Part 4 on FORGIVENESS
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a verse many non-believers can quote in an argument that you have no right to judge someone else’s actions. They quote it without knowing the whole section of scripture or where it comes from in the Bible. Or what it really means.
John 8:3-11 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The law at the time would have require the woman to be stoned to death for her sin. The Pharisees, who were powerful religious leaders misusing their power, were being undermined by Jesus’ messages of forgiveness and they were trying to put him in an impossible situation in order to bring him down. Here, they thought Jesus would have no choice but to break the law.
Instead, he exposed the need for forgiveness in all of us by turning the tables on them and allowing her to be stoned if there was anyone that hadn’t sinned that could throw the first rock. Every single one of them walked away.
Jesus was left alone with the woman who wasn’t denying her sin. Instead of condemning her to death, she was forgiven by Jesus and sent away. That’s the key point that those who misuse or misunderstand the verses all miss—Jesus sent her away but told her to leave her life of sin. He wasn’t punishing her for her sin, but he was still identifying it as sin and telling her to stop it. He judged her actions as wrong and commanded her to stop living that way. He didn’t tell her everything was okay the way it was.
Forgiveness is meant to change us. When we fully grasp Jesus did for us on the cross and how is death was in the place of the punishment for our sins, we want to change and we can’t help but be changed by our salvation. That comes through a faith in who Jesus was, and is, and by understanding our sin separates us from God, our sin must be punished, Jesus took the punishment meant for that sin and that be confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, God will no longer condemn us for our sin.
By believing, confessing, repenting and asking for it, we’re forgiven and changed.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Once saved, we’re dead to our sin, no longer condemned to be punished for it, but instead, God sees us as a new and perfect creature, no longer separated from Him by our sin.
Forgiveness changes us. Forgiveness puts out sin behind us. Forgiveness gives us a perfect life in Heaven.
It’s interesting how God has brought my life around to where I am now. I was never looking for Him, but I guess He was looking for me.
I wasn’t raised in the church. When I was little, my mom taught me to pray before I went to bed, so I guess I knew there was a God, but we didn’t go to church. I asked God for His help on exams when I hadn’t studied, and you can guess that my grades showed the influence of my own disregard for school, not God’s input. I suppose that left me disappointed, and I definitely didn’t know anything about Him.
As an Air Force brat, I got to move with the family when Dad got transferred every three years. We lived in Hawaii, Germany then Rantoul, Illinois, Laredo, Texas, and finally, as soon as I graduated from high school, the family moved to Austin, Texas, and I immediately joined the Navy.
All that time, I was a loner. It was hard to start with new friends, so I just had a very few, and I usually opted to hang out by myself. When I got out of the Navy, I returned to Austin, and met and married my wife Carol, I found that I love hanging out with her, but that was about it. She’s pretty much a loner, too. She was a Christian, but neither of us went to church.
So, until I was 29, I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t like mingling with people, especially those I hadn’t met. Not too long after we married, we moved to Denver, Colorado, and spent most of our Sunday’s skiing. Not that we were any good at it, and our feet froze. But we got to enjoy the mountains in the winter.
Meanwhile, God was arranging some details.
Carol’s best friend growing up, Stephanie, graduated from college and married a man named, Bob; then they became missionaries to Kenya. Carol hadn’t seen her friend in many years, so when Stephanie and Bob came to Colorado from Africa for a Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) conference, they invited us over for dinner.
I didn’t care about meeting Bob and Stephanie. You’re right, I didn’t want to go to supper at all. Especially with missionaries. After much discussion, Carol convinced me to go, insisting that all she wanted to do was visit her forever friend, and that Stephanie and Bob should meet me, too.
Steering the car northbound on I-25 from Denver to Bob and Stephanie’s room in Fort Collins, I kept repeating (loudly), “Don’t you dare bring up anything about God!”
Carol promised she wouldn’t.
So, Carol didn’t bring up the subject of God. However, swallowing the first bite of Stephanie’s apple cobbler, she nearly fell over. I must have asked Bob what missionaries do. He told me. And suddenly I was asking him dozens of questions about God!
The amazing thing is that, of all the people I could have met, Bob knew the Bible’s answers and was patiently explaining about God’s creation, His love, His plan, how Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. That evening I tearfully accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior!
