Monthly Archives: May 2014

Conclusion: Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

If we are honest with ourselves we would draw two obvious conclusions. We are not pure and do not want to be pure. Reality tells us purity is unattainable, existing only in a fantasy world. Therefore, we reject the idea of purity. We would also implicitly state I don’t want to see God. I want to hide from God and I certainly don’t want Him to see me, because I’m not pure. If we were honest with  ourselves.

It is not up to us. We were created for relationship with Him so He might love us. His love is so pure He will love us in spite of our sin. He cannot allow sin to continue to control our lives so He demands we focus, not on the sin and the consequences of sin, but on Him. There is a ripping of one’s eyes away from self to God as the recognition of sin and the realization of its consequences force repentance. There is agony in the defeat of self as we relinquish control and filling as we are changed and become what He desires.

He loves us eternally determining to sacrifice Himself so we might rest in His presence. Sacrificial giving is evidence we are attaining purity of heart as God finishes preparing us for eternity. Yet, our giving is seen as sacrificial only in the eyes of the world. Giving from a pure, selfless heart is not a sacrifice but an act of love.

In the Western world we call an offering or sacrifice a donation. Offerings, usually a percentage of income, are given to God according to our means and how He has blessed. Sacrifices cause discomfort.

In the Hebrew Scripture those who gave God from the first-fruits of their crops and livestock were abundantly blessed by God, as He promised. Those who gave free-will offerings did so because of their love for Him. Sacrifices of obedience are required by God. Free-will sacrifices of love, not required but desired, are acknowledgement of who God is and who we are before our Creator. One may lead to the other. An offering from love is evidence of the condition of the heart.

Those who are His come to a place of complete dependence upon God, having learned to direct their attention toward Him. There is no sudden realization of God’s trustworthiness and faithfulness, but a gradual acceptance and appreciation of Him. At some time during life there is a realization of God’s power and love for us, His mercy.  This gradual, sudden understanding is the beginning and end of God’s work of recreating. One element of His preparing us for eternity.

Purity of heart is one of the essential elements of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has been listing them in the first seven statements of the Sermon on the Mount.

Those who attain by grace purity of heart begin in the depths of rebellion, admitting the reality of sin. They are poor in spirit and recognize the truth of sin in themselves and the world. Taking this first step of admitting the truth about themselves and of God begins the cascading process of becoming a citizen of the kingdom of God. After admitting the truth of sin is the realization of the consequences of  sin, separation from God and life which brings deep, unbearable mourning.

God does not leave us in this state of agony but breaks our wills and gives us a new, strong spirit. His Spirit and a recreated spirit. This happens when  we relinquish control to Him who created us. Meekness is not weakness but God’s strength in us under His control. He changes the whole person not just a part. He wants the whole person not a fraction. Those who are His begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And the war begins, for the tug and pull of the world is away from righteousness.

Changing the heart means directing the person to show love toward God and others. Purity of heart is only the second of the three descriptions of love God shows us and the world. Mercy is active love which God shows us and we, because He loves us first, show to others. Purity of heart characterizes God eternal love for us and our selfless love for Him. We will look next at peace, which is God’s love for the fallen shown by our love for them.

Now, in the midst of the war, I want to please God because I am fully convinced, for a moment, of God’s eternal love for me.

A Widows’ Gift

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” [Luke 21:1-4 ESV]

Why is it the very young and the very old rest more completely in God’s loving grace than those in between?  Perhaps the very young have yet to learn how to control and manipulate in a sophisticated manner.  When a child hears an explanation they believe the person speaking. Children have to be trained to know the person speaking is telling a falsehood. They have to learn what is theirs and others. As they grow children know intuitively how to covet but have to learn what to covet.

And the very old, I think, have learned all they want which this world has to offer carries no true, eternal value. Or, they are just tired.

Jesus observed a widow giving “all she had to live on,” the equivalent of less than one percent of a day’s wages. Nowhere in Scripture does God demand an offering of everything one owns. Except when Jesus tells us when we follow Him we must carry our own cross. He sacrificed Himself for us and we are to sacrifice ourselves for Him. Was the widows gift a sacrifice?

Just previous to this small easily unseen story Luke records Jesus’ reaction to the attitude and motivations of the Pharisee’s.

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. [Luke 20:45-47 ESV]

“Devour widows’ houses.”  God does not devour the needy. He may not supply what is wanted but He will take care of the needs of those who rely upon Him. Those needs may be physical but are certainly eternal.  Still, we do not have the right to force our expectation on Him. We do have the privilege of trusting Him who is eternally trustworthy.

