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Sheep, Goats, and Wolves, Part 1

“All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32) 
 
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) 
 
The Lord Jesus will one day separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep will inherit the kingdom prepared for them while the goats will go into everlasting punishment. Matthew 25:31-46 reveals that the sheep did not realize what distinguished them as sheep and that the goats did not know what distinguished them as goats.  The question we must all consider is this:  Are we a sheep or a goat?  Worse still, are we a wolf?  We cannot “try” to be one or the other.  What we are is revealed by the nature of our relationship to the Shepherd. To help us distinguish one from the other, let us consider the following comparisons:
 
  • Sheep love the shepherd, goats tolerate the shepherd, and wolves hate the shepherd.
  • Sheep are easy to shepherd, goats are difficult to shepherd, and wolves are impossible to shepherd.
  • Sheep are peacemakers, goats are agitators, and wolves are predators.
  • Sheep rest in green pastures, goats roam to greener pastures, and wolves seek higher places.
  • Sheep trust the shepherd’s menu, goats find their own menu, and wolves see sheep as the menu.
  • Sheep are timid and trusting, goats are suspicious and questioning, and wolves are deceptive and cunning.
  • Sheep love shearing time (offering), goats moan at shearing time, and wolves growl at shearing time.
  • Sheep like to give, goats like to receive, and wolves like to steal.
  • Sheep love life, goats endure life, and wolves kill life.
  • Sheep seek reconciliation, goats seek justice, and wolves seek destruction.
  • Sheep are sheared, goats are milked, and wolves are driven away.
  • Sheep want a shepherd, goats need a shepherd, and wolves refuse a shepherd.
  • Sheep enjoy the flock, goats will conform to the flock out of self-interest, and wolves will not conform.
  • Sheep follow willingly, goats follow unwillingly, and wolves will not follow.
  • Sheep look to the shepherd, goats look to the field, and wolves look for the sheep.
  • Sheep love to serve, goats refuse to serve, and wolves serve themselves.
  • Sheep use authority to serve, goats use authority to get out of work, and wolves use authority to make slaves.
  • Sheep accept authority with responsibility, goats crave authority but begrudge responsibility, and wolves demand authority but reject responsibility.
  • Sheep want accountability, goats avoid accountability, and wolves reject accountability.
  • Sheep are transparent, goats are cloudy, and wolves are dark.
  • Sheep graze, goats nibble, and wolves devour.
  • Sheep are faithful, goats are unpredictable, and wolves are deceptive, sly and sneaky.
 
Is that a "Ba-a-a-h", "But...", or "Growl" I hear?

Preach the Word!

2 Timothy 4:1–4 (NKJV) “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
 
God has made it very clear that He called me to preach His Word, not my experiences, opinions, beliefs, or clever ear-tickling messages. I admit with great sorrow that there have been instances when I softened a difficult teaching in God’s Word in order to appease others or to gain consensus. I have lived to regret this and have asked God’s forgiveness. On the other hand, I have taken many difficult stands on specific teachings in God’s Word against considerable opposition. I have discovered that people who don’t like what the Bible says on a particular issue don’t like those who hold to that position either! However, when I stand before Christ, I will be judged by whether I preached the Word of God or something else. What would you be inclined to preach if you were in that position? Therefore Paul charged Timothy to “Preach the Word!” When is it time to preach the Word? At all times—in season and out of season. What are the objectives in preaching the Word? It is to convince the doubter, to rebuke the rebel, and to exhort the believer. How is the Word to be ministered? It is to be ministered with all longsuffering and with teaching. Why is it necessary to preach the Word? Because the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but will seek out false ministers who will tell them that God wants them to have what the Bible forbids. Those who form a distaste for sound doctrine will inevitably develop an appetite for something else. If there has ever been a time for preachers to preach the Word, it is NOW. If there has ever been a time for Christians to flee out of the poisonous pastures of false ministers to graze in the green pastures of sound doctrine, it is NOW. Do I hear an Amen?  

Scripture or The Shack?

