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Branded

My son is really loving the Lion Guard. It’s a spin off of the Lion King, featuring Simba’s son and his happy little gang whose job is guarding the pride lands from all calamities. Gallantly defending their territory with a catchy song and strong undercurrents of friendship and inclusivity, it’s a cute show (albeit a little young for a thirteen year old!) As I was watching it the other day, I noticed that the main character has a little tattoo on his leg, as does Simba and other members of the pride lands. I asked my son about it and he mentioned that it was for all the members of the gang, because that is where they belonged and everything they did was for the king and the land.


I thought about that for the rest of the day. If we all walked around with tattoos representing where our alliances are, what would they look like?

Maybe our tattoo would show what our hobbies or professions are. Perhaps we’d have a mark showing which family we’re from. Most importantly, maybe we’d have a brand showing where our heart truly lies. I know if we had a visible mark on our bodies, I’d only want mine to be reflecting that everything I am and all that I do was for Jesus and His Kingdom.

In Exodus 13, the Lord gives specific instructions for a yearly festival that the Israelites must hold to remember and celebrate that He brought them out of Egypt. In verse 9 it says, “this annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching.”  It was something that God didn’t want them to forget. What if we had tattoos that reminded us of what God has done for us?

In the tv show, Kion experiences difficulties and is wounded in battle. The wound threatens to overtake his spirit and turn him evil like his uncle Scar – unless he and his mighty bunch of friends take a difficult journey to find healing at the Tree of Life. (A little disclaimer: I’m thankful I was watching with my son, because there are some slightly suggestive scenarios in this television program that could point towards new ageism, the occult and Buddhism. Probably why my parents wouldn’t let me watch that movie when I was a kid! However, there are some powerful lessons that could also point to Christ, and that’s the route we took.)

When Kion and his friends set out on their journey, they were told it wouldn’t be easy. They bravely set out to find the Tree of Life anyway. Ultimately, they struggled along the way – getting lost, fighting battles, learning to lean on each other and trust one another – but in the end, they made it. Kion was saved from turning evil, but the scar was a permanent reminder of all that he’d endured. At the Tree of Life he not only found healing, he found a  new life and a new tattoo with a tree replaced the tattoo from his former life as he and his crew joined forces with the lions there.

When the Israelites set out on their journey, it was not an easy one. They fought battles, they lost their way (hello, golden calf!), and they had to learn to trust their leaders and ultimately, the Lord. And eventually, they made it to the Promised Land. From slavery, to the wilderness, to a land flowing with milk and honey. If they had tattoos or scars of slavery, things were going to change. Maybe they didn’t have a tattoo on their skin, but God commanded they remember what He had done for them year after year after year. So that their hearts were constantly in tune with the redemption the Lord had brought them.

But God doesn’t stop there. He wasn’t done with the Israelites just yet. Later, God uses Ezekiel to bring them a message. It’s been years since they were brought out of slavery and had wandered in the wilderness. But yet again, the Israelites have been captured in battle, scattered among different nations, severely persecuted. Ezekiel prophesies that the Lord would restore them back to their homeland. But they weren’t just going to go back to the land, He wanted to do more.

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. Ezekiel 36:24-27

What is good news for the Israelites is good news for us, too. Through Jesus, and His death on the cross, we have the opportunity to have our stony hearts removed and replaced with tender, responsive hearts that are completely new. Here in Ezekiel there’s this compelling message that God wants to gather those who are lost, regenerate our hearts from something dead to something alive and beautiful, and to reestablish His Kingdom with us as part of it. If we had a branding, or a tattoo that spoke of all that Christ has done for us, it would be a showstopper.

I talked to my son about this after the episodes were all over, and Kion was living it up with a new pride and flashing his new tattoo. If we had a tattoo like that, what would it look like? And his answer blew me away. A heart. I thought about it for a split second and asked him, why a heart? Because God is love, and we belong to God, so we love too.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35.

If I could love like Jesus, if I could be a living testimony of His kindnesses and grace in even just my life, I might live up to that heart tattoo. Until then, I’m just thankful that I’m branded with His name and He’s given me a new heart, a new life, and a new home. ❤️

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