By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you mention the word love to a cowboy, it immediately conjures up thoughts around the emotion. A cowboy who starts seeing a girl he’s infatuated with quickly starts missing rodeos or events and the guys either make fun or genuinely complain that she’s messed him up and ruined the sport for him.
A cowboy in love starts to make dumb choices, or at least that’s how his friends see it.
For others, it’s an emotion they have a hard time expressing and even saying the words take effort despite the feelings of love that are there.
This is some of why understanding what love is in Scripture is so important.
The cowboy crowd is going to struggle with being asked to love others when their sense of what love is gets tied into warm, gushy emotions that go against the image of a tough cowboy.
While there are examples of couples in the Bible who are in warm, gushy love with each other, the Bible most often refers to love with the Greek word, ‘agape’, which is not an emotion but an action, or philia, which is a brotherly love.
When we understand both, we can see how the cowboy crowd should actually be able to relate well to each of them.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
A loving, devoted husband or wife is likely what first comes to mind when reading that verse on its own but what Paul is describing in Romans is philia. He is telling us to look out for one another in that brotherly love kind of way but with a commitment to doing that. He wants us to be purposeful about it.
Philia is a brotherly love—exactly what you see in a group of bull riders who have traveled down the road together for years. They would do anything for each other, tease each other endlessly because they know each other so well and have each other’s backs. Ultimately, in brotherly love, we put others before ourselves which also leads into what agape is.
Agape is even more active and has a lot to do with how we treat others and how we demonstrate it to God.
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The love we’re being asked to show here is not an emotion but an action. We learn what those actions should be throughout scripture through the examples Jesus gave us and through the teachings throughout the Bible. Jesus says we will know who true followers of him are because people will see actions that show that they really do love others.
Asking how you can pray for a family who brought their kid up to get an autograph. Giving your last $20 to the Salvation Army Kettle because you know that at least your rent is paid. All of these can be acts of love. They can mean giving up some of your time or money, but that doesn’t compromising the image of strength and toughness a cowboy wants to hold on to. It takes a strong person to sacrifice for others.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
All parents do it for their children. We do it when our kids don’t have the sense to do it for themselves. Most of the time, our children are unaware their parents do it. Parents gladly step in, knowing our children are unable, unconcerned, or unaware of the vulnerability of their hearts. As parents, we are committed to protecting our children from evil.
I know if I am not vigilant in my commitment to protect my children from evil, they will minimize or forget two very important realities. First, either they don’t understand or easily forget that they live in a fallen and broken world that does not function as God intended it to. Real evil exists in the world in which they live, and it often wears an enticing disguise; it rarely ever looks as dangerous and destructive as it truly is. Just by virtue of the broken world in which our children live, they will hear, see, and experience evil things that are able to warp their God-given identities and stain them with the brokenness of evil, covering the light and truth of God’s image in which they were created.
We try to do the same at Cowboys of the Cross, trying to protect those we have close enough personal relationships to be directly involved with and indirectly through the teaching we make available, cowboy church services at rodeos and bull ridings and our presence on social media.
Second, my children tend to minimize or forget the sin inside of them. They often don’t understand that the greatest danger they face is not the evil that lurks around them, but the evil that lives within them and entices them to pursue and justify their pursuit of the evil in the world. So, as parents, we realize that we must not only protect our children from the evil that exists in the world, but more importantly, we must protect them from the evil that is born in their own hearts. As parents pursuing a relationship with God, we understand the importance of our commitment to protect our children from evil. And our Father God knows we are no different from our own children; we are his children. We minimize the brokenness of our world and the power of sin, and so, we fail to guard ourselves from temptation. We need a protector to fight the battle against evil for us, even when we don’t recognize the evil we are supposed to fight.
1 Samuel 17:43-47
And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
The Hebrew words often translated as “the Lord of hosts” (as we see here) are transliterated as “Yahweh Sabaoth.” It means “Yahweh (God’s covenant name) of armies.” David acknowledged Yahweh as the leader of the armies of Israel. The Philistines had Goliath as their champion, but Israel’s champion was Yahweh. He is their banner (Yahweh Nissi) going before them in battle, fighting their battles for them. Exodus 15:3 declares that “Yahweh is a man of war; Yahweh is his name.”
