From the Publisher
“Dave Burchett has tactfully tackled a tricky and serious issue in contemporary church life. Using plenty of appropriate humor and examples from scripture to make his points, his message is both practical and powerful. If you care about the family of God you should read this, whether you think you need to or not.”
–John W. Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association
“There are few people I would trust to handle the sticky subject of bringing healing to church-wounded Christians, but Dave Burchett is most definitely one of them. With compassion, insight, firmness, and his own unique brand of humor, Dave pushes us past fruitless quibbling about who’s to blame into God-honoring dialogue about what’s to be done. I think I can already hear some applause from Heaven”
–Andrew McQuitty, senior pastor of Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas
“Witty and warm, pithy and profound. If you’re MIA because of church-inflicted wounds–or if you love someone who is–Bring ’Em Back Alive is for you. Dave Burchett has written a compelling reminder that, as one of Christ’s sheep you are loved, you are wanted, and you are not alone!”
–Sandra Glahn, best-selling author and instructor at Dallas Theological Seminary
“Bring ’Em Back Alive challenges the reader to get involved with those who have left the church for one reason or another. As I read the book, I found myself arguing with Dave, ‘It’s too hard. They won’t listen. I don’t have the time.’ But with solid biblical analysis, a healthy dose of edgy humor, and with genuine compassion born of his own experience, he convinced me that my excuses don’t matter. Christ’s wandering sheep need our help. Who will reach out to them if we don’t? I’m glad I read this book because I needed it. Pastor, buy two copies of this book–one for yourself and one to give away. It’s that good.”
–Dr. Ray Pritchard, author of An Anchor for the Soul and senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois
“I have heard it said that ‘the church is the only institution that shoots its wounded.’ I needed this book many times when I and my family were in the crosshairs, but there was none like it. It’s my hope that when circumstances find you as the wounded, you will not run from the church, but run to its leader, Jesus Christ. He understands what being wounded is all about. In His arms you will be brought back alive!”
–Ron DiCianni, artist and author
“Dave Burchett has provided Christians with a wise and practical challenge that will bring joy and life to the church of the twenty-first century. With downright funny metaphors and down-to-earth honesty, he gently challenges readers to become agents of God’s grace, so that all may experience His healing and wholeness.”
–Dr. Steve Moore, senior vice president of Asbury Theological Seminary
“This book is salve to wounded hearts and those with a heart for the spiritually wounded. Dave Burchett gently and compassionately provides insight and direction for the journey toward healing. His humor (he is genuinely one of the funniest people I know!) provides delightful moments of respite in the midst of a difficult subject. The body of Christ needs this book!”
–Sue Bohlin, speaker, writer, and Webservant for Probe Ministries
“In writing this book, author Dave Burchett…uses his own life experiences and clever wit to communicate the importance of restoring people of faith to fellowship.”
–John Frost, noted broadcast strategist
Read an Excerpt
Waking Up the Flock
Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator.
Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
Inscription at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Atlantic Monthly columnist Jonathan Rauch recently wrote an article declaring that America had made a major civilizational advance. What was this remarkable achievement? That Christians have become lukewarm and apathetic about faith in God. Rauch, an acknowledged atheist, calls the behavior apatheism.
In his article, Rauch explains that apatheism is “a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.” He notes that people are going to church less often, and when they do, they go more to socialize or enjoy a familiar ritual than to worship. According to Rauch, this new breed of religious person doesn’t invest much in an actual commitment to faith. The things these folks are really seeking are comfort, spiritual reassurance, and a God who doesn’t expect too much in return for their valuable time. Rauch is more than a little pleased by the trend because he believes it is better to be apathetic than to be “controlled by godly passions” for the simple reason that religion “remains the most divisive and volatile of social forces.”1 (Members of the New Testament church as described in the book of Acts would probably agree that Rauch’s last statement is true.)
