By Will Brunke / Special to Cowboys of the Cross
One of my most consistently used metaphors is that “bull riding emulates life and life emulates bull riding”. Likening the unique struggles and confrontations of life that are so often imitated on a minute scale in a sporting event is nothing new. So, it came as a shock and with some disappointment in myself when I was hit in the teeth with an epiphany that seemed so obviously clear, considering my love and probable over-use of metaphors.
Teaching a bull riding clinic of young men and young boys on a cool weekend this fall, I settled into a gamut of trick questions in order to open up the riders ‘ thought processes and to give them examples of easy pitfalls that inexperienced riders can get bogged down in. The premise was simple; be careful of the words that are tossed around the bucking chutes and how you apply them.
For example; a person may have the best of intentions when they are supporting you as you ride, all the while screaming at you, “REACH!!! REACH for the front!!” In reality, this is probably some of the worst advice you can get and can dramatically increase your chances of an early buck-off as well as your chances for an injury. There is almost nothing about “reaching” in bull riding that is mechanically sound. Riders who learn a bad habit such as this tend to hit a brick wall in their riding that they can never seem to get around. The point I was trying to express to the group was that it is imperative that you understand what words mean for better or worse. How many of us take words and advice at face value without using our critical thinking to analyze and evaluate possible outcomes? At this point, in jest, I banned the word “reach” from the rest of the clinic. But what was more important is that I inserted a new vocabulary in place of the flawed one — this time with meaning.
In short, after some constructive conversation, open dialog, and some examples and drills on the barrels, an overwhelming look of exuberance began to appear from most of the group. They got it. They were now hungry for more and fully engaged after having a proverbial blindfold removed. The spoon-fed were now feeling like hunters after the realizations had past that not only did this new way make sense, but its truths cleared the thorny underbrush away and created a template that the riders could gauge their technique and future advices against. The words in the Bible are like this for many.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus was telling those who began following him, and those who were trying to discredit them that his true followers would follow his teaching and not that of the religious elite that were using their position to hold power over people. John 5: 31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The words of scripture can be an emancipator, setting you free. Used incorrectly the words can become an enslaver. One person can lead or mislead many out of the truest intentions depending on the level of understanding the teacher possesses and the level of spoon-fedness to which the audience may be inclined. Unfortunately, some are even led by false teachers with impure intentions. How is this possible? I believe an old bull riding adage can apply; The top 20% of riders haul in 80% of the prize money. Which means 80% of bull riders are struggling with the sport and, more often than not, donators to the purse. I believe the same is true on a more Christian front; 20% of Christians are hunters of the truth and can easily disseminate false teachings from Gospel truth. However, that means that 80% of Christians are struggling with scripture, have a loose grasp of the Gospel and are easily swayed toward the fringes where words and phrases like, “prosperity”, “morally good”, or “you’re perfect just the way you are”, run rampant and the generalized vagueness of salvation are currently leading many to despair.
I feel blessed to take a moment and think about some of my closest friends in my life and realize that they are also hunters of the truth who hold me accountable, ask tough questions, and point indiscriminately to scripture. These people are my trusted traveling partners in my walk with Christ. But just like at the bull riding clinic, I believe my friends and I have a great template to measure ourselves and our technique against. It’s the teachings from Jesus himself. Everything in the Bible from beginning to end points toward Him. During Jesus’ time on earth, he spoke only truths and eschewed many religious habits, fringe beliefs, and false teachers. And just like then, today his truth is infallible. It stands up against any test and strips the sheep’s clothing from the wolves.
John 8:32 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
In the end, the only way my students take the next leap in their bull riding career is if they take an infallible bull riding truth and continually apply that in practice until the correct reaction is near automatic. Likewise, there is only so much a “come-to-Jesus” moment can give us unless we affirm that newfound understanding with practice in reading Jesus’ words of truth. Therein lies the ultimate template to gauge yourself by.
Yes, your hometown church may be fine. Your mega-church may be setting attendance records. That unsubstantiated “preacher” with no church affiliation might be a likeable guy. But just ask yourself, who or what is your template based upon? It’s a fair question to spend some time on….. unless you are too busy being spoon-fed by a wolf.
Will is a retired Pennsylvania bull rider who occasionally gets back in the arena to teach bull riding schools or clinics.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
In the sports of rodeo and bull riding, there is so much weight and value put on having the right mindset.
Cowboys who would never pick up a text book in school will read through books that help them harness the power of their minds. They’ll watch video after video of their rides and runs to see what they can improve. They’ll focus on positive thinking. They’ll surround themselves with like-minded people to influence them toward success in their rodeo careers.
Do we put that same value on our Christian faith?
