Follow the Son

The tall, brightly colored flower that we call the sunflower provides us with an edible seed and oil that can be used for cooking and as a part of salad dressings. But this flower also provides us with spiritual inspiration. In France, the word for sunflower is tournesol, a word that means “turns with the sun.” The reason for this name is that, in their bud phase, sunflowers literally seek out and face the sun, a trait known as heliotropism. The young flowers face the east at dawn and then move throughout the day so that they continually face the sun. Why do they do this? Each sunflower plant has only one flower and, because of this, it is important that the plant’s means of reproducing gets noticed by pollinators (insects). Warm flowers attract insects and by facing the sun, the flower of the young sunflower plant stays warm.

As the sunflower follows the life-giving sun, we as believers follow the life-giving Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because we believe that Jesus came and died for our sins so that we might have eternal life, we choose to follow Jesus. We follow His commands and His word, and we are called to bring others to Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We are called to spread the Gospel to all nations with the goal of making disciples of all people, the goal of helping others to experience the true life-change that comes only when they choose to follow the Son.

But making disciples of others requires more than just knowing the right words to say. It requires more than just being able to quote Scripture and explain the gift of salvation offered by God through Jesus. It requires that we reflect Jesus, that people see Jesus in us. When we reflect Jesus in the way in which we live our lives, when people see the love of Jesus in us, like the insects that are attracted to the sunflower warmed by facing the sun, those people will be attracted to Jesus. They will turn toward Him and follow Him. 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 says:

But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

Just as following the sun helps the sunflower to reproduce, so following the Son will help us to reproduce as God uses us to bring others to Jesus, making disciples of all nations.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Raise the Battle Cry

On July 21, 1861, Union forces led by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell and Confederate forces led by Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard met just north of the city of Manassas, Virginia to engage in the first major battle of the American Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run. The battle was a Confederate victory, and that victory was sparked not by weapons but by what would later be called the “rebel yell.” Following an attack by the Union Army, General Beauregard ordered a counterattack. It was during that attack that the Confederate Army raised a battle cry, screaming as they advanced toward the Union troops. With that battle cry, the Confederates managed to break the Union line. The Union troops retreated across Bull Run in a panic, leading to a victory for the Confederates. That cry, the “rebel yell,” was intended to intimidate their enemy and boost the morale of the Confederate troops. In the Battle of Bull Run, it did just that. Recalling the Confederate battle cry, one Union soldier said that it would send “a peculiar corkscrew sensation that went up your spine when you heard it.” Years after the war was over, a Confederate veteran noted that, “If a recruit had nothing at hand but the ‘rebel yell,’ he could at least help to intimidate an adversary.”

The Bible mentions several war cries. One of the most famous examples is found in Judges 7, in the story of Gideon. God called Gideon to free the Israelites from the Midianites. By God’s command, Gideon took with him just 300 men, divided them into three groups, and led them toward the Midianite camp, each man carrying a ram’s horn and a clay jar with a torch concealed in it. Let’s take a look at Judges 7:19-24 to see what happened next:

19 It was just after midnight, after the changing of the guard, when Gideon and the 100 men with him reached the edge of the Midianite camp. Suddenly, they blew the rams’ horns and broke their clay jars. 20 Then all three groups blew their horns and broke their jars. They held the blazing torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands, and they all shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Each man stood at his position around the camp and watched as all the Midianites rushed around in a panic, shouting as they ran to escape. 22 When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords. Those who were not killed fled to places as far away as Beth-shittah near Zererah and to the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath. 23 Then Gideon sent for the warriors of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who joined in chasing the army of Midian. 24 Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down to attack the Midianites. Cut them off at the shallow crossings of the Jordan River at Beth-barah.” So all the men of Ephraim did as they were told.

Did you catch what happened in verses 20 and 21? The Israelites, as they had been instructed by Gideon, raised a battle cry, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” And, just as the “rebel yell” of the Confederate Army at Bull Run caused the Union Army to flee in a panic, so the battle cry of the Israelites caused the Midianites to panic and flee. But look at what happened next. In verse 23, we read that the 300 Israelites sounded their ram’s horns and, in total confusion, the Midianites began to fight each other with their swords. God defeated the Midianites without the Israelites having to draw their own swords.

