Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 15: “Salt and Light” Part Two 08.21.18

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Previously, we pointed out that salt can preserve, add flavor and heal. Curiously, there is one other statement about salt that is less pleasant. It can be the condition of the person who has turned away from faith. Salted can be a state of death both physical and spiritual. So, we want the Lord Jesus Christ to see us as the “salt of the earth” pointing others to God Himself. But not the salt of the earth who has turned away and become dead salt.

Consider the unsettling story of Lot’s wife. In Genesis 19, we read that God sent angels to destroy the wicked city of Sodom. Because of His mercy, the Lord was prepared to deliver Lot and his family from the destruction. But Lot felt compelled to debate the plan and he asked the angels if he could flee to a small town nearby:

Genesis 19:21-22 (NIV) He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

Apparently, Lot and his wife were not on the same page. She was not sure they should leave Sodom so after they turned to run away, she hesitated. Here is the unhappy account of her death:
Genesis:23-26(NIV) “By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land.
Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus, he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities–and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

The Hebrew wording suggests that she was staring at the city about to be destroyed with affection. She was not convinced that they should be leaving and/or uncertain that destruction would really come. Had she been “salt and light” in that darkened place? We cannot know but the statement that she “looked back” means more than she “glanced.” Apparently, she had very mixed feelings about their departure. Why did she turn into salt?

It is likely that the intense and destructive heat turned the whole place into salt. I’m not a chemist but I have read that such a catastrophic climactic event can reduce everything to powder. The landscape after the bombing at Hiroshima was perhaps pristine to compared to what was left of Sodom. My point is that we disciples, to remain salt and light, had better keep marching forward without any of the spiritual ambivalence that characterizes the half way believer.

The Lord Jesus Christ said these things:

Luke 17:30-33 (NIV) “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

She was trying to hold onto her previous life! Jesus also spoke to three different men who said they wanted to follow him. Notice the third exchange:

Luke 9:57-62 (NIV) “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The farmer who plows a field must look straight ahead. Looking back will simply create a poorly tilled plot and may even take one into a ditch! We must look straight ahead and put to death any thoughts of “going back.” Lest we become the salt of death instead of life. Hands on the plow and no looking back!

Next discussion: being “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!”

Blessings! Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 14: “Salt and Light” Part One 08.20.18

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV) 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

In our study of persecution, we asked why anyone would object to a neighbor who had these qualities:
Spiritually hungry?

Mournful about our troubled world?

Meek and humble as they relate to others?
Hungry and thirsty for righteousness?

Merciful?

Filled with a pure heart?

A peacemaker?

We suggested that these characteristics are fine but godless people often cannot embrace them. But consider this: after Jesus listed these traits, what did he do next? In effect, he said “OK…this is how you should be with the Holy Spirit at work in you and NOW I have an assignment for you! I want you to affect your world…your culture…your society because it really will need your Kingdom of God influence. You are to be salt and light!”

Consider these last few days. The news has shown us that hundreds of sexual crimes have been committed by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. A husband and father in Colorado murdered his wife and three children in an unthinkably horrible manner. Several policemen were shot to death in inner city tensions. The President and his enemies exchanged furious accusations yet again leaving everyone weary of the endless wrangling. The list is without boundaries regarding the darkness in our world. We all see it.

And why is that so? The Word of God says this:
John 3:19-20 (NIV) 19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Let’s go back to the first part of the metaphor. Salt. Jesus said 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Salt does several things. It adds flavor. It can act as a preservative. And it can heal.

A quick story from my own “odd things that happen” department. One time I was preparing to conduct an elder’s meeting. I stepped into the men’s room to freshen up including a quick shave. I should say a hurried shave because I cut myself with the razor. I have thin blood so there I was standing in the office for about ten minutes pressing against my cheek trying to stop the bleeding. One of my elders looked in and saw my dilemma. He said “Oh, here’s what you do. Come with me!” I followed him to one of the kitchens and there he took a salt shaker and filled my hand with a mound of the white stuff. Salt. Then he said “Ok now. Go to it! Push the salt into the cut. It will sting but the bleeding will stop.” Of course, it did. Salt has healing properties and can be surprisingly useful. And it did sting!

