Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Place Prepared

I love hospitality. It’s a wonderful gift that God has given to the Body to be used as a blessing to others. Our family has been on the receiving end of incredible hospitality countless times and in many different ways.

Last summer, Charly and I were introduced through a friend to a lovely woman in Minnesota named Pat. She offered for us to stay in her beautiful home for a week while we attended a conference in the same city. Through email before we arrived, Pat wanted to know what she could buy for us at the store. “Oh no,” I thought. “We don’t even know this woman. We don’t want to burden her even more by having her buy us food.” I quickly wrote back to let her know that she didn’t need to worry about buying food for us. We could take care of it ourselves.

After we arrived at her house, and she graciously gave us a tour, showing us all that she had prepared for us, I fell asleep in a huge, comfortable king-size bed with tears in my eyes. “God, you have prepared all this for me???”

The next morning, we climbed the stairs to find the kitchen prepared with matching dishes, fancy napkins, and a selection of delicious breakfast foods. With joy lighting up her eyes and smile, Pat shared how our being there was an answer to her prayers. When she bought her townhouse, she had prayed that God would use it as a place for people like us who lived overseas to stay while they were back in the US. Really??? All of my guilt for being a burden to her melted away.

And I realized that I needed to apologize for writing to her that we could take care of our own food. She found so much delight in serving and was so gifted in hospitality! Now I saw my email response as possibly being offensive to her instead of lifting what I thought was an unnecessary burden from her shoulders. She laughed when I explained myself, and told me “not to mess with her gift!”

I was blessed to stay with Pat again two weeks ago when I was back in Minnesota for another conference. This time, when I arrived from the airport before she got home, and read her note listing all the food she had prepared for me, I smiled. “Yes, God, I know that this is what you have prepared for me. Thank you. What a wonderful gift.” And I felt God smile with me, reminding me to not even try to feel guilty for all that had been prepared just for me.

I enjoyed reading in the peaceful sunroom with a great view of tall trees, squirrels, birds, and refreshing rain. I was renewed by the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees (after constantly hearing the honks of cars outside our windows in Lanzhou). The conference I attended that week was great, and staying at Pat’s was just what I needed…I felt very well cared for, in every way.

God reminded me again that He delights in preparing gifts for me as I witnessed Pat’s delight in preparing a place of comfort and refuge for me. I have experienced God’s joy in preparation by receiving such generous hospitality.

Our God is a generous God. And how much more we have to look forward to when Jesus said, “There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you…” (John 14:2)

with Pat last summer

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cleansed By His Blood

This passage in 1 Peter greatly encouraged my heart this morning, highlighting our holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit, our faith purified by God in the midst of great trials, and our sinless, spotless Lamb of God whose precious lifeblood has made us forever clean in God’s sight.

“God the Father chose you long ago, and the Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Jesus Christ and are cleansed by his blood. May you have more and more of God’s special favor and wonderful peace.

All honor to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is by his boundless mercy that God has given us the privilege of being born again. Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure trials for a while.

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus is reveled to the whole world…

So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the special blessings that will come to you at the return of Jesus Christ. Obey God because you are his children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be his children—is holy. For he himself has said, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites when he judges. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as foreigners here on earth. For you know God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to earth for all to see. And he did this for you.

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And because God raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory, your faith and hope can be placed confidently in God. Now you can have sincere love for your brothers and sisters because you were cleansed from your sins when you accepted the truth of the Good News. So see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts.” (1 Peter 1:2-7, 13-22)

Praise be to God for what He has done in securing our salvation through the cleansing blood of Jesus, for what He is doing now in purifying our faith, and for what He has in store for us as a priceless inheritance!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

“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 what is false.
He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”
(Psalm 24:3-6)

 “Therefore since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for “our God is a consuming fire.”
(Hebrews 12:28-29)

On Saturday, our family had an amazing experience: We were given special permission to enter the Prayer Hall of the mosque across the street from us. Charly’s advisor had arranged for his undergraduate and graduate students to have a tour of the mosque in order to learn more about Islam from the imam there. And his advisor invited our whole family to participate as well! (See pictures)

First, we had to go through a strict cleansing process, which seemed like a lot of trouble, and we wondered if it really mattered which side of the body was cleansed first, and in what order. But, we respected the regulations of the mosque, and going through this cleansing gave us a whole new appreciation of Old Testament times and of God’s instructions to the Israelites, such as in Leviticus 15:31: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.”

