Saints Among Scoffers

Please read 2 Peter 3:1-7 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

(This is the first in a series of five messages on 2 Peter 3.)

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living now.

Starting with Jesus Himself, people of faith have endured the scorn of people who, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, think themselves so much smarter.  Let me offer as an example a few quotes from notorious scoffers and Bible quotes that answer their objections to the Christian faith.

            Author Gore Vidal stated, “Christianity is such a silly religion.”

1 Corinthians 1:18 = For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, after a decade of decline in which he fell into alcoholism and dementia and had painful feuds with family members and friends.  Maybe his words aren’t so trustworthy after all.

            “Christians are losers.” — said Ted Turner, media magnate (Between this quote and CNN, Turner has a lot to answer for!)

In Matthew 16:25 we read Jesus’ words; “For whoever want to save their life will lose

it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (So we are “losers,” but what we gain in trade is so infinitely more valuable!)

            The French philosopher Voltaire stated plainly the task of opponents of Christianity: “If we would destroy the Christian religion, we must first of all destroy man’s belief i/t Bible.”

In response, the Bible teaches such a plan is doomed to failure.  In Matthew 24:35, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

Voltaire never married but lived as a husband to his niece until his death in 1778.  You could say the Church got the last laugh on Voltaire; he refused to recant and was refused a Christian burial.  However, some friends had him secretly buried in a rural church outside of Paris.

<Retrieved from http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Roman%20Catholicism/SS/scoffer.htm on 7/7/17.>

In all these examples, men who achieved worldly success thought they could do better than Christianity.  They were scoffers, more impressed with their big brains than anything else, vain rebels against God, whose truth goes marching on.

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).

Peter’s aim in writing two letters to them: STIMULATE WHOLESOME THINKING (1).  The Greek word for WHOLESOME meant “pure when examined by sunlight” or “sincere.”  In this case, the purity in question is theological; it is to have a correct under-standing of the truth.  It means to have a faith that is not compromised by worldly views or falsehood of any kind. This is the opposite of the SCOFFERS, who’re thoroughly compromised.

WHOLESOME THINKING meant to have a “pure disposition.”  It is a worldview informed by, and is in accord with, God’s revelation.

Peter attempted to achieve his objective by reminding them of God’s word (2).  Peter is not just sharing his opinion with them.  These WORDS have come from HOLY PROPHETS and from OUR LORD & SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES.

THE HOLY PROPHETS refers to the Old Testament prophets specifically and generally to all the books of the Old Testament that aren’t histories.

THE COMMAND GIVEN BY OUR LORD AND SAVIOR THROUGH YOUR APOSTLES refers specifically to His two commands to love and generally to all the actions and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.  I love how Peter refers to himself and the others as YOUR Apostles.   They were put in authority to pass along the faith as they received it directly from Jesus.  Their testimony is verified by the fact that though 100s of years of history separated them, they spoke with one voice: the APOSTLES preserved what Jesus said and His teaching fulfilled what the PROPHETS predicted.

Further, this is the WORD that had been SPOKEN IN THE PAST.  It is not the latest trend, the popular notion, it is the faith as they had received it from the beginning.  In practice, this means that our faith is based on the word of God, the Bible.  At the beginning of our life of faith, it is especially important that our own beliefs be in accord with the traditions of the Church.  Finally, as we mature in faith, we apply experience and reason to Scripture and tradition to affirm a faith that is our own.

This is NOT to say that we are free to make it up.  That approach is too individualized and subjective to be trust-worthy.  A made-up faith is not true; it is not powerful to save us, nor is it powerful to help us overcome life’s challenges.  A made-up faith is easy prey for the world and our Enemy to corrupt.  It easily becomes a way to make excuses.  Instead of confronting our culture it capitulates to trendiness: “pop faith.”

“Saints” is a New Testament word that refers to all who truly believe and are thereby part of God’s family.  We are to be characterized by purity in thought and action.

