Lorica 9 May 2017

Lorica Update
Good morning from Lorica, Córdoba, Colombia. Jamie & I arrived here safely late yesterday afternoon. We landed in Monteria, which is about an hour’s drive west of here. Carlos Correa does not own a car, but rode a bus to the airport to greet us when we arrived. We rented a taxi and made the journey here. There is always adventure when you travel in Colombia. Between the airport & here there are two toll booths on the road. Our taxi driver paid the first one. Then, a few miles out of Lorica, there is another one. As soon as the sign for the toll plaza came up, the driver quickly hit the brakes and drove down the first country road he saw. For the next 30 minutes or so, we wandered through the countryside, going through little villages every so often, but mostly just getting a good look at mud holes, washouts, green fields and cows. Just imagine a little Geo Metro or some similar vehicle with tiny tires bumpily going down the road crammed with 4 people & their luggage inside. After about 20 minutes I looked at Jaime & said “I would have just paid him the $5 for the toll.”

This is very much “the other Colombia.” It is third world and you know it. Motorcycles and bicycles fill the streets. Most of the streets aren’t paved. People sit outside on their porch after the sun goes down because it’s too hot to go inside. The Christians in Lorica don’t have song books so they open their Bibles and sing out of the Psalms, to which they have put melodies to. As I preached last night, very few people had a Bible in their hand. Whereas in Ibague, Villavicencio, Bogota, or Cali, the service has a more “professional” feel, the service here last night was different. Little kids are uncontrolled and run around the building during singing & preaching. People stop by & look in at things going on as the service is going on – because everything is open to circulate as much air as possible. It’s just a totally different feel than what you have in other parts of Colombia.

We have decided to stay in a hotel here. I’m happy to say Carlos Correa has moved to a different house since I’ve been here in 2013, but there are 7 people living inside – so we decided it would be easier to stay in a hotel for $17/night. It has AC. But it quit working in the middle of the night. I’ve been up since 3 when I woke up sweating. I opened the window, but it’s pouring outside. Very humid … and 85 degrees. The hotel has internet & TV. But it doesn’t work. And, instead of cold water for a shower, I have cool water. That is an improvement over the barrel and dipper I used when I was here 4 years ago!

These inconveniences are worth the all the encouragement I received last night. The little church was full. Monday pm is not a normal meeting time. But the whole church showed up. It was great. Jaime & I were received enthusiastically. Several of the brothers and sisters remembered my visit from last time. The building here has been paid off and they’ve recently done a few renovations that make it look new. New roof, new paint, new signage, etc. They are very proud of it. I’m very happy for the church here. We’ll be here through Friday morning, so I’ll have a good amount of time to see things up close with how the work is going here.

Later today, I’ll be with Carlos & Jaime in a men’s Bible study & then this afternoon I’ll be in Palmitto. Palmitto is the place where paramilitaries took over the meeting place last year and stole/destroyed a bunch of stuff. Many of you at Kettering helped financially to repair/replace those things. The paramilitaries are still in that area and in the place where I’m going tomorrow (Guabanana). Carlos speaks as if going into these areas are no big deal as “they know who he is and what he is doing” and they “leave him alone.” So, … there you go. I’ll trust what he says and the Lord’s protection. Correa said last night that if it rains, we won’t be going to Guabanana because the road there will be impassible. We’ll just have to see what happens. Tonight, we’ll be back in Lorica where Jaime will be speaking for the congregation.

As always, I appreciate your prayers. Thanks for making this trip possible for me.

Ibague 8 May 2017

Ibague Update
Good morning from Ibague. We had a great day yesterday. It started with a worship service with the church. The place of meeting is a 5 minute trip walk from Rafael’s house. After services, we ate lunch and then headed off to Agua de Dios, which is a little over 50 miles from here. Rafael works with this church several times each month. It is small, less than 10 people, consisting of mainly Nury Amaya’s mother and brothers and sisters. We got back here around 9 last night.

I have enjoyed getting to know the Amaya’s better. Rafael is very good in how he presents things. The signage at the building, banners, a church logo, and PowerPoint slides all look really professional. He started working here over a decade ago, helping the church heal after very difficult circumstances with the previous preacher. You can tell the brethren love and appreciate his family. There are a couple of other men who are around his age and you can tell they are all close and make a good team for the church. From everything I can see, Rafael is doing a great job with the work. He is a dedicated servant of the Lord.

It was my privilege to meet Rafael’s parents, who are members here at the Ibague church.

Nury has just been great. She is constantly serving and making sure Jaime & I are comfortable. This on top of keeping her boys in line, the youngest, Daniel, is a hand full.

Everyone has been so patient with me as I try to put my Spanish into use. You know you can take someone out of Arkansas, but you can’t take Arkansas out of him. Every time I open my mouth & speak Spanish I hear my accent. 😀

Today is a travel day. Jaime & I fly out at 11 this morning for Monteria. That is the closest airport to Lorica where Carlos Correa is. We’ll be on the north coast through Friday morning. I have very much enjoyed my short time here in Ibague.

It was good to hear from several of you yesterday. Thank you for your prayers.

Love you all.

Ibague 6 May 2017

Ibague Update
Good evening from Ibague. I arrived here safely late yesterday afternoon after a 7 + hour travel day. The total distance from where we started Friday morning is under 200 miles in total, but involves climbing completely over one mountain range, descending and going across a wide river valley & plain, and finally, ending at the foot of another range here in Ibague. The range of elevation differences I covered yesterday is just impressive… starting at ~1500 ft in Villavicencio, climbing to over 9000 ft in Bogota, & ending at just under 4000 ft here. I so enjoyed driving thru the mountains! The closer we got here yesterday the more evidence I could see of mudslides that has plagued Colombia during this rainy season. We had to stop several times as crews were busy scooping away debris that had fallen into the road. On one section, probably a half mile or more was inundated with rock and mud. One lane traffic was the rule.

It’s been good to catch up with Rafael Amaya & his wife Nury again. This is my third visit to this city and second to this church. The church here numbers around 25, and is growing. They we’re meeting in Rafael’s garage for a number of years, but outgrew it and have moved to a rented place, which is a 5-10 minute walk from Rafael’s house. They have been in this new place for about 6 months. The Amaya family is such a pleasure to be with. Their boys are just great. The oldest, Juan David, is 12, the next oldest, Joel, celebrated his 8th birthday yesterday, & Daniel is 4 or so. They have a much better place to live than when I was here before. The old place was rough. This home is comfortable and in a much better neighborhood than the other one. It’s in the main part of the city too, which is great for finding contacts. I am so happy for them!

Not only does Rafael work with the church here in Ibague, he also works w/another one called Agua de Dios (Water of God). It’s about 90 min from here & we will visit it tomorrow afternoon. Rafael travels there regularly in a 30 year old Mazda that is still going, but barely. The Agua de Dios congregation numbers 10-15 I think and is mostly women. Up until the early 60’s, that city was Colombia’s leper colony. Today, they’re still there, just further out of town.

Jaime Restrepo met me here yesterday & translated for me tonight. It’s always good to be with Jaime. He’ll be with me for the remainder of the trip. Earlier today, Henry Jerez & Andres Lopez (they brought me here to Ibague) returned to Bogota. We spent the first part of the day doing a little sight seeing east of town, up in the mountains. They wanted to go to a waterfall, but we couldn’t get to it because the road was washed out from all the rain we had last night. (It poured all night…)

We have a busy day in store for Sunday. Starting here in Ibague, & then out to Agua de Dios in the afternoon.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers, etc. I’ll write again tomorrow night, Lord willing.

