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.
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 13:35By 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.
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: 7-10Submit 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?
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 10:24And 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 7:17-18Likewise, 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 15:4Abide 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.
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.
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 6:15What 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.