By Will Brunke / Special to Cowboys of the Cross
One of my most consistently used metaphors is that “bull riding emulates life and life emulates bull riding”. Likening the unique struggles and confrontations of life that are so often imitated on a minute scale in a sporting event is nothing new. So, it came as a shock and with some disappointment in myself when I was hit in the teeth with an epiphany that seemed so obviously clear, considering my love and probable over-use of metaphors.
Teaching a bull riding clinic of young men and young boys on a cool weekend this fall, I settled into a gamut of trick questions in order to open up the riders ‘ thought processes and to give them examples of easy pitfalls that inexperienced riders can get bogged down in. The premise was simple; be careful of the words that are tossed around the bucking chutes and how you apply them.
For example; a person may have the best of intentions when they are supporting you as you ride, all the while screaming at you, “REACH!!! REACH for the front!!” In reality, this is probably some of the worst advice you can get and can dramatically increase your chances of an early buck-off as well as your chances for an injury. There is almost nothing about “reaching” in bull riding that is mechanically sound. Riders who learn a bad habit such as this tend to hit a brick wall in their riding that they can never seem to get around. The point I was trying to express to the group was that it is imperative that you understand what words mean for better or worse. How many of us take words and advice at face value without using our critical thinking to analyze and evaluate possible outcomes? At this point, in jest, I banned the word “reach” from the rest of the clinic. But what was more important is that I inserted a new vocabulary in place of the flawed one — this time with meaning.
In short, after some constructive conversation, open dialog, and some examples and drills on the barrels, an overwhelming look of exuberance began to appear from most of the group. They got it. They were now hungry for more and fully engaged after having a proverbial blindfold removed. The spoon-fed were now feeling like hunters after the realizations had past that not only did this new way make sense, but its truths cleared the thorny underbrush away and created a template that the riders could gauge their technique and future advices against. The words in the Bible are like this for many.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus was telling those who began following him, and those who were trying to discredit them that his true followers would follow his teaching and not that of the religious elite that were using their position to hold power over people. John 5: 31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The words of scripture can be an emancipator, setting you free. Used incorrectly the words can become an enslaver. One person can lead or mislead many out of the truest intentions depending on the level of understanding the teacher possesses and the level of spoon-fedness to which the audience may be inclined. Unfortunately, some are even led by false teachers with impure intentions. How is this possible? I believe an old bull riding adage can apply; The top 20% of riders haul in 80% of the prize money. Which means 80% of bull riders are struggling with the sport and, more often than not, donators to the purse. I believe the same is true on a more Christian front; 20% of Christians are hunters of the truth and can easily disseminate false teachings from Gospel truth. However, that means that 80% of Christians are struggling with scripture, have a loose grasp of the Gospel and are easily swayed toward the fringes where words and phrases like, “prosperity”, “morally good”, or “you’re perfect just the way you are”, run rampant and the generalized vagueness of salvation are currently leading many to despair.
I feel blessed to take a moment and think about some of my closest friends in my life and realize that they are also hunters of the truth who hold me accountable, ask tough questions, and point indiscriminately to scripture. These people are my trusted traveling partners in my walk with Christ. But just like at the bull riding clinic, I believe my friends and I have a great template to measure ourselves and our technique against. It’s the teachings from Jesus himself. Everything in the Bible from beginning to end points toward Him. During Jesus’ time on earth, he spoke only truths and eschewed many religious habits, fringe beliefs, and false teachers. And just like then, today his truth is infallible. It stands up against any test and strips the sheep’s clothing from the wolves.
John 8:32 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
In the end, the only way my students take the next leap in their bull riding career is if they take an infallible bull riding truth and continually apply that in practice until the correct reaction is near automatic. Likewise, there is only so much a “come-to-Jesus” moment can give us unless we affirm that newfound understanding with practice in reading Jesus’ words of truth. Therein lies the ultimate template to gauge yourself by.
Yes, your hometown church may be fine. Your mega-church may be setting attendance records. That unsubstantiated “preacher” with no church affiliation might be a likeable guy. But just ask yourself, who or what is your template based upon? It’s a fair question to spend some time on….. unless you are too busy being spoon-fed by a wolf.
Will is a retired Pennsylvania bull rider who occasionally gets back in the arena to teach bull riding schools or clinics.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
In the sports of rodeo and bull riding, there is so much weight and value put on having the right mindset.
Cowboys who would never pick up a text book in school will read through books that help them harness the power of their minds. They’ll watch video after video of their rides and runs to see what they can improve. They’ll focus on positive thinking. They’ll surround themselves with like-minded people to influence them toward success in their rodeo careers.
Do we put that same value on our Christian faith?
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul is encouraging the church to focus on what is good and to put to practice what he has tried to teach them as the early church was first beginning to spread. There were so many influences pulling at these new believers and Paul often intervened through letters to them. Paul wants them to be successful and for their faith to grow beyond any influences that could damage it. And he wants the good news of Jesus Christ to spread. We can see this in many of his letters that make up so much of the New Testament.
