I HAVE ALWAYS HEARD

How many sayings can you think of that you have heard all your life and if you talked to parents or grandparents they would tell you that they have heard them all of theirs?  We tend to think that if something has been said for a long time it must be true.  But, Jesus didn’t buy that notion at all.  In His great Sermon on the Mount when he made the declaration that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we won’t even enter the kingdom it likely confused the whole crowd since they thought these two groups were the essence of great faith.  But Jesus immediately began laying out for them how they were to exceed these religious leaders.  With each point he made he started with, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago.”  Many of the statements he followed with were commands from the Old Law or even the Ten Commandments but it was usually something they added to it or some interpretation they had given to the command that Jesus would correct by saying, “But I tell you”

The first one was, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,” is answerable to the court.  And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The saying that one should not commit murder is certainly a good one.  It doesn’t seem bad to say that one who does so will face judgment.  What then was wrong with their understanding on the whole command?  It was that they had taken the command very literally and failed to look behind the command to see the heart and attitude that led to the murder.  It is awful to murder another person.  But if all we see is the evil in the act and don’t deal with the heart that leads to murder we aren’t making any real change in the world.  We live in a time when the message of this lesson is desperately needed.  When we hear over and over again of someone going into a school, church, theater or some other place and opening fire on the people there who are defenseless it not only breaks our heart, it builds a sense of fear into people.  It also causes us to question, what can we do to change things?  How can we change the world so that such things don’t occur any more?

Notice, Jesus answer wasn’t to increase the punishment on the one who committed murder.  It wasn’t to make stronger laws against murder.  It wasn’t even to remove all the different means through which a person can commit murder.  Imagine Jesus telling them that since murder is such a problem we need to remove all the big rocks in the area that one might use to hit someone over the head with it.

No, his answer was to drop back behind the murder to look at the things that lead up to murder.  It is seldom, if ever the case that one’s first reaction to a supposed wrong is to determine that I am going to get a gun or knife or even a bomb and destroy all those people.  It usually starts with anger.  Jesus said to be angry at our brother or sister is what leads to murder and so solve the problem while it is still at this point.  From angry feelings one usually starts using words that are cutting about the other person.  Jesus warned of the danger of calling another person “Raca” which means empty headed, dumb, stupid or some other such word.  So he said if you call a brother dumb or something like that you are already in danger from the court.  You are likely to be taken to court to defend your actions.  If you call someone a fool which means “empty hearted” you are in danger of hell fire.  Notice the whole thing leading up to murder starts with anger, leads to calling names and moves to stronger words about the other person when we not only question their intelligence but their heart and character.  If one can deal with the problem at any point along the way there is the potential of stopping the murder from happening.  But if we wait until the point of murder itself, it becomes very unlikely that we can stop something tragic from taking place.

Notice, Jesus did something else to make this point even stronger for all of us.  He pictured a person coming to worship God to make their offering on the altar.  There in that setting they think of the fact someone else has something against them.  Instead of thinking to ourselves how crazy it is for that person to have something against us or getting frustrated that people don’t leave their judgments to themselves, his answer was to leave your gift at the altar and go first to that person that has something against you and be reconciled to the person then return to offer your sacrifice.  Solving disagreements, being reconciled with a person who is angry with us takes precedence over our worship to God.  We must be so concerned about our human relationships we will interfere with our worship to solve a problem with another person.

Our response when someone does some horrible crime is to ask ourselves and others, “Why in the world would that person do such a thing?”  But it is almost always the case that people around them knew they were angry, frustrated and felt like they were being mistreated by others before any crime took place.  Just trying to deal with the crime itself without dropping back behind the crime to deal with the heart and emotions behind it will never bring any kind of solution.  Jesus answer is still valid.  Cut it off when you feel anger toward another person.  Instead of dwelling on the anger and striking out against them with harsh words, look for a way to reconcile with them.  Never wait for the other one who is offended to come to you for the reconciliation.  Seek them out and make reconciliation a priority in life all the time.

Old Sayings are great if they are right.  But it isn’t the age of the saying that matters but the truth that needs to be learned whether old or new.

