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.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We’ve recently been studying the topic of how God communicates to us. We all want to know what God’s will for our lives is, but most of us are unsure how to determine what that is or if God will even communicate that to us. Let me assure you, God wants you to know him, and as you know him personally and intimately, his will for your life will become increasingly clear.
We’ve established that the primary way God speaks to us is through our study of and meditation on the Scriptures, and that the secondary way God speaks to us is through prayer. We conclude our examination of Jesus’s model prayer – called The Lord’s Prayer – today.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
This has given me such great comfort and perspective in my life over the past year or so. Why? Because it is so easy for me (and probably for you too!) to let my prayers be focused on either my needs or the needs of others. Someone is sick; we pray for them to get better. Someone is injured at the rodeo; we pray for their healing. Someone lost their job; we pray for them to find another one quickly. But couldn’t God be using some of these circumstances to achieve a more perfect faith for those affected? A person may be laid out in a hospital bed and on the couch for a few months, but God can bring about a lot of changes in that person’s life in that time. Jesus’s prayer began with an acknowledgment of the holiness of God and then moved on to the first request Jesus said we should make to God. Do you remember what it was? Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Let’s be honest. In my sinful, fallen, self-centered existence, I want to establish my own kingdom where I am sovereign, and everything works together for my personal definition of what is best…and you’re just like me because you’re a sinner too! The first request Jesus taught his disciples to make was that God’s kingdom would invade and overtake our world, which presently is the kingdom of Satan because Adam and Eve traded obedience to God for the lies of the devil. Now, at the end of this model prayer, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves that everything we ask is in submission to God’s perfect kingdom rule.
Now by grace, we can set aside our selfish ambitions and welcome God’s kingdom rule in our lives, but Jesus didn’t call us to sit on the sidelines and wait for that to happen. He’s called us to be his ambassadors – to represent his kingdom in this kingdom! We have an active role in bringing God’s kingdom to earth. I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be a huge task, the weight of which I am certainly unable to bear! But Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves that the power is God’s! That’s one of the most comforting truths about being Jesus’s disciples – everything he requires of us he accomplishes through his own power! It’s just like in Luke 5:4-11. Jesus asked Peter, a professional fisherman, to push out into the water and let his net down for a catch. But Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, Peter chose to obey Jesus, and as a result they caught so many fish that two boats nearly sank trying to haul them in! When God asks us to do something, our part is obedience, and when we obey the results are in his hands.
Finally, Jesus’s model prayer reminds us that all we do, all we say, and all we pray should have as the core purpose God’s eternal glory. In Luke 6:40, Jesus teaches that “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” As Jesus’s disciples, we are to be learning and training to love as he loved, serve as he served, and suffer as he suffered. And remember, he did it all with a purpose: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Just as Jesus’s earthly life served the purpose of giving God glory, our lives should do the same, and our prayers should reflect that purpose.
Now that we’ve completed our examination of The Lord’s Prayer, I want to break it down into an easy-to-remember acrostic that will help you pray as Jesus taught us without having to say the same words he said. After all, he didn’t say, “Pray these words.” He said, “Pray in this manner.”
Praise – Jesus began his prayer by honoring the holiness of the name of God. God is your daddy who loves you faithfully even when you are unfaithful and rebellious. He is your provider, freely giving you all good things by his grace. Spend some time praising God for who he is.
Repent – The word repent means to turn around or turn away from one thing and toward another. Jesus’s prayer reminds us to repent of the desire for our own wills to be done and our own kingdoms to be established, and instead to submit to God’s will and his kingdom.
Ask – Jesus taught us to ask for daily provision (we do not live independently from God), forgiveness for our sin and a forgiving spirit toward others, and protection from temptation, sin, and the schemes of the devil. With the Father’s glory in mind, we ask for God to meet our needs and the needs of others especially in these three areas which have eternal consequences.
Yield – It’s all about God’s kingdom, God’s power, and for God’s eternal glory. Bookending your prayers with these reminders is a great way to make sure your prayers stay focused on these and do not slip into the self-centered me-ism of praying to God like he is a genie in a bottle who exists to do your bidding.
Now, may the grace of prayer to our loving Father strengthen and sustain you as you seek his will and his glory.
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
We’ve recently been studying how communication between God and man happens. We all want to hear from God and know his will for our lives, but we’re unsure how that happens or even if it happens. I want you to be certain of this: God wants you to know him! He wants a relationship with you, and all relationships require time and communication.
