Behind the Bucking Chutes
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
When you realize how much they watch us and how much they absorb, one simple proverb from the Old Testament can point us to Jesus and how much we need them to see that is the direction he should go, and just how easy it is to point them there.
When you consider the proverb was written over 2,000 years ago, the pictures featured with this show us how God’s design for us to be hungry to learn and grow is consistent throughout the ages and cultures.
In the photos, you see a young bull rider praying, something he learned to do from being at events where he saw that was how the older cowboys prayed. Then you see Ohio bull rider, Hayden Townsend teaching one of the young bull riders what he needed to do to improve his skill after watching the kid take on a junior bull. But in the background, there’s that young kid who was praying, now quietly watching and listening to Hayden.
Hayden and I talked about this a little bit afterward. As someone who is becoming an influencer as he continues to move up in the sport, Hayden can be a bigger influence on these young cowboys than I ever could be in terms of showing them Jesus.
I encouraged him to look to where Jesus can come first, even above his bull riding career.
To succeed in bull riding, the sport requires a lot of dedication. Hayden works out and practices daily, works hard to keep a positive attitude and can’t think of anything else he would like to do with his life.
For most of these bull riders and rodeo cowboys, timed event side, barrel racing or bull riding, there are dangers that require intense focus and skills that have to be developed to win. But it very unintentionally becomes an idol where so much focus shifts to success at the sport that it can distract from seeing how God comes first in it all.
These young kids give us that example. As much as they will listen to what Hayden has to say about bull riding, we talked about how putting Jesus in front of all of that gives him a chance to do both: to teach them to ride but to do it in a way that opens the door to also share his faith.
It was an opportunity to show Hayden how his actions and attitudes in front of these kids can really show them a Christ-like way of living but that as he grows more confident in his faith and knowledge of who Jesus is, he can start to share that with these kids and anyone else.
The goal for me is to always help these guys to see themselves not just as bull riders and rodeo cowboys but as Christians first, looking at everything through the lens of a Christian.
Hayden and I talked about how that doesn’t have to distract from what is needed to succeed in the sport. Instead, it will only help as he learns to see everything as a chance to glorify God and how that priority will drive all the rest forward as well.
DEVOTION You can only put your bull rope on one way, even more so, Jesus never changes who He is or what He did
You can only put your bull rope on one way. You can only put a headstall on one way. Designs may change over the decades but the equipment functions the same way today as it did 100 years ago.
Hebrews 13:7-9 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods,which is of no benefit to those who do so.
Verse 8 reminds us that Jesus is the same, always.
Our culture wants us to reject our faith. It wants us to choose a different pattern to run saying the way we do it now is outdated and doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the way the world lives its collective life.
But in his letter to the Hebrews, Paul is reminding us that no matter what other influences are out there, pressuring us to let go of what we believe, Jesus has always been the same and that’s what we are to follow from the example set by Christian leaders who have gone before us. The applications of scripture may change as our culture changes, but what those verses mean are just as consistent as Jesus is.
He cautions us not to get carried away by other teaching that’s out there. The values in our culture shift almost weekly and sometimes are changing so fast that they seem to contradict each other as we strive to not offend anyone and make everyone value the same morals and attitudes.
There are different faiths and beliefs out there beyond our culture and even within our churches, there can be false teaching, different from a pastor making a mistake with scripture, but choosing to teach popular ideas that actually contradict what the Bible teaches.
Matthew 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
That’s why it’s so important for us all to be at least familiar with what the Bible teaches.
If we don’t have an idea of what scripture teaches, it is harder to recognize when we are listening to false teaching. False ideas that go against scripture are pushed on us by our culture and false ideas can even be pushed on us by those who say they are representing God when really, they are teaching something as opposite to that as a bush of thorns producing grapes.
