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.
The bull in the chutes is shifting and kicking the closed roll gate behind him and a hand reaches down to grab the cowboy by his shoulder, ready to help lift him out if the situation goes from rough to dangerous. The rider in the chutes is ranked number three in the association and the young man who is spotting him is ranked number four.
Both are fighting for to make the season championship and both need as big a share of the $3,000 added-money as they can get to push they were up in the standings. The one reaching out for the other needs a win to pay back money he borrowed for his fees and to be able to enter the next event.
Regardless of the outcome each of them needs, in that moment, the greatest need of the bull rider on the back of the bull is to be safe and his competitor knows that.
Galatians 6:1-5 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
That scene easily plays out at any given rodeo. It can be a steer wrestler borrowing a horse because his came up lame when they unloaded the horse trailer. Sure, there are lots of squabbles in the rodeo and equine industries, but there’s just as much hands helping each other.
When one person is struggling, we’re called to help each other. In this particular case, Paul is talking about restoring someone who is caught up in a sin, being careful not to get dragged into the sin, but to help pull the person out, just like the rider is literally ready to pull his friend out of the chute.
We have responsibilities given to us by God. Galatians 6:5 tells us we need to carry our own loads but sometimes we can’t do it alone and we need a helping hand from a friend. That’s what Paul is reminding Christians in Galatia in this letter. We have to help each other when simply can’t help ourselves. You’re on your own when the chute gate opens and bare the responsibility of completing the work (making eight) but someone has to help you in the chutes. Sometimes you nod for the gate without any complications and sometimes it gets pretty rough.
You can get down in there with more confidence when you know someone’s got your back, putting your needs ahead of theirs. Whose back do you have and whose got yours when it comes to living out your Christian faith?
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Bubonic plague is up, on deck is Yellowstone super volcano.
Headlines recently pointed to a plague outbreak in a rural part of China and a pattern of earthquakes in Yellowstone that can be a warning of volcanic activity. We can joke but there’s no doubt we’re seeing a lot of crazy situations around the world. We’ve never been more connected so in North America, we can become more aware of a plague of locusts in India and in India we can be more aware of violent unrest in the United States. Those who like to study End Times from the Bible can certainly have reason to wonder about what’s going on and if we’re speeding toward the end of this life here.
But I think it’s important to focus on this from Luke 12:39-40 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus is telling the disciples to be ready. He shares a similar message in some of his parables, that we need to be prepared. It doesn’t matter when Jesus is coming back, he tells us to always be ready because that moment could come at any time.
The different emergencies and threats we’re seeing around the world can’t be ignored. We need to protect and care for our families, our neighbors and the resources God has provided for us so it would be foolish to ignore the impact a spreading disease could have. It would be foolish not to prepare your home and evacuate when a major hurricane is coming.
And we still have to plan our lives around what we see happening. There are road trips to rodeos to plan, horses to train and businesses to run.
So we don’t go through life ignoring the threats and dangers, but we trust God’s plan for us and we move forward in our daily routines living life ready for Christ’s return.
That starts with having repented of our sin and asked to be forgiven with the belief and knowledge that Jesus took the punishment meant for our sins, died for us and rose again so that we could be with him forever in Heaven when we pass on from here, whether tomorrow in our sleep or next week when a volcano erupts or at some point in the future if we’re still here when Jesus returns.
According to Jesus, regardless of the turmoil we see around us, he tells us he will come when we aren’t expecting it. That gives us the freedom to head to the rodeo with our hearts right, looking for opportunity to bring glory to God as we compete and travel and doing it all without worrying about what comes next. Live for God in the moment, be prepared for the future but trust that what comes next is in His hands.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Many of the Psalms were written by David. It’s less clear who wrote Psalm 119 but much of it describes the importance of following God’s commands, especially when life is hard. Our culture continues to be turned upside down with months of upheaval now and in the rodeo community as much as anywhere, a desire for life to be normal.
But as Christians truly saved by seeking redemption and forgiveness through their saving faith in Jesus, it’s important to remember that when compared to the culture around us, we’re anything but ‘normal.’
We’re still going to make mistakes but a life in Christ becomes a changed life and we begin to respond differently to the world around us no matter how much upheaval occurs or how much our culture or the rules we live by are changed. Doing what we know is right, even if it goes against how we feel or how everyone around us is acting, doesn’t earn us anymore from God.
