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.
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.
You can’t get to Heaven without knowing ‘The Way”
With most everyone owning a smartphone now, road maps and guessing how long it will take to get to the rodeo or bull riding are long gone replaced by Google Maps and GPS. Replacing guesswork is a precise arrival time based on traffic, construction and alternate routes.
And out of that arrival time comes a new challenge. Beating it. Most of us joke about it but if we’re being honest, we love seeing that time estimate drop a minute or two juggling the maximum speed we can get away with without getting a ticket with the distance we’re traveling and the potential for an extra five miles and hour to beat that initial arrival time.
I wrote a social media post about it this week in fun because I knew the route I was on was taking me around a long city block with a bunch of traffic lights. If anything can cause you to lose the game and see the time kick up a couple minutes, it’s one too many red lights. So…I cut through a mall parking lot that I knew exited on the next road I needed.
At the end of the lot, the time dropped by four minutes.
(By the way, the dictionary definition for Booyah, by: used to express joy, especially over a well-played or victorious moment in sports.)
But regardless of how quickly you get to your destination, you’ve got to know where you’re going and how to get there or there’s no point starting out on the journey.
Working in rodeo ministry, I’ve met a lot of cowboys and bull riders who are either new to their faith or don’t know what they believe and struggle with what their purpose is.
They lack direction and it can lead to a lot of feelings of being discontent and unhappy. It can be bad enough to damage relationships and impact their rodeo and bull riding careers when it starts to affect their riding.
The most important starting place is the gospel.
It’s here that we learn that Jesus came to show us the way.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…
The disciples were still trying to understand what was going on. They still didn’t understand that Jesus was here to die in place of our sins so that we could all, through him, have a place in Heaven, our final destination if we have a saving faith in Jesus.
Sin separates us from God and God is going to both judge and punish unforgiven sin, however big or small. It all gets punished equally and that is eternal separation from Him in hell. But, through a belief that Jesus was the son of God sent here to die for us and that he also rose again and through a repentant heart, asking for our sins to be forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, we are assured a permanent future in Heaven.
All of John 14:6 says this: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The disciple, Thomas, had just said he didn’t know where Jesus was planning to go as Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for his pending death on the cross. Thomas said he didn’t know the way and Jesus made it clear, it would be through him.
Earlier, Peter had similar questions, letting them know that he would be leaving them for a time but was going to prepare a place for them (and us).
John 13:36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
It doesn’t matter what time we’re arriving or how quickly we can get there; when it comes to Heaven it simply matters that we are going to get there when we’re supposed to.
But for those of us that feel lost or discontent, when we can learn to focus on what is coming and our faith is put in Jesus, we find it’s that faith, through what we learn in the Bible, that guides our steps and helps us make decisions. We don’t know the route we’re going to take to get there while we’re here on Earth, but we know our destination is Heaven and we can learn to take comfort in that, no matter how hard this road sometimes gets or how lost we might sometimes feel.
And isn’t it nice to know that when you get to where you’re going, there’s someone waiting there for you, happy that you’re coming?
The song Kyrie may unintentionally point us toward some strong Biblical lessons about God’s presence in our lives.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Kyrie eleison means “Lord have mercy” in Greek and when I learned that as an adult, the 80s song Kyrie by Mr. Mister became a favorite all over again. It’s still a ‘play it loud’ song for me and is regularly on rotation traveling to rodeos and bull ridings. (link to the song in the comments since Facebook hates external links). While many readings and phrases that are repeated in Catholic church services are in Latin, the Greek words, Kyrie eleison, are, as I understand it, still used.
“My heart is old, it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself againKyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light”
Lord have mercy, down the road that I must travel.
Lord have mercy, through the darkness of the night.
Lord have mercy, where I’m going, will you follow?
Lord have mercy, on a highway in the light.
It isn’t straight-up biblical but there are biblical encouragements in this as we look at scripture and what we can take from the song.
Hebrews 4:16 — Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Every week, we’re out there on the roads together. Whether we’re in the same truck or rodeo wagon, we’re on the phone, texting or snapping but one way or another, we’re sharing the journey together talking about bulls, times, runs, judging, the ground conditions and sometimes even what we’re going through. More of then people realize, conversations about God and the Bible come up and sometimes we’re praying for one another.
But we’re also sharing a journey together that only God and people in this industry fully understand. “Lord have mercy, down the road that I must travel.”
His mercy and grace are there for all who want to receive it. Instead of punishment for our sins, we can be forgiven through repentance and a saving faith in Jesus Christ–that he died to take the punishment for our sins that separate us from God without the forgiveness He gives us (His mercy and grace) when we truly repent and ask for it.