But Jesus said it is useless if it loses its saltiness. What did he mean? A quick study on salt tells us that pure and genuine salt cannot lose its saltiness. It can, however, be corrupted by other chemical agents. So, this gets even more interesting. Some scholars say that ‘wasted salt” was used to firm up walking paths or even rooftops. I am not sure. My real interest is in the idea that pure salt can be corrupted. In that sense, it loses its saltiness. It becomes impure. Thus, it is no accident that Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” The real issue is purity. Once we have come to Christ, he expects us to be a salting agent in a lost world. To live in such a way as to promote Godliness and healing of the breakage caused by sin. How shall we do that?

A short list of Biblical admonitions might be helpful. Consider:

Psalm 119:9-11 (NIV) ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

This, of course, is not just a reminder for young men but for all of us. Do we really want to keep our hearts pure? Is that a high priority for us? If so, that means spending time in the Word of God. Do we spend at least as much time in the Scriptures as we do watching the news or a good movie?

Psalm 101:3 (NIV) 3 I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.

This one is a real challenge. Open the internet to simply catch up on the news and you are inundated with earthy and worldly stories. Walk through the mall and see the careless dress and behaviors of so many people. One almost might have to prefer blindness to the hopeless task of “setting our eyes upon no vile thing!” And if we do that often enough, contemplate that which is vile, our salt becomes corrupted. Hmmm… tomorrow let’s talk about being the “light of the world.” If salt can lose its effect, can our lights go out or be hidden? Apparently.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 13: “Persecution” 08.17.18

Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV) 10 “ Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

A quick reading of verses 10 through 12 raises a question. Namely, why would anyone persecute the kind of person who lives like the man or woman described in verses 1 through 9? Who could be critical of a person who is:

Spiritually hungry?

Mournful about our troubled world?

Meek and humble as they relate to others?

Hungry and thirsty for righteousness?

Merciful?

Filled with a pure heart?

A peacemaker?

Such a person sounds like your greatest possible neighbor! We should pray to live next door to such a one as this. So…why would they be persecuted and described in evil ways? That all depends on how outspoken they are about their relationship with Christ. If a modern person is saved but says very little, no one cares. But today’s society is remarkably like first century Israel. In that day, few people cared if you said you believed in Jesus. However, persecution began when you said you believed ONLY IN JESUS!

If you believed in the claim made by our Lord in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life NO ONE COMES to the father except through me…” you just declared those who do not believe are eternally lost. AND…because you believe in Jesus and have received the Holy Spirit, you share God’s values.

So today, speak out about gay marriage or killing the unborn and other Biblical truths and you will deeply irritate the culture at large.

Now in the first century genuine “persecution” was more than just discrimination against the Christian florist or baker. It could very well cost you your life. Why? Because the Romans thought your allegiance was to Christ not Caesar, and the Jews thought you were worshipping a dead prophet and they did not want you in the synagogue.

We do not live in an age of persecution the way the ancients did. But history has repeated itself regularly. There have been martyrs throughout the centuries. So “persecution” (the New Testament Greek word was “de-oko” meaning to feel afraid of those who might harm you.) Why might they hate you? Well…. we must not be Christians who are hated because we are weird for Jesus. Some claiming to be disciples of Christ are obnoxious and tiresome and simply goofy. Can you imagine picketing a soldier’s funeral because he or she was gay? Can you imagine carrying signs that are cruel and condescending to non-believers? Really? There are times when I understand why some non-believers think all Christians are hopelessly off-putting.

If we are persecuted it must be because non-believers HATE CHRIST IN US! Paul puts it this way:

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV) 14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?”

To the person who hates Christ and his Gospel, we smell of intolerance and condescension and arrogance and stupidity. They do not understand the Gospel is about salvation by faith. Rather, they think (some of them) that WE THINK WE ARE GOING TO HEAVEN BECAUSE WE BELIEVE WE HAVE EARNED IT AND ARE SPECIAL. And they see us worshipping and speaking out the values of Jesus and it is annoying. It stinks in their nostrils! But to the true disciples, we are the pleasant aroma of life.

In Paul’s age, persecution was to be expected. It was normative. In fact, here is what he said to the young pastor named Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:10-12 (NIV) 10 “ You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings–what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”

Shorthand on all of this seems to be: if Christ is truly at work in you, oddly enough godless people will despise you…unless you are just “nice” and make no connection to Jesus. Frankly, very few Christians are persecuted in America because their witness is so muted that they don’t irritate unbelievers.

