Behind the Bucking Chutes

Behind the Bucking Chutes is where cowboy church usually takes place at a rodeo or bull riding. Here, we give you a growing collection of Biblical devotions or stories meant to help disciple and teach you or help you to become closer to Christ with illustrations and applications drawn from the cowboy and rodeo culture.
In rodeo, it’s man vs beast, for Christians, it’s man vs sin.

In rodeo, it’s man vs beast, for Christians, it’s man vs sin.

The world we never got to see before sin entered it was free of weeds and thorns. Now ranchers and farmers have to contend with them all the time.

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, “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.

Chase those dreams knowing God has you where He wants you

Chase those dreams knowing God has you where He wants you

Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams or Chasing God Part 9

Chasing dreams can be as simple as chasing a rodeo win or as complicated helping bring food to a starving African village

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.

A treasure in heaven means more than a buckle on a shelf

A treasure in heaven means more than a buckle on a shelf

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.

Chasing God and Gold Buckle Dreams Part 8

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.

Success is a way to glorify God

Success is a way to glorify God

Christian Bull Rider Clete Bontrager says a cowboy prayer after cowboy church at the SEBRA bull riding in Marshall, Michigan, produced by Lost Nations Rodeo Company and Shiloh Walden.

Christian Bull Rider Clete Bontrager says a cowboy prayer after cowboy church at the SEBRA bull riding in Marshall, Michigan, produced by Lost Nations Rodeo Company and Shiloh Walden.

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.

Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams Part 6 — Losing can be winning

Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams Part 6 — Losing can be winning

You don't always have to have an ace to win. A failure or loss can glorify God or move His plan forward and THAT becomes a real success.

You don’t always have to have an ace to win. A failure or loss can glorify God or move His plan forward and THAT becomes a real success.

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.

Chasing Dreams, Chasing God Part 5 Are you chasing happiness or experiencing joy?

Chasing Dreams, Chasing God Part 5 Are you chasing happiness or experiencing joy?

finding joy instead of chasing happiness

finding joy instead of chasing happiness

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.

What’s your motivation, God or a buckle? It changes the game.

What’s your motivation, God or a buckle? It changes the game.

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.

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.

Glorifying God is a key to the pursuit of our dreams

Glorifying God is a key to the pursuit of our dreams

Bull Rider Dixon Holland from Virginia pauses to pray during the opening of  a recent bull riding in Wise, VA sanctioned by SEBRA (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) .

Bull Rider Dixon Holland from Virginia pauses to pray during the opening of a recent bull riding in Wise, VA sanctioned by SEBRA (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) .

Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams Part 3

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

How do we know if we’re chasing our God-given dreams or we’re chasing our heart in the wrong direction?

We know that the heart is not to be trusted—that our emotions can mislead us and that can get in the way of God’s plan for us. We also know that as we grow in our faith and put it first, our goals can change to line up with what God wants for us. Sometimes that’s the same as what our original dreams were and sometimes it’s not. If our dreams are changed but our focus is on our relationship with Jesus, we’re going to be happy with the new dream in front of us.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we should live in a way that our faith shows through and that when others see us living it out, it gives God glory, comparing us to a city on a hill that can be seen from all around or a light stand that is put in place to shine throughout a home.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus wants us to live like him but in a way that it can be seen by others, not for us to get attention but so that God is honored by our actions and choices.

When glorifying God becomes our focus, that can impact our dreams. We can still pursue a gold buckle dream, but it’s done in a way that we call attention to God. That involves more than thanking Him like we see when someone wins a Grammy (though there is nothing wrong with that) or taking a knee and pointing skyward in the arena. It includes living in such a way that others see we approach our success and failures differently and through that, want to know what we have that they don’t. That becomes a chance to tell them about Jesus. When that happens, the pursuit of our dream has now become a way to share our faith with others.

Then Paul tells the church in Corinth this: that everything we do should bring God glory.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God

Again, how we pursue our dreams becomes an opportunity to do this. Do we get angry at a setback or do we show patience and perseverance? Do we use our success as a way to tell others who Jesus is or do we stay quiet about it in conversations or even interviews with media doing stories about us. Do we show respect and kindness to the people we compete against and to our fans or do we look after our own interests?

Chasing our dreams gives us enormous opportunities to honor God whether we’re the rookie kid just getting started or the person that rookie looks up to.