As believers, as the body of Christ, we are in a battle. But unlike the Battle of Bull Run and unlike Gideon’s battle against the Midianites, our battle is not an earthly battle. It is a spiritual battle. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, it’s not a battle against “flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” It’s a battle for souls. And when you look at the state of the world around us, you’d probably say that, right now, the enemy is winning. We are living in a time where things are turned upside down, when evil is called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). And as the body of Christ, we need to step up the battle. But, although we are human, we don’t fight our battles as humans do. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4, our weapons are not worldly weapons. The weapons that we must use to tear down the “strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” are God’s weapons. In Ephesians 6:10-17, Paul outlines the battle gear that we are to employ, the armor of God. While most of the components of that armor are defensive components, there is one that is an offensive component, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Armed with that word, we can “destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God” and “capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

In this spiritual battle that we are in, there is only one ultimate victor, Jesus Christ, and He is described for us in Revelation 19:11-16:

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. 12 His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. 13 He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. 15 From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. 16 On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

In that battle between good and evil, good will prevail. Referring to the forces of evil, Revelation 19:21 tells us that, “Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse.” Jesus is the Word of God, and it is through that Word that the enemy will ultimately be defeated. Until the day that the final battle is fought, we, the body of Christ, need to step up the battle. God will give us the victory. We must lift our voices and proclaim the gospel to this fallen world and raise our battle cry. And what is that battle cry? Jesus!

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Don’t Place a Period Where God Has Placed a Comma

Toward the end of her life as she penned her final love letter to her husband, George Burns, famed comedienne Gracie Allen wrote, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” Another way of putting the thought behind what Gracie Allen wrote is, “Don’t put God in a box!” When things look bad, when we are facing a crisis of some sort, our reaction, based on our human way of thinking, can quite often be resignation, defeat, or hopelessness. We don’t see any way out of the circumstance or crisis we are in and we’re ready to give up. And, truth be told, if it depended on our own human strength, it would be right to look at it that way. But in Ephesians 3:20, Scripture tells us that God is “able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” We can’t, but God can! God can place a comma where we would place a period.

In Mark’s gospel, we read about Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, whose daughter has fallen gravely ill. Jairus went to Jesus to plead with Him, asking Jesus to come and lay hands on his daughter so that she could live (Mark 5:22-23). Jesus went with Jairus but, on the way to Jairus’ home, messengers arrived with the news that Jairus’ daughter was dead and told Jairus that there was no use troubling Jesus with this now. The girl was dead. Period. Hearing this, Jesus told them not to be afraid but to have faith (Mark 5:35-36). In other words, erase that period from the end of the sentence and replace it with a comma.

Jesus continued on His way to the home of Jairus. Arriving there and seeing much commotion and weeping, Jesus went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” The crowd of people just laughed at Him. They were basically saying, “Look, Jesus, we know the difference between someone being dead or asleep, and this young girl is dead. Period!” But Jesus knew that God had not placed a period on this girl’s life but a comma. He went in to the room where the dead girl lay, held her hand and said, “Little girl, get up!” The girl immediately got up and began walking around (Mark 5:38-42).

When a crisis has you ready to throw in the towel, when you are feeling defeated or hopeless, don’t look at your own human limitations, or the limitations of others. Look at the limitlessness of God. Remember that what may be impossible for you is not impossible for God. With God everything is possible (Mark 10:27). Don’t place a period where God has placed a comma.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The High Cost of Freedom

Yesterday, as a nation, we celebrated the day on which we declared our independence from Great Britain. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we were telling King George III, and the rest of the world, that we were no longer to be a colony ruled by another country. Rather, we were to be a new nation, free to govern itself, free from the burdens placed upon us by Great Britain. And it is that freedom that we celebrate every year on July 4th. But we must never forget that freedom comes at a cost and that cost is high. We must never take that freedom for granted.

