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Dear Christian, how long will you go limping between two different opinions? – I Kings 18:21

In 1 Kings 18:17-41, Elijah levels the charge against the people of Israel and their king. He calls out the king and the people for worshiping the false fertility god Baal, demanding they choose between Baal and the LORD. The people must choose! Either submit to the will of the LORD and believe in Him, or follow your own passions and find your help in the worthless Baal.

He stood before the people of Israel to display the Lord’s might, proposing a competition between the LORD and Baal. Which god would answer? The fertility god Baal or the LORD, God of all. Baal was a god that promised fertility and sexual satisfaction. Cultic prostitution and sexual deviance were normative parts of worship within the cult of Baal. As such, the LORD, God of the Hebrews, stands in total opposition to the worship of Baal. The Law of God condemned the very acts of religious fealty in Baal’s religious cultic worship. Two bulls were prepared and Baal could go first. Let your god light the fire.

The 450 men of Baal prepared their altar and pleaded with their god to answer their cries. They danced, begged, preformed rituals, and even cut themselves to bring from their god the desired outcome of fire from heaven. Yet, nothing came. The spectacle went on for hours as Elijah taunted them, fanning their furious attempts to call forth fire from the heavens. The prophets used knives cutting deep into their own flesh and the flesh of others in desperate pleas to secure the answer. Still… silence. All day they worked to call their God to appease their desires. Still… nothing… their god could not bring fire.

The prophets of Baal trusted in that which could not bring fire. They mutilated themselves and begged their god to answer and yet they received nothing. As you read this account in the Bible, you get the feeling that no one has ever challenged these prophets on this scale before. No one says anything save Elijah, who simply taunts them. The entire nation is gathered to watch and sits enraptured, waiting for Baal to answer. The prophets obviously expected their god to answer. Hours of desperation and embarrassment, yet the prophets persist.

This devotion to the false gods of sexual indulgence is not uncommon in our own culture. Promiscuity is the norm and deviant sexual behavior is lauded and even heralded as entertaining (e.g. the 50 shades series). Men and women will spend hours indulging in pornography hoping it will bring fire that will satisfy. They will cut themselves, ruin their relationships, and beg and plead for their false gods to bring fire. The more they beg and plead for their false god to answer, the deeper their despair grows and the more ruinous their scars become. The result of such false worship is a “limping” life. “How long will you go on limping…” (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah recognized the result of such wicked hypocrisy: a limping, unsuccessful life.

Like the prophets of Baal, sinful sexual indulgence works until it is challenged. The moment you confront this false god with an actual need for satisfaction, the god can’t answer. In private, as a prophet of the false god, you can pretend. But, once you need actual satisfaction, the horrific reality sets in and you begin to ruin yourself and everyone around you calling on the false god to answer your need for fire. Pornography and sexual deviance are destructive. These practices destroy intimacy, silence truth, emasculate men, and objectify women. Those who indulge in such activities cause irreparable harm to their own psyche and bring permanent damage to their own ability to relate to others. Further, pornography is fiction! It is an illusion that does not actually satisfy. Finally, these practices pervert the glorious picture of sexual intimacy that God created and thereby damage the person’s ability to engage in the worship of the One True God! Like the worship of Baal, our own modern sexual idolatry has left American Christianity limping and weak.

Now, someone will argue that it is not fair to call someone who indulges in private one of the prophets of Baal. However, remember the beginning of the story. Elijah says, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” [1] Elijah is calling the people of Israel to account. He is not attacking the worship leaders of Baal in his challenge. He is attacking the adherents to the religious activity. Indeed, he is challenging the nation of Israel asking them how long they will persist in worshiping Baal and Yahweh. So this display of mutilation and self-destruction in an attempt to get the false god’s attention is meant for those who would vacillate between two opinions. It is an example for those who would worship Christ and harbor within themselves a worship of false gods. It is for those who have split allegiance. It is intended for us.

Consider for a moment the fruit of seeking satisfaction in the false god of pornography.

  1. You will go on limping in life. You will not run so long as you are tethered to the false fertility god.
  2. You will seek satisfaction that will never bring true fire. While you may convince yourself that you have been satisfied in secret, you will forever stand beside a rotting corpse hoping for fire to fall.
  3. You will do damage to yourself. Just like the prophets cut themselves, so you will scar yourself and leave wounds on your soul that may never fully heal.
  4. You will be angry at the Saints when you are not satisfied and they are. You will feel mocked and scorned when your god does not answer.
  5. You will be ashamed. No need to elaborate on this one.
  6. You will die. If you are a believer, this particular half way worship of Jesus will kill your zeal for Christ. You cannot worship God and sex.

Now let’s consider Elijah’s response to Baal.

Baal’s prophets stand embarrassed after hours of labor. Exhausted and wasted, they watch as Elijah takes the crowd’s attention.

First Elijah rebuilds the altar of the Lord. He does not create a new altar, nor divine some fancy new method for defeating Baal. He rests on the strength of the worship that the Lord has commanded. He rebuilds and places his sacrifice on what God has already set in place. Oh Christian, if you are to claim victory over sin and feel the fire of God fall from the heavens to ignite your soul, you must rely on the altar He has already placed before you. You must rely on Christ’s word. Lay your hopes and sacrifices upon the altar of the Word of God… no other counsel will lead you to overcoming.

Second, Elijah finds his identity in the Lord’s calling of Israel. He rebuilt the altar with 12 stones signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. If we are to defeat sin, we must remember that we belong to Him and are called to Him by Him (c.f. John 6:35-40 and John 10:27). It is paramount that you remember that you do not belong to sin any longer. You are claimed as His own, one of His tribe. You are Christ’s now. If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, you are no longer slave to sin (c.f. Romans 6 and Ephesians 2:1-10).

Third, Elijah covered the sacrifice with water. We must expect greater things from the One True God. Our requests of Him are so superfluous that we should be ashamed. It is as if we have asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when offered any meal we desire prepared by the greatest chef in existence. Perhaps the reason you have not overcome your sin is because you simply have not asked. Or perhaps you do not trust that God can satisfy your needs. Do you really think that your sexual desires are beyond His ability to fulfill? Do you think it’s not within the Lord’s realm of provision? Ask the Lord to provide for you in this way. I have seen many marriages rekindled by such a request. Elijah set his sacrifice up with impossible odds stacked against God Almighty! Yet still… fire fell! He will answer you as well.

Fourth, Elijah prays a simple prayer, asking that the Lord would answer him. His request is that God would answer him so that others would see and that others would be drawn to repent. This is our purpose for life, that the Lord’s name would be made great in us. However, so long as we vacillate between two opinions, we will not rest in the provision of God.

Finally, Elijah kills the false prophets. Pornography must die. It’s that simple, Christian. You must make war on sin and kill the pornographic influences in your life. If you want a life that revels in the power and provision of God, you must be devoted to Christ. Otherwise, you will spend all your time being called to a singular devotion rather than living in it.

 

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Re-Created. My first book!

ReCreated_4This is my first book! It is a walk through the gospel of John. Writing this work has been one of the greatest joys of my life and I hope it serves to advance the Gospel!

The Gospel of John has long been my favorite of the four gospels. Its unique perspective and complex rhythm have captured my heart and drawn me to a deeper understanding of Jesus. The theme of John’s gospel is that Jesus is God. He is God come to earth to re-create the hearts of the people He loves so dearly. I’ve been privileged to teach through the Gospel of John three times as a pastor. Each time, the Lord has been faithful to reveal more and more of His character through the text.

Nic2As I preached through John most recently I used some artistic aids to help explain and teach the text. I found that the gospel was illuminated in a unique and inspiring way through these efforts. Through art and poetry the story came alive to me. As I journeyed with Jesus through the narrative of John, I found art and poetry capturing and elucidating truth in a way that giving a speech or an exegesis could not. What resulted was this work.10 feet2.jpeg

It is my deepest desire that this work would serve to advance the teaching of the gospel. I long for people to see Jesus. I want them to know Jesus the way I know Jesus. I want people to see His love and grace, to feel His anger at injustice, to understand His kindness to those who hate Him, and to hear His voice calling them out of darkness. Our world has so many convoluted ideas and depictions of Jesus. It is my hope that this work will draw people to see Jesus more clearly through the Scripture.fruit2

I pray you are blessed as you read through this work. I was blessed in the writing.

If you’d like to see a sample of the poetry here is a free pdf of two poems from the book: pdfsample2poems

Re-Created is available for purchase here:

Amazon.com

Lulu.com

If you are interested in bulk orders, please contact me at novis_elkins@hotmail.com with the subject heading: Re-Created Bulk Order

Impossible Prayers

Recently I was challenged by a message by Eric Ludy. He spoke in the message about praying “impossible prayers.” His challenge to the congregation was to pray in accordance with God’s character. God is immense! God created and sustains all things. He is powerful beyond what we could ever think or imagine. So, if we believe this, our prayers must exist in accordance with this truth.