God intimately knows the heart. He knows the heart of this widow for, I assume, she is with Him for eternity. We cannot know her heart without making assumptions based on the evidence given.

She was unconcerned about how she was to continue to live from one day to the next. There was no worry, no planning for contingencies, no hoarding, certainly no care what any thought of her. Her focus was upon God knowing He would care for her daily needs and when He did not He was still God and would bring her home, into His presence, because her time in the world was ended.

This widow did not simply turn away from sin. She turned toward God. Nor did she simply stand still gazing at God. No one who sees Him can stand still. They must either turn away again or be drawn toward Him. All will fall on their knees at His feet. In a body bent by sin, in a world filled with the distractions of temptation, goaded on by a defeated enemy, it takes work and experience to remain focused upon the face of God.

At the moment of her giving her heart was tempered and purified by the fires of faith. God had revealed Himself to her in a way she could never explain but was more real and eternal than any of the hard experiences of her temporary life. She saw God and would see Him for eternity.

A sacrifice of obedience, when offered from a heart purified by God, is no sacrifice.

Purity Through Grace

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:24 ESV]

God’s grace toward sinners is the driving force for any who become pure in heart.

Only one person has ever lived who could claim a pure life. He is the One who offers grace to everyone, even those who refuse His offer. His life is an example though His purpose in coming was for sacrifice. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” [1 Peter 2:21 ESV]. His purity and righteousness cannot be duplicated by anyone.

As we begin to understand His life, His motives and demands, and the grace which drives us toward Him, we will cringe at our twisted and corrupted nature. No one can look at Him without seeing themselves. Our purpose it not to be Him but to be made by God into His likeness. Each hidden in Him are made by God into an eternally unique person.

From God’s eternal perspective He has finished His work in us. This does not mean He has stopped working in us or He has let us go to live by our own devices, winding us up to let us run down until He winds us up again. He does not hope we use the tools given or that we will grown into maturity. It means nothing will thwart our being finished and complete. What He has done is done for eternity and cannot be undone.

Yet, we are constrained by time, by each moment in history. If we comprehend the completed work of Christ then we know the absolute of God’s decree. Still, our moment by moment is plagued by sin, requiring deliberate consciousness of God, a continual growing in Christ, and an abandonment of self to the Spirit. Anything less and we risk temporary defeat and loving discipline. God will make us pure.

Testing may be seen as a purifying fire. Those unwilling to submit to the testing fires of faith, rejecting His grace, will suffer the eternal “fires” of separation from God.

If I am correct in my thinking then there are two basic activities, or responsibilities, we have, and two purposes He is accomplishing in us. These are fueled by His grace and nothing else. He requires (for want of a better word) both obedience and sacrifice. Our purposes are living the evidence of His grace before the world through obedience and sacrifice, and preparation for eternity. His Son fulfilled these activities  to His satisfaction. Does He expect anything less from any who are His?

Grace continues where personal strength and effort fail. At the instant my strength fails, before I even began to try, God’s grace and its inherent power, succeeds. For God’s grace is His power to overwhelm and destroy the power of sin.

In Mark 9 (and Matthew 17) Jesus once again confronts the power and consequence of sin. Coming down a mountain after His transfiguration He encounters a man whose son is demon possessed. Though His disciples were given explicit authority to drive out demons (see Matthew 10:8 and Mark 3:14-15) they could not drive out this one.

Commenting on the bent, twisted and powerless condition of all, on their complete lack of faith, their unbelieving, untrusting, disobedient posture, Jesus laments, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me”[ Mark 9:19 ESV]. I do not know if He is speaking about His disciples are the people in general. They have all seen His work, experienced His faithfulness, seen the evidence of His life and love for them, and still they have no faith. Jesus does not say “little” faith as He does elsewhere. They are “faithless.”

Finally, the father, driven to his knees, hopelessly unable to do anything, exclaims, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9:24 ESV]. His cry did not release Jesus’ power as if faith activates God. Jesus decided to heal the boy and strengthened the faith of the father. Just as He decided to come and sacrifice Himself for us giving us grace.

Those who are pure in heart live faith as a whole person before God.

Giving to God

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

God tests the hearts of men, not because He needs to know what is in the heart. We need to know the thinking of our hearts. Testing is a good thing for those willing to see themselves through God’s eyes, measure themselves by His standard, acknowledge Him as the only Authority and Judge.