Chasing dreams: God might change our goals but it can still be a dream come true

Chasing dreams: God might change our goals but it can still be a dream come true

Triple T Bulls and Practice Pen

Triple T Bulls and Practice Pen

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboy of the Cross

Standing in a barn outside the arena set up to be a practice pen for bull riders leading cowboy church, I would have never imagined that was where my life was going to take me.

I had different dreams of working my way up the corporate ladder driven not so much by a job I loved but almost seven weeks of vacation and the possibility of a six-figure income—not a move into ministry that meant living part time in my van in a church parking lot.

But when we start following God instead of ourselves, our dreams and goals sometimes change.

We often have this idea that what we want is what God will give us but we forget that when we follow God, our heart changes and what we desire changes. Romans offers a lot of teaching about salvation and the changes we encounter when we become a Christian.

Romans 13:13-14 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Instead of pursuing our normal, sinful natures, we begin to pursue Jesus and recognize that God calls us to a life meant to glorify Him. Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians that we’re made new in Christ through our salvation—that we become a new person that no longer lives for ourselves but for Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

As we start to live for God and not ourselves, we start to realize that even when circumstances don’t go our way, God is at work. We recognize that regardless of our own plans, even what feels bad to us, will work out toward God’s purpose. Even what feels like a failure or loss for us, will bring a chance to honor and glorify God.

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

We trust that we are a part of His plan, working toward His purpose.

For some, that can mean success in the rodeo or bull riding arena where God can be glorified through your success and the attention it brings Him. For others, it could mean their entire life shifting. I was working behind the scenes helping with rodeo marketing and working as rodeo photographer part time while pursuing a bigger income in a giant media company. As I let my life be changed by my relationship with Jesus, my focus changed and I began working in ministry as well, helping others with cowboy church and eventually taking on managing Cowboys of the Cross. That became the focus of my life, directed by God, and my goals and dreams changed.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

It’s through God’s word that we can begin to discover the direction He has for us. As we allow ourselves to be changed by what we read and learn in Scripture, what we value and pursue can change as God directs our steps.

That’s how finding myself standing in a barn leading cowboy church on a Sunday afternoon in May can be a dream come true.

Chasing dreams and following our hearts can be two very different things when God’s involved

Chasing dreams and following our hearts can be two very different things when God’s involved

Bull Rider Daylon Swearingen’s dream of making the PBR’s Unleash the Beast has come true, but faith and putting God first remains a priority.

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Part 1 — Following your heart or following God?

People outside the industry don’t think of rodeo cowboys or bull riders as being people who dream big but there are song and book titles that play on the phrase, “gold buckle dreams.”

Bull riders dream of making it on tour with the PBR and ropers dream of making the National Finals Rodeo. Many dream about riding just once at Cheyenne or the Calgary Stampede. Some dream of making an association finals in their home states.

For some, dreams come true. I’ve been fortunate enough to know a few young men who have recently seen their dreams come true of getting a place in one of the PBR’s coveted top spots.

At 19 years old, Daylon Swearingen is one of those young men and I had a brief conversation with his mom, Carrie this week about how to be praying for Daylon.

“This has always been Daylon’s dream,” said Carrie.

But along with following dreams comes the idea of following your heart and that’s where the trap can come in for Christians. It understandably sounds good and I’ve seen many cowboys and bull riders talk about it and give advice encouraging it. But the Bible warns us about uncontrolled emotion and it especially warns us about the heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

The prophet, Jeremiah, is writing to the Jews who at the time are in exile in Babylon after failing to follow God’s path for them but instead, becoming like the pagan cultures they embraced around them.

But we were made with the same hearts and emotions as the Jews back in this time and can take this warning for ourselves as well. Our heart will deceive us. Following our hearts can lead us into sinful decisions more easily than it can lead us toward fulfilled dreams.

One thing that Carrie asked for prayer was that people would see God in Daylon.

“This is God’s platform, looking forward to seeing His plans!” said Carrie.

Yes! Exactly. They understand while this is a dream come true for Daylon, it is God who orchestrated it and the priority isn’t on the dream, it’s on our heavenly Father who gave that dream and directed the family’s path.

By keeping our focus on God and not our hearts, we can see how our dreams are part of God’s plan.

And if following our hearts isn’t how we chase our gold buckle dreams, then what is? That’s found right here in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

It’s God that we’re to trust instead of our hearts and in trusting Him, he will direct us where He wants us to go. For Daylon, it is a time with the PBR. For me, it was into full time ministry. For you, it could be anything but when you follow Him, your dreams will follow His path and He will be glorified through all you do.

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