By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We all have questions about how to know God’s will for our lives. We recognize our need to hear from God, but we’re unsure how to communicate with him. With Father’s Day approaching, I encourage all the men with families to lead them well in this area and as individuals, to rise up to the challenge of digging in and learning how to follow God’s direction.
The primary way God communicates with us is through the Scriptures. By Scriptures, we mean the 66 books of the Bible – 39 books in the Old Testament (OT) and 27 books in the New Testament (NT) (the word testament literally means covenant or promise). The first 5 books of the OT (Genesis – Deuteronomy) are referred to as the Torah, the Pentateuch, and the Law (of Moses). They reveal how God began his work of creation, man’s rebellion against God’s authority, and God’s intention to redeem mankind through Abraham and the nation Israel. God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through him, and a conditional covenant with the nation Israel to fulfill the promises he made to Abraham through the nation if they would obey his commandments (or his Law). Among other topics, we learn much about the unapproachable holiness and power of God from these books.
The next 12 books (Joshua – Esther) are Israel’s recorded history as they received in part the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. It also records their repeated distrust of God and their rebellion against him through the intermingling of their faith with the pagan nations around them which led them to worship idols rather than God. From these books, we learn many historical facts about the nation of Israel, but mostly we see God as faithful, patient, corrective, and redemptive toward his often-faithless people.
The next 5 books (Job – Song of Solomon) are called wisdom literature. These books often compare and contrast the flawed perspectives of mankind with the perfect wisdom of God. The Psalms do so in poetic and lyrical fashion while the Proverbs provide general truths for living a wise, safe, and successful life. It should be noted that these are not to be taken as commands that always have a good result but are the general precepts consistent with wise living that generally produce good results.
Our OT concludes with 5 books called the Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel) and 12 books called Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi). The differentiation between major and minor refers to length, not importance. These books were written and compiled at various times throughout Israel’s history and often represent a mixture of God’s correction of his rebellious people through trials of judgment, the promise and hope of God’s faithfulness in the midst of trials, and the restoration of those who endure faithfully with their hope set on God alone.
Throughout each of these books runs a so-called scarlet thread that expects and foreshadows the coming of God’s Messiah to initiate and fulfill a better promise (or covenant). Jesus is there in the OT; he asserted this himself (John 5:46) and fulfilled hundreds of OT prophecies about Messiah.
The NT begins with 4 gospels (Matthew – John) – the good news about Jesus. They are biographical theology, intended to connect Jesus with the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples, also called Levi. Mark appears historically in the book of Acts and was a partner in the gospel with the Apostle Peter, another one of the original 12. Mark wrote Peter’s first-hand account of Jesus. Luke was a doctor, an educated man. He joined the Apostle Paul in his missionary journeys as we learn from Acts and 2 Timothy. Luke wrote the gospel by his name and the book of Acts after careful examination of the facts and as a record of his experience with Paul. John is known as the disciple whom Jesus loved – another one of the original 12. While the first 3 gospels are known as Synoptics, John is called the Evangelist because his gospel is highly theological and written to make the point that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
Next, the book of Acts written by Luke records the advancement of Jesus’ church throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the Roman empire. Importantly, it records the reception of the Holy Spirit by those who believed – even those who were not Israelites, the physical descendants of Abraham.
What follows are 13 letters (known as epistles) from the Apostle Paul. Paul was formerly known as Saul of Tarsus who persecuted Christians as blasphemers of true Judaism. His contribution to the NT is as unlikely as it is important. How can we explain the conversion of one of Jesus’ harshest critics into one of his greatest advocates apart from divine revelation? The first 9 letters are written to churches in specific regions. With the exception of Romans and Ephesians, they address specific situations and questions the early church faced. Romans and Ephesians are more general in nature, and therefore offer greater comprehensive insight into Paul’s theology. The last 4 letters are written to specific people, 3 pastors and one slave-owner. The 3 pastoral epistles (1 Timothy – Titus) provide insight into ecclesiology (church governmental structure and administration) in specific contexts. Philemon teaches us about reconciliation and relationships among Christians.
Hebrews is a more general letter whose author is unknown, though likely a close coworker in the gospel with Paul. Its title is derived from its audience – those of Hebrew descent and faith, and it is written to encourage and bolster their faith in Jesus the Messiah as the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin and the fullest revelation of God to mankind, and this in times of severe persecution where hopelessness and defection from the faith would be serious concerns.
