By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
Unless you’ve been practicing your social distancing in a hole somewhere, chances are that you’ve heard some interesting ideas about the cause or who’s behind the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone from right, left, or center of the political scale has some idea or theory as to who’s to blame and why.
I want to first go on record saying that I personally think there has to be a middle road between thinking, “This is just like the flu or not even real,” and, “We need to buy every store out of toilet paper and if you step out your door you must hate everyone else on the planet!” To paraphrase ol’ Martin Luther, most people are like drunks: they fall off one side of a horse only to climb back on and fall off the other side. I think we all need to sit our horse right and get a little balance.
One thing this pandemic has brought to light is our fascination with conspiracy theories. Now the more harmless of these “what if” stories are interesting and some may be fun to ponder, but I think as Christians we need to be careful how much we let wild speculation on past and present events affect our thinking and everyday lives.
The thing about most conspiracy theories – like those surrounding the coronavirus – is that the people who believe in them usually think they have some secret knowledge that most “sheeple” don’t see (which is pretty prideful, don’t you think?). They can also involve a lot of accusations against people we either disagree with politically or just plain don’t like. On that last point, I want to remind us as Christians of a couple Scriptural principles. Luke 6:27-28 says: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
Or consider 1 Peter 2:1: So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
Now, do I think people with a lot of power, politically or otherwise, probably do some shady things? Yeah, sure: they’re sinful humans like the rest of us, and hold power in a fallen world. But we already know Planned Parenthood murders babies. We already know the DNC supports abortion in a variety of ways. We know some Republicans have fallen into the sin of greed. We know certain celebrities, sports stars, and various influential people support a lot of sinful lifestyles, so why do we need to add the idea that they must all be working together in some massive plot to destroy the American way of life? As Christians, we believe God is in control of all things.
Colossians 1:16-17 tells us: For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
History has an over-arching theme throughout all of it. It all serves to bring God ultimate glory in the saving of His people through the work of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son. Jesus’s death on the cross on Good Friday was for the sins of His people. He received the punishment for sin that we deserved. He rose from the dead three days later, on Easter Sunday, to bring us, through the work of the Holy Spirit, into God’s family as sons and daughters of the Most High God.
You want to know the whole plan behind everything? That’s it. We don’t need to dig into some article on the internet to figure it out, because God put it all in the Bible. Maybe we all (myself included) should be taking this time we have in self-isolation to be focusing on that. I’m not suggesting you spend your time reading the book of Revelation or Daniel to try to figure out if Trump or Obama is the anti-Christ, but that we actually take time to read the Scriptures for what they are, and do our best to read them in the proper context. They are God’s Word to us, in which He tells us the way to know and love Him. And in loving Him, we learn to love our neighbors, whether they are hacking up a lung or just filled their cart with more toilet paper then anyone could ever use.
So wash those filthy hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and take this time to be reading your Bible and going in prayer to the God who holds all things in His hands, including the interesting times in which we live. And for goodness’s sake, only buy toilet paper when you need it.
The armour of God can help in our fight against sin.
The Battle Against Sin Part 4
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
So we finally made it to the part of the series where I tell you the one trick to defeat sin in your life for good. Well, pard, I have some bad news: that’s not how this works at all. God didn’t design life that way. Like anything worthwhile, it takes effort and a whole lot of time. You can’t just become the next Wade Sundell, Trevor Brazile, or Juan Ulloa just because you decided one day you wanted to.
Being the next world champion in the sport of rodeo takes time and a lot of practice. You have to lay aside bad habits and cultivate good ones. It’s like working with a young horse: getting a good handle on him is a process that you’ll be working on and refining for the rest of that horse’s life. So how then do we get the upper hand in this fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Well, like in roping or riding you can never stress the basics enough.
So what are the basics in this fight? Read your Bible, pray, and find accountability.
Read your Bible
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”
Whether you compete in rodeo or are out ranchin’ somewhere, one of the most obvious ways to get better at your trade is to talk to some top hands. Maybe that means going to a practice pen where they hang out, going to a horsemanship or stockmanship clinic, or seeking out some of the older, wiser folks in the area. We need to have someone to help us with our issues and be honest and straightforward when we need it. We seek out these people because we know they can be trusted. They’ve been there, done that, and know how things work.
If we want to know how things work in our fight against sin, we need to go to the most trustworthy source: the Word of God. 2 Timothy says, “all of Scripture is God breathed.” That means the whole Bible is the very Word of God and because God is perfect and cannot lie, His Word can be trusted.
Since the beginning of creation, the Devil has been trying to get us to doubt what God really says and sometimes reading through our Bibles can be confusing, but if we want to truly know God and how to fight our sins we need to use “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (from Ephesians 6:10-18).
