By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
Sometimes my 12-year-old son picks on his six-year-old sister. Obviously, there’s a big difference in size, so he has a distinct advantage. I always caution him to be his sister’s protector and never to use his size and strength to make her scared or do what he tells her. I try to teach him that as men and generally being physically stronger and more durable, we are to give honor to the women in our lives as weaker vessels that are precious and to be handled with care.
Yet, there are times when my daughter is a pest and my son gets to the end of his patience and uses his greater strength for pest-control, or even times when he just tries to return the favor by annoying her, which inevitably leads to a squabble. I always ask him, “Son, why did you do that?” I ask because I want more than his obedience – I want him to acknowledge the brokenness of his heart and seek repentance and transformation through his relationship with Jesus Christ.
But let’s be honest – most of us don’t know why we do the things we do. It’s difficult (nearly impossible!) for us to assess the motives of our own hearts.
Nevertheless, I want to ask each of us that question with respect to our decision to follow Christ – Why did you do that? Why do you follow Jesus?
For many, the answer is that it’s what they were taught as children – Christianity was “our family religion.” In other words, Jesus and the Triune God are all you knew – that’s all your family ever taught you, so that’s what you believed. Praise God, you weren’t born to Hindi, Buddhist, or Islamic parents, or exposed to any of those various worldviews in your formative years! Traditional faith (whatever that means) is what saved you from being a pagan or an atheist.
For others who grew up on hellfire and brimstone preaching, there are only two options: “turn or burn” – give your heart to Jesus and start living right or suffer immensely and eternally in hell. The obvious choice is Jesus, so we “invite Jesus into our hearts” by praying a prayer, getting baptized, and trying really hard to live right so God doesn’t change his mind about us. Religious adherence is what saved you from the fires of hell. But keep it up! Don’t fall off the wagon into sin, or God will let you break the deal you made for your salvation! Be sure you do plenty of good deeds, because you never know when you’ve done enough good to outweigh the sin you’ve committed!
In Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” he says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing what your family believes about God and Jesus doesn’t equate to salvation. Making the choice to “ask Jesus into your heart” and trying really hard to live a good life won’t punch your “get out of hell free” ticket. Only knowing God as his Son Jesus Christ has revealed him brings eternal life! Religion is always about man’s path to find God, but Christianity isn’t a religion! Quite the opposite of religion, God made a path to reconcile mankind back to himself through Jesus. Christianity, therefore, is a relationship with Jesus.
I have been married to my wife, Sarah, for almost 16 years. I love her dearly. I’ve studied her. I know how tell when she’s angry, when she’s worried, when she’s sad, when she needs some space, and when she needs a hug. I know her well because I’ve intentionally pursued growing in my knowledge of her because I love her and want her to be a significant part of my life. When we come to know Jesus, we receive justification – all our sin erased, our debt paid in the blink of an eye. However, that is not the end of our relationship with Jesus. As we pursue and grow in our relationship with him, we experience sanctification, increasing salvation from the power of sin, and eternal life.
How God works out that process is difficult to understand, but I have serious concerns for people whose relationship with Jesus never grows or remains at the level of a casual acquaintance. If we love someone, we seek to deepen our relationship with them by increasing our knowledge of them so that they we can do life with them in increasingly intimate and meaningful ways.
Knowing Jesus is eternal life. How well do you know him?
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
One of the greatest plagues of Western Christianity is that so many who profess the name of Christ remain in perpetual spiritual infancy, and that many “Christian infants” are not following Christ at all, but simply wanted the fire insurance that is promised to those who belong to Jesus.
That’s why so often, you see one of the few, or even only times, you see a cowboy or bull rider pray is behind the bucking chutes before competing in sports that can get him killed.
As a retired bull rider now pastoring a church, when I started with them, I made it clear that my ministry would be focused on leading our congregation to pursue a mature faith in Jesus Christ as true disciples. One of the deacons told me he felt like that was a bold (maybe risky) way to approach what was essentially a job interview – to begin by suggesting we’ve been lax in pursuing maturity, content to be comforted with bottled milk and pacifiers rather than to graduate to the strength-giving meat and potatoes of a deep and growing dependence on Jesus. But, what else can you expect from a guy who spent ten years of his life riding bulls?!
But hard questions are important. Are you growing in your faith? Do you even care if you aren’t? Have you become satisfied with a little bit of Bible knowledge and a little bit of doctrinal understanding?
Satisfied. That’s where the audience of Hebrews was.
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
These people had heard the message of true discipleship so many times without acting on it that their ears had become dull, and their hearts had become calloused to it. It was time for them to be shaken awake in hopes that the scales would fall from their eyes, and they would realize the great reward of knowing Jesus – a reward that they were forfeiting by their complacency.