In any case, Jesus said we should rejoice if we get roughed up for our faith! There is a reward waiting in Heaven. Why? Because unbelievers persecuted the prophets sent by God to speak for him. Our conclusion: every Christian, in some way and on some level, is expected to be a prophet! We should live and act and speak for God carefully. Finally, consider:

Colossians 3:12 (NIV) “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Paul understood that despite persecution, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Next: after he promised persecution, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of how we should see ourselves. As salt and light.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

 

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 12: “Was Jesus a Peacemaker?” 08.16.18

Matthew 5:9 (NIV) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Matthew 10:34-36 (NIV) 34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

Is this confusing? Perhaps. Actually…yes. Why would the Lord Jesus Christ commend peacemaking and expect his own disciples to be peacemakers…but deny that he himself had come to bring peace? In fact, if he wants us to be peacemakers why would he say that he came to bring a “sword?” If we are to be Christlike, shall we all go out and buy swords? Shall we become dividers of families? That certainly does not sound like peacemaking. Let’s ponder this puzzling dichotomy. Are these statements internally contradictory? No.

Jesus is saying there is one type of peace that we, his disciples, may never be able to make. It is the lack of peace that often comes when we follow him. He is warning us that while we have a heart for peace we may find it unattainable in one circumstance. Our Christian faith will give us inner peace but may cost us outer peace…with our own families. And friends.

At times, I think the Bible-believing church has fallen into the error of mis-representing Jesus. Worldly people are willing to say that Jesus was certainly very nice. A gentle and decent man who only wanted us to all get along. A man who was rejected tragically and wrongly. But certainly not the Son of God. That is all nonsense but often the church presents him in the same way. Only focusing on his forgiving nature and putting up posters in the children’s wing of the church. Jesus is always smiling and carrying a lamb on his shoulders. He really is, to many Christians, our dependable big brother who never has a harsh word.

Such portrayals are unfaithful to the real Jesus of Scripture. In many ways, Jesus was brutally honest and terribly upsetting. After all, his enemies did not Crucify him because he was “nice.” And he did not just upset the religious rulers of his day. He upset everyone! The irony is that while he expects those who come to him to be peacemakers, he himself was not a peacemaker…except between sinners and God. So, he said:

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

Here is the very difficult truth. If Jesus is not first in my life, then Jesus is not in my life! I cannot let friendships with unspiritual people or even affection with my own family come before Jesus. As a Pastor, I have seen again and again where a relationship with Christ divides like a sword. A young Jewish woman becomes a Messianic Jew and her family disowns her. An athlete has a born-again experience and finds many of his teammates no longer include him in their lives. It should be expected.
Why does Jesus divide? Because an honest and close look at the things he said are DIVISIVE! Consider these examples:

John 14:6 (NIV) Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Matthew 10:37-39 (NIV) 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

John 8:24 (NIV) “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.”

It is always the smart and thinking person who rejects us because he rejects Christ. Think about it with me. What are we really saying to the unbeliever…however sweetly we try to say it? “I have met God through His son Jesus Christ and I have received eternal life. You need to look into this because if you do not receive Christ, you will spend eternity separated from God in Hell?” Ok. We may not say it that way but people understand what we mean. And they are offended by that truth and they think that WE THINK we are more suited for heaven than they are…and they take great umbrage. Jesus is a divider.

Allow me to recommend the great Christian classic Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In his book, Christian goes off alone on his journey to the Celestial City. His wife and children have no interest. He accepts that his relationship with them and with his friends is apparently over. Jesus offers us peace with the eternal God but predicts breakage with unbelievers including family. So…can we say with the Psalmist: ???

Psalm 84:10 (NIV) “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell inside the tents of the wicked.”

Peace. And at times breakage. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 11: “Peacemakers” 08.15.18

Matthew 5:9 (NIV) Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

In September of 1978, President Jimmy Carter brought together two of the world’s most contentious leaders. Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. After days of negotiations, they signed what became known as the “Camp David Accords.” The effort by all parties was, of course, commendable. President Carter presented a gift to his counterparts on the last day of their meetings. He gave each of the men a plaque that read “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” A strong Christian himself, Mr. Carter used the words of our Lord to encourage the other men.

I’m sure his motives were pure, but I remember being puzzled. To use that verse that way almost suggests that one can earn a relationship with God by being a peacemaker. Yes, it is pleasing to God when we strive to bring opponents together. But all these beatitudes are a description of the person who has come to know God and lives accordingly. Let no one think “If I act in these ways, I will be saved.” No. these characteristics SHOULD BE the personality traits of the regenerated person. We live this way because we belong to God.