Even more important (ABOVE ALL) than WHOLESOME THINKING, he needed to warn them that SCOFFERS would come, trying to confound their WHOLESOME THINKING (3-7).  This creates a couple questions.

One: when are the LAST DAYS (3)?  The LAST DAYS is the span of time between Jesus’ Ascension (when He went back to heaven) and His Second Coming.  All saints, including the New Testament writers, thought that Jesus would come again during their lifetime. The SCOFFERS have been quick to ridicule saints on this basis, as we see in v. 4.

Two: who are the SCOFFERS?  They are identified by their choices: FOLLOWING THEIR OWN EVIL DESIRES (3).  This is often what motivates people to make up their own faith or reject faith entirely; to justify doing what they please.  Remember, these are the SCOFFERS.  The word EVIL is more appropriate in their case because they actively promote falsehood.

They are also identified by their words.  (It’s a little amusing to read, SCOFFERS WILL COME SCOFFING.  What else would they do?)  They scoff at the notion that Jesus will come again.  They deny or sow seeds of doubt about Jesus’ Second Coming (4).  They ignore the facts of creation and history to replace the truth with their own narrative.  Instead of trusting God to reveal Himself accurately, they trust their own intellect, imagination, and/or experiences.

It’s essential to know the truth about the world as a guard against counterfeits.  First, we affirm that God is our Creator (5). It amazes me, for example, that people want to find “laws” of nature without acknowledging the Law-maker, God.

Second, we affirm that, as Creator, God has the right to do anything He wills with creation, including destroying His it.  The history the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore affirms that has already done so – on a limited scale – by means of flood waters (6).  Peter mentioned the world-wide flood to note the historical process:

Warning    =>     Scoffers    =>     World

Delivered            Appeared           Destroyed

This process is being repeated here in the LAST DAYS.

The prophecy the SCOFFERS are eager to ignore warns us He will destroy this creation – on an unlimited scale – by means of fire (7).  There are numerous Old Testament prophecies that connect FIRE and the DAY OF THE LORD (PSS 97:3; ISH 34:4; 66:15-16; DNL 7:9-10; MCH 1:4; JOL 2:30; ZPH 3:8; MCI 4:1).  So this is an example of connection between the PROPHETS and APOSTLES as mentioned earlier.

Peter warned THE PRESENT HEAVENS AND EARTH ARE RESERVED FOR JUDGMENT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE UNGODLY.  In other words, it’s going to happen, but God the Father alone knows when it will happen.  No matter how familiar or how enduring things of this world seem, the truth is that everything is just temporary and will one day be destroyed by fire.  So our job is to focus on the certainty of the end and get ready for it.

Both history and prophecy support the truth that God is in charge and He will decide when reality as we’ve come to know it will cease.

The upcoming Second Coming demands godly living NOW.

“On August 30, 2005 Coast Guard Lt. Iain McConnell was ordered to fly his H46 helicopter to New Orleans and to keep that machine flying around the clock for what would turn out to be a heroic rescue effort.

“None of his crew were prepared for what they were about to see. They were ahead of every news crew in the nation. The entire city of New Orleans was under water. On their first three missions that day they saved 89 people, three dogs and two cats.
“On the fourth mission, despite twelve different flights to New Orleans, he and his crew were able to save no one. None! They all refused to board the helicopter. Instead they told the Coast Guard to bring them food and water.

“They were warned that this refusal to leave was extremely dangerous. The waters were not going to go away soon. Sadly, many of those people perished because of their refusal to be rescued.”
<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-rejection-79801?ref=TextIllustrationSerps on 7/7/17.>
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has mounted the greatest rescue effort of all time.  But He will not save anyone without their consent.  Giving our consent means giving ourselves to Him, accepting what God has revealed to us by means of WHOLESOME THINKING.