1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5)
Notice here that Peter suggests that those who don’t “grow up into salvation” have not truly “tasted that the Lord is good.” You see, salvation is achieved at a moment in time when we truly believe (known as justification) but it is proved over time (from the moment of our justification to the moment we are home with Jesus, called sanctification). If there is no sanctification – a constantly continuing work throughout our entire lives – there was no justification either; and if there was no justification, there is no salvation!
Are you being built up as a spiritual house with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Together, are you becoming a holy priesthood – those who lead others into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Are you offering spiritual sacrifices? Are you eager and zealous to know Jesus more deeply today than yesterday and to become more like him tomorrow than you are today? Many people get offended or become defensive and deny the evidence when these types of questions are asked. Please remember: the grace of Jesus has freed you from the need to do that! All your shortcomings are covered by the blood of Jesus, so in Christ, you are free to be brutally honest about where you are right now. And what’s even better is that same grace is what will continue the work of God in you – not your own efforts! And that grace can be released to do its work when you get honest with God. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Beloved, God’s work in you is not done yet, nor is it done in me. We are free to struggle with sin and failure, but we do not struggle to be free. And if indeed we have been set free, there is still growth ahead.
Are you growing in your faith?
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
In every church – every local body of believers – you have apostles (the ones who are good at start-ups and new adventures), prophets (the ones who declare the word of God clearly), evangelists (the ones who share Jesus with others naturally in almost everything they do), the pastor-teachers (the ones who are gifted to lead other believers and to attend to the spiritual health of the body), and the saints (all believers, but including laypersons in the body of Christ). Most people reading this will find themselves in that last category – non-clergy who are members or attendees of a local church. I am thankful for you, and I want to encourage you today about your very important role in the body of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 the Apostle Paul writes,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Here, Paul refers to himself and Timothy as “ambassadors for Christ.” They are set apart as Jesus’s representatives; their actions and words are Jesus’s command to them lived out before the eyes of the people of Corinth, a plea to them to “be reconciled to God.” Clearly, Paul and Timothy were ambassadors of Christ actively involved in God’s plan of redemption. Does God’s plan of redemption dictate that all who believe are ambassadors of Christ, or is there an allowance for spectator Christians – laypersons who aren’t involved in ministry?
In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul wrote,
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (emphasis mine).
This suggests that everyone in the body of Christ – every believer – has a role to serve in the building up of the body of Christ. As “each part [of the body] is working properly,” the whole body becomes a healthier, clearer representation of God’s redeemed people. In Colossians 3:12-17, Paul instructs,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (emphasis mine).
Not only should we be teaching, admonishing, encouraging, and building one another up toward mature faith in Jesus, but everything we do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus! That’s precisely what it means to be an ambassador, but here it is applied not to Paul and Timothy, but every believer in Colossae!
According to Paul, every believer has a responsibility to every other believer to encourage spiritual health and maturity (Eph. 4:11-16), but every believer also has a responsibility to those who are still strangers and aliens to God’s kingdom to represent Jesus Christ before them, imploring them to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20; Col. 3:17).
Here’s what I want you to know: Paul didn’t present these instructions to the church as some radical new idea for God’s kingdom work. Rather, he presents the ambassadorship of every believer as the normal plan and expectation for members of God’s kingdom; there is no allowance for spectator Christianity. Such total missional involvement only seems radical because our churches have created and embraced a missional model that is far from God’s normal plan.
For many, many people who attend church, attendance is the spiritual equivalent of going to a concert. They experience the religious performance of ministry professionals, but they are not committed to the health of the church nor are they involved in its redemptive mission to the world. Their relationship with the church is self-serving (“This is the kind of church experience I want and the benefits it should offer”) and passive (“I’m thankful for the work the church staff and volunteers do”). That is far from God’s plan. God makes his invisible grace visible by sending his people (clergy and laypersons alike) – full of his grace – to reflect his grace to people who need it. And we know many in the rodeo community choose not to attend a traditional church for a host of reasons and excuses. But where you stand with church, Christ’s call on you is the same as everyone else.
If, indeed, you have been called by Christ, you have been called for this purpose. Your life no longer belongs to you, for you have been bought with a price. Everything you are, everything you possess, and all the time you have left belongs to God for his mission and his purpose. Run with me today to the throne of grace; be filled to overflowing, and then go serve as ambassadors for Christ wherever you find yourself. Thank you for serving with me in the kingdom of God!
Grace and peace be with you!
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
“How do we define true faith in Jesus?” From John 14:1-14 we can determine that true faith in Jesus is a gift from God, the receipt of which is confirmed by deep contemplation upon the words and signs of Jesus.
