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How to do a Corporate Worship Painting

I’ve been asked a few times in the last couple months how to do a corporate worship painting. Other ministers are anxious to expand their church’s understanding of corporate worship and they view this as an opportunity to do so. Here is an older post that explains what worship paintings are https://noviselkins.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/worship-a-collision-of-expression/

Below are a quick explanation and instructions on how to do it. Hopefully, you will enjoy.

Why Worship Painting?

“Worship is the reaction of the God observer.” –Kyle Dunn.

I’m pretty sure Kyle was quoting someone else, but he is the one I heard say this phrase. I remember hearing him articulate this truth when I was a sophomore in college. It shattered my pre-conceived ideas as to what it meant to worship. To be clear, I understood the concept of “worship as a way of life.” I grasped that you could “live a life of song before God.” But I was missing the simplification of the definition. Worship is reaction to God. When humanity is confronted by God, worship is the response to that observation.

Worship therefore, is expression. It is some form of expression in response to God. That expression can be anything, but it is an expression. Often in the western church we restrict that expression to song. Worship, in particular corporate worship is done solely in song or prayer. Not every worshiper sings. Some worshipers dance, some write, some compose poetry, some think deeply, some work and serve,… and some paint. All are valid expressions of worship. All can be done corporately. All require a little stretching from the congregations that choose to engage in them. But knowing God also requires some stretching. So stretch on!

Painting is particularly unique. It is strange and distant to most of us. Painting is not something that comes natural to our western culture. As a form of expression, it is hard to nail down. But it is, without debate, expression. So, it is a perfect form of expression to stretch our abilities. Further, painting can be reviewed. It is not something that is shot into the void like a song that we sing or a poem we recite. It is a form of expression that lasts and develops more meaning the longer we look at it. So, stretch… paint your expression of worship and enjoy.

How to do a Worship Painting

Several years ago I determined to stretch my own congregation’s ability to worship. We did a corporate worship painting together and it was awesome! I tried to plan this sort of worship at least twice a year. Below are some simple instructions on how to do it.

First step: Prepare your congregation

Teach on Worship. The first step is to get people to understand this is an act of worship. In order to do that we must do some teaching on the nature of corporate worship.

  1. Each of us brings our own unique expression to the canvas of worship- Much like worship in song, every person has a unique voice in worship. All the voices unite together in one song to God. So it is with painting. Each person has a unique expression through the brush. It is best when we paint the same canvas and those expressions interact.
  2. Those expressions are best when they interact with one another in praise to God- This is important. We must understand that worship is not a matter of better or worse. It is a matter of expression. God does not measure your worship by the guy sitting next to you. Rather, it is by your purity of heart.
  3. Sometimes our expressions cover over others or change others expressions- When worshipers unite, some voices lay foundations that others build on. Some voices are brought to the forefront and some exist in the background. So it is with corporate worship paintings. It is important to understand that your expression might be covered up or altered by someone else’s and that’s ok. It is in the laying down of the expression that God is exalted. Your expression is valued by God even when it is unseen by man.
  4. Worship is most beautiful to God when all the individual expressions of worship unite and combine to make one unique expression. – Here is the crux of corporate worship paintings! You are granted the privilege of joining in with a body of believers to worship the King of Glory. Make a unique expression of worship by allowing the voices in your congregation to respond to God.

Second Step: Prepare your materials

Things you need to buy:

  1. A large canvas
  2. A can of spray paint to lay down a background color. (optional)
  3. A variety of acrylic paints (I always bought “Basic” brand acrylic paints. Tip: stay away from craft paints… they are lesser quality and you end up paying for it in the long run.)
  4. Nice paint brushes of various sizes.
  5. Paper/ Styrofoam plates to act as pallets for the paint
  6. Canvas Drop-cloths (buy a nice, large drop-cloth. You wont regret having it. It will protect the surface around the canvas AND add to the atmosphere whereas cheap stuff might detract.)
  7. Workable fixative spray and Crystal Clear Spray (Krylon brand clear coating for acrylic paints)
  8. Brush cleaning supplies: Some paint thinner to clean the brushes, mineral spirits, two jars, a tin can with holes punched in the bottom (optional.).

