Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Why doesn’t everyone who calls themselves a Christian, carry out the Great Commission–the command from Jesus to tell others about him and then to go on to teach those who become follower’s of Christ? For a lot of cowboys and bull riders in the rodeo arena, it seems like their faith begins and ends with cowboy church and the prayer at the opening of the show.

So what is it that separates disciple-making Christians (those whose obvious faith in Jesus is taught to and reproduced in others) and all the rest who simply believe in God and assume they get to make heaven their eternal home but never really demonstrate much personal spiritual growth or reproduction? I used to think it was commitment – something each individual is responsible to produce for themselves; if you weren’t growing up into Christian maturity and making disciples of Jesus, it was because you weren’t committed enough. Deep down, though, I knew that even that kind of commitment was a gift from the Holy Spirit. But if that’s the case, why don’t all professing believers – those who are filled by the Holy Spirit – eventually demonstrate that life-changing commitment?

The answer to that question, I believe, is two-fold. First and most obviously, some professing believers are not really believers.

Even the demons believe in God (James 2:19), but that kind of belief – the type that denies and covets God’s sovereign kingship – won’t get a single human soul into heaven. In John 3 Nicodemus believed Jesus to be “a teacher come from God” based on the signs Jesus did, but Jesus condemned him for failing to understand that being born of the Spirit was of necessity for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven. Pilate believed Jesus to be the king of a kingdom, yet denied that there is any type of objective truth (John 18:37-38) – you know, the type of truth Jesus acknowledged when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). None of these examples believed and were saved as a result. The point is there are categories of belief that do not result in salvation. You can believe in God and never make it to Heaven.

But that still leaves us with people who genuinely “believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” (John 20:31) yet never mature much in their faith or join in God’s mission to spread the gospel of Jesus; what about them? Is their faith disingenuous or just stunted? Only God knows!

In The Doctrine of Justification, James Buchanan writes that there are three distinct privileges given to believers who receive the free gift of God (salvation) by faith, each increasing in value. In order, those privileges are pardon, acceptance, and adoption, all received at the moment of justification by faith, the moment we first are saved through our faith in Jesus, genuine repentance and asking to be forgiven and saved from the punishment God must pour out on unforgiven sin.

Pardon means that God’s wrath against sin is no longer upon us because our sin-debt has been paid. While a wonderful and necessary truth of our redemption, it doesn’t exactly give us feelings that motivate our commitment to the Christian life.

Acceptance means for us that we are no longer rejected from God’s presence as Adam and Eve (and everyone since) were after their choice to sin in the Garden of Eden. This brings us a little closer to motivation because it means heaven (and therefore the presence of God) is our eternal destination. Sadly, many continue to work for acceptance rather than living their lives as those who are already accepted. This demeans the work of grace for which Christ shed his blood and is therefore horribly offensive to God.

Adoption is the greatest privilege believers are given when they receive salvation by grace through faith. It is also the primary truth by which all believers should live their lives; it is the power for a life lived to the glory of God, alive in Christ and dead to our flesh. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God (and therefore brothers and sisters of Jesus) is what provides the basis for Christian conduct.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus tells us that if you follow him you are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:44-45, 48). As God’s adopted children, we are to imitate our heavenly Father. Jesus also commends to his followers, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). God’s adopted children are to bring glory to their heavenly Father by the way they live. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus uses the examples of benevolence, prayer, and fasting to teach his followers that God’s adopted children live with the singular concern of pleasing their heavenly Father and not men.

So you see, the privilege of being adopted into God’s family makes all the difference in the way we live our lives. Unfortunately, most believers never grow, learn, or desire to understand anything beyond the privileges of pardon and acceptance; “I’m saved. I’m going to heaven. End of story.” And, oh, the joy, the blessing, the security, and the abundance they miss by failing to search out the implications of being a son or daughter of the Most High God! And when we finally begin to grasp this precious truth, motivation for Christian living abounds like water over the Niagara Falls!

Hello. My name is Jesse. I am a son of the Most High God by grace through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

Who are you?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

I find myself in awe moment by moment as I contemplate the consistent love of God. In fact, because God is immutable (he does not change; Malachi 3:6), in everything we know to be an attribute of God he is consistent. He is consistent because attributes, unlike characteristics or qualities, tell us who God is – not how he behaves (for instance, “God is love,” 1 John 4:8,16). Neither the passing of time, the changing of circumstances, nor our own back and forth responses to God change him in any way; God is who he is apart from any outside influence…otherwise, he would not be God.

