By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Bubonic plague is up, on deck is Yellowstone super volcano.
Headlines recently pointed to a plague outbreak in a rural part of China and a pattern of earthquakes in Yellowstone that can be a warning of volcanic activity. We can joke but there’s no doubt we’re seeing a lot of crazy situations around the world. We’ve never been more connected so in North America, we can become more aware of a plague of locusts in India and in India we can be more aware of violent unrest in the United States. Those who like to study End Times from the Bible can certainly have reason to wonder about what’s going on and if we’re speeding toward the end of this life here.
But I think it’s important to focus on this from Luke 12:39-40 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus is telling the disciples to be ready. He shares a similar message in some of his parables, that we need to be prepared. It doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming back, he tells us to always be ready because that moment could come at any time.
The different emergencies and threats we’re seeing around the world can’t be ignored. We need to protect and care for our families, our neighbors and the resources God has provided for us so it would be foolish to ignore the impact a spreading disease could have. It would be foolish not to prepare your home and evacuate when a major hurricane is coming.
And we still have to plan our lives around what we see happening. There are road trips to rodeos to plan, horses to train and businesses to run.
So we don’t go through life ignoring the threats and dangers, but we trust God’s plan for us and we move forward in our daily routines living life ready for Christ’s return.
That starts with having repented of our sin and asked to be forgiven with the belief and knowledge that Jesus took the punishment meant for our sins, died for us and rose again so that we could be with him forever in Heaven when we pass on from here, whether tomorrow in our sleep or next week when a volcano erupts or at some point in the future if we’re still here when Jesus returns.
According to Jesus, regardless of the turmoil we see around us, he tells us he will come when we aren’t expecting it. That gives us the freedom to head to the rodeo with our hearts right, looking for opportunity to bring glory to God as we compete and travel and doing it all without worrying about what comes next. Live for God in the moment, be prepared for the future but trust that what comes next is in His hands.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Many of the Psalms were written by David. It’s less clear who wrote Psalm 119 but much of it describes the importance of following God’s commands, especially when life is hard. Our culture continues to be turned upside down with months of upheaval now and in the rodeo community as much as anywhere, a desire for life to be normal.
But as Christians truly saved by seeking redemption and forgiveness through their saving faith in Jesus, it’s important to remember that when compared to the culture around us, we’re anything but ‘normal.’
We’re still going to make mistakes but a life in Christ becomes a changed life and we begin to respond differently to the world around us no matter how much upheaval occurs or how much our culture or the rules we live by are changed. Doing what we know is right, even if it goes against how we feel or how everyone around us is acting, doesn’t earn us anymore from God.
Through repenting of sin and seeking forgiveness from Jesus knowing he took the punishment meant for us because of our sin through suffering and dying on the cross in our place, we’ve already been given everything –a promised eternity and perfect life in Heaven free from all the struggles and chaos we’re seeing around us now. But with a life in Christ, we look to respond to what is going on around us the way Jesus would, not the way our friends would or even our political leaders.
So how do we know how we’re supposed to respond?
We obey God’s word and we let it guide our steps and light our way. That means taking time to learn what’s in the Bible and stopping before we act to ask ourselves, is this social media post, conversation, action I’m about to take or choice I’m about to make, in line with scripture and what Jesus has commanded me to do? Even without having read or studied the whole Bible, it’s often easy to know the answer when most of us already know the basics: we’re to point others to Jesus and love one another, even the ones who hate us.
That’s where it gets really hard. It’s easier to try to share from the Bible or talk about Jesus with people who are at least similar to us in culture and values. It gets harder to to be heard among people who have strong values that conflict with ours. It gets harder still when those people actively work against our Christian values. But it can be hardest of all when, sometimes without even realizing it, we don’t like those people because of how they treat us or our beliefs.
We need God to shed light on our own sin so we can step past that obstacle and follow His light along a path that leads us to where we can share the Gospel with others including those we find ourselves struggling to love.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 2 of 2 We don’t belong here
We all want to fit in. In kindergarten, you want to be friends with everyone. In middle school through high school you work your way through social orders, pecking orders, bullying and just trying to figure out who you are. In rodeo and bull riding, putting your spurs on upside down just once can be enough to get you ostracized in some circles as you try to be taken seriously as a cowboy, cowgirl or bull hand.