Just like we study the sport, we have to study God’s word…and put it to action. And we have to work on a Christ-like mindset.
All that comes from putting the effort into not just reading the Bible but putting the work into understanding it.
A lot of people start the new year off with a goal of reading through the entire Bible, some following a reading plan to complete it in a year. But it’s not a race and there’s no prize for completing it on time or early. It’s better to not just read the Bible but to take the time to understand it. Study Bibles are out there with plenty of notes to help you understand the verses. There are books called commentaries and there are Bible studies that lead you through a book of the Bible with questions and helpful thoughts. It can feel hard to understand at first but the more you work through it, the more the pieces come together and the easier it all becomes to understand.
Then comes the harder part. Once you’ve learned it, we need to put it into action. The Cowboys of the Cross website is starting a monthly video series that focuses on that part—what it means for a Christian cowboy to live out his faith. We encourage you to watch the series and use this site to help you grow in your faith while plugging into a church with even deeper teaching into God’s word.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
He paid your fees. It’s an expression used to suggest that Jesus paid our fees and we’re going to enter Heaven, but we forget an important part—we have to make the call-ins.
The expression is being used more in the rodeo community when someone has passed away to declare the person is in Heaven.
It’s taken from The Cowboy Prayer that many announcers use to open a rodeo. “Help us, Lord, to live our lives in such a manner that when we make that last inevitable ride to the country up there, where the grass grows lush, green and stirrup high, and the water runs cool, clear and deep, that you, as our last Judge, will tell us that our entry fees are paid.”
When we lose someone, we often take to social media and proclaim that person’s fees have been paid.But if they never entered the rodeo, that isn’t possible.Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment and pay the price meant for our sins. That’s where the idea comes from that Jesus paid our fees for us like getting to the rodeo secretary to find out someone else paid our fees on our behalf. Instead of being entered into the rodeo, we accept the idea we’ve been given entry to Heaven. That’s where we need to understand more of what’s known as the gospel.Our sin separates us from God. He will not allow it in His presence and He will punish it. We understand that punishment to mean we go to Hell instead of Heaven when we die where we suffer for eternity.
It’s a harsh thought during the warm and fuzzy holiday season that focuses on images of a baby surrounded by angels, shepherds and farm animals.But the baby grew to be our Savior so that by believing he was the Son of God that died for us, yes our fees could be paid by that death, but only by first recognizing our sin, confessing and repenting of it and asking to be forgiven.
We’re given reference to Jesus taking our punishment but also the need to repent in Acts 3:18-19 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,”
By recognizing this and asking for forgiveness, God will never look at us again as sinners destined for punishment.
Our sins can’t be forgiven and we can’t be given a perfect eternity in Heaven if we have never truly been forgiven through Jesus. Our fees can’t be paid if we never entered the rodeo. It’s our job as traveling partners in this life, to make sure they get entered up by telling them the full gospel message.
By Scott Hilgendorff/Cowboys of the Cross
We all want to be treated fairly. In rodeo and bull riding, we want a judge that doesn’t give a thumbs-up to a 7.8 second ride to the number two cowboy while the guy just breaking in gets a zero for a 7.9 on the stop watch. We want to believe that a draw never gets rigged in favor of someone or against someone a stock contractor hates.
As much as people in our society are against Christianity because all they hear us say is that our beliefs are right above others, there is no one more fair than God.
All sin is punished equally. God won’t allow any of it in His presence in Heaven and the judgment against sin is eternity separated from God in Hell. Any and all sin is punished equally.
But God wants us with Him in Heaven so He made a way that we all could be redeemed of our sin through Jesus Christ.
John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
That is one of the most well-known Bible verses but how to be made right before God only starts there.
Jesus was and is the Son of God sent here to die and take the punishment meant for our sins. What he endured for us is horrific but when you take the time to think and understand it, that’s how much he loves us that 2,000 years before any of us were born, he took on all of God’s judgment and wrath against our sin.
Romans 5:10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
All that is required of us is to believe who Jesus was and is, to recognize that however big or small, we all sin and to confess and repent of that sin, asking to be forgiven. That’s what it means to have a saving faith in Jesus and that’s what gives us the assurance we have a permanent home in Heaven.
When we hear the saying in rodeo that he paid your fees, THAT’S the seriousness of what that nice-sounding statement meant. He didn’t just do us a favor, he suffered horribly on our behalf so the we could have eternal life with him next to our Father, God, in Heaven.
That’s a pretty even pen of bulls, everyone has the same chance and none of us can do more than another to earn our place there. Believe in Jesus, confess your sin, repent of it and ask to be forgiven. That’s it. No more, no less.
None of us can do more than another to improve that score. No matter how much good or bad we think we’ve done, it all comes down to what we believe and our willingness to ask for and receive forgiveness from God, through Jesus.