Summary: God offers us a makeover that gives us a hunched back, bowed in humble submission to him and in service to others.
One church in Cincinnati that I know of regularly sends out teams to engage in servant evangelism. Sometimes they hand out bottles of water to passersby or wash car windows in parking lots or rake lawns in the neighborhood, all of it for free. From this project and the book about it came the term “servant evangelism.” I know some of you youth have participated in such projects that we have done here in Lima. (Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness. 1993.)
One task the Cincinnati church took on was walking into a restaurant or business, bucket in hand, and asking, “May we clean your restrooms for free?” When they explain what they are doing, things get real quiet. The manager goes into shock. One manager said “This kind of thing hasn’t been done for hundreds of years.”
In your mind’s eye, maybe you can imagine yourself stooping down to scrub the toilet or clean the sink, brightening up a place that no one has paid attention to for a long time. It’s not the kind of job that people want to do even for pay, let alone for free. But you do it to show God’s love.
When the mother of one man heard that her son was doing this, his mother said in astonishment, “What? Steve is cleaning toilets? Now I know there is a God in heaven!” It was the last thing she expected from her son. Serving others in this way may catch them off guard. One thing for sure, it takes humility. Oh, and it may change your physical posture.
For the past three weeks we have been using the book of James to discover the kind of extreme makeover that Jesus would give us.
• We have already learned that Jesus would give us big ears so that we can hear His word.
• He would give us dirty hands as we live out what we have learned from His word.
• Last week we saw that Jesus would pierce our tongues to bring the power of the tongue under His control.
• Today we are going to discover that Jesus would give us hunched backs.
That sounds like a strange makeover, doesn’t it? Why would Jesus want us to have hunched backs? Maybe you have known a person with a hunched back that people made fun of. Our society expects people to stand straight and tall and proud. But it is just that attitude of pride that Jesus wants to challenge. He wants to give you a hunched back, not literally, but an attitude that willingly bows in submission to God and demonstrates humility.
The temptation of pride affects all kinds of people. I read of a preacher, Reverend Obadiah Franklin, pastor at Zion United Brethren Church, who prepared a sermon on "humility," and then filed it away. According to the story, he wanted to save it for a special occasion when he could impress a lot of people. (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/7533.htm)
Many of the things Jesus taught contradict the way we think. One book we have at home calls the Kingdom of God The Upside Down Kingdom (Donald Kraybill). We tend to think that people who are rich and own big houses have made it to the top, but Jesus said, “Many who are last will be first.” (Mt. 19:30) We tend to think that CEOs who get multi-million-dollar salaries and fly around in private jets must be great, but, Jesus said “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt. 20:26) We tend to think that those who have other people running around serving them have arrived. But Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” (Mt. 20:27) These words sound foreign to our ears. Jesus turns our view of things upside down. He teaches us that the path to greatness is humility. It becomes clear that if we are going to have the hunched back that Jesus recommends, we need a makeover.
1. Humility puts us right with God
Not long ago, when we visited a young mother’s home, she pulled out her Bible from under the coffee table where she keeps it open to James 4. She said she reads these first two verses every day. And she read them to us. Listen as I read them.
These first verses of Chapter 4 describe a battle that is going on. Notice the words conflict, disputes, friend-enemy, humble-proud, submit-resist, double-minded. It is as though we’ve got an action figure that refuses to bend in the position we want it to. Bend. NO. Straight. /Humble. NO. Proud. /Submit. NO. Resist.
People in our society are not comfortable with some of these words. Words such as submitting, yielding, obeying, and surrendering sound foreign in our culture. Instead, we talk about winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering. The word humility is not in our vocabulary much.