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Sheep In The Wilderness

There are a staggering number of Jesus lovers who are disenfranchised from church life. This is not a theory but rather a fact. You likely know a few yourself. While their stories are all unique they do have this one thing in common: They all feel equally lost! Most have been discarded as “X Sheep”. Some have been unceremoniously labeled, “Never Was Sheep”. And here’s my own personal favorite: “They Left Jesus Sheep”. Regardless of how cutting these labels are, they do make us feel better, and after all, isn’t that the point in creating them. We can’t, in our wildest imaginations, possibly believe that the condemning tone that accompanies these descriptives would cause anyone to consider a return to what they had left! In fact they merely fortify their reason for leaving! But in our heart of hearts we all know that is not their purpose of crafting.

The labels are for our benefit not theirs! Lost sheep make us feel insecure. Labels serve as our antidote. They conveniently “excuse” us. The dictionary’s meaning of excuse: “To overlook”! Sub-consciously we need to call them something derogatory or we may have to call ourselves something derogatory and in the human psyche that is never the “first choice”.

As a prime example: Back in the days of the Vietnam War, and after it was obvious the U.S. and their allies had lost, the returnees from the battle field were ignored and shamefully distained. They were seen as a disgrace to American Pride and an unwanted symbol of defeat. As if they themselves were personally responsible for the result, they ended up being the ones who wore the brunt of the blame. During that dark season in history I was spending an extensive amount of time touring in a band throughout the States. I met their broken bodies and twisted minds.

I saw first-hand young men, some still teenagers, with missing limbs in wheelchairs suffering severely the emotional fall-out of being put into a war, with little if any experience to prepare them for what they would encounter in the jungles of Vietnam. Lambs led to a slaughter with no one wanting to take the “after the fact” responsibility, so they did and still do! Even to this day, say the word “Vietnam” in a room and that room will grow strangely silent!

As much as it’s totally unimaginable, try imagining for a moment: One day you are sitting with your friends at home sipping on a Coke and mere days later you are standing, petrified out of your mind, in a sweltering hot jungle with a gun in your hands killing people including woman and children, before they kill you. But that rather stark and truthful reality didn’t seem to prick the American conscience who continued to treat these people as symbols of disgrace.

Perhaps too graphic a comparison but I do find it troubling and frankly sad how quickly we the church, like to bury our wounded with shovels full of accusatory, conveniently inflicted for our benefit, dirt.

As “Pilate” washed his hands of the blood of Christ, could it equally be our desire to absolve ourselves of any and all accountability in regards to “the lost”. Let’s face it, they can be, much like those returning soldiers, an embarrassment. “Attack mode” seems to be our preferred, reputation protecting, approach when it comes to these disgracefully considered “Wayward Black Sheep” of the faith. I think I just created a forth category! Keep reading: An interesting “fifth” to come.

As is so often the case in broken relationships, the tragedy of the “break” is soon displaced by the need to “establish fault”. The common phrase used for such behavior is “The Blame Game”. It accomplishes nothing but mega egos do get to feel somewhat momentarily better I suppose.

In scripture Jesus clearly describes himself as the “Good Shepherd” who goes after the missing one, not as the Shepherd who sits with the ninety-nine, denouncing and disassociating with the one. Could it be that Jesus is protecting His massive investment in the one. Could it equally be, those who cast dispersions, have no such investment therefore choose to protect themselves?

“The Missing Sheep” is personally a subject of extreme closeness to my heart having been one for a very long time. “Missing Sheep”, is the “fifth” descriptive that I find is much more accurate than the others for this reason. To suggest I was lost as a sheep, is to suggest that my Shepherd didn’t know where I was, which He did. That He knew, regardless of how I felt, means I couldn’t have been lost. If you lose your wallet but I know where it is, is it truly lost? You get my point.

So where was I? In the wilderness. And who was I? A sheep. Did I still have a Shepherd? Yes. Did I know it? Absolutely not nor was encouraged to think so. But He knew, and that was and is, the only reason I am where I am today! In our book title I used the word “LOST” as it is the common term, in regard to our subject matter.

I consider the word inaccurately interpreted by all concerned when describing the true spiritual condition of these wilderness wanderers. “Lost” is a sheep who feels hopelessly abandoned by its Shepherd. “Missing” is a sheep hoping to be found by its Shepherd. It’s more than semantics and reflects the heart of most “Wilderness Sheep”. The vast majority are in the wilderness for a very legitimate reason and their Shepherd isn’t it! Thus, “disenfranchised Jesus lovers” is a very legitimate term that most of the “flock” refuse to consider as a possibility. It’s just too messy!

