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Hill Work

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A couple of weeks ago now we talked about our tendency to build to allow for the worst case scenario’s in our lives.  Consequently we become like the foolish man who wanted to build a seaside condo, with sliding doors looking out on the beach and the tranquil seas.  It’s a beautiful thought if the seas stay calm and the storms pass you by.  We talked about the people in the city of New Orleans who actually built below sea-level.  In retrospect that seems like such a silly thing to do.

The Great Flood:


   5 In the forty second year of Bim's life on the twenty seventh day of the eleventh month - on that day all the springs of the great sump pump burst forth, and the floodgates of the drainage pit were opened.  6 And water seeped into the basement for twenty four.  7 On that very evening, after the twenty third hour, Bim returned from work.  And upon entering the place of his dwelling, he came upon his wife who was sore distressed.  8 And his wife said unto him, "I have been to the basement.  And I have seen the basement.  And the basement is flooded. And it is not good."    9 So Bim went to the basement and looked upon the face of the waters and saw that it was so.  And Bim was sore distressed.  10 Bim wept.    11 There was a sound like unto the sound of many angry hornets.  And the sound thereof came from the dryer.  Bim said to himself, "I shall go to the fuse panel and I shall say to the dryer fuse in the midst of the other fuses .... "Come out from among them and be seperate!"  12 And a voice spake unto Bim asking, "What about the current?"  And Bim said, "But this is a basement.  The waters are not even flowing.  What current?"  And the voice said unto him, "The electrical current, you idiot!"  13 And when he came to his senses, he realized there might be electrical current upon the waters.  14 So Bim reached down and touched the waters and found that there was no current upon the face of the waters.  15 And another voice spake unto him saying, "Take off your sneakers ... for this is soggy ground."  And Bim removed his sneakers from his feet.    16 And it came to pass as he was about to step into the waters he thought, "If I had faith, I could walk upon the waters and would not touch the waters.  And then if the current should course through the waters, I would be safe."  17 And so, mustering up all of his faith, he stepped out believing he would not sink into the waters.  And he stepped out . . . and sank into the waters.  18 Oh well . . . it was worth a try.

19 And it came to pass that as he made his way through the waters thereof, he beheld a pillar of smoke rising from the other part of the basement.  20 And there were, coming from within the smoke, a multitude of sparks and fire like unto . . . a multitude of sparks and fire.  21 And at the bottom of the pillar of smoke a power bar lay in the water.  And the waters which lay between the plug contacts were boiling furiously and the arcing was sending forth the sparks and the fire.  22 And Bim reached up and unplugged the power bar so as not to become smitten.  23 And this was good.    24 And to make a long story less long than if it had been made to be longer, the landlord was called who, in turn, called the plumber who, in turn, came unto Bim's dwelling place and replaced the failing sump pump.  25 And by now it was the third hour of the morning of the following day.  26 Eventually, the waters upon the surface of the basement receded . . . like unto a receding hairline.  27 And it came to pass in the days that followed that Bim and his wife had one steeenking mess to clean up. 28 And something told them that the whole thing would turn out for good.  29 And that would be good.

If you’ve ever had a flood in your home, you want to move to higher ground.  You want to remove any possibility that this might happen again.

And so the message this morning is a challenge to move to higher ground – spiritually speaking to build in a place that precludes the possibility of disaster.  Let’s read the scripture together from Psalm 24.

" Of David. A psalm. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory. Selah" (Psalm 24, NIV) [1]

It is generally believed that the Psalm is written to commemorate David’s second attempt to return the Ark of the Covenant to the house of God in the city of Jerusalem.  The first attempt was aborted because God struck down a servant who attempted to steady the teetering ark as it rocked along on an ox-cart.  David with all good intentions did not fully respect this piece of furniture which symbolized the very presence of God among His people and transported it in his own manner.

So this morning I’d like to take a few minutes to try to challenge you to climb higher in your relationship with God, to aspire to something greater than you currently know.  To remove any flirtatious relationships that you may have with sin and to strive with all your heart to experience His heart, the heart of God.

From the scriptures, let’s look at some principles for moving up.

1.  Nothing runs uphill naturally.  Engaging the hill.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?”

David reminds us in this Psalm that God is the Creator, Owner, sustainer of the world that we live in.  I believe that there are principles that come from God that order our world.  Some of these are plain and irrefutable, such as “gravity” which governs the physical world.  I also believe that there are principles which govern our social lives, our emotional lives, our intellectual lives and of course our spiritual lives.  The more closely we are aligned with these principles, the better our experience will be in this life as well as the life to come.  I believe that God is as concerned that we live well, in full enjoyment of His presence and His creation, in this life as He is that we experience fullness in the life to come.

One of the principles that is present in most every area of life is that we have to reach toward what it is that we want.  We don’t gravitate toward excellence, it is a conscious and diligent pursuit.

"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV) [2]


"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14, NIV) [3]

"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;" (2 Peter 1:5, NIV) [4]

I would have to say that for many Christians today their lackluster presence is due to a lack of effort. 

  Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship.  As a result, their meanings and values are distorted.  Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.


-- Gordon Dahl

Let me ask you this morning how much conscious effort you put into caring for your soul this past week.  I am not prescribing how that should be done.  The truth is that we are all different and there are things that stir my heart to a greater degree than others.  But the bottom line is that we need to make an effort if we are to climb higher in our spiritual lives.