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DON’T THINK THAT

Probably Jesus corrected more wrong thinking and teaching in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7 than any other part of Scripture.  He had explained the blessedness available to all people and complimented them by telling these ordinary folk that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Then Jesus started his transition to dealing with several specific misunderstanding the religious leaders had taught the people with regard to the law.  But in the transition he wanted to explain to them his relationship with the law and the prophets.  It is in verses 17-20.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  Huge question, are we still bound by the Old Testament Law?  Perhaps even more important, were those of us who aren’t Israelites ever bound by that law?  The law was given to the children of Israel who were the physical descendants of Abraham and most of us don’t fit that description.  But was the law intended to be permanent even for those who were under it at that time?  Many turn to this text to say that Jesus never intended to do away with the Old Law as bound on us.  Is that what Jesus was saying?

Notice he declared he didn’t come to abolish or destroy the law but to fulfill it.  If he had simply set aside the law and its requirements it would have been to reject the very law that God had given the people.  He came as one born under the law to completely fulfill the law and prophets requirements.  If you read through the whole gospel account of Matthew it is amazing how many times it will be said that Jesus fulfilled something that the law required of him.  The problem then as now was that so much of what he law said, people had not understood correctly. In Luke 24:44 Jesus said to the disciples before his ascension, “This is what I told you while I was still with you:  Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Remember when Jesus was dying on the cross that one of his seven statements was, “It is finished.”  His point was that he had completed the mission God had given him.  He had lived out the requirements of the law and demonstrated what being obedient to God’s will really looked like.  Over and over he declared, “I didn’t come to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

If Jesus had abolished the law he would simply have set it aside and made no effort to fulfill the teaching and promises of the law or the prophets.  Instead he came to fulfill everything that the law and prophets said he would do.  He fulfilled the mission of the Old Testament by showing us what God is like and being God among us on earth.  In John 1:18 it says he came to show or give us an exegesis of the Father.  He told Philip in John 14 that he who has seen me has seen the Father.  So our best way of learning about God isn’t by looking at all the descriptions of God in the Old Testament but by looking at Jesus and seeing how he lived, thought, taught and acted in the world as one of us.

Nothing in the Law would pass away until it was fulfilled.  Jesus said, he had come to fulfill the law.  So, the question that we need to answer is, did Jesus do what he came to do?  If the law passed when it was fulfilled and Jesus came to fulfill it, if he did what he came to do then the law has now passed as the law bound on people.  That doesn’t mean it stopped being the word of God or stopped being important to learn and study.  Since much of the New Testament is either a quotation from the Old or a reference to something said or done in the Old Testament we can’t really understand the New Testament without knowing something of the Old.

But there is a reason Paul would say in Romans 7:4-7 that we are now dead to the law by the body of Christ so that we might be married to another, even to him who has been raised from the dead.  Some would say, “Yes, but he is just talking about the ceremonial parts of the law, not the Ten Commandments.”  The problem with that is that he goes ahead to refer to how he had learned of sin from the law and wouldn’t have known it if the law hadn’t said, “You shall not covet.”  So the very part of the law that he quoted to say we are dead to it was one of the Ten Commandments.  Also in 2 Corinthians 3 when he compared the Old Testament to the New he called the law written and engraved on stones a ministry of death and said he had been made a minister of the New Covenant that is written on the heart.  Notice that in Hebrews 8 he quoted Jeremiah 31 that promised God would make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Jacob that wouldn’t be like the old one written on stone but one written on the tablets of the heart and that we now have that new covenant.

The law Paul said in Galatians 3:24-25 was a tutor to bring us to Christ but after Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor.  Instead he said we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Jesus concluded his statement about the law by saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” He certainly wasn’t telling us we had to be stricter in our thinking than they were.  He builds on that point in the remainder of the chapter by telling them what they have heard from such teachers and comparing it with what he said for us to do.  Thank God we live under a new covenant of grace where we are saved by faith and all people stand on equal footing with God.

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YOU HAVE A POWERFUL MISSION

It is so easy to think that what we do doesn’t really matter and that our place in the world is so insignificant that if we simply dropped out no one would even notice.  The people who listened to Jesus that day when he preached the great Sermon on the Mount felt much the same way.  They were poor, struggling and oppressed.  Yet Jesus had pronounced upon them eight blessings.  But his greater compliment to them and to us as we read from Matthew 5 is in verses 13-16.  Try hard to put yourself on that mountainside the day Jesus was speaking.  Imagine him saying to you, “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 underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A town built 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 others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

I can imagine the people sitting there that day, after already being totally amazed that he would bless them and tell them that the kingdom of heaven was theirs, they would be able to see God and that they would be called the children of God, now hearing Jesus tell them they would be salt to the earth and light to the world.  But be very clear, that message isn’t just for those sitting there that day nearly 2,000 years ago.  That message is for you and me today.  We are the blessed ones and we are the ones Jesus said are salt and light.  But what in the world did he mean by these descriptions of his followers?

