FAITH Season 4, Episode 2 "How To Be a Straight Shooter" audio podcast by award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Recorded at Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center, for CCI, Christian Camping International Conference, 2-26-1996. Sponsored by BlyBooks.com Legacy Series.
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HOW TO BE A STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Recorded at Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center
for CCI Christian Camping International Conference
February 26, 1996
Right now, I want to talk about something that’s always on my heart, the idea of being a straight shooter.
“Father, we do enjoy being together with our friends. We enjoy the sound of their laughter. We enjoy the encouragement we give in song, in testimony. We pray now encouragement from Your Word and through these thoughts. For I ask that in Jesus Name, Amen.”
My '73 Winchester
As I start talking about being a straight shooter, I brought a visual aid. One of the things that hangs up in my office and that I actually take it down and use it once in a while. This happens to be a ’73 (1873) Winchester. This particular Winchester was sent out from the factory in March 1881, according to factory records. It’s a .44/.40 caliber gun.
I like this ’73. I write a lot of western novels and I like the ‘73 repeating Winchester rifle. It was kind of the rifle that tamed the West. And I like the caliber .44/.40 because it’s the same caliber they used in their Colts. In fact, you could use the same bullet in your revolver and your rifle. And when I’m writing about a western hero, it makes sense to me that he has the same bullet for either gun.
In the midst of that big fight you have to have in a western novel, you don’t want a guy hunting for which bullet goes where. So, since my heroes carry ’73 Winchesters, I bought this one a few years ago and I take it out and fire it because I want to know what it feels like. I want to know what an 8 ½ pound rifle with a 24-inch barrel feels like. And I want to know how much smoke comes out the end when you fire it so I can write an accurate account.
Winchester Peep Sights & Windage Bars
This particular rifle was sold for $25 in 1881. It cost a little more now. I have a particular feature on this rifle. It’s an upper tang peep sight that’s on the back. It did not come like this ordinarily. You have to special order it and it costs $10 extra. This sight has some special features on it—a vertical adjustment to raise the sight up and down; and a special eye cup that can be interchanged according to the amount of sunlight. It also has a windage bar to adjust back and forth.
This sight is good up to 900 yards. Now, the power of this bullet isn’t good up to 900 yards, but the sight is. If you mounted the sight on a .50 caliber Sharps, you could probably get 900 yards. The particular bullet in this rifle, a .44 caliber with .40 grains of powder. This repeating rifle was center fire and very successful for Winchester. Really, the gun that came West from 1873 on, both the rifle and the carbine.
But I want to use it to talk about straight shooting, an illustration of the straight shooting you and I should have in our own lives. I think we can find in this rifle and sight five things to remember about what it is to be a straight shooter. I want to apply them to you and I personally, and to a straight shooting staff, and also to straight shooting campground and conference centers.
Here's the first thing to learn from an upper tang peep sight. If you want to be a straight shooter . . .
1.) Aim at something.
You need a target. That’s obvious if you go out hunting. If you went out hunting 100 years ago with a wonderful Winchester repeating rifle, if you were to hit anything, you had to aim at something.
I said that seemed obvious, but it’s not so much with your life and mine as Christians. What are you aiming at? What’s the target of your life? If you don’t know, you can just stumble from one catastrophe to another.
From one calendar year to another, I know that in my life in writing books and as a pastor, and I’m sure for any of you, too, you can just get into a routine. You always do certain things at certain times. But you’re not going to hit anything if you don’t aim at anything.
This is especially important when you lead a staff in a ministry or conference center. This is what helps to guide me: Ephesians 4:3, “becoming mature in attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” I’m aiming to be more and more like Christ. I can set my life up close to His and see if I’m getting any closer or not. That’s my target and I can tell if I’m further away than last year or not.
2.) Minimize the distractions.
The little round things called eye pieces are put on the sight to eliminate the distractions. You see only the game. Everything else disappears. And if the sun’s real bright, you put in a smaller hole. If there’s lots of dust, you use a larger piece. The purpose is to eliminate distractions.