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV) "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
 
A novel called The Shack written by Willaim P. Young (Wind Blown Media, 2007) has been a New York Times best seller. Christians from everywhere are reading the book. The Shack is a Christian fiction that tries to answer the questions about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, salvation, if Jesus is the only way to heaven, the question of God and evil, and what happens after we die. Obviously the book has touched a core hunger for answers in hurting people, especially in regard to the tragic loss of a loved one--what the book calls "The Great Sadness". Not only are millions reading the book, but many Christians are insisting that others read it. A common testimonial from those who read this book say it has forever changed their view of God. I am concerned. May I remind us all that this book is classified as Christian fiction. According to Young, the book was formed around his own personal conversations with God, family, and friends (p. 258-259). Young's quest in the book seems to be aimed at dismantling the historic and the Scriptural views of God in order to reconstruct another view of God that makes sense to him and that he hopes makes sense to others. Based on the number who have read the book, he has succeeded--at least for the moment. Although this book has brought comfort to many who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one, we must not settle for an illusion of hope that the truth of Scripture alone can bring: "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4 NKJV) The concern I have with the book is that Young does not turn people to the Scriptures for hope or to Christian brothers and sisters for comfort, but encourages them to run to an isolated shack where they are introduced to subjective experiences (fictional experiences by the way) as the basis for discovering a new view of God. What makes this even more dangerous is that the characters used to communicate Young's often unorthodox ideas are God the Father who is presented as "a large beaming African-American woman", Jesus who appears to be "Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves," and the Holy Spirit, who is named Sarayu, "a small, distinct Asian woman" who together are called the Trinity. If you are a Christian who has read the book, may I challenge you to read a critical review of this book called "The Shack: Helpful or Heresy?" by a highly respected apologist (defender of the faith), Norman Geisler. I understand that questioning the legitimacy of The Shack will not be popular. I am also aware that Christians today are growing more intolerant of doctrine and those who challenge error and defend the faith. At the same time, if there has ever been a time when the church needed faithful watchmen on the walls who know the Scripture, who recognise and understand the danger of error, and who defend the Christian faith, it is now. Error is like a cancer that seeks to destroy the faith and scatter the flock. The danger of error is real and the cost for silence is too high. Before you run to The Shack for answers, take time to run to the Scriptures. 

Light and Darkness

Genesis 1:3–5 (NKJV) "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day."
 
Darkness, disorder, and emptiness existed prior to the first day of creation (Gen 1:2). Since God created the "lights in the firmament" (sun, moon, stars) on the fourth day, what kind of "light" did God create on the first day? By definition, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye (Webster's). Light makes vision possible. Vision makes discernment between light and darkness possible. The Scripture says that God is light (1 Jn 1:5) and is the Source of light (Rev 21:23). However, unless there is the vision, a person can live in darkness while being surrounded by light. Those who are spiritually blind live in spiritual darkness while being surrounded by the glory of God (Is 6:3). Those who are blind and live in darkness stumble over things hidden in the darkness (1 Jn 2:11). But when light comes, it manifests what is hidden in darkness so that there is no more cause for stumbling (1 Jn 2:10). In fact, Paul defines "light" as whatever makes "manifest", i.e. the ability to be seen: "But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light." (Eph 5:13). The apostle John declares that "he who loves his brother abides in the light" (1 Jn 2:10). Therefore, the "light" that God spoke into existence on the first day of creation is a limited revelation or "manifestation" of Himself through the beauty and order of creation (Rom 1:20). Unfortunately, sin brought blindness leading men to grope in spiritual darkness, worshiping God's creation rather than God the Creator (Rom 1:21-23). God brought more light into man's darkness by revealing Himself through the Scriptures (Ps 119:105; Pr 6:23), and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1-5). Christ offers to give the light of God to all who will hear His voice, awake from their spiritual slumber, and arise from their deadness toward God (Eph 5:14). Don't be proud and deny your blindness (Jn 9:41). Worse still, don't seek to be a blind leader of the blind! (Matt 15:14). Humble yourself like blind Bartimaeus who cried out for Jesus to give him sight. Jesus said to him, "Go your way, your faith has made you well." (Mk 10:52). Come to Jesus. He still opens blind eyes and gives people light!

A New Awakening?

 Psalm 57:8 (NKJV) "Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn."
 
