Sunday, December 29, 2013



Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
Grapes are not gathered from thorns nor figs from thistles, are they?So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.So then, you will know them by their fruits.Matthew 7.15-20

When I was a child we lived out in the country.  We had horses, pigs, chickens, etc.  Just before we left, a 4-H club was begun in our area, and I was lucky to be a part of it for a little while.  Each year there was a “project,” in which we each usually got an animal and then would raise this critter from infancy to maturity, then take it to the “Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival” to be judged and sold – usually for a handsome profit.  Several of my friends chose sheep for their first year project, and it was pretty great.  Sheep take a lot of work (especially grooming) but the result is great looking.  And they are safe and easy for a smaller child to handle.  Pigs may turn on you, they can bite, and are tough to handle.  Cows are big, and chickens are lame.  But sheep are soft and furry and fun.  There’s nothing scary about a lamb … it’s just completely cute.  And, if you win the top prize (as one girl in our group did), you get over $100/pound for it at auction!   

Guests at the fair love to come out and see the animals, and there’s always some people from the city with their little kids coming to see the sheep.  Once a couple of little kids were petting an especially fluffy little lamb, when all of a sudden the belly of the lamb split open, and like a scene from Alien, a horrible monstrous, hungry wolf emerged from within the lamb and ripped the child to pieces!  It was a bloody, awful mess; and a horrible day for the traumatized parents of those children. 

No one saw it coming, but they should have.  If they knew about sheep like we did, they’d have seen that this wasn't a lamb at all, but it was a wolf the whole time.  He was wearing a disguise, and he knew the best way to catch a child was to look harmless - so he chose a lamb costume. 

Jesus’ lesson is simple.  It’s as simple as a warning sign. 

Watch out! 
Be on the alert! 
Danger, danger, DANGER!!! 
And then … Jesus explained that what they were watching out for: treachery. 

Jesus was cautioning his followers to watch out for hidden danger.  Emphasize each of those words to get the whole picture: it’s very dangerous – it doesn't look dangerous, and therefore you’d better be on guard … you’d better watch out! 

Q:  What would be worse than a wolf ripping apart a child at the AV Fair? 
A:   A person who looks like a fine Christian who then kills people spiritually 

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  - Jesus (from Matthew 10:28)
One who is very cleverly disguised as the man who seems nice, or the woman who is the kind church-lady.  Think of the sweetest image of a Christian person you can conjure – then imagine he or she is really a wolf in disguise and you didn't see it coming.  And in fact, this wolf may even not be aware himself of the fact that he is a wolf! 

Rest assured: These violent killers are not Muslims.  They are not terrorists, nor communists nor convicted murderous rapists.  These wolves go to church – your church – every Sunday.  That’s their “sheep costume.”  If they were scary, Jesus wouldn't need to warn us or tell us that these satanic angels are disguised as sheep.  We are all automatically afraid of a wolf that looks like a wolf.  It’s the one in the lamb-suit that will get you and those you care about. It may be your preacher, your friend, or your family member. 

Remember that Jesus was talking to his disciples, a set of Jews among a larger community of God’s chosen people, and he was warning them to watch out for those they had been trusting.  It was, after all, the leadership of the religious folks who would later murder their own savior!  Less than a week after hundreds of thousands of people were shouting Hosanna and praising him and welcoming him into God’s holy city … they would ask the Romans to execute him. 

Now that you know there is someone in your life who is dangerous to you and those you care about, the question is … what do we do, now?  Many Christians become paranoid and see danger everywhere.  Everything that doesn’t conform to their belief system becomes an object of concern, maybe fear, often hatred, and at the very least earns the label: “slippery slope.” 

This is not what Jesus said to do! 

False Positives

Jesus’ command was simple: watch out, be careful.  And then he told us the “trick” to recognizing the fake sheep: it’s by their “fruit.”  This is different than most Christians today.  Most who consider themselves to be Christian have one of three tests:
  • doctrine
  • goodness 
  • power

I’m guilty of the first of these: I habitually test doctrine.  I was raised to test everything against the bible.  If you teach something that’s not 100% compatible with the bible, then I’m likely to ignore you.  I’m trying to change, but it’s very hard, because it’s become a habit after decades of being trained to watch out for any mistake in what you say, teach, or believe.  I’m wrong to be this way, it’s not helpful, and I’m working to change.  If you are like me, then you also need to repent (change).  Not only are we judgmental, and correcting those who we should not … but we also completely miss the real danger!  We are exposed! 

Remember what Jesus is teaching us here: wolves are disguised.  Surely they are smart enough to cover themselves in the blanket of what we believe is the truth!  After all, Satan didn't really lie (technically) to Eve when he told her the fruit of the tree would give her wisdom (Genesis 3.5).  He didn't lie to Jesus when he tempted our Lord with scripture (Matthew 4.6).  Even the dark lord knows how to look like a ‘good’ bible believer.  Rest assured Satan is in the “right” church this morning. 

