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Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Full renovation invitation

Between college and grad school I worked for a high-end builder, and one of our repeat customers was Rosalie Feldman. Rosalie’s husband had his own plumbing company. And somehow, somewhere along the line, he got the opportunity to bid on doing the plumbing for—ready for this?—a missile silo! He won the contract, did a good job, and that kicked the door open for him for other lucrative federal contracts. That in turn gave Rosalie money to play with. And what Rosalie loved to do more than anything was take an old, time-worn home and completely renovate it, tip to tail.

One of our jobs, for example, was a little Cape Cod in a town that had 3-acre zoning, meaning you can only build one house on each 3-acre or larger plot. Great schools, expensive homes. Rosalie found a little Cape Cod where an elderly couple had lived and had never updated anything. The appliances were that lime green from maybe late 1960s or early 70s. The whole house needed a full, robust renovation; not just paint and carpet, but a foundation-on-up re-do.

So Rosalie called in her favorite architect, who drew up blueprints. Then he handed our crew the blueprints, and following his plan, we turned a time-worn house into a whole new home, ready to give a whole new life to another family.

The promise of Jesus we come to this week, as we continue our series on 8 keys to a blessed life, to a happier life, this promise is all about the full renovation that Jesus came to start in you and me and anyone who will welcome him. This promise is the most challenging yet, and yet it is arguably also the single most rewarding. Here it is, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he promises…

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

You hear this, and it immediately raises questions like what does it mean to be pure in heart? How do the pure in heart see God? And how can we become pure in heart? Those are the crucial questions we dive into this week. Let’s jump right in.

What does it mean to be pure in heart?

In our more honest moments, every one of us recognizes that our hearts are impure, a mixture of good and evil. No one is consistently good and loving, patient and kind, humble and hopeful, steering clear of boasting, self-seeking, envy and arrogance. The prophet Jeremiah pulls back the facades and bluntly declares:

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

Our hearts are not pure, he points out, and God sees that. What we may manage to hide from others is out in the open before God. 

A hundred years ago, a series of newspaper articles titled “What’s Wrong with the World?” caught the attention of British writer G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton sent a short letter to the editor. Here is his letter in its entirety: “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton.”

What’s wrong with the world is…us. Created in God’s image with astounding potential for good, we are all also…a mess of motives and attitudes and actions. The impurity of the human heart is the easiest doctrine of the Christian faith to prove.

The Bible uses heart as shorthand for your inner command and control center. What your car’s internal computers are to driving, your heart is to living. Our personal command and control centers all appear to have some kind of bug. Who can fully understand it, Jeremiah wonders aloud?

So what does it mean to be pure in heart? At least two things. Here’s the first:

Purity of heart means I bring my real self to God, not a mask.

Very similar to Jeremiah, 1 Samuel 16:7 declares:

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”” – 1 Samuel 16:7

You know this is true. Outward is what’s valued in this world: Instagram influencers, outward signs of success and power. God looks inside, at the heart. And the first thing he’s looking for is people who bring our real self before him, not a mask.

The story is told of a newly-promoted officer being given command of a military base. On his first day a private knocks on his office door. The officer wants to look important and impressive, to have the glory due his rank. So he picks up the receiver from the desk phone and pretends to have a conversation as the private enters the office: “Yes sir, Mr. President. I’ll get right on it. You can count on me, sir.” He hangs up the phone and asks in an authoritative tone, “Yes, private, what is it that you want?” The private looks confused as he replies, “I’m here to hook up your phone, sir.” 

It’s easier to mask our heart condition. Far better to bring your real self to God, just as I am. He sees us as we are anyway. Let’s start with honesty as we come before God.

So what does it mean to be pure in heart? First is that we bring my real self before God, not a mask. Let’s drop the masks. Here’s the second thing it means to be pure in heart: 

Purity of heart is wanting one thing—that God be honored in my life.

The first nudge away from our divided hearts is to will, to want one thing—that God be honored in everything we do. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:31:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

He was writing to a group of people who put on a pretty impressive spiritual-looking mask, but their messed-up hearts were cranking out all kinds of division and selfishness, arrogance and pride, immorality and gluttony. They needed a reminder that it is the pure in heart who will see God. And purity begins with the desire to want one thing—that the Lord be honored in every area of your life.

Longing for glory

This is something God has hard-wired into us. It’s what we were created for—to long to be part of his glory, his fame, his story. Think about the Indianapolis Colts. Great stadium, great history, and we’re all hoping for a great future. 

Imagine you had season tickets back when Peyton Manning was around—seats right near where the Colts run out onto the field. Every game, when Peyton leads the team out of the tunnel, you and everyone around you wants to get as close as possible to seeing Peyton, maybe in your fantasy even to meet him or high five Peyton or shake his hand. You want to share his glory if I can say it that way.