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is encouraging the church to focus on what is good and to put to practice what he has tried to teach them as the early church was first beginning to spread. There were so many influences pulling at these new believers and Paul often intervened through letters to them. Paul wants them to be successful and for their faith to grow beyond any influences that could damage it. And he wants the good news of Jesus Christ to spread. We can see this in many of his letters that make up so much of the New Testament.
Just like we study the sport, we have to study God’s word…and put it to action. And we have to work on a Christ-like mindset.
All that comes from putting the effort into not just reading the Bible but putting the work into understanding it.
A lot of people start the new year off with a goal of reading through the entire Bible, some following a reading plan to complete it in a year. But it’s not a race and there’s no prize for completing it on time or early. It’s better to not just read the Bible but to take the time to understand it. Study Bibles are out there with plenty of notes to help you understand the verses. There are books called commentaries and there are Bible studies that lead you through a book of the Bible with questions and helpful thoughts. It can feel hard to understand at first but the more you work through it, the more the pieces come together and the easier it all becomes to understand.
Then comes the harder part. Once you’ve learned it, we need to put it into action. The Cowboys of the Cross website is starting a monthly video series that focuses on that part—what it means for a Christian cowboy to live out his faith. We encourage you to watch the series and use this site to help you grow in your faith while plugging into a church with even deeper teaching into God’s word.
Part 3 on FORGIVENESS
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
If you’ve been a bull rider for very long at all, you’ll have at least one story about how a bull fighter saved your butt.
Most of us North Carolina riders know that Nathaniel Southern has one arm that’s inches longer than the other because many of us dogpiled a bull for him on a few different occasions so we could untie him. I was bad for hang-ups, but not quite that bad. One night I was on a Clint Haas bull he called 8-Ball. Around six seconds, he was spinning away from my hand; he got a little empty and I got a little stiff and wound up sliding off in the well before the eight seconds. I was able to wrap my free arm around his neck and dance with him until my riding hand was free, but he knocked me down as I tried to step out of the spin. Once I was on the ground, he put his head down on me and went to his knees to increase the amount of weight he could push me with. He pushed against the side of my head so hard my vision went dark. Justin Branch was a bull fighter that night. He leaned on 8-Ball’s head but ended up having to wrap himself around the bull’s neck to get him off me. I was thankful for Justin that night. He saved me from a bull who truly intended to harm me!
In the “Christian-ese” language, we use words that outsiders might not understand. What does it mean for a Christian to be saved? For most, it means we’ve got fire insurance – we are saved from eternity in hell and from God’s just wrath against our sin. To be “saved” we must be forgiven of our sin. But what does that require? How do we receive it? What is the value of forgiveness? To understand that, we must first understand the value of a soul.
In the Gospel of Jesus according to Mark (the book of Mark in your Bible), immediately after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending rejection by Jewish leaders, death at their hands, and his victorious resurrection. Peter responds by calling out Jesus for what he perceived as foolishness. Peter couldn’t imagine that the mission of the Messiah of Israel was to die. Then comes this passage:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)
In verses 36-37, Jesus makes it clear that our immaterial souls are valuable. The reason our souls are valuable is because that is the part that God himself breathed into us which gives us life (Genesis 2:7). It is that immaterial part of us that is God’s image – the imprint of his Spirit on us. We are valuable to God because we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6).
Not only are our souls valuable to God, but we are supremely more valuable than anything else we could ever possess. From an accounting perspective, Jesus goes straight for the bottom line in these verses. Take your assets, subtract your liabilities, and that’s the net value. Jesus says if the entire world and all it can offer are your assets and your soul is a liability (or the payment), your value is negative. He tells us there is nothing we offer in exchange for our eternal, supremely valuable souls.
Imagine if everyone in the U.S. decided collectively to sell our country. What would the price tag be? Well, in the first quarter of 2014, the net value of the U.S. was $128 trillion. No one person could ever possibly pay that price, and even if someone could do that, they couldn’t keep it. Someone with bigger guns or more nukes would rise up to take it away. In fact, we don’t really own anything the way we do our eternal souls. That beautiful home you recently built…someone else will be living there sooner or later. That brand new dually you bought…eventually you’ll trade it for a newer model, and someone else will drive it. Not to mention the fact that we all die eventually, and I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul in tow.
I want you to notice that first verse (Mark 8:34) tells us that this is directed at both the crowd and the disciples; this is not teaching for only the most dedicated followers of Jesus – it’s for all of us who desire to follow Him. In fact, that might be a better translation of Jesus’ first words, “If anyone desires to come after Me…” Coming after Jesus represents following Him in a physical sense; as far as location goes, you’re following Jesus. But then He says, “…let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Follow me here indicates following in a behavioral sense, or obedience. Paraphrasing, “If you want to walk with Me, the life you live will be one where I am the leader and you obey Me.”
