Healing and peace. How does one find both, if someone you know was affected by the mass shootings that took 12 lives and injured 58 in Aurora, Colorado. One year after the mass shootings in Norway, how does a mother find peace for their child in an unsafe world.
How does a Christian respond to the tragedy in Denver? Do we respond like the person who commented on the All About Jesus by haventoday.org Facebook site? Is our response … “don't put James Holmes on death row .... just take him out back and shoot him on the spot!” Is the Christian response to first shift into a discussion of why we don’t need gun control after these killings on her Facebook site? How does a Christian respond. On the day after James Holmes appeared for the first time in court, how do we respond? One way I pick up from Jesus. We need clean hands and clean hearts.
We show we care as Jesus cared for those of unsound body or mind. We pray for the power of evil to not prevail in a chaotic world. Entertainment aimed at young people is becoming markedly more violent. In a world where Hollywood shows concern after tragedy but continues to push the boundaries of sadistic violence to drive up box office revenue, it’s the Christian who doesn’t respond with hate for hate, evil with more evil. Although apparently telling authorities he is an agnostic, it was his home church growing up – Penasquitos Lutheran Church in northern San Diego county California – where signs were posted on Sunday reading “Prayers for those affected by the Colorado tragedy” and “Prayers for the Holmes family”. Dozens of people wrote messages of support.
Welcome to HAVEN Today, I’m CM sharing the GS that’s all about Jesus in Denver on KRKS Radio and many other places around the world. We’re calling this program “Give Us Clean Hands” and soon we will turn to Jesus and hear his words to us in Matthew 10. On the weekend I was watching a mother with a little boy with special needs. I know it runs through her mind, what will happen in the future to my young son. How will he make it in a cruel, unforgiving world. And then I saw her bow her head, holding her little boy and I knew that she knew where to put her trust. Sunday night, I was speaking with a mother who had just driven her son and daughter to a week-long Christian camp. Their safety was obviously on the mind of this mother and father. And yet they pray and give their children over to the Lord. The only safe hands, are the hands of the Lord and only he can keep us safe. HT opens with a new song that tells of how God is our fortress and strength when we face evil and because of that the singer of the song has asked the Lord to make us “Fearless”.
SONG – Fearless – Travis Ryan
HT and a program called “Give Us Clean Hands”. Before we end the program today, we’re going to pray for all those affected by the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. We’re going to pray for the family of James Holmes, living in northern San Diego county California. We’re going to pray for James Holmes in the Arapaho Detention Center where other inmates are threatening to kill him if given the chance.
If you read the Gospels, the words of Jesus, for more than just a single verse, you’ll begin to see a pattern emerging of Jesus doing something that upsets somebody by what he says or does, telling a parable or making some pithy statement in response, and finally one upping his opponents. You will also notice after reading the Gospels that Jesus’ most common opponents are the Pharisees. Pharisees were one of the religious parties in Jesus’ time. The land of Jesus was occupied and ruled by foreign Roman forces.
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”
James Holmes is described as quiet but brilliant. He was an exceptional student involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities. James and his family were well known as regular church goers, active and diligent in their involvement in their local Lutheran church. After graduating with highest honors from the University of California Riverside, James decided to return to school out of state to work on a prestigious PhD in neuroscience at the University of Colorado in Denver. A few days before last Friday’s tragedy, this young man had drinks with a woman who described him as kind, somewhat non-descript, and bright. Then early last Friday morning, one year after the mass shootings in Norway, this intelligent, kind, young man who had grown up in the church and was described by some as a good person did something unthinkable and inexplicable. He dressed totally black, donned full body armor and a gas mask. He armed himself with smoke canisters and several firearms, walked into the premier of the new Batman film and for two minutes walked up the theatre aisle, methodically shooting moviegoers. 12 died, 58 injured. Now no one thinks of him as kind, bright, and nondescript. All opinions have changed. James Holmes had become a mass murderer.
Transition: What caused this kind of change in him? Was he always like this under the surface? After the disarming of the elaborate booby trap bombs in his apartment on Saturday, we see a different person. We hear reports out of the Denver-area lockup of a young man spitting at guards, thinking he really is the Joker in the Batman flick. How do we as Christians respond to this kind of horror?
1) The passage we shared from Matthew 15 is classic Jesus. If you read only a few pages in the Gospels you will recognize a pattern of confrontation between Jesus and others. Constantly Jesus is responding to different challenges and attacks from his opponents who are offended by his strange or offensive behavior. The Pharisees were one of a few competing groups in Jesus’ day each with its own interpretation of how to be faithful to God, interpret Scripture, and deal with the constant tension of being ruled by an oppressive foreign nation: Rome. The Pharisees were particularly interested in purity and their watchword would probably have been “separate.” Be meticulous in what and how you eat, do the right thing on the right day so that you can protect yourself from contamination with an evil, godless world. In other words, be careful to stay spiritually pure. And it’s just on this issue that Jesus has a disagreement with the Pharisees in this passage.
Jesus calls to himself a crowd and tells them: “It is not what goes into a mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Now I think Jesus’ disciples were thinking something like what I was thinking when I first read this. “What? Maybe you mean something like don’t worry about some of the Pharisees food regulations, but what do you mean by ‘what comes out defiles?’” So the disciples come up to Jesus and they try and see if they can get Jesus to say a little more without letting on about their ignorance. “Hey you know the Pharisees were really mad about what you just said Jesus.” Jesus responds, “Don’t worry about it, they aren’t in touch with the way of my Heavenly Father, they are ignorant people leading other ignorant people.” So finally Peter steps forward and bites the bullet, “Jesus, we don’t really get it either, can you explain this to us?” And he does:
As I mentioned the Pharisees had special regulations about what to eat, and how to eat it. They were meticulous about keeping kosher with additional regulations concerning hand washing to make absolutely sure nothing improper came in contact with them. Jesus sees their preoccupation to be fundamentally backwards. The true barometer of where we are spiritually, according to Jesus here, is our heart. This is the seat of human decision making, of evil thoughts and actions. So according to Jesus even if some one carefully follows a set of prescribed outward rituals or requirements it still tells us little to nothing about what is going on deep down inside us. That’s why Jesus’ list of wrongs starts like it does with “evil intentions.” First the heart decides to indulge in evil then follows murder, adultery, fornication, theft, and so on.
This is radically different than we are often prone to think. The person who is careful to do some “good” thing: be it regular Church attendance, or working long hours to provide for a family, studying hard and making good grades, or volunteering to help those less fortunate. Any of these actions could be by a person we tend to think of as “pure.” Yet these kinds of indicators can be a mask that hides a quite different inner person. This is chillingly illustrated in James Holmes. Although James was mild-mannered, studious, and polite. He even helped as a counselor for underprivileged kids at a Big Brother/Big Sister camp a few years ago. Yet something bad was stirring deep down inside. In the final analysis, at least as the incident now appears, we must judge that this evil arose from James’ heart. Is he mentally disturbed? No doubt! We ought not to be so quick to pass judgment on someone else because we don’t actually have access to his or her inner life. Likewise, we should have a certain suspicion of ourselves. It is easy for me to judge the state of my soul by what other people see or say about me. Even if we manage to keep our wicked thoughts from actualizing what do we see when we look inside ourselves? Is it someone observant but twisted? Or is it someone whose love for God and others works itself out in good deeds?
First, Purity is as much about the heart as the hands. Not that it doesn’t matter what we do, but Jesus is calling for a true purity that is ultimately inward and then outward.
Often when I think about the idea of human purity I imagine a hermit. The person standing alone on a desolate mountain peak that symbolizes the spiritual heights to which they’ve ascended. But Scripture points us, I think, in a slightly different direction. Let me remind you of the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts chapter 5 the Church has just started. The Holy Spirit has descended on the first believers and a whole new era has begun. Peter and the other disciples are preaching boldly and with confidence, the confusion and uncertainty we detected in the disciples as we looked at our last passage has long since passed away because of the presence of God’s Spirit. More than that, Acts says these first Christians had committed themselves to eating together, hearing the Word of God together, and, amazingly, holding loose their possessions. Anyone who was in need immediately had their need met because these new Christians were sharing everything they had with one another. Right before Acts chapter 5 we are told about man named Barnabas that sold a piece of real estate he had and gave it to the Apostles to distribute to the poor. He was acclaimed for his generosity.
In contrast there’s Ananias and Sapphira, married Christians in the early Church. They also had means just like Barnabas and probably wanted similar acclamation for their good deed. So they sold a piece of real estate but kept some of the profit for themselves. Ananias (the husband) went and gave it to the Apostles to distribute stating that he was giving ALL the money they had just received for selling the property. But Peter knew better. He looked at Ananias and said some of the most chilling words in Scripture, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” And the Bible says at that moment he dropped dead. A little later his wife came and essentially the same episode repeated with her.
What is this frankly weird story about? We could find several implications but there is one I want to highlight. God chose to act so swiftly in curtailing this kind of behavior because deception is corrosive to a community. The Church was new and its mission just getting started, this kind of impurity and sin had to be cut out.
Impurity, as seen in Ananias and Sapphira, is not merely an individual affair. The pure love and acts of giving that Barnabas had represented built up and encouraged every one else in the Church. Meanwhile Ananias and Sapphira’s sinfulness threatened to undermine the whole Church.
Second, Purity is as much about us as it is about me.
We aren’t simply concerned with the pure heart and hands that I just discussed for our own ends. Rather, these things create a powerful ripple effect. They can move outward inspiring and empowering all those that we live with and come into contact with. I heard a story about a couple of girls in Aurora Friday morning. During the immediate aftermath before authorities had arrived they stumbled upon a teenage boy who had been shot in the leg. No doubt they were in fear, no doubt they wanted to simply ignore the carnage and get away. But instead they helped this young man. They took him into their car and made a tourniquet for his leg. They prayed for him and stayed with him until paramedics could attend to his wounds. That was an example of purity. Not separateness but closeness. Not holding others at arms length to try and maintain our own individual sense of moral cleanliness, but a purity that can only be manifest in relationships with others. And unlike Ananias and Sapphira there is no fear of relational decay but only others being healed.
And this leads to me to a final point. If we in fact desire purity we have two problems. The first is that in fact as humans we are already impure. Remember how in my first point I mentioned that purity is both heart and hands? Well earlier in this same Gospel Jesus had already told us that to mock, or insult, or be angry at another is like being culpable for murder. All of us need to be made pure by another. Specifically by Jesus! Hebrews 9:26 says Jesus has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Without Jesus death cleansing us of our sins we have no hope of even starting to move toward true purity. Only by his sacrifice and love and our trust in that will we washed clean and be able to begin down the path of true purity.
The 2nd problem we have is our ignorance. What exactly does purity look like? My first two points help us begin to know what it might mean to truly be pure: it involves the heart and hands, it is as much about others as ourselves. But Scripture gives a model, a profound example of what true purity and holiness should look like. And this is the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:7-8 says,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
In our present condition we are filthy and distant from God. Like the Pharisees in our story there was a fundamental misunderstanding about who we are, what God is like, and how we should live. But Jesus corrects all of this. When we look to Jesus, who is again and again called the “Holy one” which essentially means the perfectly pure person, we see purity getting down in the mud. We see purity pouring out its life for others. We see purity that loves and eats with prostitutes and tax-collectors. A purity that chooses to love and save even people set in express opposition to it. A purity that chooses to suffer and die on a cross for the sake of its enemies.
When I first read about James Holmes violence in Aurora I was enraged. I was angry at the injustice and senselessness of it. As I read about it on an online news article I scrolled to the bottom of the webpage and began reading comments left by other readers of the article. A common theme emerged, “forget due process, drag this guy out in the street and shoot him.” A little later I went to a Christian Facebook page and different people were posting prayers they had for victims and other people affected by the atrocities, but one woman’s comment stood out to me. She wrote, I pray that James Holmes would burn in hell.
As Jesus was hanging on the cross he looked down on those who had tormented him and treated him unjustly and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The hardest thing in the world is to follow Jesus into this kind of purity. A kind of purity that reaches out to the unworthy, the disgusting, and even the completely evil. But our Lord has done no less for us.
Purity is all about Jesus and it is shaped like a cross. If we begin to live like this, the Gospel of Matthew promises, we will see God. Because our existence will be shaped like Jesus, the Son of God.
SONG - Give Us Clean Hands by Lane Oliver
Leading with a Limp
Leading With a Limp
For a gift of any amount
Pick up most leadership books and you’ll find strategies for leveraging your power and minimizing your areas of weakness. But rather than work against your weakness, why not draw from a deeper well of strength? God favors leaders who make the most of the power that comes from brokenness.
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