We can embrace a lifestyle of complaint or gratitude

We can embrace a lifestyle of complaint or gratitude

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

Back in my bull riding days I was a regular at a weekly event that a small association sponsored from April thru October each year. A few times, they chose to do a bull riding clinic. It was an opportunity for the more experienced riders of the association to spend some time with the new guys who were eager to learn and advance their skills in the sport. Participants usually had the opportunity to get on five bulls throughout the day and get some feedback on their rides, learn how to avoid common mistakes and receive encouragement to always fight to move toward the “sweet spot” with each jump and kick. We usually didn’t have paid bullfighters at these events, so the instructors would step in and do what they could to give riders a reasonable opportunity to get up and get out of the way after they came off their bulls.

At one of these clinics, a young rider was thrown early in his ride. When he hit the ground – not so hard – he laid there; he looked up to see that the bull wasn’t coming back for him, then he laid his head down. At this point, I sat everyone down and made this comment: “There are no bullfighters here. We (the instructors) will make one pass to get the bull’s attention and give you time to get up and get out of the arena. If you decide to lay there and get stomped and hooked, that’s on you. The only valid excuses for lying there after you buck off are paralysis or unconsciousness.” I was pretty mad because his thoughtlessness and inaction put me and others at risk unnecessarily.

It really is difficult to do life with other people. Sin not only created a rift in our relationship with God, but it has also caused brokenness in our bonds with one another. We all have our own ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be done, and we tend to value our own lives and opinions over those of others. That’s why when we come together as a group it’s beneficial to have some kind of understanding of what we can expect from one another. My son is a Boy Scout. At every meeting, scouts recite the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. These recitations remind them of who they are called to be and what is expected of them as scouts. If you are found in breach of these expectations, you may be dismissed as a member. The U.S. Armed Forces, the Masonic Lodge, the Ruritans, and most other groups all have expectations and for the good of the group and its missions, will all dismiss those who don’t follow those expectations.

The Church is no different. Yes, there is grace for when we fail – and we will fail, but there is a call on our lives to be true disciples of Jesus and expectations that go along with that call. In Philippians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul, encouraging unity and harmony among the Philippian believers writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He goes on to acknowledge how Jesus, though he had the full authority of God being equal with the Father, emptied himself of his own glory to become a servant of sinful human beings. You and I are not so important that we should expect to have our own expectations fulfilled by the group. In fact, the group’s mission should define our expectations.

So, what are the expectations of a group who professes to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples? There are many, but it begins with the commitment to follow Jesus. That commitment is defined by Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That means my desires give way to Jesus’ mission. My life is no longer mine, but his to do with as he pleases.

That commitment has implications for how we do life together in Jesus’ Church as well. I encourage you to read Ephesians 4-6 now to see how Paul elaborates on this topic. He calls us to humility, gentleness, and patience “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3). He calls us to put away falsehood and speak the truth with one another, and sometimes truth is difficult to accept when we have been deceived. He calls us to deal with our anger quickly and apart from sin rather than letting things fester and sour our relationships with one another. He commands the thief to stop stealing and work with his hands so that he’ll have something to contribute to those who are truly in need. He commands our speech to be only that which encourages and strengthens one another, not the kind of speech that slanders and demeans. We are to reject bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice as necessary evils in our relationships with one another. Instead, we should be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because God has forgiven us for our sin against him, so we have no valid reason to withhold forgiveness from others – we are not God!

It is time for us to embrace God’s mission for us as individuals and for us as a body of believers. We can either embrace a lifestyle of complaint or one of gratitude. One will divide. The other will unify. One will create discontentment. The other will cause us to receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Won’t you join me in pursuing peace by embracing the biblical role and the expectations of a disciple of Jesus?

Worry can mess with our heads, peace reminds us God is in control

Worry can mess with our heads, peace reminds us God is in control

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Peace is a Fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians and is something that grows in us as our faith grows. To experience peace is to understand that God is in control. Our focus needs to be on Him and our knowledge that everything works out for His glory, even if it isn’t working out the way we want.

To not recognize God is in control or to put our own desires first, can lead us to a place of worry and even fear. How do we make a truck payment if we just spent $60 in entry fees and all our money on gas to and from the rodeo and bucked off?

Our peace comes from understanding what it means to have a saving faith in Jesus. We rest in the trust and comfort that God has saved us from the punishment meant for our sins and given us an eternity with Him in Heaven where there will be absolutely nothing to worry about.

Worry can mess with your heads and continue to add to the pressures that contribute to bucking off, not catching a calf or damaging our relationships. Many worry that an injury might not heal right and that their careers could be over. We worry about our family, our relationships, a doctor’s appointment for a recurring pain in our stomach.

As the fruit of peace grows in us as we continue to grow in our faith and become more like Christ, our reasons for worrying diminish and we learn to trust in God who, through Jesus, tells us in Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? …33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus throughout the whole section of Scripture, describes in detail how well God cares for all His creation but emphasizes that we are the most valuable part and have a purpose.

God has put in front of us whatever it is He wants us to do or deal with today. From the verses in Matthew, we know God wants us to trust Him. Even when things aren’t going according to our plans, they are working for His good. Always. He will take care of what is coming tomorrow, we just have to face what is in front of us today.

