Finding Purity

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Matthew 5:8

Two daughters had been given parts in a Christmas pageant at their church. At dinner that night, they got into an argument as to who had the most important role. Finally the 14 year old said to her 8 year old younger sister, “Well, you just ask Mom. She’ll tell you it’s much harder to be a virgin than it is to be an angel.”

John Wooden, former coach for UCLA (and a member of the Disciples of Christ) once said to his players, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” A Jewish man moves into a Catholic neighborhood. Every Friday the Catholics go crazy because, while they’re morosely eating fish, the Jew is outside barbecuing steaks. So the Catholics work on the Jew to convert him. Finally, by threats and pleading, the Catholics succeed. They take the Jew to a priest who sprinkles holy water on the Jew and intones: …..”Born a Jew ……Raised a Jew ……Now a Catholic.” The Catholics are ecstatic. No more delicious, but maddening smells every Friday evening. But the next Friday evening, the scent of barbecue wafts through the neighborhood. The Catholics all rush to the Jew’s house to remind him of his new diet. They see him standing over the cooking steak. He is sprinkling water on the meat and saying: …..”Born a cow ……Raised a cow ……Now a fish.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. To be pure in heart is to have ones mind, motives, and principles pure. To be pure is the quality of being free from mixture, pollution, or other foreign elements. Paul writes to Timothy and says, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Timothy 1:5) To be pure in heart is the Christian who seeks not only to have the external actions of their life correct, but who desire to be holy in heart, and who are so. The Bible reminds us that we look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. Paul again writes, Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (1 Timothy 4:12) It is not about what is visible, but what is invisible, the heart.

“Deep within every person is a longing to be connected to a story larger than ourselves.” God is holy! Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev 4:8) In God there is found no sin. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.(1 John 3:4)

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with `unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ (Mark 7:1)

T. S. Eliot said, “Christians tend to make things neater and tidier than they really are.” The Jews of Jesus’ day often took ceremonial purity beyond what Scripture commanded. They considered ceremonial purity more valuable than spiritual purity. For this error they were soundly rebuked by Jesus. The purity which a Christian should strive for is spiritual in nature. We forget at times that Jesus did not come to abolish our humanity but to save us from our sins.

A Christian must confront reality and meet people where they are. Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him `unclean.'” (Matthew 15:18)

There is a sense in which all will see God. That is, they will behold him as a Judge, not as a Friend. In this place it is spoken of as a special favor. Are the things you’re living for, worth Christ dying for?

Living In A Dog Eat Dog World

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Matthew 5:5

TV anchorman Tom Brokaw was wandering through Bloomingdale’s in New York one day, shortly after he was promoted to co-host on the Today Show. The Today Show was a pinnacle of sorts for Brokaw after years of work, first in Omaha, then for NBC in Los Angeles and Washington, and he was feeling good about himself. He noticed a man watching him closely. The man kept staring at him and finally, when the man approached him, Brokaw was sure he was about to reap the first fruits of being a New York television celebrity. The man pointed his finger and said, “Tom Brokaw, right?” “Right,” said Brokaw. “You used to do the morning news on KMTV in Omaha, right?” “That’s right,” said Brokaw, getting set for the accolades to follow. “I knew it the minute I spotted you,” the fellow said. Then he paused and added, “Whatever happened to you?”

There was a seminary professor who was much admired by his students because he always managed to keep his spiritual vitality at a high peak. Clearly he was a man who had found rest for his soul. Clearly he was a man whose burden was light. One day, a student who was plagued with anxiety came to him and said, “You always seem so secure and so at peace with yourself. How do you do it?” The professor said that he did what all good Christians are supposed to do — like praying and Bible reading, and going to church. “And,” he said, “I let the everyday things speak to me of God and the sacredness of God’s present moment with me. For example I walk in the rain and throw my head back and let the raindrops fall on my face and I get a revelation.” Sometime later, the student and the professor met again. The student said, “I tried to follow your example. I took a long walk in the rain and I threw my head back and I let the raindrops fall on my face and the water ran down my neck and I didn’t get any revelation; I just felt like a fool.” “Well,” the professor replied, “what more of a revelation than that do you want the first time?”

The Bible is filled with what we call “the great reversals.” In fact, Christianity is a great reversal from the world. You want to be great, you have to be a servant. He who loses his life, will gain it. He who saves his life, will lose it. The poor man wins the kingdom, the rich man loses his soul. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, is a great reversal.

Meekness is a powerful word in the Bible. Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38) It is neither meanness nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harbored vengeance. When Jesus stood before Annas a solider hit Him. “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (John 18:23) In Philippi, Paul was imprisoned (Acts 16:37). But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison.” Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us. “Vengeance is his; he will repay,” Rom 12:19. It little becomes us to take his place, and to do what he has promised to do.