In the gospels, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, His response always started with, “it is written.” He always brought to mind the truth of Scripture and the God-glorifying nature of it. Speaking for myself, it’s easier for me to fall to temptation and roll over to sin’s demands if I haven’t been reading my Bible. It always reminds me of who I am and who God is.
I strongly encourage getting into the habit of daily Bible reading of some kind. I confess that I’m in a stage right now where I don’t sit down and “read” mine daily, but I instead listen to the day’s passages in the YouVersion Bible app (the #keepthefeast reading plan) while I feed cows in the mornings.
So this one seems pretty simple, right? To sum it up, it’s how we talk to God. We use prayer to worship God, to thank Him, to repent of our sins, and to ask Him for things. Jesus is our example in this life and when asked how to pray he gave this model:
“…Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13
Now, this doesn’t mean we just repeat this prayer and that’s the only prayer God will hear. This prayer should be used like the tree on a saddle: it provides the form and shape, but we can add our own personal touch to it. When we are really struggling with temptation to sin, praying to God with this form in mind will be helpful. This prayer reminds us God is holy, our wants should be what God wants, He supplies our needs, He forgives us of our sins, He will help us in our struggles, and He will deliver us from the power of the world, the flesh and the devil.
“Our prayers might be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference,” Max Lucado
I personally think this one is going to be the hardest to apply. Most people don’t like having to rely on others for anything, especially something like dealing with the sin in our lives.
If you’re on the rodeo road or out in the saddle moving cows somewhere you might be able to get by alone for a while but you won’t go very far trying to make a hand if you’re the only expert in any room. God didn’t design the Christian life to be lived out alone. It’s made so that we will be in friendship with other Christians. Just like we need other people to help encourage us and give us pointers if we’re going through a bad stretch of buck offs or if we can’t get that heel trap to lay just right in the branding pen, we need other people to help us fight the sin in our lives. This is why being a part of a church is so important. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:4-5.
As Christians, we are a part of Christ’s universal Church that covers the whole world. But if we follow the example given to use in the Bible (specifically the New Testament), we are called to be involved with a local church wherever we call home. With rodeos on the weekends or feeling like you can’t leave the ranch for any number of reasons, it’s easy to make excuses about why going to church on Sunday isn’t that important. But it is. Being a part of a church isn’t just showing up on Sunday to check it off the list or to do it because “that’s just what we do.” It means being under the authority of a pastor and elders that will hold us accountable and having friends in the congregation we can be `100 per cent honest with about our lives and about our daily battle with sin.
As we jerk the saddle off this series and turn it out to pasture, I hope and pray this has been an encouragement to y’all. We all have good days and bad days in this fight against our sin but remember
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
The Battle Against Sin Part 3
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
Last time around, I said verse 4 in Ephesians 2 gives us the answer as to why we should fight sin: “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in our trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!”
I’m going to focus here on the part “because of His great love for us,” or God loving us by saving us from our sins (which is to say, God saving us from the World, the Flesh, and the Devil). Author and teacher, Matt Chandler, when he preached on 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, made the point that “the love of Christ compels us,” so God’s love for us should be the Christian’s primary motivation for obedience (i.e. fighting sin). This is the same love we see in Romans 5:6-8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loved us so much that even when we were sinners, (i.e. traitors, haters of God), Christ died for us. If God loved us that much, shouldn’t we love Him in return?.
Think about the people you love or care about: your spouse, family members, the crew you work with, or your traveling partners. How do you treat them? Do you purposefully hurt them or disrespect them? Do you ignore them when they ask you to do something? If we are called to love God over everything else, do we treat Him like these others (when we should treat Him better than anyone else)? Or does the way we live our daily lives show that we don’t really love God and therefore don’t fight sin – we just act like my heeler when he gets disciplined, rolling onto our backs and letting sin run all over us? If you hear someone say they really love getting on broncs but you’ve never seen them on one and don’t even know if they own a saddle, you’d question the truthfulness of that statement. Well, if we say we love God but never attempt to show it or fight the sin we know He hates, it makes those words pretty hollow. John 14:15 gets straight to the point: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
Before becoming a Christian, I saw things like the Ten Commandments or commands in the New Testament as expectations I could never live up to. After God saved me, I now see these commands as ways God loves me – like a father instructing his son on how to handle life or the cow boss helping out the new hire on the ranch. Those commands are for our good.
In that sermon I mentioned above, Chandler says that we don’t always love God the way we should. Sometimes we struggle or doubt in those seasons of life. That’s when secondary motivations come in. Two that I think are important are knowing the cost of sin and noticing our drift toward sin.