As we travel this week and weekend, and any time, I just want to encourage us to take time to pray for one another and those who have not yet experienced God’s mercy and grace.
And I want us to take comfort, not in the song lyrics but in the verse from Hebrews that God is there for us in any time of need. No matter how hard it gets or how abandoned we sometimes feel, like we’re going down that road alone, He is always with us. #CowboysOfTheCross
Our desire to be accepted can cause us to call attention to ourselves when we need to find our acceptance in knowing how much God loves us. A cowboy church lesson.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
Micah 6:8 says this: Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord asks of you: to do justice, to love faithfulness, and to be humble walking with your God. (Translation mine)
We all generally know what is just – that good is rewarded and evil is punished; justice is the law of God, which also tells to abide by the law of the land. We are to love faithfulness – we keep the promises we make and are careful to follow and obey the instructions of those to whom we are accountable. Being humble in our walk with God means we don’t think of ourselves – we love God, we love people, and we don’t need accolades or point to ourselves at all. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less – or not at all.
Humility is a hard thing to grasp. We can be generous, giving to the poor, purchasing and handing out tracts or Bibles, hospitable to the outcasts, care for the sick and elderly, and look out for the widows and orphans. But the moment we make much of our selflessness – even if only in our own minds – we are no longer selfless; we have forsaken a humble walk with God! At the core of everything we do, we can find the desire to be loved and accepted by our peers, overlooking the need for humility.
Jesus has some great advice on this in Matthew 6:1-4. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (HCSB)
Jesus reminds us here that the problem is not that we want to be loved and accepted, but WHO WE LOOK TO for love and acceptance. We all struggle with feelings of inferiority – some more than others. The entirety of our adolescent existence seems to revolve around peer group-jumping to figure out which group we are most comfortable being liked by and associated with, and sometimes the decision is made based on who accepts us and affirms us the most; we’re really selfish!
Here’s the point: The beginning of knowledge and wisdom is the fear and respect of God. When you realize that the eternal creating Father of the universe set his affections on you before you were created – before you could even have a performance mentality – all this strutting about and posturing for ourselves and for others ceases. We know that our value does not lie in the way our peers perceive us, or even in the way we perceive ourselves. No, our value lies in who our Creator says we are, and he says our value is a direct result of whose image we bear (Gen. 9:6 – Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.).
God loves you. Now go out and do justice, love faithfulness, and be humble walking with God, and don’t let a lack of humility rob you of an eternal reward.
The Bible isn’t always easy to understand but like anything, it gets easier with practice.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Ever misunderstood something and felt pretty dumb about it afterward?
Sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand something in the Bible and I think that keeps many of us from reading it.
Seminaries teach pastors Greek and Hebrew to help them understand what you’re sitting there scratching your head to understand as you open up the Bible. I know many who decide they are going to read the Bible cover to cover and dig right in. Genesis goes okay until Chapter 5 when you hit the ‘begats’–a long list of genealogy that can be a quitting point for someone already struggling to understand what they’ve been reading.
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 or the first time you try to turn a rope over your head, it gets easier. We approach the Bible like any other book from a western to a text book, thinking we have to read it from front to back, chapter by chapter. That isn’t the case at all. While there is a very specific structure to the Bible, sometimes a great starting point is all the way up in the New Testament with the Book of John. Many recommend that as an easier start and a way to learn about Jesus and the plan of Salvation. I often point people to James as it is written in a very straightforward manner.
It gets easier with time and practice, just like any of the sports you compete with or how each branding can run smoother for you than the last.
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 that I can run a section of scripture by to be sure I understand it right.
Context is very important. You may randomly point to a verse and read it but without knowing what happened in the verses ahead, and sometimes the books ahead of it, it is very easy to misunderstand it. But again, in time, as you learn more and more, the context is easier to follow and you will be amazed at how much deeper your faith becomes when you see for yourself just how well books of the Bible do fit together despite being written by authors hundreds of years apart. You see on the pages just how real God’s word is to us and why 2 Timothy refers to it as God-breathed (living word).
There are also great study bibles out there with notes that help explain it. 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. Step by step, you will see even more, just how big God really is as you see how the scriptures you just read are played out right in front of you. See what you can learn about the importance of reading your Bible from the two verses below and what else each section is teaching us. There’s a lot in just these two verses. Find at least five facts and truths you can understand from what Paul is saying in this letter to Timothy. The word “righteousness” is an important one that comes up again throughout scripture. Take some time to look up what it means through your Bible’s study notes or the concordance (at the back that helps you find other verses where the same word appears). This is a great way to help you get started understanding your Bible. It isn’t how much you read in a single sitting, it’s just taking your time to understand it piece by piece.
And before you start, pray—ask God for the wisdom to understand.
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