Last week my brother called and told me Jimmy Allen had died recently.

This was a man I had really looked up to as a teenager who was just getting into horses. It really caused me to reflect on where I have been and where I am now. Also my view of God and church, then and now.

My dad died when I was 10 years old. I was drawn toward animals as long as I can remember. My mom let me get some rabbits, and soon I was raising them, and selling them. I got into chickens, but when the roosters got old enough for their full-throated crow I had to back off, because we were living in the suburbs and people frowned on being awakened at 3 a.m. (I had some real early birds).

I then asked my mom if I could have a dog. She agreed, as long as I would continue to spend time with him. I actually picked a rabbit dog – a beagle. He learned the difference between leaving my rabbits alone, and chasing wild rabbits instead.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

At age 14, I asked my mom if I could have a horse. She said, “fine,” as long as I would get a job, find a place to keep it, buy it myself, pay its board and see how I do. I found a paper route nearby paying $60 a month, and saved $150 in three months, meanwhile finding a barn two miles away that pastured horses for $20 a month.

I found an appaloosa gelding in the paper I was delivering, and bought him. I re-channeled my teenaged energies from getting into trouble to practicing with horses. I settled into a routine of taking my beagle behind my 10-speed bike to my horse after school everyday, and on weekends. I was (and basically still am) shy, but I was consistent about spending time with my animals. This particular horse died of colic six weeks after getting him.

My mom lent me $175 to buy a sorrel mare, and I was back in business. Jimmy and Betty Allen owned the business where I kept my horse, and were inspirational to a 14-year-old boy trying to find his wings. Jimmy was a 27-year-old cowboy who knew horses well, and was skilled beyond his age in many ways. I looked up to him probably more than he knew (shyness can hide a lot). Betty showed a good example of what a skilled farm woman was about – gentle enough with her kids, but tough enough to deal with all the chores, and us boarders.

She basically ran the business and put out fires while Jimmy was on the road. Jimmy had a good work ethic, and taught me many things that I attribute to him today. Everyone at the barn liked getting together and socializing before and after riding together (we later actually had barn reunions).

We didn’t talk much about God, in fact I remember thinking that most everyone there was probably hell-bound since they seemed to have no interest in God or heaven (I was not too inspired about heaven either, due to some of the boring life insurance commercials about it). I felt that the main thing was to have fun, and it seemed that religious folk were too serious to have fun. I actually felt that hell probably wasn’t going to be too bad with all the fun people who were going there. Plus it seemed like it was real easy for religious people to get kind of “uppity,” and I was more comfortable with these guys. I guess I didn’t know any religious people willing to associate with us who could show me a good example at that point.

My first serious consideration of the things of God came about three years out of college. I had started a horse rental business after hosting a Monte Foreman clinic, and then a Ray Hunt clinic (I remember picking Hunt up at the airport with his saddle in a duffle bag). I was starting to get pretty fed up with the selfishness in some of my customers when a college church group called Campus Crusade for Christ came out to ride. Their attitude was so willing to learn, and they were doing exactly what I asked, and even more (after that I started advertising for church groups to come ride).

They handed me a four spiritual laws tract, and when I read it later, it made sense to me. They were asking me if I knew Jesus, and I said I knew of him from the Catholic church, but my main objection was he lived 2,000 years ago and that was then and this is now. I said sandals, long flowing robes and donkeys have been replaced by boots, jeans and high boy four-wheel-drive Ford trucks!

A guy by the name of John Lopez cared enough to prod me to go back to church (I had stopped going because I needed to work weekends while going to college – I kind of felt I was just going through the motions anyway). I really owe gratitude to this church that John pointed me to for teaching me so much about the Bible. I soaked it up like a sponge, and found it very practical in dealing with my attitude toward my customers. The church showed me how naturally we humans start blaming others for their selfish ways, not realizing that we all are selfish but are so easily blinded by our own faults. That church was not perfect but it sure catalyzed my understanding of a very practical down-to-earth Creator who I began to truly admire and look up to, and hoped to meet when the dust of this short life settles.

I have communicated in other columns (hopefully clearly) and I will continue to do so, that I am absolutely convinced that I will go to heaven. I make this bold claim knowing that I cannot base my entrance on anything about me – my record, my heart, the right church, rituals, whatever. On my “good” days, when I think I am so spiritual and everyone else is so blind, I might think I am 99.9-percent good, and .1-percent bad. God cannot accept that any more than he can accept rat poison, which is identical to me on my best days (not any more than a creamery can accept a truckload of milk that includes a dairy farm that had a hot cow in their tank).

The biggest pity I have for us humans is closed mindedness. C.S. Lewis once said, “In order to remain a sound atheist, one must guard what they read.” I have never heard a logical rebuttal of trusting in God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, 100-percent as the only way I will spend eternity with God. It does away with all bitterness of “the heathen around us (who, or whatever it is we blame or are paranoid about).” It contains the humility, and volunteer spirit we need to grow ourselves and our stagnant economy far better than anything else available.

More than 20 years ago, I wrote to Jimmy Allen that I was disappointed in him for causing pain to the people around him, but I also told him that his work ethic far out-shined anyone else I knew (that may still be true). I also told him that his volunteer effort to help Paul (a fellow worker) and I load some semi trucks by hand with small square bales of hay in a snow storm was the picture I saw vividly (even today as I write this) of how I see my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and how he continues to put up with our spoiled, complaining, finger-pointing selfish selves.

I don’t know if Jimmy ever made a decision for Christ. I didn’t keep in touch with him because I felt we grew apart, and could not talk with each other (what a lame excuse). I know that when my life flashes before my eyes when I die, I will be kicking myself for sitting on the bench so much when I could have had the courage to lead others to Christ  more. But I know that feeling will soon be dwarfed by being in the presence of the author and finisher of our souls.

I will always remember the Jimmy Allen, who showed me how to work, and John Lopez, who showed me the value of the local church. What did I learn from them about Christ? That the true believer has a dynamite volunteer work ethic that never quits, and that God wants humility in us above all else so that we will recognize at least a part of him through everyone we meet.

The biggest test of our obedience to the master of our souls is our willingness to sharpen each other through the local church and not give up on them, as we are so quick to do. Like an unsharpened pencil, life without Jesus has no point. The most spiritual thing we can do is let each other sharpen one another in genuine humility.

Then it will be easier for us to see the greatest cowboy of them all – the one who rode an unbroke colt through the streets of Jerusalem in the midst of a bunch of yelling, screaming people throwing cloaks and branches in his path.

I can see him now saying, “saddle up your horses, we’ve got a ride to make, through the wild, colorful yonder in my amazing grace!”

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot hoof-trimming specialist from Raymondville, Mo. Email: