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?
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys
There’s strength in knowing when to ask for help
of the Cross
Part 1 of 2
Struggles come and there’s nothing weak about knowing when you need to ask for help and getting it. Whether a ranch cowboy, rodeo cowboy or
bull rider, God made you to be tough but he didn’t make you stupid either; a cowboy needs to do things for himself but he also needs to know when it’s time to ask for help.
Our culture, the liberal one that dominates the messages we see from all directions, tells men to be weak, passive, in touch with their emotions and how ‘toxic’ we are because of the traditional ways we define ourselves. The rodeo and bull riding industry and the ranching and farming industries require men to be tough. Taking care of cattle isn’t for the feint of heart. Getting on the back of a bull or jumping off a horse to grab a steer take physical and mental strength. The image of a cowboy, no matter what form, is not of someone who is emotional
But there is real strength in getting help when you need it. You can continue fighting to get that serpentine belt back on your truck until there’s no skin on your knuckles or you can ask your buddy to drop by and help. And there is absolutely nothing weak about seeking professional help when the stress of bankruptcy and a fight with your wife has you feeling worthless and ready to walk away from everything.
Suicide is not the answer. It’s a quick solution for you and a lifetime of heartache for the ones left behind.
We need to grasp what it really means to be meek. Our culture suggests the word means being weak and walking away from taking a stand and while Jesus tells us to always forgive and turn the other cheek, he tells us in Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
We’re asked to be meek but absolutely do not mistake that for weakness. Jesus was God on Earth with the power to do anything include destroy those who would attack or undermine his ministry. Meekness is often defined as strength under control. That is real strength—being able to control yourself when you have the ability to use your strength and skills in a unChrist-like way.
Later, in Matthew 11:29, Jesus tells us: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
He doesn’t want us to be burdened. He wants us to let him carry our burdens and find peace in our relationship with him.
Jesus is supposed to be enough but sometimes the devil’s whisper in your ear gets so loud, you can’t hear the Savior calling to you. God’s word in scripture is supposed to be where we find hope, but sometimes we can understand the words but not bring them to bear fruit in what we’re going through.
God is sovereign. He gave us the system of government we have and while some of us were wired to be cowboys, he grew up other men and women to be health care providers for both our physical and mental health.
Knowing when to ask for help isn’t weak: it’s strength under control.
God can put the pieces together to form a picture we can’t even begin to see. A cowboy church devotion from horse man Jim Bull.
By Jim Bull / Cowboys of the Cross
I’ve known something for a long time and finally come up with an illustration that gives an idea of the complexity of life.
When you were a kid, do you remember putting together jigsaw puzzles that had a board with a curved border that all six pieces had one obvious spot for it to go? And do you remember putting every piece in the wrong place and turning it in a complete circle three to five times before either putting it in a different place on the board and spinning it again or putting it down and getting a new piece or giving up and finding something else to play with that didn’t hurt your brain?
Move forward a few years. Do you remember trying again to put together jigsaw puzzles? Only now you’re skilled and working with 500 pieces or one thousand or you like the challenge and go for puzzles with ten thousand pieces! You start with the boarder pieces or a specific color or whatever is your preferred method to make sense of the madness. Now it’s because you enjoy the challenge so you don’t give up, you just keep plugging along, piece by piece till you proudly look upon a finished puzzle.
Now we’re going to look at God. He takes all the millions of pieces of our lives such as who we meet and when and where we are, what we pay attention to. The good things and the bad; all the things that make up a life. It’s like the pieces are in a bingo ball scrambler cage, He reaches in and pulls one piece out and places it on a blank table with no border in the exact location it belongs. No twisting or turning or spinning or searching for a boarder or color. He just knows where it belongs. Then He grabs the next piece of the puzzle and places it perfectly. He is an amazing God!
But wait! That puzzle with millions of pieces is just your life! He also mixes your puzzle pieces with all of the people you are affected by or have an influence on or that influence you. Now it’s a puzzle with billions or trillions of pieces and it’s in 3D and he’s still pulling them all out of a bingo ball scrambler cage! You can look up awesome in a thesaurus and use every word it has and still not get the full picture of how great God is. Praise Him and worship Him for He is worthy! He knows your every hair, thought and action, inside and out. He is the master of your puzzle.
Luke 12:5-7 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Christian Bull Rider Clete Bontrager says a cowboy prayer after cowboy church at the SEBRA bull riding in Marshall, Michigan, produced by Lost Nations Rodeo Company and Shiloh Walden.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you’re chasing your gold buckle dreams, do you see God as a means to success or is glorifying Him your purpose?
The answer will tell you a lot about your relationship with Him and changing your focus could bring about success in an unexpected way. Even what the world measures as failure or loss can be success when it points others toward a saving faith in Jesus.
Whatever we do, win or lose, it’s going to bring God glory, even if we never fully see how the pieces fit together.
Ephesians 1:11-12 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
There’s so much teaching out there that overlooks the what’s in the Bible about struggles and the purpose they serve or the presence of sin that causes the struggles to exist in the first place. A few verses out of context can give us the idea that God will give us our heart’s desire. The only way for that to be true is if our heart’s are focused on Him and His desires for us.
When we seek God, and it’s His plan we’re following, he WILL give us what we ask because it is what he wants for us to begin with.
A verse that often has people thinking God will make wishes come true, suddenly means that yes, of course God will give us what we seek when it’s Him and His glory that we’re seeking.
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
If a person with a terminal cancer diagnosis demonstrates joy and perseverance and points out to others it’s because of his or her faith in God and understanding of the Bible, they can find themselves at peace with their situation. It doesn’t mean they don’t pray for and believe that God could miraculously heal them. Sometimes that’s part of His plan. I’ve seen a bull rider go from expecting to die from lung cancer to the spreading disease completely disappearing between specialist appointments to talk about how they might extend his time here. I’ve seen a barrel man’s kidneys fail and the poison build in his body to the point they were preparing to move him to hospice to die, but suddenly find them working again and home from the hospital a few days later. And I’ve listened at church to the story of a young man in the congregation who had a disease that slowly suffocated him to death, sharing until the very end his trust and love for God.
Romans 8:18 I Consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul is teaching through this section about the security we have in our salvation and that no matter what we go through here or how hard it might be, God will use us to reveal Himself. When we understand our time here is short compared to eternity and when we understand that our eternal home in Heaven is perfect, no matter what we go through here, we can be encouraged by knowing it can help others find their way home too.
Our gold buckle dreams are worth pursuing in our time here when God is at the center of them and we know He’s using us to bring Him glory, but the rewards we might gain here pale in comparison to what is coming in Heaven.