Spiritual warfare is real and can throw all kinds of sin in your path
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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.