Meditating on the Commands of Christ (24): Be Thou Clean!

One of Jesus’ most prominent ministries while he was on earth was his ability and willingness to heal people of all sorts of sicknesses, not only physical ailments, but spiritual problems. Furthermore, he wasn’t just able to heal some of them. He healed all of them: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them” (Luke 4:40). There was no sickness that Jesus could not heal, and there’s no record of him ever refusing to make anyone well who came to him for help.

In our passage for today, a leper came to Jesus seeking help. Do you know what leprosy is? I’d never heard of leprosy as a child, and it’s very uncommon in America, but it’s a terribly disfiguring, painful, progressive bacterial infection that can result in blindness, loss of limbs, and eventually death.

Arran Reeve, age 24 in 1886, suffering from Leprosy

It’s not just one of those diseases like small pox that has been largely eradicated, either. Hundreds of thousands of people (more than half from India) are still contracting new cases every year. Although it can be cured if treated early (and in the past 20 years, more than  sixteen million people have been cured), two thousand years ago when Christ lived on earth, there was no known cure. During biblical times, because it was contagious, people who had leprosy were ostracized from their families and communities. They were required by law to call out, “Unclean!” if anyone approached them. So, it’s not hard to imagine the distress the disciples might have felt to see a leper coming toward them. I think it’s noteworthy that this particular miracle is recorded by three of the gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The blind and lame were healed, but probably most people didn’t think they had contagious diseases. To have a leper approach meant possible contamination for all of them.  However, Jesus didn’t shrink away. Instead, he reached out his hand and touched the leper. Jesus wasn’t afraid of catching infection; he came to deliver us from evil: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In 1 Peter 2:24, we are reminded that Jesus “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Jesus came to heal, and he did: “And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed (Mark 1:40-42; See also Matthew 8:1-3 and Luke 5:12-13).

Isn’t this beautiful? From the second Jesus touched him, the leper was a leper no more! He would never have to shout “Unclean!” when someone approached him! He could be clean if he would be clean, and he desperately wanted to be clean! He was cleansed in a moment, and now he could shout, “Clean” whenever he wanted! 🙂

Do you ever suffer from feeling “unclean?” Would you like to be clean? Jesus can heal you if you’ll come to him and ask! I do not know of a single prophet, priest, or king on earth besides Jesus who has been recorded as being able and willing to heal “all” our diseases. Do you? Only God can heal ultimately and completely, and that’s one of the ways in which Jesus revealed that he was and is God. Come to him!

 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:2-4).

He Touched Me
(—William J. and Gloria Gaither, copyright Capitol Christian Music Group)

“Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole
Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole.”

4,000 Days

Last week I had lunch with a girlfriend who converted from Hinduism a few weeks ago. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that if Alan were to die suddenly, it would take me a long time to recover.  She looked at me wide-eyed, and said,”You speak of death so calmly. Hindus are so afraid to die that they don’t even like to use the word. They avoid thinking about it so much that they often won’t even go to the doctor for a diagnosis or treatment if they think they might have a terminal illness like cancer.”   I was surprised! Somehow, I imagined it might be reassuring to think that after you die, you’ll be reincarnated into another being that will live again on this earth, but apparently that’s false, because no matter how hard you try, you don’t know if you’ll come back as a person of similar rank.  You might return instead as someone from a lower caste, or as an animal.  For those of  us who recognize our propensity for failure, the thought of unending cycles of life attempting to attain perfection sounds impossibly difficult, and after visiting the homeland of Hinduism,  I can only imagine the horror one might feel at the thought of becoming an untouchable or an animal in a difficult environment.  In contrast, I believe (as the Bible teaches) that God has given each of us a certain (undisclosed) number of days to live on earth, and then we will depart. For all whose spirits have been “born again” through faith in Christ, their spirits will never die: “Jesus said unto her [Martha], I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). In contrast to Hindus, Christians believe that no matter how old or young we are when we die, our spirits will go immediately into the presence of God: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). This is the great hope of believers and takes away the terror of physical death!  Nevertheless, we all face the prospect of death, and even if we’re not afraid of dying, I’m sure none of us relish the prospect of the pain normally associated with the dying process. At least, I do not! Still, we have to face up to the hard realities of life, the hardest of which is probably that life on earth will end. In that vein, Alan recently remembered that years ago an actuary spun our numbers and came up with the statistically probability of Alan’s dying at age 79. The other day, “for fun,” Alan calculated how many days that would be from the date of his considerations, and it came out to about 4,015 days. That makes today approximately 4,000 days from his  . . . what shall I call it? Expiration date? Due date? Graduation Day!”  Ya, let’s think of it as a day to celebrate our passing from this life into the presence of Jesus! If you’re still quite young, you might not have any known statistical probability for how long you’ll live, but let’s say you’ll live to the same age as your oldest favorite relative. How many days do you have left? For me, that might give me 9,490± days. If you’re 20 today, you might have over 25,000 left! Regardless of how many days each of us actually has left (since I could easily die before Alan despite statistical probabilities), Alan and I have been intentionally trying to make every day very special, and it’s really made us more determined than ever to use each day wisely and well!

