Behind the Bucking Chutes
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
The past year, on top of the personal struggles we face, we were all dealing with struggles that the pandemic brought from lock downs to canceled rodeos and horse shows.
Lost work, lost business, lost time with family gave us a lot to feel angry about.
And everyone knows it.
Whether it be on social media or face-to-mask conversations, we all have had a lot to say about how we feel and very little of it has been positive or encouraging. In the rodeo and bull riding industries, we continually talk about mindset and keeping positive attitudes. We rarely talk about that from a faith perspective.
The apostle Paul does in many ways in several of his letters. In Philippians, his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes many encouraging passages about being cheerful and Christ-like in our mindset and responses to our situations including one encouragement about our attitude when life might be rough.
Philippians 2: 14-16 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
When we have a saving faith in Jesus, we are given what’s known as the Great Commission to respond to at the end of the Book of Matthew. The commission commands us to tell others about Jesus and the salvation he brings and then to make disciples—teach others how to follow Christ.
That means being out there in an unbelieving world that generally rejects the messages of Jesus or sees him as no more than a positive teacher back in his day.
But if we are to convince others that Jesus was the Son of God who died in place of our sins that through belief and repentance of our sins, we can be saved from the punishment meant for our sins, it’s going to be a lot harder if they can’t see signs of Jesus in us.
The amount of complaining and fighting many of us have done over the past year would make it hard for others to see us as different than them. If our lives have been changed by a saving faith in Jesus, there are times when our actions or responses should surprise people by how different they are from everyone else.
Paul wanted the Christians in Philippi to be seen as ‘children of God’ that stood out among the evil that was around them and showed the light of Christ.
As Christians, we’re called to be like Christ, but we understand we’ll never truly be as perfect as him. We’re going to make mistakes. Admitting them to an unbelieving world and telling them that as Christians, we meant to do different is one step toward repairing any damage from our words or actions. Moving forward by ending our grumbling and taking a more joyful or kind approach to our situations can begin to show others that Christ lives inside of us.
Jesus says people can see who follows him by how they treat one another–what it means to love others
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you mention the word love to a cowboy, it immediately conjures up thoughts around the emotion. A cowboy who starts seeing a girl he’s infatuated with quickly starts missing rodeos or events and the guys either make fun or genuinely complain that she’s messed him up and ruined the sport for him.
A cowboy in love starts to make dumb choices, or at least that’s how his friends see it.
For others, it’s an emotion they have a hard time expressing and even saying the words take effort despite the feelings of love that are there.
This is some of why understanding what love is in Scripture is so important.
The cowboy crowd is going to struggle with being asked to love others when their sense of what love is gets tied into warm, gushy emotions that go against the image of a tough cowboy.
While there are examples of couples in the Bible who are in warm, gushy love with each other, the Bible most often refers to love with the Greek word, ‘agape’, which is not an emotion but an action, or philia, which is a brotherly love.
When we understand both, we can see how the cowboy crowd should actually be able to relate well to each of them.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
A loving, devoted husband or wife is likely what first comes to mind when reading that verse on its own but what Paul is describing in Romans is philia. He is telling us to look out for one another in that brotherly love kind of way but with a commitment to doing that. He wants us to be purposeful about it.
Philia is a brotherly love—exactly what you see in a group of bull riders who have traveled down the road together for years. They would do anything for each other, tease each other endlessly because they know each other so well and have each other’s backs. Ultimately, in brotherly love, we put others before ourselves which also leads into what agape is.
Agape is even more active and has a lot to do with how we treat others and how we demonstrate it to God.
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The love we’re being asked to show here is not an emotion but an action. We learn what those actions should be throughout scripture through the examples Jesus gave us and through the teachings throughout the Bible. Jesus says we will know who true followers of him are because people will see actions that show that they really do love others.
Asking how you can pray for a family who brought their kid up to get an autograph. Giving your last $20 to the Salvation Army Kettle because you know that at least your rent is paid. All of these can be acts of love. They can mean giving up some of your time or money, but that doesn’t compromising the image of strength and toughness a cowboy wants to hold on to. It takes a strong person to sacrifice for others.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Last year, I jokingly posted to social media an online order for a cattle prod. I don’t have cattle. It was a tool I wanted to carry with me to keep people the full six feet away from me that we were learning was part of the guidelines for dealing with the pandemic we were just beginning to face.
But all of Scripture isn’t about keeping people at a distance, it’s about God wanting us to be with Him, free from His judgment of our sin.
