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.
“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.
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.
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 is clear that God answers prayer. As long as we are persistent in our prayer and don’t lose heart, we will see our prayers answered (Luke 18:1-8). As long as we are praying with the right motives, we will see our prayers answered (James 4:3). As long as we have faith and do not doubt, our prayers will be answered (Mark 11:22-24). In Matthew 7:7-8, we read that Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Clearly, God does answer prayer.
Some may say, “But I do all of the things you just mentioned! I persist in my prayers and don’t lose heart. I believe I have the right motives. I have faith and not doubt. So why does it seem that some of my prayers go unanswered, or that the answers I receive are not what I hoped for?” The answer to that question is one that only God can give. When we are dealing with the disappointment, the dejection, or the doubt that may come when we don’t receive the answer to prayer that we hoped for, we may find ourselves in a low place, in a valley. But, in that valley, we have a choice. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose faith, or we can invite Jesus into the feelings we are experiencing and ask Him to help us with them. We can allow those feelings to cause us to lose trust in God, or we can look at them as a way to grow closer as He helps us to walk through the valley we are in.
When it comes to dealing with unanswered prayer, one of the things we need to remind ourselves of is the purpose of prayer. In the devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers said that we are off track if we insist on an answer to our prayers. He points out that the purpose of prayer is not the answer but rather that we should grab hold of God. So, the purpose of prayer is not about the results of the prayer. It is about bringing us into the presence of God. It is about spending time in His presence, building a relationship with Him as we share our thoughts, our desires, and our needs with Him. It’s about who He is and not what He can do for us.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that God would take away the suffering He was about to endure. But He then prayed that God’s will would be done and not His own (Luke 22:42). When we pray, we should be praying for God’s will to be done, even if that means that we don’t receive the answer we are looking for. And when we receive an answer to prayer that is not what we had hoped for, we need to submit to His will. God knows what we need. He knows what is best for us. And, although sometimes His answer may not be the one we hoped for, it is surely the answer that is best.
After His resurrection, Jesus met two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The disciples did not know Jesus had risen and did not recognize Him for who He was, and so they were dejected. As Jesus talked with them, they explained their dejection, saying, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.” (Luke 24:21) Why were the disciples dejected? They had hoped that Jesus was the answer to their prayers. Their prayers were for a political Messiah, a Messiah who would redeem their nation from the oppression of the Romans. They would soon find out that their prayer was answered and, although not in the way that they had hoped, in a way that far exceeded all that they could have hoped or imagined.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” We may not always receive the answer to prayer that we were hoping for but we can be sure of this: God’s answer to our prayer is the best possible answer, an answer meant to fulfill His plans for us, plans that have our future and our good at heart.
I have a question for you. Which is easier? Talking or listening? I’m willing to bet that, if you’re being completely honest, your answer is talking. Here’s another question. Have you ever been with another person, perhaps a spouse or a friend and, in the middle of the conversation, that person says to you, “Are you listening?” Human nature being what it is, when it comes to conversation, the tendency of most people is to talk more than listen. That’s why Mark Twain once said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”
Let’s go back to the conversation I mentioned before. When you were asked, “Are you listening?” have you ever responded by saying, “Yes. I heard you.”?You may have heard what the person was saying. Perhaps you can even remember the words that the person spoke. But were you really listening? The dictionary defines the verb “listen” as giving one’s attention to a sound. The verb “hear” is defined as perceiving with the ear the sound made by someone or something. Do you see the difference? Hearing involves the perception of sound. But listening means more than that. When you are truly listening, you are not only hearing the sound being made, but you are also giving it your attention.
Hearing and listening are two different things. When we hear what someone says rather than listen to it, we are not focusing our attention on the person and what that person is trying to communicate. We may be thinking about what we are going to say next. We may be thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch. We may be looking at a text on our cell phones. We are hearing the words the other person is speaking, but we are not giving those words, or that person, our full attention. We are distracted. We are not listening. Unfortunately, this is true even in our relationship with God. When life seems unfair, when we are dealing with difficult circumstances, and even when we are looking for guidance, we can sometimes be very good at talking to God, but not as good at listening to Him.
Proverbs 20:12 says, “Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” God gave us ears so that we can hear. But those ears are not simply for hearing. In all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as well as in the book of Revelation, Jesus is quoted more than once as saying, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35; Revelation 13:9). We were given ears not only to hear, but also to listen and understand. And in order to do that, we need to give our full attention to the one to whom we are listening.
God wants to hear what we have to say, but He also wants us to hear what He is saying to us. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God!” In order to truly listen to God and understand what He says, we need to give Him our full attention. We need to “be still.” The Hebrew word translated as “be still” in Psalm 46:10 means “release” or “let go.” If we are to listen to God, if we are to understand what He says to us, we need to release or let go of the things that may distract us from truly listening. We need to find a time and a place that are free from distractions. We need to let go of things in our lives that may prevent us from listening to God’s still, small voice. That could mean lifestyle changes. If we are to truly hear what God has to say to us, if we are to listen and understand, we must give Him our full and undivided attention. We must “be still.”
In the famed tragedy by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet are in love. The problem is that their families, the Montagues and the Capulets hate each other and so, Juliet, who is a Capulet, is forbidden to have any association with Romeo, who is a Montague. Their love is forbidden solely because of a name. In one scene of Shakespeare’s play, Juliet says, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet is pointing out that Romeo would still be the wonderful person she believes him to be no matter what his name was. She is asking what is so special or significant about a name.
When it comes to the name of Jesus, there is great significance to the name. Scripture is quite clear about that! In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul tells us that the name of Jesus is the name above all other names (Philippians 2:9). Paul goes on to say in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So when it comes to names, the name of Jesus Christ is not just significant. It’s the most significant name there is. The name of Jesus is so significant that, in the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus taught His disciples that they should pray in His name. And He told them this not just once but three times.
In John 14:13-14, Jesus said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” Then, in John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” And finally, in John 16:23-24, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” Clearly, such emphasis on praying in His name tells us that there is an importance to it.
What makes it so important to pray in the name of Jesus is that, when we do, we are praying with faith in the authority of Jesus and praying for the authority and power of Jesus to be manifest in the situation we are praying about. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). There is power in the name of Jesus (John 17:12). Jesus taught His disciples that they should call on that authority and power by praying in His name. When we look at the book of Acts, we can see that this was a lesson they learned and understood.
In Acts 3, a man who was lame from birth sat each day at the Temple gate called Beautiful to beg from the people going into the Temple. One day, as Peter and John were about to enter the Temple, the man asked them for money. After telling the man to look at them, Peter told the man that he had no money to give him but what he did have to give the man was even greater–the power and authority of the name of Jesus. So Peter told the man to get up and walk in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Soon the man was running and jumping and praising God, healed from the lameness he had dealt with all his life. Later that same day, when Peter and John were questioned as to what power or by whose name they had healed the man. Peter’s response, found in Acts 4:10 showed that he fully understood the authority and power of Jesus name: “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.”
When we call on the name of Jesus in prayer, we are calling on that same authority and that same power that Peter called upon. When we call upon the name of Jesus, we are calling on the only name given by God by which each one of us must be saved (Acts 4:12).