We removed our shoes at the entrance, and as we stepped into the Prayer Hall, I imagined what it would have been like to enter the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem. Here was a sense of the Holy that I had not experienced before.

Since then, we have been reflecting on God’s holiness.
What does it mean to have clean hands and a pure heart?
What can we learn from our Muslim friends about being clean before coming into His presence?
What can we learn from them about fearing God?
What kind of “fear of God’ does He want us to have?
What about our posture in worship?
How can we truly humble ourselves before Him?
How can we treat Him and His Holy Book with more respect and reverence?

We have a lot we can learn.

I just finished reading Muslims, Christians, and Jesus by Carl Medearis. He shares in depth, with incredible stories, about spending time with Muslims, and he highlights what we can learn from our Muslim friends. One of my favorite quotes in the book is a simple prayer from a Sufi Muslim, Jalal al-Din Rumi as he participates in the ritual ablutions before prayer: “Lord, wash me. My hand has washed this part of me, but my hand cannot wash my spirit. I can wash this skin, but you must wash me.” (p. 137)

The act of washing the physical body before entering into His Holy place can thus be a reminder of our need for and our dependence upon inner cleansing from the Lord. We can clean our hands, but God must give us pure hearts.

I also recently read and appreciated an article by Gary L. Thomas on purity. “In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus challenges the then-prevailing sense of ritual purity by changing the focus from what we eat to our inner motivations…the new purity Jesus talked about is not achieved by closely adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s rather an internal river of life, cleansing our thoughts and actions from within. It’s a powerful force of Christlikeness that chisels us, day by day, into the very image of Christ Himself.

This new purity first marks our hearts when we are reborn, spiritually, through the process of salvation and regeneration. This is imputed purity—a gift from God to which we contribute nothing. But behavioral purity—the transformation of our character—develops even further with our cooperation.” Thomas then quotes Acts 3:19 to emphasize that our participation in behavioral purity through repentance is a liberating experience, one that brings “pure refreshment”: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (“Pure Refreshment” published in the March/April 2000 issue of Discipleship Journal)

One of CJ’s favorite songs to play on the guitar is “Give Us Clean Hands,” based on Psalm 24:3-6 (quoted at the beginning of this post). Charly and I both had this song in our hearts the whole time we were at the mosque. The song begins with the words: “We bow our hearts, we bend our knees. O Spirit, come make us humble.” And ends with the prayer: “O God let us be a generation that seeks, seeks your face, O God of Jacob.”

Lord, I pray that you would help us to repent and turn to you, as we bow our hearts and bend our knees. Wipe out our sins so that times of refreshing may come. We want to worship you with reverence and awe. We want to be a generation that seeks your face, O God of Jacob. We can only see you if our hearts are pure, and we need you to purify us. Help us to eagerly cooperate with you in our purification process. May our lives truly be surrendered and submitted to you alone. Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Together With Us

“No eye has seen, so ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Our limited minds attempt to grasp what God has prepared for us, but so much remains beyond our comprehension. The Apostle John was given a glimpse into the new heaven and the new earth, and his Book of Revelation gives us a picture of what is to come. Strengthened by the truth that we know, we can press on as overcomers, and model our lives after the heroes of the faith who have gone before us, and are even now cheering us on as that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)

How amazing it is to consider that those who have gone before us in faith are waiting, so that together with us they will be made perfect in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan-before-time-began, in which He will receive full glory and unending praise from His people.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

“These were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant…” (Hebrews 12:22-24)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God’.” (Revelation 21:1-3)

“He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give water to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)

“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:3-4)

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)

With incomparable hope and a sense of purpose to our lives, we can live in light of eternity and in preparation for our heavenly home!

“Now we see but a poor 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.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Come, Lord Jesus! 


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