Wolves at the Front Gate

Be very careful!
Be very careful!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” 

 Matthew  7:15, NIV

I use my channel changer and I flip through the enormous darkness that exists in the world.  Jesus clearly warns His flock of the cold, hard realities of deception and deceitfulness that we will be dealing with.  Trickery abounds and things simply are not what they seem to be.  Darkness has a brutal grasp on so many.

There should be an alertness for the inevitable. Sometimes, sheep will not really be sheep.  This is astonishing.  Our senses are not always adequate or capable to identify counterfeit Christians.  We get confused by the outside (it looks like wool to me).  But it is a lie.  The wolf has deliberately taken on the dress of the believer.  He has a real, definite sinister agenda.  (Can you say, “lamp chops“?)

Jesus alerts us to what is really taking place.  He wants us to discern.  He wants us to become adroit observers.  Every believer needs a holy skepticism of outward displays of faith.  This is not cynicism or negativity.  But it is a cautious faith– one in which we can discern the realities of a world that regularly deceives.

“The first step on the way to victory is to recognize the enemy.” 

Corrie Ten Boom

Ferocious” in verse 15 is a sobering word.  When I read it, I think of Alaska, or maybe the grasslands of the ‘Serengiti.’   A dangerous carnivore that is hidden by an outward covering.  It is a ‘predator’ word, a word that intensifies. It patiently stalks and then ambushes its victims. There is only one focus, a single purpose, and that is to destroy. It is Satan’s ‘calling card.’

wolf-sheeps-clothingFor us who are accustomed to an ideal of love and peace in our walks, we are disturbed and perhaps almost pulled off balance by this disturbing revelation of evil in our midst.  Jesus tells us that we must possess a reality of deception, for that is the real world.  He gave us plenty of warning.

“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:3, NLT

Do you know what wolves do to lambs? But yet He still sends them. That is interesting.

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Sheepy Wolves

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“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.”

Matthew 7:15, NLT

The old King James Version says, “which come to you in sheep’s clothing.”  There is something to be said about both translations.

Being aware.  Jesus commands this awareness, this discernment that our world is a dangerous place and dark things come out of it.  Deception is always working, the true believer must keep learning.  We must identify sheep, who are not really sheep after all.  They look like sheep, unless you get close.  They smell like sheep.  They appear gentle and kind.

But inside they are malignant and treacherous.  Jesus chose the word, “dangerous.”  We pretty much avoid anything dangerous. If there is a sign on the beach, and if it says “Dangerous Undertow,”  most of us will comply and our time in the water is alert and quite aware.

There are people in the world who should have that sign, as they are treacherous and deceitful.  They say many things, and there is enough there to seem authentic.  As simple believers, we feel we should trust without questions. We avert our eyes to anything unseemly or aberrant.  Isn’t this what a loving Christian is supposed to do?

Jesus never told us to be tolerant, at least not like this.  He understands that wolves will tear apart sheep, ripping them into ribbons, if given half the chance.  He commands us to exercise caution.  But already there has been way too much “sheep dismemberment” in our generation.  The flock has been chased and separated, many have already been devoured.

Jesus is encouraging us to become discerning  and aware,  and teach it to our children and friends.  We shouldn’t be paranoid, or frightened by the world that swirls around us.  And there will always be people with mixed motives and confusing thoughts.  If we are honest, we ourselves have these same things, as we are His work in process.

Exteriors are always a big question mark.  The main issue is the delicate art of observation.  The more we get to know Jesus, the more we will identify what is a lie, a trick or a deception.  The Secret Service of our country, in learning to understand counterfeiters will study at length the real currency.  It’s interesting, they don’t study the false bills, but the real ones.

Be encouraged.  He is standing right in front, making intercession for you before the Father.  The Word is ours also, and there are pastors and teachers, who are shepherding the flock.  You are targeted, but never forsaken.  Our enemy is defeated.  Do not fear, never ever fear.  We have angels in high places who are our friends.

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Do You Love Me?

 

“When they finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

   Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 

   Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 

John 21:15-16

This is a favorite passage for believers throughout the whole world.  I think the reason is that it’s a transferable concept; it is something that communicates well to a heart and life that is struggling very hard.  If you think about it everything in the story is coming to us from two places.  Either Peter’s failure, or Jesus’ grace.