As Peter warns us scoffers will scoff.  We don’t need to be intimidated by them.  We don’t have to argue with or answer them. The proof of our faith is found in godly living.  It is up to us to speak the truth and live the truth and all the more so in these LAST DAYS.

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The Original ‘No Spin Zone’

(Please read 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

The truth is better than ‘spin.’

“Spin” is a slang word that describes an attempt to change someone’s feelings about a thing by changing the words you use to describe or designate it.  It is a favorite tactic of the “politically correct” crowd – the “secular orthodox” – to influence public opinion.  (Have you noticed people don’t “think” anymore, they “feel?”)

It works on people who don’t think for themselves.  Here’s an example in a story told by Anne Watson.

Her great uncle Ed was a country lawyer by day and a moonshiner by night.  One day, a man came to Ed’s office and asked for his help with a criminal case – the sheriff had charged him with theft for stealing a pig.

“Oh,” said Ed.  “Did you do it?”

“Yeah,” his new client answered.

“OK,” Ed said, thinking.  “Where is the pig now?”

“In my smokehouse.  I got no money to pay for it.”

“Give me half the pig,” Ed said, “and I’ll get you off.”

This was done that night and the next morning, Ed and the pigstealer appeared in court.  When the charge was read, Ed’s defense consisted of the following statement; “Yer Honor, they ain’t any more of that pig in this man’s smokehouse than there is in mine!”

Making a lie more acceptable is what “spin” is about.

The prevailing culture in America is very dependent on spin.  Part of the problem is that spin is being used to widen the gap between the culture and the Church.  The influence the culture exerts on the Church is growing as critics and skeptics become louder and bolder.  What are we doing?

On the one hand, the Church has resorted to “spin,” the practice of hiding unbiblical teaching behind deceptive language.  Some churches have bought into the new orthodoxy of political correctness and have tried to hide the fact by pasting churchy-sounding words on the outside or adapting biblical concepts to approve their agenda.

Other churches have done the opposite – they have retreated into traditions and legalism, angrily rejecting all change and avoiding any dialogue.  The anti-church elements of our culture love this response.  Why?  If they get the Church to appear more antique and ill-mannered or force it to withdraw entirely, they have succeeded in silencing her.

What are we to do?  This has been on my mind and heart more than usual this week.  This morning I want to suggest a response to you, one that avoids either of the two extremes that are killing the Church in America.

In short, I suggest that the most precious thing the Church has to offer our communities and our country is Jesus Christ.  Every dialogue, every confrontation, every collision, is an opportunity to tell unbelievers the good news about Jesus.

There are two things we must do.

One, keep it simple.  Don’t allow the truth to be killed by qualifications or complicated by compromises.

Two, keep it true. Firstly, that means true to the Bible.  Without apology, the Bible is our objective but personal revelation of what is absolutely true.  The culture wants to deny that absolute truth exists.  We will not allow that.

Secondly, that means true to the social context.  As we will see, there are a set of appropriate and effective behaviors in the context of the Church and another set in the context of the world; they are slightly different.  Context also takes in our immediate surroundings and the persons involved.  This is not complicated, but it does require some sensitivity and benefits from some forethought.

Fortunately, we have an example set by the Apostle Paul.  He sets forth this position in 1 Corinthians 2, where he wrote to a troubled church and explained in plain terms what he intended to do with them.  Let’s take a look.

  1. The Apostle Paul dealt in the truth alone.

What Paul wanted to avoid was diluting the Gospel by resorting to spin doctoring.  He wrote, I DID NOT COME WITH what we might call worldly words or wits.  Paul explained this decision in three ways, the first being ELOQUENCE (1).  This is personal social power, interpersonal assertiveness accomplished with word plays and/or charisma.  He vowed not to rely on SUPERIOR WISDOM (1): rhetorical tricks or lies, exercises of mental assertiveness.  Finally, Paul eschewed  WISE AND PERSUASIVE WORDS (4), which can be understood as reliance on learning, reputation, education.  This is Paul’s advocacy for the purity and simplicity of the Gospel, not for “dumbing down” the intellectual content of the Gospel.