As Christians, we aren’t supposed to worry about fitting in. This isn’t our home and it isn’t supposed to feel comfortable or like we belong. Once we have understood who Jesus is as the son of God and that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins so that if we would repent and ask to be forgiven, we can be saved. Once forgiven for our sins through Jesus’ sacrifice, God no longer sees us as anything less than perfect no matter how many mistakes we might still make. That means we are guaranteed to be welcomed into Heaven, our real home where we belong, are wanted and fit in perfectly.
But until we get there, we not only have to accept that we don’t fit in here as we talked about in Part One, but we’re supposed to avoid looking like we do.
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
When we think about what John is saying and look at the world around us, how many people do we know or see that identify themselves as Christians but other than the fact they might pray before they ride or eat, everything else about them seems the same.
We don’t immediately become like Christ the minute we make him Lord and Savior of our lives. We begin a process that is called sanctification. God sees us as perfect, forgiven of our sins, but the process of sanctification sees us becoming more like Christ. That means becoming less like the world. So for sure, we’re still going to make mistakes or choices that don’t set us apart from anyone else, but the more time we spend learning about Jesus through church, resources like Cowboys of the Cross and especially our own Bible study and time with other believers more mature than us, we will begin to see how much we don’t belong here and the people around us will see that we don’t fit in. That’s a good thing!
And the Bible gives us lots of instruction on how to help strengthen our faith while separating ourselves from the world around us.
2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
In Paul’s letter from 2 Corinthians, we’re being instructed to stay apart from the world. That doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves and no longer interact with others that don’t believe in Jesus or aren’t committed to being changed by our saving faith in him; it means we don’t tie ourselves tightly to them. If we do, it holds us back just like an ox on a plow will be held back if he is yoked or tied to another ox that isn’t as strong.
We need to actively pursue non-believers to show Jesus to them through our words ( telling them or teaching them about Jesus) and our actions (showing them we’re different by treating them the way Jesus would). But Paul is strongly emphasizing we can be in a non-believer’s life, but we shouldn’t be pursuing the same pleasures they pursue which John mentions in the verse above. We can compete in rodeo and bull riding or western sports and shows. We can even enjoy a lot of what it means to be a part of the western or rodeo culture, but when it comes to embracing the aspects of it that lead us to sin and seek personal sinful pleasures, we’ve crossed the line. We no longer are able to show people Jesus in us but instead, look no different than us.
If we don’t see differences growing and the life we live becoming more like Jesus and less like everyone else, it becomes very important to evaluate what we believe and ask ourselves if we’ve truly repented and received the forgiveness that God has offered us through his son’s death on the cross.
Heaven is where we belong. We’re just passing through
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 1 of 2 We don’t belong here
This isn’t our home.
It’s something important to understand each time we lose someone we know or love in this world, we’re reminded that as believers in the gospel—that our sin separates us from God and must be punished, that Jesus as the Son of God, died on the cross to take that punishment for our sins, that by believing in him, confessing that we know we’re sinners and asking to be forgiven of those sins, we can be made right with God and be welcomed to Heaven—this isn’t our home.
1 Peter 2:11-12 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Peter calls us sojourners and exiles, meaning we’re just traveling through here in a place we don’t belong. An exile is someone kept from their real home. The Israelites were exiled from the chosen land and forced to live in Babylon for a time as punishment for not following God and as a way to get them back on track. Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden of Eden forced them to be separated from God and, because of them, we come into this world separated from Him also, by our own sin.
But through Jesus, we can be reconciled with God and welcomed home when we pass from this life.
When we’re part of larger communities like those that form in the sports of rodeo and bull riding or other equine sports and competitions, we actually see more loss than the average families. We have extended families that give us more opportunity to grieve but also more opportunity to remember, this isn’t our home.
As believers, we’re part of an even larger community of travelers who are just passing through this life and Peter doesn’t just ask, but urges us live in a way that those who encounter us in our journey here, could come to know Jesus by seeing that we’re set apart from the rest of the world. When they see that we don’t fit in, it’s because it’s strange to them that we take joy in our struggles, that we help others without personal gain or that we’re always encouraging someone else. In a culture that can often be selfish, it shows how much we don’t fit in and that we really don’t belong here.