Things to do to prepare

  1. Decide if you want a background color and spray paint the canvas that color. Let it dry for 24 hours.
  2. Lay out your drop-cloth
  3. Lay your canvas out in a well-lit area that allows for access to the canvas from all sides. (I used floor lamps and spot lights to illuminate the canvas.)
  4. Put brushes, plates, and paints around the canvas.
  5. Pray that God would be pleased by the worship of His people. Pray that you would honor the Lord in your expression as a body. Pray.

Third Step: Enjoy worship.

  1. Explain what a corporate worship painting is. (See step one) You may want to encourage people to paint without words. Because painting is so unique, often we respond by writing words on the canvas and it can diminish the power of expression. So, sometimes I’ve made a rule that you cannot use words.
  2. Teach a passage of Scripture that will allow the observation of God.
  3. Play worship music
  4. Paint with them… I sometimes found it helpful to just go ahead and start. So, I’d pick up a plate and squeeze some paint onto it and start painting. It may take a minute for people to be struck with something, but once one person does, then usually the floodgates open.

Practically, the painting time looks like this:

  1. You explain worship
  2. You teach a passage
  3. You turn on some music and set the atmosphere to focus on the canvas
  4. You paint

Fourth Step: Clean up

  1. Clean the brushes (here’s a video for that) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIphtJDte9E
  2. Put some mineral spirits on your brushes and store them where they can dry.
  3. Spray the canvas with Crystal clear coat. This will keep the acrylics from cracking over time.
  4. Pick up all paints, throw away used pallets (if you’re going to do multiple days of painting you can put plastic wrap on the pallets to keep the paint from drying out. But there is no reason to try and preserve the paint if you are not doing multiple days in a row.)
  5. Hang the painting where people can see it in the weeks to come. This will serve as a reminder of what corporate worship is and will allow people to reflect on the work of worship.

Tips:

Prepare to respond to people who think this is too weird. It might be too weird for some. Ask those people for grace in understanding that different people worship differently and this is just one opportunity to do so. Assure them that their voice is not lost.

Prepare to encourage those whose expressions are covered up by other people. This is difficult to handle. Because worship is so personal, it is easy to take offense when someone knowingly or unwittingly covers your expression. That is why you must explain this carefully as a part of worship and encourage interactivity and respect for another’s expression.

Watch out for the one who is not worshiping but drawing something that has nothing to do with the Lord. I remember kneeling next to a boy who was painting his favorite football team’s emblem on our worship canvas. I recognized what he was doing and asked him, “Hey bro, can you tell me what your painting?” He was honest. I asked, “What does that have to do with God? Can you make it into something that praises God?” He altered his design and painted something different. It was an awkward whispered conversation. But it did the trick and worship was enhanced.

Overlook offense. Corporate worship is messy when it is done correctly. Just prepare to be offended.

Finally: touch the painting up afterward. I always had a few artists that would come and touch up the painting when we were finished. They were careful to only add highlights and to enhance what others had done. In this way, the corporate expression was not altered but enhanced.

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Who is My Neighbor

A few weeks ago a hurricane decided to park just north of where I live and gave graphics departments the world over a tremendous opportunity to develop creative ways to display the trillions of gallons of water that fell from the sky, overflowing our rivers, and flooding our communities. As we have begun to restore our neighbors, we have found ourselves beaten and worn by the work of mucking houses and attempting to salvage some life from the devastation. Often people are broken and hurting as you carry yet another ruined priceless treasure from their home. Sometimes, we find ourselves shamefully rationalizing. Asking, “Who is my neighbor, anyway? Surely not that guy who has always been so rude to my family. Do I have to labor to love this particular one, or can I recuse myself in the face of their pain… because they’re not nice to me?” As I have struggled to hurt with hurting people and labor alongside people who have lost everything, I have been drawn back time and time again to the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. As Christians, we must live this story of the Good Samaritan.