Instead, Paul told the Corinthians the plain truth.  This claim is also developed in three parts.  First, I PROCLAIMED…THE TESTIMONY ABOUT GOD (1).  This was Paul’s personal testimony of what God has done in his life and what he’d witnessed in the churches.  Second, I RESOLVED TO KNOW NOTHING… EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED (2).  This is a matter of keeping our focus where it belongs: on Jesus.  Third, he came to them WITH A DEMONSTRATION OF THE SPIRIT’S POWER (4); he had relied on God’s power, not his own.  There are at least three ways the Holy Spirit’s power is revealed in the personal experience of followers of Jesus.

“Conviction” is the work of the Holy Spirit on unbelievers to convince them of their sin and their need for repentance and salvation.

“Salvation” is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It was accomplished in Jesus’ sacrifice and fully rendered in the empty tomb.

“Sanctification” is the work of the Holy Spirit on believers to draw them into deeper spiritual maturity; to make them more like Jesus Christ.

In this way, Paul demonstrated humility and focused on Jesus, not himself.  Here the Apostle used a pair of phrases.  The first is WEAKNESS (3). In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul referred fondly to his weaknesses as opportunities for God to demonstrate His strength.  The second is FEAR AND MUCH TREMBLING (3), a

common biblical phrase for trust in God, not self.

Do these two personal descriptions sound anything like the feelings you have when you think of witnessing or standing up for your faith?  If so, you’re in good company!  The Apostle Paul felt that way too.  Remember, it’s not about you anyway.  It’s about God in you!

Interestingly, Paul’s detractors said the similar things about him.  We learn this from the way he addressed their accusations in 2 Corinthians 10:10; FOR SOME SAY, “HIS LETTERS ARE WEIGHTY AND FORCEFUL, BUT IN PERSON HE IS UNIMPRESSIVE AND HIS SPEAKING AMOUNTS TO NOTHING.”  I guess they didn’t read the first letter, especially this passage.  The truth is, Paul could have preached assertively, exercising his obvious intellect.  Instead, he chose to preach the way he did so that he would not undermine the security of their conversion. This approach is in continuity with his teaching in the previous chapter: 1CT 1:27. BUT GOD CHOSE THE FOOLISH THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE WISE; GOD CHOSE THE WEAK THINGS OF THE WORLD TO SHAME THE STRONG.

Paul affirmed that the Gospel, all by itself, has the power to change lives.  It needs no adornment.  He explained his preaching and leadership style as having this objective: SO THAT YOUR FAITH MIGHT NOT REST ON MEN’S WISDOM, BUT ON GOD’S POWER (5).  If you and I do what we can do, we get the glory, but it’s not as big a deal.  If you and I do what only God can do, God gets the glory and it’s always a big deal.  Faith founded on a person is shaky; faith founded on God is steady.

As the apostle affirmed Romans 1:16, I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL, BECAUSE IT IS HE POWER OF GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES: FIRST FOR THE JEWS, THEN FOR THE GENTILE.  Any statement is more likely to be true if it points people back to God; if it glorifies Him.

  1. In our collisions with contemporary culture, we must stand on the truth alone.

What do we have to offer to the world around us?  Nothing less than the truth and nothing more than the truth.  The truth we have to offer is this: Jesus Saves Sinners.  Skeptics and critics will try to disprove or disavow any one of these three truths, but compromise here makes faith false.

How do we offer t truth to the world around us?  Two ways: in context and in compassion.

Paying attention to context can mean asking, “Which kingdom are we in? We are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our primary behavior is love.

Our code of conduct is the Bible.

The aim of our code is to help each other find God.

Within our walls, we encourage discussion but don’t tolerate division or interference.  Differences of opinion must be resolved on the testimony of the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.  Individuals submit to the authority of God as determined by the church as a whole.

