By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you mention the word love to a cowboy, it immediately conjures up thoughts around the emotion. A cowboy who starts seeing a girl he’s infatuated with quickly starts missing rodeos or events and the guys either make fun or genuinely complain that she’s messed him up and ruined the sport for him.
A cowboy in love starts to make dumb choices, or at least that’s how his friends see it.
For others, it’s an emotion they have a hard time expressing and even saying the words take effort despite the feelings of love that are there.
This is some of why understanding what love is in Scripture is so important.
The cowboy crowd is going to struggle with being asked to love others when their sense of what love is gets tied into warm, gushy emotions that go against the image of a tough cowboy.
While there are examples of couples in the Bible who are in warm, gushy love with each other, the Bible most often refers to love with the Greek word, ‘agape’, which is not an emotion but an action, or philia, which is a brotherly love.
When we understand both, we can see how the cowboy crowd should actually be able to relate well to each of them.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
A loving, devoted husband or wife is likely what first comes to mind when reading that verse on its own but what Paul is describing in Romans is philia. He is telling us to look out for one another in that brotherly love kind of way but with a commitment to doing that. He wants us to be purposeful about it.
Philia is a brotherly love—exactly what you see in a group of bull riders who have traveled down the road together for years. They would do anything for each other, tease each other endlessly because they know each other so well and have each other’s backs. Ultimately, in brotherly love, we put others before ourselves which also leads into what agape is.
Agape is even more active and has a lot to do with how we treat others and how we demonstrate it to God.
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The love we’re being asked to show here is not an emotion but an action. We learn what those actions should be throughout scripture through the examples Jesus gave us and through the teachings throughout the Bible. Jesus says we will know who true followers of him are because people will see actions that show that they really do love others.
Asking how you can pray for a family who brought their kid up to get an autograph. Giving your last $20 to the Salvation Army Kettle because you know that at least your rent is paid. All of these can be acts of love. They can mean giving up some of your time or money, but that doesn’t compromising the image of strength and toughness a cowboy wants to hold on to. It takes a strong person to sacrifice for others.
Difficulty is something we all experience. Each of us is either in the midst of difficult circumstances, just beyond something difficult, or will face something difficult in the very near future. Yet, for whatever reason, many Christians believe that accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior is going to somehow exempt us from the trials that are common to every person’s life, or at least from the more serious trials. But the truth of the matter is that even Christians experience difficulty, and sometimes our troubles are more intense because of our faith in Christ! Many Christians will see trials as a failure of their faith, or worse, as God’s unfaithfulness or inattention. Often, our hearts are left crying out, “Why, Lord?!”
The answer? God is redeeming us from a broken world and misplaced trust and conforming us into the image of his Son. It’s often only through the pressures of life that our true character is revealed. It’s often only in loss, discouragement, and pain that the true object(s) of our hope is revealed. And it’s in those moments that God calls us to set aside our idols and our selfish responses to embrace Jesus as our rock and firm foundation, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds into the very image of the Christ we claim to follow.
1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, “Now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The only way our faith brings praise and glory and honor to God is if we find Jesus to be faithful, and we can’t find Him faithful if life is always pleasurable and comfortable. In Eph. 5:25-27 Paul reminds us that the reason Jesus gave Himself for the sake of the church, His body, was so that He might one day present the church to himself “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” And James 1:2-4 tells us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The splendor and perfection Christ seeks to achieve for us is only produced through trials!
God is at work today. There is a purpose for this interim between Jesus’s ascension and His second coming. That purpose is the perfecting of the faith of the body of Christ so that we might bring Him praise and glory and honor. The difficulties we experience until our redemption is complete are evidences of the zeal of God’s redemptive love. God’s work today is not so much about providing us with predictable, comfortable, and pleasurable lives. He is not working to transform our circumstances; he is using hard circumstances to transform us.
Now, may the God of peace give you – even in the midst of these present circumstances – peace that surpasses all understanding through our Lord Jesus Christ who is our hope, our rock, and our firm foundation, the Author and Perfector of our faith!
Pastor Jesse Horton
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.
Part 3 on FORGIVENESS
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
If you’ve been a bull rider for very long at all, you’ll have at least one story about how a bull fighter saved your butt.
Most of us North Carolina riders know that Nathaniel Southern has one arm that’s inches longer than the other because many of us dogpiled a bull for him on a few different occasions so we could untie him. I was bad for hang-ups, but not quite that bad. One night I was on a Clint Haas bull he called 8-Ball. Around six seconds, he was spinning away from my hand; he got a little empty and I got a little stiff and wound up sliding off in the well before the eight seconds. I was able to wrap my free arm around his neck and dance with him until my riding hand was free, but he knocked me down as I tried to step out of the spin. Once I was on the ground, he put his head down on me and went to his knees to increase the amount of weight he could push me with. He pushed against the side of my head so hard my vision went dark. Justin Branch was a bull fighter that night. He leaned on 8-Ball’s head but ended up having to wrap himself around the bull’s neck to get him off me. I was thankful for Justin that night. He saved me from a bull who truly intended to harm me!