If you and I want to be straight shooters in our personal lives and with our staff and as leaders, we must eliminate the distractions, those things that draw us off the target. One of the problems to do this happens when we don’t have a target. Until we know that, we won’t know the things that might draw us away.
Sin, of course, is a big distraction from reaching a target.
Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The writer is telling us two different kinds of things distract us. First, the sin that entangles us and needs to be set aside. When we refuse to deal with the sin in our lives, we’re not going to be able to shoot straight.
But also, there’s other kinds of things that easily distract us. They might not be sinful, but they keep us from reaching the goal. The clearer our goal, the more easily we can understand what those distractions might be.
For instance, at any conference, lots of new ideas can be offered and talked about but some you don’t need. The clearer you have in mind your goal, you’ll know the distractions. I’m constantly being bombarded by literature and people telling me as a writer how I need a new computer program. You know how it is, every other year Microsoft makes a billion dollars by selling something new. And I can’t write without it, they tell me. But the amount of time it takes me to learn a new program is a distraction. I don’t need that because I’m focused. I know what I need to do. Maybe the same thing’s true in your ministry or conference center. Minimize the distractions.
3.) To be straight shooters, adjust the windage bar.
We call that the horizontal sights. It has to be moved back and forth according to the resistance factor to reaching the goal.
Somebody asked, how long did it take us to drive here from Winchester, Idaho? It took around eight hours. But we had given ourselves about nine hours because we wanted to anticipate what kind of resistance we might have getting here. For instance, it was 12 degrees and snowing hard when we left home. And we didn’t know what kind of weather to expect all the way to Portland. It was snowing until the last six miles, then sunny all the rest of the way. But we didn’t know that when we left home.
Sometimes unexpected things will come along and try to throw us off track. That’s the way it is in this world.
Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Straight shooters understand that in this world you’re going to have trouble and you’ve got to make allowance for that. If you’re going to hit your target, you’re going to go through tough times and you’ll have to make allowances for those troubles. Targets are missed when resistance isn’t figured in.
Goal setting often happens at retreats, in leadership planning times. It’s also a prayerful ac with lots of sharing and dreaming big dreams. Then, you go out to accomplish that goal in a real world of spiritual and physical trouble, such as unexpected things like floods.
To be straight shooters, we must adjust those horizontal sights, that windage bar, for the resistance we might find.
4.) Also, adjust the sight elevator or the vertical.
When you mess around with the little screw on top of the upper tang on the peep sight you can raise the entire unit. Of course, the more you raise the unit up, the more you raise up the end of that barrel, the more you can shoot a longer distance.
We as individuals and leaders must also adjust horizontally in our relationship with the Lord. We need to aim higher and higher. Maybe our targets are too low. Maybe we need a higher standard.
Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
As I mentioned earlier, one of the goals I aim for is to be like Jesus. Many would say, “That’s a pretty high goal to aim at.” And a lot of folks who know me well would say, “Hey, Bly, you have a long way to go.” Which is true. But Jesus said, “Be perfect. Aim high.” We don’t get a big, fat, easy target. Takes a good shot to get there.
5.) If you want to hit anything, you’ve got to pull the trigger.
A lot of people are great at planning, have great ideas, but you never get anything done unless you pull the trigger and do something.
James 1:23, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Do something. Pull the trigger. That’s how you hit a target.
Being a straight shooter is a goal in my life. I don’t know all the things my boys are going to say about me when I’m gone. Our oldest Russell is 32. Our second Michael is 29. And our youngest is 16. And someday those boys are going to be the oldest in the Bly clan and I’ll be gone and I’m not sure all they’re going to say. But I’m hoping they’ll say, “Dad was a straight shooter. He did what he preached.”
Now, there are three important things to remember about straight shooters. This goes for individuals, for staff members, or a whole conference of leaders.
First, all the straight shooters are dead. You do not earn the title straight shooter until you’re gone from this earth. You can be striving to be a straight shooter but you haven’t made it until you cross over into glory.
