My wife, Karen, was waking up to a sound she hadn't heard before and she couldn't identify. It sounded like crinkling cellophane, and it was coming from inside our bedroom walls! Now, somehow I missed this little symphony, but Karen sure picked up on it. Since we were pretty sure no one was actually crinkling cellophane in our walls, we looked into other possibilities. Like carpenter ants, for example. And sure enough, that's what it was! Those little marauders were feasting on the wood in our house, and they were gradually eating our home! We didn't even have to think about what to do. "Hello, Mr. Exterminator?"
During one summer with our "On Eagles' Wings" Native American outreach team, we had some 5,000 miles to cover in about five weeks. In order to make it to all the reservations to which we had accepted invitations, we needed a comfortable bus. And God wonderfully provided that through some brothers in Christ. Now our bus driver, Josh, really knew his way across the West, and my wife Karen really didn't. It was often her job to drive another vehicle that we needed. That meant traveling many unfamiliar miles, but she found a way to simplify the process. She just kept her eyes on that bus. If Josh turned, she turned. If Josh stopped, she stopped. She made sure she could even recognize the lights of his bus in case they got separated. Karen said this trip that could have been so difficult and confusing turned out to be pretty relaxed and simple. She didn't try to figure out the route for herself. She had a great trip because one thing governed all her choices-following the man who knew the way.
When I'm on the road and staying in a motel, I'm often leaving pretty early that day for the responsibilities I have. But by the time I return late that night, something amazing has happened. The bed is made and I didn't make it! I've got new, clean towels! I didn't find them. Everything's straightened and neat. I even get these cool little soaps now that are in the bathroom! The Room Fairy has been there! Now, I know that not because I've seen the maid (actually I haven't), but because I can see the results of her work all over the place.
Well, the doctor says I'm shrinking, but I think it started at about 5'8". Now, you might know that, because I sound really tall, right? Yeah. Years ago, I was carrying 210 pounds on this little body. But thankfully, I got about 45 pounds off and then it's been off for a lot of years. Of course, I've still got the same metabolism that inflated this body many years ago. Oh, do I know about dieting! Yeah. And I also know the point at which your diet is in the greatest danger. Here's how it goes! OK, you've really been good…the scale has been giving you good news the last couple of weeks…your diet discipline is holding. Then somebody offers you something that you just can't resist. Why don't we try a few French fries. You consume them in one bite. So, now what? You buy a whole order of fries for yourself. And now you feel bad. You've blown your diet. You could just get back on track right then, right? But no-you say to yourself, "I blew it! I've failed! Oh well, what's the use? I might as well have a milk shake to wash down those fries. Hey, anybody got the number of Pizza Heaven?" Okay, yeah, you messed up. So you give up and you soon return to your former roundness.
Karen's Dad didn't want the holly bush by his carport anymore. But my wife wanted that holly bush. Yep! Dad said if we would dig it up, it was ours to transplant at the little Ozark farmstead that Karen inherited from her grandparents. Sounded simple. It wasn't. It took shovels, a chain, a pickup truck, and some major engineering to get that stubborn bush out of the ground and into the truck. Well, we quickly transported "Holly" to the farm, immediately dug a new home in the ground for her, and got her replanted. Then Karen poured on the water and the nutrients. See, just removing that bush from where it was turned out to be only half the battle. We had to get it replanted quickly in new soil-or it would never make it!
If you've ever had a teenage son, you'll know this answer. When a teenage boy gets home from school, what's the first question he asks? Right! "What's for dinner?" Now one of our boys' un-favorite answers to that question was that dreaded "L" word-leftovers! By the way, that was especially scary after Thanksgiving...turkey would never end. Now leftovers aren't too many people's first choice for a meal. Right? And the longer they've been left over, the more unsatisfying that choice becomes. I know I've never been to a restaurant who offered an item called "leftovers". Let's face it. Leftovers, they're second best-at best.
It sounds crazy at first. People trying to cause an avalanche. Actually, there are people who do that for a living. One of the many things you can learn watching the Discovery Channel! Obviously, people who get caught in the path of an avalanche of tons of snow have little chance for survival. Skiers, snowmobilers, hikers have all been the tragic victims of what is called the white death. Now enter the specialists they call the avalanche hunters. They actually drive into areas where potential avalanche conditions exist, and using this slender, hand-held cannon, they fire shots into dangerous snow masses. Well, these folks aren't crazy. They actually trigger a small avalanche-which removes some of the buildup that can cause a later major avalanche. Now it's making sense.