The real reason why? That would leave the flock open to the possibility of accountability which in most cases would also be legitimate! But that wouldn’t be conveniently tidy nor comfortable so we go with the standard self-righteous: “They left Jesus”. After all: “It couldn’t be “US” they left”? “NEVER”, say the self-protecting flock in huddled agreement, as if their word represents the final word on the matter!

It would do us and them a world of good to stop calling them what they aren’t and in doing so, give Jesus some much deserved trust and credit for being the determining factor in their story! Those who think that “guilting” sheep back into the fold works, are terribly mis-guided. It’s the reason most left in the first place and will only push them further away. We must understand, they don’t trust US, so why would we think our “self-righteous indignation” would be heard?

Sincerely loving them back with contrite hearts of remorse for the part we may have played in their departure is the only way. It may not have been you personally, but it was someone who did or said something. Once? No. Once too often, causing a sheep to wonder about the validity of the flock. Are they sheep, goats, or just an irrelevant self-indulgent social club, becomes their heart’s query as they find themselves exposed to the most un-Christ like behavior imaginable.

Sheep don’t leave for the fun of it folks. It’s not fun and in fact is often heartbreaking. A sheep hungers for an atmosphere of “real” and will never easily succumb to goat-like religiosity as an acceptable replacement. When they don’t see it, in time, they will look elsewhere. As it turns out, “missing” in the “wilderness” is where they end up!

As is the case in all fading relationships, the heart leaves first followed by the body. It’s not an over-night thing but rather progressive in nature. Therefore attendance is not a true indicator of health. Many in our churches today have hearts that have left. They’re just waiting for the courage to have their bodies follow their hearts. They don’t know where they are going, they just know where they can no longer be. Folks, as a sheep who has experienced it, that’s a sick and nauseous feeling! But the good news: It’s not necessary!

2 Chronicles 7 - 14: “IF” My people who are called by My name will HUMBLE themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land”.

“Our Land” is not a geographical place but rather a spiritual entity called the “Body Of Christ”. Down through the ages we have done everything imaginable to destroy its meant to be beauty with our pride-full mindsets and divisive dialog. Called by our Lord to edify, we have chosen to cannibalize. Missing sheep, being neither deaf or blind, have heard and seen it all. That’s why their missing! When we humble ourselves and turn from our wickedness, they will come back.

Jesus Is Faithful To His Promises!

Our Lord is so very faithful to His promises. He has never back-tracked or reneged on a single word. Follow with me as I share two scriptures, paying special attention to the concluding four words in each. They show a clear picture as to the intensity that mis-placed valued possessions are sought after by the Valuer.

Luke 15 - 4: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”.

Luke 15 - 8: “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?”

“Until he finds it” - “Until she finds it”! Then and only then does Jesus stop looking, having then accomplished His desired outcome!

This same Jesus promised; “I will not lose ONE that My Father has given Me”. Sheep are eternal gifts that the Father has given to His Son! The Son Jesus, values them as such.

As a personally sincere note to my much loved, missing in action, fellow sheep and brethren: Weather the descriptive you wear is lost, missing, misplaced or dis-enfranchised, doesn’t truly matter to you. You are where you are regardless of the label. Although justified, your confusion regarding the church, also isn’t of paramount importance to your heart. By now, you probably have concluded: “It Is What It Is”, as did I during my twenty five years of wilderness life.

You’ve moved on from having any interest in debating the point. That’s probably wise on your part. Trying to explain the galactically unexplainable to one’s self can be exhausting no doubt.

Speaking from experience, I think I know what’s on your heart as your never-ending, somewhat haunting, query of wondering and it has nothing to do with churches or their occupants.

The wilderness is the place you ran to as an alternative to where you were but not a place you can truly enjoy for this singular reason. I think “the reason” is a clear indication of the on-going presence of God in your life. So the reason is to be seen as good news!

Isn’t this true? You don’t miss the people, the buildings, or their craziness. You miss Jesus and wonder if He’s missing you! It’s heartbreaking to think that’s what you’re left with to ponder in the stillness of your soul!

Just to enhance your disillusionment, as if that was necessary, you periodically bump into your spiritual perpetrators who seem to be just fine as they greet you with their Pharisaic distain and phony smiles, parroting their Christian clichés.