And the Apostle John was absolutely correct – God is love! In fact, if we accept that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God (Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3), then the way Jesus reveals God to us is of the utmost importance. And how did Jesus reveal God? As the loving Father! Jesus frequently referred to God as his Father, but he also encouraged his disciples to pray to our Father; that means as God is to Jesus, so he can be to his followers!

Many attempt to explain God primarily as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe, and indeed, he is! However, Jesus revealed God first and foremost as our loving Father! “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24, emphasis mine). Before God ever created, he was the eternal, immutable Father loving his Son. So much theology hangs on this fact. In fact, I’d say this needs to be the bedrock foundation for how you understand God – He is the eternal loving Father. To be eternally a Father means God has always had a Son, and so that Son must also be eternal, and if eternal, then also God! And since God is spirit, he gives all that he has to his Son; anointing the Son with his Holy Spirit is how the Father loves his Son. And if the Father’s love for his Son is eternal (and it is since the Father didn’t begin to love the Son but has always loved the Son), then the mode of that love (which is prior to any creative act) is also God; “God is love”!

Some of us in the cowboy culture didn’t grow up with the best fathers and it can make it hard to understand the full depth of what all of this means. It means something great for all of, us even if we were raised with the best father imaginable.

So, when we begin our understanding of God with the foundational attribute that God is a loving Father, all other Christian teaching can fit neatly together without contradiction and without downplaying God as some inwardly-focused sovereign who demands the obedience of his subjects. Above, we explained the reason God is Trinity. We can explain why a loving Father would create and give life to something other than himself. We can understand the mercy of a loving and holy Father on his wayward children. We can understand why the loving Father’s wrath against sin is severe because sin hurts his children and separates them from his love. We can even understand why a just and loving Father would separate rebellious, sinful children from the children whose desire is to live in submission to his kingdom.

God loves you, and if you are in Christ, he loves you with the same love Jesus has experienced for all of eternity. How wonderful! How beautiful! How amazing that the God who is all in all has set his affection on us! How can your heart not leap inside your chest at this great and wonderful truth!

Won’t you praise him with me today for his unspeakable love toward us? Won’t you join me in bringing the loving rule and reign of his Fatherly kingdom to our neighbors and to the earth? Hallelujah! God is love!

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Why do you follow Jesus? The answer can change everything

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Sometimes my 12-year-old son picks on his six-year-old sister. Obviously, there’s a big difference in size, so he has a distinct advantage. I always caution him to be his sister’s protector and never to use his size and strength to make her scared or do what he tells her. I try to teach him that as men and generally being physically stronger and more durable, we are to give honor to the women in our lives as weaker vessels that are precious and to be handled with care.

Yet, there are times when my daughter is a pest and my son gets to the end of his patience and uses his greater strength for pest-control, or even times when he just tries to return the favor by annoying her, which inevitably leads to a squabble. I always ask him, “Son, why did you do that?” I ask because I want more than his obedience – I want him to acknowledge the brokenness of his heart and seek repentance and transformation through his relationship with Jesus Christ.

But let’s be honest – most of us don’t know why we do the things we do. It’s difficult (nearly impossible!) for us to assess the motives of our own hearts.

Nevertheless, I want to ask each of us that question with respect to our decision to follow Christ – Why did you do that? Why do you follow Jesus?

For many, the answer is that it’s what they were taught as children – Christianity was “our family religion.” In other words, Jesus and the Triune God are all you knew – that’s all your family ever taught you, so that’s what you believed. Praise God, you weren’t born to Hindi, Buddhist, or Islamic parents, or exposed to any of those various worldviews in your formative years! Traditional faith (whatever that means) is what saved you from being a pagan or an atheist.

For others who grew up on hellfire and brimstone preaching, there are only two options: “turn or burn” – give your heart to Jesus and start living right or suffer immensely and eternally in hell. The obvious choice is Jesus, so we “invite Jesus into our hearts” by praying a prayer, getting baptized, and trying really hard to live right so God doesn’t change his mind about us. Religious adherence is what saved you from the fires of hell. But keep it up! Don’t fall off the wagon into sin, or God will let you break the deal you made for your salvation! Be sure you do plenty of good deeds, because you never know when you’ve done enough good to outweigh the sin you’ve committed!

In Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” he says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing what your family believes about God and Jesus doesn’t equate to salvation. Making the choice to “ask Jesus into your heart” and trying really hard to live a good life won’t punch your “get out of hell free” ticket. Only knowing God as his Son Jesus Christ has revealed him brings eternal life! Religion is always about man’s path to find God, but Christianity isn’t a religion! Quite the opposite of religion, God made a path to reconcile mankind back to himself through Jesus. Christianity, therefore, is a relationship with Jesus.

