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!

Will Jesus say he never knew you? We want our rodeo and cowboy families to really know him

Will Jesus say he never knew you? We want our rodeo and cowboy families to really know him

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Only few will find it.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

When most everyone we know in rodeo and bull riding identifies as a Christian, how is it possible then that only a few will find their way to Heaven?

What Jesus is saying is that a lot of us really don’t know him in the sense that we’ve experienced a real relationship with him where we’ve truly believed in him, his death for us and his resurrection and truly repented of our sin and asked for forgiveness. And if we don’t have a genuine relationship with Jesus, he’ll also say he doesn’t know us.

Matthew 7:22-23 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Whether we do what look like great things or commit terrible sins, those actions don’t give us or destroy a relationship with Jesus, only belief in him, true repentance, confession of our sin and asking to be forgiven can save us. The good we do becomes evidence of our saving faith in Jesus.

Most of us believe a mixture of ideas of what a Christian is, but those ideas aren’t the gospel that God uses to save them. That also means that many of us care so little about our faith that we’re not seeing this potentially soul-saving post. That’s because nothing in us has been changed by Jesus to drive us toward learning more about him and God’s word to us in the Bible.

While we don’t profess to be the best teachers, too many people are not reading their own Bibles and not seeking knowledge from other teachers, whether it be this ministry or anywhere else. That breaks our hearts because we want everyone to experience a real, saving, life-changing relationship with Jesus. In rodeo and bull riding, we’re a family, and because you’re family, we love you and want you to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. But we know the truth of Jesus’s words and for those verses above to be true, most of the people needing to hear this have scrolled on past and the ones reading it are the ones we’re already blessed to get to know and serve through this ministry

God gifts us all differently to carry out the same task: love others and share the gospel

God gifts us all differently to carry out the same task: love others and share the gospel

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Draw a picture of a horse. Mine will look more like a stick horse unless I have something in front of me to draw from, then it will get a little better. The next person will draw a picture with amazing shading and detail. Another will use unrealistic colors to create their own style. The next will ask, “What kind of horse?” And another will draw the horse and include a barn setting for a background.

Romans 12:4-8 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

We all have a couple common tasks that Jesus gave us: to love others and to share the gospel and make disciples.

Through looking at scriptures about what Jesus did in his time here, we can get some idea of how he approached and treated others and we can pull from that just how it is that we’re supposed to carry out those tasks. But we also know that each of us has been given different gifts from God.

Just like how our task to draw a horse will be completed differently, how we love others or how we connect with them or even the methods we use to share the gospel will be different. But the result will be the same. A horse will be drawn. The gospel will be shared. In these few verses from Romans, it’s also made clear we’re to use the gifts we have to the best of our ability. My stick horse might be the best I can do but the horse will still get drawn. I can still take care to draw each line as straight and smoothly as I can.

But Jesus isn’t telling us to draw a horse or do something that doesn’t use skills God has given us. He’s telling us we all have different gifts and gives us examples like showing hospitality or mercy. You may not feel like you’re the best communicator, but you can still explain the gospel to a friend in the best way you know how to share it. A person whose gift is teaching may have an easier time of explaining the gospel to someone but it may be the kindness you show through your gift of hospitality that may be what God uses to make it easier for that person to really listen to the gospel message.

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.

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

We can embrace a lifestyle of complaint or gratitude

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?

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