James 4: 7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James gives us just one of several direct references in the Bible of God wanting us to draw near to Him. Here, he is stressing the importance of turning from sin and repenting, first by telling us to submit to God, fight the devil and the temptation of sin and to turn to God instead.
James tells us if we move toward God, God will come toward us but stresses we approach God with a heart purified of sin.
Regardless of how people have felt about the pandemic and how it has been handled across the country and around the world, we’ve spent the past year either fighting against being kept apart from each other in our communities and churches or we’ve been willingly staying apart in effort to protect people we care about like vulnerable grandparents. Either way, it’s been difficult and challenging for Christians who understand we’re meant to be in community together just like we’re meant to be close to God.
We’ve been dealing with a lot of situations that have felt contradictory to what we believe.
And James gives us another seemingly contradictory statement in verse nine.
Here, he tells us something that sounds like it’s contradictory. We know through other books of the Bible and through our own experiences that our salvation brings about joy, understanding that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, we have gained a perfect eternity in Heaven. Fruit of the Spirit is something that forms in us when our salvation is real and one of those fruits is joy. Yet James is telling us to grieve and move from joy to gloom.
But what James is telling us in this single verse is just how serious our repentance of sin should be.
Our sin separates us from God and He will judge and condemn it. But He sent Jesus to briefly live among us, close to us, fully God and fully man. While his disciples didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was here to die and take the full punishment that was meant for them and all of us. Through his sacrifice, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. Through believing Jesus was the son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, we must repent of our sin and ask to be forgiven. When our faith and repentance is real, we’re given a perfect, eternal life in Heaven instead of eternal punishment in hell.
James wants us to grieve our sin that has kept us separated from God. He wants us to be humble before God but with the understanding God will come close to us—close enough to ‘lift us up.’
How wonderful is that to worship God who despite all our mistakes and failings, wants to be that close to us?
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Instead of what was said by someone running their mouth about you, imagine it eventually getting back to you that someone was out there saying what a great person you were or what a great thing they saw you do.
When we have a saving faith in Jesus, he changes us and we begin to do good works. Works are the words and actions we put out there based on what we know the Bible teaches us is right and good and that we know will glorify God.
Instead of talking at Waffle House with your buddies about why ‘that gunsel’ keeps getting on bulls or entering the sorting when he can’t even sit right in his saddle, what a life-changing moment it could literally be
for someone to have it get back to them how you never see them without a smile or laughing, even when competing in the mud.
Find the good, share the good.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
When Jesus is truly in us, good starts to come out of us as evidence our salvation is real. We start to do “good deeds.”
Jesus tells us that if we’re in Christ, we’ll produce good fruit. In Matthew 7, he’s specifically talking about how to tell if someone is a false prophet or not but we learn from him that those who are real followers o Christ will be producing good fruit, which again, would be the good works we do. The words and actions that show our faith is in Jesus because they follow his teaching.
Matthew 7:17-18 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.
He also teaches us that all of it comes from God.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
None of the good we do can be accomplished without God doing the work in us and through us. It’s done together.
No one that competes in rodeo succeeds without some help. It can be the spotter behind the chutes, it can be borrowed equipment,the loan of a horse or it can be advice. Even the biggest loner determined to accomplish something on his ‘own’ power, has help somewhere along the line.
We need God to accomplish what He has planned for us. We may do the ‘good works’ but they are given to us by Him and it’s by His power we succeed and He gets glorified.
On one hand, when our faith is real we can’t help but do good as God works through us, but on the other, the author of Hebrews is telling also us to look for ways to help others do good. It’s still God through us, but the encouragement or help we provide helps someone else to do good. Find the good, share the good.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Ever misunderstood something and felt pretty dumb about it afterward?
Sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand something in the Bible and I think that keeps many of us from reading it. Seminaries teach pastors Greek and Hebrew to help them understand what you’re sitting there scratching your head to understand. Try anyway.
There are more parts that ARE easier to understand than others and just like the awkwardness of learning to handle yourself in the bucking chutes, the first time you try to load a horse on the trailer or the first time you try to turn a rope over your head, it gets easier.
Having a church helps where there are pastors and leaders that can help you understand it. I sometimes need that before I try to deliver a cowboy church sermon behind the chutes and am fortunate enough to have more than a dozen people I know that understand it better than me. When I’m not certain my interpretation or application is right, I can run a section of scripture by to be sure I understand it right. There are also great study bibles out there with notes that help explain it and an internet full of resources though you have to be careful what you follow.