While salt has multiple uses in giving flavor to food and serving as a preservative to meat, too soften water and lots of other things, it probably was in two of those senses Jesus was applying it.  First, salt gives flavor.  It keeps the food from being bland.  Jesus point then to those who live for him is that you will give flavor to the earth by the way you live.  Over in Colossians 4:5-6 Paul used the same comparison when he said, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  The world looks at the Christian’s life and attitude to determine what they think of Christianity.  Our lives can be salt that gives good flavor to what people see and taste in the Christian life or it can turn people away.  He challenged us to live in a way that gave good flavor to draw people to Christ.  Also, salt was their primary means of preserving meat that they wished to save for a time.  They had no access to a deep freeze so they salted the meat down and it would protect it and keep it safe for future consumption.  By saying that we are the salt of the earth, Jesus is pointing to the reality we have saving and preserving influence in the world.  It is the life and influence of Christians that keeps the earth going.  Remember the story of Abraham pleading with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He started with asking God if he would save the city if fifty righteous people could be found in it.  Ultimately he got down to ten righteous people in the city and God promised if there were just ten people living a righteous life in the city he would spare the whole city.  But ten couldn’t be found and it was destroyed.  Jesus raised the question about his coming again, “Nevertheless when I return will I find faith on the earth?”  The implication is that he won’t.  The life of Christians holds back the return of Christ and the destruction of the earth.  But when salt loses it’s saltiness and no longer gives flavor and no longer has the power to preserve the meat it is worthless and is thrown out to be used as a walking path.

Secondly, he said we are the light of the world.  It is amazing that Jesus would say of himself that “I am the light of the world” and John will later write of God the Father that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”  Even the Bible was said by David to be a lamp to his feet and a light to his pathway.  So when Jesus said of his disciples that you are the light of the world, he placed us in tremendous company.  Light gives direction.  It keeps us from stumbling and falling over things that are in the dark and we don’t see.  He pictured this light or lamp as being placed on a lamp stand so all the house can see and be blessed by the light.  You don’t light a lamp and put it under a bowl so that no one can see it.  Why have light if you can’t see it or if you are going to hide it?

Think of the fact that darkness is often in Scripture tied to evil, sin and Satan.  Light is tied to God, Christ and His Holy Spirit.  On the two occasions when Jesus referred to himself as the light of the world it was related to events that had just taken place.  The first one was when the religious leaders had brought a woman to Jesus that had been caught in the act of adultery and they were pressing Jesus with what should be done.  They said the law demanded that such a woman should be stoned to death.  “What do you say?”  Jesus wrote on the ground and gave them time to think of what they were doing.  Then he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Their consciences afflicted them and they all dropped their rocks and walked away until it was just Jesus and the woman.  Jesus asked, “Did no-one condemn you?”  She said, “No one Lord.”  He declared, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”  Then he said, “I am the light of the world.”  The other time was in the very next chapter of John when he met a man who was born blind and put mud on his eyes and sent him to the pool of Siloam to wash that he might be able to see.  When he gave this blind man sight he declared, ” I am the light of the world.”

This indicates that we can be light to others when we help those caught in sin, needing help and a way to turn their lives around, we can be the ones to show them the way to new life in God.  When people are hurting, struggling and feel lost in the world like the blind man, we can be ones to help them know someone cares and is there to help them.  Notice Jesus didn’t just say we are light, he challenged us not to hide the light we are and noted that we have control over how the light we are can shine.  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  He didn’t say to shine our lights, but let it shine. It is terribly irritating when someone shines their lights on us or in our face.  But we are to be a candlelight that we let shine.  But how do we allow our lights to shine.  By doing good deeds and instead of claiming credit for ourselves, pointing constantly to our Father in heaven as the source of our good deeds.

It is difficult to think of any mission of greater importance in the world that being the salt that gives flavor to the world, being the preserving power to save the earth, of being light to offer direction and show the way and of being light to guide one from spiritual darkness to the light of God.  What a powerful mission God has given to each of us as his disciples in the world.  You aren’t insignificant, but vitally important.  You affect the future of the world by how you live.