The next 7 letters (or epistles) are general in nature and named by their authors (James, Peter, John the Evangelist, and Jude). James and Jude were brothers of Jesus, and Peter and John were Jesus’ two closest disciples. Therefore, these letters come from men who knew Jesus well, who saw his miraculous ministry, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension. These men had no doubt about the truth of who Jesus was and died as martyrs for that truth, so their testimony and teaching should hold great weight as we study.
The final book of the NT is the Revelation (no “s” at the end!). It is written by John the Evangelist in his old age, the record of a prophetic vision regarding the last days. The last days began when Jesus was crucified, so we see much overlap of John’s prophecy with the history of the world and specifically the church. It tells us what we can expect in the last days, culminating in the Last Day when the living and the dead are judged and sentenced to eternity in heaven or hell based on their acceptance or rejection of Jesus’ authority as Lord. It was not written for us to create timetables of the last days, but to instill hope in the persecuted church through the promise of eternal life for those who faithfully endure for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.
WOW! That’s a lot! But how can we know what God is saying through the Scriptures unless we know what we’re reading? These 66 books were written by 40 different authors from different cultures, social, political, and geographic backgrounds and across the span of about 1,500 years, yet they all wrote without contradiction or error about the God of the universe and his promised Messiah. How? Divine inspiration. 2 Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible you hold in your hand contains the very words of God to his people…to you! People often ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” It’s in the Bible. “What should I do when…?” It’s in the Bible. “Is it right or wrong to…?” It’s in the Bible.
I want to make this abundantly clear, though. Christian faith is not about knowing the Bible; it’s about knowing the God of the Bible and his Christ! It’s not about what you should do or shouldn’t do; it’s about who you know. When we know God – really know God – our doing will align with his will, his character, and his nature, because knowing God changes us into who he wants us to be.
I want to encourage you – especially dads – to begin to read the Bible with your family today for the purpose of knowing the God proclaimed by the Scriptures. Pay attention to how the Holy Spirit has spoken to you as you’ve read the descriptions above; is there a book or section of the Bible that piques your interest? Start there. If not, I might suggest reading the Gospel of Mark; it’s only 16 chapters and very terse. You could also read one Proverb and five Psalms each day and complete those two books in a month; your wisdom is bound to increase! The Gospel of John is a great place to turn after you’ve read one of the 3 synoptic gospels.
Read whatever strikes you, but make sure you have a little background (like what I’ve provided above) to understand what you’re reading, and make sure you read for the purpose of knowing God. He loves you. He wants a relationship with you, and this is how that relationship grows.
Draw a line in the sand today. Make knowing God through his word a primary goal in your life.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
The past year, on top of the personal struggles we face, we were all dealing with struggles that the pandemic brought from lock downs to canceled rodeos and horse shows.
Lost work, lost business, lost time with family gave us a lot to feel angry about.
And everyone knows it.
Whether it be on social media or face-to-mask conversations, we all have had a lot to say about how we feel and very little of it has been positive or encouraging. In the rodeo and bull riding industries, we continually talk about mindset and keeping positive attitudes. We rarely talk about that from a faith perspective.
The apostle Paul does in many ways in several of his letters. In Philippians, his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes many encouraging passages about being cheerful and Christ-like in our mindset and responses to our situations including one encouragement about our attitude when life might be rough.
Philippians 2: 14-16 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
When we have a saving faith in Jesus, we are given what’s known as the Great Commission to respond to at the end of the Book of Matthew. The commission commands us to tell others about Jesus and the salvation he brings and then to make disciples—teach others how to follow Christ.
That means being out there in an unbelieving world that generally rejects the messages of Jesus or sees him as no more than a positive teacher back in his day.
But if we are to convince others that Jesus was the Son of God who died in place of our sins that through belief and repentance of our sins, we can be saved from the punishment meant for our sins, it’s going to be a lot harder if they can’t see signs of Jesus in us.
The amount of complaining and fighting many of us have done over the past year would make it hard for others to see us as different than them. If our lives have been changed by a saving faith in Jesus, there are times when our actions or responses should surprise people by how different they are from everyone else.
Paul wanted the Christians in Philippi to be seen as ‘children of God’ that stood out among the evil that was around them and showed the light of Christ.
As Christians, we’re called to be like Christ, but we understand we’ll never truly be as perfect as him. We’re going to make mistakes. Admitting them to an unbelieving world and telling them that as Christians, we meant to do different is one step toward repairing any damage from our words or actions. Moving forward by ending our grumbling and taking a more joyful or kind approach to our situations can begin to show others that Christ lives inside of us.
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.
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?