By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
Back in my bull riding days I was a regular at a weekly event that a small association sponsored from April thru October each year. A few times, they chose to do a bull riding clinic. It was an opportunity for the more experienced riders of the association to spend some time with the new guys who were eager to learn and advance their skills in the sport. Participants usually had the opportunity to get on five bulls throughout the day and get some feedback on their rides, learn how to avoid common mistakes and receive encouragement to always fight to move toward the “sweet spot” with each jump and kick. We usually didn’t have paid bullfighters at these events, so the instructors would step in and do what they could to give riders a reasonable opportunity to get up and get out of the way after they came off their bulls.
At one of these clinics, a young rider was thrown early in his ride. When he hit the ground – not so hard – he laid there; he looked up to see that the bull wasn’t coming back for him, then he laid his head down. At this point, I sat everyone down and made this comment: “There are no bullfighters here. We (the instructors) will make one pass to get the bull’s attention and give you time to get up and get out of the arena. If you decide to lay there and get stomped and hooked, that’s on you. The only valid excuses for lying there after you buck off are paralysis or unconsciousness.” I was pretty mad because his thoughtlessness and inaction put me and others at risk unnecessarily.
It really is difficult to do life with other people. Sin not only created a rift in our relationship with God, but it has also caused brokenness in our bonds with one another. We all have our own ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be done, and we tend to value our own lives and opinions over those of others. That’s why when we come together as a group it’s beneficial to have some kind of understanding of what we can expect from one another. My son is a Boy Scout. At every meeting, scouts recite the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. These recitations remind them of who they are called to be and what is expected of them as scouts. If you are found in breach of these expectations, you may be dismissed as a member. The U.S. Armed Forces, the Masonic Lodge, the Ruritans, and most other groups all have expectations and for the good of the group and its missions, will all dismiss those who don’t follow those expectations.
The Church is no different. Yes, there is grace for when we fail – and we will fail, but there is a call on our lives to be true disciples of Jesus and expectations that go along with that call. In Philippians 2:3-4, the Apostle Paul, encouraging unity and harmony among the Philippian believers writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He goes on to acknowledge how Jesus, though he had the full authority of God being equal with the Father, emptied himself of his own glory to become a servant of sinful human beings. You and I are not so important that we should expect to have our own expectations fulfilled by the group. In fact, the group’s mission should define our expectations.
So, what are the expectations of a group who professes to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples? There are many, but it begins with the commitment to follow Jesus. That commitment is defined by Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” That means my desires give way to Jesus’ mission. My life is no longer mine, but his to do with as he pleases.
That commitment has implications for how we do life together in Jesus’ Church as well. I encourage you to read Ephesians 4-6 now to see how Paul elaborates on this topic. He calls us to humility, gentleness, and patience “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:2-3). He calls us to put away falsehood and speak the truth with one another, and sometimes truth is difficult to accept when we have been deceived. He calls us to deal with our anger quickly and apart from sin rather than letting things fester and sour our relationships with one another. He commands the thief to stop stealing and work with his hands so that he’ll have something to contribute to those who are truly in need. He commands our speech to be only that which encourages and strengthens one another, not the kind of speech that slanders and demeans. We are to reject bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice as necessary evils in our relationships with one another. Instead, we should be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because God has forgiven us for our sin against him, so we have no valid reason to withhold forgiveness from others – we are not God!
It is time for us to embrace God’s mission for us as individuals and for us as a body of believers. We can either embrace a lifestyle of complaint or one of gratitude. One will divide. The other will unify. One will create discontentment. The other will cause us to receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Won’t you join me in pursuing peace by embracing the biblical role and the expectations of a disciple of Jesus?
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We all want to hear from God. We want to know that he exists, that he loves us, and we want to know what he has planned for us and what he wants from us. We know from these messages over the past several weeks that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures, but that he also speaks to us through prayer and other people (especially other believers). We finish our discussion of communicating with God by noting how God communicates with us through circumstances and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout Israel’s history, God has communicated through circumstances that he is with his people. He has confirmed his power and his leading by sovereignly arranging the world he created to speak to his people who are listening closely for his still, small voice. God spoke to Jacob and Joseph through dreams (Genesis 28:10-17; 37:5-8). Joseph and Daniel even interpreted the dreams of others to lead God’s people and prove God’s sovereign power by foretelling future events (Genesis 40:1-41:36; Daniel 2:1-45). Abraham’s servant had Rebekah confirmed as Isaac’s future wife when God led both the prayerful petition of Abraham’s servant and the generous actions of Rebekah (Genesis 24:1-28). There are countless other times throughout both the Old and New Testaments where God directed his people and confirmed his will both through miraculous and mundane circumstances. The key to our ability to hear God’s voice in these things is our relationship with God. Apart from the disciplines of Bible study and prayer in humbly seeking a relationship with God, he could part seas and raise the dead (as he did with Moses/Pharaoh and Lazarus, Jesus/Pharisees) and we will still not hear what he’s trying to tell us. We all need to ask this question: Am I placing myself in a posture and position to hear from God?
It’s equally important to remember that followers of Jesus live in a world that actively rejects and fights against them. Therefore, some of the affirmations we receive will be hostility and opposition. Jesus reminded his disciples that because he chose us out of the world, the world hates them (John 15:19). That same world decided that Jesus was a threat to their self-importance and autonomy, and that Jesus needed to be killed for them to keep that which they believed to be most valuable to them. When we follow Jesus – truly follow Jesus – we can expect the same opposition. Unfavorable circumstances that are the direct result of faithfulness to God are often a confirmation that we are where God wants us – standing in the place of Jesus.
Another way we hear from God is through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Triune God, (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit). He is not some elemental force or feeling. He is a person. He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He can be quenched (denied the right to do the work he intends to do) (1 Thessalonians 5:19). If our bodies are the Temple of God because of the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), then the Holy Spirit is God.