We’ve stayed six feet apart, God wants to be close to us

We’ve stayed six feet apart, God wants to be close to us

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Last year, I jokingly posted to social media an online order for a cattle prod. I don’t have cattle. It was a tool I wanted to carry with me to keep people the full six feet away from me that we were learning was part of the guidelines for dealing with the pandemic we were just beginning to face.

But all of Scripture isn’t about keeping people at a distance, it’s about God wanting us to be with Him, free from His judgment of our sin.

James 4: 7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James gives us just one of several direct references in the Bible of God wanting us to draw near to Him. Here, he is stressing the importance of turning from sin and repenting, first by telling us to submit to God, fight the devil and the temptation of sin and to turn to God instead.

James tells us if we move toward God, God will come toward us but stresses we approach God with a heart purified of sin.

Regardless of how people have felt about the pandemic and how it has been handled across the country and around the world, we’ve spent the past year either fighting against being kept apart from each other in our communities and churches or we’ve been willingly staying apart in effort to protect people we care about like vulnerable grandparents. Either way, it’s been difficult and challenging for Christians who understand we’re meant to be in community together just like we’re meant to be close to God.

We’ve been dealing with a lot of situations that have felt contradictory to what we believe.

And James gives us another seemingly contradictory statement in verse nine.

Here, he tells us something that sounds like it’s contradictory. We know through other books of the Bible and through our own experiences that our salvation brings about joy, understanding that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, we have gained a perfect eternity in Heaven. Fruit of the Spirit is something that forms in us when our salvation is real and one of those fruits is joy. Yet James is telling us to grieve and move from joy to gloom.

But what James is telling us in this single verse is just how serious our repentance of sin should be.

Our sin separates us from God and He will judge and condemn it. But He sent Jesus to briefly live among us, close to us, fully God and fully man. While his disciples didn’t understand it at the time, Jesus was here to die and take the full punishment that was meant for them and all of us. Through his sacrifice, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. Through believing Jesus was the son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, we must repent of our sin and ask to be forgiven. When our faith and repentance is real, we’re given a perfect, eternal life in Heaven instead of eternal punishment in hell.

James wants us to grieve our sin that has kept us separated from God. He wants us to be humble before God but with the understanding God will come close to us—close enough to ‘lift us up.’

How wonderful is that to worship God who despite all our mistakes and failings, wants to be that close to us?

We can’t take words or advice at face value, from bull riding to Biblical instruction

We can’t take words or advice at face value, from bull riding to Biblical instruction

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.

Jesus forgives all but sometimes we still need the forgiveness of others

Jesus forgives all but sometimes we still need the forgiveness of others

Part 6 on FORGIVENESS

By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross

Sometimes we’re the one who needs to be forgiven. Through repentance and a saving faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven of all our sins, past, present and future and allowed in God’s presence for eternity in Heaven. But that doesn’t mean we still don’t need to seek the forgiveness of others when we’ve messed up.

You borrowed entry fees from three friends this year that knew you were struggling. You won the team roping twice but never paid anyone back.

You got a message from your traveling partner’s girlfriend on Snapchat. She was ticked with him and wanted a sympathetic ear. That sympathetic ear went a lot further and he found out she was cheating on him with you. No one has spoken in months.

Matthew 5:23-24 If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

These are detailed verses with a lot that can be taught and understood, especially if we were to back up all the way toward verses 21 and 22 where Jesus talks about murder and anger against our brothers.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time that pushed rules and laws as the way to be right with God, often using those rules to hold power over people. Jesus, who came to give us all a way to be reconciled with God and forgiven of our sins, was challenging their power. He was putting loving others ahead of everything else.

When it came to offerings, the Pharisees valued the rules most in making sure the offerings were made and all the rules of presenting them were followed.

Jesus made some shocking statements here suggesting the condition of a person’s heart mattered more than the offering, saying a person should leave that offering if he knew of any sin he had committed against someone that had gone unaddressed or not forgiven. Jesus cares much more about the condition of our hearts than the rules we follow and wants us to make right by those we’ve wronged.

In the entry fee and cheating examples, very real situations most of us have seen or encountered, Jesus is saying the person who owes the money or who has messed up his buddy’s relationship, needs to do what he can to be reconciled with his brother.

With the money owed, possibly the best thing he could do is pay it back, with interest if that’s what it takes to make it right. It might be as simple as apologizing and the guys he owes the money to simply letting it go.

With the cheating situation, it could be an apology, it could be an attempt to show you could be trusted again and are truly repentant of your part in what had happened.

Bottom line, Jesus is telling us if we know there is someone who we have wronged, we need to make that right before presenting ourselves to God.

We absolutely understand that when we have a saving faith in Jesus, that we have believed Jesus was the son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins, repented to God and asked to be forgiven, that God will in fact forgive us for past and any future mistakes. Our place in Heaven is not at stake because, even after we were saved, we messed up like these examples.

But Jesus is telling us how important it is that we make situations right with people who we have given a reason to be angry with us.

We can’t control their responses but Jesus wants us to be certain we have done whatever we can to be forgiven.

It then falls on that other person to offer the forgiveness that Jesus tells us we have to give to others, especially considering as followers of Christ, we have been forgiven for all of our sins—all of them, no matter what we have done or others have done to us.

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