This January our church cooperated in a time of prayer and fasting called "21 Days for a New Awakening." And to be honest, I have sensed new life taking place in me and in our church. Yes, I might even call it an "awakening". An awakening involves bringing to consciousness something that has been lifeless for a season. For instance, a person who is asleep may seem dead but they are not. All they need is an awakening. A tree in the dormancy of winter may look dead, but it is still very much alive. When the season changes, it experiences an awakening. A bear in its hibernation may seem to have died. However, once spring comes, it too experiences an awakening. In the same way, a Christian or a church may look "dead", but don't be too quick to judge! Many look at the condition of the church and have concluded that it has died. They say, "There is no fruit! There are no leaves! The branches are bare! Surely it is dead!" Yet God is Lord over the seasons. He is the Giver of life. When winter gives way to spring, the sap begins to rise, leaves begin to appear, and fruit begins to form. What seemed dead is very much alive. Don't mistake dormancy for death. Don't count a Christian out just because they look dead. Don't count a church out just because it seems dead. God is the Lord of the seasons. God knows how to get the sap moving again. When He does, suddenly everything is different! I don't know about you, but I sense the sap beginning to rise. Don't be surprised if the church begins to experience a season of awakening!

Don't be a flake!

I've been around and seen many fads come and go in the body of Christ. The problem is that when people are not grounded in the objective truths of the Word of God, they are blown this way and that way by every wind of doctrine and experience. A few years ago I read and saved this description of "Flake-ism" by Lora Allison. I think it is just as valid today. Let's all make a decision not to be a flake. Enjoy!
 
FLAKE-ISM:  Think of paint
1. A flake is characterized by “non-stick-to-it-iveness.”
2. A flake refuses to surrender individual recognition in order to blend into the rest of the covering as one unit.
3. In the beginning, a flake begins to detach and then air separates (“airhead”).  This separation is a vicious cycle.  Separateness often looks beguiling.
4. When finally detached a flake flits and floats blown by every slight breeze.
5. Because they are blown this way and that, a flake has no choice or control of its destination.
6. Generally a flake ends up lying in some trashy corner forgotten and useless.
7. A flake always has a better idea.
8. A flake is very opinionated.
9. A flake is immature.
10. A flake is not grounded in Truth.
11. A flake is always listening to voices, especially when they say what they want to hear.
12. Flake-ism sometimes grows out of immaturity and a lack of wisdom.
13. Flake-ism is encouraged by a lack of structure.  Proper structure encourages proper growth.  Charismatics sometimes throw out the baby with the bath water and do away with all structure.  A river without banks becomes a marsh.

The LORD is our Judge

People often struggle with offenses and injustice. When we are wronged our heart cries out for justice. Without a proper Biblical perspective, we often take justice into our own hands by speaking and doing evil against those who have hurt us. Jesus, however, taught us differently:
 
Matthew 5:43–48 (NKJV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
 
Living out what Jesus said is easier said than done. How do we keep our hearts from being filled with anger and resentment? Does God expect us to just take injustice and act like it never happened? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but what about justice and righteousness? How should we respond?
 
Jesus is our example. He was treated more unjustly than any other person in history. Listen to how Jesus responded to personal injustice committed against Him:
 
1 Peter 2:19–25 (NKJV) "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
 
Rather than act as Judge and Lawyer in His own case, He turned His case over to God. Although Jesus was condemned by a human court, He presented Himself and His case before the Supreme Court of His Father and was declared innocent through the resurrection. When we are wronged, it is our duty to seek reconciliation with our brother (Matthew 18:15-17). If attempts at reconciliation are refused or the conditions ignored, then we are still responsible to love and bless them in spite of their actions as we take our case to the Lord and His heavenly court and ask Him to judge between us and them. The Lord Jesus, who is our Advocate (Lawyer), will plead our case. As we release the case to Him we must trust that God will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). We must avoid the desire to avenge ourselves or to try to plead our case in the court of public opinion. Do we want to be approved before men or before God?
 
