In 2002, I was blessed with an opportunity to participate in a black powder elk hunt on the Floyd Lee Ranch in Cibola County, New Mexico. The hunt was provided by a group of guys who decided to bless their poor pastor-friend with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The four-by-four elk rack displayed near my woodstove serves as a constant reminder of a very special experience.
The Floyd Lee is a working cattle ranch encompassing 300,000 acres. That’s 469 square miles. Sullivan County is 452 square miles. It’s hard to comprehend one ranch being that big.
Cowboys still ride fence on the Lee to inspect the integrity of its boundary. It can take up to two weeks to ride the circuit and make repairs. As they ride, the cowboys’ bunk in small buildings called line shacks. While hunting, we stayed in one of those shacks. It was small and dilapidated, and every surface was covered in a thick coating of dust – it really felt like the old west.
During supper one night, a cowboy came in off the line to get some grub, bathe, and spend the night in the shack. He looked like he had just walked out of a Louis L’Amour movie, sporting three days of whiskers and a bushy handlebar mustache. He took off his hat, duster, and leathers and joined us for supper. The conversation was a rich mix of elk hunting stories and cowboy lore.
The cowboy asked us where we were from, and I responded with a pretty broad answer, “north-central PA,” to which he responded, “Whereabouts?”. I answered, “Williamsport.”
What happened next was just plain fun. Here I am, 1,850 miles from home, eating supper in a line shack on a massive cattle ranch and talking to a genuine cowboy. Just that would make for a great story, but what he said next, in a deep and slow western drawl, really got me, “How ‘bout that? I grew up in that area in a little town called Jersey Shore.”
I estimated his age to be about 40 (this was 20 years ago), so I asked him if he remembered the name of his high school principal. “Yep. Kenny Crosser.” Then I told him I married one of Kenny’s daughters. He laughed. “Did you marry Heather or Laurel?”
As it turns out, this gristly cowhand riding the line in New Mexico graduated from Jersey Shore High School with my Heather. We all enjoyed a good laugh as we considered the chances of our crossing paths in the absolute middle of nowhere. When I got home, Heather and I looked him up in her yearbook. There he was, twenty years younger and a little less dusty.
I share my elk hunting cowboy story with you as a way of introducing the theme of my next three articles, “Hold Tight and Spur On.” I’m not a western guy by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy old episodes of Hee Haw, country music, watching crazy people ride broncos and bulls, and western movies – especially those Louis L’Amour ones.
My inspiration for this series is found in Hebrews 10:23-24, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” The Bible never mentions anything about the Apostle Paul being a cowboy, but his reference to holding on and spurring makes me wonder a bit.
Anyway, we are living in difficult and dark days. The world appears to be coming apart at the seams. The news is filled with pandemic fears, division over mask and vaccine mandates, chaos in Afghanistan, increasing racial tension, civil unrest, mounting terror threats, awful memories of 9/11, over-the-top political hostility, rumors of surging inflation, natural disasters — some say it’s worse than ever.
It is messy out there, but is the world really worse off today than it’s ever been?
No, it’s not, and I could give you plenty of examples. Our planet is deeply scared by thousands of years of pain and suffering. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. The sinful and fallen condition of the human soul provides a constant gravitational pull toward evil. Here is the simple truth: the world was a mess yesterday, it’s a mess today, and it’s going to be a mess tomorrow. Anyone who tells you anything different is selling something. Life in this world, like it or not, is a wild ride on a bucking bronc. It’s doing its best to break you.
This is why God’s Word calls on us to hold tightly, unswervingly, to hope. Hope fills us with anticipation as we look forward to something good, something better. For the believer, hope reminds us that the best is yet to come. My dear friends, in these perilous days, we need hope. Without hope, we spiral into darkness until it overwhelms us. We can’t let that happen to ourselves or each other. Paul encourages us to hold on tight because He Who promised is faithful. We’ll talk more about that next week.
Paul also tells us to spur one another on to love and good deeds. In a world as messy as ours, it should come as no surprise that we need to inspire and encourage each other toward what is lovely and good. It’s easy to sink into the muck and mire of hate, hostility, partisan politics, fearmongering, anxiety, prejudice, division, and offense. Rising above the slop requires discipline and sacrifice – and lots of spurring. We’ll talk about that in weeks two and three.
Friends, the world is tough, but we can be filled with hope as we love each other and pursue good deeds. We can make a difference. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God’s Word wouldn’t say it if it couldn’t be done. It’s high time we rise above the slop and ‘git ‘er done. Hold tight, partner, and spur on!