I’m lucky in that every morning that I get to swing my leg over a horse, for a brief instant, I connect with the likes of men who lived 150 years ago. This world is made up of all different kinds of professions and people, but none have remained as unchanged as the role of a cowboy. A friend of mine, Jason Hildebrandt, works for the State of Kansas in the IT department. He doesn’t fire up an Apple IIe to work with. Lawyers aren’t really debating and interpreting laws from 1870. Today, doctors aren’t using whiskey to cure a cold or cutting off a stuttering child’s tongue. Unlike these other professions, the cowboy is relatively unchanged in his work, his gear, and his life. I have recently read a couple older history books on cowboy life (The Story of the Cowboy by E. Hough ; The Cowboy by Philip Rollins ; and Smokey the Cowhorse by Will James ) and been fascinated by the historical connection between what I do, what they wrote about and did, and what cowboys 100’s of years ago lived through. The horse, though specifically breed for types of work now, remains the same animal that drove herds across the plains. The saddle cinched around its mid-section, still consists of leather and wood. In a world taken over by synthetics, lighter weight, and higher strength engineered materials; the working cowboy still uses leather attached to a wooden tree. The wardrobe consists of a cowboy hat, thanks to John Stetson in 1865, jeans, and boots (both holdovers from the late 1800’s).
It got me to thinking, why hasn’t it changed? We ride horses instead of atv’s, use ropes instead of chutes, and leather gear because it’s the simplest and best way to get the job done. If necessity is the mother of invention, then necessity, in the cowboy world hasn’t arisen in the last 150 years because the goal was always the same: raise the best beef and the best horses. This isn’t about modern ranching vs. new technology, but simply an opportunity to appreciate the traditions and ways passed down to us. Methods and traditions that have been done the same way for 150 years because it was the simplest and most effective way then, and it’s the simplest and most effective way now. Churches often miss this point, then again most churches aren’t made up of cowboys. Cowboys embrace history every time they saddle up, some churches and some people attempt to forget history at every opportunity.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are camped just outside of the Promised Land on the plains of Moab. Over a thirty-day period Moses makes three speeches, intending to prepare the people of Israel to enter the land of Canaan. Moses favorite word in these speeches is the word “remember” [heb. zakar]. Fifteen times in his speeches, Moses pleads with the Israelites to “remember.” It’s fitting that the title of the book, “Deuteronomy”, is Greek meaning “second law” because Moses is reminding people again of what’s expected of them. Moses wants Israel to remember where they came from, to remember how they acted, remember what God did, and remember what happened to them. God was very clear through Moses that when we forget, bad things happen and that to isolate ourselves from history comes with it a steep price.
I worked at a church that was convinced that history began only years prior when they had replanted a church in the inner-city with all of them coming downtown from a church up north. In doing so, they revitalized the church and the neighborhood. But when recounting the history of the church, the 108 years of history before the “new” church was completely forgotten. A history that contained intellectual giants for ministers, congregations so large the church busted at the seams, ultimate generosity and giving shown in the stewardship of the congregation, and a sending attitude from amongst the people that sent parishioners all over the world spreading the gospel. In neglecting the history, the congregation missed out on people from the congregation dying in foreign countries for their faith, a church split due to bad theology, and a congregation who changed thousands of lives in the city. The church has done nothing wrong in this instance other than taking a myopic view of history. Moses keeps reminding the people that 40 years prior they were slaves (5.15; 7.18; 15.15; 16.12) and that God had done incredible things to deliver them. Communities and churches need to be reminded of what God has done in the past.
I work with students every day that are convinced that faith is an individual action. They are convinced that the Church isn’t for them, that Jesus is the only thing they need. “It’s a religion, not a relationship” is their mantra. What they fail to embrace a “religion” they are missing out on the doctrines and beliefs set forth throughout centuries of debate, writings, and councils. They are then free to create whatever and make Jesus whatever they want. To turn your back on 2000 years of doctrine and wisdom, i.e. religion, is to isolate your walk, something that Moses would have a problem with. Moses, in his song at the end of the book reminds the people “to remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. As your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” (Deut. 32.7)
I try to work alongside God every day. I say that because He has worked in the past. Throughout the Bible, God works alongside man, throughout history, to bring about the redemption of the world. Christians have a linear view of time. It had a beginning (Genesis 1.1), we had a beginning, we will have a transition (i.e. death) and then eternity. There is no going back, no do-overs, no repeats. From Genesis 1, God wants to involve us. Tend the garden (Gen 2.15); build a boat (Gen 6.14); write this down (Ex. 17.14); say this (Ex. 19.3), raise up this person (1 Kings 19.15-18) and so many other tasks were given to man by God. It tells me a couple things about Him: (1) He is a God who works in space, time, and in and through humanity. (2) He is a God who entrusts us with great responsibility to carry out his wishes. I cant even get the right stuff from the store for my wife, but God trusts me to carry the message of salvation to others. (3) He is a God who has spoken, through His word, what I need to do! We do not serve a silent God, but a God who reveals His will through His word. One of my favorite “remembers” in Deuteronomy is 8.2-4, when the simple miracle of keeping shoes on their feet and clothes on their back for the 40 years of wandering is God at work in the lives of His people daily.
Every morning I saddle a horse and lope off, is a day when I get to remember and connect with countless men who have started mornings the same way. It’s usually a passing thought, but the way things are done in the cowboy world is with simplicity and efficiency as tested by time. Old has much to say to new. God is a God who has worked in history, as documented by His book, and wants us to view history like cowboys do. To see it, cherish it, and learn from it…that’s the cowboy way!
Am I better than my cowdog? I would like to say I’m smarter, but no matter how well hid my wife’s socks are, she can find them and chew them to pieces. But then again how many times has she been told not to eat momma’s socks…so that’s kind of a push. She’s definitely more athletic. I have never, nor has it ever occurred to me to try to catch a Frisbee with my mouth, nor can I, flat footed, jump over a couch. However, if I tried it would probably do some damage to our house and myself. But then again, my athleticism has never run me headfirst into our refrigerator. When the scoreboard is checked its closer than I would like it to be. There are times when Penny is a better friend, more faithful and caring than I am, but sometimes, just sometimes, I stack up better than her. But there is a book of the Bible where Satan likes to stack up humanity against “man’s best friend.”
Job, a successful and happy man, is living his life in the land of Uz (1.1). He lived his life with integrity and devotion to God (1.5). He was rich both monetary (1.3) and familial (1.2). His family, wealth, integrity, and all the things surrounding Job made him the greatest man among the people of the East (1.3). Job’s fame, fortune, but most of all his integrity caught the eye of Satan.
Satan comes to God after a long day of chores on earth (1.6) and God confronts him. God says: “You set your heart on Job because…” (1.8) The NIV depicts God putting Job up on a pedestal for Satan to shoot at, but the Hebrew displays God telling Satan why he has it out for Job. Satan has set his heart (hb. Leb), his will, against Job. God understands why Satan has picked him out of the masses as he continues: “There is no one on earth like him: he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (1.8) God knows why Satan has picked him out, because of his integrity, because of his love for God.
Satan responds to God by saying: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of is ands…but stretch out your hand and he will surely curse you to your face!” (1.9-10) Satan responds by saying God is holding the doggie treats!
Penny the Cowdog is a smart animal who picks things up quick. She can do tricks, like sit in a chair, rollover, play dead, high five and various other pointless things. She can work a cow, ride in the truck and Im trying to get her to sense when my blood-sugar is low (that’s a tough one). She is also well trained enough to walk her into Wal-mart with a service vest on (not that I have ever done that). Penny, though a year-and-a-half old, is going through a stage where she needs to see a bag of treats in hand before she acts, kind of a show-me-the-money-upfront mentality. With jerky in hand, she makes lassie look like a dummy, without them, she makes me look like I am speaking in tongues. This is the same relationship that Satan is accusing Job of having with God.
Satan is putting on trial the sacrificial relationship between God and Job. Satan says, “Job is doing what you want him to, following your commands, because you are shaking the dog treats in front of him. Put the bag away and he will curse you to your face!” Job’s success, his family, his fame, his fortune, is simply the treats God has given for doing a trick. Satan approaches God and argues “if the bag of treats is dropped, Job will drop God!’ Job is playing the literary role of the Everyman here, so Satan’s attack really involves us. The question: “Is man capable of sacrificial, unrequited, love?” God made man in his image (Gen 1.26-28), Satan making a claim that somehow that image isn’t really a reflection of God. The chips are down on Job to see if man can really reflect God.
If you don’t know the rest of the story, Job passes the test. Man is capable of sacrificial love and our creation in the image of God is upheld and proved legitimate. Satan goes back to his chores and Job continues to serve God. So what is God’s relationship to man? Is man really in it for himself? Is God really the cosmic vending machine, we put in service he gives us what we want? No. Is man really just a dog waiting for a treat? No. Satan has it wrong on all accounts, man and God really are capable of sacrificial love, and that is where I distance myself from my dog!
A good cowboy on a good horse is incredible to watch. This partnership between cowboy an horse happens at every Extreme Cowboy Race. When I turned 30 this year and realized that I couldn’t fight bulls forever, I began a search for an event to be a part of, that will fill in the gap between fighting bulls and socially acceptable 6:30 a.m. Tee-times at the golf course and long hours at the doughnut shop when I turn 65. Essentially a timed obstacle course on horseback, extreme cowboy racing challenges the horse and rider to accomplish a certain number of tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. Josh Rushing (pictured here) is a former Extreme Cowboy Racing World Champion in 2010, and he has shown me an awful lot about the sport and what it takes to win.
The event challenges both the horse and rider to be Problem-Solvers. A great horse for this event can do cow-work, side pass, lead-change, back, spin, jump, and about everything else that can be imagined. Every course is different, with different obstacles, so a horse that is truly in tune with their rider is required to excel. The horse has to trust its rider in every situation. Just like any other sport, championships are won in the practice pen. A great cowboy needs to figure out, to problem solve, how to teach his horse to cross bridges, move an inflatable ball, stand still when a shots fired and a thousand other things. Each obstacle has to be broken down in practice into manageable steps in order to get a flight-first animal to trust the human’s judgment. Some of the best problem solver’s I know are horseman, and though I don’t know how these trainers do it, God does because He is the great problem solver in our lives…
He solved our sin problem. When man sinned and ate the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, God was quick to enact a redemption plan. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3.15) This verse is God starting the task of redeeming man, of restoring the relationship that was broken just a few verses before. For the next couple thousand years, God would be orchestrating and solving this issue of our separation from God because of our sin. Reading the Old Testament is watching the Great Problem Solver in action, prophesying thorough men, working in familial lines with the whole purpose being to bring Jesus onto the scene to die for our sins. God’s answer to our sin problem was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God, the great problem solver, provided the solution in Jesus.
He solved our Ignorance problem. Romans 1.18-20 makes the case that God can be found through general revelation. General revelation is God’s working in the world and His fingerprints on the world. Looking at the stars, seeing a sunrise, the design in the structure of a horse, or smile of a newborn, these are all natural things that Paul says point to God’s existence. Jesus, the one who saves us, can only be learned about through special revelation. Special revelation is the words that God has spoken to us, the words of scripture. Genesis 5.1 is the first mention of a written document in the Bible. Moses writes down the law that he is given on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 24.4) Jeremiah dictates his prophecies to Baruch. (Jer. 45.1) Luke writes his Gospel for Theophilus (1.1-4) and Peter mentions Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3.14-17). God has spoken to us (Heb. 1.1-4; 2 Tim. 3.16) to communicate His love to us, as shown through Jesus Christ, in order to solve our ignorance problem.
He solved our Isolation problem. It was no coincidence that the first thing Adam did when questioned by God about his sin was to throw Even under the bus. “The WOMAN, that YOU, put here with me—she gave me some to eat.” (Gen. 3.12) Sin isolates us from one another. Often times if I had it my way, I want to be left alone, but for the good of my spiritual life and my relationship with God, I need people around me. God’s solution was the Church. Simply defined, a church is a group of people devoted to worshiping and loving God and living out their lives in honor to Him. How that looks may be very different depending on the group of people. Some Cowboy churches wear boots and hats to worship in a barn, other churchgoers wear three-piece suits listening to a choir till 2 in the afternoon. Some meet on Tuesday nights in a barn, others in an arena before a weekend rodeo. Others meet in a building that is 100’s of years old, some in a Morton building, but regardless of how, when, or where they meet, God has provided the answer to our isolation problem in these local congregations.
He solved our leadership problems. Jesus promised that God would give His Counselor, the Holy Spirit to the disciples once he is gone. (John 14.16-17) We too have been given the Holy Spirit, to live inside of us, to convict us of wrong doing (John 15.8), to guide us into the truth (John 15.13), and to help us bring glory to God through his work in Jesus. We needed “God with us”, Jesus to come and take away our sins, and now we have “God in us” to renew us, challenge us, grow us, and lead us. The Holy Spirit was sent to animate our lives, to speak in our lives, and to show us God’s power in our lives. We needed a leader; God provided the solution by sending His Spirit to dwell in us.
In the same way a great horseman can solve the problems with his horse, God has solved our issues in his own creative, active, and partnering way. It was never God’s plan, to go it alone. In every step of the way, God partnered with us to solve our problems. He sent us His son asking us to believe, He spoke to us His word asking us to write it down, He gave us churches asking us to love one another, and He gave us His Spirit asking us to obey. God truly is the Great Problem Solver.
One man that I have always admired is probably someone you have never heard of, a man named George Toma aka. “the Marquis de Sod”. He was the groundskeeper at Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums. He has also been the head groundskeeper for every Super bowl. As I read his book, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man, I was almost moved as he recounted with passion the silt/sand/clay mixture that made up the mound at the K, the bermuda/rye blend that made up the Arrowhead turf, the care he took painting logos, and the way he lined and mowed the designs in the field. Throughout the book, I was drawn in by the way his creativity manifested itself upon fields of competition. I remembered wanting to do his job when I was a kid.
Since childhood my hero’s have changed: Steve Bezos creating Amazon.com on a napkin during a summer drive at a time when only 1 in 10 American adults even used the internet; the horsemanship of Josh Rushing and Scott Dailey; Peter Higgs predicting the existence of the boson particle in 1964 (confirmed 2013); the writing of Aaron Sorkin, Baxter Black, and John Erickson; Flight Director Gene Krantz and the men of NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions; the photography of Robert Dawson; the students that make my Dairy Queen Blizzards. Though my hero’s have changed, their common thread is constant: creativity. I am envious of these people because, just like you, I was created to create.
Genesis 1.26-27 is a conversation amongst the Trinity, the out come being the creation of man in the ‘image of God’ (imago dei). What do we really know about the God whose image we bear? Flipping through Scripture much can be learned, but what do we know at this point, after just 26 verses? Nearly everything God had done was some kind of creative action. God “created” (bara’), from nothing, the 5% of the universe we can see and the 95% dark matter and energy that we will never see. He organized and “separated” (badal); “called” (qara) and named; “made” (‘asa) and “placed”; we know little about God at this point in scripture other than at His core, He is creative. Nancy Pearcy, in her book Total Truth, claims: “Those in relationship with the Creator should be the most creative of all.” [Pearcy Truth: 58] It is our proximity and likeness to God that gives humanity a creative nature. It is no coincidence that the first man in scripture to be denoted as being “filled with the Spirit” was Bezalel, a skilled and knowledgeable craftsman in order to “engage in artistic craftsmanship” (Ex. 35.30-33). Our relationship with God through his Spirit is rooted in the statement of Genesis 1.27. Creativity is central to the character of God, therefore it is central to our being as humans.
Creativity is something for most of us that was left behind with macaroni art and hand turkeys. In many minds, creativity is waving to us in the rear-view mirror. If resourcefulness and inventiveness is so central to who we are, created in the image of a creative God, what needs to change for us to embrace our position as created creators?
Students of all ages (especially High School and Middle School) are enamored with of creativity and it should be the mission of leaders and church, to foster and support this creativity. Whether it is creating buildings and adventures with Minecraft, painting their nails, or drawing on their binders, all students are budding artists, builders, problem solvers, with forms and mediums as numerous and different as they are. The job of youth leaders is to find ways to encourage and elevate their creativity and creations. It is students living out and exploring the way they were created. The church leadership must use its creativity to encourage theirs. Allowing them to paint a mural, graphically design slides, pick worship songs, sidewalk chalk the front steps, or give them design capabilities of the youth group website not only will build a bridge between them and the congregation, but allow them to exercise their creative nature.
Find ways to foster and discover your own creativity. Whether it’s mowing your yard a different pattern every time, training horses, drawing up football plays, writing a lesson to teach students, there is a need for creativity to be a working cog in the life of a disciple. This is a central tenant in the Christian life, to live creatively. What are you doing as an expression of God’s work in your life? What are you creating? The whole and integral Christian is in part a creative life.