Failure is a brutal teacher; but man, do you learn! Much of the teaching had already been done in Peter’s life. His denial and cowardice had already been worked out, and Peter then had to live with himself.  He was defeated and very lost before this meeting on the beach.

Jesus’ heart is to reconcile his errant disciple with Him, and with Peter himself.  Peter is stuck; in his own failure and denial, and he needs Jesus to touch him in His own impenetrable darkness.  People who have failed God will understand this.  We have been in the darkness, and only Jesus can rescue us from its empty pain.

We see what amounts to a ‘good’ interrogation.  Peter, the failure, is asked over and over by Jesus the “Question”.  “Do you love me?  This is a simple and basic inquiry.  “Do you love me?”

Peter in his pathetic state, is forced to generate a response to Jesus that destroys his own confusion and apathy.  It’s neat to see Jesus pulverizing the foundations of darkness in Peter’s life.  He does it with a skill and deftness that leaves us in awe of Jesus’ love. Peter had denied knowing the Lord three times. It is fitting that Jesus would ask His question three times as well.

For us, the questions keep coming.  We are repeatedly asked, over and over, “do you love me?”  We must process the penetration of the question.  Do you really, really love Jesus?  Is it a show? Do we really love Him, or is it just words, a misbegotten display of cultural appropriateness?

Jesus moves Peter into the light.  Never again will he live in confusion and despair.  His interview with Jesus has placed him there, into the light.  Jesus’ incredibly wise questions led Peter to the place of authenticity.  Peter, from this new place of completeness and recovery, is finally restored and healed.

But do we love Him?  Do we turn the ministry we do, whatever that might be, does it come from a place of love and confidence.  Our love for Him is the essential basis, the root foundation of all Christian activity.  It’s all about the “love”.  “Do you love me?”

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At the Core: Sophisticated Sheep

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 “Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” 

Matthew 9:35-38, the Message Bible 

Jesus, as Lord and Savior has a perspective that we don’t have.  He perceives to the very heart of people, right through and into the confusion and helplessness.  He is disturbed by what he sees, and is emotionally touched by the people who pass by him.  We are not this perceptive, unfortunately.

 Jesus responds by commanding his disciples.  “Look at them!  Pray for them!” We live in a world that is plumb full of brokenness.  No one has been allowed to go unscathed.  We all have scars, everyone of us, and prayer is how we are healed.  This dynamic needs to work in us and through us.

sheep (1)But the verdict is in, we need a Shepherd.  There is such a great harvest, that prayer is our only hope of reaching these.  Now, there is a lot of things we rather do then pray.  We can have conferences and special meetings.  We can make videos and create TV shows on the harvest.  Most of these things are good,  they’re purposeful and probably God directed. But if we choose not to pray, then we completely ‘miss the mark.’

But the real, deep-down core is the need people have is to be shepherded by their Creator and Savior.  That is the most profound need we have.  It is the basic requirement of this moment. It can not be minimized.

Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

Isa. 40:11

This is a messianic prophecy that describes the Messiah’s work.  We believe that it continues to tell of his work among those who are disoriented and who need to escape distorted views.  Only a Shepherd could fully understand the needs of his flock.  We must share in this vision, and carry this burden.

“And Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.”

– William Cowper

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The Lord Is Our Shepherd

This is what is called a “found poem,” which means that every line of the poem was found in some other writing. In this case, all of  the lines of this poem are found in the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets, the words of Jesus, and all the way through Revelation.

The lines of the poem do not appear in the order they do in the Bible, but are arranged to illustrate how Scripture maintains a consistent Biblical theme of the Lord as our Good Shepherd watching over His lost and straying sheep.

Lost sheep, may you find yourself in the arms of our Shepherd today.

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The Shepherd

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who sit enthroned
between the cherubim.

Like a hunted gazelle, like sheep
without a shepherd,
each will flee to his native land.
Save your people and bless
your inheritance; be their shepherd
and carry them forever.

He had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless,
like sheep without a shepherd.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who only take care of themselves!

Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
“I will place shepherds over them
who will tend them, and they will
no longer be afraid or terrified,
nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.

Then I will give you shepherds
after my own heart, who will lead you
with knowledge and understanding.
They will follow my laws
and be careful to keep my decrees.
And David shepherded them
with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.

For you were like sheep
going astray, but now
you have returned to the Shepherd
and Overseer of your souls.
And when the Chief Shepherd appears,
you will receive the crown of glory
that will never fade away.

For the Lamb at the center
of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs
of living water. And God
will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
So the LORD’s people will not
be like sheep without a shepherd.

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
“I have other sheep that are
not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

He will stand and shepherd
his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD
his God. And they will live securely,
for then his greatness will reach
to the ends of the earth.

“I am the good shepherd
who lays down his life for the sheep.”
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The One Percent Solution

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”

Luke 15:4-5, NLT

These things will happen from time-to-time.  Good shepherds keep a mental tally of every sheep in his flock.  The absence of just one is the cause of intense concern.  The parable rolls out and the man takes off, leaving 99% of the sheep. Now, over the years I always thought that was very foolish.  You just can’t leave your flock “in the wilderness” (the NIV says, “open country.”)

If it was me, I wouldn’t play “blackjack” with my flock like this.  I would of just cut my losses, and moved on.  It would be a misfortune for sure, but why risk more? Could it be that this shepherd is a lousy one, and unable to handle his responsibilities?  Leaving behind 99% to rescue a single sheep is honestly not really fluid thinking.

But yet it is a core thought of Jesus’: losing–searching–finding–rejoicing.  Finding this sheep (which was probably in a “tight spot.”)  The text tells us that the shepherd lifted it up, and carried on his shoulders. He does not drive the poor, weary sheep home. This is not the way the gentle Eastern shepherd does it.

He stoops down and lifts it up, and lays it on his own shoulder and carries it back.  Some others  will often use their staff, and beat the sheep out frustration. Perhaps that want to teach the wandering one a lesson.  But that didn’t happen.

 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

John 10:14-15, NLT

There is a desperate need today for insightful shepherds to work in God’s flock.  People who watch and feed and protect.  We must advance to this point–Jesus carried us, our burdens, illnesses, sins and perversity.  He picked me up, and lifted me back into the flock.  The heart of a shepherd cares for every single sheep, even one lost sheep…and maybe even especially the one lost sheep. Does the Church today reflect this parable? What do you think?

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ybic, Bryan

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Getting to Know Your “Sheepiness”

I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. 

–John 10:14

The shepherds of Israel have a custom of marking their sheep to make them distinct from each other.  Each bears a unique notch or brand that makes them distinguishable from their companions.  It is not done for aesthetics, but recognition.  Christ gives each person who follows Him a certain recognizable characteristic.  He “knows His sheep.”

He recognizes their faces.  All have a common demeanor, a family resemblance.  No matter where they go, they are marked as His follower.  The Prodigal fed the pigs from his abject poverty, yet he belonged to his Father.  Our voices also mark us, they are recognizable by those who are aware.  When we speak there is a heavenly inflection and tone.  I have a dear friend from Tennesee, and he couldn’t pretend to be from Boston.  You might say we have a believer’s accent that IDs us as His own.

Last of all, He knows us by our hearts.  Peter was one who not only betrayed his Lord, but he betrayed himself.  He was not quite Peter the Rock, but Peter the weak.  Jesus sees our hearts, the flaws and weaknesses are quite obvious to Him.  We may feel like we are damaged goods.  But His power to transform is legendary and without peer.

Jesus knows His sheep, He just does not tend the best, but seeks out the least.  All who are weak and pathetic are cared for with a tender love.  Those of us who are flawed and lame are given preferential treatment, but all are loved, all needs are met.

We have no power without Jesus as our Shepherd to lead  us.  We cannot manage on our own.  Solitary sheep are nothing more than a wooly snack for predators, or they will fall desperately seeking pasture.  I encourage each to merge with a local flock, a group of imperfect believers who are following the Shepherd of love.

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,

 3 he restores my soul.
       He guides me in paths of righteousness
       for his name’s sake.”

 Psalm 23:1-3

ybic, Bryan