Because most of what Bob had said made me think that God loves me, would forgive me if I prayed a prayer, and has a great plan for my life, it didn’t occur to me that God also wanted to change me.
So, we still didn’t go to church, except to watch a few televangelist from time to time. And they didn’t really teach me anything useful. Then, a few years later, Bob and Stephanie reentered the picture. They were home from the mission field, and they asked us over for supper again. This time I did want to talk about God, and Bob answered more of my hard questions for hours. When we were leaving, almost as an afterthought, they gave us Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Carol and I sat on the couch, and I read the whole book aloud, discounting any chapters that mentioned stuff I didn’t really want to do. Like going to church.
But God was still working on me. For one thing, Carol occasionally mentioned going to church. I declined. One day I parked the car outside the bookstore at the local mall. While I was inside, someone put a flier on my windshield. It said, “LIFE Fellowship: The Church for People Who Hate Church.” And the location was at the movie theater just across the parking lot. While the theater wasn’t in use on Sunday mornings, LIFE Fellowship set up everything and held worship meetings.
I can’t explain it, because it was God’s idea, but I told Carol we were going to church on Sunday. She nearly fell over.
That’s how we became regulars at LIFE Fellowship, and we got excellent, Bible-based teaching from pastors and Sunday school teachers. We both grew a lot. By this time, I was in my mid-30s. When we would go to a dinner of some kind, the host, not realizing that I knew nothing about praying, would ask me to pray for the meal. But God dredged a nice prayer out of me anyway. We also got involved with the youth group and even went on a mission trip and spent time doing gospel outreach at that mall. Who would have thought!
One Sunday, only God knows why, I signed up for a men’s retreat in the mountains. A few weekends later, I went to the weekend event. I’m sure there was good teaching, but all I remember is my impression that the men already knew each other and seemed to gather in their own circles to fish, play games, eat meals, etc. I seemed to end up outside the circles.
However, when I got home, I couldn’t stop crying. I can cry. But not like that. And it had nothing to do with being left out. At the end of about two weeks, I asked Carol to find somewhere where I could visit men in jail!
She nearly fell over. But she did it. The chaplain at a nearby jail needed a volunteer assistant who would deliver Bibles to inmates who asked for them. Because of God, I had discovered my kind of work. As long as an officer could see me, I could go right in the cells with the inmates. We laughed, cried, and hugged, and I exhorted them and introduced them to Jesus, too. I did that for several years.
Then Carol and I moved back and forth from Colorado to California, following my dreams of being an artist. Maybe 25 years later, when we eventually ended up back in Austin to be near our families, we hadn’t found a church, and we were stagnating. However, while Carol went out to the trail to train for a half marathon, I started watching TV broadcasts from Great Hills Baptist Church. Hearing Preacher O’Chester “shoot from the belt,” telling the Bible like it is, I realized that I had found our church.
However, the first time we visited the church, “Preacher” retired and turned the church over to Michael Lewis. Thank God, this young man also turned out to be a dynamo of a Bible-preaching pastor. His first step was to get almost 700 people involved in door-to-door gospel outreach visits. And, believe it or not, Carol and I joined the groups of three for several years, driving out to housing areas, praying with people on porches and in living rooms, and telling them about Jesus. Carol and I, the loners, loved doing that!
Another thing happened not long after we joined the church. We met Don and Sue. They were dressed in leather vests covered with pins. When we asked them, “Why the leathers, and what are those pins,” they “We ride to church on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.” The pins came from motorcycle rallies (the wild ones) where they minister to the riders. Not for me. However, when they told us they also ride the motorcycle right into prisons and jails where a dozen inmates might gather around as they share the gospel, I immediately asked, “Where do we sign up for that?”
They explained that it’s through the Bill Glass Behind the Walls Prison Ministry. So, long story short, in the last 15 years, Carol and I have traveled to more than 60 prison events, from Florida to California, and from Texas to Kentucky. And we joined an affiliated ministry, Ring of Champions, that involves spending an hour a week mentoring kids, ages 10-17, who are in a juvenile detention unit south of Austin. At least we were getting to go to jail, until Covid19 came along. We pray that we’ll get to go back someday soon.
You might wonder what this has to do with cowboys and rodeos. Well, as an artist, I paint my childhood TV and movie cowboy heroes, mingled with other icons I grew up with. I take pictures of cowboys waiting around at rodeos, relaxing on fences and ready to ride. That’s the way I paint them. After all, cowboys may spend a lot of time riding bucking horses and bulls and taking down steers, and maybe out in on the range chasing cows, but they also spend a lot of time kicking back, hanging out. So, I paint them that way, kicking back, hanging out, usually including my own favorite things and images in compositions that might not happen in real life – but they could. And to all of that, I add splatters and spots, drips, and drops. As the finishing touches, I paint images of the brushes and other art tools that usually roll around on my paintings while I’m working.
I had a nice message from one of those excited fans the other day, and here’s how I replied:
“What I want viewers to get is something like the energy we get when we listen to a favorite oldie rock and roll song…you just gotta sing along, tap your foot, and get up and dance. I’m trying to create visually what music does audibly – energize people and get them visually stimulated and have a conniption fit!!!! Kinda like what those cowboys in the TV and movie Westerns did for me when I was a kid and what Beatlemania did for me back in those days!”
I give God all the glory for what’s happened in my life and for selling a lot of my paintings since I became a full-time gallery artist in 1992. And I’ve pledged most of the proceeds from my sales to His Kingdom work. That’s where Preacher Scott comes in.
(Here is a link to see his artwork www.chuckmiddlekauff.com)
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.
Part 1 on Forgiveness
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
You were working and your traveling partner forgot to call-in to the rodeo as promised and you missed a shot at a $5,000-added deal. You forgive him and move on.
He promises next week, he won’t forget. He does and you missed the next show too.
On the way to the next rodeo, you catch him in a lie about why he needed to borrow money from you that he still hasn’t paid back. He still owes you the money but you forgive the lie.
With your sister, it’s one thing after another and you wonder how you’re even related as you bail her out of jail. You’re getting tired of feeling taken advantage of. You may want to rethink who you use as a traveling partner and what the best ways are to help your sister, but you still forgive them.
But your anger is building and you’re thinking there must come a point where they’ve crossed a line and used up all their forgiveness cards.
Until you hear what Jesus tells Peter.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22Jesus answered,“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus isn’t saying 77 times is the specific, God-ordained number that you can finally stop forgiving someone. He’s using an exaggeration to say that there is no limit.
So why should we always offer forgiveness?
As followers of Christ, we trust what Jesus teaches to be true and good but it goes even deeper. Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment meant for our sins. Through faith that Jesus was the Son of God, died for our sins and rose again, and through understanding our sins will be punished by God without repentance and asking to be forgiven, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins.
God will not tolerate sin in his presence but once we have done repented and asked for forgiveness, we receive God’s unending grace, all our sins are forgiven and we’re welcomed into Heaven to be with Him forever when we die here on Earth.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Once we have been saved from punishment of our sins, we’re covered under grace and there is nothing more that we can do to be made right with God. If we mess up and sin again, we’re still forgiven. That doesn’t mean we can intentionally set out to sin and live how we want, it means when we mess up for the 78th time, we’re God is still going to forgive us.
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
As Christians, we want to start living more like Christ so we want to follow his instructions and continue to forgive others. We don’t want to just live in sin anymore.
But when we fully understand what Jesus did for us on the cross and the punishment he took that was meant for us, how can we not offer forgiveness to others. We’re forgiven through Jesus no matter how many times we mess up. We have to offer the same forgiveness to others.
I lived nearly four decades as an atheist adrenaline junkie, looking for adventure wherever I could find it and pushing the envelope in every way. I was an extreme motorcycle rider, Yosemite rock climber and wanderer of the world.
The early chapters describe how my life was miraculously saved time and again despite my complete arrogance toward to a God I didn’t believe in.
Then, faced with life-changing despair at the age of 47, and on the verge suicide, God showed himself to me, changing my life forever. Using the nature God had gifted me with all along, I found a new calling: smuggling Bibles to the underground Christians living in restricted countries.
There are 51 countries around the world in which Bibles are illegal. In many of those countries, just owning a Bible will mean prison or execution, but the people are starving for God’s Word, and are willing to take that risk.
I found my new calling at the age of 53, in supplying their need, eventually working in 15 exotic countries to get the job done.
Now, at age 62, God said my traveling for Him was finished and told me it was time to write a book to tell of all He has done in me and through me. I was obedient and my book is now on Amazon: