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Out Our Way: Check the Brand - Acts 11:1-18

 

Last updated 5/21/2021 at 9:32am

Out our way, Charlie and I checked Big Mike's herd on a regular basis - and sometimes we got a surprise. Mike ran mostly red Angus, and one day we spotted a black Angus in the herd. Now what was she doing there? We rode up and checked her ear tags and brand, and, indeed, she was not from Mike's herd. There was a break in the fence and she had gotten out of her pasture into ours. So we pushed her out and repaired the fence.

But another time, Charlie and I rode up the Tiger Ridge area and ran across three Charolais. Now they definitely were not Angus, neither red nor black, so what were they doing here? Well, checking the ear tags and the brands, though clearly not Angus, they were indeed part of Big Mike's herd. Yup, Mike had decided to include some Charolais into his herd. They didn't look the same as the rest of the cattle, but they definitely belonged.

Now, in the beginning of the Christian faith, the Church was 100 percent Jewish. Jesus was a Jew as were His disciples, and He taught from the Jewish scriptures. The Jewish prophets had written of His coming and He was the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. Yet He was more than that. For the Good News of Christ - i.e. "The Gospel" - was never meant to be given to the Jews alone. Christ did not come only for Israel, but for the whole world. But that was a concept the Jewish disciples had some trouble dealing with. For them, the world was divided between Jew and pagan ... Jew and Gentile. God was the God of the Jews. Could He also be the God of the world?  

In the Book of Acts, Peter was shown a vision and made to understand that God had indeed called Gentiles as well as Jews into His Kingdom. The Holy Spirit - like the ear tags and brands on cattle - identified God's people, regardless of their breed - race or nationality. Just as those Charolais were part of Mike's herd despite not being red Angus, their tags and brands identified them. And so at the next round up, and numerous other roundups down the years, Mike's herd continued to be a mix of many different breeds of cattle. Red, black, brown, white, tan, and a lot of mixed breeds. Many different types of cattle, but all bearing the same color ear tag and brand. Great individual variety, but all part of the same herd.

Now, most of us have some sense of "brand loyalty" when it comes to the church - we may be Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, Non-denominational, etc. etc. - but check the ear tag and the brand. "By their fruits you will know them" [Matthew 7: 15 - 20]. Run us together and you will see a great variety of believers, each with their own unique approach to the faith. Yet underlying these differences you will see the same "brand" ... the love of God and neighbor above all else. 

You will also see phony prophets and "money changers in the Temple" - folks who use religion as a tool for their own benefit, whose god is their belly and whose gospel is personal power. They may attract thousands of the gullible with their "cheap grace" and "pay to pray" theology that enables them to build huge cathedrals to their own glory - but check the brand. It is not the Kingdom of God whom they serve but power, wealth and above all self. Though they mingle and claim to be of God's herd, their brand and ear tags of self-centeredness, corruption and greed clearly show they are imposters. They are not part of God's herd. 

I have pushed white Charolais along with Angus up on the Tiger Ridge because I checked the brands - different breed of cow, but part of the same herd. And I have cut out Angus who, though on the surface appearing to be like the others, actually had a different ear tag and brand and did not belong. And God knows His own, for He did the branding and tagging. Even in a herd of identical Angus, by their brand He can tell "the sheep from the goats." [Matthew 25: 31- 46]

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Brother John

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The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]

 
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