I have been married to my wife, Sarah, for almost 16 years. I love her dearly. I’ve studied her. I know how tell when she’s angry, when she’s worried, when she’s sad, when she needs some space, and when she needs a hug. I know her well because I’ve intentionally pursued growing in my knowledge of her because I love her and want her to be a significant part of my life. When we come to know Jesus, we receive justification – all our sin erased, our debt paid in the blink of an eye. However, that is not the end of our relationship with Jesus. As we pursue and grow in our relationship with him, we experience sanctification, increasing salvation from the power of sin, and eternal life.

How God works out that process is difficult to understand, but I have serious concerns for people whose relationship with Jesus never grows or remains at the level of a casual acquaintance. If we love someone, we seek to deepen our relationship with them by increasing our knowledge of them so that they we can do life with them in increasingly intimate and meaningful ways.

Knowing Jesus is eternal life. How well do you know him?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

If our faith is real, it’s proven over time, not by a single prayer behind the bucking chutes

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

One of the greatest plagues of Western Christianity is that so many who profess the name of Christ remain in perpetual spiritual infancy, and that many “Christian infants” are not following Christ at all, but simply wanted the fire insurance that is promised to those who belong to Jesus.

That’s why so often, you see one of the few, or even only times, you see a cowboy or bull rider pray is behind the bucking chutes before competing in sports that can get him killed.

As a retired bull rider now pastoring a church, when I started with them, I made it clear that my ministry would be focused on leading our congregation to pursue a mature faith in Jesus Christ as true disciples. One of the deacons told me he felt like that was a bold (maybe risky) way to approach what was essentially a job interview – to begin by suggesting we’ve been lax in pursuing maturity, content to be comforted with bottled milk and pacifiers rather than to graduate to the strength-giving meat and potatoes of a deep and growing dependence on Jesus. But, what else can you expect from a guy who spent ten years of his life riding bulls?!

But hard questions are important. Are you growing in your faith? Do you even care if you aren’t? Have you become satisfied with a little bit of Bible knowledge and a little bit of doctrinal understanding?

Satisfied. That’s where the audience of Hebrews was.

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

These people had heard the message of true discipleship so many times without acting on it that their ears had become dull, and their hearts had become calloused to it. It was time for them to be shaken awake in hopes that the scales would fall from their eyes, and they would realize the great reward of knowing Jesus – a reward that they were forfeiting by their complacency.

1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5)

Notice here that Peter suggests that those who don’t “grow up into salvation” have not truly “tasted that the Lord is good.” You see, salvation is achieved at a moment in time when we truly believe (known as justification) but it is proved over time (from the moment of our justification to the moment we are home with Jesus, called sanctification). If there is no sanctification – a constantly continuing work throughout our entire lives – there was no justification either; and if there was no justification, there is no salvation!

Are you being built up as a spiritual house with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Together, are you becoming a holy priesthood – those who lead others into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Are you offering spiritual sacrifices? Are you eager and zealous to know Jesus more deeply today than yesterday and to become more like him tomorrow than you are today? Many people get offended or become defensive and deny the evidence when these types of questions are asked. Please remember: the grace of Jesus has freed you from the need to do that! All your shortcomings are covered by the blood of Jesus, so in Christ, you are free to be brutally honest about where you are right now. And what’s even better is that same grace is what will continue the work of God in you – not your own efforts! And that grace can be released to do its work when you get honest with God. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Beloved, God’s work in you is not done yet, nor is it done in me. We are free to struggle with sin and failure, but we do not struggle to be free. And if indeed we have been set free, there is still growth ahead.

Are you growing in your faith?

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

Being a cowboy doesn’t get your out of Christ’s call on your life

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

In every church – every local body of believers – you have apostles (the ones who are good at start-ups and new adventures), prophets (the ones who declare the word of God clearly), evangelists (the ones who share Jesus with others naturally in almost everything they do), the pastor-teachers (the ones who are gifted to lead other believers and to attend to the spiritual health of the body), and the saints (all believers, but including laypersons in the body of Christ). Most people reading this will find themselves in that last category – non-clergy who are members or attendees of a local church. I am thankful for you, and I want to encourage you today about your very important role in the body of Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 the Apostle Paul writes,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Here, Paul refers to himself and Timothy as “ambassadors for Christ.” They are set apart as Jesus’s representatives; their actions and words are Jesus’s command to them lived out before the eyes of the people of Corinth, a plea to them to “be reconciled to God.” Clearly, Paul and Timothy were ambassadors of Christ actively involved in God’s plan of redemption. Does God’s plan of redemption dictate that all who believe are ambassadors of Christ, or is there an allowance for spectator Christians – laypersons who aren’t involved in ministry?