My uncle went to college in Illinois with one of our future presidents. He loved to tell the story of how when he was in his 70s, he got a private audience with his old college buddy who was the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a magic moment.

Or the Indianapolis YMCA’s director of Christian Emphasis, Josh Heaston. Josh and the Executive Director of the Athenaeum YMCA were the only people in the building one early morning before operating hours, when suddenly there was knocking at the front door. It was the Secret Service. A Senator running for President was in town and wanted to know if he could come shoot some hoops for exercise to start the day.

Josh watched, and then as that future President took his final shot and was walking past, Josh asked, “Senator, would it be alright if I prayed for you?” “Absolutely” was the reply. And he bowed his head as Josh placed a hand on that man’s shoulder and prayed for him.

We all want to get close to glory, to touch it, to become part of it. We want to connect with it, even though we feel we’re not worthy. And while that often comes out in corrupt ways when people get close to power or into positions of power, it’s still a longing we’ve been created with.

C. S. Lewis said it this way: “We do not want merely to see beauty … We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

Purity of heart is wanting to share in God’s glory, wanting more than anything else to be close to him in all that you do—to do your job and engage in your relationships and handle money—all of life, with one unifying aim—to honor God in all of it. 

What does it mean to be pure in heart? At least two things:

  • Purity of heart means I bring my real self to God, not a mask.
  • Purity of heart is wanting one thing—that God be honored in my life.

Let’s jump to the second question.

  • How will the pure in heart see God?
  • The pure in heart will see God in everyday life & in the life to come.

As for seeing God in the life to come, Job, in the oldest book of the Bible, declares this foundational belief when he declares:

“I know that my redeemer lives. In the end he will stand on the earth. Though my skin will be destroyed, in my body I’ll see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes. I’ll see him, and he won’t be a stranger to me. How my heart longs for that day!”

Job 19:25-27 NIRV

From this side of the cross and the empty tomb, we have a much fuller understanding of what Job was able to see only by faith. When God says time is done, Jesus will return. And when he does, every eye will see him. Those who have resisted him will see him coming and be filled with regret, while those who have been awaiting his return will be filled with praise and thanksgiving, as our faith becomes sight.

Or as Paul says in the end of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 describing the day of Jesus’ return, “Now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” When Jesus returns, we will see God in all his glory!

And seeing God is not only for the life to come. For those whose hearts are pure, who want one thing, that God be honored in all your life, you begin to see God in everyday moments. You begin to catch what a friend of mine calls “God sightings” along the way—some of them dramatic, some of them small but just as meaningful. When your life is about one thing—glorifying God in every area of life—you begin to see that one thing everywhere.

I’m now driving my father’s Subaru Outback, complete with World War 2 veteran sticker on the back bumper. First time we’ve owned a Subaru. And for the first time, we see Subaru’s everywhere. Drive around Fishers, spot a Subaru or three. Take I-69 to 465, Subarus headed both directions. Where did they all come from? Why have I never noticed them until now?

Here’s the thing: once I set my heart on one, I started seeing them everywhere. So it is with a pure heart. Once you set your desire on the one thing of honoring God in all of life, you start to see what honors God throughout the day.

  • The beauty of crocus blooming in our front yard
  • The surprise of snow recently
  • The delight of a delicious homemade meal with family
  • The sense of satisfaction after a productive day at work
  • The sense of participation when you’re able to give from your income
  • The sense of reward when one of your kids or grandkids makes a good moral choice.

And you begin to see bigger reflections of God in your life as well. Just recently, my sister was really sad as she was about to move from Maine to Florida, leaving decades-old friends. One of them gave her a gift certificate for a pedicure. Ellen was thinking it was kind of silly to make time for that with everything else she had to do to get ready for the move, but she figured it would be a good mental health break.

It turned out to be more. The young woman who was pampering her quickly asked if she could read aloud something from a book that was speaking powerfully to her. It was The Purpose Driven Life. And before long, she was ministering to Ellen in her loss, and Ellen was ministering to that employee in the things she was dealing with. In short, Ellen knows that in something as simple as going for a pedicure, she saw God. That’s what flows from having a pure heart, wanting the one thing of honoring God in all of life.

And it’s just as true in the deep pains of life, too. When you set your heart on honoring God in all of life, you can begin to see the hardships of the past year as a path toward growing in Christlikeness and empathy, in discernment and compassion and so many other good character traits that grow from purity of heart.

