Greetings from the Horton clan!
The past few months have been very eventful. While working full-time (and then some), I am also working through the latter part of my Master of Divinity degree via online classes with Moody Theological Seminary (Chicago). In addition, I completed a 6-month transitional interim pastorate at a small local church that is struggling with issues of identity and leadership. To say my plate has been full is an incredible understatement!
But through it all, God is working. He prepared me and equipped me in every circumstance for ministry opportunities, both locally and through Cowboys of the Cross. Then, just as my wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer and expecting surgery to address it, my class load dwindled to half the norm, my interim pastorate ended, and I’ve found myself with time to enjoy and care for my family. God’s sovereignty is clear in every circumstance of my life.
All of this, especially in this time of year, reminds me of the hundreds prophecies given to Israel through its prophets. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, it was promised that Messiah would be born to a virgin, of the house of David, born in Bethlehem, exiled to Egypt, and all before the second temple period ended in 70 AD…and that’s only a handful of the specific things that were promised and fulfilled in Jesus.
Our God made promises to Israel, and he was faithful to keep those promises. Some of these promises, however, are yet to be fulfilled. We are told that Messiah’s governance would know no end, and that he would rule and reign over all the nations of the earth. Jesus promised that he would return to set up his kingdom, fulfilling those prophecies. Just as surely as we’ve seen hundreds of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled, we can trust the Jesus’ promise – and God’s yet unfulfilled promises about Messiah – will also be fulfilled.
What a blessed hope we have! Our King will reign, and his rule will know no end – a rule filled with justice, peace, and righteousness! That is the hope that makes enduring the drudgeries of life more bearable. I pray that you will cling to that hope with me this Christmas season and always! And if, by chance, you find yourself without that hope I’ve described, please contact us at Cowboys of the Cross to find out how you can begin your hope-filled relationship with God; do it now – don’t delay.
Grace & peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Jesse & Sarah Horton & family
Merry Christmas from the McCarthys!
This has been an exciting year of changes. One of the biggest was getting married this spring to my wife, Julia. She is my biggest supporter and meets the biblical definition of a helpmate. (One specific way she does this is by proofreading all my Cowboys of the Cross articles so y’all can’t tell how bad my grammar really is.)
Another change for me has been gaining a new appreciation for Psalm 50:10 through ranching and cowboying in Idaho’s Salmon River country: “For every
beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle this time of year, I pray we all take time to reflect on why we are celebrating. During this advent season, I am reminded of the faithfulness of God. Since the third chapter of the Bible, God has promised His people a Savior.
As I have heard it said, the entire Old Testament is like working cows in a set of well-designed corrals; each of God’s covenants narrowed the focus of His promise of a coming Messiah, much as the corral narrows as cattle move toward the chute. The ultimate focus of the covenants, like
this joyful season, is the Savior Jesus Christ. I hope that this Christmas, we can all remember God’s faithful love and grace for His people. Merry Christmas and as always, Soli Deo Gloria!
The past several days on social media up until Christmas, I’ve been sharing some “favorite things”. It’s been a chance to share a little more on the personal side and reveal some more of who I am. I may post a lot of goofy content and share some personal anecdotes or thoughts and feelings but outside of teaching or trying to give you guys some devotions to learn from and offering opinions, hopefully with a Biblical slant, on issues we’re facing, I keep a lot of my life pretty quiet. I don’t like the spotlight despite being the one who most often gets to stand in front of some of you leading cowboy church at rodeos and bull ridings.
That’s because it isn’t supposed to be about me. It’s about Jesus, the Savior whose birth we celebrate and recognize through Christmas. Because of that, it becomes a difficult struggle finding ways to get your attention on social media, but using that, ultimately to direct you to the content we prepare to try to teach and disciple you and, most of all, point you to Jesus.
It also isn’t about the ‘things’ I’ve been calling attention to or the ‘things’ that are unwrapped after being displayed under our Christmas trees. Unnoticed by most, I slipped an important Bible verse into the first picture I shared of my Charlie Brown Christmas record and the reflections on the significance that played in my childhood. The verse was Matthew 6:19-21 19 “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.
