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 13:35By 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.
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! Amen. Pastor Jesse Horton
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: 7-10Submit 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?
Ever misunderstood something and felt pretty dumb about it afterward?
Sometimes it’s easy to misunderstand something in the Bible and I think that keeps many of us from reading it. Seminaries teach pastors Greek and Hebrew to help them understand what you’re sitting there scratching your head to understand. Try anyway.
There are more parts that ARE easier to understand than others and just like the awkwardness of learning to handle yourself in the bucking chutes, the first time you try to load a horse on the trailer or the first time you try to turn a rope over your head, it gets easier.
Having a church helps where there are pastors and leaders that can help you understand it. I sometimes need that before I try to deliver a cowboy church sermon behind the chutes and am fortunate enough to have more than a dozen people I know that understand it better than me. When I’m not certain my interpretation or application is right, I can run a section of scripture by to be sure I understand it right. There are also great study bibles out there with notes that help explain it and an internet full of resources though you have to be careful what you follow.
Don’t get hung up on feeling dumb for not understanding something. Be encouraged by the work God and the Holy Spirit will do inside you through the parts you do understand and step by step, more and more of it will make sense.
And step by step, you will see even more, just how big God really is. A passage in the Old Testament suddenly makes sense in how it points to Jesus in the New Testament. A passage in the New Testament’s Ephesians that used to be confusing begins to make more sense because you see how it builds on something Jesus taught in the book of Mark. The more you learn, the more you change and grow.
See what you can learn about the importance of reading your Bible from the two verses below.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Scripture is God’s living word in how it’s described as being ‘breathed out’ by God. And we see clearly how important it is for so many parts of our lives, teaching us how to be more like Jesus as it describes training in righteousness. It shows us that it will help us with any good effort we take for God as it tells us it will prepare us for “every good work.”
I didn’t understand what a ‘good work’ was at first. I didn’t understand what righteousness was at first. But as I understood those terms and ideas, 2 Timothy is now a favorite verse to teach to others because it helps us understand the many different reasons the Bible is important for us.
The more time you give it, the more it will make sense and benefit you.
There’s that guy that’s banned from four different rodeo associations ranging from not paying fines from his behavior in the arena to punching a contestant. He’s finished a weekend in jail for that but is remanded in custody for skipping a court appearance over unpaid child support. He changes his social media profile pictures to one a girlfriend took of him praying during the opening and always reshares the posts about God needing to be back in school or asks you to pray for him because he knows his life is a mess.
From the Christian perspective he’s one of two things: a Christian in need of grace or a soul destined for hell in need of a grace and Jesus.The fruit in his life, the words and actions that demonstrate that our life has been changed by a real relationship with Jesus, are missing.
Despite people who will misinterpret scripture and scold, “judge not lest ye be judged,” it’s not unreasonable to question which of the two he is. In fact, it’s important, because he may not understand the gospel and need to hear that more than words of encouragement or criticism.
He may need grace to save him or he may need grace to move forward.
Grace is here through our saving faith in Jesus. We know God to be God of love, but His wrath is still there for our sins if we don’t receive the forgiveness found through Jesus. That comes from believing Jesus was the Son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins and that he rose again to ascend to Heaven where he still is today. Then we recognize our sins separate us from God and deserve to be punished but that by confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, we receive God’s mercy and grace and are given eternal life in Heaven. Grace is there when we’re saved from God’s wrath and it continues to be there when we mess up.
When we’re saved, we’re changed and we start to become more like Jesus. But we’re not Jesus and we’re going to screw it up sometimes.
Grace is not there so we can live how we want.
Romans 6:15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Grace NEVER runs out no matter how many mistakes we make, but if our life continually reflects sin to others and never a genuine faith in Jesus then we probably need Jesus first so we can be saved and begin turning away from our sin.
Are you in need of a saving faith in Jesus in the first place or are you in need of grace so you can pick yourself up, fix what needs to be fixed and move forward regardless of what anyone thinks of you and the mistakes you just made? It’s one or the other.