We must take a moment to review a critical theological concept known as “Common Grace.” Special Grace is the action of God to open a sinner’s heart and lead that person to Christ. Common Grace is the means by which God blesses people with gifts and skills even when they do not believe in him. That is why an atheist can be a great car mechanic and the unbelieving soldier or policeman can sacrifice themselves. My point is that while everyone was pleased at Mr. Carter’s initiatives, I wondered if the other gentlemen might have been confused. No peacemaker will ever be called a son or daughter of God if they do not belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, once again we realize that the qualities outlined in these beatitudes are traits Jesus expects to see in his own flock. In other words, because I belong to Christ I am a child of God who will be a peacemaker.
Peacemaking is certainly close to the heart of God. Indeed, consider the Gospel itself. It is about peacemaking! We read:

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (NIV) 17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is all about peace. God making peace with sinners through the Cross. Yet, peacemaking can be very hard work. And very discouraging. In my many years of pastoral ministry, I have regularly tried to bring people together…Christian people, so that they may be at peace. Only recently, I asked a man if he would come along with me for lunch. I was meeting another man with whom he had great breakage. His response was to curse the man out and make it clear I need never suggest that again. Later in our study, we will consider the frightening words of our Lord when it comes to forgiveness. But I must say, that latter man was in a bad spiritual state. Why? BECAUSE THE NATURAL DEFAULT DESIRE FOR THE TRUE DISCIPLE IS TO BE AT PEACE WITH OTHERS AND HELP OTHERS BE AT PEACE WITH ONE ANOTHER.

Most of the time, we will be challenged to make peace with someone else rather than mediate peace between other people. This can be impossible if that other person refuses to move forward towards peacemaking and healing. I had a ruined relationship with a man who felt I had wronged him. I did not agree although I assured him that I regretted his pain and wished to “bury the hatchet.” We went around and around. It would have been disingenuous of me to apologize because the apology would be dishonest. Finally, I said to him: “You know, I think it is possible that we will never agree on this…so…why don’t we just get together and admit that we are both probably a little wrong. No one really has to win the argument, in my view.” But he had no interest and still has no interest in reconciliation. In peacemaking. I needed to remember that the Word of God tells us this:

Romans 12:18 (NIV) “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The Lord knows I did my part. I had to set it aside. I could not make the man desire peace.

Until now, we have spoken of peacemaking on an individual basis. But more must be said. Sometimes Christians confuse these Beatitudes, which are really the attitudes of the genuine disciple, with pacifism. However, a realistic view of the world is one that takes evil seriously and is prepared to deal with it by force if necessary. Some gentle folks forget that the Word of God says this:

Romans 13:1-4 (NIV) 1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

With this in mind, we should pray for the soldier called upon to be the peacemaker by defeating terrorism. The greatest peacemaker we know may be the policeman who saves three people by stopping an active shooter by using force. Peacemaking ultimately is required only in a world of sin.

Here’s a thought: when we live in the Kingdom of God in its fullness…yes even Heaven, there will be no need for police and armies. For we will be in the ongoing presence of the “Prince of Peace” himself!” Indeed, let us say “Come Lord Jesus!”

As always. 🙂 Peace.  Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside-Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 10: “Purity of Heart” Part Three 08.14.18

Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

There is a great scene in the old movie “A Man for All Seasons.” Sir Thomas More has been prosecuted for crimes against King Henry the Eighth. He is accused of disloyalty to the monarch and he replies passionately: “Not true! May I never see God in the face if I have done this!” In expressing that desire, to see God in the face, More spoke as many did repeatedly through past ages. It was often a way of expressing one’s desire to literally be in the presence of God. The Psalmist said the same thing.

Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV) As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 11:7 (NIV)  For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.

Psalm 105:4 (NIV)  Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.

Some may say these are just word pictures. Metaphors in which “face” means closeness to God. But I suspect otherwise. Indeed, even the disciples said to Jesus that they were eager to see the Father. Recall this great passage:

John 14:8-10 (NIV) 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Of course, our Lord was saying that believers for now can see the face of the Father only by closeness to Him through the Savior. But the interesting part was their request. They wanted to see God the Father. Why?