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THE BLESSED PERSECUTED

Each of Jesus’ beatitudes are counter-intuitive in that they pronounce blessings on ones that we don’t usually think of as blessed.  But the last one is particularly counter the way we would normally think of things.  Remember in each of these blessings, Jesus isn’t so much telling us that we ought to develop the different traits as he is looking at those who are poor in spirit or mourning and grieving in life and telling them they are blessed, loved and accepted by God.  But look at the last of these statements, the one that would have caused the most confusion in the group.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Have you ever been persecuted because of your faith in Christ?  Perhaps closer to home for most of us would be, have you been insulted or had bad things said about you because of your teaching things you believe the Bible teaches?  Likely most people who are devoted to Christ have had some form of such persecution, even though we would say that it is slight compared to what those early Christians went through or what many go through in different parts of the world today because of their faith in Christ.  How do you react when you have something ugly or mean said about you when you are trying your best to do what is right and good?  How do you handle it if you learn that someone at church has started a rumor about you that has spread among many and that it is obvious some are believing it and seem to be relishing the thought rather than coming to your defense?  It is extremely easy to get angry, to feel sorry for oneself and cry out, “why me?”  I think of the picture painted by the Book of Revelation of the Christians who had been murdered for their faith in Christ and John pictures them under the altar, crying out, “How long O Lord, holy and true, do you not avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”  God’s answer to them was to wait for the proper time.  In the next chapter they are pictured as being dressed in white robes and the Lord is leading them by everlasting fountains of water and God wipes all tears from their eyes.  I can certainly understand and feel with those saints who were struggling with their persecution and untimely death for their faith, can’t you?

Yet Jesus looked at these kinds of situations and declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”  It should stand out that when one lives a life of purity of heart, mercy and peacemaking, it won’t usually lead to everyone talking about what a great person you are.  Instead, such a life of striving to help and make things better in the world too often leads to resentment and even revenge.  Jesus said, when such persecution happens, you are blessed and the kingdom of Heaven belongs to you.  God’s kingdom is the reign of God as King in our life.  Later in chapter 6:33 he told us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  When we seek the reign of God in our life it leads to living righteously in the world.  But why would people persecute the person who is trying to do good, right and be a helpful person in the world?  Why would one living such a life have their motives questioned and be attacked so often by others who share their faith in Christ?

Growing up on a farm back in Alabama I saw something happen many times that was amazing to me as a child.  If a mother hen had lots of little chickens to hatch and she had a large brood of little chickens, it would often be the case that one of the chickens was different.  They would often be a different color from the others, and usually different from the mother hen.  Every time this happened unless you removed that little chicken that was different from the others, the mother hen would peck it to death.  The first time I remember seeing that happen I was totally confused and remember asking my mother why the hen would kill that little chicken.  Her answer stood out with me through the years.  “That little chicken was different from the others and she couldn’t stand for any of her chicks to be different from the rest.”  If life, even if the difference among people is good, beneficial and for the betterment of society, we still tend not to like the one who is different and attack them in whatever way we can.  Jesus said, when you live the life He calls us to live we would have such persecution.  Later the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “all those who live godly in this present world will suffer persecution.”

We may cry out, “It isn’t fair” but the fact is, life is seldom fair.  So, how are we to react as followers of Jesus when persecution, insults and evil gossip goes on about us?  First, if the gossip or evil said has truth to it, our reaction should be to humbly repent of the sin with the will to change our life.  I’m sure when David had Nathan the prophet say to him that he was the man that had done the wrong and mistreated his neighbor, David felt persecuted.  But his reaction wasn’t to defend himself, but to declare, “Against you, you only have I sinned and committed this great iniquity, O God.”  Second, if the persecution is false and we didn’t do anything wrong, then, forgive the culprit as Jesus did for those who nailed him to the cross.  In Romans 12 Paul challenged us to overcome evil with good and not to seek revenge when mistreated but to submit to God who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”  But the huge challenge from Jesus is to look at the wrong done to us and “rejoice and be glad.”  Why in the world would we rejoice over such abuse?  Because our reward is great in heaven and because that is the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

Nothing the world does in the form of persecution or mistreatment can compare with the tremendous blessings that God will bring us when we get to heaven.  Plus, it is often the case that many great blessings from the Lord come to us in this life.  Overcoming such hurt will open doors for us to be helpful to others who are going through times of hurt, disappointment and mistreatment in the world.  Over in I Peter 2 he discussed times of persecution that had now fallen on the church.  They were suffering and many were terribly discouraged because of it.  Peter said, “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  That is our calling before God.  When we handle our struggles in the same way it is a powerful witness for God that may well lead even the persecutors to faith as well.