The cost of sin
As Christians, we know the punishment for sin is the death of the sinner. We know that punishment should be against us, for our rebellion against God – but praise Him for the grace He extends on His people! In the Old Testament, God used the death of animals to atone for sin in the sacrificial system as a foreshadowing of Christ’s death.
Imagine for a moment having to watch something die because of the sin you committed. I don’t know about you, but for me one of the most nerve-wracking things about calving time is if you have to tube a fresh calf to give it milk to keep it alive. Even with plenty of experience there’s always the chance that if you screw up, that calf will have to pay for your mistake by drowning in the milk you’re trying to give it . In ranching or rodeo, we know death is a part of life. When you have a sick cow or an old horse that’s been your work partner for years but won’t survive the winter, sometimes the best option is a bullet. It’s a tough but necessary part of the job. Most of the world doesn’t see that side of ranching. Instead, they just see some nice clean packaged steaks by the time their meat arrives in the store.
Just like the people in the store, I think most of us miss what sin actually costs. This cost wasn’t just any death though. It was bloody and gruesome. Just go look at the sacrificial system in the Old Testament or the crucifixion of Christ in the New.
1 Peter 1:18-19 tells us: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot.”
I think we cheapen the price God paid for us in our salvation. We need to remember, especially in moments of temptation, to think of how bloody and awful it must have been for Christ on the day of His crucifixion. Remember how much pain He endured to save us when it was pain we deserved. That should make us think twice when we are ready to roll over to sin’s demands.
Our natural drift toward sin
If you’ve dealt with cattle in steep country, you know that if left on their own for very long they will eventually drift down to the flattest spot or along a waterway. Much like cattle, if God would leave us alone we would just drift down further and further. Cows don’t just appear at the bottom of the draw and we don’t just “happen” to go deeper and deeper into sin. We make decisions that don’t seem that bad at first but will eventually trap us in our old sinful way of life. If we don’t fight our sin it will just keep growing, kind of like my horse’s feet. If I don’t trim them up or put shoes on him, they’re just going to get worse and worse. As John Owen put it, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
While as Christians, we have a new heart and a new nature, our old nature and old habits are still with us.
In Romans 7:21-25 Paul is talks about his flesh or the sin that is in him and how it wages war against his new nature in Christ. “So this is the principle I have discovered: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law. But I see another law at work in my body, warring against the law of my mind and holding me captive to the law of sin that dwells within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Praise God we have been rescued, and don’t have to drift towards sin. God gives us the ability as Christians to fight our sin and honor God with our daily lives.
I pray that on the days when we are really in a knock-down, drag-out fight against our sin – or heck, any day – we’ll remember how much God loves us and that His love will compel us to keep up the good fight. I’ve heard it said that practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. So in the next and final part of this series we’ll get into the “how to” in this fight against sin.
The world we never got to see before sin entered it was free of weeds and thorns. Now ranchers and farmers have to contend with them all the time.
The Battle Against Sin, Part 1
By Josh McCarthy / Cowboys of the Cross
We’ve all heard it somewhere in the sport of rodeo: it’s “man versus beast” or “you versus the clock.” Or, for those of us out cowboying on some empty section of range, “it’s you against the elements”. All of these things are battles we face, things we prepare for, and take very seriously – as we should. In this series of articles, I want to talk with you about the most serious battle any and all Christians face, our daily battle against sin.
Before I go on I want to address the fact that this series of articles will be directed toward those who have already submitted to the Lordship of Christ and trusted Him as the one and only Savior from their sins, i.e. Christians. If you are curious what that means, feel free to contact this ministry for more information.
As with any battle, we need to know who we are fighting, right? If we drew a bronc we might talk to others that have been on him before or the stock contractor to find out if he’s trashy or a nice, honest bucker. Or that bull – is he going to “blow or spin”? (Bonus points for the movie reference.) If you’re out helping the neighbor gather some cows, it definitely helps to know the lay of the land, where the adjoining fences are, and surrounding neighbors’ brands.
So what is this thing called sin? According to GotQuestions.org, “sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God and rebellion against God”. In Genesis 2:16-17, we see God’s first “law” to His creation:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Not long after, in Genesis 3:6-7, we see Adam and Eve violate this law bringing the curse of sin into all of creation.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
God’s original creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), we could say perfect or without sin. None of us knows what this world looks like, as every part of our lives is affected and infected with sin. If you don’t believe me, just ask any rancher who is battling any number of weeds in his pastures. (Genesis 3:18: [The ground] will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.) Look how you treat the judge after a “bad call” or how we treat each other working cows. Heck, just turn on the news or check Facebook and you can see the whole of creation is cursed with sin.
Throughout the Church’s history, people a lot smarter than me have recognized three main sources of sin: the flesh, the world, and the devil. In Part 2, we will look at each of these.