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Out Our Way: By their brand you will know them

Matthew 7:16


October 25, 2019

Out our way, you get to know what cows belong to what herd by the ear tags and brands. Back in the day, when most cattle grazed on open range branding was especially essential as cattle from a variety of ranches mixed together. Come roundup, the cattle were rounded up and separated according to their brands. The brand told you whose cattle were whose. Now, Big Mike ran his cattle on fenced land he leased, so when Charlie and I checked the herds, when riding fence and at round up, we seldom had to worry about what brand or ear tags the cattle wore, but now and then a stray got in who didn’t belong.

I recall Charlie and I riding fence one fall just before round up and ran across a lone steer wearing the wrong brand and ear tag. Somewhere along the way, the fence was down and he got in. We found the gap, pushed him back through and fixed the fence. By their brand — and ear tag — you will know them, and he clearly was not one of ours. Of course, this stray meant no harm and did no damage to the rest of the herd, even though he wasn’t part of them. But Christ warns us it is not so with human “strays” who come into the midst of His “herd” and often do great damage and harm if they are not spotted. He called them “false prophets who will come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruits you will know them.” In other words, check the brands. They may look like the rest of the “herd” but their “fruits/brands” — i.e. actions and attitudes — show they belong to a different Owner.

Some of these “strays” are deliberate in their desire to hurt or destroy the work of Christ. There have always been politicians and dictators who found the Church dangerous to their rule and sought to destroy it from within as well as without. Stalin, Hitler, Mao and others used spies to infiltrate the Church and seek its destruction. They pretended to be believers but were there to sabotage Christ’s followers by infecting them with lies, deceit, etc. Those they could not fool they turned in to the tyrants who sent them to concentration camps and gulags. Yet, in every case, in the end the Church remained and the despots did not. The spies began to become obvious as believers began to recognize the Enemy’s brand and ceased to be fooled.

Some of the “strays” are merely cons and scammers who use the Church to delude the unwary into following them instead of Christ. They gain wealth, fame and power for a time and many are deceived, but eventually they, too, are spotted because their greed, corruption and emphasis on building their own little kingdoms instead of the Lord’s are all the ear tags and brand of the Enemy. Eventually, they, too, are spotted and recognized and driven out of the Lord’s herd. 

But the most dangerous strays of all are often not so obvious — even to themselves. Often they are convinced they are doing the Lord’s work because their goals are, at least on the surface, noble. But they wear the brand of the Enemy because they have fallen for his delusion that “the end justifies the means” and that “one can do the Lord’s work using the Enemy’s methods.”

I ran into a couple of strays the other day online who claimed to be followers of Christ, but instead of love only demonstrated hate. They presented their theology and political views as the “Gospel” and attacked any who dared challenge them with insults and scathing vile accusations. This past week, I ran across two supposed Christians whose theology and political agendas I challenged. Instead of offering to debate or challenge my own views, both resorted to insults. One responded to my daring to disagree with her view by dismissing me as a moron who was too stupid to understand and embrace her political view. Then she signed off by calling me, “Tubby.” Strange, as I am rather skinny, but you get the idea. 

The other supposed Christian in the exchange opted to send me a text in which he dismissed me “as an awful representative of Jesus Christ” and someone he would “never allow to witness to him.” Well, I agree with him on both points. First, like Peter and Paul, I am aware of my failings and that I am not a very good disciple. Fortunately, Christ is more forgiving than my supposed “brother.” As for the statement that he would never allow me to witness to him, he has already made that clear by his unwillingness to discuss anything he chooses not to want to hear.    

Now, it is not their theology or politics that demonstrate what brand they bear, but their hate. That they dismiss with insults those who disagree rather than seek to debate or persuade is not the mark of love, which is Christ’s brand. As someone once noted, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear a word you say about who you claim to be.” Yup, by their fruits/brand you will know them and to which herd they belong. I hope my response, given in love, will open their eyes and help them change brands as I am still seeking to do.

And that leads to the good news. Out our way, a steer can be bought and become part of a different herd. Brands can be changed. The Boss can “buy” us from the Enemy, “wash away” the old brand and exchange it with His. I have worn the old brand, but now am a work in progress as the new brand is being applied. The brand is still faint, for as someone one else noted, “Be patient with me, Christ isn’t finished with me yet.” “By their fruits (brand) you will know them.” That can work both ways, and I want folks to know Whose herd I belong to.


Brother John Bruington


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