I grew up wanting to be a cowboy. The Christmas before my fourth birthday, I received a red and black Roy Rogers cowboy outfit with silver-banded Stetson, cap gun six shooter, and low-slung holster. It was perfect. Yee-ha!
My cowboy heroes galloped across the silver screen: Roy riding Trigger, gunslinger Alan Ladd, and war-hero turned movie star Audie Murphy. My imagination popped as I saved the schoolmarm from dastardly villains or shot it out with the town’s bank robbers. The simple life of the good-guy cowboy was one I could emulate. Right was right, and loyalty and honesty distinguished good from bad. The good-guy cowboys loved their mommas and always had pretty girlfriends. The cowboy life was for me.
Of course, every cowboy had his nemesis. The tough guy on the big screen was essential in every western movie, and Jack Palance was one of the greatest. His characters challenged the heroes to great acts of bravery before they rode off into the sunset.
In the 1990s, still a cowboy at heart, I watched Jack’s character Curly in the movie City Slickers shape Mitch, Billy Crystal, into a real cowboy, moving a herd from New Mexico to Colorado during his summer vacation, and finding his true self along the way. Mitch turns from New York City radio sales executive to a cowboy at heart under Curly’s guidance.
Curly is a salty holdover from the old west. His solid black attire, gruff demeanor and raspy tones cause fear and shuddering in the hearts of the weekend cowboys. But the truth he imparts changes Mitch’s life.
“Do you know what the secret of life is?” Curly asks. Curly holds up a black-gloved index finger. “This.”
“One thing,” the old cowboy says. “You stick to that...” and everything else falls into place.
“That’s great, but what’s the one thing?” Mitch asks intently.
“That’s what you gotta figure out,” he intones.
Before his Damascus Road experience, Paul’s focus was on “one thing.” A rising star, he was destined for greatness within the Jewish religious elite. But one day, on a solitary road, his life was changed when he encountered Jesus.
From a persecutor of Jesus-believers to an impassioned missionary bent on sharing the gospel with Jews and Gentiles alike, Paul boldly went wherever his imagination and feet carried him. He passionately proclaimed goodness and truth in the person of Jesus Christ, riding out front and calling others to follow the path that leads to everlasting life.
Near the end of his own life, Paul is in a dank Jerusalem prison. With little hope of leaving, he dreams of victory.
He pens, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” All else falls away.
If he leaves his chains behind, he will proclaim Jesus! And if his path leads to death, he will see his Lord face to face!
To the believer, the “one thing” is the Lordship of Christ. He calls us away from worldly paths. He outfits us for the tasks we encounter. He places us firmly on the narrow road that leads to glory. He goes before us and bids us follow. Bad guys? Undoubtedly. Trials? Oh yes. Victory in the end? Most assuredly.
And my cowboy heart rejoices.