In the “Christian-ese” language, we use words that outsiders might not understand. What does it mean for a Christian to be saved? For most, it means we’ve got fire insurance – we are saved from eternity in hell and from God’s just wrath against our sin. To be “saved” we must be forgiven of our sin. But what does that require? How do we receive it? What is the value of forgiveness? To understand that, we must first understand the value of a soul.
In the Gospel of Jesus according to Mark (the book of Mark in your Bible), immediately after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending rejection by Jewish leaders, death at their hands, and his victorious resurrection. Peter responds by calling out Jesus for what he perceived as foolishness. Peter couldn’t imagine that the mission of the Messiah of Israel was to die. Then comes this passage:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)
In verses 36-37, Jesus makes it clear that our immaterial souls are valuable. The reason our souls are valuable is because that is the part that God himself breathed into us which gives us life (Genesis 2:7). It is that immaterial part of us that is God’s image – the imprint of his Spirit on us. We are valuable to God because we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6).
Not only are our souls valuable to God, but we are supremely more valuable than anything else we could ever possess. From an accounting perspective, Jesus goes straight for the bottom line in these verses. Take your assets, subtract your liabilities, and that’s the net value. Jesus says if the entire world and all it can offer are your assets and your soul is a liability (or the payment), your value is negative. He tells us there is nothing we offer in exchange for our eternal, supremely valuable souls.
Imagine if everyone in the U.S. decided collectively to sell our country. What would the price tag be? Well, in the first quarter of 2014, the net value of the U.S. was $128 trillion. No one person could ever possibly pay that price, and even if someone could do that, they couldn’t keep it. Someone with bigger guns or more nukes would rise up to take it away. In fact, we don’t really own anything the way we do our eternal souls. That beautiful home you recently built…someone else will be living there sooner or later. That brand new dually you bought…eventually you’ll trade it for a newer model, and someone else will drive it. Not to mention the fact that we all die eventually, and I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul in tow.
I want you to notice that first verse (Mark 8:34) tells us that this is directed at both the crowd and the disciples; this is not teaching for only the most dedicated followers of Jesus – it’s for all of us who desire to follow Him. In fact, that might be a better translation of Jesus’ first words, “If anyone desires to come after Me…” Coming after Jesus represents following Him in a physical sense; as far as location goes, you’re following Jesus. But then He says, “…let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Follow me here indicates following in a behavioral sense, or obedience. Paraphrasing, “If you want to walk with Me, the life you live will be one where I am the leader and you obey Me.”
Jesus is demanding a great deal from us here. He isn’t saying we should die for Him; that might be easier – at least it would be over and done! He’s saying we should live as though we were dead to our own desires and be as obedient to Him as He was to the Roman soldier who likely told Him after his scourging, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Yes! The cost of forgiveness – of being saved – is high. But what else would you expect for something as valuable as your soul is to God? It cost God the life and blood of His eternal Son! Now, at this point I want to make something abundantly clear: though salvation and forgiveness is not cheap, it also cannot be earned! “What will anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The answer is nothing! Jesus is the one who paid the price for your forgiveness! “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).
The forgiveness of our sin is not cheap, as acknowledged by the price Jesus paid to accomplish it. The price was high because of the value of our souls to God. The result of God’s forgiveness is also supremely valuable – our complete submission and obedience to Jesus; a life lived for ourself to gain worldly treasure while giving lip service to Jesus is not what the Son of God died for, and it is not valuable enough to eclipse the value of our soul.
Here’s a great application for you concerning the value of the souls of men: When you see others as Jesus sees them, you will love others as Jesus loves them and serve others as Jesus serves them.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). Jesus’ mission was to die to save souls; ours is to die to self and live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for the same purpose.
The bull in the chutes is shifting and kicking the closed roll gate behind him and a hand reaches down to grab the cowboy by his shoulder, ready to help lift him out if the situation goes from rough to dangerous. The rider in the chutes is ranked number three in the association and the young man who is spotting him is ranked number four.
Both are fighting for to make the season championship and both need as big a share of the $3,000 added-money as they can get to push they were up in the standings. The one reaching out for the other needs a win to pay back money he borrowed for his fees and to be able to enter the next event.
Regardless of the outcome each of them needs, in that moment, the greatest need of the bull rider on the back of the bull is to be safe and his competitor knows that.
Galatians 6:1-5 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
That scene easily plays out at any given rodeo. It can be a steer wrestler borrowing a horse because his came up lame when they unloaded the horse trailer. Sure, there are lots of squabbles in the rodeo and equine industries, but there’s just as much hands helping each other.
When one person is struggling, we’re called to help each other. In this particular case, Paul is talking about restoring someone who is caught up in a sin, being careful not to get dragged into the sin, but to help pull the person out, just like the rider is literally ready to pull his friend out of the chute.
We have responsibilities given to us by God. Galatians 6:5 tells us we need to carry our own loads but sometimes we can’t do it alone and we need a helping hand from a friend. That’s what Paul is reminding Christians in Galatia in this letter. We have to help each other when simply can’t help ourselves. You’re on your own when the chute gate opens and bare the responsibility of completing the work (making eight) but someone has to help you in the chutes. Sometimes you nod for the gate without any complications and sometimes it gets pretty rough.
You can get down in there with more confidence when you know someone’s got your back, putting your needs ahead of theirs. Whose back do you have and whose got yours when it comes to living out your Christian faith?