Instead of false teaching and beliefs, Paul wants us to be strengthened by God’s grace, which is what we come under through a saving faith in Jesus. The grace we receive is this: that instead of being condemned for our sins, which God will condemn equally, we can all be seen as right and perfect before God through our belief in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the act of repenting and asking for forgiveness of sins. That comes through our understanding Jesus’ death on the cross was in place of our sins so that in faith, repentance and the seeking of forgiveness, we could be saved. That’s grace! Receiving forgiveness when we really deserve punishment.
In Hebrews, Paul wants us to recognize that following anything else is as useless as eating the food that is prepared in part of a different belief’s ceremonies. If Jesus never changes, following something different will do us no good.
You don’t have to be a barrel racer to know that to have a qualifying time, you don’t get to make up your own course. There is a set pattern that’s followed, even if it’s take from the left or the right, the cloverfield course is the same. As Christians, the path we follow is the one set out by Jesus and his teachings we find in the Bible.
His death on the cross and the salvation it brings us, isn’t changed by our culture. All we need to do is believe in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, confess we sin, repent and seek forgiveness. It will always be given, just as it was 2,000 years ago, as it will today and as it will tomorrow and so on.
Lane Fritz doesn’t find it easy but he’s trying to read his Bible more and encourage others to do the same.
That’s why you’ll sometimes see the Modoc, Indiana bull rider take a break during from the action at a bull riding to open it up and read it.
“When other guys see me reading it, they stop and ask what I’m reading,” he said, hoping that when others see him doing it, they can feel more comfortable opening theirs.
He recently gave his King James bible to a friend who didn’t have one but got a new Holman Study Bible from his church for graduating high school.
This past Saturday, Fritz had sat down behind the bucking chutes and opened the Bible up to a random Psalm and began reading when a traveling partner, Cody West, crouched down with him to see what he was reading.
They were at The Mack Arena, a Southern Extreme Bull Riding winter series run by Joe and Amy McQuillan. The event has been held all fall through spring for more than 15 years and is one of the places many Ohio and Indiana bull riders strengthen their grip on bull riding. It was the last night for the series and the second time this year that I got to go to lead cowboy church behind the chutes.
I talked with Fritz and West a little about their Bible reading and West asked a question that most rodeo cowboys and bull riders have: what’s the best way to read it?
Fritz said he mostly just opens it up at random to try to learn something and I was able to encourage him to use the study notes that come with the Bible and focus on reading smaller amounts at a time to be sure he understands what he’s read before moving on. He said not knowing who all the people are and how they are connected makes it confusing. He also said the ‘slang’ in the language is sometimes hard to understand but he is wanting to do better at reading his Bible more.
I went over a few basics to try not to overwhelm them and suggested to him and West that they start with John to learn more about Jesus and the gospel first but that they also might try James as a shorter book but one that is more to the point. I find for the cowboys and bull riders just getting started with their Bibles, that sometimes that is an easier book to get comfortable with studying the Bible in general.
It can be hard to get participation but I’ve started a group to do an online Bible study and will be including the people who have normally come to the cookout/Bible studies we’ve done in Ohio in the past as well as anyone else who has a genuine interest in learning more about the Bible. The text-based format will make it slow going but there will be a chance for the guys (and a few spouses) to answer questions after looking at sections of scripture to help them understand the text better.
Many of the guys carry Bibles with them but it seems less often that you see them open it up. I used to give away what are known as ‘cowboy Bibles’ which are inexpensive New Testaments designed to be compact and kept in their gear bags or glove boxes. They have rodeo-related covers on them and some are printed with cowboy testimonies in them. I switched a few years ago to giving out compact Bibles I can sometimes get at a chain of Christian bookstores for just a little more than the cost of the cowboy Bibles, but that way, they have the complete set of Scriptures. They have tooled covers that fit the cowboy style and for those I know are really trying to understand their Bibles, I will get them a study Bible.
It’s always exciting to me to see someone bring theirs into the group when gather for cowboy church. I know another bull rider who also happens to be from Indiana who will slip away somewhere before the bull riding starts to read some from his away from the distractions around him but Fritz said he prefers to read his in the open to be an encouragement to others.