Matt

Villavicencio Update 5 May 2017

Villavicencio Update
It is now early on Friday morning. I am just getting to bed. Have had a long full day today. I got to spend time together tonight with Wilson and his wife after services. They are such good people. And, they are extremely thankful for my visit. I got to record a short video of their family tonight where they wanted to send a personal thank you for all that you do for them.

Wilson is doing a good work. He is very, very busy. For example, Sunday he starts the day here in Villavicencio and then travel 75 miles down to Fuente de Oro for an afternoon worship, and then drive back to Acacias for an evening Bible study and worship. On other days of the week he travels between here and those two cities studying the Bible and helping those churches grow. All of this he does riding on a motorcycle. If you saw all the roads that he has to drive down and the weather that he has to endure you would be amazed. All of this travel is at his own expense. Recently, another preacher from Bogotá has moved to Acacias to help Wilson with the work. Fabian Lopez is a good and is busy helping Wilson in his work.

I wish you could know Wilson’s wife, Edilma. She is so special. She has worked hard to make me feel comfortable here in her home, even surrendering her and Wilson’s bedroom for me to sleep in. I am very grateful for their hospitality. She has been busy cooking meals all week for us making sure that we are all well fed and taken care of. Earlier tonight she showed me the house where she and Wilson lived for the first nine years they lived in the city. She said that when it rained there was more water in the house on the street outside. The home they are renting is much nicer. I am very happy for them.

At services tonight, I met a sister named Doris. She is in her mid 40s or early 50s, and is suffering from bone cancer. She has been struggling with this for over three years. She is in constant pain. She said the night before last, she prayed to God to take her life because she could not stand the pain anymore. I also got to speak with her husband who is a great thing. He and Doris, take him small children from a poor neighborhood every week and feed and clothe them. When we started to talk about that you should have seen how her spirits lifted. It was very neat to hear them talk about what they are doing for the kids from the barrio. We were getting ready to leave, Doris came to me and hugged me and said that if she did not see me in this life, she would see me in the next. She was crying and I gave her a long hug.

I also got to see Diego Chavez again tonight. I found out later is the cousin of Ana Reeves. It is a small world indeed. I really enjoyed talking to him and hearing his story. Please be praying for these Christians here in this country and in Venezuela.

Friday is a travel day. I will be getting up in less than five hours to eat breakfast before we hit the road for Bogota to drop off Julio Caesar Tellez. Andres and I will then head to Ibague where I will meet up with Jaime and spend the weekend. Probably looking at 7 to 8 hours on the road on Friday. Please keep me in your prayers we travel. Thanks again for all that you do and for your prayers for this trip. It is been very good to hear from some of you through email or video. I love you all.

Matt

Villavicencio 4 May ’17

Good morning from Villavicencio
Just beginning Thursday morning here. My time in this city is flying by as this is the last full day here with Wilson and his family. I am so enjoying being here. They have been so hospitable to us and have gone out of their way to make us comfortable.

On Wednesday, we took the middle part of the day off and visited a local zoo. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to one, and lets just say that the type of animals you get to see in a Colombian zoo differs from what I remember in the Little Rock zoo as a kid. I am by no means a snake person, but I think the highlight of the visit was seeing the two giant anacondas and the poor old duck the zoo worker was about to feed them with. We walked on before the cycle of life was allowed to take place. I think the best part of the afternoon together was just being together with our brothers and sisters, letting them show off things they’re proud of, and building relationships.

After sharing a lunch together, we made our way back to Wilson’s home where I spent a few hours in preparation for the sermon I delivered at last night’s service. During that time, a giant rain storm developed. This was no ordinary rain storm. It poured heavily, for at least two hours straight. By the time we were off to church, the streets were rivers. I shot and posted some video to Facebook last night that captures just a little of our adventure to the meeting place. The place where they meet is just off the street. The doors and windows are all open to the street so air can get in. As we moved into the service, the rain was pouring and the air was damp. For once, the noise of traffic and people and barking dogs was silent….

After service, we had planned on having a small group study with some of the men from the congregation, but because of the weather, we were prohibited from doing so.

