"Cowboy Poker" Christians

A few years ago, I was blessed to take part in a series of lectures at the Park Hill congregation in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where my brother-in-law, Tony Ripley preaches. While visiting with him and the other preachers, I overheard him mention something called "Cowboy Poker." Not having ever heard that before, I just had to ask what it was, and he explained: It is a "game" where up to four individuals set at a card table in the middle of a rodeo arena with their hands on the table. Okay. Then, while they are all sitting down, someone releases an aggravated bull into the arena. Not okay. The basic premise of this "game" is that the last one to get up from the table wins the prize money. Definitely not okay.

I read in the local newspapers just two days later about it and the story highlighted one man who had "won" the previous week's game and took home the prize money — all of $500. Well, you might think that's a good bit of money, but did I mention that the interview took place in the local hospital, where this man was now staying, with several broken ribs and many bruises after having been "bulldozed" by that rampaging animal that had been released into the arena? His buddies all got up before he did, so he "won." Did I also mention that the "prize" money did not come close to covering his medical bills because of this "game"?

Are you like me in wondering why on earth someone with any lick of common sense would do something like that? I cannot believe someone with complete control of their mental faculties would freely choose to get into an arena, sit down at a table, and wait for someone to release 1000 pounds of raging, kicking, pawing and huffing bull into the same arena — with the purposeful intention of being the last one to move! I wouldn't do that for $5000, much less $500! No, thank you! I can remember many times spotting a bull all the way on the other side of our 115-acre pasture and picking up my pace just at the thought of him noticing I was in the same pasture!

Just as incomprehensible to me is the comparable actions of some Christians — those who have “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” — who purposefully put themselves in just as much danger spiritually through their decisions and actions. The same incomprehensible actions are followed when Christians see how close they can get to sin without actually "participating." Have you ever heard a teenager try to explain how they could go to proms or other dances, where it is known that unbecoming behavior, alcohol, and sexual pressures are ever present, while claiming, "I won't do those things," or protest, "That won't affect me"? Have you ever heard some of the many adult Christians try to explain how they could watch movies filled with violence, sexual innuendoes or even outright sexual activity, and abundant profanity, and not be affected or put their souls in danger not even the slightest bit? Sounds a lot like "cowboy poker" to me!

When the apostle Paul wrote the second letter to the Corinthian brethren, he had to address their behavior with the one who had been previously in sin but who had repented. In that instruction, he admonished them to “forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow,” and to “reaffirm your love to him.” (2 Cor. 2:7, 8) Paul indicated this was necessary, “lest Satan take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (v. 11) Paul knew and understood how the devil works, and we need to likewise be “not ignorant.”

Do we not remember the warning of the apostle Peter, who said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)? We may not have a rampaging bull in the arena of spirituality, but we do have a roaring lion! Isn't that danger enough? Would we turn down an offer to sit down in the arena with the pending release of a bull, only to walk out into the streets where the roaring lion awaits us? Friends, that is exactly what we are doing when we see how close we can get to sin while, at the same time, believing and acting as if we are not putting our souls in danger.

When it came to sin, Paul did not mince words, beat around the bush, or soft-peddle the message. When he wrote the young evangelist Timothy, he said — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22) Paul had warned him in the previous letter about the “disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” and further warned him to “flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:3-11) Paul did not say, "Hang around and see how much you can see, get close it, but don't do it." He said "Flee!"

Fellow Christians, we need to recognize and acknowledge that we cannot walk alongside sin and not get stained. Just because you are in Christ does not mean you are bulletproof. Just because your sins were once washed away in obedient submission does not mean that you cannot be touched with its ugly hand again. Yes, we have to live in this world, full of sinners as it is, but that does not mean we have to participate in their activities as we do so. We are supposed to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” (Phlp. 2:15, 16)

Our duty, as Christians, is to lead the sinners of this world out of the life of sin — not to blend in with the crowd. But when we walk like the world, talk like the world, dress like the world, and live like the world, we are going to have a really hard time convincing the world that they need to change when we look just like them. We will never convince the world of the ugliness of sin if we do not act as if it truly repulses us. We will never convince the world that we hate sin if it appears that we actually kind of like it. We will never convince the world that Jesus' death on the cross was a horrific event if they see us holding the nails in our hands.
Let's get out of the arena.

By Steven Harper, September 16, 2001

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