It was definitely an encouragement to me to see the two of them talking about what Fritz was reading.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
I was talking with a young bull rider about a second walkout at his school over gun control at a bulls, broncs and barrel race in Tennessee in April.
As a supporter of carrying firearms, the graduating student was frustrated by the walkout and went outside to ask his classmates why they were out there and what they thought it would accomplish. He said no one had an answer. For that reason alone, their cause lost any ability to have influence over someone they were needing to reach if their reason for being out there was really to bring about change. It only pushed the bronc rider further away from their cause.
Many barrel racers go down the road alone and we know some of them are armed, if not of their own choosing, often by husbands and boyfriends concerned about what happens when they stop at 2 a.m. for gas in the middle of nowhere. Some of us think reforms are necessary. Many rodeo cowboys and bull riders carry.
But this isn’t about gun control and what side of the issue we’re on. It’s about needing to know what we stand for and how to defend it as Christians.
The message gun control advocates had for this young bronc rider was completely lost when all they could say was they were ‘for it’, not knowing what ‘it’ was.
Many of us will tell people we’re a Christian, but when we’re asked about what we actually believe, we don’t have an answer. We’re ‘for Jesus’ but we don’t necessarily know what we mean by that.
If we don’t have an answer, we’ve lost credibility in a culture that is more and more skeptical or even aggressive against what we believe. If we don’t have an answer, we can’t share what, according to our beliefs, is the most important
It’s like telling a dying person that you have the cure for cancer, you just don’t know how to tell him what it is. Think about that for a moment, please, because it really is that serious. Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and that we know the only way to be sure of going to Heaven is a saving faith in Jesus Christ. We have to be able to tell others about it because it’s the difference between someone gaining eternal life or eternal suffering.
1 Peter 3:15 “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”
Jesus is the hope that is in us and Peter is telling us we need to be ready to tell someone about him at any time, especially when the faith comes under attack. In this section of scripture, he acknowledges we may suffer for our beliefs but that we need to be prepared to defend them.
The second part of this verse speaks to another side of how we’re to communicate our beliefs: with gentleness and respect. Whether it’s gun control, police brutality or the fight for a living wage, the message is often lost in shouting, riots or any kind of manipulation or force. As Christians saved be grace through faith in Jesus Christ, nothing matters more than getting our message of hope out there in a way that people will be willing to listen.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
Almost every Christian in rodeo and bull riding knows the verse: Philippians 4:13– “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” While the wording varies from Bible version to Bible version, it’s one of the most common verses quoted by athletes.
That’s because when it’s taken out of context, it can be encouraging to someone trying to succeed. We mistakenly take this verse to mean that God will give us the strength to accomplish all our goals.
Even though it’s a common way of looking at the verse, that’s not what it is actually saying. When we go back and read some of the verses before this one and consider who wrote it and why, under what conditions, we get some better insight into what it really means…and it means a whole lot more than we think.
What do we know about the author? It was Paul who we know was once a rich, hated man who persecuted Christians before he was saved by an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. We know that in following Christ, he helped the early church grow and through that, suffered a great deal of persecution including imprisonment and threat of execution. We know from reading all of Philippians, that Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi while imprisoned.
Now look at the other verses and see how much more Paul is telling us and see why we can learn from the other verses that Paul isn’t telling us God will help us achieve our goals.
Now think about your own life and struggles you’ve faced. A time when there was no money to pay fees and you had to sit one out. A time when an injury took you out of the sport for six weeks to recover and ended a dream of reaching the finals. A time when an injury lead to surgery that lead to never competing again.
Paul is showing us, from his own life, that God will get us through whatever we are going through, good or bad. When the hard times come, and they always do, this verse can suddenly mean so much more than what we think when it comes to facing a struggle, not just the pursuit of success. AND, by reading other books of the Bible, we learn that our lives aren’t about pursuing our success and that the strength God gives, comes to us when we are in His will, following His plan for our lives. When we stop trying to make scripture fit our own dreams and plans and start seeking God’s direction for our lives, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” begins to mean something so much more.