circumstances don’t seem to be going the way we want them to, what do we do?
A bigger understanding of Philippians 4:13 is a good place to start.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Some of you have it on t-shirts, some of you have it on tattoos and many athletes know it by heart.
We use the Bible this way to motivate us to succeed and let ourselves think that Christ will help us win at whatever we put our minds to.
But by doing that, we miss what God could really do in our lives when we understand the verse.
To do that, we have to look at the rest of the verses around it and understand what’s going on.
Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul has lived some big extremes from being a wealthy person people feared to a prisoner with nothing, facing death. Paul wrote this letter while in prison. But through it all, he is saying in these verses that he understands how to be content in whatever circumstance God places him. He knows that through Christ, it isn’t that he can do whatever he sets his mind to, it’s that he can get through whatever circumstance he’s in including when it doesn’t feel like it’s going well.
Where pursuing happiness instead of experiencing joy can leave us feeling discontent and unhappy when something goes wrong, learning to be content can help us find joy whether we buck off a bull or have set an arena record in team roping. We can be on a winning streak but still feel discontentment because there’s always another goal to achieve or look to someone else that’s accomplished or succeeded at more. We can learn to be content when we put God first and understand when He’s the biggest part of the dream we’re chasing, it’s okay to lose.
When we use just Philippians 4:13 as a motivational boost to succeed, we’re using it to follow our own dreams and not God’s plan for us and we cheat ourselves out of the good a better understanding of those verses can do for us.
When we use the verse in its whole context, we can learn a skill that helps us succeed at what God has planned for us. It becomes about Him and not us and understanding how to be content helps us face the challenges of winning AND losing. Losing isn’t bad. When our dreams are focused on what He wants for us, we can see how God turns what feels like a failure into a win for His glory. As we learn the difference between chasing happiness or experiencing joy, our joy can grow when we know the part we’re playing in God’s plan and that win or failure can both feel amazing.
Part 5 Chasing Dreams, Chasing God
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
One of the most common pressures on us in our culture is the pursuit of happiness. We’re bombarded with advertising pushing us to buy products and take trips to make us happy. We’re taught to pursue anything in our lives that will make us happy from pot and partying as we see as more states legalize recreational marijuana, as if alcohol wasn’t enough. We see opiode overdoses becoming a leading cause of death as we chase a bigger high. We feel unhappy in a marriage because it was more work than we expected so we chase an affair or dump the marriage to live a single life again because we thought that was what would make us happy.
Chasing our dreams fits right into the pursuit of happiness. When we’re chasing our dreams with our eyes set on ourselves, like those selfish motives James talked about in Part 4 in the series, and we think winning that gold buckle is what will end up making us happy. Then our sights get set on the next biggest championship and finally the PBR. But what comes after we get that buckle? What makes us happy?
The Bible doesn’t promise us happiness. In fact, it promises us trials, struggles and pain. Those are the consequences of the sin that Adam and Eve brought in the world when they chose to disobey God and eat that forbidden fruit. They traded perfect happiness for the temptation of sin and now we all live with those consequences.
Jesus himself tells us that we’re going to face struggles.
John 16:33 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.”
But he also tells us not to worry. His death on the cross has overcome the sin that causes us to face struggles. In this world, we’re going to face suffering but in the next, we face a perfect life in Heaven if we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to forgive them. For God to be a just God, sin has to be punished, but Jesus took that punishment so that God could see us as clean and perfect, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
And James brings us to what we need to pursue instead of happiness—joy!
James 1: 2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When we face a struggle, like being broke, injured and not being able to pay a doctor’s bill, never mind entry fees when our physical therapy is over, James tells us to actually take joy in that struggle. Why? Because God will use it to work out something better in us—to shape us and make us more like Christ.
Joy is basically a Biblical opposite to happiness. It’s considered a fruit of the Spirit which is a characteristic that grows in us when we’re saved through that faith and forgiveness found in Jesus.
Instead of chasing happiness through our dreams, we find ourselves experiencing joy. We can feel it when we make the fastest catch, quickest barrel run or score our first 90-point bull or bronc ride. And we can feel it when we are always one hole out of a check and not sure how we’re going to have gas money to get home. It comes from knowing who we are in Christ and that with every success or every failure on our path to chasing our dreams, we’re one step closer to being more like Christ and we’re one day closer to our perfect life in Heaven.
As we chase our gold buckle dreams and remember that our focus is on doing it in a way that glorifies God, we can take joy in knowing others can see Christ in us when they see how we handle our successes or our failures.
Happiness comes from the false idea that something other than Jesus is going to make us complete or fulfill the holes in our lives. Joy comes from knowing we are saved by Christ and have a hope that those without him can’t know or understand.
When we can find joy in us instead of chasing what we think will make us happy, we can also feel peace and a lot of the challenges we face become easier to deal with.
Contestants at a weekly bull riding in Van Wert, Ohio (Hat Creek Ranch) decided who would get this buckle based on bull riders who demonstrated fruit of the Spirit in their life.By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 4, Chasing Dreams
What if you have chased after that win but your horse has come up lame again and you just missed the cut for that finals you set as this year’s goal? Your truck breaks down and your entry fee money is gone because you need it for work. The guy you cover for at the sales barn is given the weekend off to rodeo and you have to draw out.
Remember, God comes first.
Everything is meant to bring Him glory and carry out His perfect plan.
Two possible reasons our gold buckle, or anything at all we set our hearts on, stays out of reach come right from the book of James: God is doing something in us through our struggle or our motives are messed up.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
As hard as you feel like you’ve fought to get a spot at the finals and however many years you’ve put into making the PBR, James reminds us that a struggle can be a test of our faith that produces perseverance. What comes out of perseverance? Maturity (as a Christian) and someone who resembles Christ. From God’s perspective, being more like Christ is going to be more important than the next win.
When we can learn to see how much more that matters, we can find ourselves not only being at peace when our dreams seem to stay out of reach, but as James tells us, we can also find joy in that.
But in just a couple verses, James also paints a very clear picture about our heart conditions and why that might stand in the way of our dreams.
James 4: 2-3 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
There are times we’ve all seen people cheat or be cheated at a rodeo or bull riding. You can’t prove it, but you know the draw was rigged. A bull’s brand gets switched out with a better bull to win a bucking competition. The rules get bent to favor another contestant. A lot goes on in just rodeo alone when you’re trying to win that gold buckle, never mind everything else we see going on in the country around us.
Then James tells us we’re focused on ourselves so much that we forget to ask God what He wants for us and when we do ask Him for something, it’s to fulfill our own desires without considering what He wants for our lives.
Remember, everything we do is to glorify Him. When we seek what He wants for our lives, the focus of our dreams might even change but as the desires of our heart line up with God’s desires for us, well, we find our dreams do start coming true.