Good Samaritan“Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer asks the Messiah who his neighbor is so that he can excuse himself from the laborious task of love. Yet the Lord of all creation responds with such a parable that it rocks society to the core. You see, order to fully appreciate this story you must first understand how the Jewish people saw Samaritans in the ancient near east. Samaritans were looked on by Jews as a lesser race. Indeed, often they were seen as traitors who had rejected the purity of Abraham’s lineage in favor of selfish desire. Such willful rejection of God would make them even less worthy than a Gentile! This is part of the reason that the disciples of Christ are so awkward when they find Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman by a well in John 4 and why John and James, the disciples, asked if they could call down fire to destroy Samaria in Luke 9:54. There was a deep seeded hatred for the half-breeds of Samaria. Racism was so prevalent that Jews would often walk for miles out of the way to avoid walking through Samaria for fear that they would defile themselves.

So as Jesus unfolds the story he lays a Jewish man who, one can assume, hates Samaritans on the side of the road, beaten and in need. This man would have felt perfectly justified in hating the Samaritans. He was a Jew, pure bread and clean. Only now he was in need. Jesus parades a priest and a Levite, the cream of the crop of Jewish religious society, past the poor beaten man. In the effort to keep themselves clean, these men avoid their poor brother. One could speculate their justification, but Jesus does not elaborate: These men just ignore the need and avoid any inconvenience that they may have to undertake. Then enters the hero of the story: the hated and despised Samaritan! (Imagine the gasps of a room full of neo-Nazis who have been told the hero is a black Jewish man, or the gasps of a left-wing radical democrat who is told it’s a white conservative Republican, or any polarized group in our modern society for that matter.) It is this hated man, the traitor, who has compassion. He shows the love of God to the Jew who hates him. Notice the words Jesus uses to bring the story to life. The Samaritan “saw him,” “had compassion,” and “went to him.” He goes out of his way. He then overpays the innkeeper and offers more financial support. He shows the love of God. According to Jesus, we are to do likewise.

Think about this illustration. This Jewish man who is rescued by the Samaritan may or may not have been grateful. He might have been mad that a Samaritan would dare touch him! Racism is insidious that way. It is also not unique to modern western society. This Jewish man could have despised the care he received, and it is highly likely he did. The Samaritan could have been cursed by this man or praised. Fortunately for us, Jesus doesn’t care to explain the object of the mercy, only the giver. Jesus is concerned that His hearers see the one who gives mercy and do likewise.

So, who is my neighbor? The one who spits on me when I serve him. Hurting people hurt people. Don’t know where I heard that, but it is true. When you live like Jesus and love people who are hurting, chances are they’re going to hurt you sometimes. But if Jesus is our example we must love anyway, even at great cost.

Who is my neighbor? The one who hates me. It is easy to love someone you hate… much harder to love someone who hates you. When someone hates you or wrongs you, it is easier to just leave or ignore them. Yet, Jesus’ command is to love this way. Recklessly following the example of a hated man. A man who overlooks the racist garbage to love another human being.

Who is my neighbor? The one who holds opposite political views from me. That jerk-faced guy who rejects my version of the truth in favor of his own fabrication! That one who seems to defy all logic and thinks I’m the problem with America. I’m supposed to love that guy. (please take note, both sides of every argument has a “that guy!”)

Who is my neighbor? Lastly, my neighbor is the one whose path I cross. “God put you in my way.” (Four Feathers -2002 I know it’s a movie quote… and I’m only allowed to use the Bible… forgive me.) My neighbors are the ones who God puts in my way. Remember the command at the end of Matthew? “As you go, make disciples!” (Mt. 28:19) Every person who has been put in your path… that is your neighbor.

Do you love this way? Do you love those who hate you? Do you love those who hate what you stand for? Do you love those in your path? Love well those in your path, that you may leave a wake of love and mercy in this world and people may see Jesus.

4 Observations from Piles of Trash

The smell of decay and death that flooded these homes slowly begins to fade. As the rivers have returned to the confinement of their banks and people have begun the marathon labor of restoring their homes, the remains of death line the roads. Putrid heaps of near toxic, mold-covered trash block the view of once beautifully simple homes.