The American Revolution, the war that secured for us the independence that we declared on July 4, 1776, resulted in the loss of about 25,000 lives, some through battle, some through disease and other factors. Another 25,000 American soldiers were wounded, bringing the total casualties to about 50,000, a high price to pay for the freedom we sought. Our nation is now 243 years old, and throughout those years, many more Americans have willingly paid the price, through death or injury, to help us maintain the freedom that we so love. From 1775 through 2019, the total casualties of war are estimated to be over 2,852,901. There is a high cost to freedom!

There is another freedom that we must never take for granted, another freedom that came at a high cost. That freedom is the freedom from the penalty of sin, a freedom that came at the cost of one life, that of Jesus Christ. The Son of God, Jesus was sent into our world over 2,000 years ago to take upon Himself the cost of freedom from our sins. Although He Himself was without sin, He went to the cross and gave His life so that we could be set free from our sin. He took upon His shoulders the sins of every person who has ever lived on this earth and willingly gave His life to provide the way for each of us to be set free from the penalty of those sins (1 Timothy 2:6). Each and every one of us is a prisoner of sin, but we can enjoy freedom from that sin. How? By believing in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22).

Jesus gave His life to free us from the sin that enslaved us. All that we need to do to receive that gift of freedom is to believe in Him, to believe that He is the Son of God, that He died for our sins. The cost of our freedom was high and we must never take that freedom for granted. We must turn from sin and not use the freedom that Jesus paid for as an excuse to continue to satisfy our sinful nature. Rather, we must use our freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). When we stay true to Jesus’ teachings, when we serve one another in love, we are truly His disciples and we can live in the promise that He made in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Prove It!

“Put your money where your mouth is!”

“Actions speak louder than words!”

“Practice what you preach!”

“All talk, no action!”

All these sayings, these idioms, are just ways of saying the same basic thing: “Prove it!” They all mean showing by our actions and not just our words that we truly support or believe in something, or that what we are saying about ourselves is actually true. Words come easy. But for our words to ring true, they have to be backed up by our actions. And for those of us who are followers of Christ, nowhere is this more true than when it comes to repentance.

As he prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry on earth, John the Baptist said, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8). Repentance means turning away from sin and turning instead toward God. It means changing your mind and then acting on that change. And the only way to prove a changed mind and a changed life is in the way that we live. Saying that we repent is not enough. We need to prove our repentance by our actions. Our lives need to bear the fruit of our repentance.

In Matthew 13:8, Jesus says, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.” The changed life that comes as a result of true repentance is shown by the fruit that life produces. In Acts 26:20, while defending himself before King Agrippa, the apostle Paul said, “I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.”

We are not saved by our actions, by the good things that we do. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone. But salvation does require repentance and, as we have seen in the words of John the Baptist and the apostle Paul, repentance can only be proven by a change in the way that we live our lives, by the good things that we do. As children of God, we must imitate our heavenly Father in all that we do and our lives must reflect the example of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). We need to live lives free of immorality, impurity, and greed (Ephesians 5:3-5). As Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8, we were once “full of darkness” but now we “have light from the Lord” and so, we must live as people of light!” When we live in the light that is Jesus Christ, we will live in a way that proves our repentance.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

We Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? A time when all is right in your world, a time when God seems closer than ever? A mountaintop experience can come to us in many different ways. It can come through an amazing worship experience. It can come while we are participating in a church retreat. It can come when God lifts us out of a valley in which we have been struggling. No matter how it comes, being on the mountaintop is an experience that strengthens our faith, draws us closer to God, and brings us great joy. And for these reasons, our desire may be to dwell on that mountaintop, to stay in that place and not move forward. That was the case for Peter, James, and John, when they experienced the ultimate mountaintop experience with Jesus. Let’s look that experience.

About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:28-33)

While on that mountaintop, the three disciples experienced something that few mortal men have experienced this side of heaven, Jesus in His heavenly glory. And their first response was to look to set up shelters, to make the place a memorial and just linger there. But here’s the thing. Mountaintops are not meant to be a destination. We are not meant to stay there. Mountaintops are milestones in our journey of life, in our walk of faith. As Peter blurted out his desire to make that mountaintop a memorial, to make it a destination, God interrupted.