We did go out for a snack last night after our service and while there I got to visit with a young brother who is living here temporarily because of the political/social/economic turmoil in Venezuela. Listening to him really puts a face on what we’re reading in the news about that country. Diego Chavez’s father is a preacher in Venezuela. If you live in a city in that country that doesn’t agree politically with their President Maduro, then he will cut off all food and supplies to that city. People have very little to eat. And, it’s not a matter about sending money to fix the situation, because even if a person had money, there is no food or supplies to buy inside the stores. He mentioned that for those who do have Venezuelan Bolivars in their bank account, they are only allowed to take out so much money at a time, usually very little. Diego is staying with his cousins here in Villavicencio temporarily until the turmoil in Venezuela passes. He may be here for a long time.

Thanks to Jason Schofield, who is supplying you with additional information in regards to my trip. He & I are communicating over the phone and through video conference each day. I am thankful to have him as a partner in this work. His help is invaluable because from the moment I walk out of my bedroom in the morning, until the moment I head to bed at night, I am constantly “on” and its not always possible to sit down and type out a report, etc.

I appreciate all of you so much, and am thankful for your prayers while I am away. I love you all.

Villavicencio 3 May 2017

Good morning from Villavicencio…
We had a great day yesterday traveling to two congregations in this department that our brother Wilson Valbuena works with on a regular basis. Both are located some distance from this city, Acacias is about 30 miles south and Fuente de Oro is about 75 miles from here.

The church in Fuente de Oro (Fountain of Gold) numbers about 6-8 souls. This church began a few years ago after a young couple from Spain moved to Colombia. Shortly after their move they began to study the Bible. They were looking for a church that just taught the Bible and worshipped like the Christians in the Bible. One of them got on Jaime Restrepo’s website (The Gospel Anchor) and spoke with Jaime, who pointed them to Wilson. Wilson began to travel down there twice every week, once on Sunday and once on Tuesday. The Christians were very encouraged by my visit yesterday. I spoke on Colossians 1.9-11 encouraging them to grow in spiritual knowledge and wisdom and the result of that, etc.

The church in Acacias numbers about 15-20 souls. Brother Wilson travels to this church every Sunday and Tuesday. Recently, a brother from Bogota, Fabian Lopez, has moved to help in the work with this church. He has a wife and two small children and lives on next to nothing. Just a very good man. I’m very glad to see him working along side our brother Wilson here in this part of Colombia.

I have been pleasantly surprised as to how nice this part of Colombia is. In my mind, I had envisioned it being more like the part of Colombia I will be in next week. The cities here are clean and safe, people take care of their things, and the landscape outside the city is amazing. Villavicencio and Acacias sit on the eastern slope of the Andes and to the east, Colombian plains stretch from here all the way into Venezuela. Everything is very green and lush. Kind of looks like what artists envision the garden of Eden would have looked like. (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s very beautiful nonetheless.)

Today we’ll be here in Villavicencio. This afternoon, I’ll be studying with a small group of men here at Wilson’s house and then this evening I’ll be with the church here for a service.

Love to all. Thanks again for your prayers.

Matt

The Holiness of Sacrifice

It has been said that the most significant attribute of God is His holiness. Revelation 4.8 looks forward to life after death when all of God’s family will exclaim holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty. Note that when singing praise we will not proclaim God’s eternalness or wisdom, but His holiness. This is the crown of His attributes. Passages throughout the Old Testament demonstrate this:

  • Exodus 15.11Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
  • Psalms 111.9He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! 
  • 1 Samuel 2.2There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.

How We Learn About the Holiness of God

We can learn more about the holiness of God in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah came into the presence of God, he was shattered to the core of his being. Between us and God is an absolute gulf of holiness and unholiness. We are unholy. He is holy. Like Isaiah, we should be shaken to the core when we see ourselves in comparison to God. It is not until we know or understand our own sin that we will ever begin to grasp the holiness of God. The Bible teaches that God does not conform to a holy standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy. God never does anything wrong. He never makes a mistake. He never makes something happen in our life that is not the right thing. He always does right.