FullSizeRender (2)Like many in my community, I have been working hard to help people remove waste from their home. Tearing out sheetrock, flooring, destroyed treasure, appliances, etc… It has been a grueling process. I had just completed yet another session of spraying someone else’s home with mold remediation when I was overcome by the view of the street. The devastation is so great that you can smell the decay from inside the car. I was paralyzed as the realization struck me: this is not trash on the side of the road, this is lives and history wiped out in a moment. Those carpets and walls are years spent with children and family. Those piles of trash are someone’s hopes buried inside a tomb of river water. As I struggle to understand and process such tremendous devastation I have been struck by a few observations:

  1. The value of life is not in “things.”

These heaps of destroyed dreams offer an image of life that cannot be easily dismissed. We invest our lives and money in material goods, building homes and putting our monetary resources into “things” that can be easily stripped from us in a moment.  It’s important to note, that the value is not actually in the “things.” The value of this life is not something that can be so easily destroyed. These things only have value because they represent experiences, moments, memories, and relationships. Those things cannot be stripped from you. Cling to those intangible realities of life.

  1. Restoration/ Redemption is painful

When tearing someone’s life apart in order to restore, the old must be torn (literally) from the framework of the home, in order to clean and redeem the home. Life is no different. Our lives are flooded with death and decay because of sin. Born into a world of death, we have only one hope. Jesus offers that hope. When we recognize our sin, admit that we have rejected life, and trust in Him to redeem our souls; then He works in our hearts and redeems. There is much work to be done in the life of a redeemed sinner. The old must be torn away. This process is hard and sometimes painful. It is painful because it is removing a part of who you are. Indeed, it is tearing down what you once thought wonderful, in favor of a potential of who you could be. But having a home that is livable is worth it. Redemption is worth it.

  1. You need help.

Many people where I live did not have insurance. More do not have true community. It has been beautiful to watch as the church community in my area has dropped the pretense and labored to serve the community. Churches in my town have lists of homes that are being worked through. As people have called, the church has answered! When disaster hits, we need each other. When the rivers rise and destroy, we need help. Often overlooked, this simple truth is a key tenant of Christianity. The Christian life is best lived in community together. We need brothers and sisters to help us identify what is waste and what is not. We need the help of Christian community to carry out demolition and drag piles of waste to the curb. We need each other.

  1. To be restored, your home will have to be gutted first.

The work of restoration begins when the house has been fully gutted and all the inner workings of the house have been completely exposed. So it is with life. In order for restoration and redemption to take place, transparency is necessary. You must be willing to be laid bare before the world. Our inner life must be completely stripped and the Spirit of God given rule over the reconstruction work of the soul.

Though I weep for those who have lost everything and yet I know there is hope. I know restoration of homes can and will bring life from death. The process is long and hard. Many will suffer depression and despair as their labor and life have been razed to the ground. Yet, as time progresses and the people of God serve and love their neighbors, life will be brought from death. Homes will be restored, memories will remain, and life will begin anew. This is the hope. Life springs up out of death. Redemption from the flood.

A Big Pulpit- Dale Frankum

“I’ve always liked a big pulpit!” – Dale Frankum

I was in my front driveway attempting to stain a pulpit for the church I planted. The facility we rent had a small one, but I like to preach from larger pulpits. My neighbor Pete built me a large pulpit that was light-weight enough to move around. Dale Frankum was going door to door, urging people to get out and vote. He happened upon my crude workmanship and said, “What are you painting?” I told him it was a pulpit that my neighbor built for me. He smiled and shook my hand and said, “That’s a big pulpit. I’ve always liked a BIG pulpit! Make sure you preach!” He told me that he hoped our new church would succeed and that we would see many souls turn to Christ. He asked us about strategy and plans, genuinely listening as I answered questions. He told me he was glad I was still in Brazoria. Then he laughed, asked me to vote, and went on to the next house.

Dale loved big pulpits. He wanted to deliver a big message from a big pulpit. He wanted to change the world. I think he knew he couldn’t change the whole world, but he had a tenacious desire to change what he could where he was. Actively involved in every aspect of small-town life, Dale left a legacy of service to our small town. It was difficult to find a civic activity that did not involve Dale. When the youth group I led repainted a community center, Dale was consulted and provided paint. When our church worked to run a week-long mission project, Dale helped lead the effort. When the civic center does anything, Dale was involved. His influence is difficult to avoid. It is nearly impossible to find someone in Brazoria that does not have a story about Dale. Dale used his pulpit and it was big.