Jesus tells us what the work of the Holy Spirit is in John 14:15-17, 25-26 and 15:26-16:15 (please stop and read these verses carefully now). Here, we learn that the Holy Spirit is God in us, just as Jesus was God with us. Like Jesus then, the Holy Spirit has a mission that includes revealing the Father, redeeming us from sin, leading us to worship him in Spirit and truth, and equipping us to join in God’s mission to the world. Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit will be all and only that which is consistent with the mission of the Father and the Son.
Because Jesus is the ultimate and final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-14), the Holy Spirit does not reveal new things to us, but instead brings greater clarity to the full revelation Jesus has already provided. He did this for the disciples by causing them to remember things he said and did and to view those things in light of his death and resurrection. That is why their witness about who Jesus is remains the most uniquely authoritative Christology in existence. No one else who has ever existed can both possess the Holy Spirit and remember all that Jesus has said to them. The Holy Spirit-enabled Apostolic witness of Jesus is the final witness of Jesus. Any teaching contrary to their witness is heresy.
The Holy Spirit is also at work through us to redeem the lost world back to God. He does that through a ministry of conviction. He convicts us of our sin to demonstrate our need for the Savior. He convicts us of our insufficient self-righteousness. We all think we’re “good people,” but our definition of what is good falls short; our definition of righteousness misses the true mark of God’s holiness. What we call “righteousness” is nothing more than filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts us regarding judgment. Because Jesus’ resurrection proves his claim to be Messiah, Son of God we are assured that his judgment is true. Jesus is victorious; Satan – the ruler of this world – is defeated…and so are all who continue to be a part of this world by rejecting Jesus as their Savior, Lord, and God.
So, as the Holy Spirit fills-out our understanding of the revelation of the Father through Jesus Christ, and as he convicts us and the world concerning sin, “righteousness,” and judgment, we need to remember this very important thing: the Holy Spirit will always be consistent with the Scriptures. For that matter, any communication that is not consistent with the Scriptures we can immediately and confidently reject as not from God. God won’t tell you it’s okay to have sex before marriage. God won’t tell you it’s fine to take out loans you know you can’t repay. God won’t reveal to you that the original Apostles had it all wrong and that Jesus was a created being or being from another planet. Revelation from God is always consistent with the Scriptures.
This week as you read your Bibles and pray, be still. Be quiet. Assume a humble posture that is prepared to hear from God and to act on his word. Listen and look for God’s communication to you through people, circumstances, and the Holy Spirit. All of these should be leading you to a better understanding of who Jesus is and encouraging and equipping you to be involved in God’s mission of revelation and redemption. We all have our part to play. You are the Temple of God. Go out and reveal him to the world.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We continue to consider how God communicates with us this week. We already know that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures. He also speaks to us through prayer, which includes us doing more listening and less talking. Today, I’d like to consider how God speaks to us through other people.
Rodeo cowboys and bull riders know what it means to give and seek advice. They do it all week long when it comes to decisions about what events to enter to how to set their saddle, how much reign to give or for a barrel racer, how to handle to ground at a particular venue. But even the smallest decisions shouldn’t be made without taking into account our need to hear God.
As a general rule, it’s always wise to seek the advice of trusted counselors before making any decisions that have potentially important alternative outcomes. Proverbs 12:15 tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” None of us has perfect or complete insight into any matter. We all have our own blind spots. That’s why we need to consider the wise and varied perspectives of others. To assume we have it all under control and forego the discussion of important decisions and the various possible outcomes is nothing short of foolishness. On the other hand, we need to be cautious when someone comes to us claiming to have a word from God for us that is not confirmed by Scripture, our prayer time, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Not all the voices we hear are the voice of God!
Nevertheless, we need the advice of others, and we may need lots of it. In fact, there is great wisdom in seeking advice from several different people prior to making an important decision. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Our understanding is never perfect – not of the world around us, the circumstances we live in, nor of ourselves. The experiences and perspectives of many varied counselors can be important in increasing our understanding and leading us to make a better-informed decision.
In addition to seeking God’s will for us through prayer and fasting, it is often necessary to discuss our plans with multiple other people who may be involved and affected by the decisions we make. We do not exist in vacuums, isolated from contact and interaction with the world. Proverbs 11:14 reads, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” The people we live with, work with, and serve with each day may need to be considered before we drop a bombshell on them and expect them to deal with the fallout. They may buck at the thought of being forced on a path of our determination or be able to offer other attractive alternatives.
So, whom should we seek to provide wise advice? First, mature followers of Christ will always be a wise place to seek advice for a biblical viewpoint. Additionally, people who have more life-experience than us will almost certainly provide perspectives from both their successes and their failures irrespective of their faith convictions. Likewise, anyone who knows us on a deep and personal level can help us search our hearts and motives, even if they don’t align with our religious beliefs.
It is critical that we not be unwilling to accept advice from others. Equally important, however, is that we do not insist upon someone else making our decisions for us. Often, fear and anxiety can become crippling and leave us stagnating with indecisiveness. While it is important that we seek the advice of others, it is also important that we come to a decision in a timely manner. Just as it is detrimental to go off half-cocked and make a rash decision, it is also to our harm – and maybe those with whom we interact – to sit paralyzed on the sidelines while the world keeps turning.
My advice is that when you have a big decision to make, come up with a reasonable deadline by which you’d like to have your decision made. Then determine 1) who will be directly affected and needs to be “in-the-know,” 2) who knows you well enough to be able to anticipate your decision, and 3) who might have some relevant life-experience to offer. Most importantly though, you need to seek the counsel of mature brothers and sisters in Christ who love you enough to tell you even the most difficult of truths with an eye on giving God glory in all things.