Pure in heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8 ESV

We were discussing this verse, along with the other Beatitudes, last night in College lifegroup. One of the people in our group mentioned that this verse is hard – that he struggles with being pure in heart.

It dawned on me that I’m not  exactly sure what “pure in heart” means. I realized that I haven’t thought about it much, to my discredit. Then a definition of pure in heart presented itself to me; here it is:

“You’ll know that you’re pure in heart when you would be comfortable with other people being able to hear the innermost thoughts of your heart.”

I realized right then that I have so far to go. I think all sorts of horrible things. I entertain bitterness, envy, anger, selfish dreams, and all manner of other bad things in my heart and it would horrify me if other people could hear my thoughts.

I’m not kidding – this scares me. I need heart surgery.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14 ESV

“It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Come and drink!

From today’s reading of John 7-8

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. – John 7:37-39 (ESV)

The last day of the feast – the great day! – Jesus stands and delivers the great invitation. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

Does anyone not thirst? In our fallenness we are a thirsty people. To my shame, I often foolishly run after all sorts of things that aren’t Jesus to fulfill my thirst. Yet Jesus is the only one who can quench it. Jesus gives me the Spirit, making alive the dead and the dry in me, satisfying the thirst that is endemic to fallen humanity, the thirst arising from long, long years as orphans, away from the garden, away from our Father.

Jesus says something here that, if you peer into it, is quite curious. “Let him come to me and drink” is followed by this promise, for whoever drinks: “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

We rarely think about what happens after we drink. I’m thirsty, I drink a glass of water, and I’m no longer thirsty. So far so good, but drinking that glass of water does not make me a source of water. Yet drinking of Jesus is an in and out phenomenon. We drink, and are filled, and overflow in rivers (not trickles – rivers!) of living water.

Such is the Spirit. The Spirit knows nothing of temporary, solitary satisfaction. He is about filling beyond the brim, overflow, multiplication, abundance! Hold out a thimble and prepare to be drenched with gallons! Cracked ground becomes dark, rich fertile soil. Fruit emerges from the once-hopeless vine, green shoots push up from the soil. A parched, shriveled heart becomes full, healthy, beating out the rhythms of life in the Spirit. The Lord of life who can bring water out of a rock turns each of his followers into a spring of rivers. When we’re drinking deeply of the Spirit, strike us and more water will pour out. The invitation to the thirsty is daily called out from those flowing with this river of life – come and drink!

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3 (ESV)

“Feed my sheep”

From today’s reading of Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

– Mark 6:34-44 (ESV)

This is our Lord, our great Shepherd.

If you’ve been a Christian for any time at all you have probably heard about how dumb sheep are, how lost they are on their own. It’s an apt comparison to the human condition, and that’s probably the reason God employs the sheep metaphor so much in scripture. I’m no expert on sheep, but I’m pretty sure that without a shepherd sheep are dead. They don’t survive very long on their own.

Humankind had been so lost for so long when Jesus arrived; Lost and alone and wandering, like sheep without a shepherd. God had compassion on us, and sent Jesus, who is the compassion of God. The relentless nature of this compassion can be seen in the surrounding context of the passage above. Jesus’ disciples are back from the mission he has sent them on, tired and needing rest, yet no rest is to be found. This comes hard on the heels of the execution of John the Baptist, which was most likely foremost on everyone’s mind, and an ominous portent for the future of this little band.

Jesus and the disciples are looking for somewhere to be alone, to no doubt decompress and debrief and take a small break, but the desolate place that they were heading to turns out to be overrun by people seeking Jesus.

Compassion is not just a feeling. It is costly. It changes plans. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and begins to teach them until it grows late. They are in the middle of nowhere and people are hungry. The pragmatists think it’s time to bring today’s ministry to an end and send the crowds away so they can buy their own food.

Jesus reply to them is basically “No, you feed my sheep”. And they do, bringing the little they have and placing it into the wonderful, compassionate, blessing, multiplying hands of the Lord. Everyone ate and was satisfied.

They didn’t have a lot, but they had Jesus, their Great Shepherd, who has compassion on his sheep and prepares for them a feast in the wilderness.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Psalm 23 (ESV)

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen”

From today’s reading of Matthew 12:1-21, Mark 3, and Luke 6

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

– Matthew 12:15-21

Matthew here quotes from Isaiah’s great vision of Jesus in Isaiah 42:1-4. Isaiah’s prophetic utterance follows and contrasts with the Lord’s words about the futility of idols in the previous chapter which ends like this:

Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind. – Isaiah 41:29

Is this not a message for the ages?

Behold, they [idols] are all a delusion, their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.

Then . .

Behold my Servant!

Our idols are indeed an illusion, but most of us spend far too much of our time chasing after them, these shiny, metallic distractions of empty wind.

Why? We have a designed-in longing for Jesus, but fall easily for the counterfeit, many times because the counterfeit is easy, compared to what we perceive is the cost of following the Lord. But Isaiah cries out here, behold Jesus!

He is the only one who brings the justice that we desperately long for. Idols offer distractions and false hopes. Jesus has promised, and will in truth, make everything new and make everything right.

Our world is full of the noise of our idols. Behold Jesus; he is not brash, doesn’t raise a ruckus and a spectacle in the streets, doesn’t shout-down his opponents. Yet he is the Final Word, and will one day silence the noise.

From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah – Psalm 76:8-9

And if you are broken, wounded and burned out; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench. He is the great Healer, and he will heal you.

“Many followed him, and he healed them all”

Behold him, and hope in his name.

It’s madness to keep the gates closed

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7, ESV)

The King of glory desires to come in. The passage echoes with the joyful command: “lift up your heads, O gates!”

Gates and doors are for defense. Being risk-averse, I tend to want them to stay closed. But Psalm 24 announces this right at the beginning:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein – Psalm 24:1

Surely we would want him in our midst. He has all the resources.

But when I’m in times of doubt and stress, it’s natural for me to bar the gates. This is madness. The king of glory wants to come in. I know he has the answers, so why is my door closed?

The reason, unfortunately, is that I want to rely on myself, which is insanity. I need to open the gates fully and let him come in. “Lift up your heads O gates” is an invitation to hope, to revelation, to cutting through the fog and seeing clearly my situation, and more clearly that the King of glory stands ready to save.

It also takes courage.

Lord, may my gates and doors always be open for you. You are the king of glory and you own it all, what have I to worry about? You are strong and mighty, mighty in battle! Why would I fight any battles on my own? Make me always open to your presence and rule. Amen

Lions and Snakes

This morning I read Psalm 91. Below are verses 11 and 12.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.  – Psalm 91:11-12

This passage may be familiar to you; this is one of the scriptures that Satan tried and failed to use against Jesus in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4). He hoped that Jesus would cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple and be rescued by angels. He tried to appeal to Jesus’ pride and short-circuit and destroy Jesus’ mission.

Of course, Satan failed. You can’t appeal to the “pride” of the One who had humbled himself far beyond anything we can imagine (Philippians 2).

Satan’s choice of this passage also demonstrates either Satan’s utter lack of irony or God’s sense of humor, or both. Satan, whom the Bible calls a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and who took the form of a snake in the temptation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) picked Psalm 91:11-12.

I guess he forgot to look at verse 13:

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Our enemy, in any literal or metaphorical form he chooses to manifest himself, is no match for Lord Jesus.