Show me Your Hands

By Leonard Sweet
(European Nazarene College, January 18, 2011)

I was reading Psalm 51:10 to my mother when she died: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me.”

Now the key to the holiness movement is a clean heart.  So give me an image for a clean heart.  What does a clean heart go with? Now the holiest person that has ever lived is named Jesus.  Pure holiness.

And what happens here with Jesus is that God comes down to earth.  How far down? How far down does the Incarnation go? Well, from the very beginning how far down does it go?  Where was Jesus born? In a royal palace? In a bassinet? How far down does the Incarnation go? Where does the Incarnation happen? It happens in a smelly stable, where the first thing Jesus experiences as an infant is what? Straw ticks. Little lice that live in straw. They bite your flesh.  And the smell of dung and animals.

But Jesus in the Incarnation went further than that because it not only went down to the very lowest of the human, but Jesus did something that no other Rabbi in history had done or allowed to happen.  In fact, it really bothered the disciples that he did this.  How far down did the Incarnation go? Jesus was the first Rabbi in history to do what? Wash his disciples feet.  That’s how far Jesus went.  All the way down.

And let me tell you, sisters and brothers, you don’t wash anybody’s feet without getting your hands dirty and wet.

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This is holiness!  You want an image of holiness? You have a clean heart? OK, here’s what goes with a clean heart – dirty hands.  You say you have a clean heart? I say, “What? Show me your hands.”

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Leonard Sweet

You are keeping your hands clean? “Oh, I wouldn’t want to get dirty.  We are supposed to be in the world and not of it…” What?! So your hands are too clean to get in the dirt? Oh, we need cleansing rituals all the time to clean us up.  But the whole purpose of cleaning us up is so that we can get dirty…

…Matthew 25 tells us what the question at judgment day will be.  “In as much as you did it to the least of these…”  In other words, here is the question at judgment day – Show me your hands.  You got clean hands? Go someplace else.  Because a clean heart means dirty hands.  Now this is an image of holiness.

Jesus Is Not The Solution

https://iamchrisgilmore.com/2019/08/05/jesus-is-not-the-solution/

Whenever we face despair in our country one of the most common refrains is, “People just need Jesus.”

My friends, I have bad news – Jesus is not the solution.

At least not the Jesus most of us mean.

The Jesus who is a neat little add on to our lives. The one we keep close in case we find ourselves in trouble or need reassurance that we are good people.

The Jesus who is only after mental agreement that he is God and asks little from us in return (besides inviting people to church and trying to cuss less).

This Jesus allows us to occupy pews with prejudiced hearts and systems unchecked. This Jesus allows us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” without considering the implications.

This Jesus allows us to imagine we are faithful disciples while doing most of our learning from cable news. This Jesus will make your life better if you simply pray at an altar or raise a hand with all heads bowed. This Jesus is easy.

This Jesus fits comfortably next to the gods of power and wealth and upward mobility. This Jesus doesn’t mind sharing space because this Jesus is enamored by those things too.

This Jesus allows us to harbor hate and bitterness. This Jesus allows us to distance ourselves from the world and feel good about it.

This Jesus surely didn’t mean love our enemies and turn the other check, because this Jesus is reasonable and really only wants us to be happy and healthy and make it to heaven some bright morning.

This Jesus has been invited into the hearts of slave owners, rapists, abusers, power hungry preachers, white supremacists, idolaters, war mongers, and the like and done nothing but help them feel more holy in their un-Christlikeness.

He is little more than a prop on the campaign trail and a get out of hell card should this whole thing turn out to be true.

This Jesus is powerless. And a fraud.

But there is a different Jesus.

One who is not beholden to the American dream. One who does not bend like a reed when politicians ask us to change our convictions for the promise of power. One who does not ask too little of us.

This Jesus is Lord.

This Jesus throws out the charlatans and calls the religious folk “white-washed graves.” They have the right hymns and sound bites and bumper stickers, but nothing of life and love on the inside.

This Jesus will not allow us to sit complacent. This Jesus will not allow us to settle for platitudes. This Jesus doesn’t want to just make you into a nicer version of yourself.

This Jesus will not tolerate our prejudices or violent words or the space we make for other gods. This Jesus demands we repent and turn from all things that look like death and destruction.

Even when we enjoy them. Or we want them. Or sell our souls to justify them.

This Jesus instructs us to love our neighbors, to welcome the outcast, to care for the sick, and imprisoned. This Jesus is less concerned about borders and budgets and security and constitutional amendments than we’d like to think.