You get justifiably angry and your anger drives you even deeper into your wilderness as your heart exhales this exasperating emotion to the heavens. “God, is it just me or does this picture look backwards to You!”.

Sheep And Goats

It’s as frustrating as can be and far from funny. May I add: Jesus isn’t laughing. It’s a nightmare! You are in limbo. You cannot go back to where you were and you can’t remain where you are. I think at the heart of our frustration, can be found this serious misunderstanding. It’s something the church has shamefully tolerated for a long time. Goats talk as if they are sheep!

When they do God ends up with the blame for their dialog and behavior. We have to be careful to discern the difference. Everyone who walks through the doors of a church aren’t sheep and we need to be aware of that fact! Otherwise, all get lumped in together with our indictment of guilty attached.

If we want to be treated fairly we must do likewise. To be remembered: Just because a mouse takes up residence in a cookie jar, doesn’t make it a cookie! Humorous perhaps but wise words to live by for a sheep. It may in fact be a goat that’s been your real problem all this time!

Abstaining from the sheep as a result tragically means the goat wins. We can’t be casually OK with that! Sheep need to be with sheep for many reasons which we will touch on later but the one that fluorescently stands out is: There is safety in numbers. Other animals quickly hesitate to attack a “flock” but find their easiest target of prey in the “one” who stands alone!


May I encourage you with these hopeful words of clarity directly from the heart of the One who died on a cross for you by choice. : “I will NEVER leave or forsake you!” NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! He misses you more than you miss Him! Isn’t that always the way with Jesus? He’s always been the Savior that does more.

He loves us more. His grace is more than sufficient. He loved us before we loved Him. We get caught up in a terribly mis-informed trap when we evaluate His love based on ours. It’s always more than we can imagine. He’s always the initiator, with us being the responders. Who can measure such love? No one can, so we ought not to try. You can trust this: He knows not only where you are but why you are where you are and is working it out. So take heart!

The Return

Well, it’s been almost four years since my return to “church life”, a term that still sends shivers down my spine. I wish with all my heart I could tell you that everything’s fine now so it’s safe to come back. I’d be lying if I said it was so and it would only be a matter of time before I would be proven a liar.

The truth: Not much has changed but I have, dramatically. With the benefit of time, age and hindsight, I see things differently now. My priorities have shifted. Don’t get me wrong, I have not succumbed to the “goats” but rather have become deaf to them. The result? My hearing has become enhanced to allow my Savior’s voice to penetrate the noise.

You might wonder: Why with all my grievances and after all that time, did I decide to return? Simply stated; I was asked to by my Lord and I said “yes”. It’s amazing when we hear the right voice of request, “yes” isn’t really that difficult as a response.

You might also wonder why Jesus would ask me to do such a thing. Couldn’t He and I have a little party of our own, absent from the crowd? I would have been fine with that. It would be a few months before my awareness behind the importance and profoundness of His request would be realized. In short: It involved a lot more people than just me and you would be one of them.

In closing, and as a hopefully provided thought or two for your consideration, please allow me to share what prompted “the change” from my well-entrenched long-time mindset of the past.

First of all it should be said, that I have loved Jesus with all my heart since I was twenty seven years old. I will soon be seventy in July. That’s a long time! Much about me can be questioned but my love for Him cannot!

There is a scenario in the Bible where we find Jesus and Peter having a “one to one” encounter on a shore line, post resurrection. Peter is asked three times by Jesus: “Do you love me?” with Peter responding, “Yes Lord I love You”. Jesus finishes the thought each time with: “Then feed My sheep”.

I realized for the first time, that seriously loving Jesus is co-related and cannot be separated from feeding His sheep! Almost as if that is the conformation of your love. That in itself, didn’t resolve my issues so as I’m known to do, I asked the next question. “I don’t like your sheep so how do I do that”? Being corrected by Jesus, at times is accompanied a strange level of humor.

“No Bill, it’s not sheep you don’t like it’s goats and I didn’t say to feed goats”. Ah! And the light came on! Further added: “If you hadn’t been so pre-occupied with goats you would have heard Me say that a long time ago”. Anger is a very loud dynamic folks! It tends to drown out the ones who love us the most.

Bottom line and the deciding factor: If the majority of sheep leave the sheep-pen, the goats will devour those remaining. Our Shepherd has ordained that sheep should feed and protect sheep. He blesses His own through His own. That’s why it’s important to be in attendance.