When God called His people out of Egypt He told them to plunder the Egyptians. Hundreds of years earlier God told Abraham, without naming Egypt, what would happen. “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” [Genesis 15:13-14 ESV].

When God sent Moses to bring His people out of Egypt God instructed His nation what to do as they were leaving.  “And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians” [Exodus 3:21-22 ESV]. To “plunder” is to gather the “spoil” from the battlefield or a country and people after a military defeat.

He gave them plunder for several reasons. First, as payment for years of slave labor. Secondly, when it was time to construct the tent of meeting they would have the necessary materials and would give freely. Finally, when they went into the Promised Land and followed His instruction to keep nothing for themselves they would have plenty and not covet what was devoted to God.

Between the plundering of Egypt as they left their enslavement for freedom, and the giving of an abundant offering for the tent of meeting, God tested His people so they would see the thinking of their hearts. While Moses was up on the Mountain receiving the commands of God the people rebelled and made an idol, attributing to the idol the work of God. Aaron listened to them and instructed them to bring their golden earrings.

So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” [Exodus 32:2-4 ESV]

People wore gold earrings for decoration, insurance and a sign of devotion to a idol. Should they die in the open and were found by a stranger, the stranger would bury them and take the gold earring as payment. Or they could, when they died, bribe their way into the god’s presence. Most likely they were simply vain. Whatever is true the gold in their ears was the only thing of value they carried from Egypt which belonged to them. God gave them everything else of value they possessed. It was “their” property used to construct and idol. It was “God’s” property used to construct the tent of meeting, a place to offer worship to God.

God’s test of the heart is what I see is mine versus what I know is His. If I think it is mine, that I earned it and possess it, then it becomes an idol. This “thinking of the heart” focuses upon me, separating me from my true place as God’s servant. It is an issue of control. When Adam fell after rebelling against God, the image of God in him was corrupted, not excised. Part of that image is “dominion.” We fight God for control refusing to give Him what we think belongs to us. God tests the purity of the heart through the act of giving.

Giving Respect

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”

When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. [Exodus 3:1-6 ESV]

We cannot stand before God as we are. Only those who are pure have the privilege of being in God’s presence. Sin made us impure, filling the thinking of our hearts with the corruption of evil desires against God and toward others. However, on occasion in Scripture God, the Son, appeared to some treating them as pure. These appearances of the preincarnate Christ are called theophanies.

God, the Son, first appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Moses, probably 80 years old at the time, Had been a shepherd for 40 years and saw everything the desert offered. When he saw something unusual, a bush on fire but not burning, he investigated.

From the bush God spoke to Moses, saying his name twice. Moses answered, not knowing with whom he was speaking. “Here I am.” This was the proper way to answer an authority summoning a servant. “I am here, at your disposal.” When God called, Moses answered with a submissive voice, a posture of respect before God.

God declared the ground upon which Moses standing holy. There is no indication the ground was forever holy. Wherever God is, is holy. God met Moses on Mount “Horeb” which means a “desolate wasteland.” From then on Moses identified it as the Mountain of God. Moses removed his sandals, an act of obedience and great respect. God demands respect and has the authority to expect both obedience and respect from those who belong to Him.

Responding respectfully to God’s summons is evidence of training but not purity of the thinking of the heart. Obedience with selfless motives shows the heart God is preparing for eternity.

God identified Himself and Moses responded without being told what to do. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” What was Moses’ response? “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Standing in the presence of Holy God exposed his true sinful self. Before God makes anyone pure they must first acknowledge their sinfulness and recognize the consequences of their sin. Then they must relinquish control of themselves to the God they serve.  God will use whom He will.

In the exchange which follows God never asked Moses to do His will. Always, even when Moses made excuses, God commanded him to go and speak. Obedience is expected.

Training has its place. Responding correctly and respectfully is proper and necessary. True humility before God reveals the changing thoughts of the heart of the one chosen by God. Do not mistake how God uses those who are His. Few are given the challenge of doing something spectacular for God. Mostly, it is obedience in the daily and mundane which brings the most glory to Him. For the daily and mundane reveal the true person. We are called to uninterrupted obedience to His commands and continual respect for His Person.

Abraham and Isaac

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” [Genesis 22:1 ESV]

Do not think God simply winds us up and lets us go wherever we may.  He is intimately and intricately involved in our lives as He prepares us for eternity.