Jesus is demanding a great deal from us here. He isn’t saying we should die for Him; that might be easier – at least it would be over and done! He’s saying we should live as though we were dead to our own desires and be as obedient to Him as He was to the Roman soldier who likely told Him after his scourging, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Yes! The cost of forgiveness – of being saved – is high. But what else would you expect for something as valuable as your soul is to God? It cost God the life and blood of His eternal Son! Now, at this point I want to make something abundantly clear: though salvation and forgiveness is not cheap, it also cannot be earned! “What will anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The answer is nothing! Jesus is the one who paid the price for your forgiveness! “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).
The forgiveness of our sin is not cheap, as acknowledged by the price Jesus paid to accomplish it. The price was high because of the value of our souls to God. The result of God’s forgiveness is also supremely valuable – our complete submission and obedience to Jesus; a life lived for ourself to gain worldly treasure while giving lip service to Jesus is not what the Son of God died for, and it is not valuable enough to eclipse the value of our soul.
Here’s a great application for you concerning the value of the souls of men: When you see others as Jesus sees them, you will love others as Jesus loves them and serve others as Jesus serves them.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). Jesus’ mission was to die to save souls; ours is to die to self and live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for the same purpose.
Part 1 on Forgiveness
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
You were working and your traveling partner forgot to call-in to the rodeo as promised and you missed a shot at a $5,000-added deal. You forgive him and move on.
He promises next week, he won’t forget. He does and you missed the next show too.
On the way to the next rodeo, you catch him in a lie about why he needed to borrow money from you that he still hasn’t paid back. He still owes you the money but you forgive the lie.
With your sister, it’s one thing after another and you wonder how you’re even related as you bail her out of jail. You’re getting tired of feeling taken advantage of. You may want to rethink who you use as a traveling partner and what the best ways are to help your sister, but you still forgive them.
But your anger is building and you’re thinking there must come a point where they’ve crossed a line and used up all their forgiveness cards.
Until you hear what Jesus tells Peter.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22Jesus answered,“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus isn’t saying 77 times is the specific, God-ordained number that you can finally stop forgiving someone. He’s using an exaggeration to say that there is no limit.
So why should we always offer forgiveness?
As followers of Christ, we trust what Jesus teaches to be true and good but it goes even deeper. Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment meant for our sins. Through faith that Jesus was the Son of God, died for our sins and rose again, and through understanding our sins will be punished by God without repentance and asking to be forgiven, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins.
God will not tolerate sin in his presence but once we have done repented and asked for forgiveness, we receive God’s unending grace, all our sins are forgiven and we’re welcomed into Heaven to be with Him forever when we die here on Earth.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Once we have been saved from punishment of our sins, we’re covered under grace and there is nothing more that we can do to be made right with God. If we mess up and sin again, we’re still forgiven. That doesn’t mean we can intentionally set out to sin and live how we want, it means when we mess up for the 78th time, we’re God is still going to forgive us.
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
As Christians, we want to start living more like Christ so we want to follow his instructions and continue to forgive others. We don’t want to just live in sin anymore.
But when we fully understand what Jesus did for us on the cross and the punishment he took that was meant for us, how can we not offer forgiveness to others. We’re forgiven through Jesus no matter how many times we mess up. We have to offer the same forgiveness to others.
There’s a difference between living fearlessly and living wisely.
We can stand on the edge of a cliff beside a waterfall to get the most incredible photo and fall to our death because it wasn’t wise to stand without being anchored to the slippery rocks. We can fearlessly enter a bull riding and refuse to wear any of the protective equipment (and yes, this gets more complicated when trying to decide if it is wise to enter any dangerous sport, recreational activity or even a dangerous job as a first-responder.)
What kinds of decisions can be made that require us to be fearless but not reckless? We can stand up for prayer at a football game when community leaders want it stopped. We can take a mission trip to help build an orphanage in Africa when we’ve never even flown on a plane, never mind left the state of Texas before.
We do know for sure that we’re supposed to share our faith fearlessly but we also know that in whatever we do, we’re supposed to be following God’s direction for us.
We’re to face whatever situation God puts in front of us without fear. That ultimately means trusting Him and His plan. But we’re to make wise choices as we pursue what He wants for us.
We’re here for His purpose.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
We should seek wisdom directly from God to know what it is that we should be doing or how we should be handling a situation or circumstance.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
We should be fearless in our faith and how we live out each day.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
The final two verses below shows us we need to be both fearless but wise, not careless. Are we making wise choices led by a heart and mind that’s self-controlled or are we making emotional choices? Are we being bold and fearless when it comes to living out our faith or are we abandoning self-control and wisdom to make reckless choices?
Knowing what He wants for us starts with time in Scripture. God has provided us with so much direction in the Bible that reading it is the most important step. Then there’s prayer and the guidance of others who have more Biblical knowledge and time in a relationship with God.
Whatever we decide to do, it’s meant to be part of God’s plan and asking for wisdom to know what that is and what we should do, well, that’s just being wise.