Defending the Homestead

Steve Smith and company -cropped2

Dads:  Critical question –  How vigilantly are you protecting your family?

A good friend of mine lives with his family on a gorgeous ranch in Idaho. Steve grew up in the big country, so he knows his way around the back woods. Unfortunately, not all is well on the Smith homestead: Steve has a wolf problem. Some time ago, a decision was made by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to re-introduce wolves into the region surrounding Steve’s ranch. This environmentally compassionate and well-intentioned effort has brought with it unintended consequences.

Steve began  noticing the problem when his cows started disappearing. He has lost 7 calves to the predator so far. The wolves’ ferocity is staggering: “They can kill and clean up a 400lb calf so that when you come by in 30 hours, there’s nothing left but a blood stain on the dirt and some hay on the ground that spilled out of the rumenant, and a fly tag and an ear tag. No bones nothing.”

And it’s not just the cattle that are victimized; other wildlife in the region are faring no better. “I have noticed a 70% decrease in wildlife on our range alone just this year,” Steve says. “I am convinced that those who love the wolf, hate the deer, elk, moose, and antelope…. I get tired of being on the range and seeing antelope with half of his butt ate out and he is running off packing one hind leg and bleeding. You never know if they make it or not.”

But what concerns Steve even more than the wildlife is the danger that the wolves represent to his family. “Our kids can’t play in the forest like they used to,” he explains. “You have to carry a gun everywhere you go, even to change irrigation wheel-lines in the hayfield, and if you break down in your car at night-there is no more walking to the nearest farmhouse for help.” Understandably, in an environment of such ever-looming danger, Steve admits, “My hair is constantly raised up on the back of my neck… But I’m getting used to it.”

It is not surprising then, in a situation like this, that Steve has decided to do what any loving, protective father would: he’s taking the heat to the wolf. Not content any longer to sit idly by while his loved-ones and livelihood remain under threat, Steve courageously set out to eradicate the enemy from his property and his range.

And when I say this requires courage, I’m not exaggerating. This is not some feeble little pest that’s roaming around Steve’s fence-line. The Canadian Grey Wolf is a ferocious animal. And they don’t travel alone — they hunt in packs… vicious packs that make Harlem gangs look like Cub Scouts. Steve, of course, doesn’t hunt alone either… or limit himself to a single gun. “You don’t want to run out of ammo in an encounter,” Steve explained to one of his friends. “You can’t just scare them off. Even if they are wounded they will still attack. Your only defense is shoot to kill.”

And I guess it goes without saying that you probably don’t want to miss.

big wolf

Now, I’m not narrating this story as some diatribe against environmental conservationism, and I’m no NRA activist. What Steve has chosen to do is both brave and commendable; there’s no doubt about that. But there’s something deeper in Steve’s story than just wilderness survival. The lesson that I take to heart goes beyond rifles and side-arms. After hearing Steve’s description of his tenacious resistance, a question came to my mind that I can’t escape:

How valiantly am I guarding my own household from the predatory enemy that prowls around my children like a hungry beast?

I don’t have wild animals in my suburban neighborhood. It’s been years since I’ve heard the coyotes in the fields. The most formidable critter we’ve seen around here was the skunk that got pancaked by a car last week up on the main road. (Poor car!) But as I stare in the face of the wolf in the picture that Steve posted, and as I imagine the ferocity which that beast must have exhibited while it was still on the prowl, I am sobered by the realization that the Enemy who seeks to devour my family is no less fearsome, and no less dangerous. So what am I doing to protect and defend my home and my loved-ones against this snarling adversary? 

If I understand 1 Peter 5:8 correctly, I’ve got to believe that the devil and his minions are actively engaged in a protracted campaign aimed at nothing less than the savage destruction of my family. His various strategies are as numerous as the wolves: moral sabotage, spiritual distraction, materialistic complacency, relational discord — the list could go on and on. He wants to take me down. He would be delighted to see my family shredded. He has every intention of ripping us apart.

~~~~

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to wild animal attacks. According to 1 Cor 15:32, he “fought wild beasts in Ephesus”. But, as harrowing as that encounter must have been, it barely garnered a mention in his personal bio-reel. There was another danger that he was far more concerned about  — a threat to his loved-ones so menacing that it actually brought him to tears. At the twilight of his career, he gathered together some of his dearest friends — members of his church staff in Ephesus. Knowing this would be his final words to them, he laid out a dire warning (using an analogy that perhaps reminded them of that beast-fighting encounter I just mentioned — which occurred in their own town). He looked them in the eyes and said,

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock… Be shepherds!…. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)

Of course, Paul is addressing elders, and the flock that he is referring to in this context is the church of God. Nevertheless as a dad, I am charged with shepherding my own flock (my family), and clearly I must do so with equal vigilance. This passionate and tearful plea should ring in my ears as much as my pastor’s: Be on your guard!  Savage wolves will come! Protect your homestead!

As I was mulling over these words this week, I happened to come across a statement from Jesus that bore a striking resemblance to Paul’s. Interestingly, the Lord chose the very same imagery to broadcast his own warning:

 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15)

Hold these two passages side-by-side and you will notice several parallels. They both begin with the same greek word: prosekete, which basically means “keep your eyes open”. The implication is that this danger will sneak up on you if you are not watching diligently. Furthermore, both passages make it clear that these wolves are not to be trifled with. Jesus calls them “ferocious” (literally, “rapacious”, from the word for cutting) and Paul labels them “savage” (which comes from the word for “heavy”, and may be translated “oppressive” or “ruthless”). The point is sharp: the enemy is beastly and fierce. These wolves mean to do you great harm and they will not be frightened off, even when wounded.

But the most sobering warning — and one highlighted in both of these passages — is that these wolves are exceptionally crafty. They won’t look like wolves. Instead they will be “wearing sheep’s clothing,” (Matthew) and “coming from your own number” (Ephesians). The point is that, unlike the menacing varmints in my friend Steve’s back woods, these ravenous creatures won’t look dangerous. In fact, they just may look like friends.

If I understand what Paul and Jesus are saying, the basic principal seems to be that the most dangerous influences in our children’s lives are the ones that we casually invite into our homes. As a dad with young teenage children and toddlers, I’ll have to admit — this is a warning that chills my spine. Who, or what am I allowing into my children’s lives that may appear perfectly acceptable, but may in fact be perilous to their well-being and character?

Now I don’t mean to be overly-dramatic; I am not suggesting that we strictly isolate our children from every worldly diversion. But as a concerned father, I am obligated to be keenly observant regarding the influences that I allow in my children’s lives: the entertainment, the music, the media, the friends. It is my job to astutely defend their hearts and their souls. And in this culture of ubiquitous electronics which stream incessant messages of self-centeredness, indulgence, immorality, and dishonor, this is no easy task.

Like my friend Steve, I must be constantly armed; I must scan the horizon diligently, sober to the reality that prowls my fence-line.  And at the same time, I also need to be training my children to be discerning observers themselves — not easily fooled by what presents itself as sheepish and innocent. It is so easy for children to parrot our culture’s values. It is not as easy to peel off the sheepskin and reveal the danger lurking inside.

I certainly don’t have all the answers about raising children wisely nor identifying wolves accurately. But Steve’s report from the ranch has stirred me to think more circumspectly about the peril that lurks so near my home. If you have children or grandchildren, I’m sure you share my concern. What are some of the hidden dangers that you have observed in your own family? I would love to read your stories in the comments below about the wool-covered wolves that are on your radar.

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