However, this is only the beginning of faith. Faith in Jesus is more than believing the right things; it’s living the right way because you believe the right things. True biblical faith is something that we live out. It reshapes and rearranges our lives. It’s more than just an intellectual ascent to doctrines and beliefs because it shows up in how we live and respond to the world.
Josh, Cowboys of the Cross’s ranch hand, has spent the last year teaching through a video series on this site about what it looks like to live out our faith. The series will continue for a few more months.
But consider Hebrews 11:1-12.
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Notice that the author of Hebrews doesn’t tell us what these people believed as evidence of their faith. Instead, he tells us what their faith caused them to do and the results of their doing. Abel worshiped God through sacrifice, giving his first and best to God, and was commended as righteous; biblical faith captures the worship of your heart. Enoch pleased God with his obedient walk and did not see death; biblical faith causes us to remain loyal to God in all that we say and do. Noah submitted to his calling from God and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith; biblical faith causes us to submit our lives to the call of God. Abraham obeyed God not only when he was told to leave his homeland, but he also obeyed when commanded to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God (Heb. 11:17-20); biblical faith generates radical obedience to God.
Worship, loyalty, calling, and radical obedience – these are collectively the evidence of our faith. How much worship does God want from us? All of it, without division or competition, and only the first and best we have will do. What type of loyalty does God want? A loyalty that never fades and does not turn to the left or to the right but seeks always to be near him and in the goodness of his mercy and grace.
What shapes the calling – the purpose – of our lives? Only God; any other calling we answer will be temporary and fruitless compared to the eternal things God has given us. How do we obey the commands of God? Think of the discipline it takes to train a horse. Think of the effort that has to go into training if you want to be a world champion team roper or bull rider. Obeying God’s commands requires a commitment even bigger than that. We obey God’s commands wholeheartedly, unreservedly, and with such intense focus that partial obedience or disobedience is unthinkable and unacceptable. When God says, “build an ark” or “go make disciples of all nations,” a “good enough” attitude is insufficient; there are no excuses; only our best effort will do because that is what faith in Jesus produces in us as we are conformed into his image: worship, loyalty, calling, and radical obedience.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
I love how honest the authors of Scripture were. For starters, none of the fathers or leaders of Israel were portrayed as perfect examples of religious leaders. Abraham’s failure to trust God was recorded three different times (Gen. 12:10-13; 16:1-4; 20:1-3). Moses failed to trust and honor God with his obedience at Meribah, losing the opportunity to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Num. 20:12) and to enter it himself (Deut. 1:37). King David was an adulterer, a murder (2 Sam. 11), and a passive father (2 Sam. 13). Jacob (later renamed Israel) was a conman (Gen. 27:1-40). Joseph was a braggart (Gen. 37:1-11). The examples go on and on, even in the New Testament.
The Scriptures of true Christian faith are set apart from the writings and teachings of all other religious sects in that they are blatantly honest about the shortcomings of the heroes of faith whom they portray without excusing or making light of their sins. The Scriptures do not promise us a squeaky-clean or easy and comfortable life in return for our faith. Even with strong faith, we will continue to sin, and we will continue to suffer simply because we live in a world that rejects and rebels against God.
Jesus assures us that if we follow him, we will be hated and persecuted (John 15:20). That’s precisely why John recorded in such great detail Jesus’s final words to his disciples in chapters 13-17 of his gospel message concerning Jesus. Jesus warns his disciples that they will be killed by those who think they are serving God (16:2), and that they will all be scattered (16:31). These aren’t the only things Jesus promised to his disciples, however. Over and over again, he reminds them of the grace he will provide for them throughout their most difficult trials. Jesus assures his followers that he will not leave them like a bunch of orphans (14:18), and he comforts them with the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit living in them (14:25ff).
Ultimately, the disciples’ reason – and ours – for hope is summed up in the final words of John 16: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (33). The world is a tough place. Rodeo is a tough sport. Ranching is a tough lifestyle. It’s easy to think we can handle a lot but there will be times when rodeo and ranching feel easy and we feel like we do not have what it takes to deal with everything else we’re facing.
There will be times when we feel like we’ve been singled out to endure particular difficulties. There will be times when we face regret for our past and fear for our future. Yet, in spite of all these things, you and I have a real reason for peace and hope. It’s not the peace that comes when everything in life is going as we think it should, when the people around us respond the way we want to us and our desires, or when our health and finances are good.
There is a firmer foundation for peace found only in knowing that our heavenly Father is not afraid of, nor will he be defeated by the things that make us afraid or defeat us. Peace comes when we rest in the fact that by grace we are connected to the One who has overcome everything that might cause our hearts to faint, and nothing can sever that connection.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.