Through repenting of sin and seeking forgiveness from Jesus knowing he took the punishment meant for us because of our sin through suffering and dying on the cross in our place, we’ve already been given everything –a promised eternity and perfect life in Heaven free from all the struggles and chaos we’re seeing around us now. But with a life in Christ, we look to respond to what is going on around us the way Jesus would, not the way our friends would or even our political leaders.
So how do we know how we’re supposed to respond?
We obey God’s word and we let it guide our steps and light our way. That means taking time to learn what’s in the Bible and stopping before we act to ask ourselves, is this social media post, conversation, action I’m about to take or choice I’m about to make, in line with scripture and what Jesus has commanded me to do? Even without having read or studied the whole Bible, it’s often easy to know the answer when most of us already know the basics: we’re to point others to Jesus and love one another, even the ones who hate us.
That’s where it gets really hard. It’s easier to try to share from the Bible or talk about Jesus with people who are at least similar to us in culture and values. It gets harder to to be heard among people who have strong values that conflict with ours. It gets harder still when those people actively work against our Christian values. But it can be hardest of all when, sometimes without even realizing it, we don’t like those people because of how they treat us or our beliefs.
We need God to shed light on our own sin so we can step past that obstacle and follow His light along a path that leads us to where we can share the Gospel with others including those we find ourselves struggling to love.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 2 of 2 We don’t belong here
We all want to fit in. In kindergarten, you want to be friends with everyone. In middle school through high school you work your way through social orders, pecking orders, bullying and just trying to figure out who you are. In rodeo and bull riding, putting your spurs on upside down just once can be enough to get you ostracized in some circles as you try to be taken seriously as a cowboy, cowgirl or bull hand.
As Christians, we aren’t supposed to worry about fitting in. This isn’t our home and it isn’t supposed to feel comfortable or like we belong. Once we have understood who Jesus is as the son of God and that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins so that if we would repent and ask to be forgiven, we can be saved. Once forgiven for our sins through Jesus’ sacrifice, God no longer sees us as anything less than perfect no matter how many mistakes we might still make. That means we are guaranteed to be welcomed into Heaven, our real home where we belong, are wanted and fit in perfectly.
But until we get there, we not only have to accept that we don’t fit in here as we talked about in Part One, but we’re supposed to avoid looking like we do.
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
When we think about what John is saying and look at the world around us, how many people do we know or see that identify themselves as Christians but other than the fact they might pray before they ride or eat, everything else about them seems the same.
We don’t immediately become like Christ the minute we make him Lord and Savior of our lives. We begin a process that is called sanctification. God sees us as perfect, forgiven of our sins, but the process of sanctification sees us becoming more like Christ. That means becoming less like the world. So for sure, we’re still going to make mistakes or choices that don’t set us apart from anyone else, but the more time we spend learning about Jesus through church, resources like Cowboys of the Cross and especially our own Bible study and time with other believers more mature than us, we will begin to see how much we don’t belong here and the people around us will see that we don’t fit in. That’s a good thing!
And the Bible gives us lots of instruction on how to help strengthen our faith while separating ourselves from the world around us.
2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
In Paul’s letter from 2 Corinthians, we’re being instructed to stay apart from the world. That doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves and no longer interact with others that don’t believe in Jesus or aren’t committed to being changed by our saving faith in him; it means we don’t tie ourselves tightly to them. If we do, it holds us back just like an ox on a plow will be held back if he is yoked or tied to another ox that isn’t as strong.
We need to actively pursue non-believers to show Jesus to them through our words ( telling them or teaching them about Jesus) and our actions (showing them we’re different by treating them the way Jesus would). But Paul is strongly emphasizing we can be in a non-believer’s life, but we shouldn’t be pursuing the same pleasures they pursue which John mentions in the verse above. We can compete in rodeo and bull riding or western sports and shows. We can even enjoy a lot of what it means to be a part of the western or rodeo culture, but when it comes to embracing the aspects of it that lead us to sin and seek personal sinful pleasures, we’ve crossed the line. We no longer are able to show people Jesus in us but instead, look no different than us.
If we don’t see differences growing and the life we live becoming more like Jesus and less like everyone else, it becomes very important to evaluate what we believe and ask ourselves if we’ve truly repented and received the forgiveness that God has offered us through his son’s death on the cross.