Branded

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            Arms propped on the corral railing, I took in the vivid scene of a calf branding at my uncle’s ranch. Amidst the dust and bawling of cattle, a horse and rider waited for the next calf to be released. As soon as it bolted into the pen, the cowboy urged his horse forward, twirling a lasso above his head. An age-old western choreography played out as the rope dropped over the calf, the horse halted and backed up, tightening the lasso, and the cowboy leaped down to wrestle the calf to the ground where he hobbled it with a few deft twists of his rope. The next part was vital but unpleasant. Inoculations and dehorning, then a hot branding iron seared the haunch of the calf with the symbol of the Bar L Ranch. The indelible mark forever signified ownership of the animal. Even on the open range mixed with cattle from other ranches, its brand would tell to whom it belonged.
Just as the calves were branded with the mark of their owner, so Paul, in Galatians 6:17, describes himself as bearing on his body “the marks of  Jesus”. In Paul’s day the Greek word for “marks” was used for the brand that identified slaves or animals. Once a slave of the law, Paul had been delivered from that bondage by the Lord Jesus, and now belonged to him as a willing slave. The marks he bore were the scars which he received at the hands of his persecutors, and he bore them gladly.
If we are serious about our Christian faith, we need to ask ourselves, does our life bear “the marks of Jesus”?  Has our spirit been kindled with the brand of Christ, so others will know to whom we belong? An animal feels momentary pain when it is branded and develops scar tissue in the shape of the branding iron. When we are imprinted with Jesus’ mark there will be the pain of  recognizing our sin, but that mark is an eternal seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13) The Spirit empowers us to live in a manner worthy of the One whose mark we bear, if we are willing to follow our Master.
Being marked as a believer in Christ does not exempt us from living in the everyday world. We are mixed in with many different beliefs and lifestyles, but if we hide our faith, how will others know who we depend on? When we belong to the Lord, who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), we need to tell others about Him.
Branded cattle sometimes escape their confines and run away. When they are found, their brand proves their ownership and they are returned to safety. There will come times in our Christian life when we wander or get lost, however the mark of the Savior guarantees our security in Him. He will round us up again and lead us home, no matter how far we have strayed. He will never cease to be our Savior.
Ranchers brand their cattle with a mark of ownership because the animals are valuable to them. Christ saw us as being of such great value that He laid down His life for us. The brand we display in our lives should form the word “love”, for it is Christ’s love imprinted on our hearts which can touch a hurting world.

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