This Jesus will call into question all our allegiances. To self, to family, to politicians, to country.

This Jesus is not safe. He will disrupt everything. He will put us at odds with people who follow the other Jesus and the kingdoms of the world. There will be hurt and pain and ulcers. He told us this. That following him would bring division because following him turns it all upside down.

This Jesus said, “If you want to follow me be ready to go to the death.” The other Jesus convinces us this was only hyperbole and we can go on living just the way we like.

But the true Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the one crucified under Roman rule and resurrected from the dead, he is Lord. And he is the only Jesus worth knowing.

This Jesus and all the disruption and difficulty and hard reflection that he demands is worth it. With this Jesus we find that this is the only way to truly live.

With this Jesus we find change and transformation for ourselves and the whole broken world. With this Jesus we find there is another Kingdom where the last are first and the greatest are servants and that even death leads to victory.

This Jesus pushes us outside of our walls and comfort zones and partisan talking points and air conditioned answers and confronts us with what is real and true and right and good. This Jesus changes minds and votes and spending behavior and addictions and priorities and conversations and attitudes and neighborhoods.

May we know this Jesus. May we follow him.

May we allow this Jesus full access to all our biases and comforts and brokenness to do with as he pleases. May he do his best work in places we don’t even realize need work.

May we put to death the false Jesus that has for too long masqueraded in our sanctuaries and rocked us to sleep.  May we put away apathy and comfort.  May we turn from the gods of power and wealth and personal success in order to fully and loudly proclaim, that Jesus is Lord.

And may this change the world.

Waiting Power

By: Dr. Dan Schafer

President, World Gospel Mission

*The following is an extract from the book: Transformational Vision

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14

Mind boggling! Sitting in the sweltering heat of an Ugandan afternoon, I typed up and sent off an important email with several recipients. One of those recipients sat across the table from me, the others were scattered around the world.

“Got it!” was the reply from my colleague seemingly before I lifted my finger from the sent button. How is it possible for that email to travel from my computer in the depths of Africa, across the continent, over the ocean, to the heart of the US, and then repeat the journey back, signaling its arrival into the inbox of my table companion in just a few seconds?

Not only is this possible, but its occurrence is expected. If the email fails to make its appearance within those few acceptable seconds, our impatience grows. What’s wrong?! We should have gotten that email 30 seconds ago.

Like our email, much of life is delivered at ultra-high speed. Many of us have grown accustomed to next day delivery from Amazon, instant downloadable movies, and an Uber “taxi” driver waiting just around the corner for our beckon call. delivery

What a wonderful convenience these ultra-fast services and products bring to our lives. But writer Tim Elmore shares that there is an unexpected consequence of all this high-speed delivery. There is a significant danger that we will conclude that everything slow or that takes time is bad. This results in a practice of avoiding anything that takes time.

Why is this a danger to us? Simply put, we need the resistance that time consuming activities produce in our lives. Without it, we will not develop into the fully healthy persons God intends for us to be. It is these time-consuming activities that build character in our lives. For example, it is only as we practice waiting that we learn to be patient.

Waiting is important! Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. There is something about speeding through life that causes us to miss the power of God that is available to us. Elijah had to slow down from the events of Mount Carmel to hear the still, small voice of God.

Such a voice can only be detected when we are standing still. Remember, God’s voice wasn’t detected in the wind that went rushing by. It’s only when we learn to wait, that we can truly experience the strength of our God.

Again, waiting exercises the muscle of patience. Without the discipline of waiting, we will find ourselves woefully short on patience. Without patience — we will find ourselves short on love.

Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). The mathematical law of equality informs us that we can flip this equation and restate it — patient [or patience] is love. The reality is that it requires a great deal of patience to live with and to love others. We must learn there are times when it is important to go slow because it builds the patience we need to love one another. And without that perseverance-developed patience we will not have what it takes to maintain the relationships with others that are needed to navigate life.

So, go ahead and enjoy the conveniences that bring speed to our lives, but don’t write off everything that requires time and hard work.  Those mental, spiritual, and emotional exercises are important to your mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

My Prayer:

Lord, teach me that some good things only come by waiting. Amen.

 

 

 

A Strong Foundation

By: Scott Armstrong

A while ago I had a conversation with a college student who I see a lot of potential in.  I actually see gifts and graces in him to be a fantastic missionary someday.  He is passionate about issues of justice and helping the world to become a better place.

At the same time, he recognizes that his morality is lacking.  He wants to hold on to some habits and practices that are slowly eroding his effectiveness as a student, a leader, and a Christ-follower.  Sadly, it appears that he is willing to change the world, but he is not willing to change himself.

Stevenson Willis wrote a book chock-full of wisdom and called, The Proverbs of Leadership: Principles for Leading Your People to the Pinnacle of Greatness.  In it he reflects on this issue of character (pp. 110-111).  I hope you find it challenging.  I may send it to my university friend:

“As with all the great cities built to stand for the ages Jerusalem is established on a bedrock of stone.  The outer wall which protects it is likewise constructed, for the footings that support it have been set to such a depth that it cannot be moved. ancient-angkor-wat-antique-1531677.jpg

But what would happen if the plans for its foundation called for stones that were cracked? Or were it constructed with a base inadequate to carry its load? And what of the cities which might copy its design, unaware of the flaws concealed within? As sure as the sun will rise, each would collapse.  Maybe not today nor tomorrow, but the downfall of all would be certain and inevitable.

And so shall it be in the building of your character.  You may rise to a position of leadership based upon charisma or personality – and indeed succeed for a season – but such unstable stones are not sufficient to sustain you.  If you are to endure through the challenges which will come and emerge with a character worthy of replication, your life must be established on a foundation that will last. 

Integrity is the bedrock upon which character must be built; honesty with self, the first stone to set in place.

Do not bargain with life by coasting on talent or relying upon charm to reduce the payment required for success.  Though such gifts have value they are often misused by the short-sighted to avoid sacrifice.  If you are blessed with talent in abundance or skilled in the art of charm, do not deceive yourself and others by hiding behind your gifts to conceal your unwillingness to work.  For, as many have discovered too late, the cost of your discount will be great and soon subtracted from your character.

Anything of lasting value requires that the price be paid in full before its benefit can be savored.  Though talent alone may propel you to the summit, you will not be allowed to remain; for your conscience (and others) will quickly remind you that you did not pay the price which was necessary to get there.

Cheat by avoiding sacrifice and you swindle only yourself.

There are no shortcuts in the construction of character.  Though the price for building it may seem expensive today, to correct its flaws tomorrow following a failure will cost even more.  From this day forth be honest with yourself and pay with gladness whatever price is demanded for success in your endeavors”.

 

 

 

 

 

A Risky Proposition

By Scott Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about the parable of the talents recently.  And it’s making me uneasy.

You know the story, right? Matthew 25 tells us that a man gives one servant five talents, another servant two, and a final servant one.  After a long time away, the master comes back to find that the first two servants had doubled the money (a talent was worth more than a thousand dollars back then; that’s some good investing!). The third worker was cautious. He didn’t waste the money, per se, but he also didn’t invest it.  He buried it, making sure the master got his talent back when he returned; no big deal.

Except it was a big deal!  Judgment came down hard on that guy, including “darkness,” as well as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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I have often heard (and even preached) from this passage that we should be good stewards with our money, taking care of it, and using it wisely for the Kingdom. Those are good principles to adhere to, but that’s not exactly what’s going on in the story.

The parable of the talents is less about “using our talents wisely” than it is about risking it all for the Master and his Kingdom.  I mean, what if the investment strategies of the first two workers had tanked? At least the final servant didn’t lose the thousand bucks! We can explain away the gamble in hindsight, but that was truly a radical decision by those two!

The massive increase of talents for those servants who risked everything isn’t a lesson in wise money management.  It is a call to step out beyond the safe and the conventional in order to live by faith. Putting everything in the hands of God is the best investment we can make, but it will also be a white-knuckling thrill ride in the meantime.

When was the last time you took a jaw-dropping, stomach-churning risk? When was the last time you stepped out in faith to such a degree that you knew it would fail if God was not in it?

There is an amazing moment in the book of Exodus, when the nation of Israel finds itself on the banks of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh’s chariots are fast-approaching, and Moses and his people start begging God to rescue them.  God’s answer is pretty blunt: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (Ex. 14:15).  Forward, God? You mean, into the Red Sea?! Do you see any problem with this?

To put it more bluntly, God was saying, “Stop praying and get moving!”

That’s a message I believe a lot of us need to hear…and obey.  Nevertheless, many Christians are some of the most risk averse people I know.  We’re more concerned with our own safety than with changing the world.  We’d rather be comfortable and go to heaven than share with others so they don’t go to hell.

That’s not the gospel Jesus preaches.  Leonard Sweet says in his book, The Well-Played Life, “Jesus does not want his followers, of whatever age, to hunker down and duck their heads.  Disciples are not called to avoid high-stakes risks and genuine challenges.  A disciple of Jesus operates in the world of risk.  Jesus placed himself in the firing line of history.  Sometimes he calls us to place ourselves in the firing line of history as well” (p. 169).

Signing up to go before firing lines goes against basic sanity and all human instinct to preserve ourselves.  But it seems to fit perfectly in the Kingdom: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

Are you with me? Then let’s stop burying our talents and start daringly investing them. Let’s stop complaining about the army behind us and step into the Red Sea in front of us.  Firing lines and a transformed world await.

What to do with Paquito? Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

2. When ministering to adolescents we must possess a Commitment to Character and Consistency.

This has to do with expectations.

I am amazed to hear how low my friends and colleagues occasionally set the bar for our adolescents.  “The world is so much worse than it was twenty years ago.  How can we expect these kids to do anything of lasting worth?” Some have even said that holiness is not for kids and teens – it is just not possible for them with their immaturity and all that the world throws at them!

Let me suggest something radical here: That “Be holy as I am holy” thing is actually possible in our middle-schoolers!  Virtues like integrity, purity, and – yes – consistency are actually doable for 13-year old Ted and 14-year old Kami.  It is amazing what junior-highers can do when they know that others are truly depending on their character and consistency.  I have seen it in Manolo, a 14-year old from Guatemala who always arrives first to praise team practice and has started leading a Bible study in his house, even though his parents want no part of church.  I have seen it in David, a 14-year old from San José, Costa Rica, who spent his first year in youth group doodling on scrap paper and now is the first one to finish our discipleship and Articles of Faith classes.

Let’s set the bar high and be disappointed every now-and-then instead of setting the bar low and constantly griping about the mediocrity in our youth.

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3. Ministry to adolescents requires a Commitment to Christian ministry.

In Latin America, very few churches have a full-time salaried pastor, let alone a youth pastor of any kind. And more than two-thirds of the population of Mexico and Central America are under the age of 30.  Imagine what kind of local churches this creates!

In most of the churches I have been a part of during the last fifteen years, there are a good number of adolescents teaching Sunday School, serving as ushers or greeters, playing or singing on the praise team, etc.  In several congregations, I am amazed to see twelve- and thirteen-year olds that are allowed to preach! Why is this the case? If you live in a neighborhood of children and youth, your church had better be filled with children and youth and your ministry teams should be filled with children and youth!

This whole phenomenon is not constrained to the church walls.  Our current ministry in Latin America seeks to train missionaries from here in church planting and evangelism.  Part of that is providing them short-term volunteer opportunities where they can do just that as well as test out their calling.  So what happens when junior-highers – even though policy says they are not supposed to be volunteer missionaries due to insurance and other important issues – decide that they want to plant churches as part of one of these teams? Elisa (age 12) and other adolescents have taught me much about mission and passion as they knock on doors and sleep on floors in the hills of rural Mexico.*

*Incidentally, this cannot be explained just by cultural differences.  I could tell of Julie and Jeremy in suburban USA, who as junior-highers had their quirks like anyone, but served on our youth council and testified of their faith at school constantly.  When consistency is expected, lives can be changed from Peoria to Panama.

I am somewhat embarrassed to think back on my days as a youth pastor when we allowed the teens to have their “youth night” where they lead the “big service.”  In reality, it is a great idea, of course, and a fantastic way to train them in ministry.  But who says junior-highers must be relegated to a themed night? What does it say when we have entire ministries to and for them, and yet we do not really allow them to minister with us in the day-to-day life of the church?

As you saw, the title of this article is “What to do with Paquito?” If Paquito is 13-years old and constantly acts like he has just downed 10 cans of Mountain Dew, the question is a dilemma.  But perhaps the answer can be found in a deep commitment to community, character, consistency, and Christian ministry.

As I end this article, I have to clarify that my intention here has not been to criticize anyone.  In reflecting back on my ministry over the last 20 years, I have felt most critical of my own inadequacies and errors. Ministering with adolescents is a wonderful and trying adventure that requires many men and women called by God and passionate about loving and discipling this age group.  My hat goes off to all of you, and I count it a privilege to minister with you, and with them.

 

Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

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I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.