I’ve lived in Brazoria Texas for almost 11 years now. In all that time Dale has always been present. Consider that for a moment: Dale invested his entire life in a small obscure town in south Texas. His life and ministry were devoted to improving his surroundings. From food for the poor and clothes for the homeless, he worked to help the down-trodden. From getting out the vote to MC’ing the local Miss Brazoria Pagent, he served the community. From laboring to preach the gospel in his own church to organizing and running huge events in which he would preach, he attempted to reach the lost. From opening his church to serve teachers at commencement and training opportunities to helping to organize the bachelorette, he used his time and goods to advance society. Dale invested his life, goods, and heart into this town.

To be clear, Dale Frankum and I were not close. We landed on opposite ends of the theological spectrum. Our interactions were minimal but we were always respectful of each other. We had different ideas on how ministry should run. We had different opinions on what success is and is not. But, we both love a small obscure town. I use the present tense because Dale’s love will not end simply because he has gone home. He left a legacy that will be remembered. I believe we shared a mutual respect for laboring in the same town and we both believed that the preaching of the gospel brings life to a dead world.

Dale will be missed. His presence and charisma have served to influence and change the small town I live in for the last 11 years. His pulpit was big and his voice was loud for the gospel in a small town. He has gone home and we will continue the work here until we join him. So if you’re reading this, “make sure you preach!” Dale has gone home, now you go preach the gospel.

 

Colossians 1:12; Brief Thoughts

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

The third refrain describing the worthy Christian life beckons the believer to gratitude. Indeed, one of the greatest hallmarks of the Christian faith is that of a cultivated gratitude for the presence and work of God. So it is with genuine believers that gratitude overflows from the soul into the world around them. In Ephesians 5:4, gratitude is urged as a defining character trait of the Christian’s speech. In Philippians 4:6, Christians are urged to combat anxiousness with gratitude. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul calls believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” In 2 Thessalonians, the saints are encouraged to give thanks for salvation.  In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers of thanksgiving to be made for everyone, including pagan Kings. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Christians are urged to give thanks for everything they receive.

The spirit of gratitude, cultivated in the life of a believer is absurd. It is a spirit that thanks God for persecution, famine, destruction, as well as freedom, plenty, and life. This Spirit urged among the believers of the first century, no doubt, seemed even more obscene. As Paul urges Christians to express gratitude to God, the Christian religion is experiencing tremendous persecution. Yet, in the face of rejection and death, Christians are to say thanks. Thanks for destruction? Christians are to be grateful for the loss of everything? Truly? Yet, it is the Spirit of God that lives within believers and empowers such obscene gratitude. Though the world collapse and reject everything the Christian holds dear, still, the Christian contradicts such resounding rejection with love and gratitude. The Christian life is a contradiction of worldly values. Believers seek a value that stands in stark contrast with the values of this world and its systems. It is precisely this contradiction that is manifest in the Christian’s gratitude.

Where does such profound contradiction come from? A Christian’s faith results in gratitude for all things because a Christian’s faith is from the God who is over all things. It is “the Father” from whom the ability to respond in gratitude is received. It is also to Him that gratitude is given. He has granted life where there was death and brought light into darkness (c.f. Ephesians 2:1-8). The God of all things, the Maker and Sustainer of all life, has granted Christians an inheritance where there once was none.

Note: He “qualified” believers for this inheritance. The word used here means “to make sufficient” or “to render worthy.”[1] Consider that for a moment. God has made Christians worthy. He has, in His infinite grace, established those who believe in Him as worthy. Those who love Christ need not strive to be worthy. They simply are worthy. They are worthy because the Father has made them worthy. He has changed their condition from sinful, unworthy, and wicked to saintly, worthy, and righteous.

All mankind rejects God. There is no one who is righteous on their own, indeed, all are sons of disobedience (c.f. Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 2). Yet, God, in His kindness, saved those who believe in Him, granting orphans adoption. Forgiving those who deserve death. From this realization, springs gratitude. Mankind is wicked and deserving of death, yet God’s love and favor persist. No person can look upon the face of God, behold His majesty and glory and persist in self-righteous pride. No person can be confronted with the reality of His holiness and still deny His goodness and grace. In the face of such a God, the only acceptable response is gratitude.