Take pleasure in your creativity and know that you are doing exactly what God created you to do. The fish was made to swim, the horse was made to run, and you were made to create. After you find a place, an activity, and a time to create, spend some time taking pleasure in knowing that God has made you as a creative being. To those of us concrete thinkers, taking time to enjoy our creation and our expression to God, will at first be cumbersome and tiring. Next time you problem-solve a troubled horse, build a fence, forge a shoe, take a picture, or jot down a poem, rhyme or limrick, take a moment to thank the God who gave you the power and ability to create. The goal is to use our creativity as worship to the Great Artist in Genesis 1: God.
I agree with Francis Schaffer when he concluded: “even for the great artist, the most crucial work of art is his life.” [Schaeffer 1973:33] Let us reflect his image in life and in creative expression: no matter what form it takes!
Braided rope with rosin, was wrapped around real tight
Fixing the riders wrist and hand, it was twisted up just right.
It happens all to often, as the rider was neatly tied
To the smelliest and orneriest set of steaks with hide.
The first clown there, had grabbed the bulls attention
Off’ring a better target, seemed to be his only mission.
Bullfighter Two mounted up, with just a little work
He grabbed the wrap, found the tail, and gave it one big jerk.
The young and novice rider, had terror mixed with fear
Kept his hand locked closed, the Bullfighters could see it clear.
The clown just kept on pulling, a tug of war ensued,
the rider went and panicked, the ‘fighters not amused.
The four dance partners tired, as they worked the rope again
The bull was getting angrier and high-tailed it round the pen.
The bull was chasing fighter 1 as he juked and moved aside
The bull was in his pocket, gaining with every stride.
Two men were earnin’ paychecks, their efforts maxed out full
Each was doing all he could, to separate the boy and bull.
The hang up lasted seconds, an eternity as mom’s go
When it could have been far shorter, had the rider just let go!
Fights are no fun to be in, but imagine how much it would stink to be tied to the thing that is beating the snot out of you! That is what it’s like to be hung up on a bull. I have fought bulls for the last 8 years and hang=ups have been a regular events.
This summer the worst hang-up of the summer took place in the deepest mud. It was down in Burlington, where one or the Christian Youth Rodeo Association Bullriders got bucked off away from his hand in mud deep enough to drown us all. Daniel, my bullfighting partner, was the first to grab the tail of the rope. I tried to go to the head of the bull but he had no intention of coming out of his spin. He hit Daniel in the hip knocking him away from the action a couple yards when I tried to get to the kids hand. The bulls hip came around and knocked me out of the way and Daniel went back in. This time I wasn’t gonna let the bull stay in the spin, so I grabbed both horns and pulled him to me. Here is where the mud came into play. After I grabbed both horns, I wasn’t able to move my feet and he hit me square in the ribs. When I hit the ground, my elbow popped out of place (an old injury), and I was laying directly in front of the bull about 10 yards. Just as the bull was bucking toward me, I saw a flash of lavender. Daniel had shot the gap trying to pull the bull away from me. The bull lifted his head, hitting Daniel in the butt and shooting him up in the air. I tried to crab walk out of the way when the bull ran over the top of me. His back leg hit me in the hip pads, as the bull rider, still attached to the bull, was drug right over top of me. I grabbed Jess Pope’s chaps, hoping to pull him off the bull by adding weight. We looked like two water skiers getting drug across the water because we couldn’t stand up. Daniel finally got Jess undone from the bull and we all walked away but it was an action packed 20 seconds.
This hang-up was rare in the fact that it was a true hang-up. When working most youth rodeos and camps, a true hang up doesn’t happen often. Most of the time a hang-up is really a “hang-on”. Hang-ups only happen when you come off away from your hand, letting your hand roll over, making the hand impossible to open. A “hang-on” is when someone gets bucked off and refuses (or doesn’t realize) to open his hand and let go.
Sin is one of those things that we sometimes get hung-up too. There are times when sin entangles us…when the things of this world have us wrapped up, rolled into your hand and tied in, Think of Tuff Hedeman at the NFR (pictured here). The video lasts 54 seconds of his hang up. Five bullfighters, 12 chute help, and a knife is what it took to free his hand from the rope. Paul used the word “entangle” to describe our attachment to sin. He often speaks of it binding us up and keeping us captive. There is no better word to describe a hang-up. Despite your best efforts, the snot is getting beat out of you, but you can’t get your hand out of the rope.