Meekness produces peace. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. To inherit the earth became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour uses this language here, He means that the meek shall be received into His kingdom, and partake of its blessings, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter. Meekness is a discipline. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11)

The meek prosper. The value of meekness, even in regard to worldly property and success in life, is often exhibited in the Scriptures. It is also seen in common life that a meek, patient, mild man is the most prospered. An impatient and quarrelsome man raises up enemies; often loses property in lawsuits; spends his time in disputes and broils rather than in sober, honest industry; and is harassed, vexed, and unsuccessful in all that he does. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. The meek have discovered that prosperity is never found in material things.

The meek find value in servanthood. The meek are accepting of others because they understand their own sinfulness. Elders are to be servant leaders, not rulers or dictators. God doesn’t want His people to be used by petty, self-serving tyrants. Servant elders have chosen a life of service on behalf of others. Like the servant Christ, they sacrifice their time and energy for the good of others. Only elders who are loving, humble servants can genuinely manifest the incomparable life of Jesus Christ to their congregations and a watching world. …so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:4)

A horse becomes useful when it is broken and becomes willing to submit to the will of his master. The Christian is also only useful when willing to submit to the will of his or her master. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman philosopher, identified the following traits of a successful person: Consciousness of an honest purpose in life. A just estimate of himself and everyone else. Frequent self-examinations. Steady obedience to what he knows to be right. Indifference to what others may think or say. Just as the turtle won over the have, so the meek shall inherit the earth.

Contemporary Persecution

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Matthew 5:10-12

John writes in the great revelation, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:9) Every time I read that passage I get this visual picture in my mind of a bunch of Christians sitting around “whining” about the fact they have been killed for the sake of Christ. In fact, they don’t even sound Christian – “How long, Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Don’t they remember that passage, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19) Maybe they do remember it, but don’t want God to forget it. But at the very least now that we are in Heaven, have we forgotten the words of Christ? “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43)

Persecution and Christianity go hand in hand. Worldwide, an average of 400 Christians are killed each day simply because of their faith in Christ.
That’s one murdered Christian every four minutes. An estimated 100 million Christians have been martyred in the 20th century. That’s more than the previous nineteen centuries combined. David Barrett is a mission researcher who collects information on Christian martyrs. Generally each year 150 foreign missionaries are murdered. Barrett says, “For every killing of a Western missionary or a high-profile Christian leader that captures international attention, there are a thousand anonymous Christians who die virtually unnoticed, except by God.” How does the Church handle persecution? Of such martyrdom Barrett notes, “The evidence of the centuries is that evangelization proceeds very fast when there are Christians prepared to die for their faith.” The Church flourishes! Prosperity has often been fatal to Christianity, but persecution never. A path without obstacles probably leads nowhere.

Most Christians in North America are “hothouse Christians” who bloom as long as they are kept in a protected and carefully controlled environment far from fear, distress, or persecution.” God forbid that it should ‘cost’ us something to speak the name of Jesus.” But time and again, we have seen that if you take hothouse Christians out of their protected environment and put them into the real world where the wind of adversity blows and the rain of sorrow falls…If they have to endure the hot sun and the drought it brings, then they discover that they never developed a root system in the hothouse. So they wither and say, “I’m just not cut out for this!”

God has dealt with me to the point where I have been forced to redefine some of my criteria for what it means to be “saved.” Christianity will never be found in the perfect environment. They don’t necessarily have air conditioning, ushers, nurseries, electronic paging systems, carpeted sanctuaries, or staff counselors. A few years ago I read an account of a group of Chinese Christians who were caught holding a church service. The officials placed a horse trough in the middle of town and forced every man and woman in that congregation to urinate into it. Then they drowned the pastor in it, right in front of their eyes! Do you know what happened? The church congregation doubled in two weeks, and it wasn’t because of their nice sanctuary or dynamic worship team. True church growth, wherever it may be, in freedom or persecution, comes because of only one thing. It springs forth from an intimate knowledge of the living God.

Acts tells us that a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Acts 8:1 represents an important principle of thermodynamics: “The greater the heat, the greater the expansion.”

Persecution for our faith takes place even in a Christian nation. I worked one summer between my junior and senior years of college with the Kentucky Department of Human Resources (Child Welfare). It was one of those rare opportunities to work, get paid and also get college credit at the same time.
About half way through the summer my supervisor asked that I be removed.
All based on the fact that I was a Christian. My professor said that being a Christian wasn’t a good reason for being dismissed.

There is a false boldness for Christ that only comes from pride. A man may rashly expose himself to the world’s dislike and even deliberately provoke its displeasure, and yet do so out of pride. . . . True boldness for Christ transcends all, it is indifferent to the displeasure of either friends or foes.
Boldness enables Christians to forsake all rather than Christ, and to prefer to offend all rather than to offend Him.

