Living the Christian life shares a lot with riding in the rodeo.
"If you want to know what God says, you've got to read the (Bible) yourself," cowboy evangelist Paul Luchsinger told a couple hundred College National Finals Rodeo contestants, family members, coaches and others inside the Arena at the Natrona County Fairgrounds on Sunday morning.
"You can apply that to rodeo," Luchsinger said.
"You can talk about rodeo, you can dress like a rodeo cowboy, you can look good, you can even get in the practice ring and practice all you want to," he said.
"But until you enter up and put your money down, you're never going to experience life like a rodeo cowboy," Luchsinger said.
The contestants in the Arena already have prepared mentally and physically, gotten their horses in shape, sharpened their attitudes, and done all they could for the coming week of slack and performances.
Sunday, they prepared spiritually and will have that opportunity every night outside the Events Center after the performances.
Some worshipers arrived in street clothes, others wore their work clothes of jeans, boots with spurs, and cowboy hats. A few mixed sacred and secular attire with one wearing a vest emblazoned with "Jack Daniel's," another had CNFR sponsor U.S. Smokeless Tobacco on a cap, and many showed their school colors on their jackets.
These are among the thousands of riders, coaches and families who have heard Luchsinger and his wife Susie over the years, including at the CNFR.
He's a former contestant and she's a gospel singer who refined her skills with her sister Reba McEntire.
She led the worship by singing a capella or to tracks of traditional favorites such as "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art," as well as some of her contemporary recordings.
She also interspersed the songs with some down-home humor and elicited comments from the impromptu congregation about windmills and small miracles experienced by contestants on their way to Casper.
Windmills on ranches pump water, and Jesus referred to himself as "living water," she said.
This was a no-hustle service.
Susie Luchsinger didn't hawk her albums and books on the table outside.
During the offering to defray their ministry's expenses, Paul Luchsinger told the crowd they should keep their money in their pockets if they aren't Christians, if they don't belong to a church, and if they can't give joyfully.
While they and their three children - the two boys do rodeo themselves - put on a happy face as ministers, they've known a fractured home life especially with his abusiveness, he said.
"You thought that rodeo was tough, try divorce," Paul said.
Their marriage nearly ended four years ago as he grappled with anger and bitterness, something that causes a lot of preacher's kids to quit the faith, he said.
While the husband is the head of the household, he expresses that as a servant, he said. "My wife is not my doormat; she is not my slave. … God made us the spiritual heads of the home, not spiritual headaches."
The Christian life and the rodeo life both require courage, Luchsinger said.
He encouraged the contestants to do they best they can, and risk failure. "Rodeo is going to make a fool out of you."
Susie Luchsinger also encouraged the participants.
"God appreciates your faithfulness for taking a stand," she said.
The week of hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls also will make for some tempting times, rodeo coach Sara Burks said after the service.
The CNFR attracts the best in the sport: handsome young cowboys and really, really drop-dead gorgeous cowgirls.
Burks knows where that can go.
After four years of qualifying at the CNFR as a student at the University of Nebraska, she first coached at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo., and since then has been with Southeastern Oklahoma State University, which sent four women and two men to compete in Casper, she said.
As a coach, Burks tells parents of potential team recruits that college is all about choices, she said. "Some choices they make will be bad."
But rodeo students have learned responsibility from the first day they started their sport, Burks said.
They've learned the discipline of daily feeding and caring for their horses, which a basketball by way of comparison doesn't need, she said.
Burks had that discipline, as well as a life-long church background, she said.
But in college, Burks started studying the Bible with a friend who became her husband, she said.
"You start to face things you don't have control over," she said. "Everything I have is from God and I want to (give) that back by expressing that to people."
Reporter Tom Morton can be reached at (307) 266-0592, or at Tom.Morton@casperstartribune.net.