A “hang-on” is a different story. Sometimes our hand is in the rope and we are getting dragged around the arena on our own volition. This is especially common at youth rodeos where kids are told at all costs “don’t open your hand.” A kid starts leaning and their hips slip down on the side of the bull and they are hanging parallel to the ground. Once the foot slips over the back of the bull, they begin to be drug around the arena, feet and legs banging kicking up dust in their wake. In an instant, the rider panics and keeps their hand closed, a bullfighter chase ensues, and everyone in the arena starts yelling “open your hand!” Sometimes our sin is the same way. For all the stuff that has us trapped (hung-up) there are a ton of other things that we refuse to let out of our hands.
We get “hung-up” to lies, entangled in their burden, and we “hang-on” to unforgiveness and anger. Our hand is stuck in lust, and grasps worry with a death grip. Our sin is sometimes something we are stuck too, and sometimes something we choose to hang too. Sometimes we are hung up and Paul, possibly harkening back to Solomon’s words in Proverbs 5.22, writes “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles [euperistatos] …” Paul knew how sin takes hold, grabs on, ties us up, and imprisons us (Romans 7.14, 23; Gal. 3.22). But sometimes we “hang-on” in our sin. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, explains that: “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness [aphesis] of sins…” (Eph. 1.7) The word “forgiveness” is the same word for release. Through Christ’s sacrifice, His blood, releases us from the sin that we hang on too. When were “hanging-on”, first and foremost we must open our hand.
Whether we “hang on” or are “hung up” we are in harms way, affixed to that which brings pain and suffering. Sin is deadlier than a 1800 lbs animal. We must get separated from our sin…and the only way to do that is through the blood of Christ.
Penny, my year old blue heeler pup, makes me answer a lot of questions.
“Why do all my socks have holes in them?” – From my wife Tricia
“Is she deaf?” – from the people at the park who has seen me give the same command for the last 10 minutes (I always answer yes)
“What is she good for?” – from the cowboys who have seen her struggle to herd cows
I want to answer that question today: “what is she good for?” She isn’t into training. I have zero cowboy training so I figure the blue heeler Penny shouldn’t need much training to do cow work. As Baxter Black put it: “It’s sort of a ‘hike it to me and go out for a pass’ type of working relationship!” (Black, “Sheepmen, Border Collies and Mules”) She isn’t into work. I have been putting up fence, digging holes, and putting in posts. She has dug holes over my entire property, not one of them was where I needed it. She constantly steals my work gloves, runs off with my tools, and has started playing this annoying little game of stepping into wet concrete just to see if I will lose my temper. She’s winning!
John R. Erickson, creator of Hank the Cowdog, had this to say about dogs: “Only the Maker of galaxies would have thought to give mankind such a marvelous gift as a dog.” (Story Craft 89) So what is Penny good for? She has the ability, with one look, to make me honest with myself. This idea came to me as I spent 2 hours digging through rock to put in a post. She sat next to me the whole time with a look that communicated the complete pointlessness of my endeavor. It was at that moment that I wondered about how I spent my time. She goes with me to youth group sometimes. She hangs out with me as I prepare lessons, find games, buy snacks, go to games and cross country meets, and a ton of other job requirements. Every night I find myself looking both women in my life in the eye (Tricia and Penny) having to give an account for the day. The shorter one is harder to justify things too. She is a constant reminder that I have things to accomplish and a higher call than survival. She doesn’t know theology or kingdom work, but her look questions me constantly? Have you ever wondered how your dog would view your daily life? I know this: God is constantly asking me for my best, to focus on the eternal, and to be diligent in the things before me. God is asking every night, the same question that Penny asks, what did you do with today? I pray that I have more to say to God then I usually do to my dog.
Today I had the pleasure of being part of some great friends wedding. Daniel and Elli Unruh were married today in Paola. My favorite part of the wedding is watching the bride and groom interact during the down time. They are gonna be a great married couple. During the service they were laughing, grinning and enjoying the process. If I had one piece of advice to give during weddings, its this: Enjoy the Process! Weddings can be stressful, but it wasn’t. Weddings can be exhausting, but it wasn’t. Daniel and Elli found joy in the process of being married. Just like the found a joy in their courtship and their engagement. They have found a way to enjoy every part of their relationship (though it was stressful and hard sometimes). I have no doubt that they will enjoy their honeymoon in Hawaii and enjoy many long years together. I was blessed to be a part of it!