But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen. (Luke 9:34-36)

In Mark’s gospel, after the heavenly interruption, we read that Jesus led the disciples back down the mountain and told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:9). Jesus was telling them not to linger on their mountaintop experience. They needed to leave the mountaintop and wait because they would see something even greater. There were more mountaintops to come. If we linger on the mountaintop we are currently on, we can miss out on the next mountaintop. When we make the mountaintop a memorial or a monument and linger at that memorial or monument, we may miss the milestones ahead of us, we may miss the mountaintops ahead.

Sure, it would be wonderful to stay on the mountaintop and bask in God’s glory, but true discipleship means denying one’s self, taking up a cross, and following Jesus. We can’t do that while lingering on the mountaintop. We can’t make the mountaintop our destination. In the valley below, there are people who are suffering. There are needs to be met and people who need to be pointed to Jesus. When Jesus and the three disciples returned to the valley, this is what they experienced, as the father of a demon-possessed boy brought his son to Jesus for help. If we want to share Jesus’ glory on the mountaintop, we must also be willing to follow Him into the sufferings of the valley below.

God gives us the mountaintops for a reason. When we are on the mountaintop, we have a special vantage point. We can see the valley that we have just been lifted out of and we can see the valleys ahead of us. But we can also see that there are more mountaintops ahead. So God gives us the mountaintops to renew us, to take us from the trouble of the valley to the hope of the mountaintop, and also to bolster our faith and strengthen us for the valleys ahead. And, of course, God gives us the mountaintops so that, by sharing our experience with others, we can point them to Jesus and encourage them in the valleys in which they may find themselves. To share that experience, we need to meet them in that valley. We can’t stay on the mountaintop.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Dress the Part

Have you ever heard the saying, “dress the part”? It’s an idiom that means dressing the way that people in a particular role would usually dress. If you want people to believe you are a lawyer or a doctor, you need to “dress the part.” A lawyer wouldn’t show up in court wearing a baggy sweatshirt, flip-flops, and ragged jeans but would “dress the part” and show up in a suit. A doctor wouldn’t show up in the operating room of a hospital wearing a tux or an evening gown but would “dress the part” and show up in hospital scrubs. There is an expectation that people in a certain role dress a certain way.

This same idea holds true for followers of Christ. If we are His followers, His disciples, we need to reflect Him. People should be able to look at us and know that we are His disciples. We need to “dress the part.” This doesn’t mean that we have to walk around wearing a robe and sandals. The clothes that we need to wear to “dress the part” as followers of Christ are not physical clothes but spiritual clothes. The clothes we need to wear are seen in our character, which is reflected in the way that we treat others. In his letter to the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. ” (Colossians 3:12-15)

The wardrobe that we must wear if we are to show ourselves as followers of Christ, if we are to “dress the part,” are tenderhearted mercy, kindness, gentleness, and patience. And, on top of all those things, we need to wear love. To “dress the part” as a disciple of Christ means putting on the character of Christ. To “dress the part” of a disciple, we don’t have to be Bible scholars or be able to recite the whole Bible from memory. We don’t have to be rich. We don’t have to have a Master’s degree in theology. We need to treat others the way that God treats us. We need to be merciful. We need to be kind and gentle. We need to show patience. And, most of all, we need to love others, because love creates unity. As followers of Christ, we are called to live in peace with each other, and so we must let the peace of Christ rule in us. We need to “dress the part” as we strive to become more like Jesus.

Here’s the thing. Because of our fallen human nature, none of these things comes naturally to us. Years ago, I did a lot of community theater. I played a number of different roles, from a cowboy to a Marine lieutenant to the apostle Peter. Playing these different roles did not come naturally to me. But when I would put on the costume I was to wear for a role I was playing, when I “dressed the part,” I was able to act like a cowboy, or like a Marine lieutenant, or even like the apostle Peter. Why? Because I was putting on the wardrobe of the person whom I was reflecting to the audience. When we put on the wardrobe that Paul describes in Colossians 3, when we “dress the part” by relating to others in the way that Jesus relates to all of us, then we will reflect Jesus to all of those around us.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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