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THE BLESSED PEACEMAKERS

When was the last time you met someone and thought to yourself that you knew them, yet they were far too young to be the person you first thought they were?  Recently we had a young man visit us at the church where I preach and when I saw him, I immediately thought, “He sure looks familiar” yet I knew I didn’t really know him.  But he looked a ton like a man I’ve known for years and even more like this man’s son that I have known for less years, but still for some time.  When he came out after the worship time and greeted me with a huge smile, he introduced himself and said his granddad had told him to look for me and tell me who he was.  Suddenly, it made all kinds of sense why he looked familiar, even though I hadn’t known him before at all.  He looked so much like his dad and granddad that it was uncanny.  His smile was so much like his granddads smile that it was amazing.

This reminds me of Jesus’ statement “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Probably many of the people in the crowd that day would have thought the whole idea of being a peacemaker was strange in a time when they were under Roman control.  If they looked around and saw Roman soldiers marching through the streets like they owned the place and often mistreating the people who had lived there all their lives, it would feel more natural to hear the teacher say, “Blessed are the warriors who will go out and fight the enemies of Israel to deliver us from the Roman powers.”  I wonder if Simon the Zealot was in the crowd that day.  Jesus would later choose him to be one of the twelve ambassadors for his kingdom.  Yet a Zealot was a hater of Rome who wanted to see and be a part of the overthrow of their empire.  If he was, it must have moved him to degree that he would change his loyalty, even though as an apostle he still wore the title of Simon the Zealot.  If you think about the land of Israel where they were, there has never been a time when they had peace for an extended period.  It has always been the case that there were enemies who wished to destroy them as a nation.  But the environment didn’t change the fundamental principles of God on how we should live.

Peace is so tied to God that he is called the God of peace, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace and the message of Christ is called the Gospel of peace.  When we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is peace.  Paul said in Romans 14:17-19, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  When James the Lord’s brother wrote the book that bares his name he explained that the wisdom that comes from above is first of all peaceable.

But how are those who follow Christ to be peacemakers in the world?  It has never been the case that peace was obtained through political or military means.  There can’t be peace among people when the people are at war with themselves or with God.  There must be an inner peace before it can be passed on to others.  In the world it seems that people think that the way to peace is either more policemen or to take away all the weapons in the world so that they can’t hurt each other.  But as long as Satan reigns in the hearts of people there will be war, murder, and all types of abuse among the people.  Think of the fact the first murder that took place in the world was Cain killing his brother Abel when there were no weapons as we would know them.  But hate, jealousy and envy can lead to the efforts to destroy those whom we blame for our problems whether there are mighty weapons or simply a rock we can pick up in the yard.  Strangely, the religions of the world often plant the hatred into the hearts of those who follow them, for anyone that doesn’t accept their beliefs as the only right way.

No matter how many times people who kill and hurt others, immediately afterward cry out the name of God, you can be certain they aren’t following the one God described in the teachings of Jesus.  He is the one that made the law to begin with that whoever sheds a person’s blood would have their blood shed by other people.  Jesus would turn the tables completely around by saying to us to love those who hate us and do good to those who spitefully use us.  He challenged us to pray for our enemies and be like the Father in heaven who sends his rain and sunshine on the good and evil.

If I want to be blessed by the Lord, then I must be one that is a peacemaker in the world.  But how?  The best way in the world to produce peace among people is to share with them the gospel of peace.  That Gospel or good news of Jesus and His kingdom is powerful and can drive the sin from our lives to give us peace with God and peace in our own lives.  Paul described this change in us as being reconciled to God to becoming his friends all over again.  He then said that those who are reconciled to God are given a ministry of reconciliation to carry that same good news to others.  When we tell them of Jesus and his great invitation to “Come unto me all who are weary and burdened down and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest unto your soul for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

When we become such peacemakers among people, we are blessed by looking like God and are then called the “children of God.”  I’ve had people say to me “you look like your dad” or “you look like your granddad.”  The truth is that I don’t think I look physically much like either one but likely have habits and expressions that remind them of either.  When we do the job of carrying the gospel of peace to the world, we look like the Lord.  What an amazing blessing it is to be seen as God’s child in the world.