It’s a simple caution to remember that what we have here is so temporary and what we should be focused on is Heaven, our eternal home, where we really belong. We celebrate the birth of Christ but we can’t focus on the ‘baby Jesus’. He grew up to be a man who died a horrific death, taking on the punishment of our sins so that with a saving faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, with a repentant heart seeking forgiveness for our sins, we could be reconciled with God and ensured entry to our permanent home in Heaven.
We can get so focused on the ‘stuff’ that we forget, not the birth of Jesus, but its significance. That’s why in Matthew, we’re reminded that our hearts need to be focused heavenward. What a glorious time we have in the Christmas celebrations, as we spend time with friends and family and give and receive gifts, to let ourselves be reminded to do just that, look heavenward and praise and thank God for sending His son. It’s a cliche to say it, but Jesus really is the reason for the season.
Love you guys and look forward to serving you more in 2019.
Success or failure, God will use it all
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
It’s ok to fail.
You have goals you want to achieve. People in the rodeo and bull riding industry have unique sets of goals within the sport on top of the goals everyone sets for their lives. There’s a finals you want to qualify for, a time you want to beat, a bull you want to win a rematch with, a buckle you want to earn or a horse you’re training with goals for him.
When we don’t meet those goals, we can sometimes get frustrated or discouraged. It leads some people to quit. But if we look at our goals through a Biblical perspective, we don’t have to ever get discouraged, especially when we put God in front of them.
But here’s the kicker–that might change your goals completely. Once you look at how your choices can glorify and honor God or can carry out the Great Commission–that assignment God gave us all to share the gospel and teach and equip other believers–our goals or the reason for achieving them can easily be changed. That doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t try to qualify for a finals, but you find yourself putting God first in that journey.
Suddenly, the pressure is gone. You might even fail to achieve to accomplish what you set out to do, but the biggest accomplishment turns out to be how God used you in the process. Instead of being discouraged, you look back on the steps taken to achieve the goal, so the way that God was glorified in your choices and actions, and you find yourself feeling good about the experience.
Our failures can be God’s biggest success through how others can see Christ in us by how we handle a failure or how God uses our struggles with sin and temptation to help us. “My flesh and my heart may fail.”
Fail or succeed in our own minds, it’s His plan that will be carried out perfectly using us, His imperfect creation. Sometimes His plan is to let us fail to teach us and help us grow and sometimes that’s going to come out of us struggling with sin. As strong as we want to think we are, it can take real strength to admit how easily we let ourselves be tempted into sin…. That we weren’t strong enough on our own. We aren’t. That’s ok. Because God will be the strength we need to overcome what feels like a failure or a struggle with sin. And God’s grace will cover us when we mess it up. His love and grace is bigger than any sin or failure we feel we’ve experienced.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
‘Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
His love endures forever.’ Psalm 136:1
God’s love endures through all things and each of all 26 verses of this Psalm end with the words, “His love endures forever.” Each verse offers a reason the Psalmist is thankful, many of the reasons relating to all the lengths God went to in rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and taking them to the Promised Land. He also thanks God for everything He created.
Much like when families and friends go around the table describing what they are thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner or what gets shared in prayer before the meal, the Psalmist gives thanks for everything God has provided.
But in the Psalm, he reminds us of just how big God’s love for us is. It’s endless and will never stop. Never.
The Thanksgiving season is here and gives us an occasion to pay special attention to what God has provided for us but just as His love for us is always present, our thanks is always present when we realize what God did for us out of His love–sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Out of that sacrifice comes a chance to repent of our sin and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior so that we can be forgiven our sins and made right before God. Without that forgiveness, that God freely offers those who ask for it, we face God’s judgement and punishment of our sin. His love is unending, but what God won’t tolerate is sin. It has to be judged, but in what is more than fair, God loves us enough that He sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sin. Through the realization of what he did for us and the salvation we can freely receive from that act of love simply through believing, repenting and asking to be saved, we become naturally thankful to God.
1Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Thessalonians that we need to give thanks for everything. Knowing that God’s plan is perfect, that even means finding a way to be thankful for what we don’t think is fair or good or right the way we measure it. It means being thankful for all that He has given us that we love and take joy in, but also realizing that if everything works out to the goodness God intends, our own struggles can be part of that and we can be thankful for those as well. A bad wreck coming around the third barrel, a roping horse coming up lame before the finals or a broken femur bucking off a bull can feel like huge setbacks, but what we can’t see in what God is doing through those setbacks can turn out to be some of the biggest blessings, especially when He uses them to change us and draw us closer to Him.
God’s love for us is unending. Our reasons to be thankful can be too.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
When you realize how much they watch us and how much they absorb, one simple proverb from the Old Testament can point us to Jesus and how much we need them to see that is the direction he should go, and just how easy it is to point them there.
When you consider the proverb was written over 2,000 years ago, the pictures featured with this show us how God’s design for us to be hungry to learn and grow is consistent throughout the ages and cultures.
In the photos, you see a young bull rider praying, something he learned to do from being at events where he saw that was how the older cowboys prayed. Then you see Ohio bull rider, Hayden Townsend teaching one of the young bull riders what he needed to do to improve his skill after watching the kid take on a junior bull. But in the background, there’s that young kid who was praying, now quietly watching and listening to Hayden.
Hayden and I talked about this a little bit afterward. As someone who is becoming an influencer as he continues to move up in the sport, Hayden can be a bigger influence on these young cowboys than I ever could be in terms of showing them Jesus.
I encouraged him to look to where Jesus can come first, even above his bull riding career.
To succeed in bull riding, the sport requires a lot of dedication. Hayden works out and practices daily, works hard to keep a positive attitude and can’t think of anything else he would like to do with his life.
For most of these bull riders and rodeo cowboys, timed event side, barrel racing or bull riding, there are dangers that require intense focus and skills that have to be developed to win. But it very unintentionally becomes an idol where so much focus shifts to success at the sport that it can distract from seeing how God comes first in it all.
These young kids give us that example. As much as they will listen to what Hayden has to say about bull riding, we talked about how putting Jesus in front of all of that gives him a chance to do both: to teach them to ride but to do it in a way that opens the door to also share his faith.
It was an opportunity to show Hayden how his actions and attitudes in front of these kids can really show them a Christ-like way of living but that as he grows more confident in his faith and knowledge of who Jesus is, he can start to share that with these kids and anyone else.
The goal for me is to always help these guys to see themselves not just as bull riders and rodeo cowboys but as Christians first, looking at everything through the lens of a Christian.
Hayden and I talked about how that doesn’t have to distract from what is needed to succeed in the sport. Instead, it will only help as he learns to see everything as a chance to glorify God and how that priority will drive all the rest forward as well.
You can only put your bull rope on one way. You can only put a headstall on one way. Designs may change over the decades but the equipment functions the same way today as it did 100 years ago.
Hebrews 13:7-9 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods,which is of no benefit to those who do so.
Verse 8 reminds us that Jesus is the same, always.
Our culture wants us to reject our faith. It wants us to choose a different pattern to run saying the way we do it now is outdated and doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the way the world lives its collective life.
But in his letter to the Hebrews, Paul is reminding us that no matter what other influences are out there, pressuring us to let go of what we believe, Jesus has always been the same and that’s what we are to follow from the example set by Christian leaders who have gone before us. The applications of scripture may change as our culture changes, but what those verses mean are just as consistent as Jesus is.
He cautions us not to get carried away by other teaching that’s out there. The values in our culture shift almost weekly and sometimes are changing so fast that they seem to contradict each other as we strive to not offend anyone and make everyone value the same morals and attitudes.
There are different faiths and beliefs out there beyond our culture and even within our churches, there can be false teaching, different from a pastor making a mistake with scripture, but choosing to teach popular ideas that actually contradict what the Bible teaches.
Matthew 7:15-16 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
That’s why it’s so important for us all to be at least familiar with what the Bible teaches.
If we don’t have an idea of what scripture teaches, it is harder to recognize when we are listening to false teaching. False ideas that go against scripture are pushed on us by our culture and false ideas can even be pushed on us by those who say they are representing God when really, they are teaching something as opposite to that as a bush of thorns producing grapes.