God’s holiness is demonstrated in His hatred of sin. See Habakkuk 1.3. God cannot tolerate sin or evil. He is totally removed from it. Sin will never abide with Him. If you’ve ever wondered why God acted so swiftly  and severely in punishing the sin of Adam and Eve, the answer lies in His holiness. Sin is not something He can overlook.

But it is not just the externals God is concerned with. When reading Amos 5.21-23 we find that God loved all the things mentioned here. He instituted the feast days and solemn assemblies. These were designed in order to give the hearts of His people an avenue by which to express the love and appreciation of a surrendered heart. However, Israel missed a key piece of understand that is applicable in all generations. When good deeds come out of impure hearts, God hates them. God does not want people doing right things with a wrong attitude.

There are several other ways God has revealed His holiness. For example, His holiness is seen in creation. God made man upright, Ecclesiastes 7.29. We have been created in His image, Genesis 1.26-27. When God made us, we were absolutely holy. How? In God there is no untruth, 1 John 1.5. When He acts or speaks, it must be according to truth. He always acts without doing error. God did not create sin and He will never make anything that will lead us to the wrong conclusion.

God’s holiness is seen in moral law. Despite mankind’s best efforts to stamp it out, His law prevails, Romans 7.12. Moral law demonstrates that God is a holy God. By giving us this law, He proved Himself to be a righteous, moral, holy being.

What This Has to do with Sacrifice

God’s holiness is demonstrated through sacrifice. There was a purpose for animal sacrifices during Old Testament times. Death is the result of sin, Romans 6.23. When someone sins, death is the penalty, Hebrews 9.22. The sacrifice served as the substitute death that each human really deserved.

When offering sacrifices, respect for God’s holiness was an absolute necessity. This is seen in Leviticus 8-10. Before engaging in spiritual duties, priests had to go through a cleansing process.

  • Leviticus 8.6 – they were washed with water.
  • 8.7-10 – describes more steps in the process.
  • 8.14-32 – describes various sin offerings to atone for sin. Sin offering; burnt offering; and ordination offering.

What does this say? A Levite count not enter the priesthood until he had been cleansed,  washed and forgiven of sin.

Priests were also clothed for service.

  • Leviticus 8.7 – Coat (undercoat). Sash. Robe. Ephod. There was also an artistic band that held the ephod.
  • 8.8 – breastplate.
  • 8.9 – turban; golden plate; holy crown.

These were special coverings. These garments that symbolized their rule, purity, virtue, and identification with God. Priests were God’s representatives. They were called to holiness and separation. Everyone knew that they belonged to God. There was a spiritual significance to all of this. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. Her priests I will clothe with salvation, and her saints will shout for joy, Psalm 132.9, 16.

Priests were prepared for service. Leviticus 8.23-26 describes what took place after all the preparation, cleansing, and clothing. The 7 day wait was a time of waiting – a time of heart preparation. It was a time symbolic of spiritual preparedness and readiness. Leviticus 9.23-24 describes what happened on the 8th day. Priests needed time to take into consideration the seriousness of the priesthood.

Priests were ordained to obedience. There is a reason why the record in Leviticus 8-9 has been left for us. Priests were called, cleansed, clothed, and underwent a time of preparation. Then, they were to go out on their ministry. This is why Leviticus 10 shouts off the pages of our Bibles as to the need to move with respect in regards to the holiness of God. Nadab and Abihu were struck down in front of the whole assembly. Notice what God immediately says afterwards: I will be treated as holy, 10.3 NASB. There is much speculation as to what strange fire was. Was it offered from the wrong altar? If it did not come from the right source, God would reject it. Was the incense prepared incorrectly? Exodus 30.34-38 spelled out a specific way to make it. Did they offer it at the wrong time? Exodus 30.7 says the sacrifice was to be made at the morning and evening.

