Sunday, September 23, 2007

transforming america, step 7...conclusion

Blessed are the pure in heart. Jesus really upset a lot of people when He began His ministry. Jesus told the people that it wasn’t enough for us to be blameless in our actions. Our hearts and thoughts had to be pure as well. That’s a pretty radical concept! For example, in Matthew 5:21,22 Jesus states that it’s not enough to avoid murder. We must also avoid murderous anger and hatred. Verses 27-30 say that we are to avoid adultery, but we are also commanded to avoid lustful, unfaithful thoughts. Verses 42-48 say that we have to love our enemies! Jesus says that we must be free from selfishness, greed, arrogance, and hate. We must be pure in heart.

Of course we can’t purify our hearts by ourselves. We must accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to transform us. The Spirit can and will change our hearts and purify us if we open our hearts, minds and souls to Christ.

As I looked through my Life Application Study Bible by Zondervan, reading everything God’s Word has to say about our heart, I began to notice a theme. When God says He wants us to have a pure heart, He isn’t just talking about sprucing up the old heart. God wants us to have a complete heart transplant. The Holy Spirit will give us a new heart that is responsive to God, if we are open to the transformation. Ezekiel 11:19-20 says "…I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God." Psalm 51:10-12 says, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

There are many examples in the Bible of just exactly what this "heart transplant" looks like. Read the account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a very dishonest tax collector who clearly had cheated a great many people. When he heard about Jesus, though, something sparked inside him and he had to go see what Jesus was all about. Look how quickly the change came upon Zacchaeus. Jesus spoke to him, Zacchaeus spoke back, and he was instantly transformed.

Read about the two criminals who hung on crosses along side Jesus (Luke 23:32-43). Both of those criminals were guilty of the crimes they had been charged with, and they had probably been like that all of their lives. One criminal, however, looked into the face of Jesus as they were dying and received a new heart. His heart was cleansed, his sins were washed away, and Jesus said to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

How do we receive this gift of a new heart from the Holy Spirit, and how do we lead our family there? We have really already answered that question. We receive our new, pure heart when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we study God’s Word, and we pray continually that God will make us poor in spirit, mournful of our sins, meek, merciful, and righteous. The Holy Spirit will transform us over the course of our life, and He will transform our families if we allow Him to.

Blessed are the peacemakers. I was flipping through the news channels the other day and I heard one of the talking heads say that in over 4000 years of recorded world history, there have only been 300 without a major war. If that’s true (isn’t everything on the news true?) it’s a pretty sad commentary on man’s ability to live in peace and harmony. I looked in the dictionary in my Bible, and it defines "peace" as a state of calm, freedom from strife or discord, harmony in personal relationships. Not a whole lot of that going around over 4000 years is there? As I have talked to other Christians about this particular Beatitude, I have noticed a lot of disagreement about what we are commanded to do in order to be faithful to its teaching. I have heard everything from "war is a sin" to "Christians must be pacifists" to "Christian nations have an obligation to destroy ‘rogue’ nations to preserve peace". Maybe we should look to the Bible to see what God says about being peacemakers.

Philippians 4:4-7 contains the very essence of what I believe Jesus was talking about:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Let’s break that passage down so that we can understand what God means when He says, "blessed are the peacemakers".

First, the passage starts out with the word "Rejoice", and the word is repeated. Paul wrote these words in about A.D. 61 in a letter to the Christians at Philippi. Paul actually wrote this letter as he sat locked up in a Roman prison, so it may seem odd that he could say "rejoice" and mean it. As you read this passage, and indeed, if you read the entire letter, you see that Paul was positively joyful. The lesson here for us is that no matter what may be happening in your life, good or bad, Jesus Christ is with you, and that is cause for celebration. Understand that there is a big difference between "happiness" and "joy". Happiness is what the world says we should strive for, but it is so very temporary and superficial that frustration sets in when we can’t find it. Joy is very different. Joy comes from an intimate relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Joy is the deep, warm contentment we have in our soul because of God’s assurance of His love, and His promise to never leave us alone. Joy is the gift to our heart, mind and soul when we realize that God’s promise is true; namely that this world is temporary and that God has an eternal home waiting for us in heaven.

Second, the passage says that we are to be gentle. We have already talked about how important it is to be gentle and meek in the spiritual sense. Gentleness is essential as we seek God’s peace in our hearts, and as we seek to live in peace with others.