Instead of false teaching and beliefs, Paul wants us to be strengthened by God’s grace, which is what we come under through a saving faith in Jesus. The grace we receive is this: that instead of being condemned for our sins, which God will condemn equally, we can all be seen as right and perfect before God through our belief in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the act of repenting and asking for forgiveness of sins. That comes through our understanding Jesus’ death on the cross was in place of our sins so that in faith, repentance and the seeking of forgiveness, we could be saved. That’s grace! Receiving forgiveness when we really deserve punishment.
In Hebrews, Paul wants us to recognize that following anything else is as useless as eating the food that is prepared in part of a different belief’s ceremonies. If Jesus never changes, following something different will do us no good.
You don’t have to be a barrel racer to know that to have a qualifying time, you don’t get to make up your own course. There is a set pattern that’s followed, even if it’s take from the left or the right, the cloverfield course is the same. As Christians, the path we follow is the one set out by Jesus and his teachings we find in the Bible.
His death on the cross and the salvation it brings us, isn’t changed by our culture. All we need to do is believe in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, confess we sin, repent and seek forgiveness. It will always be given, just as it was 2,000 years ago, as it will today and as it will tomorrow and so on.
Lane Fritz doesn’t find it easy but he’s trying to read his Bible more and encourage others to do the same.
That’s why you’ll sometimes see the Modoc, Indiana bull rider take a break during from the action at a bull riding to open it up and read it.
“When other guys see me reading it, they stop and ask what I’m reading,” he said, hoping that when others see him doing it, they can feel more comfortable opening theirs.
He recently gave his King James bible to a friend who didn’t have one but got a new Holman Study Bible from his church for graduating high school.
This past Saturday, Fritz had sat down behind the bucking chutes and opened the Bible up to a random Psalm and began reading when a traveling partner, Cody West, crouched down with him to see what he was reading.
They were at The Mack Arena, a Southern Extreme Bull Riding winter series run by Joe and Amy McQuillan. The event has been held all fall through spring for more than 15 years and is one of the places many Ohio and Indiana bull riders strengthen their grip on bull riding. It was the last night for the series and the second time this year that I got to go to lead cowboy church behind the chutes.
I talked with Fritz and West a little about their Bible reading and West asked a question that most rodeo cowboys and bull riders have: what’s the best way to read it?
Fritz said he mostly just opens it up at random to try to learn something and I was able to encourage him to use the study notes that come with the Bible and focus on reading smaller amounts at a time to be sure he understands what he’s read before moving on. He said not knowing who all the people are and how they are connected makes it confusing. He also said the ‘slang’ in the language is sometimes hard to understand but he is wanting to do better at reading his Bible more.
I went over a few basics to try not to overwhelm them and suggested to him and West that they start with John to learn more about Jesus and the gospel first but that they also might try James as a shorter book but one that is more to the point. I find for the cowboys and bull riders just getting started with their Bibles, that sometimes that is an easier book to get comfortable with studying the Bible in general.
It can be hard to get participation but I’ve started a group to do an online Bible study and will be including the people who have normally come to the cookout/Bible studies we’ve done in Ohio in the past as well as anyone else who has a genuine interest in learning more about the Bible. The text-based format will make it slow going but there will be a chance for the guys (and a few spouses) to answer questions after looking at sections of scripture to help them understand the text better.
Many of the guys carry Bibles with them but it seems less often that you see them open it up. I used to give away what are known as ‘cowboy Bibles’ which are inexpensive New Testaments designed to be compact and kept in their gear bags or glove boxes. They have rodeo-related covers on them and some are printed with cowboy testimonies in them. I switched a few years ago to giving out compact Bibles I can sometimes get at a chain of Christian bookstores for just a little more than the cost of the cowboy Bibles, but that way, they have the complete set of Scriptures. They have tooled covers that fit the cowboy style and for those I know are really trying to understand their Bibles, I will get them a study Bible.
It’s always exciting to me to see someone bring theirs into the group when gather for cowboy church. I know another bull rider who also happens to be from Indiana who will slip away somewhere before the bull riding starts to read some from his away from the distractions around him but Fritz said he prefers to read his in the open to be an encouragement to others.
It was definitely an encouragement to me to see the two of them talking about what Fritz was reading.