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THE BLESSED PURE IN HEART

It was quite common in my growing up to hear someone say, “well, bless your heart” and then move on to either correct or excuse something that had been done.  I’ve tried to imagine being there the day Jesus was delivering the Sermon on Mount and to imagine what I would have thought when he blessed those with a pure heart.  As with all the beatitudes he designated what the blessing would be for the pure in heart by saying “They shall see God.”  Do you suppose that many of those listening to him felt he was describing them when he talked about the pure in heart?  I would guess that most were thinking, that can’t be me that he is talking about.  We might have looked around to see some precious person we have known through the years that is especially kind and caring toward others and thought maybe they would fit the bill, but not us.  What do you picture when you think of having a pure heart anyway?

The word “pure” has the basic meaning of being unmixed.  It is in its true sense when we purchase a product that says, “Pure Honey” or “Pure Olive Oil”.  The maker is telling us that there isn’t any by-products added to it to make it better or change it in anyway.  It may well have been the case that some of those listening to Jesus on hearing this blessing were reminded of the song found in Psalms 24 that they may have been taught from childhood.  In verses 3-4 it said, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear to a false god.”  When our heart or soul is mixed in its loyalty trying to worship some idol as god along with the God of the Universe our hearts are defiled.  Jesus was giving the concept of a pure heart when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and declared, “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  A pure heart is the total opposite of the notion, “Give God a place in your life or in your heart.”  God isn’t looking for a place in our life.  He is longing for our total commitment to him.  He longs for us to give our hearts fully to him.

In Titus 1:15-16 Paul said to his young friend and fellow preacher, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”  Paul is definitely focused on the heart that is pure and not just the outside actions because he notes that when our hearts are pure, it changes how we see everything else in life. One with a pure heart, sees the world through the eyes of purity.  When the heart is defiled we see everything as defiled and evil.  It is somewhat like looking at the world through glasses.  If your glasses are clean it changes how you see everything else.  But if your glasses are scratched and dirty everything you look at is distorted.  You have been around people, I’m sure, who can see something immoral or filthy in the most innocent person or action imaginable.  When we have such an impure heart, we may claim to know God but the truth is we are denying him all the time.  Think of how the impure person thinks they see God but get a distorted view of Him, while the pure in heart are able to see God as he really is.

James adds a point to this whole discussion first by telling us the pure and undefiled religion is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).  Then in chapter 3:17-18 he described wisdom in this way: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  Wise people are pure in heart.  Such purity of heart will change the actions, the emotions and the attitudes of the person.

But what did he mean by saying the pure in hear will see God?  Obviously it could point to heaven and those who are pure in heart seeing God in glory when this life is over.  But I don’t think that is the point Jesus was making.  I think his point is that when our hearts are pure, totally focused on God and His will for us, we see God in all the things around us.  We should see God in the beautiful flowers of springtime, in the streams, the hills, the valleys, the mountaintops, in the birds and animals that show up and in the children in our lives.  We should see God in the people we are around all the time.  We ought to see a glimpse of God in the hurting, homeless, addict that has totally lost their sense of direction in life.  Certainly Satan is at work there as well.  But God shows up in the most helpless person we meet, wishing for us to demonstrate our faith by showing care.  God is all around us, but we can only see him when our heart is pure with the wisdom from above.

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THE BLESSED MERCIFUL

Picture Jesus sitting on the mountainside with the multitudes all around him as he taught them.  I can easily imagine children running here and there as parents try to both keep up with where the kids are and focus on the words of Jesus.  This was near the beginning of his ministry so they didn’t know as much about him as they would in time.  Now it was amazing to them to hear his voice and the power with which he spoke.  They would later declare that he was different than all the religious teachers they had heard before since he spoke with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees of the day.  I wonder what his voice sounded like.  But it wasn’t the sound of his voice or the method of his speaking that made the difference.  No one ever said anything about his strong voice or his ability as a speaker.  It always had to do with the actual message, his amazing stories that reached for their hearts and the compassion he had for all the people that made the difference.  He had already looked out and spoke the encouraging words that those who were poor in spirit were blessed with the kingdom of heaven.  He had declared those blessed who were broken in grief and spoken comfort to the gentle or meek telling them they would inherit the earth.  He pronounced a blessing on those who were hungry for God and for being right with God.