Alright, we’ve explored what it means to be pure in heart. We’ve seen what it means that the pure in heart will see God. Third and final question for this week:

  • How can I become pure in heart?
  • Admit my need
  • Ask God’s help
  • Embrace continuous change

Three lifelong steps: Admit your need, ask God’s help, and embrace continuous change. If you ask me to explain how it is that some who call themselves Christians are just as stuck and impure in heart as anyone else, here’s my answer. They are failing to engage in these three lifelong steps toward becoming evermore pure in heart: Admit my need, ask God’s help, and embrace continuous change. Let’s quickly take them one at a time.

Admit my need

God himself holds out an amazing offer through the prophet Ezekiel. To those who admit our need for pure hearts, for cleansing and purification, God promises:

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 11:19

Neil Wright says it this way: “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.” Jesus came not just to bring people to heaven, but also to bring deep change to how we live on earth, in this life.

Our Creator is well able to recreate what has become defiled. What God is going to do for the world at the end of time, recreating it once again pure, God offers to do by his Holy Spirit in the heart of every man, woman and child who admits our need for a new heart, for a power greater than our own. Have you done this? Have you admitted your need for a new heart, for a renewed command and control center within you? This is the essential starting point for becoming someone who is pure in heart, who will see God. Admit; admit your need. I’ll lead in a prayer for this in a moment. Two more lifelong steps toward a pure heart. After admitting your need, second…

Ask God’s help

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9

The only people who make it to purity of heart are those who pull off the masks, admit our need, and ask God for his help. And here’s the good news: God is glad to give it!

You can head up to St. Vincent/Ascension Health in Fishers and for less than a hundred dollars you can get a heart scan. Why would you pay for a heart scan? Because it just might save your life. So it is with hearing God’s Word. God’s Word is a spiritual heart scan. It reveals and exposes what’s in there but we’ve missed it or masked it. And the value in that is not that you go through life feeling worthless. Quite the opposite. God wants you to see your need, so that you can ask for and receive his help, the heart health help that only the Holy Spirit can give. 

Hear the promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” It’s a conditional promise: If you will confess your sins, that is, call your sins sin, God in his faithfulness promises to forgive your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness. He will make your heart pure in his sight, counting your sins to Jesus, and counting Jesus’ righteousness and purity to you. That’s his promise. So ask. 

Admit your need. Ask God’s help. And then the third lifelong decision is to…

Embrace continuous change

Jesus constantly called his followers to change. All of the New Testament letters include both what Christ already has done for us, and the ways in which he calls us to keep changing and growing. Paul says it this way as he writes to the city-savvy Christians in Corinth:

“All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 3:18 CEB

True story: from his hospital bed the day before open heart surgery, Bruce McIver asked his cardiologist, Dr. Johnson, “Can you fix my heart?” Dr. Johnson, known for being short and to the point, said, “Sure.” Then he turned and walked away.

Following the 12-hour surgery, Bruce asked Dr. Johnson, “In light of the blocked arteries that I had when I checked into the hospital, how much blood supply do I now have?” “All you’ll ever need,” replied the surgeon, who again ended the conversation by walking away.

When Bruce was about to be discharged from the hospital, his wife Lawanna asked Dr. Johnson, “What about my husband’s future quality of life?”

Dr. Johnson paused…and then said, “I fixed his heart; the quality of his life is up to him.”

Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for you and me to receive new hearts, deep change inside that pumps out into healthier ways of relating to God and one another. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead indwells every person who is truly trusting in Jesus. The hard truth, however, is that many never daily ask the Lord to keep changing us, and many never expect to change deeply and for as long as you live. But that, and nothing less, is why Jesus came. It’s God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you. It is to be the normal Christian life. Let’s settle for nothing less, friends. 

God loves you. He is with us. And he is well able to help us to keep growing and changing, maturing in the fullness of what it looks like to love God with all our heart, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. 

Toward this worthy aim, would you pray with me now?

Our Father in heaven, we thank and praise you for so loving us that you sent your One and Only Son, that whoever believes in him will never perish, but have everlasting life. Thank you that Jesus’ death opens the door for us to receive new life, a new heart, and the will to keep growing and changing. So that’s what we ask for today.

We admit our need. In ways beyond what we are even aware of, we sin and fall short of your best. 

We ask your help. Your promise of a new heart that is moved to honor you, that’s what we’re asking you for.

And to the best of our ability in this moment, we embrace continuous change. Keep us tender toward you and people. Deliver us from blind spots and biases that choke out your life-giving work in and through us. Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the impure attitudes, actions, and words that flow from our hearts. 

As you did with the first disciples, we ask you to keep speaking to us, and we ask now in this moment of openness that you help us not to harden our hearts, as we hear your warnings against the poor example of some who have gone before us. 

Make us, we pray, pure in heart, that along the way in this life and when you call us home, we may see you, Lord. Hear us as we come to you, Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!