Or, was it the way they conducted themselves? This was a day of celebration. Let’s keep on reading through the first few verses of Leviticus 10. Do these passages give us a clue as to why God killed them?

  • 10.3b – Aaron held his peace after Nadab and Abihu killed.
  • 10.5 – their bodies were carried out.
  • 10.6-7 – Aaron and sons told not to grieve and to stay inside the tent of meeting.
  • 10.9-10 – Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,

Why the sudden reference to no drinking before going into the tent of meeting? Had Nadab & Abihu allowed themselves to become drunk? Was their conduct unholy?

What This Means for New Testament Christians

1 Peter 2.9 identifies Christians as spiritual priests. We have been called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2.5. As we move today, we are called to approach God with total realization of His holiness. Think about what we’ve just learned about the Old Testament priesthood in Leviticus 8-10. How does this apply to New Testament Christians?

We have been cleaned from sin. We could not be called a priesthood today had we not been cleansed from our sin, Acts 22.16; Titus 3.5; Colossians 2.12. God has purified us for Himself – a people for His own possession…zealous for good works, Titus 2.14.

We have been clothed for service. Just as priests were covered with special coverings and garments that symbolized their rule, purity, virtue, and identification with God, so have we. Christians have been clothed with the garments of salvation, Isaiah 61.10. Paul said, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Galatians 3.26-27.

We are to prepare our minds. Will we make time to take in the seriousness of our spiritual commitments? See 1 Peter 1.13. We must make regular time to prepare our hearts. With our great privileges come great responsibility. We need to make time to think deeply about the spiritual commitment we have made and prepare our heart.

We are to live in obedience. Just as priests were ordained to obedience, so are we. Christians have been called to obedience. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Why I’m Taking a Hiatus From Political Posts

Our nation has just wrapped up a tumultuous and long political season, culminating with the inauguration of a new President last Friday. For me, it’s been a positive thing, since the candidate I preferred won the election and has now officially moved into governing. I burned too much time Friday watching television coverage of the peaceful transfer of power and since then have found myself checking in on the news more than I regularly do to see all the “firsts” our new President is having. I must not be alone. People on both sides of the aisle are also watching the news and reacting on social media with all sorts of opinions. There have been plenty of catchy memes circulating; I’ve even “liked” and “reposted” a few myself. With the things others have posted that I disagree with – I’ve been inclined to weigh in sharing my thoughts on that as well.

But in the long term, what good does all this do? Does what I post really change anyone’s mind? And, how do my posts come across to those who don’t know me? Am I encouraging others by what I’m saying, or am I forming bad impressions for those who disagree? These are challenging questions. And, if you’re like me, you’ve resolved many times before that when it comes to posting on Facebook or Twitter that you’re going to do better than you have in the past. Then, before you know it, someone offers an opinion or shares a meme, and off you go. I had this happen to me just one week ago. Early on Monday morning I told myself that I was going to begin again in trying to be positive in my public posts. I wrote last week’s blog post and published it. I left the office by lunch time feeling good and feeling accomplished. It was a warm day (by Ohio standards for January) and I decided to go out and get some exercise on my bike. Ten miles in, I stopped for some water and checked my phone. There it was. Someone posted something that caught my attention. They made several sweeping generalizations that raised my blood pressure. And, I responded in frustration. I think I made it a complete 5 hours before I violated my own resolution. Later that night I scolded myself a little for not making it any longer than I did.

So here we are with a brand new work week. This week, I’m making a somewhat different resolution and I hope you’ll help me by holding me accountable. For the next few weeks, I’m going to take a hiatus from posting any comments or “liking” things that have to do with politics on social media. There are three reasons why:

First, I want to see how it improves my disposition. Taking in too much negativity will affect you. It generates cynicism. It causes you to see the worst in people, rather than the best. It can affect your health. I want to be a happy person who is pleasant to be around. We can do this when we choose to focus on our blessed relationship with Jesus, rather than entangling ourself in the cares of this world.