Romans 12:19–21 (NKJV) "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 20 Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
 
While our case is in the Lord's docket, we must keep our heart right by walking in love, doing good to those who do evil, and praying for reconciliation. If a heart change occurs, we must be willing to approach the Judge's Bench to settle out of court. By taking our case to the Lord, we let go of the judgment in our own heart. We rest in the fact that the Lord Jesus, our Advocate, will plead our case before the Father. Once judgment is made, we must pray that God will bring ultimate reconciliation through extending mercy and forgiveness to those who are found guilty and repent. In this way justice and judgment can lead to ultimate mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is made possible through the Cross of Christ.

Are you "bewitched"?

When growing up I remember watching the television show, "Bewitched" starring Elizabeth Montgomery. I didn't know much about demons and evil powers at that time and it all seemed so innocent and comical. But many watched the show being fascinated by the ability to cast a spell on someone. Those who were the object of the spell were said to be "bewitched". Those who are bewitched are victims. Unfortunately sincere and hungry believers can be bewitched into departing from the truth. Consider what Paul said in Galatians 3:1–3 (NKJV) "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" These believers had once had a very clear understanding of the message of the Cross and salvation through faith rather than by works. Now they were acting like completely different people. Paul asked if someone had cast a spell or "bewitched" them into disobeying the truth. Are you holding firm to the faith by which you were once saved and the principles you once lived by or has someone bewitched you into disobeying the truth of God's Word? If you are no longer obeying the truth that you once believed, it might be time to wake up and ask God to break the spell.

I Hope Somebody and Everybody Reads This!

I read something the other day that EVERBODY needs to read. I hope SOMEBODY reads it. It would be bad if NOBODY does. Enjoy!
 
Fred Somebody, Thomas Everybody, and Joe Nobody were neighbors, but they were not like you and me. There were odd people and most difficult to understand. The way they lived was a shame. All four belonged to the same church, but you would not have enjoyed worshiping with them. EVERYBODY went fishing on Sunday or stayed home to visit with friends. ANYBODY wanted to worship but was afraid SOMEBODY wouldn't speak to him. So guess who went to church--uh, huh--NOBODY. Really, NOBODY was the only one of the four. NOBODY did the visitation. NOBODY worked on the church building. Once they needed a Sunday School teacher. EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it, and ANYBODY thought SOMEBODY would do it. And you know who did it? That's exactly right...NOBODY! It happened that a fifth neighbor (an unbeliever) moved into the area. EVERYBODY thought SOMEBODY should try to win him for Christ. ANYBODY could have made an effort. You probably know who finally won him: NOBODY!

To Know Him, Love Him, & Worship HIm

In the beginning there was nothing--or might I say "no one"--but God. God exists in the form of the Godhead: One God in three Persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Godhead exists in complete love, unity, and oneness. So, why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did He create you and me? He did so out of a desire to reveal Himself to those who would in response choose to know Him, love Him, and worship Him. God is spirit. We cannot know Him apart from God revealing Himself to us. First God reveals Himself to us by what He has created (Romans 1:20). Creation is God's classroom of object lessons intended to reveal His existence and divine nature. God has revealed Himself to us in His Word (John 17:17). Because sin caused man to distort God's revelation of Himself in nature, God revealed Himself through His Word to address sin's distortions. God uses His Word to reveal His true nature and character. God also revealed Himself to us through His Son--the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus Christ came to reveal the existence and nature of the true God--the God of the Bible. God also reveals Himself to us through the Person of His Holy Spirit who enlightens our spiritual understanding to God's truth (1 Corinthians 2:10). God desires that we know Him. In essence, eternal life comes through knowing Him: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3 NKJV) God reveals Himself to us so that we might know Him and in knowing Him to love Him. God wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). It's true--the God of the universe wants a relationship with you and me! Think of that--God loves you and He wants you to know and love Him. God not only wants us know and love Him, but He also wants us to worship Him as the only true God and Savior. Worship is our response to what we know and love. Jesus said that the Father is seeking worshipers--true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). God is revealing Himself to you and me today. He is revealing Himself to us through creation, through His Word, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. He wants you to know Him and, in knowing Him, to love Him. In knowing and loving Him, He wants you to worship Him. Yes, God is actively seeking a relationship with you today. He is actively trying to reveal Himself to you today. Will you take time to look, read, listen, and respond? 
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