Body art, otherwise known as tattoos, is very popular these days. We even have our own tattoo parlor in downtown Moultrie. Sailors, soldiers, and bikers used to be the primary candidates for this permanent reminder of temporary insanity, but no longer. Today a corporate executive or a housewife is just as likely to have a tattoo hidden where the sun doesn't shine as a person on the streets of San Francisco.

Body piercing is also popular. Pierced ears have always been popular but now navels, eyebrows, nipples, noses, and tongues have become "holey" places used to display all kinds of jewelry. So far nobody has been innovative enough to come up with any other uses for these body holes.

I have never had any desire to get a tattoo or a part of my body pierced. I'm a Baptist preacher so that shouldn't surprise anyone. I do find tattoos and body piercing interesting, though. I'm curious. There's got to be a story with each tattoo or each pierced part of the body. I'm just not assertive enough to ask people to tell me the circumstances that led to getting ears pierced from the lobe all the way to the side of the head. I'm afraid I might get pierced in a different way.

There's nothing immoral about body art and body piercings that I'm aware of. Even the Bible has some comparable stories.

In the days of the ancient Hebrew, slavery was common. There were laws made to protect the slaves from poor treatment and abuse. One law actually led to their release after six years of faithful service. The owner was required to let the slave go in the seventh year -- a type of indentured service.

At times, the relationship between slave and owner was so good that the servant didn't desire to leave, but to stay in service to the owner because of the depth of the relationship--or perhaps there was no possibility of having a life any better anywhere else. Provisions were made for this arrangement.

"If your servant says to you, 'I do not want to leave you,' because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant." Deut 15:12-17 (NIV)

The pierced ear became the symbol to others of the commitment made by the servant. The mark left upon the body was a testimony to the master's love and care of the servant and to the servant's devotion to the master.

Christians are people who have that kind of relationship with God. Although Jesus once said, "I no longer call you servants ... Instead, I have called you friends." (John 15:15) Christians live with a desire to follow Christ, to serve Christ by serving others. In essence we are saying to Christ our Master, "Because you love me and I am well off with you, I desire to go no other place but under your care." This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." (Ps. 23:1)

When this relationship occurs, the Lord gives us a mark. It's not a physical mark but it is a mark made possible partly by marks placed upon the body of Jesus: nails driven into his hands and his feet, the piercing of his side from the spear of a soldier as Jesus' body hung lifeless from the cross.

The mark that is placed upon the Christian is the mark of the Holy Spirit. "Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-to the praise of his glory." Eph. 1:13b-14 (NIV)

There is a story behind every one of these marks. Every Christian can tell you the story of how we were once lost but now we are found. We never have to doubt this, either, because the mark of the Holy Spirit is upon us. The Holy Spirit is a daily reminder that the Lord lived, died, and rose again, is alive and living within us, leading, guiding, directing, convicting, forgiving, loving, giving, and empowering. Because we live in Christ and because Christ lives within us, we live to tell others about this relationship with our Lord.

We live to tell others how we were once marked with sin, but Jesus the Great Tattoo Artist has placed upon us the mark of his Holy Spirit, a permanent reminder that we are His servants and He is our Lord.

The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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