Consider this. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden when they were corrupted by sin. How did they express their shock and horror? They were not shocked by having to leave paradise but by realizing that they will no longer have direct fellowship with God. Prior to that, they could look upon God and be fully satisfied by His Divine Holiness and face. Ever since our expulsion from the garden, we have longed to see God face to face and up close. So, Jesus made a promise:

Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

At this point, we should simply ask what Jesus meant by “pure in heart.” Clean! We know the Word of God tells us that in our natural state our hearts are corrupted. The least flattering description of the human heart can be found in the Prophet Jeremiah. We read:

Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

That’s the very bad news. Our hearts are deceitful and impure by nature. We always put ourselves first and naturally watch out for number one! Here’s the Good News: our hearts can be changed! Our hearts can be made Christlike! Those who know God and draw near to Him are being made new slowly but surely. We read:

Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV) I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

For Jesus, the heart was the repository of the inner spirit. Thus, all the activities of the heart are considered by God to be real activities not just thoughts. This is why Jesus calls the man lusting after his neighbor’s wife an adulterer even if he never literally approaches her. It is the heart not the actions that Jesus wants to transform.

Over the years, we have sung a praise song that goes “Change my heart Oh God! Make it ever true!” A simple but elegant thought. A heart that is corrupted is a heart that defiles the person. Thus, Jesus said:

Matthew 15:19-20 (NIV) 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.'”

Let’s face it. We are desperate without confessing our sins and clinging to Christ. We can modify our behaviors but not our hearts. Only he can do that. Only he can purify these hearts. Actually, it is frightening. I have known so many people who insist they are Christians, but their hearts are hardened. Filled with pride and unforgiveness. Weep for God’s heart.

Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, prayed “Let my heart break with the things that break the heart of God.” I want to say that prayer.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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Sitting on the Mountainside- Studies in The Sermon on the Mount

Day 9: “Purity of Heart” Part Two 08.13.18

Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Years ago, the Ivory Soap Company advertised their facial bars as “99 and 44 one hundred per cent pure! So pure, it floats!” Supposedly, the executives at Proctor & Gamble were inspired by Psalm Forty-Five:

Psalm 45:8 (NIV) All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.

I have no idea about the veracity of this whole story. But it is interesting that they could not claim 100% purity. Actually, nothing is perfectly pure except the One who is totally and completely Holy. Who took on flesh to be among us. Yet, purity is a low priority these days.

Consider cable news. Jesus would never be invited to be a newscaster on any of those channels. Those guys are all handsome, sometimes strikingly so. And when did we last see a woman on any of the shows who was not a long-legged beauty with a perfect face and smile? The heavy and the homely need not apply. Why? Because our culture is obsessed with outward beauty.

Does anyone really think that a political party would send out a young woman elected to Congress whose ideas are so hopelessly naïve if she was not pretty and engaging and giggly and catchy to look at? Have we seen any unbecoming young women with plain faces addressing us about the next election? No way. Beauty wins the day.

I recently watched thoughtfully as I was on my treadmill for 35 minutes. I decided to carefully observe the ads. Literally every one of them was about weight or skin or teeth or hair. I’m all for good grooming but a man from Mars might say “Hmmm…you folks are really obsessed with how you look!” “True, Mr. Martian. You will watch in vain to see an ad about the inner person. We are stuck on the superficial!” The idea that we should rejoice in how God made us and do our best with it is unacceptable. We have procedures to modify every inch of our physical beings. Some people have had it done fifty times.

Consider this: apparently Jesus was not what we would call “good looking.” The Prophet Isaiah described him seven centuries before the incarnation as follows:

Isaiah 53:2 (NIV) He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

When the Christ took on flesh, he was vulnerable and as lonely and incidental as a small flower in the desert. Amazing that he should come into the world that way. He was not handsome or attractive. Anyone walking in the desert of this world would not even notice him except, perhaps, to wonder how such a homely flower came out of the wilderness. But his heart was perfectly pure. 100% pure!

Our Lord said: Matthew 5:8 (NIV) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

We are back to that word we looked at in part one: “katha-ras.” As we said, it is the root word for “catharsis” meaning to be cleansed. Question: “Is my heart clean? I know what is in it and God knows what is in it. And to others it may look clean but is it really clean? Pure?”

Not really. Maybe it is cleaner than it used to be, but I remain a “clean-up” project before the Holy Spirit. An old booklet years ago was called “My Heart. Christ’s Home.” In it, the writer suggested that in the Christian life we are like old houses that Jesus is cleaning up one room at a time. I like that word picture. So, what can we do to get out of the way of the great cleaner Jesus?

A few thoughts from the Word of God:

Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Psalm 19:14 (NIV) May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 26:2 (NIV) Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

We guard our hearts when we are careful about what we put into our minds. When we plead with God to give us clean meditations and words that will not be self-defiling. And above all, we ask God to show us what we need to work on.

Because the heart is the “wellspring” of life, we need a few more thoughts on this verse. To be continued.

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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