Others trust their scale of goodness or morality.  If you’re nice, kind, forgiving, sympathetic and sweet, then people will call you a great Christian and think how good you are.  To those people, the devil’s “sheep costume” is a smile and a hug – a costume of kindness.  His costume looks humble and sweet.  He looks like a nun – like Mother Theresa, or a kindly old priest or elder or preacher.  He is a “prayer warrior,” she’s active with the children’s programs at church, and a kindly person in the church choir.  She sure does look like a lamb!  Nice costume. 

Still others trust in what they imagine is the “Spirit.”  They think signs and miracles and wonders are the true indicators of Christianity.  They are also wrong, and like these other two categories above, they are not only following someone who isn’t true, but they are also exposing themselves to the soul-shredding fangs of Satan himself.  Despite the fact that the scriptures are full of false prophets who do miracles and claim to be from/of God … many still become prey for the wolf in this costume. 

Satan’s “Tell”

Poker players use the term: “tell;” it’s an indicator that the person may be bluffing – pretending to have a better hand than they do.  Maybe someone bites her fingernails or another one flicks his hair or takes a drink or whatever.  Fake sheep also have a tell, and it’s not their doctrine or their kindness or their ability to do miracles or speak in tongues.  Jesus taught us that their tell is “fruit.” 

Fruit is offspring.  A wolf can dress himself up to look precisely like a lamb.  He can make the same sounds as sheep and he can smile and be kind, soft and fuzzy like a lamb.  He can quote the bible better than you.  But what a wolf cannot do – ever – is make baby sheep.  The only one able to parent a sheep is another sheep.  As Jesus said, “a bad tree CANNOT produce good fruit.” 

That’s it.  It’s not complicated.  Look for people who love the lost and give themselves to rescuing them from evil. 

These aren't people who are after “church growth,” where growth has to do with how big their church is.  These aren't people who are focused on nice music, or kind deeds or correct doctrine.  These are not people who seem to be in love with everyone all the time, nor is it the guy who is a doctrinally-correct jerk. 

You will NEVER get a delicious strawberry from a rose bush, beautiful as a rose may be.  There are lots of pretty gardens in the world, but God’s business is farming – it’s about producing fruits and vegetables.  There are many amazing aquariums with colorful fish, but God’s business is catching fish – not admiring their beauty. 

Jesus offers to make us “fishers of men” and people who will do whatever it takes to “save the more,” as Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 9.19-27). 

It’s the guy who hurts when he sees a friend being suckered into a fake world that looks like a sheep pen, but is really a wolves’ den.  It’s the woman who is kind – not because she wants people to see her as kind, but as a way to show people what Jesus looks like - because she wants people to see her good works and glorify God! (Matthew 5.16) It’s the person who wants (more than anything else in the world) to save souls, and whose life and work and rest and friends and everything else is merely a means to achieve that end. 

Jesus’ best friend (John) wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. …. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him.He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God - to those who believe in His name, who were born … of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (Excerpts from  John 1)

This time of year people follow those who speak of Jesus’ birth.  These are like those John wrote about when he wrote the darkness did not comprehend,” and “the world did not know himand his own did not receive him.”  But true disciples of Jesus receive him,” and are given the right to become God’s children by believing and being born again

We who are children by his grace realize that Jesus’ birth wasn’t the miracle – rather it was his incarnation!  It was because he was with God in heaven, left, and became one of us … just to save us!  This is why we rush to tell the good news – that people can be free of their empty, meaningless lives, and live to serve.  We can be better than “nice,” and we can be wiser than those who are “right,” and we can produce miracles that are far greater than some phony blathering in “tongues.”  We can bear fruit – we can make baby sheep – and when we do, we will be just like Jesus, who came into this world for one reason: to make baby sheep! 

Even blind squirrels find nuts, and broken clocks are right twice a day.  Everyone is right sometimes, everyone is nice sometimes, and everyone can do amazing things sometimes … but only a true follower of Jesus can make more followers of Jesus.  And only a true follower of Jesus knows that making baby sheep is the only permanently valuable thing a human being can do in this world.  Everything else is temporary.  Only a saved soul is eternal!

So … will you take caution?  I hope so.  I fear for you, and pray for you. 

I don’t fear that you will sin – you will.  And God’s grace will save you by the blood of the Lamb. 
I don’t fear that you’ll be hurt, or lonely or hungry or have bad days – you will. 

But - I am terrified that you will take the wide path that leads to destruction, because you followed a wolf dressed like a lamb.  Right now, friends of mine are getting dressed-up to go to “church” filled with these vicious animals … and my friends don’t see it.  They think they’re doing the right thing, and they’re walking right into the trap. 

Despite this warning, millions of Christians will go to “church” today.  They’ll see that grandma has an unusually big nose and teeth … and crawl into her bed, anyway.  

May God grant us the wisdom and grace to keep ourselves from such a thing - and maybe rescue a few others. 

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” 
(Excerpts from Acts 20:28-35)

These men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, (like unreasoning animals) by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch … prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own desires; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage
(Excerpts from Jude 10-16)

Beware of the dogs,
beware of the evil workers,
beware of the false circumcision;
…for …  
WE are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
…for many walk … (I now tell you even weeping) are actually enemies of the cross of Christ!  Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and whose glory is their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
BUT OUR citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Therefore, my beloved brothers … my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 

(Excerpts from Philippians 3:2-4:1) 

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