Sometimes, we don’t realize the constant battle we are in against evil and sin, but as God’s children, we need to remain acutely aware of this ongoing struggle. Fortunately, we have a Father who goes before us, who fights on our behalf, and who is a warrior whose prowess is unparalleled. Jesus – who is God in the flesh – bore my sin, your sin, and the sin of the entire world at the cross. His resurrection is unequivocal evidence that he defeated sin and death not only for himself, but on behalf of all those who would unite themselves to him in his death and resurrection. When we unite ourselves to Christ, we receive his warrior Spirit. Your battle against evil and sin is not futile, for we are more than conquerors in Him. His Spirit goes before us, fights our battles, and defeats the foes of evil without and sin within. Our Father protects his children; Yahweh Sabaoth is his name.
Now, may the God of armies protect you and wage war against the evils of the world and the sinful inclinations of our own hearts today.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We all do it. We scoff when others do it but fail to recognize how much we do it ourselves.
We all work to convince ourselves that we are better off than we are, that we are not that sinful after all. We compare ourselves to others who seem more sinful than we are when the truth is that we probably just hide our sin better than they do. We evaluate our holiness based on the sin we see around us and conclude that we aren’t so bad rather than evaluating our holiness through the perfect mirror of God’s word.
The truth is that any means by which we tell ourselves we’re okay with God is a form of sinful self-righteousness and self-atonement. They are all shocking denials of our sin and minimize our need for the sinner’s only hope – God’s amazing grace.
Listen to me: God knew this would be our tendency – to self-justify. So, he designed a means for us to be confronted again and again by the depth of our sin and by the expansive provision of his grace in the person and work of the Lamb, the Savior, the Redeemer – the Lord Jesus Christ. He ordained that we gather together on a regular basis to be confronted with our true identities, both as sinners and as recipients of grace and therefore, his children.
It is only when we admit the disaster of our sin that we become excited about the grace of Christ Jesus. Corporate worship (church) confronts us with the fact that we really are worse off than we thought, and that God’s grace is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. We will continue to need that reminder regularly until we are finally perfected by God’s grace, until sin is ultimately defeated, and we are glorified in Christ’s image. Corporate worship is not a thankless duty of the truly committed; it is another gift of mercy – evidence of God’s glorious grace to us so that we might live our lives in increasing faith and reliance on him.
Romans 3:9-20 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 5:1-11 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Grace and peace be with you! Pastor Jesse
Difficulty is something we all experience. Each of us is either in the midst of difficult circumstances, just beyond something difficult, or will face something difficult in the very near future. Yet, for whatever reason, many Christians believe that accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior is going to somehow exempt us from the trials that are common to every person’s life, or at least from the more serious trials. But the truth of the matter is that even Christians experience difficulty, and sometimes our troubles are more intense because of our faith in Christ! Many Christians will see trials as a failure of their faith, or worse, as God’s unfaithfulness or inattention. Often, our hearts are left crying out, “Why, Lord?!”
The answer? God is redeeming us from a broken world and misplaced trust and conforming us into the image of his Son. It’s often only through the pressures of life that our true character is revealed. It’s often only in loss, discouragement, and pain that the true object(s) of our hope is revealed. And it’s in those moments that God calls us to set aside our idols and our selfish responses to embrace Jesus as our rock and firm foundation, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds into the very image of the Christ we claim to follow.
1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The only way our faith brings praise and glory and honor to God is if we find Jesus to be faithful, and we can’t find Him faithful if life is always pleasurable and comfortable. In Eph. 5:25-27 Paul reminds us that the reason Jesus gave Himself for the sake of the church, His body, was so that He might one day present the church to himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” And James 1:2-4 tells us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The splendor and perfection Christ seeks to achieve for us is only produced through trials!
God is at work today. There is a purpose for this interim between Jesus’s ascension and His second coming. That purpose is the perfecting of the faith of the body of Christ so that we might bring Him praise and glory and honor. The difficulties we experience until our redemption is complete are evidences of the zeal of God’s redemptive love. God’s work today is not so much about providing us with predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He is not working to transform our circumstances; he is using hard circumstances to transform us.
Now, may the God of peace give you – even in the midst of these present circumstances – peace that surpasses all understanding through our Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope, our rock, and our firm foundation, the Author and Perfector of our faith!
Pastor Jesse Horton
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?