While I disagree with many, if not most, of Rauch’s smug conclusions, I would have to agree that the behavior of many so-called Christians gives credence to his obviously biased and very disturbing accusations. Far too many Christians live lives of functional agnosticism. By that I mean that our daily behavior shows little or no evidence of a life-changing and empowering relationship with the God of the universe. Think about that for a moment: If we really believed that Jesus came to this planet to allow us to know God personally, shouldn’t we demonstrate a few behavioral differences when we show up to work on Monday? Yet many of us compartmentalize our faith and fail to integrate Christ into our daily activities. Classic radio comedian Fred Allen made the wry observation that “what we really need is a faith that works the other six days of the week.”
How Then Shall They Know?
One of the many ways in which I embarrass my wife is by wearing a T-shirt that says “They will know we are Christians by our T-shirts.” The shirt addresses one of my pet peeves about the church. I think we like to market Jesus more than we like to make the revolutionary decision to follow Him wherever He may lead. How I wish that all of us would lose the shirts and the jewelry and concentrate on heeding the difficult and challenging words of Christ. A real commitment to following Christ would be a far more effective marketing approach than a clever bumper sticker or T-shirt.
After writing in Bad Christians about my disdain for the superficial marketing of Jesus, I was humbled to realize my own approach was far from flawless. I was surprised by a guest-book entry on my Web site from a longtime work associate who wrote that he “had no idea” I was a Christian. He did note that I was a good guy with a reputation for graciousness and integrity. I suppose that is better than reporting I was the south end of a northbound horse, but the statement troubled me. Shouldn’t he have known without a doubt that I was a Christian?
I am going to relay an ugly truth that I trust you will keep discreetly to yourself. When I first read my colleague’s comment, my pride reared up like an angry goat. Pride spoke defiantly and loudly to me: “You are a big-time Christian author now (okay, my pride is not very realistic), and you can’t have people thinking that no one even recognizes you as a Christian.” I was tempted to go into the Web site and delete the comment so that no one would have any doubts about my faith. But I came to the conclusion that the problem did not originate with my friend; the problem was with me. I chose to leave the comment, and I considered instead what I could do to represent Christ in such a way that my love for Him would not go unnoticed. I was saddened that someone could know me for as long as my associate had and not be aware that Jesus is the center of my universe.
I don’t propose that we stand on street corners with bullhorns and sandwich boards to let the world know we believe in Jesus. Instead common sense and some very discomforting scriptures lead me to believe that a life-changing relationship with Jesus should show. For the record, may I offer the following exhibits?
If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.
Show them what you’re made of, the love I’ve been talking up in the churches. Let them see it for themselves!
(2 Corinthians 8:24)
I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other Christians.
Whatever is at the core of our hearts—whether Christ or golf or gardening—will be evident to those who spend even a modest amount of time with us. My desire is to make sure that those around me know that my faith in Christ is paramount to who I am. Achieving this goal—and avoiding Jonathan Rauch’s apatheism—has been a point of emphasis in my recent faith journey.
Sheep Who Sleep
So what was the reason for my friend’s surprise? I believe that for too many years I was a lethargic lamb. Oh sure, I was a member in good standing within the flock, but I no longer displayed the exuberance that came so naturally after I first experienced forgiveness and salvation in Jesus. How does lethargy set in? I wish I cared enough to tell you. (Rim shot, please.)
Seriously now: I would venture that none of us enters into Christianity planning to fail. We desire the forgiveness, the peace, and the love of Christ, and we want all this to be evident in our daily lives. Most of us start out with genuine excitement and real joy about our faith. Yet I have had the sad experience of observing the giddiness of new believers in Jesus and noting to myself that they will come back to earth soon. But why should they?
Why did I?
There was a time when I wanted to hold on forever to that feeling of acceptance, peace, and forgiveness. I desired to love others as Jesus loved me. What happened? Well, the remarkable relationship between sheep and shepherd will again prove instructive to our spiritual walk. To follow are nine reasons why lambs become lethargic.
1. Their Pastures Are Barren
Sheep left unsupervised will overgraze a field until it is barren. Instead of moving on, the sheep will devour the vegetation and literally destroy any chance that the field will regenerate. The shepherd knows
he must keep his flock moving to a new place, a different pasture, in order to ensure nourishment and health.
Application: Like sheep, we are creatures of habit. We tend to get into ruts that can be deadly to our spiritual growth. I must hasten to note that avoiding a rut doesn’t mean bouncing from church to church or always looking to find a more entertaining shepherd. The rut I’m talking about is that comfortable spiritual plateau on which we like to stay put. We graze at the same (or at a lower) level of knowledge and commitment. We are reluctant to participate in challenging Bible studies or accountability groups, or to give sacrificially of our time or resources. We may be unwilling to take chances or be stretched. The next thing we know, there is nothing left in the field to provide us with new spiritual nourishment. Even so, we will stubbornly continue to graze in that safe place.
Staying at one comfortable level is not possible for those who are in a dynamic relationship with God. Based on my own experience, I can confidently say we are either moving forward or falling behind in our walk with Christ. Certainly taking a step backward now and then is part of the process of maturity. But there can be no status quo in a faith-walk with Jesus: We are moving either forward or backward. The simple truth is, it’s hard to keep growing in a barren pasture.
2. They’re Drinking from Polluted Wells
Most animals will only drink polluted water out of dire, life-saving necessity. But sheep will drink anything when they’re thirsty. They will drink from parasite-infested water without reservation if they are not led to clean, safe water.
Application: We are spiritual beings, created by God to be spiritually thirsty. Our desire to quench that thirst can lead us in some amazing, misguided directions that we will discuss later. Sheep that are thirsty will become restless and, if no shepherd is watching over them, will wander off in search of water. Any water. The sheep without a shepherd will go after the most immediate source with absolutely no concern for disease or the discomfort that tomorrow might bring. Sheep want their thirst satisfied immediately, and it is the shepherd’s job to make sure the thirst is quenched safely. For various reasons, many of us in today’s churches are spiritually thirsty. Some of us suffer from poor teaching. Others never received proper discipleship in the fundamentals of the faith. Some lack knowledge about how to study God’s Word and apply that knowledge to their daily lives. Others are simply lazy or uninterested in making the required commitment. Perhaps some are engaged in a sin that is a little too appealing to give up. And some confuse the normal ups and downs of the spiritual journey with total failure and give up.
One professional athlete told me that he was unwilling to give up the women who make themselves readily available to sports stars. He knew in his heart that his behavior was wrong, but he was simply not
willing to allow Christ to illuminate that area of his life because he feared that he would have to give it up. The irony, of course, is that faith in Jesus does not take anything away from our lives without replacing it with something better. The athlete was not able to see that his thirst for intimacy was only temporarily numbed by the one-night stands. That’s why he didn’t feel right about his behavior even as he refused to give it up.
In an odd way this man’s restless search for intimacy can be considered a genuine search for intimacy with God. It was G.K. Chesterton who noted, “the man knocking on the brothel door is really searching for God.” That seems like quite a strange statement until you consider how we were created. Recent scientific research suggests that our brains are hard-wired to seek spiritual things. Some professionals believe this is some sort of evolutionary self-delusion, a need to take false comfort in an invented higher power. My take is a little different: I know that I am wired to desire a relationship with my Creator. Whether that truth is hard-wired in my brain or written across my heart doesn’t matter, but my thirst can be satisfied only by pure, Living Water.
3. They’re Restless and Unsupervised
A restless and unsupervised sheep will lead itself and others into danger. Those who raise sheep will tell you there is always that one sheep that simply will not stay put. And when it wanders, that sheep
takes others with it.
Application: Like a thirsty sheep, a bored and unfulfilled Christian who is without spiritual shepherding may wander onto paths that lead away from God. And that unfulfilled and restless lamb may convince others to follow. Shepherding is a part of God’s plan for us, and ideally it should occur within the fellowship of a flock. I came upon the following wonderful description of the need for shepherds.
Author Lena Wolter wrote, “A shepherd is needed only when there are no fences. He is someone who stays with his sheep at all costs, guiding, protecting and walking with them through the fields. He’s not just a person who raises sheep.”2 She went on to describe leaders who build fences around their flock as “mutton farmers.” Ms. Wolter theorized that some leaders build fences around their sheep so they won’t have to get their feet dirty chasing their sheep through open fields. My experience with legalistic and controlling churches certainly validates that theory. Those leaders burden the sheep by demanding that they follow every rule precisely, or else they will surely suffer because of their failing. You can build the electric fence of legalism around the flock to control it, but that shepherding approach will rarely lead to healthy sheep.
We human beings are prone to wander, just like that bored and restless lamb, whenever we try to get by on our own. Knowing that we need shepherds who do not fence us in and who are willing to get their feet dirty, Jesus ordained the church to be our shepherding structure. We shortchange our walk if we ignore or deny that fact. I acknowledge that many churches have failed in this responsibility, but that doesn’t change the truth that thousands of others are lovingly shepherding their flocks. Also, I believe that God honors the prayerful persistence of sheep who are looking for a healthy flock.
4. They Are Type A, Self-Centered Animals
Sheep are almost incapable of relaxing. They are timid and constantly fearful of predators. They are easily distressed by friction within the flock. (Does the Lord know us or what?) They get irritable and grumpy when flies and parasites bother them.
Application: In order to be temporarily happy, a lamb has to feel secure, sense no division in the flock, suffer no pests, and have a full belly. Does that sound like the First Church of Everywhere to you? Naturally, too much emphasis on personal comfort within the flock can lead to self-absorption. And it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that self-absorption is a symptom of pride. Pride takes our eyes off of Jesus, and anytime that happens, we are at risk of slipping into spiritual lethargy.
5. They Deny Their Need for Leadership
Sheep depend on the shepherd in order to thrive, but they are too dumb to know it.
Application: I don’t even have to say it, do I? Seriously, a big part of our lethargy comes from not understanding our relationship to the Good Shepherd. I will explore this truth in greater detail in chapter 6.
6. They Are Spiritually Out of Shape
Though fit sheep can sometimes be cast, fat sheep, frankly, are likely to be cast. If not for the tragic possibilities, it would be a humorous sight to see a fat little sheep upside down with its legs helplessly flailing. As I mentioned in chapter 1, the unfortunate victim will suffer circulation loss, dehydration, and possibly death if not found quickly.
Application: I suppose being fat and easily cast (turned from the faith) has been a factor throughout the ages, but it’s hard to imagine that it was ever more of an issue than in present-day America. We have become spiritually (and, yes, physically) fat, easily overturned because faith in this country is just too easy. Acknowledging Christ in America is essentially risk free. A bit of ridicule is the most that the average Christian might have to endure, and that is nothing when compared to what Christians endure in nations where violent persecution of Christianity is the norm. When you have to decide if Jesus is worth jail, abuse, or worse, you are not so likely to be fat, sassy, and easily cast. I am sensing a much-needed stirring from our lethargy over many vital cultural issues. In late 2003 the Christian community has rightly been heard on debates over partial-birth abortion and the heartbreaking fight over removing the feeding tube from incapacitated but not comatose patient Terri Schiavo. I am inspired by the Christians who “get it,” who understand that we are in a cultural spiritual battle that requires us to abandon lethargy and live for Christ.
7. They Need Time to Heal but Often Can’t Get It
When a cast or overturned sheep is found, the shepherd cannot simply flip ’em over and move on. A once-cast sheep must be handled carefully until proper circulation is restored and it can return to its former level of activity. That might explain the wonderful picture of the shepherd returning with the lost sheep on his shoulders until the frantic animal can walk on its own.
Application: Christians sometimes become lethargic because they feel they cannot be restored and/or healed from hurts, and this sends them into a spiritual depression of sorts. Christian friends are often a lot like Job’s running buddies who offered simple and quick fixes (not to mention wrong ones) instead of a compassionate ear, a loving heart, and a caring touch. When I find my friends in trouble, I am usually agreeable to flipping ’em over, but please don’t ask me to carry them on my shoulders. I have my own problems, you know, and it’s a burden to carry a wounded sheep. It’s an imposition to lovingly restore an injured lamb to the body. Nevertheless, we “friends” need to learn how to do that. More important, we need to ask God to give us the desire to do that.
8. They Isolate Themselves Unnecessarily
Sheep are made to be together. The sheepherder’s code of recommendations for the welfare of sheep advises that the sheep not be isolated from other sheep for longer than absolutely necessary.
Application: We are kidding ourselves when we think we can fully grow in Jesus as a Lone Ranger Christian. Of course if we are forced to be alone, God will meet us in that circumstance, but we are not to choose isolation as the ideal growth medium for spiritual maturity. We were created to follow the Shepherd within a flock with other Christians. At times it might seem easier just to go it alone. I have talked to many believers who feel it would be simpler to be a Christian outside of the church. In fact, some teachers are proclaiming that the church age is over. But John Wesley said, “No one can be
a Christian alone.” And I don’t believe he was talking about basic salvation; I believe he was talking about experiencing the fullness and vitality that Jesus intended us to know when we are immersed in the richness of His community. It is the system He set up and ordained. We should not choose to remove ourselves from the flock, though I understand the desire to do exactly that. Some wounded people take such a “never again” approach to love relationships or friendships. I can promise those who have that attitude that they will never be hurt. They can choose to never trust and confide in a friend, and they will have no friend to disappoint them.
A dear friend of mine (who had been wounded by a friend) wrote to me and asked if I could still trust my heart to anyone outside of immediate family. I told him that I counted only a handful of people whom I could truly trust with my heart. But having just one person who accepts me exactly as I am is a small earthly taste of God’s grace.
If you choose not to risk trusting another person, you will never experience the fullness of love and all that life has to offer. The same risk applies when you remove yourself from the flock and refuse to ever trust another Christian. Yes, being vulnerable in the church is a risk. Yes, churchgoers may fail you and will likely cause you some pain along the way. But when you find a fellowship of believers that loves and accepts you, you will take a healing dip in the pool of grace and experience a little preview of heaven.
9. They Burn Out Easily
The same sheepherder’s guidelines note that sheep must not be forced to proceed at a pace likely to cause stress or exhaustion.
Application: I think there are a couple of applications here. The first points to the danger in our tendency to burn out a new and zealous believer. It is easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and joy of new Christians and get them involved in everything. Plus, they are so willing to do anything. But mature members of the flock must realize that new believers need time to learn and grow. Most churches could benefit by prayerful and careful measures to prevent new believers from becoming involved in too much too soon. We should be mindful that any Christian is a target for overcommitment and burnout. Remind others—and yourself—to maintain a balance that allows for personal, family, and community time.
The other application is a bit more subtle. (And I am, as you have realized, Mr. Subtle.) I run into Christians who try to make others in the fellowship be just like them, a pressure that can put a lot of stress on a young believer. The goal of discipleship is not to make one believer act and think just like another. Yet some of us try to force our fellow believers to accept our personal agendas and convictions as doctrine. Allowing a young believer to take on too much, or forcing one to adopt another’s personal convictions, can lead to lethargic lambs.
How Lethargy Leads to Injury
“I guess I understand why bad Christians do bad things, but why do good Christians let them?” Now that you’ve had some time to think on that challenging question, I’m going to take a stab at an answer: Lethargic lambs are more likely than lively lambs to stand by idly while other lambs are attacked or wounded. This is in part a culturally related phenomenon. We have been conditioned not to get involved.
When your mama taught you that other people’s troubles are “none of your business,” I don’t think she meant you should be a spectator when others are maligned or attacked, especially in the church. As messy as it can be, we need to correct sheep that bite. We are responsible for defending our fellow Christians against attack. But when we are lethargic, this task of helping our brothers and sisters seems difficult and sometimes even impossible. Scripture offers clear warnings against abusing our fellow sheep. First, the words of Jesus in Matthew:
I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother “idiot!” and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell “stupid!” at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (5:22)
I am going to tell you a story about a little boy with a terrible temper. His father gave him a big bag of nails and instructed him to hammer a nail into the fence every time he lost his temper. On the first day the little boy hammered more than three dozen nails into the fence. But as the days went by, the boy began to control his temper more and more. One day the young man realized that he was no longer driving nails into the fence. When he proudly told his father, he was given the new task of pulling out one nail for every day he continued to hold his temper. Finally all of the nails were removed. Then the father took his son out to the fence. “You have done a great job, son. But look at the holes in the fence. This fence will never be like it was before. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can stick a knife in a person, and no matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the scar will stay there. A verbal wound is just as bad as a physical one.”
We don’t think about that much, do we? I know that I have sometimes inflicted wounds with words and didn’t even know it. Forgive me for my lack of awareness. As you might have already guessed, this is an ongoing battle in my corner.
Next, the apostle Paul weighs in with some typically strong admonitions:
So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you
condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to
end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending
ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. (Romans 14:10)
Is there anyone else squirming besides me? At the risk of sounding like another bad infomercial: Wait, there’s more! This time from the apostle John:
Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t
practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.
(1 John 3:10)
It is a simple test, isn’t it? Can we really claim that Jesus is changing our very hearts yet still harbor ill feelings against people in the church? As if John hadn’t made me uncomfortable enough, later in
the same chapter he writes:
If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold
shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
(1 John 3:17)
Forgive the long pause. I was taking a standing eight count and sniffing smelling salts after that last scriptural punch. I realize that some people want to get involved in everyone’s business. I am not talking about becoming people who always insert themselves where they are not welcome. I am talking about being a Christian who cares enough to be willing to, at the very least, be inconvenienced for the sake of a fellow child of God. I think that we followers of Christ have an obligation to extend ourselves to our hurting brothers and sisters in the faith with prayer and other practical support.
Elie Wiesel wrote powerfully about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Among his astute insights is this observation: “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.”3 His words rocked me back on my heels. I found myself convicted and humbled, for though I had prided myself on not hating, I had effectively done as much damage by not acting. And that is the real tragedy of apatheism and lethargy—indifference toward struggling, wounded, and abandoned lambs.
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
I have saved one more reason we often become lethargic lambs: For many of us, the behavior of our fellow flock members frustrates us to the point that we resign ourselves to simply going through the motions of worship, fellowship, and other spiritual disciplines. The acts of many who claim to be Christians are simply indefensible. Perhaps we need to consider calling these folks “people in the church” rather than “Christians.” I often hear laments from wounded lambs who ask, in effect, “How could a Christian do something like this?” It seems pretty clear that a follower of Christ who is abiding in
Him wouldn’t do something like that. (In some cases, Christians who wound are crawling through a spiritual desert of their own. They might do or say something during an arid time that they would be horrified to recall in better spiritual times. Grace and forgiveness go a long way for everyone in such instances.) In truth, “people in the church” who attempt to live in their own strength apart from Christ are apt to behave exactly like anyone outside the faith.
Jesus clearly warned that there would be many among us who, to be candid, are not really on the team. That is why I would prefer that we use “people in the church” when we describe those who wound others. I fear that those who always label their attackers as “Christians” may find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between those who are genuinely trying to follow Jesus and those who really do not
understand or even know Him.