You’re not there to simply “go to church”, you’re there to “feed and be fed by sheep” and that’s emphatically different. To be aware of the reason you are somewhere, is often more important than the somewhere you are! Church is a spiritual event and when approached in that manner, we are all benefactors of that mindset.

Jesus made it clear that there will be a day when goats will be separated from sheep thus goats in our midst is our reality to deal with and should not be a surprise nor a distraction. Once that truth hit home to my heart, it stopped being about me, my anger, nor my issues, and correctly shifted to being about “sheep”, which is the motivation behind the writing of this book.

Simply stated: It’s for sheep, regardless of where they might be! Missing doesn’t mean unloved, excluded or forgotten. Our Shepherd keeps a perfect accounting of all that are His. If you’re still wondering, Jesus most certainly does miss you but not because He’s been distant. He has been there all the while talking but not being heard. You see that’s what we miss, His voice. That still small loving voice that whispers into our hearts that we are loved. Regrettably, we can’t hear a whisper when we are consumed with the volume of anger.

I’m never sure about the concept of “the next book” but I do know this as fact: If this is the last book, it will be the most important book, based on who it’s for. You my fellow sheep are greatly loved and valued by the One who said: “I will not lose One that My Father has given Me”. I pray that promise brings a sense of comfort to us all. And for those sojourning in the wilderness: You are not alone nor are you the first to ever find yourself where you are. Your road back is already paved with a simple “yes”, with no questions asked. To keep in mind: throughout the previously mentioned shore line encounter with Peter, Jesus never brought up Peter’s prior denial. What an amazing redemptive heart our Lord possesses. The absence of “denial talk” in the story is truly reflective of where our Lord’s priorities are. Resurrections not burials are His preference.

After twenty five years in limbo I could paint a perfect picture of where you are. But here’s the news I believe is true and would like to leave you with as a source of food for thought. Jesus is bringing back His missing sheep to the fold so that we can all feed and protect each other as His family. That is His number one priority!

At present we are still a little dysfunctional, but a day is coming when we will be His beautiful bride without spot or blemish! I longingly look forward to that day. I also look forward to your inclusion! “Without spot or blemish” suggests to me there will be no “missing” brides!

The wilderness is a spiritually desolate place with all manner of danger lurking around every corner. Even though in time we lose our fear of the dangers, it’s still not a place for a child of God with an amazing inheritance to be hanging out.

Speaking of inheritance: Do you remember the story of the “Prodigal Son” who spent his entire inheritance on reckless and crazy living. Did you notice that when he returned home his Father didn’t call him “Prodigal” just “Son”. Keep that in mind as you’re making your decision and we will promise to keep in mind, not to be the “Prodigal’s Brother”. We will celebrate with you!

My Ministry Into Our Ministry

Mark 6 - 38 & 41: “How many loaves do you have He asked?” “Go and see”. When they found out they said, “Five and two fish”. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to His disciples to DISTRIBUTE to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all”. ( Five thousand plus, were fed that day! )

In the biblical story of the “fishes and loaves”, I so clearly see three dynamics in play to achieve the desired completion of the heavenly orchestrated equation. The young boy GAVE what little he had, our Lord then MULTIPLIED it, and the disciples then DISTRIBUTED it.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus, after the multiplying didn’t say, “Come and get it”. What He did say was, “Everyone find a place to sit on the grass and I’ll bring it to you, through my own”. Folks, He loves to involve us. He loves to make us matter! We are blessed beyond measure to be written into, His stories! Just imagine: Invited by Him to participate in His plans for others!

From the inception of the idea of writing books to be made available to “all freely”, there has never been a moment when I haven’t been aware of its ministry context. I could easily be seen as the “young boy” in the story. Jesus has most certainly multiplied my meager offering to Him.

So may I invite and encourage you to be a distributor of that which He has multiplied, thereby elevating “My Ministry” into “Our Ministry”, thus completing “His Ministry”. There’s something about that idea that sounds “perfect” to my heart!

We all have friends, family, work mates, school mates, etc. I’ve included a simple directional on “how to find” the “fishes and loaves”. Please feel free to share “what you eat” with others. You have no idea where it could lead to! That young boy’s mother could never have dreamed, what that little lunch she had prepared for her son on that fateful morning, would produce!

Thanks in advance. Bill Taylor

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