You might have been a straight shooter for thirty years. That’s wonderful! But you’re not through. You’ve got to go out to the end. Your staff has to keep it up. Your camp of conference center might have a glorious history of ministry and spiritual power from your particular place. You’ve been straight shooters for decades. But you don’t earn the title until you’ve carried it out to the end. You have to keep pushing.
Second, you’ll only know how straight you shoot when you’re being shot at.
There’s a great scene in John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist. He plays an aged gunfighter at the turn of the last century who is dying of cancer. And a young man, Ronnie Howard, who plays Lauren Bacall’s son, is fascinated by this legendary gunman, J. B. Books.
So, Ron Howard is walking along with John Wayne and he tries to learn all the clues it takes to be a gunman. So, John Wayne says he’ll take him out to learn to shoot. So, they go out behind the boarding house in Carson City, Nevada, and they’re aiming at an aspen tree. John Wayne takes out the .44/.45 or whatever he’s shooting, aims at the tree and fires away five shots. Of course, he’s only got five bullets in a six-shot chamber so to keep the gun resting on an empty chamber. And those five shots are clustered pretty good from about thirty feet away.
So, Ronnie Howard gets up to show how good he can shoot. He takes his revolver and points at the tree and fires five shots and they’re clustered almost as good. He’s feeling pretty good. “Hey, I almost had them clustered as good as you,” he boasts. John Wayne looks at him and says, “Kid, it don’t count unless they’re shooting back at ya. You don’t know how good a shot you are until the bullets are flying your way.”
You and I don’t know how straight our shooting is until times of testing. There’s an old western saying, “Just ‘cause a man hasn’t had a chance to steal don’t mean he’s honest.” And just because we’ve never been tested doesn’t mean we’re straight shooters. It’s what we do under fire, what we do when the pressure’s on, what we do during stressed times; the very times you and I use for excuses not to be straight shooters.
“I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I’ve been really tired and haven’t felt well. Everything seems to be falling apart around me. That’s why I reacted the way I did.” However, that’s your opportunity to show you’re a straight shooter.
Third, you and I can start to be straight shooters from where we are right now.
I love that because we don’t have to go back and ger everything right in our lives. We can just start being a straight shooter.
You might be right in the middle of that straight and narrow path that you’ve been on for decades. And that’s great. You can continue that path. Or you might have wandered off that path some place. You might be way out in left field in your own personal life. It doesn’t matter where you are.
You can start being a straight shooter from right where you are. And I think the Lord needs some more straight shooters. Especially straight shooting dads and moms and families and churches and conference centers. Amen & Amen.
“Father, I do rejoice knowing that your Holy Spirit is here and through the power of your Spirit you can apply these words to our hearts just the way you want them applied. It’s a glorious thing because there are about 300 of us here and we’re in different places. We have different needs. We have different things to confess to you even now. We have different ones of these points to be working on more than the others. And you have that ability to just apply this word right where we need it.
And, Father, I’m thinking there may be some here that maybe aren’t sure what they’re aiming at for their own personal life. I know what it’s like to walk with You and I know we get real busy in ministry things and we sort of forget what we’re aiming at personally. It used to be clear but now it’s getting fuzzy.
Lord, if there are some here that feel that way may they find a time to get it back in focus what it is you want them to be. What’s the target? May they see that target well. Enlighten us all to the choices and activities that lead us to Your goals. Lead us through distractions and resistance that threaten to blow us off course and to wisdom in the adjustments as we take aim for high biblical standards.
Father, even when we can articulate what we’re all about, our aims and goals, some of us never achieve anything because we’re not doing anything but talk a good game. Instead, we want to be doers of Your Word and Your will. Maybe that’s the commitment we need to make. We’ve come together with our own reasons and agendas to accomplish. Show us Your agenda and what You want to accomplish. We’ll rejoice when we see that happen. Giving you praise as we move forward, we pray in Jesus Name, Amen.”