My outreach trips to South Africa have been with some wonderful ministry experiences. We saw African young people coming to Christ. We had the privilege of training South African youth workers to reach lost young people. And we were even training people to reach the lost and the young through radio. One afternoon we were able to sneak away long enough to visit one of the gold mines that helped make South Africa the richest country on that continent. Years ago this was the largest and richest gold mine in the world. Today, an old miner take guys like me, puts a helmet on them, gives them a light, and takes them on tours. It was fascinating to hear him describe how gold was uncovered and then extracted from deep inside the earth. At one point, he asked us to shine our light on one wall of the mine, and it sparkled with this bright, yellow gold! It was amazing…it was beautiful! The old miner told us, "Don't get too excited. Real gold is black. It doesn't even look like gold. That stuff that glitters, well, that's just fool's gold."
An alarm may be annoying but, face it, most alarms are your friend. The alarm clock in the morning-without which you'd lose your job. The smoke detector. The fire alarm. Most of us don't carry an alarm with us, but for some people, it's a very positive idea. I remember my wife was in a nursing home on an errand of mercy when suddenly this loud alarm went off. Immediately, a nurse came running to a door where she intercepted one of their elderly residents who was headed for that door. The manager explained that some of their residents are afflicted with serious memory loss or disorientation, so much so, that they have left the building and wandered off, not knowing where they were! So the woman who triggered the alarm has been fitted with a special bracelet-one that triggers an alarm whenever she is on the edge of a possible danger zone. Apparently, she does remember what that alarm is for. When it went off, she instinctively stopped where she was because that alarm, I guess she knows, could literally save her life.
It's a battle every mother has fought in every generation. That three-word charge that can mean the difference between getting sick or being well - "Wash your hands." Of course, it would be OK with most kids if washing their hands was a monthly thing, or at most maybe once a week. Our kids did it. I suppose you know at least one other who has done it. They come in from doing who knows what with those hands and they say, "They're not dirty." Now there may not be any brown slime dripping from those little hands, but you can be sure they're carrying a lot of nasty little critters. And it's amazing what happens when you get some soap and water on those hands - the sink is suddenly covered with some pretty yucky-looking stuff coming off those hands. Surprise, kid - you couldn't see it, but your hands were dirty. You just didn't realize how dirty!
I'm Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about "The Dirty Hands Detector."
Our word for today from the Word of God comes from 2 Chronicles 30:15, where some folks who thought they were clean found out about some dirt they didn't know they were carrying. It's the time of King Hezekiah, one of the greatest of Judah's rulers. When he takes the throne, the nation is a moral and spiritual sewer, with idolatrous altars literally on every street corner. But Hezekiah turns his entire culture around and leads the people into a powerful, national revival.
But it started with the spiritual leaders. You know what, it still does today. After cleaning out the neglected and defiled temple of God, Hezekiah calls the people together for a national Passover celebration. It's been a long time since the people of God have observed this holy remembrance of God's deliverance. Listen to what happens to the spiritual leaders, the priests and the Levites, as they begin to prepare for this holy moment. "They slaughtered the Passover lamb...The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions." Here the leaders are, in the middle of preparing for a service, and suddenly they stop what they're doing. They're ashamed. Suddenly, they are deeply aware of their sin, their compromise, their failures. What do they do to get over the shame? They consecrate themselves to God...they get rid of the garbage.
There's something pretty powerful here - something that any of us who have been given any spiritual leadership needs to absorb. Like these priests and Levites, Maybe you've been entrusted with some spiritual responsibility. You're teaching or you're leading, you're broadcasting, or parenting, or preaching, counseling, organizing or administering God's work. Look what happened to the spiritual leaders in Hezekiah's day. As they began to handle the holy, they realized they were not holy enough to handle it! They didn't realize what dirt there was on their hands until they began to handle holy things.
That's exactly what should be happening to you and me as we do the work God has given us - seeing the dirt we need to deal with before we handle the holy. First, we need to always remember we are handling the very things of God - our holy, holy, holy God. Do not ever let your work for Him become careless, or mechanical, or self-serving. It's a solemn - even dangerous - mistake to handle the holy without clean hands. That's why God says in Isaiah 52:11, "Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord."
Serving Christ is not fun-and-games or just some little spiritual exercise. It requires a holy life behind it. It produces a holy life, if you let it sink in what an incredible honor it is to be asked by a thrice-holy God to handle what is His. Like a child, you may look at what people can see of you and say, "My hands aren't dirty." But let your Savior begin to show you what you're doing that He can't bless - let Him cleanse your hands before you touch the sacred.
No child should handle food without clean hands. No child of God should handle the holy work of God without hands, without a heart, that God would call clean.