Third, the passage says to not be anxious, because the Lord is near. Think about what it would be like to not be worried about anything. Seems impossible, doesn’t it. It’s not. Psalm 7:1 says "O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me…" Verse 10 says "My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart." God is so close to us that He can be our shield and our refuge. He is where you are. Think of the joy and peace we would have in our hearts if we could stay mindful of this fact.

Fourth, Paul tells us how we go about taking refuge in God. We pray. We pray about anything and everything. We pray with thanksgiving because God loves us with a love that we don’t deserve. We thankfully and humbly present our requests to God, "and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." The note in my Life Application Study Bible by Zondervan says, "God’s peace is different from the world’s peace. True peace is not found in positive thinking, in absence of conflict, or in good feelings. It comes from knowing that God is in control. Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom is sure, our destiny is set, and we can have victory over sin." This simple (maybe not so simple) truth is further emphasized in John 14:27. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." That is God’s peace.

How do we become peacemakers? We become peacemakers by loving God with our entire being. We become peacemakers by loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves and by being God’s hands and feet in this world. We become peacemakers by being poor in spirit, by mourning over our sinfulness, by being meek, gentle and humble, by thirsting after righteousness, by being pure in heart through the Holy Spirit, and by being merciful towards others.

A wonderful family activity would be to pick up a book on the life of Mother Teresa and read about her together. What a wonderful way to teach the lessons contained in the Beatitudes. Your children would actually be able to see these character traits in action.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. This is an amazing statement in light of what the world teaches. We live in a society where politicians govern through opinion polls. Leaders run away from disapproval at every opportunity, yet Jesus said that those who are persecuted because of righteousness would be blessed. That is absolutely the polar opposite of what the world teaches!

That's also the opposite of what far too many Christians believe. I have encountered way too many Christians who believe that becoming a Christian means entering into a life free from conflict, hassles, and pain. That's not exactly the truth, is it? Let’s read Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:18-27 to see how it really does work.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

If we look at the Christ-like values contained in the Beatitudes, it’s easy to see why the world would hate Christians. The world values pride in self, personal independence, and the personal glory coming from achievement. Christ wants us to be poor in spirit. The world values instant gratification and the relentless pursuit of whatever feels good, no matter the cost. Christ wants us to be mournful over our bankrupt spirit. The world glorifies power, no matter how it’s achieved. The world says win at all costs, finishing second constitutes failure, and all glory to the winner. Christ says that we are to be meek and humble and self-emptying before God. The world says we should pursue happiness. Christ says we should pursue righteousness. The world says we are to conquer and overcome. Christ says we are to be merciful. The world glorifies sex, violence, avarice, deception, and depravity of every sort. Christ says we are to be pure in heart. The world promotes divisiveness, drawing lines between red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews and Islamists. The world promotes this divisiveness and then, in a macabre sort of way, revels in the resulting fireworks. Christ says we are to be peacemakers. Is it any wonder there is such hatred from the world towards Christianity? Jesus takes every worldly value and turns it on its head. Jesus offers a better way to live, and the world resents it. The sad truth is that the world seeks to destroy that which it resents, and, unfortunately, Christians are at the top of the list.

Well, now we know the bad news. Is there any good news? Of course there is! Jesus says that if we follow Him, and love His Father with our entire beings, we will be blessed with an inner joy and peace that is impossible for non-believers to comprehend. This joy comes from the knowledge that Jesus has overcome death, He has cleansed us of our sins, and, no matter what happens to us in this life, our faith will be rewarded when we are made perfect in His Heavenly Kingdom. Read Hebrews 11 to see how our faith, even in the face of persecution, will be rewarded.

How does this relate to our kids? We must teach them to be strong in the face of ridicule. We must teach them, by example, that we are willing to endure ridicule and persecution for our beliefs and that God will give us the strength to endure.

You know that our kids are always looking at us, don't you? I notice it all the time. My oldest son always has his eyes on me, watching how I act and what I say, and he copies a lot of what he observes. I continually have to be on guard so that I don't say or do something that would serve as a bad example for him. He has had the opportunity to observe a couple of instances where I caught some heat for my beliefs, and I hope that I set the right example for him in those instances. We should continually pray that God would enable us to set that good example.

This is what I call Beatitudes Parenting. If every Christian parent in America would commit to practicing Beatitudes parenting, we would produce a generation of Christian conservatives that would take back this great nation from the secular progressives and the cultural Marxists. They would lead a rebirth of America that would lead to us truly becoming "one nation under God." What a blessing that would be!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful of you Hondo, but would you characterize yourself as meek, gentle, or humble? Do you not hate those people who think to the left of your oppinion? Do you not name-call those who disagree with you? I think you should look into your own heart...

4:04 PM  

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