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.
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
Even though it’s been gone from most schools for generations of students now, adults often still call for prayer to be returned to school, particularly at times of great tragedy in our communities or the country. There are many times we find ourselves feeling like circumstances would be different if we honored God more through prayer in schools.
Many kids are back in school with many more heading that way in the coming weeks. But with the unpredictable nature of Covid and our responses to it, many have no choice but to home school right now while a lot of parents are choosing that option temporarily and even permanently.
You can see where I’m going with this. Now is the chance to bring prayer back to ‘school’ wherever you’re teaching your kids. With a certain amount of control over your children’s time, having them at home more, you can start your day with prayer and spend time around their scheduled or required work, teaching your kids how to pray. You can even devote some time to Bible study.
Even if your kids are going back to a regular classroom and routine, let this be an encouragement to make time at home anyway to do this. Prayer may be formally gone from schools, but you can still send your kids to the classroom ready to respectfully pray for their classmates and teachers.
If you’re not comfortable with it yourself but believe it’s important, well, there’s never a bad time to learn to pray and learn how to study from your Bible. The Bible has no age requirements for when you start to learn from it.
Matthew 22:37 “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’”
Throughout Scripture, we’re taught the significance of prayer.
But what a great verse in Matthew for us as we think about how important it really is to give God everything that’s in us. The education system is entrusted with our children’s minds but we can teach them privately how to love God with heart, soul and mind! That responsibility is ours given to us by God.
For the Christian cowboy and cowgirl, or however you identify yourself in our rodeo, ranch and bull riding industries, we’ve been struggling for months now with all the changes and politics going on around us. Here’s just one positive step we can focus on among all the negativity we’ve been staring down. While teaching our kids to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds, we can be teaching ourselves to do the same.
A child in kindergarten or a new Christian, we all have to start learning sometime and that can be done independently, as a whole family or both. If you’re new to it, that can feel intimidating, but for a lot of us, so was our first day at school. It gets easier the more time you give it.
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.