Don’t get hung up on feeling dumb for not understanding something. Be encouraged by the work God and the Holy Spirit will do inside you through the parts you do understand and step by step, more and more of it will make sense.
And step by step, you will see even more, just how big God really is. A passage in the Old Testament suddenly makes sense in how it points to Jesus in the New Testament. A passage in the New Testament’s Ephesians that used to be confusing begins to make more sense because you see how it builds on something Jesus taught in the book of Mark. The more you learn, the more you change and grow.
See what you can learn about the importance of reading your Bible from the two verses below.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture is God’s living word in how it’s described as being ‘breathed out’ by God. And we see clearly how important it is for so many parts of our lives, teaching us how to be more like Jesus as it describes training in righteousness. It shows us that it will help us with any good effort we take for God as it tells us it will prepare us for “every good work.”
I didn’t understand what a ‘good work’ was at first. I didn’t understand what righteousness was at first. But as I understood those terms and ideas, 2 Timothy is now a favorite verse to teach to others because it helps us understand the many different reasons the Bible is important for us.
The more time you give it, the more it will make sense and benefit you.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
There’s that guy that’s banned from four different rodeo associations ranging from not paying fines from his behavior in the arena to punching a contestant. He’s finished a weekend in jail for that but is remanded in custody for skipping a court appearance over unpaid child support. He changes his social media profile pictures to one a girlfriend took of him praying during the opening and always reshares the posts about God needing to be back in school or asks you to pray for him because he knows his life is a mess.
From the Christian perspective he’s one of two things: a Christian in need of grace or a soul destined for hell in need of a grace and Jesus.The fruit in his life, the words and actions that demonstrate that our life has been changed by a real relationship with Jesus, are missing.
Despite people who will misinterpret scripture and scold, “judge not lest ye be judged,” it’s not unreasonable to question which of the two he is. In fact, it’s important, because he may not understand the gospel and need to hear that more than words of encouragement or criticism.
He may need grace to save him or he may need grace to move forward.
Grace is here through our saving faith in Jesus. We know God to be God of love, but His wrath is still there for our sins if we don’t receive the forgiveness found through Jesus. That comes from believing Jesus was the Son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins and that he rose again to ascend to Heaven where he still is today. Then we recognize our sins separate us from God and deserve to be punished but that by confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, we receive God’s mercy and grace and are given eternal life in Heaven. Grace is there when we’re saved from God’s wrath and it continues to be there when we mess up.
When we’re saved, we’re changed and we start to become more like Jesus. But we’re not Jesus and we’re going to screw it up sometimes.
Grace is not there so we can live how we want.
Romans 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Grace NEVER runs out no matter how many mistakes we make, but if our life continually reflects sin to others and never a genuine faith in Jesus then we probably need Jesus first so we can be saved and begin turning away from our sin.
Are you in need of a saving faith in Jesus in the first place or are you in need of grace so you can pick yourself up, fix what needs to be fixed and move forward regardless of what anyone thinks of you and the mistakes you just made? It’s one or the other.
By Will Brunke / Special to Cowboys of the Cross
One of my most consistently used metaphors is that “bull riding emulates life and life emulates bull riding”. Likening the unique struggles and confrontations of life that are so often imitated on a minute scale in a sporting event is nothing new. So, it came as a shock and with some disappointment in myself when I was hit in the teeth with an epiphany that seemed so obviously clear, considering my love and probable over-use of metaphors.
Teaching a bull riding clinic of young men and young boys on a cool weekend this fall, I settled into a gamut of trick questions in order to open up the riders ‘ thought processes and to give them examples of easy pitfalls that inexperienced riders can get bogged down in. The premise was simple; be careful of the words that are tossed around the bucking chutes and how you apply them.
For example; a person may have the best of intentions when they are supporting you as you ride, all the while screaming at you, “REACH!!! REACH for the front!!” In reality, this is probably some of the worst advice you can get and can dramatically increase your chances of an early buck-off as well as your chances for an injury. There is almost nothing about “reaching” in bull riding that is mechanically sound. Riders who learn a bad habit such as this tend to hit a brick wall in their riding that they can never seem to get around. The point I was trying to express to the group was that it is imperative that you understand what words mean for better or worse. How many of us take words and advice at face value without using our critical thinking to analyze and evaluate possible outcomes? At this point, in jest, I banned the word “reach” from the rest of the clinic. But what was more important is that I inserted a new vocabulary in place of the flawed one — this time with meaning.
