Steve Macchia Blog

The Pure Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” Jesus shares from the Mount of Beatitudes (Matt. 5:8).  In this profound thought, Jesus is urging His listeners to remain pure in their heart and mind, for only in that condition will one be able to see, hear, and truly know God. The psalmists of old cry out in similar fashion, “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9) and “He who has clean hands and a pure heart…will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior” (Psalm 24: 4,5).

One of the purest stories in the biblical text is revealed between Elizabeth and Mary, as they are both carrying children in their womb who would later enter and envelop the world who longed for their coming. Classic Advent texts, we read in Luke 1 about Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (vs. 41,42). Mary’s reply is one of worship and adoration, giving homage to her God, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for his has been mindful of the humble state of his servant…the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name…His mercy extends to those who fear him…He has performed mighty deeds…He has scattered the proud…He has filled the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1: 46-55).

Two mothers with pure hearts, ready and available to God’s Spirit and responsive to angelic visitations that pronounced to them how God wanted to use them for His glory. Because of their upright hearts, responsive and receptive to the movement of God’s Spirit, the Lord saw fit to have them be the mothers of John the Baptist and his cousin the Lord Jesus. Mothers with strong maternal instincts, we know them both as pure vessels of God, living fully their privileged status as faithful servants of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Their hearts were kept pure by the Spirit who empowered them and by the Lord who lavished love upon them.

Purity of heart is a gift that only comes from the movement of God’s Spirit, as He calls, convicts, purifies, equips, and empowers us as Christ followers into life in all its abundance.  For Mary and Elizabeth, their pure hearts were blessed mightily by God (King David echoes this sentiment, “to the pure you show yourself pure” in 2 Sam. 22:27). But for most others, a purified heart is one that experiences the purifying process in the furnace of transformation, which ultimately leads the faithful to a distinct unity with God. Like King David after coming clean from his free-fall into lying, adultery and murder, he finally cries out to God, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51: 10).

Keeping ourselves pure is not simply a human effort (which is a must!), but is most significantly a work of God’s Spirit who leads us into and empowers us with self-control so that we can maintain purity of heart. No one can claim purity of heart for oneself…and the one who does is living in self-deceit. As children of God, we put our hope in the love of the Father, who calls us children of God…and therefore “everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).  Choosing to have our hearts purified by the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel of Christ, we make ourselves fully available to the Lord by offering our lives as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Rom. 12: 1).

The worship song, “Purify My Heart” invites the Refiner’s fire to purify the heart, letting it be as gold, pure gold…to be holy; set apart for the Lord; set apart for the Master, ready to do His will. But in order for that to occur, the heat of the fire is there to cleanse the believer from deep within the heart and soul. Cleansing, forgiving, restoring, and renewing the life of the faithful one is what God desires – and ultimately delivers to those who enter this life–changing process of sanctification. If this is the longing of your heart, then I invite you to pray, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away 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” (Psalm 51: 7-12).

The Closed Heart

Whenever you hear phrases such as “I will never…” or “I absolutely refuse…” or “There’s simply no way…” no doubt there’s a closed heart standing behind those words. Accompanying such words are attitudes that are closed, opposed, or negatively disposed against a person, concept, or suggestion. A closed heart is usually a reflection of a closed mind, which in turn is a depiction of a life that believes it knows more than others, has thought through a conviction to its “right” conclusion, or simply knows how best to feel under the circumstance. As a result, there is little one can say or do to penetrate the blockade that barricades one from even considering a new or different way.  A closed heart is impenetrable even from the wisest, softest, wittiest, or clearest alternative.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah in describing one with a closed heart, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them,” Matthew 13: 15.  This same  principle from Isaiah is quoted by Paul in Acts 28:27 as he preached boldly about the kingdom of God to both closed and open hearts.  In describing the wicked, the psalmist writes, “They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance” (Psalm 17:10). This description is in sharp contrast to being known by God as “the apple of His eye” (Psalm 17: 8), one who is willing to have God probe and examine the heart, and ensure its openness to the wonder of God’s great love.

An open heart is simply more pliable in consideration of alternative ways to think, feel and/or act. The polar opposite of a closed heart is an enormously wide open heart, one that can be in danger of being so open as to be non-sensible or extremely liberal. However, a healthy open heart is one that’s balanced with perspective from a variety of vantage points and multiple voices. This kind of open heart is desirous of wisdom and perception that grows out of listening carefully to all sides before choosing one to follow. An open heart is the antidote to the rigidity, inflexibility, and intolerance which often follows the person who demonstrates a cold, calculating, and sometimes cruel closed heart. One thing is for certain: God opposes the pride of the closed heart, and seeks to gently open such a heart to receive fully the love, joy, peace, and hope of the gospel.

When we are open to receive from God and others, we in turn become open to becoming our full, true selves. Openness is an attribute that grows out of a teachable heart, one that wants to remain malleable in the hands of the Almighty One. Like soft, supple clay in the hands of our Maker, the Potter of our souls, we are formed, conformed and transformed more and more into His likeness. Openness to God and one another is depicted visually in the out-stretched arms of love displayed for us by Christ on the cross. His openness to His Father’s will and way led Jesus from heaven into the womb of the virgin Mary, among people He could serve sacrificially and generously even to the cross, and eventually through the empty tomb of the resurrection and back to glory forever. God chose to send His Son into this world so that the alternatives of our choice for the God we serve would be made clear.  Jesus’ openness to the Father and the Spirit all throughout His earthly ministry is an abundant testimony to the gift that an open heart can be to all whom we are called to serve in Jesus’ name.