We are, secondarily, citizens of the United States.

Our primary behavior is civility: mutual respect.

The code of conduct is the law.

The aim of the code is justice; equal opportunity to decide our own outcome and jointly decide the outcome of the country.

We realize that our American culture is an immigrant culture and as such it is always in tension, always being redefined.  Our faith, however, does not have be lead around by our culture.  We don’t have to submit to the latest trends and follow their fads.  When culture and law contradict God’s word, we stand firm on God’s word.  As Paul did, we stand firm on the word of God.  Whenever outsiders demand compromise, compliance, or silence, we must decide with Peter and John that it is better to obey God rather than men (see Acts 4:18).

In regard to compassion: start with positivity & love.  Note Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman: He established a conversation and began a relationship before He confronted her sin (see John 4).  Paul and the people of Athens (see Acts 17).  He used one of their landmarks as a symbol of what was wrong with their godless culture and presented Jesus as the solution to the problem they denied having.

Remember this universal statement of human nature: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Peggy Noonan was a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan and has remained an advocate for conservative politics to this day.  Way back in 1992 she wrote an opinion piece for Forbes magazine entitled, “You’d Cry Too if it Happened to You.”  I heard this portion of the article quoted on the radio last week. It impacted me, so I looked it up on the Internet to share it with you.

“We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: ‘She’s going to have a baby.’

“The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

“But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

“The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (‘We disapprove’) and the particular (‘Let’s go help her’). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between ‘official,’ disapproval and ‘unofficial’ [service]. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.”

<Retrieved from http://www.peggynoonan.com/47/ on 4/29/16.>

Noonan’s point is that in becoming more “tolerant,” our culture has become less caring.  We spread our approval further but have become miserly with our love.

I mention this to restate the point of this message: The truth is better than ‘spin.’ To love in deed and in fact is better than loving in words.  And THAT is what the Church has to offer that the world does not have.  TRUE LOVE.

High Altitude Attitudes – The Beatitudes (2 of 3)

(Please read Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.)

Message: The “Beatitudes” are Jesus’ plan for a happy and blessed life after major adjustments have been made.

In his book Daddy’s Home, Greg Johnson told this story:

“The first day of family vacation on the Oregon coast, we slept in and headed down to the beach around 9:00 am, looking for washed-up treasure: a perfect sand dollar, one with no chips or cracks.  Though we searched hard, we were skunked.  The next day the same thing happened – nada.

“On the third day, I saw a woman with a bag full of shells – many whole sand dollars – waling up the beach.

‘Where’d you find all those shells?’

‘Down the beach a mile or two.’

“Aha!  I wasn’t going far enough!  Then I realized, Someone’s already beat me to the good shells.  But if I get up earlier, I’ll find the treasure.

“Next morning, we arose at the crack of dawn.  After walking almost a mile down the beach, we’d found only one or two.  But a hundred yards farther on, we hit the mother lode: a dozen whole sand dollars in one 30-foot patch.  We continued on, eyes fixed on the sand – and collected more than 125 perfect sand dollars!

“Later, during my quiet time, the lesson hit me: We wanted treasure.  We got up earlier and traveled farther – and exceeded our goals beyond our wildest dreams.”

<Quoted from “Men of Integrity,” July/August 2002 edition, August 18th devotion.>

We’re continuing today on the subject of blessing, something we all want to experience.  We have often prayed for the Lord’s blessing, but do we often consider how we must work to be a blessing.  It is grace, but grace is not without effort on our part.

REVIEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Spiritual Poverty (3).
  2. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mourning (4).
  3. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Meekness (5).

NEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Righteous Ambition (6).

Our attitude is selfish ambition.  The sin nature causes us to crave things for selfish reasons.  Though that part of us is crucified with Christ after we’re saved, our human nature

can cause us to fail to have righteous ambition.