Researcher George Barna found that over 43 percent of the adults who attend Christian church services in a typical week are not born-again Christians.4 Without throwing down a percentage, Jesus presented a parable that said pretty much the same thing:
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.
The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field?
How then does it have tares?”
And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!”
The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?”
But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
(Matthew 13:24-30, NASB)
When we Christians in our culture read this story, we might react like Noah in comedian Bill Cosby’s famous routine about Noah and God. God instructs Noah concerning the boat’s exact dimensions, saying, “The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits” (Genesis 6:15, KJV). Cosby imagines Noah’s replying, “Right. [Long pause.] What’s a cubit?”
When I read the passage about the tares, my first response was something along the lines of, “Right,” followed by a Cosby-like pause, then, “What’s a tare?” Well, dear reader, a little Internet time revealed that a tare is any of various weedy plants of the genus Vicia, especially the common vetch. (You will be tested on this material.) In Syria and Palestine where Jesus taught, the tare, known as the bearded darnel, grows plentifully. Of particular interest is how the plant develops: It bears an uncanny resemblance to wheat until the head appears on the plant. Only then is the difference easily discerned.
What an incredible word picture that story painted for people in an agrarian society. The weed appeared to be wheat—even an experienced farmer could not tell the difference—until the time came for it to produce fruit. Only then was its true nature revealed. To have attempted to weed it out sooner would have been impossible, and attempting to do so would have destroyed valuable grains. Only time would tell if the plant was the real deal or the nuisance imposter. And so to my point: Much damage to the church and to other believers is done by the “tares” that are sown in the fields of Christianity.
Do you have any guesses concerning the identity of the enemy who sows the congregational tares? If I may borrow from the Dana Carvey Church Lady character: “Could it be [echo] Satan?” How the satanic realm must rejoice when the actions of a tare cause someone to leave faith behind. Is it so hard to imagine that the spiritual battle raging around us would involve spiritual double agents in the church? That seems like a good war plan to me. The Enemy understands our nature and how to infiltrate our fellowships.
AN IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION: I am not suggesting that we set up tare-hunting committees to identify who is “in the kingdom” and who is out. And I am certainly not suggesting that any person in the church who makes a mistake or hurts someone is not a Christian. That is not for us to judge. Instead, I am suggesting that we consider the possibility that some wounds are perpetrated by non-Christians or by “believers” who are not truly walking in Christ.
We were not created to be lethargic lambs. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman said: “Human beings want to have meaning. They do not want to wake up in the morning with a gnawing realization that they are fidgeting until they die.” Each of us has a hard-wired, deep-seated yearning for intimacy with God. That is why being a lethargic lamb is so depressing. We know instinctively that much more is available to us.
So if you are tired of moping around the pasture like a lethargic lamb, decide to change. The power is available. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: an amazing biblical elixir guaranteed to lift you from lethargy and make you a lively lamb again! Seriously, you don’t have to remain a lethargic lamb, painfully shuffling through the motions of faith. The Good Shepherd has a cure for us, and it starts with His prescription for unity.
— For Reflection and Discussion —
1. Do you agree with writer Jonathan Rauch, who believes that Christians have become apathetic? Why or why not? What are some signs of apathy that we Christians should be on guard against?
2. Is it reasonable to expect that anyone who knows you should know you are a Christian? Why or why not? What can you do to make your faith known without driving people away?
3. Read the three verses on page 32. Name several practical ways in which you could “show others what you’re made of.”
4. From the list on pages 33-41, what is the number one factor that might cause you to be a lethargic lamb? What will you do to avoid this particular pitfall?
5. Read Matthew 5:22. Why do we so often fail to understand the damage caused by our careless words?
6. Review the three verses on pages 43-4. What can we do to develop a more humble and loving attitude toward one another in the church?
From the Trade Paperback edition.