In short, after some constructive conversation, open dialog, and some examples and drills on the barrels, an overwhelming look of exuberance began to appear from most of the group. They got it. They were now hungry for more and fully engaged after having a proverbial blindfold removed. The spoon-fed were now feeling like hunters after the realizations had past that not only did this new way make sense, but its truths cleared the thorny underbrush away and created a template that the riders could gauge their technique and future advices against. The words in the Bible are like this for many.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus was telling those who began following him, and those who were trying to discredit them that his true followers would follow his teaching and not that of the religious elite that were using their position to hold power over people. John 5: 31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The words of scripture can be an emancipator, setting you free. Used incorrectly the words can become an enslaver. One person can lead or mislead many out of the truest intentions depending on the level of understanding the teacher possesses and the level of spoon-fedness to which the audience may be inclined. Unfortunately, some are even led by false teachers with impure intentions. How is this possible? I believe an old bull riding adage can apply; The top 20% of riders haul in 80% of the prize money. Which means 80% of bull riders are struggling with the sport and, more often than not, donators to the purse. I believe the same is true on a more Christian front; 20% of Christians are hunters of the truth and can easily disseminate false teachings from Gospel truth. However, that means that 80% of Christians are struggling with scripture, have a loose grasp of the Gospel and are easily swayed toward the fringes where words and phrases like, “prosperity”, “morally good”, or “you’re perfect just the way you are”, run rampant and the generalized vagueness of salvation are currently leading many to despair.
I feel blessed to take a moment and think about some of my closest friends in my life and realize that they are also hunters of the truth who hold me accountable, ask tough questions, and point indiscriminately to scripture. These people are my trusted traveling partners in my walk with Christ. But just like at the bull riding clinic, I believe my friends and I have a great template to measure ourselves and our technique against. It’s the teachings from Jesus himself. Everything in the Bible from beginning to end points toward Him. During Jesus’ time on earth, he spoke only truths and eschewed many religious habits, fringe beliefs, and false teachers. And just like then, today his truth is infallible. It stands up against any test and strips the sheep’s clothing from the wolves.
John 8:32 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
In the end, the only way my students take the next leap in their bull riding career is if they take an infallible bull riding truth and continually apply that in practice until the correct reaction is near automatic. Likewise, there is only so much a “come-to-Jesus” moment can give us unless we affirm that newfound understanding with practice in reading Jesus’ words of truth. Therein lies the ultimate template to gauge yourself by.
Yes, your hometown church may be fine. Your mega-church may be setting attendance records. That unsubstantiated “preacher” with no church affiliation might be a likeable guy. But just ask yourself, who or what is your template based upon? It’s a fair question to spend some time on….. unless you are too busy being spoon-fed by a wolf.
Will is a retired Pennsylvania bull rider who occasionally gets back in the arena to teach bull riding schools or clinics.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
In the sports of rodeo and bull riding, there is so much weight and value put on having the right mindset.
Cowboys who would never pick up a text book in school will read through books that help them harness the power of their minds. They’ll watch video after video of their rides and runs to see what they can improve. They’ll focus on positive thinking. They’ll surround themselves with like-minded people to influence them toward success in their rodeo careers.
Do we put that same value on our Christian faith?
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is encouraging the church to focus on what is good and to put to practice what he has tried to teach them as the early church was first beginning to spread. There were so many influences pulling at these new believers and Paul often intervened through letters to them. Paul wants them to be successful and for their faith to grow beyond any influences that could damage it. And he wants the good news of Jesus Christ to spread. We can see this in many of his letters that make up so much of the New Testament.
Just like we study the sport, we have to study God’s word…and put it to action. And we have to work on a Christ-like mindset.
All that comes from putting the effort into not just reading the Bible but putting the work into understanding it.
A lot of people start the new year off with a goal of reading through the entire Bible, some following a reading plan to complete it in a year. But it’s not a race and there’s no prize for completing it on time or early. It’s better to not just read the Bible but to take the time to understand it. Study Bibles are out there with plenty of notes to help you understand the verses. There are books called commentaries and there are Bible studies that lead you through a book of the Bible with questions and helpful thoughts. It can feel hard to understand at first but the more you work through it, the more the pieces come together and the easier it all becomes to understand.