Ponder for a moment the truth that He has changed the soul of those who believe. The very nature of the individual who confesses Christ has been displaced and replaced with a new nature that is entirely changed. A nature that has been made worthy of the holiness of God. A nature that has been qualified! Thus, the worthy Christian life is one in which this deep and powerful truth transcends our mundane existence and draws us to our knees in gratitude. This gratitude is present in the light!

The light… everyone can see the Christian. The flaws and weaknesses. The failures and trivial affections. Christians receive an inheritance as children of “light.” There is no hiding in the light. One is entirely exposed in the light. Even so, the stark contrast of the unworthy sinner who has been deemed worthy by God and the holiness of God must draw the Christian to gratitude. For such a change of condition is too great to be observed passively. It demands an exchange of self-righteousness for humble gratitude. Christians cannot stand in pride or pretense. They have been exposed before a holy and righteous King who has deemed them worthy by His own act of benevolence.

[1] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Brief Thoughts; Colossians 1:9-10

9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

The heart of Christian unity is found in the prayers of the saints. It is a unique character trait of the believer that permits such a response to the report of love in the Spirit. There is no desire for them to excel in fame or prestige. There is no passing apathy resulting from a competitive spirit. There is no desire to direct their steps and take charge of them. On the contrary, Paul prays for them to know God’s will and understand it.

What a tremendous prayer! That the Colossians would “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v.9). He does not merely pray for some knowledge or a provision of knowledge. Rather, Paul prays that they would be filled with knowledge. Further, it is not simply general knowledge that Paul seeks, but especially the knowledge of God’s will. The will of God: that sovereign desire that will be brought to fruition. Paul prays that they would be complete in their knowledge of God’s will.[1] Imagine what it must mean to be complete in the knowledge of God’s will. Such knowledge would bring tremendous confidence. That very confidence that is needed to face trial and the strength to overcome sin are wrapped in the knowledge of God’s sovereign will. Take note, it is not knowledge of the specifics of God’s plan or His direct intention. Rather, it is a knowledge of His will specifically. Christians do not require knowledge of every detail of God’s plan, only the full knowledge that He has such a will and can be trusted. As the Christian becomes more aware of and confident in God’s will, the strength of their walk grows.

The knowledge of God’s will is accompanied and processed by “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9). This is faith that is complete. Complete faith does not merely trust in the knowledge that God’s will is sovereign, it also understands it and responds to it in wisdom. Christians who trust in God ought to live as the wisest among mankind. The wisdom of Christians ought to exceed the wisdom of the world, precisely because the nature of Christian wisdom is spiritual. The wisdom of Christians extends beyond the temporal world and exists in spiritual realms. As a result, the wisdom of Christians comes from a source that both influences and alters both temporal and spiritual realities.

Paul’s desire for the Colossians is that their lives would reflect the holiness of God. Christians live differently from the world around them. They live a life that is set apart. A life that is in pursuit of holiness. So, Paul prays that they would have the knowledge to enable such Christ-like living. Knowledge is given to Christians for the purpose of a changed life. A person who claims to know Christ and yet remains unchanged and unholy does not know the Lord. An unchanged Christian is not a Christian at all.

The life that is worthy is here explained in three descriptions each beginning with a participial phrase. The first description bears itself out in three simple phrases of verse ten. First, it is a life that is pleasing to God. That is to say, it is a life that delights in the word of the Lord and pursues holiness. It is not merely a passing delight. The life that is worthy is one that is “fully pleasing!” It is a life that delights God in every aspect. The Christian life is one that brings joy to the Lord not only in the view of the public but also in the secluded moments of privacy. Second, it is a life that bears fruit that is displayed in the work of the Christian life. The fruit of a Christian is not measured in tangible numbers or acts of people. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the character of the Christian (C.f. Galatians 5). Yet, the fruit of the Christian life is born out in the works that Christians do to love their neighbors. It is revealed in “every good work.” Note that it is every work, not merely the ones that have been performed for an audience or in view of specific groups. The fruit of a Christian is displayed in all the works that are accomplished both public and private. Further, Christ admonishes His disciples in John 14 that the world will know His disciples by the way they love. Christians who bear fruit, work. Finally, the worthy life is one that increases in the knowledge of God. A Christian who does not grow in their knowledge of God is either starving their soul or they have not been redeemed. Either way, they are missing the delight and power of the Christian life. The worthy life is one that is spent tenaciously pursuing God. The worthy life is one that lays its selfish desires aside for the sake of knowing the Creator of the universe. The worthy life is a life surrendered to the pursuit of God.

