The Goat Patch

June 16, 2011

Wisdom comes in many packages.  At times, the wisdom and understanding that we need arrives in well defined and attractive packages. When I think of “Jesus the Good Shepherd” for example, I can easily reflect on the wonderful imagery of our Savior as He carries the lamb safely in His arms.

Wisdom can come from seeing the opposite.  In this case, the clearest understanding of a good shepherd happened on a trip to the Ivory Coast when I saw the result of no shepherd at all.

Long eared, brown, white, big, little... just goats.

Driving along a highway in the coastal city of Abidjan in West Africa, we came to a congested intersection and turned east along the bay.  Mind you, this a major city of over 3 million people and the sight I saw seemed so out of place it made me laugh. Stretching down the side of the road were hundreds of goats.  Long eared, brown, white, big, little… goats were everywhere.  There were no pens, just goats.  No flock, just a big gang of dumb goats.  Instead of good shepherds, there were men who were sacked out under the shade of beach umbrellas while the goats stood there eating, drinking and just sort of fellowshipping with each other.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  It struck me as so funny to see these goats just hanging out  on the side of a major road.  Being American, I had to take a picture and when I did, things began to make sense to me.  The reason they just stood there?  Each one had a little string that tied one front leg to the other.  Like a hobbled horse, these goats were effectively contained and made content with food and fellowship.

But behind the goats, just far enough back and too high for them to see over was a sight that was all the more sobering.  A rock wall about three feet tall ran the length of the goat patch and on the other side were the butchers.

Now I understood.  These hobbled goats, content with food and like-minded company, stood only a few feet away from their demise.  Every now and again, a customer would pick out a fat goat that would be thrown over the wall and returned in minutes packaged and ready for the fire.  The scene had changed.  It wasn’t a funny sight after all.  It was a scene of death.
Hebrews 12 says,

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…

Have you ever had a sin that easily entangles you?  Mind you, it doesn’t have to be much, just some inconsistency that hobbles your journey.  Around you might be plenty of examples of others who are hobbled yet seem content to eat, drink and fellowship with you.  After all, those who are hobbled love company.  The problem is that you never know when the butcher will have at you.  You’ll never know when that little sin will spell your demise.

Here’s a valuable lesson to learn.  If you are not moving forward in Christ, standing still is as good as going backwards.  If you can’t run the race, standing around is just one step away from being thrown over the wall.  None of us are immune (read “too spiritual, too mature”) from the trickery of Satan.

Is there something in your life that ties your feet together and keeps you from running?  The enemy of your soul is quite content to let you feed and fellowship as long as he knows you can’t run off.  In the end, his intention is to make you ready for the fire.

So do something about the sin.  Don’t listen to the dumb goat next to you who tells you to ignore the sin and just keep eating, drinking and fellowshipping.  Wise up.  A true shepherd is an expert at untangling feet.  A true shepherd leads the flock to good pastures while protecting them from harm.  Find someone whose life is spiritually in shape and can lead the way the Good Shepherd instructs.

One last thing.  It took an outsider to notice the goats.  The pastor who lived in the city didn’t “see” anything unusual about the goats that day.  It was such a common sight that he didn’t even know what to call the place (we settled on “the Goat Patch” by the way.)  Often times, we reject those criticisms that are outside our sphere of influence.  But don’t be too hasty.  To the discerning, stinging words can deliver a soul from death.

Jesus described His calling as that of a good Shepherd.  He made sure that His title was distinguished from all others by the word good.  The attributes of a worthy shepherd are just the opposite of those that I saw that day.  Are you a shepherd called to lead and protect the sheep?  Learn the lesson of the Goat Patch.  God’s people are always in need of those who, by example, lead and protect the sheep.  Sometimes you are the only thing between the flock and disaster.

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