I really don’t know of anything that takes care of itself and tends to become better on it’s own.  Take our marriages for example.  I have said many times that we should be doing something every year to care for this relationship.  A weekend away at a marriage retreat simply to invest in this relationship.  The best marriages are those that are “worked at”.  The most spiritual people that I know are those who pursue God every day of their lives.

2.  God has more for us than groveling in His presence.  Standing in the presence of God.

“Who may stand in his holy place?”

I believe that a wise Christian never loses sight of the grace of God.  They never underestimate what was required to secure their salvation.  Regardless of how “good” a person you may be, Jesus still needed to die for you.  The whipping alone would not have been sufficient.  The ridicule was not good enough, it took his death on Calvary to provide access to the Father.

However, God has provided an honored place for you in relationship with Him.

"What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:1-7, NIV) [5]

There’s nothing like feeling “at home” is there?  The prodigal son returned home, having come to his senses and he set his hope on becoming a “hired hand” since he had forsaken his “son-ship”.  He hoped to come back to the Father and find a place in the bunkhouse.  There may be some of you just like that today.  You’ll never get your room back.  You’ll just find an empty bunk with the other hired hands.

More Christians are deceitfully impoverished because they underestimate the power of forgiveness in their lives.  When you are forgiven, you are forgiven.  No matter what the “older brothers” say, you are a child of the King and entitled to stand in the holy place.  You see the place is made holy by the presence of God and the person is made holy by the same presence.

3.  Clean hands don’t stay clean naturally. 

“He who has clean hands. . . “

You know, there are few days that I live where at the end of the day, I don’t look back and wish that I had done something differently.  I find missed opportunities, questions as to whether I said too much or too little, whether there was more of Karl or more of God in my existence over the last hours.  How does that make me feel?  Disappointed, yes.  But more than anything else grateful for the grace of God and more chance to grow and develop as an ambassador for Christ.  I pray the Lord’s Prayer most every day and linger pensively over the phrases, . . . and forgive me my sin as I forgive those who sin against me..

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9, NIV)[6]

Keeping your hands clean is a daily process.  How many times a day do you wash your hands.  We respect the existence of things that we cannot see, germs that can make us sick or even kill us.  As a matter of fact, I understand that a great many doctors would tell us that if we would just wash our hands more faithfully and keep them away from our mouths we might all stay healthier.

Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah outlines the most elaborate of Jewish washings.


Water jars were kept ready to be used before a meal.  The minimum amount of water to be used was a quarter of a log, which is defined as enough to fill one and a half eggshells.  The water was first poured on both hands, held with the fingers pointed upwards, and must run up the arm as far as the wrist.  It must drop off from the wrist, for the water was now itself unclean, having touched the unclean hands, and, if it ran down the fingers again, it would again render them unclean. The process was repeated with the hands held in the opposite direction, with the fingers pointing down; and then finally each hand was cleansed by being rubbed with the fist of the other.  A really strict Jew would do all this, not only before a meal, but also between each of the courses.

I mentioned the topic of the sermon today to a lawyer friend from Moncton and he told me that the notion of “clean hands” was a legal doctrine.

CLEAN HANDS DOCTRINE - Under the clean hands doctrine, a person who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally - that is, who has 'unclean hands' - will not be helped by a court when complaining about the actions of someone else.

I think that this connection between what we hope to receive from God, the judge of the universe and what we give to others is very significant.  You see, it is the idea that you will never receive from God what you are unwilling to give others.  Remember the parable of the unforgiving debtor?  Or how about a couple of lines from the sermon on the mount?

" “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV) [7]

This is the doctrine of clean hands.  It has to do with the way that you treat others and it tells us that the way that we treat others will influence the way that God treats us.  How about that?

4.  A pure heart is a pummeled heart. 

“. . . and a pure heart. . . .”

A pure heart is the result of a definite work of God and this work is a lifetime process.  I believe that as we are adopted into the family of faith and we begin our spiritual journey our experiences bring us back to face the strongholds of “self” that remain within us.  Self rages to life periodically in reaction to what does not please “self”.

When I am hurt and I pout and fester over it, I find evidence of self and pride alive and well within me.  When I don’t get my own way and I storm away from conflict or charge headlong into it, I find pride and ego calling the cadence of my life.

Will we ever be completely beyond the place where we sometimes react wrongly.  Probably not.  I know of people who have spent their lifetimes as Christians who are “touchy”.  I walk on egg shells around them.  Never really relaxed.  I know of others who grind their axe daily.  I just honestly find it difficult to be too long around people who grind away like that.

The Greek word for “pure” is katharos (used 27 times in the New Testament). Fundamentally, it signifies that which is clean, or free from contaminating substance.


On the other hand, the katharos may be engaged in a higher sense. William Barclay contended that with a spiritual import, “pure” may describe the heart that is free of unadulterated “motives” (Commentary on Matthew, I.101). It perhaps represents that ideal state of mind of the person who longs to serve God and others for the sheer unselfish joy of honoring the Creator, and thus free of base motives. What a lofty disposition that would be.

I think that Barclay has it right.  A pure heart is a single-heart – given over fully without mixed motives.

A heart is purified when a person perseveres through obstacles and trials to do what God wants them to do.  There are times when all of us are tempted to give up so that we will no longer be misjudged but it is in this process of pushing forward through this opposition that our motives are truly purified.

"“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV) [8]

Normally, only those whose motives are pure find the strength to persevere – to stand in the holy place.


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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