I was also blessed today to get to hang out with Brad and Lori McCarter, Mark and Lisa Skeens, Josh and Holly Rushing, and all the Oullette family. I was blessed to be part of it all and reminded of all the great people that God has given me through Rodeo and Ministry. It was a special day that I was blessed to be part of!
Before the open plains of the west were divided by barbed wire, cattle roamed the expanse at will. Cattle owners in those days branded their cattle with the symbol of their ranch. The brand, registered with the government, was a symbol or mark that would delineate a ranches property and ownership. Every ranch had a mark that they would burn (or freeze in the case of horses) into the hides of their property. Brands were meant to be fairly simple: the XIT brand of Texas; the “figure 4″ of the Haythorn Ranch; the “four sixes brand” or the Cervi Circle I brand because its tough to draw the Mona Lisa on the side of a bovine.
Its really not that different today, though our symbols have changed. The three stripes of Adidas on the side of your shoe, the flipped “u”s of Under Armor, the siren of Starbucks or the swoosh of Nike. We have been branded in a less painful way, but just as effective. We carry around with us symbols of what has our attention and our devotion, what/who “owns” us. In the same way that Nike wouldn’t miss an opportunity to put a swoosh on a jacket, or a rancher to put his brand on a steer, Paul reminds us to brand this life of ours!
The book of 1Timothy is a letter, written by Paul to his disciple/protégé Timothy who is in a very tough ministry at Ephesus. Timothy is a younger guy who is struggling to lead men who are older than him. Paul devotes huge sections this letter to advice on practical ministry and he makes sure to clearly explain to Timothy how to make his mark in ministry. The word for “example”, tupos, is the greek word for leaving a mark by imprinting. It conjures up images of a dye striking metal, or an engraver’s stylus impressing on silver or gold. It denotes permanency. Paul’s advice to Timothy is to leave his mark, his brand, by watching his speech, life, love, faith, and purity. (1Tim. 4.12) Elsewhere, Paul encourages Titus to make his brand on life by teaching with integrity and sound doctrine. (Titus 2.7) He lifted up the Thessalonians for the mark they made on the world in the way they accepted the Word with joy in the midst of suffering (1Thes. 1.7). Paul clearly understood his ministry as an “example” [tupos] to the world (Phil. 3.17; 2Thes. 3.9). Just as the cowboys of the Flint Hills burned their brands into the hips of longhorns, so Paul urged Timothy and Titus to sear their marks on this life.
The brands that cowboys used to delineate their property from others was enforced and upheld by the honor and integrity of those that came across the animal. There were outlaws who carried a special set of brands, known as running irons. These special “branding irons” didn’t contain a symbol, but were simple sharp pointed irons, where the tips could be heated. Cattle Rustlers (thieves) would use running irons to change the brands in order to steal cattle. They would freehand additions to brands. With the addition of a line or a hook a “D” becomes a “B”; a “3” becomes a “B”; and “I” a “T”; or a “V” a “W”. In the same way you might have changed a letter grade on a poor test to fool your parents, a rustler would change a brand. To combat this practice, should a cowboy be caught with running irons, they were hanged on the spot with no questions asked. There too is an adversary that has his own brand that he is looking to leave on his mark (Matt. 13.24-30; 37-40) on this world. In the same way that rustlers distort the brands originally left on cattle, Satan makes it his mission to distort everything he touches (Gen. 3).
If its our job to make our mark on this life (to set our brand) and Satan wants to distort the message (distort our brands), the brand must be pretty important. The saying goes “Ride for the Brand”, meaning work for the company as though it was yours. The brands that we leave on this life should reflect the One who gives us life. God has given us life through Jesus Christ, and the marks that we make, and the brand Satan is trying to distort, should ultimately point back to God. This world is full of people who are trying to make their mark on this world and leave their brand behind. But the only brand, the only mark, the only tupos, that endures forever is the marks in Jesus hand’s and the marks on his side. (John 20.25-28) That’s “a brand to ride for”, that is a tupos to leave behind. The brand is worth bearing, worth living, and worth dying for…as any good cowboy knows.