It can be hard as we go through the struggles we face here to understand just how temporary this place is for us and that wherever we try to put down roots or however long we travel from place to place, rodeo to rodeo, all those places will never last. Eventually, sooner than we think, as believers we’ll find ourselves where we’re meant to be—where we’re wanted so badly that God sent Jesus to die for us to make a way that we could be there with him.
Hebrews 13:14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
The author of this book is reminding us the same thing. Our place here isn’t going to last and that we’re not just waiting,but wanting to reach the place we’ll spend eternity.
It can be hard as we go through the struggles we face here to understand just how temporary this place is for us and that wherever we try to put down roots or however long we travel from place to place, rodeo to rodeo, all those places will never last. Eventually, sooner than we think, as believers we’ll find ourselves where we’re meant to be—where we’re wanted so badly that God sent Jesus to suffer and die for us to make a way that we could be there with him forever.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys Of The Cross
We are slowly coming out of a period of, for many, self-isolation but reflecting on that time, we’ve seen almost everything we normally give our attention to put on a pause.
Things that distract us like sports and entertainment have been put on hold with the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) being the first sport to come back to stadiums in the past couple of weeks. We’ve been isolated from our churches and families, from shopping and hobbies and interests. All of these things can become idols to us—anything we give attention to before God.
Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.
We often think of idols as being that golden calf statue the Israelites were worshiping in place of God.
But as we head out of this giant pause, it’s worth thinking about how we spend our time.
Christians understand that sickness and disease are a result of sin and this being a fallen and broken world. What we’re enduring in this pandemic is not a punishment from God but He is allowing us to go through this.
If He’s allowed us to go through this and has allowed many of our idols to be temporarily removed from our daily lives, it seems God is giving us a chance to give Him more attention than we have in the past.
Jonah 2:9 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Jonah’s words are coming from the belly of a whale. He had ignored God’s commands, tried to go his own way, but God sent a whale to get him back on track and that’s ultimately what Jonah did, praising God and following His commands.
This pandemic may not have been sent by God the way He sent a whale to get Jonah’s attention, but it is a chance for us to get back on course for those of us who may have been more distracted than we realized by the trappings of our culture. Our western society has blessed with technology to access church services from across the country and we can literally open the Bible from our phones. Many of us are fortunate to have multiple copies of the Bible in our homes while people in other countries have to smuggle Bibles and are lucky to get their hands on a single copy.
Let’s take advantage of the opportunity we have to refocus our attention back on God through prayer, time in His word and gathering together to worship Him, online and in our churches as we’re allowed to gather together again.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
2 Corinthians 4:8-11
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Too often, people come to faith in Christ expecting that their relationship with God will make everything come up roses; God will fix all our problems and give us the happy lives he wants us to have. While it sounds nice, that’s a false gospel. Jesus promised we would have trouble (John 16:33) and that we would even be hated for our faith (John 15:18-19). The fact is that we live in a fallen world…one where “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18) frustrate us, steal our productivity, and even choke us out altogether if we aren’t careful to cultivate our hearts to receive God’s word (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23). So how does a relationship with God make things better?
Justin McKee recently said in a YouTube devotional called “Mud mud mud” that God isn’t about changing our circumstances. He’s about changing our hearts by giving us a warrior’s heart that can face the challenge of any circumstance. That’s really important, because everyone, regardless of their faith, will face hard times. If you aren’t currently on hard times, you’ve either just come out of something or you’re on your way into something that will challenge you…maybe even rock you to your core.
The passage from 2 Corinthians above tells us the result of our hearts being changed by God. Christians experience all the hardships of life that everyone else experiences…maybe even more; but we have been given the Holy Spirit so that we might show the world the conquering Spirit of Jesus. Jesus conquered hate with love, calmed the wind and waves with His words, and rose victorious from a death of shame and ridicule. “Cowboy up” doesn’t even come close to describing the grit demonstrated by His life, death, and resurrection…and that’s the kind of grit he wants to demonstrate in our lives through faith in Him (demonstrated by obedience), not so that everyone will see how tough we are, but so that everyone will see that there are no circumstances into which the grace and power of God cannot reach.
Becoming more like Jesus is not for sissies! When the pain seems too much to bear, remember there is a sweet and eternal reward for faithfulness that is WORTH IT! The next time your circumstances seem to be more than you can handle, remind yourself that Jesus didn’t die to make your circumstances better; He died to make you better for your circumstances! Be faithful, and trust God with the results!