Second, I want to be known as a peacemaker, rather than a hardened political hack. Jesus called us to be peacemakers, not warmongers, Matthew 10.13. As sons and daughters of God we have been called to work for wholeness and harmony rather than strife and discord. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all, Romans 12.18.

Lastly, I want to be a faithful steward of my time. The Psalmist said, So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, Psalm 90.12. We must live in light of eternity. Time is precious. There are some days that I wish I could have back because of all the time I’ve wasted trying to change someone’s opinion on something one of us has posted on Facebook. What if those energies had been placed somewhere else? One of the greatest dangers of unplanned time is that it seems to allow us to drift toward our weaknesses, rather than our strength.

How long do you think I’ll make it with my self-imposed hiatus? I know it will be difficult, but I know it will be worth the sacrifice.

Want to take the challenge with me? Let me know. If you do, I’d like to see how it changes your disposition on life.

The Great Promise of Matthew 5.8

Last Friday, my wife Becky and I enjoyed a “Netflix” night together and watched a movie from our childhood, E. T. This was, perhaps, the greatest movie of the 1980’s and held the record for gross amount of box-office revenue for over a decade.  It had been at least 25, maybe 30 years since I last watched it. While I remembered the main plot, there were many details from the movie I had forgotten. As I watched, I found myself moved with nostalgia. I remember watching the movie at the old RITZ theater in my hometown of Malvern, AR sometime in 1982 with my grandparents and mom and dad. (It’s the only time I remember Poppa and Doll going to the movies. They’re both gone now and I do miss them.)

E.T. was filmed in the fall of 1981 and it seems like a much simpler time. In the shots of Elliot’s room, I paid close attention. I had some of those same toys in my room. There was a complete absence of electronics in his room. There were no cellphones. Kids played outside and rode bikes around the neighborhood. Eliot’s older brother Mike and his teenage friends sat around a table on a Friday night playing board games. And as I watched, I kept thinking that if this movie were made in 2017, instead of 1981, the plot would not have had such a family-friendly theme. In our modern sophistication, a director would feel compelled to spice up the language with four-letter words, include a revealing love scene, bring in a gay character, pursue some item promoting the leftist social/political agenda, or have turned E. T. into a sick, twisted alien who has some kind of perverted behavior.

As I went to bed, I’m not sure if it was just the memories of my childhood or something else, but I found myself sorely missing simpler times and less provocative entertainment. (This is not to say that the 80’s were morally perfect, but we have drifted far, far away from where we were 35 years ago.) There’s a part of me that wishes we could, somehow, go back.

At the Kettering Church, we’ve recently been studying the beatitudes in Matthew 5. Jesus said, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, Matthew 5.8. I don’t know about you, but as I move forward in life, more and more I look forward to an eternity that is free from the cares of this life.  I long to be free from temptation and perversion. I long to be in a place completely free from sin.

Did you see the glorious promise at the end of verse 8? Those who are pure in heart will see God. So, how can I make sure I’m living with a pure heart? It begins with a commitment trust in God’s power to save. Titus 2.11-14 teaches that He has set us apart from sin so that we can live exclusively for Him. But there’s more. Purity in heart happens when we commit to resisting evil and serve God. I once read that holiness is both a state of existence and a commitment to action. I like that. It’s following through on the application of passages like 1 Peter 1.13-16. It’s living with a sense of profound reverence. Your sin has been paid for with Jesus’ precious blood, 1 Peter 1.18-19.

Keeping a pure heart does not happen by accident. It’s not always convenient, nor is it easy. It is a call to sacrifice and will not be pain or struggle free.

As much as we might like, we can’t get into a time machine and go back to the days of our childhood, the time when life seemed simpler. But we can, even in this day and age, live with a pure heart and total trust that one sweet day we’ll be free from every trapping this world offers.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name, Psalm 86.11