The primary way God communicates to us is through the Scriptures. Spend time studying what God has said about himself, about humanity, and about his mission of reconciliation. Study deeply and intentionally. The second way God communicates with us is through prayer. We have recently been studying the model prayer (the Lord’s prayer) and have come to the point where we make petitions; that is, we ask God for specific things. But what should ask for?
“Give us this day our daily bread.” The book of Joshua records the conquest of the promised land by the nation of Israel as they moved from slavery in Egypt to a land known for its abundant resources. Such a drastic change in station certainly requires spiritual preparation, and that is precisely what we see in the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness prior to the conquest of the land of Canaan. Take a moment right now and read Deuteronomy 8:2-11 to see what God reminded his people of as they were completing their spiritual preparation for the land that flows with milk and honey. God wanted to remind his people that they are not independent or self-sufficient. No! Yahweh was their provider, protector, and conqueror; Israel had been completely dependent upon the goodness of God to survive those 40 years, and just because they were now entering a land of plenty did not mean they could forget their dependence or his provision. God is the one who provided the promised land. Each and every day, we should depend on God to provide the resources we need to live and serve him. Just as the Israelites in the wilderness, we can find God faithful to provide what we need, maybe not in abundance or excess, but certainly enough for this day.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” One of the greatest sins those who follow Christ commit is the sin of forgetfulness. We are quick to forget the immense mercy and grace that assures us of our salvation, so when we are wronged, we respond with anger and wrath. Read Matthew 18:23-33. This wicked servant had been forgiven a debt that was so great he couldn’t be expected to pay it back in 10 lifetimes, yet when one of his fellow servants owed him a debt he could pay back over three to five years, the wicked servant choked him and threw him in prison. We who have been forgiven such a great debt against such a holy God should be quick to forgive others who have wronged us. Pray daily to remember the forgiveness you’ve received, for no one gives grace better than the one who is truly convinced of his own need for it.
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Praying in this manner acknowledges three important truths. First, there is One who has ultimate authority and knows what is good and right for you to do and what you should not do. Regardless of who you are in your community, your church, or this world there is One to whom you must bow. Second, the One who has ultimate authority has revealed his moral will.
There are clearly defined boundaries in which believers should live. We do not make our own determinations of good and bad, right and wrong. Third, we live in a world full of temptation where we have an enemy whose method of destroying us is to persuade us to accomplish our own demise through the pursuit of things that keep us from experiencing God’s kingdom rule.
In Numbers 22-24, Balak king of Moab was fearful of the Israelites who were conquering kingdoms on their way toward him. He contracted a pagan priest named Balaam to curse Israel so that he might defeat them. However, God prevented Balaam’s cursing; no outside force was great enough to withstand Israel as they followed God’s command (You should read these chapters; a talking donkey is worth the time!). But in the 25th chapter, it is reported that the Israelite men pursued sexual relationships with Moabite women who led them into idolatry. This compromise of morality that led to idolatry caused a plague that claimed 24,000 Israelite lives. Though they could not be destroyed by the curses of their foes, they might quickly be overcome when they compromised their loyalty to God and his commands. God’s boundaries and requirements for our lives are for our own good and the good of our faith community!
Take note of Numbers 25:7-8; the plague was stopped when Phinehas took decisive action against the idolators by killing one of them and his Moabite mistress. You tell me: is it important that we hold the members of our faith community to moral standards, or should we compromise to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?
There are three things Jesus asked for in this model prayer. First, he asked for daily provision. God knows our needs and is willing and able to provide if we simply recognize our dependence on him. It might actually be a win at the rodeo because the finances or the confidence it gives is what we really need that week. It might be the struggle of a continued losing streak because how we grow from it is what we really need. Second, he asked that we would be forgiven as we are forgiving. Sin is a part of our experience in this life and recognizing our own need for grace will result in the extension of grace to others when they sin against us. It is by grace that we have peace with God, and it is by grace that we will have peace with others. Third, we live in a world of things that can tempt us to wander from the path God has set before us. The problem is not so much the things outside of us as it is the desire for sin inside of us. James 4:1 and following reminds us of this truth: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
As you pray, ask God to provide for you needs today. Ask him to forgive you of your sin and from that grace empower you to be forgiving toward others. Finally, ask him to keep you from the things your sinful heart is drawn toward and from the tactful lies of the enemy of your soul.