The life of a believer is a changed life. It is a life that both defies the calls to success from the material world around it and embraces a tenacious love for that world. The Christian life is a life altered by the creator of all things. It is a life that is radical in its love towards others, relentless in its pursuit of holiness, and constant in its praise of God.

Oh Christian, how beautiful a worthy life is! Consider what our world would look like if believers genuinely pursued Christ so as to live a worthy life. Such great love would be displayed that the whole world would be forced to take notice. Indeed true Christianity has this effect on the community that surrounds it. When believers work to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the world around them is made more beautiful by the outflow of love that results from their pursuit of God. Pray, dear Christian that you and the other brothers in the faith would be filled with the knowledge of God. In that knowledge, the world will see the glory of God!

[1] The greek word used here indicates a completeness or fullness.

Thoughts from the flood

I live in a small town about an hour south of Houston. We live along the Brazos river. I love our town. It’s beautiful and filled with salt-of-the-earth people. Today, the waters recede north of us. As Houston begins recovery, the river begins to rise where we live. We rejoice with our northern-neighbors, while we wait and watch as the river slowly overflows at our home. This is the insidious nature of natural disasters. While one area is affected in one moment, another area prepares to be affected days later downstream.

Last year we had a similar disaster in my area. Not a hurricane, but a river flood. I watched each day as the flood waters rose slowly, creeping closer to my house. This year is the same. River floods are frightening. They are not quick, they are not obvious, you can ignore them pretty easily. One day you are fine and go to sleep. The next morning you awake with your house surrounded by water.

I check the river each day. Walking down to the end of our street to look over the bank. The first day it starts to rise through the trees and shrubs. You wouldn’t notice it except that some of the space between the leaves is filled with brown water. The next day it is at street level, filling ditches and the back of some of the yards that descend to the bank. The next day it is on the over the road that runs alongside the river. Then comes the slow steady climb. Over the next three days, the water will rise so slowly that no one will notice. It will move into the yards. One moment your home is safe and dry, the next there is a puddle of water in your closet. Each day people will check the level morning and night. Each day people will decide to leave or remain. Each day the river comes closer and we pray it will cease.

The world is inundated with disaster. Physically and spiritually the rivers rise and overtake the world. In my own community, depression and slow degradation move aggressively into the heart of the community, drowning hope. Yet there is an answer. The message of Jesus Christ overcomes the waters of despair. Oh, don’t get me wrong… trials still come and sometimes sweep over us. But the gospel message of Christ frees us from sin and lifts us above the trials. Psalm 40:2 states, “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” Walking the way of Jesus gives the disciple the ability to live beyond their circumstances. There is a supernatural ability to overcome death. The Christian life is a life that is founded in compassion and reckless love for others. The power that drives that love is the Holy Spirit who has indwelt believers and the hope of an eternity beyond this life.

Using the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians drive back the river. We provide places of refuge for those in need. We build levees that can help keep people safe from the rivers. We live above the destruction that comes upon our lives, serving the world around us, and we walk on firm ground above the rising waters. (c.f. John 14) We labor to serve the neighbors in need, attempting to recover what has been lost and restore life where death has reigned. This is Christ. This is Christianity.

Like the inundation of a river, the gospel message is not a short work. True gospel work is long and arduous. At times there are sprints in the recovery process. Old things are torn out, cut away, and removed. Walls that held mold of sin and death are cut out and treated. But the work of the gospel is a long term effort. A friend recently told me that a year after a catastrophic flood, they were still at 40% recovered. Let that sink in for a moment. Bringing life into death takes a long time. The gospel work takes a long term investment. True gospel ministry does not end when the carpet is removed and the house is gutted. True gospel ministry brings life into death. It replaces the stains of this world with the beauty of heaven. It is a laborious and yet rewarding work.

Beloved Christian… get to work. Work hard to love your neighbor and prove the power of the Gospel. Work hard to cultivate beauty in death. Work hard to change the world you live in. Drive back the river, live above death!