In Philippi, a businesswoman by the name of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, became a worshiper of God. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” after which members of her household joined her in the waters of baptism and practiced hospitality to Paul and his team (Acts 16: 13-15). Her openness to the Lord transformed her into a woman of devout worship and generous hospitality. Lydia is a great example for all who follow Christ and desire to remain open to His leading hand through the presence and power of His Spirit.  This type of genuine conversion of heart is found embedded in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1: 18, 19).

More than any other tangible instrument that opens a closed heart is the Word of God. Likewise, more than any other intangible means of grace that opens a closed heart is prayer. In the masterpiece Psalm 119, we read “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (verse 18). This verse combines the Word with prayer…so that the Law of God, His instruction and teaching, can profoundly elicit holiness in the heart of the believer. Without the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit we can only see what the natural eye can fathom. So, it’s incumbent upon us to seek the gracious illumination of the Word and the Spirit to open up our closed heart so we can earnestly seek Him with all our heart. An open Bible needs an open heart. Will you remain open to the fresh, renewing, heart-changing gospel today?

The Joyful Heart

Joy is such a beautiful word, three simple letters tied together with gladness and enchantment.  The word joy is defined as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; a state of happiness or felicity caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying;  a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; the expression or display of glad feeling or great appreciation. It’s historic use is paired with terms such as rejoice, jubilation, exhilaration and triumph.

From a distinctly Christian perspective, to possess a joyful heart is to express a gift and empowerment from God.  Joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:22), an evidence of the Lord’s presence and power bursting forth from the deepest place of one’s soul.  To have a joyful and glad heart is to be grateful for the many gifts and blessings that come to us directly from the generous hand of God.  It’s seen throughout the Bible in the contexts of singing for joy, feasting with joy, comfort and joy, peace and joy, progress and joy, joy in hope, and shouts of joy.

Within the community of faith, the Apostle Paul reminds his beloved followers to put love into action by hating what is evil, clinging to what is good, being devoted to one another, honoring each other with sincere love. In so doing, to also “ Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12: 9-12).  Joy is to be exhibited within the relationships we are invited to build for the glory of God. A joyful heart evokes joy among the Church and leads others into harmony with one another where we indeed rejoice with those who rejoice (and weep with those who weep). Joy is the glue that bonds our love together as children of the King.

However, joy isn’t just for the positive times…it’s more powerful when experienced in the darkest, most difficult times of life. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”(James 1: 2-4). No matter the circumstances of our lives, we are to rejoice and be glad.  “Then I would still have this consolation – my joy in unrelenting pain – that I had not denied the words of the Holy One,” testifies Job (Job 6:10).  And from the Prophet Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Hab. 3: 17-19).

Choosing and discovering joy in the midst of life’s most trying obstacles and disappointments is nothing short of a miracle of God’s grace. Having been in such a state many times in my Christian life, I have marveled at God’s goodness  and mercy over and over again. Though others may turn against me and cause me great harm; though loved ones may suffer untold agony of heart and body; though the world and the enemy of my soul may wreak havoc on the work of my hands…the Lord’s faithfulness has turned my sorrow into joy and in that truth my heart is glad. We may not see the redemptive value of the pain we’re in immediately, but in God’s timing and through God’s means His will radiates above and beyond the deepest heartache and suffering we endure this side of heaven.  And we can sing with the prophet,“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!”

Since the Lord our God is always with us, taking great delight in us, rejoicing over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17), in response we too are to find our greatest joy in Him.  The Apostle Paul urges the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5: 16-18). Will you make that concerted choice and allow joy to be the posture of your heart, mind and will today?

The Discriminating Heart

Our God does not show partiality or favoritism, and neither should we (Deut. 10: 17-19). Created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1: 26, 27), all mankind is to be treated without bias or prejudice. Instead of discriminating as judges with evil thoughts toward those who are different from us, we are called to love all of our neighbors as we love ourselves (John 13: 34).

Racism in varying forms and various degrees has been a part of the human condition since the dawn of time. This social ill has been a struggle among family groups, between ethnicities, and across religious, political, cultural  and socioeconomic backgrounds for generations. Victims of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance have been judged and tainted in the hearts of others, including by those who claim the name of Christ as Lord.  The Bible is clear about this issue and there is little we can dismiss as inappropriate for our own place and time in history.

God so loved the world – every ethnic group on planet earth – that he gave his only begotten Son to lay down his life for us (John 3: 16). Jesus, the great reconciler, invites his followers to be united in Him and lovers of one another.  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:1, 2, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Peter has a vision and preaches to the early church at Cornelius’ home about this same topic, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right,” Acts 10: 34, 35. The Apostle Paul picks up on this same topic in his ministry to the body of Christ, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you,” Romans 12: 3.  And to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Galatians 3:28.

In James 2: 1-26 this theme is highlighted in the form of favoritism, specifically between economic distinctions, “Don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but you say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

No matter where we turn in the Scriptures to enlighten our hearts and minds on this subject, there is an accompanying mandate to act in accordance with God’s priorities. Nowhere do we find God choosing favorites, showing bias against, preferring one over another, or speaking intolerantly toward those He created in His image. Discriminating against any person created in the image of God is simply not appropriate at any time or for any reason. Bigotry and prejudice and preferential treatment does not belong in the Church now or ever. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must take the lead in speaking up for any and all victims of discrimination.

Today our world is filled with hateful prejudice and judgmental partiality. Our biases toward those we agree with and against those with whom we differ deters the unity God desires among His people. Those who participate in any form of prejudice or partiality need to repent and seek forgiveness. This is where the truth of the gospel is practiced most specifically. Are you willing to admit that your heart at times discriminates against another? Do you see the log in your own eye, while looking so basely at the speck in someone else’s eye? For what offense of prejudicial accusation must you seek forgiveness? Your holy boldness of love, confession, and affirmation toward those you’ve wronged in your heart will lead to the freedom to serve and bless others like never before. Be free, dear friend!