Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

I find myself in awe moment by moment as I contemplate the consistent love of God. In fact, because God is immutable (he does not change; Malachi 3:6), in everything we know to be an attribute of God he is consistent. He is consistent because attributes, unlike characteristics or qualities, tell us who God is – not how he behaves (for instance, “God is love,” 1 John 4:8,16). Neither the passing of time, the changing of circumstances, nor our own back and forth responses to God change him in any way; God is who he is apart from any outside influence…otherwise, he would not be God.

And the Apostle John was absolutely correct – God is love! In fact, if we accept that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God (Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3), then the way Jesus reveals God to us is of the utmost importance. And how did Jesus reveal God? As the loving Father! Jesus frequently referred to God as his Father, but he also encouraged his disciples to pray to our Father; that means as God is to Jesus, so he can be to his followers!

Many attempt to explain God primarily as the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe, and indeed, he is! However, Jesus revealed God first and foremost as our loving Father! “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24, emphasis mine). Before God ever created, he was the eternal, immutable Father loving his Son. So much theology hangs on this fact. In fact, I’d say this needs to be the bedrock foundation for how you understand God – He is the eternal loving Father. To be eternally a Father means God has always had a Son, and so that Son must also be eternal, and if eternal, then also God! And since God is spirit, he gives all that he has to his Son; anointing the Son with his Holy Spirit is how the Father loves his Son. And if the Father’s love for his Son is eternal (and it is since the Father didn’t begin to love the Son but has always loved the Son), then the mode of that love (which is prior to any creative act) is also God; “God is love”!

Some of us in the cowboy culture didn’t grow up with the best fathers and it can make it hard to understand the full depth of what all of this means. It means something great for all of, us even if we were raised with the best father imaginable.

So, when we begin our understanding of God with the foundational attribute that God is a loving Father, all other Christian teaching can fit neatly together without contradiction and without downplaying God as some inwardly-focused sovereign who demands the obedience of his subjects. Above, we explained the reason God is Trinity. We can explain why a loving Father would create and give life to something other than himself. We can understand the mercy of a loving and holy Father on his wayward children. We can understand why the loving Father’s wrath against sin is severe because sin hurts his children and separates them from his love. We can even understand why a just and loving Father would separate rebellious, sinful children from the children whose desire is to live in submission to his kingdom.

God loves you, and if you are in Christ, he loves you with the same love Jesus has experienced for all of eternity. How wonderful! How beautiful! How amazing that the God who is all in all has set his affection on us! How can your heart not leap inside your chest at this great and wonderful truth!

Won’t you praise him with me today for his unspeakable love toward us? Won’t you join me in bringing the loving rule and reign of his Fatherly kingdom to our neighbors and to the earth? Hallelujah! God is love!

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

Why do you follow Jesus? The answer can change everything

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?

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

We don’t have to limit what we can achieve when God has given us the ability to do more

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We all do it many times every day; most often, we do it unconsciously. What we conclude when we do it says a lot about who we think we are and what we think we are up against. Toddlers learning to walk do it. Elderly folks facing serious illnesses do it. Yes, we all measure our capabilities against whatever task lies before us.

We attempt to determine our ability to manage the obstacles ahead to achieve what we consider a successful outcome. We place our abilities alongside every challenge to see which is greater, and often we avoid challenges that seem to surpass our abilities. Some look at the rodeo schedule and choose to enter a deal where they know they stand a better chance of winning because of the stock that’s there.

None of this is wrong or irrational.

It makes sense to discern whether we have the skill set, the resources, the strength, and the influence to achieve success when we face a challenge. But when we look to our own experiences, resources, and talents we fail to consider something that is drastically more important – the good news that we who are in Christ are no longer bound by our limited human nature.

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God is not surprised by any circumstance you have ever faced, nor will he be surprised by what awaits you in the days you have ahead. He knows every temptation you will face, every sin to which you will succumb, every sorrow and suffering that will bring you down, and every triumph and joy that will raise your spirits.

Knowing all of these things, he gave you exactly what you need so you can be who you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do even in the midst of this broken, rebellious world. What did he give you? He gave you himself! His grace isn’t insight. It isn’t a change of location or an altering of circumstances. He is the grace that he gives! That means that our potential as his children is much greater than the sum of our past experiences, our gifts and talents, our resources, and our strengths.

Our ability to overcome is infinite because the Almighty God who spoke everything into existence, who raised Christ from the dead, and who will one day make all things new and perfect again has made you his home. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). There is nothing to which God has called you that he has not also given you victory as you abide in (obey!) the love of Christ.

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

We obey God’s commands with more effort than we put into training the perfect roping horse

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. For by it the people of old received their commendation. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

Truly understanding God’s love for us is life-changing

Rodeo and ranch can be tough, life can be tougher so we find peace in the One who has overcome everything

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.

Romans 8:31-39

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.

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