Genesis 22 is a heart tearing and gut wrenching story. Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God, had received God’s blessing, believed God when He spoke. Now, he is told to sacrifice the promise and blessing of God. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” [Genesis 22:2 ESV].

God tested Abraham. “Test” is also translated “tempt.” We know God does not tempt anyone though He will allow all to face temptations. This word does not carry the idea of driving Abraham toward sin. God seeks obedience which is never sin. Nor did God tell Abraham to do what He was unwilling to do Himself. “Test” means to prove or assay, as in find out what the level of purity is within the substance. In this instance, the substance is a man, created in God’s image, corrupted by sin, chosen by God. We are not to test God, but He is perfectly justified in testing us.

What raced through Abraham’s mind and heart as he, his son, and his servants traveled to the place where God directed him to sacrifice his son? I am a father. Not knowing what he thought and felt I can imagine his turmoil. Before leaving I imagine Abraham wrestling with himself through a sleepless night, struggling with obedience. Every step of the journey brought a search for compromise, or manufactured an excuse to disobey. Every compromise and excuse fell at his  feet trampled as he journeyed. He pondered the promise of God, finally seeing His trustworthiness.

Every step brought him closer to God who is not some dumb idol, chiseled from stone, carved from wood, empowered by corrupt imaginations. He  is God, the Creator of All, the One Who Sustains All, the Giver of Purpose to All, the Owner of All. At sometime during the journey, from the moment of the command to the raising of the knife, Abraham decided God is worthy of such worship. Abraham will do what His God commanded.

Notice Abraham’s confidence in the God of the Universe. “Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you’” [Genesis 22:5 ESV]. We will worship. We will return.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. [Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV]

From the first time God spoke to Abraham until Genesis 22, and beyond, God prepared Abraham, teaching him, working in him, changing him. This test was not so God could determine Abraham’s progress in his studies but to drive out more of the impurities brought by the corruption of sin. Obedience tested by sacrifice reveals the motivation and purity of the thinking of the heart toward God.

God’s intent is not to change the world and us so we can live in the world but to change us so we can be with Him wherever He puts us. He uses the world to test and assay His new creation in preparation for eternity. He will purify our hearts, for only that which is pure will be in His presence.

God’s Promise

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

God’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ. With Abraham we see the revealed beginning of the lineage of Christ.

Read God’s command again and then Abraham’s actions. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” [Genesis 12:1 ESV]. God told Abraham to leave “your kindred and your father’s house.” Abraham walked away from his father’s house taking with him his wife and all the slaves he had acquired.

We are faced with a common misconstruing of Scripture. Abraham was told  to leave his kindred.  Many are taught he “took” Lot, his nephew, with him. Yet, the words of Scripture suggest Lot went with him of his own volition. He was not compelled nor was his presence requested by Abraham. Simply, Abraham packed and left and Lot packed and followed.

Had Lot stayed behind two nations which hated Israel would not have existed. Eventually, God would separate Lot from Abraham and remove him from the Promised Land. God’s covenant was with Abraham and his descendants and no one else. But, the covenant was not with all of Abraham’s descendants. Only through Isaac, then through Jacob, would the world be blessed.

God was preparing the world for His Son by setting Abraham apart. He would continue setting apart the line and lineage of His Son, through rebellion and war, through exile and return. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom the whole world is blessed. Those who curse Him, reject Him, ignore the evidence of His life are cursed, rejected and ignored by God. God and His promises will not be mocked. He will do what He has promised.

A moment of Abraham’s life reveals the character of God. Obedience, like sacrifice, is the evidence of selfless love for God. Those who God is giving a pure heart have moments of selfless love for God, giving Him their first, their best, acknowledging all belongs to Him. When He commands they obey. Whether they have great knowledge or little understanding of God, they have at least the rudimentary ability to trust He will fulfill what He has promised.

This is the description of a moment of Abraham’s life.

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. [Genesis 15:1-6 ESV]

At that moment, though surrounded by a sinful world, motivated by sinful flesh, filled with doubt, Abraham “believed.” His faith, believing the evidence of God’s work, trusting the promise because He who gave the promise is trustworthy, and obeying His command, all rolled into one moment.

When God looks at the one He is preparing for eternity He sees the likeness of His Son finished in the person. Those who are His may doubt and rebel, will sin but will also submit. God will teach us to have selfless love for Him, as He always intended.