In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul wrote,

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (emphasis mine).

This suggests that everyone in the body of Christ – every believerhas a role to serve in the building up of the body of Christ. As “each part [of the body] is working properly,” the whole body becomes a healthier, clearer representation of God’s redeemed people. In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul instructs,

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (emphasis mine).

Not only should we be teaching, admonishing, encouraging, and building one another up toward mature faith in Jesus, but everything we do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus! That’s precisely what it means to be an ambassador, but here it is applied not to Paul and Timothy, but every believer in Colossae!

According to Paul, every believer has a responsibility to every other believer to encourage spiritual health and maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), but every believer also has a responsibility to those who are still strangers and aliens to God’s kingdom to represent Jesus Christ before them, imploring them to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20; Col. 3:17).

Here’s what I want you to know: Paul didn’t present these instructions to the church as some radical new idea for God’s kingdom work. Rather, he presents the ambassadorship of every believer as the normal plan and expectation for members of God’s kingdom; there is no allowance for spectator Christianity. Such total missional involvement only seems radical because our churches have created and embraced a missional model that is far from God’s normal plan.

For many, many people who attend church, attendance is the spiritual equivalent of going to a concert. They experience the religious performance of ministry professionals, but they are not committed to the health of the church nor are they involved in its redemptive mission to the world. Their relationship with the church is self-serving (“This is the kind of church experience I want and the benefits it should offer”) and passive (“I’m thankful for the work the church staff and volunteers do”). That is far from God’s plan. God makes his invisible grace visible by sending his people (clergy and laypersons alike) – full of his grace – to reflect his grace to people who need it. And we know many in the rodeo community choose not to attend a traditional church for a host of reasons and excuses. But where you stand with church, Christ’s call on you is the same as everyone else.

If, indeed, you have been called by Christ, you have been called for this purpose. Your life no longer belongs to you, for you have been bought with a price. Everything you are, everything you possess, and all the time you have left belongs to God for his mission and his purpose. Run with me today to the throne of grace; be filled to overflowing, and then go serve as ambassadors for Christ wherever you find yourself. Thank you for serving with me in the kingdom of God!

Grace and peace be with you!

Pastor Jesse

Will you only ever see yourself as a rodeo cowboy, bull rider or ranch hand or will you see yourself as an adopted son of God?

We don’t have to limit what we can achieve when God has given us the ability to do more

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We all do it many times every day; most often, we do it unconsciously. What we conclude when we do it says a lot about who we think we are and what we think we are up against. Toddlers learning to walk do it. Elderly folks facing serious illnesses do it. Yes, we all measure our capabilities against whatever task lies before us.

We attempt to determine our ability to manage the obstacles ahead to achieve what we consider a successful outcome. We place our abilities alongside every challenge to see which is greater, and often we avoid challenges that seem to surpass our abilities. Some look at the rodeo schedule and choose to enter a deal where they know they stand a better chance of winning because of the stock that’s there.

None of this is wrong or irrational.

It makes sense to discern whether we have the skill set, the resources, the strength, and the influence to achieve success when we face a challenge. But when we look to our own experiences, resources, and talents we fail to consider something that is drastically more important – the good news that we who are in Christ are no longer bound by our limited human nature.

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God is not surprised by any circumstance you have ever faced, nor will he be surprised by what awaits you in the days you have ahead. He knows every temptation you will face, every sin to which you will succumb, every sorrow and suffering that will bring you down, and every triumph and joy that will raise your spirits.

Knowing all of these things, he gave you exactly what you need so you can be who you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do even in the midst of this broken, rebellious world. What did he give you? He gave you himself! His grace isn’t insight. It isn’t a change of location or an altering of circumstances. He is the grace that he gives! That means that our potential as his children is much greater than the sum of our past experiences, our gifts and talents, our resources, and our strengths.

Our ability to overcome is infinite because the Almighty God who spoke everything into existence, who raised Christ from the dead, and who will one day make all things new and perfect again has made you his home. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). There is nothing to which God has called you that he has not also given you victory as you abide in (obey!) the love of Christ.

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