I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev. 2:10)

There once was an evangelist who loved to hunt. As best as I recall, the man bought two pups that were top notch bird dogs, two setters, I believe. He kept them in his large backyard, where he trained them. One morning, an ornery little vicious-looking bulldog came shuffling and snorting down the alley. He crawled under the fence into the backyard where the setters spent their days.
It was easy to see he meant business. The evangelist’s first impulse was to take his setters and lock them in the basement so they wouldn’t tear up that little bulldog. But he decided he would just let the creature learn a lesson he would never forget. Naturally, they got into a scuffle in the backyard, and those two setters and that bulldog went round and round and round! There were growls and yipes as bulldog hair flew everywhere. The little critter finally had enough, so he squeezed under the fence and took off. All the rest of that day he whined and licked his sores. Interestingly, the next day at about the same time, here came that same ornery little bulldog . . . back under the fence and after those setters. Once again those two bird dogs beat the stuffing out of that bowlegged animal and would have chewed him up if he hadn’t retreated down the alley. Would you believe, the very next day he was back! Same time, same station, same results. Every day, at the same time every morning, that little bulldog came back in the backyard and fought with the two setters. He never missed a day! And I want you to know it has come to the point that when the setters simply hear that bulldog snorting down the alley and spot him squeezing under the fence, they immediately start whining and run down into the basement. That little old bulldog struts around the backyard now just like he owns it.” That is persistence and determination. When you get whipped or when you win, the secret is staying at it.

You Call This A Church?

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John 20:19-31

Gordon Dahl once observed, “Our problem is that we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” A Christian who says he worships God every Sunday morning on the golf course is really worshiping golf on God’s course. A little boy is learning about symbols in his church’s worship service. “Dad, what does it mean when those men pass those plates?” The Dad said, “The people are giving gifts to God.” Then the boy asked, “What does it mean when they have those trays stacked up there – and people go up and kneel?” The Dad answered, “They are guests at the Lord’s table.” Then the boy asked, “What does it mean when the minister lays his watch on the pulpit?” Since the minister was fairly long-winded, the Dad answered, “It means absolutely nothing, Son, absolutely nothing!”

Worship is connecting to God. The late Archbishop Temple, when he was primate of England, once told this story. One morning, in a house where he was a guest, he heard from the kitchen a voice singing lustily, “Nearer, My God to Thee.” He thought this was great that she would be singing hymns and he spoke of it to his host. The host replied, “Oh, yes. That’s the hymn she boils the eggs to — three verses for soft boil and five for hard.” He thought she was expressing her faith. All she was doing was timing her eggs.

A woman entered a Haagen-Dasz store on the Kansas City Plaza for an ice-cream cone. After making her selection, she turned and found herself face to face with Paul Newman, in town filming a movie. He smiled and said hello. Newman’s blue eyes caused her knees to shake. She managed to pay for her cone, then left the shop, heart pounding. When she gained her composure, she realized she didn’t have her snack. She started back into the store to get it and met Newman at the door. “Are you looking for your ice cream?” he asked. She nodded, unable to speak. “You put it in your purse with your change.” When was the last time the presence of God quickened our pulse?

We hear a lot of people talking about worshiping God out under the trees or on the river bank. We may commune with God, but that is not worship. We may read our Bibles, but that is not worship. We may talk to God in prayer, which is valuable, but that is not worship. Worship only happens among the assembled people of God. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrew 10:25) Even Jesus pointed out the power and importance when He said, For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) There are five elements to Christian worship. The first four of these elements came from our Jewish roots and were carried over into the first century Church.

The Reading of Scripture. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) Prayer.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
Preaching and Teaching. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14) Praise, “thank you”. Offering. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Mal 3:9)Response. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14) Baptism. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15) Hymns. When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26) Lord’s Supper. On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. (Acts 20:7)

Worship is the act of paying honor, reverence and homage to God. It is as natural to worship as it is to live. The feeling and expression of high adoration, reverence, trust, love, loyalty, and dependence upon a higher power is a necessity to people. In primitive times the form of worship that Enoch introduced was still maintained, for Enoch “walked with God” (Gen 5:24). Noah was righteous before Him, expressing his gratitude by presenting burnt offerings (8:20-21).

On the Lord’s day we worship. We worship by the Holy Spirit and its attributes are spirituality, simplicity, purity, and reverent decorum. It is a holy moment in our lives. Regular churchgoers live longer than non churchgoers, a new study shows. Researchers studied 21,000 adults for nine years, examining their religious behaviors and other factors. Demography Magazine, the Washington Times said: People who attend church regularly could live up to fourteen years longer than those who don’t, the study showed. “Those who never attend church exhibit fifty percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently,” researcher Robert Hummer said. “Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a twenty percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week.” The study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed ailments common among those who don’t attend church. “[They] are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease,” Hummer said.