Then he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  What is mercy anyway?  Mercy is grace with legs on it.  It is compassion in action.  Mercy is active, rather than just feeling with the ones who are hurting and struggling in life, they get involved in serving and doing to help them in their struggle.  It is amazing to watch someone who is really gifted with mercy.  In Romans 12:3-9 when Paul laid out the different spiritual gifts that one might have as a member of the body of Jesus, one of those gifts was “Showing mercy”.  He said if one had the gift of showing mercy then do it with cheerfulness.  In this statement, he laid out one of the inherent dangers one has in showing mercy to others.  It is very easy to show mercy and then complain about how hard it is to help those who are hurting all the time.  Mercy always works best when done with love, care and with a smile.  It is God’s intent that we recognize the act of mercy toward a hurting or struggling person as a blessing from God.  James said if we showed mercy toward others then God would show mercy to us but the one who didn’t show mercy to those around them wouldn’t find mercy from the Lord either.  What is interesting in the statement from James 2 is the context in which the statement about mercy was found.  It was while talking about someone coming into the assembly of the church who was poor and people saying to them to sit somewhere inconspicuous while someone comes in who is wealthy and they offer them the best seat in the house.  How we treat those with less, who are different or who may not be popular demonstrates our sense of mercy.

Yesterday we have the privilege of visiting with family back in Alabama.  One of my sisters is going through some tough times in her life, dealing with dementia and lots of other health issues.  It was amazing watching her granddaughter work with her and take care of her.  As she cared for her and answered her questions, which were usually the same ones she had asked a few minutes before, it was always with extreme kindness and with a cheerful attitude.  What made it all the more interesting was that the granddaughter was getting over surgery on her foot and was still having some difficulty getting around herself.  But her focus seemed to be totally on her grandmother.

Mercy begets mercy.  I certainly believe this means our being merciful brings mercy from God, but it is a principle that runs through human nature as well.  One of the aspects of life that I’ve seen play out over and over again is the person who is full of mercy with others tends to have that same kind of mercy returned to them when they are hurting or struggling in life.  If one finds it near impossible to feel with others in their hurts, it seems that others tend to have the same reaction toward them in their times of stress or trouble.  I wonder how many times through the years I’ve had someone complain that they had been sick or had problems and no one seemed to reach out and visit or even check on them.  It never seems to dawn on them that others all around them have gone through similar things all through the years but they never had the time or interest to do anything to help them in their times of need.

We live in a world of hurt.  Sometimes we become callous toward the hurt because so much is said about hurts and struggles all over the world.  We see scenes of people starving in faraway places asking for money to be sent.  Then there will be a scene about animals, usually dogs that are hungry and neglected to ask for you to send money to take care of them.  Immediately afterward there will be an ad for “Wounded Warriors” that we need to send money to.  Often we see those needs dramatized to the degree that looking around us to see people in our family or church family that need help or even children in our area that need someone to get involved in their life, seems less exciting and somewhat mundane.

Mercy works best when demonstrated to people we can touch.  It does the most good when it involves more than just sending money.  It changes us and makes us more into the people God calls us to be when it is done with and for others, we can see and help on a regular basis.  Mercy like so many other aspects of heart and life needs to be fed to remain healthy in our lives.  The more we can walk through life caring for no one except ourselves the more starved mercy becomes in our life until we have the hardest time actually feeling for anyone besides yourself.

No one ever demonstrated mercy in their lives like Jesus.  When he saw hurting or hungry people his heart went out to them.  He was always ready to head to the home of a soldier, a tax collector or a religious leader if someone there was in need of his help.  He was ready to risk his life to go back to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Even with the cross looming before him, he thought of the disciples and bowed to wash their feet.  When the mob came to arrest him, he healed Malchus whose ear Peter had cut off with a sword.  While dying on the cross in horrific pain he ministered to a thief hanging on the cross beside him, offering him forgiveness and a home in paradise with him that very day.  The more we become like Jesus the more mercy will be fundamental to our life and character.  God bless the merciful.

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