Then comes the harder part. Once you’ve learned it, we need to put it into action. The Cowboys of the Cross website is starting a monthly video series that focuses on that part—what it means for a Christian cowboy to live out his faith. We encourage you to watch the series and use this site to help you grow in your faith while plugging into a church with even deeper teaching into God’s word.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
We all want to be treated fairly. In rodeo and bull riding, we want a judge that doesn’t give a thumbs-up to a 7.8 second ride to the number two cowboy while the guy just breaking in gets a zero for a 7.9 on the stop watch. We want to believe that a draw never gets rigged in favor of someone or against someone a stock contractor hates.
As much as people in our society are against Christianity because all they hear us say is that our beliefs are right above others, there is no one more fair than God.
All sin is punished equally. God won’t allow any of it in His presence in Heaven and the judgment against sin is eternity separated from God in Hell. Any and all sin is punished equally.
But God wants us with Him in Heaven so He made a way that we all could be redeemed of our sin through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
That is one of the most well-known Bible verses but how to be made right before God only starts there.
Jesus was and is the Son of God sent here to die and take the punishment meant for our sins. What he endured for us is horrific but when you take the time to think and understand it, that’s how much he loves us that 2,000 years before any of us were born, he took on all of God’s judgment and wrath against our sin.
Romans 5:10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
All that is required of us is to believe who Jesus was and is, to recognize that however big or small, we all sin and to confess and repent of that sin, asking to be forgiven. That’s what it means to have a saving faith in Jesus and that’s what gives us the assurance we have a permanent home in Heaven.
When we hear the saying in rodeo that he paid your fees, THAT’S the seriousness of what that nice-sounding statement meant. He didn’t just do us a favor, he suffered horribly on our behalf so the we could have eternal life with him next to our Father, God, in Heaven.
That’s a pretty even pen of bulls, everyone has the same chance and none of us can do more than another to earn our place there. Believe in Jesus, confess your sin, repent of it and ask to be forgiven. That’s it. No more, no less.
None of us can do more than another to improve that score. No matter how much good or bad we think we’ve done, it all comes down to what we believe and our willingness to ask for and receive forgiveness from God, through Jesus.
Part 6 on FORGIVENESS
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
Sometimes we’re the one who needs to be forgiven. Through repentance and a saving faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven of all our sins, past, present and future and allowed in God’s presence for eternity in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean we still don’t need to seek the forgiveness of others when we’ve messed up.
You borrowed entry fees from three friends this year that knew you were struggling. You won the team roping twice but never paid anyone back.
You got a message from your traveling partner’s girlfriend on Snapchat. She was ticked with him and wanted a sympathetic ear. That sympathetic ear went a lot further and he found out she was cheating on him with you. No one has spoken in months.
Matthew 5:23-24 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
These are detailed verses with a lot that can be taught and understood, especially if we were to back up all the way toward verses 21 and 22 where Jesus talks about murder and anger against our brothers.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time that pushed rules and laws as the way to be right with God, often using those rules to hold power over people. Jesus, who came to give us all a way to be reconciled with God and forgiven of our sins, was challenging their power. He was putting loving others ahead of everything else.
When it came to offerings, the Pharisees valued the rules most in making sure the offerings were made and all the rules of presenting them were followed.
Jesus made some shocking statements here suggesting the condition of a person’s heart mattered more than the offering, saying a person should leave that offering if he knew of any sin he had committed against someone that had gone unaddressed or not forgiven. Jesus cares much more about the condition of our hearts than the rules we follow and wants us to make right by those we’ve wronged.
In the entry fee and cheating examples, very real situations most of us have seen or encountered, Jesus is saying the person who owes the money or who has messed up his buddy’s relationship, needs to do what he can to be reconciled with his brother.
With the money owed, possibly the best thing he could do is pay it back, with interest if that’s what it takes to make it right. It might be as simple as apologizing and the guys he owes the money to simply letting it go.
With the cheating situation, it could be an apology, it could be an attempt to show you could be trusted again and are truly repentant of your part in what had happened.
Bottom line, Jesus is telling us if we know there is someone who we have wronged, we need to make that right before presenting ourselves to God.
We absolutely understand that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, that we have believed Jesus was the son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins, repented to God and asked to be forgiven, that God will in fact forgive us for past and any future mistakes. Our place in Heaven is not at stake because, even after we were saved, we messed up like these examples.
But Jesus is telling us how important it is that we make situations right with people who we have given a reason to be angry with us.
We can’t control their responses but Jesus wants us to be certain we have done whatever we can to be forgiven.
It then falls on that other person to offer the forgiveness that Jesus tells us we have to give to others, especially considering as followers of Christ, we have been forgiven for all of our sins—all of them, no matter what we have done or others have done to us.