At Sovereign Grace Fellowship, We’ve asked all the members to join in by making a list of a few impossible prayers that they can pray. What is so powerful about prayer is that God uses it to change the pray-er. Not only does prayer affect the circumstances that one prays about, it also affects the one who is doing the praying. I thought I’d share some of my impossible prayers below as well as some of the effects that have resulted within me from praying this way.

  1. I pray that everyone who lives on my street would become believers in Christ Jesus. As I have prayed this, I find myself speaking more openly to my neighbors. I will see them outside and, instead of a simple wave and walk inside, I approach with the intent of spiritual conversation. This has extended beyond just my neighbors. I find myself talking about deep things with more and more people as I pray this prayer. The cashier at the store, the guy walking along the road, the city worker… every person I see and talk to becomes a valuable deep conversation. I’ve become “that guy.” My evangelistic zeal has increased as I beg the Lord to save my street.
  2. I pray that starvation and poverty would be eradicated in the United States and then that our country would use it’s resources to do the same in the rest of the world. As I have begun to pray for this on a regular basis, my own sense of gratitude has been developed. Sitting down to a meal, in a house is a pretty big deal now. The sorrow I feel for those who don’t have a place is only eclipsed by the gratitude that grows in me. I also have been more attentive to the needs of those who do not have food or a home. I know that I am more sensitive to the hunger of others now. I know that, though I have little, I have some and can help others who have none.
  3. I pray that every church in the west would teach the gospel with clarity and that the church would look completely different from the world. This prayer has made me less concerned with my own church’s numeric success. It has made me much more concerned with the salvation of souls and the discipleship of Christians. This prayer is really not a new one. It has kind of been a cornerstone of my life since the age of 22… So when we started SGF, we incorporated prayer for another church every Sunday. We receive no material benefit from these churches and we have no special connection to them other than Kingdom work. With our limited resources and size, we strive to partner with others in the gospel ministry in this way. As I have prayed for every church to teach and live out the gospel in a way that changes the perception of the church in the west, I find myself evaluating other churches based on their Kingdom efforts. Buildings, membership, and programs no longer impress. But, Kingdom work – that selfless effort of Christians to proclaim the gospel with no material benefit to ourselves, is all that matters.

So what are some impossible prayers you pray!? Post them in the comments.

Featured Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

There are few hymns and songs so venerated and transcendent as Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is our God. In the midst of trial and struggle against threats rejection, economic distress and even of death from the Rhenish Palatinate, Luther penned the words for this powerful hymn to reinforce the mission of the Protestant church. Faced with a choice, the priests who had followed Luther could either turn away from him and reject all that Luther had stood for or they could themselves be condemned by the Holy Roman Church and undergo the same rejection Luther suffered, potentially even leading to death.

When I have been slandered, this hymn has reminded me of God’s faithfulness and graciousness to me. I am reminded, when the world stands in opposition to the Gospel, He is our refuge and strength. No power of hell can overcome Him and no ill can defeat Him! Luther was concerned for the heart of his fellow priests and he encouraged their labor and efforts with music. Not a sermon, not a stirring pamphlet… music. Music engages us in a way that other mediums cannot. For me, it is in moments of toil and distress that I seek the Sabbath of

song, the solace of melody, and the poetry of truth! Luther saw the faint heart of fellow priests and sought strength in songs of God! Psalm 46 freshly on his heart and mind, the German theologian and pastor sat down and reminded all faithful Christians of these deep truths.

A mighty Fortress is our God,

A Bulwark never failing;

Our Helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

 

Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His Name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

 

That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through Him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

God’s truth abideth still,

His Kingdom is forever.

In these four stanzas, Luther brings assurance that no enemy can stand against the Lord of Hosts! He is victorious and it is in Him and Him alone that Christians take refuge. Though all be torn asunder, Jesus remains, our mighty fortress.

In recent years, Shane and Shane has produced a version of Psalm 46 that is tremendously edifying as well. Go have a listen: Psalm 46.

 

5 Things I do to Start my Day.

I am not a morning person. I used to be, but then I had kids. I was once able to burn the candle at both ends and subsist on 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. Now… not so much. But, I need to get going in the mornings. I’m a pastor, so I’m supposed to levitate off my bed at 4 am, pray for two hours, write a devotion, miraculously read the entire Bible, and have heard the voice of the Lord before 5 am. Right? No… I’m a real person. Don’t put that super-spiritual nonsense on your pastors. They are real people.

Often in the mornings, my mind is fuzzy and I drag to get out of bed. I get breakfast ready for my kids (I have four, 8-years old and under). I make my breakfast. I answer constant questions. You know, I get moving. It is difficult to get my mind going productively with four tiny people demanding your attention while simultaneously attempting to focus your energy towards thinking deeply about God, the meaning of life, and everything. There are some things I do that help me get my brain moving in the morning. Some of them may surprise you.

  1. One of the first things I do in the morning is take a deep breath. When I wake up in the morning, my brain immediately starts running. It fires off lists of the day. Not organized lists that can be written down. These lists are terrors of confusion! It’s like watching some sort of bizarre squirrel that is frantically searching for the food he buried three years prior. These thought squirrels race through my brain intermittently arguing with each other over priority and importance. “fix the fan, toilet,…” is interrupted by, “pray for X, and her, and…” is interrupted by, “cook the eggs, pour the cereal,…” is interrupted by, “call this, write that blog, finish that edit….” Then one squirrel will punch another one and chaos ensue. So… I’ve learned to breathe in the mornings. I will walk into the hallway, look at the wall or the floor, and take a deep breath. As I inhale I let the squirrels run. Then when I exhale I consciously force the lists to stop.

If you have never done this, it takes some practice to get to the point where it works. Follow the Augustinian method. Breathe in and say “Jesus Christ.” Breathe out and say, “Son of God.” Breathe in and say, “Have mercy on me.” Breathe out and say, “Your servant.” In this way, you’ll find your mind clears and the squirrels stop messing around. This breathing has become my opening prayer time to God. But, in breathing, I’m not talking, I’m listening. Begin your day listening, make the squirrels stop.

  1. Read my Bible. Ok… so this is a no-brainer for a pastor. But, this particular reading is not as spiritual as you think. This reading is often done on my phone for a minute or less. I pull up my Bible app, read a few verses, and then get busy getting the kids up and going while I have number 3 playing in the background. I read these verses quickly. The skies do not part and angels don’t sing. I rarely remember what I read though I’m always affected by it. This moment is just that… a moment to hear the Word and remind myself that God is speaking. Devotion time for me happens later on in the morning. Study time for me happens later on. Writing and engaging with the text happens later. This moment is simple. This moment is a pause. It exists to tune my heart and mind to listen. So… read a couple verses to get your mind going on the right track in the morning. Clouds need not part and you don’t have to walk away like some ancient sage. Just read a few verses and enjoy Him.

 

  1. Watch or listen to something funny. In the mornings I listen to some sort of satire or humor… nothing too long, just enough to get a chuckle or two. It helps to loosen me up and not take myself too seriously. Listening to satire in the morning reminds me that the world is still moving and I don’t need to worry about every little thing. I think God likes to laugh. If He didn’t, children wouldn’t be children. Laughter is good, so I try to laugh at the beginning of the day, it makes the difficult parts more palatable.

 

  1. Drink caffeine. I drink between 2 and 4 cups of hot tea in a day and at least one cup of coffee every morning. I took up coffee after the birth of my third child. Again… there is no deep philosophical reason to drink caffeine in the morning. I have four children who all want chocolate milk, and cinnamon toast crunch, and a banana, and a movie, and a book for daddy to read to them, and a toy that only daddy can reach, and a, and a, and a, etc…. So I drink some coffee to get going, no deep thoughts here: it’s just something that helps to get me moving.

 

  1. I listen to something intellectually challenging or educational. To get my mind thinking about deep things, I’ll listen to some sort of lecture while I finish breakfast, get dressed, and the like. Today it was a lecture on the effect of procrastination on the mind of original thinkers. Yesterday it was a lecture on the life of C.S. Lewis. These are short (20-30 minutes) and I listen to them while I am getting ready. If they are not done by the time I sit at my desk, I do not finish them. By listening to something like this, my mind is ready to run in a straight path. I can focus, my lists are now lined up (often literally written on a notepad on my desk), and I am ready to tackle the day’s work.

What do you do to get going? (leave it in comments)

What do you do to get going?

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.

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.