We can fail by giving up too soon: Jesus appreciated those who showed their faith by not giving up at the first setback.  In Luke 5:18-26 we see how the friends of the paralyzed man broke a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus.  He commended their faith and healed their friend.  In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus illustrated the benefit of perseverance with the parable of the man who banged on the door until his friend answered.

We can fail by accepting false ideas of what God’s will is.  When we are physically hungry and thirsty we don’t always seek food & drink that is good for us.  Likewise, when we have a craving to do God’s will we sometimes accept things as true which are not.

We can fail by not holding out for all the blessings God planned to give us.  Sometimes we’re too easily satisfied; our motivation is lost though there is work yet to be done for the king (see Isaiah 55:2).

The Jesus beatitude is righteous ambition.  RIGHTEOUSNESS is a huge biblical concept that includes moral purity, justice, equity, obedience to God, holiness, wholeness, consecrated to God.  Remember these beatitudes are God-given in grace, not by human effort; so RIGHTEOUSNESS must not be according to a merely human standard.  It must not be a legalism.

The adjustment is the experience of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This describes a state of spiritual maturity that is so integral and so intense that it becomes as regular and real a craving as physical HUNGER and THIRST. This is a powerful analogy because HUNGER AND THIRST are some of our strongest motivations.  When you truly feel these, you can think of little else until they are satisfied.  We may have rarely felt this urgency, but it’s real.

Jesus is our example of this level of maturity.  He said, “MY FOOD IS TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME AND TO FINISH HIS WORK.” (John 4:34)

The reward is being filled with righteousness.  One symbol Jesus used for the Kingdom of God is that of a feast; the ultimate experience of getting HUNGER and THIRST satisfied.  (See Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 22:30; John 6:26-59 for examples.) Biblically, to be FILLED is to be satisfied but not exhausting the unlimited resources of God.  As we do with natural hunger and thirst, we do not stay satisfied, but regain our appetite.  There should likewise be cycles of satisfaction and appetite in our spiritual life.  In order to receive a satisfying level of righteousness, we must trust God fully & exclusively.

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mercy (7).

Our attitude is vengeance.  We can couch it in legal and moral-sounding terms, but revenge is never a God-approved motive.  The urge to avenge is most often a product of a person’s sin or human natures.  It’s a worldly solution that simply leads to more problems (i.e., the death penalty.)  Rules are not made to be broken, but real justice demands the possibility of exceptions and adjustments.  The most important thing is that the punishment fits the crime. The most important source of information is the context in which the offense occurred: are there any extenuating circumstances.  This is NOT making excuses!

When we are hurt, feel wronged, or experience loss, we naturally want someone to blame and someone to join us in our hurt.  The sinful nature can cause us to overreact vengefully, escalating the conflict.

The Jesus beatitude is mercy.  In these situations we are keen to talk about “rights,” especially when we’re looking out for ourselves, but there’s more at stake here than that.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve, but what we need.  The law and mercy are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, it is impossible to have one without the other.  The law moderates acts of vengeance (distorted sense of justice), but mercy moderates them even further.   The desire for mercy is a motive for keeping the law and encouraging others to do likewise.

The adjustment is empathy.  Mercy is possible only by taking the other person’s place.  It is sympathy and empathy; an emotional exercise of imagination.  Since mercy is not usually part of our human nature, it must be built into our spiritual nature by God’s Holy Spirit and a study of the word; it is also God’s gift.

The reward is the experience of being shown mercy.  Let’s face it – we are all going to be in a situation where we need to receive mercy.  Despite all our plans and good intentions, circumstances change and we make a mistake or somehow find ourselves in the wrong.  In that moment we don’t need to have the book thrown at us, we need people who understand and are willing to forgive.  Being shown mercy helps us move toward forgiveness and restoration; closure of the offense.

All of that is on a human scale – how much more we need mercy from God!  Fortunately, He has acted in mercy toward us in Jesus Christ & forgiveness of our sins.

6. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Purity (8).

            Our attitude is impurity.  God’s standard is simple: “Be holy even as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  Unfortunately, it’s also impossible: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2).

If God were to leave us there it would be a very unjust situation.  Instead, He has provided us a means to become pure again; the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

The Jesus beatitude is ­­purity in heart.  Purity is obviously a moral state; to be free from sin.  When God forgives us, He cleanses us from all sin.  He restores our purity.  (See 1 John 1:9.)

Jesus attaches a qualifier to this: IN HEART.  What does that mean?  One Bible scholar, named Wheeler Robinson, counted 851 uses of the word HEART in the Old Testament.  One-third of these referred to the personality as a whole, the remainder to the emotions.  This acknowledges the fact that purity also speaks to our motives, our priorities.  When God is truly first in our daily living, we can be said to be pure.

As well as moral and spiritual blamelessness, purity also means to be singularly devoted to God, not allowing sin or self or the world to distract us.  James 1:6-9 identifies the peril of allowing doubt to distract us from being whole-heartedly devoted to God.

The adjustment is repentance.  In this life we are going to make mistakes.  We do not think or behave perfectly.  What’s necessary is a means of restoring an offender when an offense has been made.  The means of restoration God has provided is repentance.  When we are guilty of sin, we confess it to God and ask for His forgiveness.  As we’ve seen, God shows us MERCY and forgives us completely.  This leads to a cleansing of the guilt of that sin, restoring our purity.

So when we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” that’s only true in a practical sense.  When God forgives us, He makes us perfect in His eyes.  And who are you to argue with God?  Purity is a gift from God and we need to see it as precious, guarding it by resisting temptation and doing right.

The reward is the experience of seeing God.  Seeing God is a very big topic in the Bible.  After crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews were afraid to see God because He is so holy, so pure, that they were sure He would destroy them on sight.  To see God was to be granted a special honor.  Since holiness is part of God’s nature, He will not tolerate any unholy or impure thing in His presence.  That means he must purify us, making us holy before we can live with Him in heaven.

The ultimate outcome to this matter of purity and of life in general is to SEE GOD.  This means to be invited into His presence, to live with Him for all eternity.  In this life we also SEE GOD, but our vision of Him is veiled, indirect.  We see or sense God in nature, in the Bible, in the Church, and in prayer; all through the Holy Spirit.  This is what the PURE IN HEART wanted all along! Psalm 24:3-4 expresses this truth beautifully: WHO MAY ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD?  WHO MAY STAND IN HIS HOLY PLACE?  HE WHO HAS CLEAN HANDS AND A PURE HEART.

In her book, Teacher’s Touch, Marlene LeFever told a story that I think illustrates how blessings can sometimes emerge from difficult times.  They are completely invisible in the moment and may take time to unfold, but they are God’s gifts just the same.

Fifty years ago a church in Philadelphia watched as three nine-year old boys were baptized and joined the church.  Not long after that, unable to continue because of dwindling membership, the church sold their building and disbanded.

Years later, one of the three boys was doing research on the church and looked up the record of his baptism in the denominational archives.  Near the record of his baptism someone had written, “It has not been a good year for your church.  We have lost 27 members.  Three joined and they were only children.”

Let’s pause for a moment and imagine how the person who wrote that note felt at that moment.  He certainly sounds discouraged doesn’t he?  Ready to give up?  Remember, the church folded shortly after this note was written.  The writer must’ve voted for quitting.

What happened to those three boys?  Here’s where we see the blessing in disguise.  One of them was Dick White, who became a missionary.  Another was Bart Newman, who became a professor of theology at a seminary in Africa.  The third was Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor at Eastern College and seminary, a man of legendary proportions in American Baptist life.

<”Men of Integrity,” July/August issue, July 9 devotion.>

This is an example of a delayed, but great blessing.  Can we trust God to bring blessing to our lives even when we can’t see in the moment what He is doing?