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

(All photos taken on our Gate 1 Discovery Tour of “Incredible India and Nepal.”)

 

Over the Rainbow Pan-Fried Trout

We used to live in Marquette, Michigan, on forty acres in the woods, where you could pull a rainbow or brown trout out of our pond for dinner (if you knew what you were doing, which we didn’t, but our friend, George Sokoly, did).  Michigan has 12,000 miles of trout stream along approximately 1,400 trout streams, and 190 of them are open year around, so trout season never ends here! The Au Sable, Manistee, Pere Marquette, and Muskegon Rivers—all fabled for great trout fishing— are within a few hours of our home even here in Grand Rapids, although we also live on a little spring-fed lake that theoretically has trout. (For the record, we’ve never caught one here either! 😦 ) However, even though we’re terrible fishermen (“God made fishies to live!” was Alan’s wail as a small boy observing fishing near his Upper Peninsula home),  we do love to eat fish, and trout is one of the sweetest-tasting, most delicate and delicious fish you’ll ever eat, so when it’s offered on a menu, we often order it.  Alan said his rainbow trout from the mountain streams of Nepal last fall was his favorite dinner from that entire trip. On our recent cruise of the North Sea, we had some excellent trout dishes, including rainbow trout in Reykjavik, Iceland that was so fresh it must have been in school earlier that morning! So, I decided to write about trout today, even though for those of you who are old hands at fishing, I know you’ll say, “I already knew that!”

Simply the Best Rainbow Trout

Are you ready for this? The fact of the matter is that the best fish are the freshest fish, flash-fried in hot butter on a griddle or in cast-iron skillet (or over a fire!).Wash the fillets, brush a light coating of flour on both sides, and fry them skin-side up for 3 minutes in hot butter (browned but not burned). Flip them over (carefully, so they don’t break apart), and cook them for three more minutes, sprinkling them with salt, butter, and seasoning salt to taste. (I use Lawry’s Seasoning Salt, but whatever you like works). If you’ve not overcooked your trout, it will be tender, flaky, and moist. Serve it up immediately with some fruits and veggies. If you like tartar sauce and lemon, that’s fine, but if your fish is really fresh, it can stand alone on its own fins!

P.S.—Have you noticed that in life (like cooking), many things are complicated, but sometimes the best way is to apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? In most of the scriptures, “simple” is equated with “ignorant” and given a negative connotation, but there is one verse that tells us to be “simple,” and in this case, it’s a good thing: “For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19). When it comes to exploring evil, God actually wants us to avoid learning about it. Do friends tease you because you’re so “naive” or inexperienced? I used to get teased a lot. One girl friend alleged that on my honeymoon I’d probably make chocolate fudge because I wouldn’t know what else to do. Keep life pure..and “simple.”

What Do You Think of the Viceroy’s House?

Some movies I hear about and await with eager anticipation until they hit the video stores, but sometimes there’s a gem out there that nobody seems to have ever heard of, and I thought Viceroy’s House was going to be one of the latter!  I discovered it at Family Video and rented it because it was listed as a biography, which I especially love! The movie was a highly moving account of Lord Mountbatten, the English viceroy sent to help India with the transition from British rule to independence.

Viceroy’s House stars Hugh Bonneville (of Downton Abbey fame) and was based on the books Freedom at Midnight and The Shadow of the Great Game—The Untold Story of Partition (neither of which I’d read).  It was directed by Gurinder Chadha, an Indian woman who lost family members during the terrible conflict surrounding the partition (2017, not rated but I would give it a “PG”), so I assumed the depiction was fairly accurate.  Until! Until I got home and started researching the movie for this review. One of the harshest criticisms came from an article published in “The Churchill Project” by Hillsdale College, which happens to be a Michigan school with a reputation for scholarship that I admire.  According to the author, Andrew Roberts, “In one way, it is rather like a Downton Abbey of the East, with plenty of below-stairs intrigue—the palace had more than 500 servants—and Hugh Bonneville (who played the liege of Downton) portraying Viceroy Mountbatten alongside a crisp-accented Gillian Anderson as his Vicereine, Edwina.” “When the film concentrates on the melodrama of a handsome new Hindu manservant falling for a beautiful Muslim girl, it combines Bollywood romance with a good deal of period character.”  “But whenever it gets involved in partition politics, it is historically and politically repugnant, promoting conspiracy theories and peddling vile falsehoods.” Roberts goes on to set the political record straight according to his research, which completely convicts rather than exonerates Mountbatten.  Roberts goes even further than the movie in citing gory details of horrifying viciousness and atrocities between the Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, which makes me understand better how moderate Hindus today in India (at least according to our tour guide last fall) will marry Christians but not Muslims.  After a lot of study and thought, I was not only appalled by what I read, it made me keenly aware how easily I can be misled into believing something that is political fiction when mingled with facts. To me, this is most critical spiritually, where the world has become full of people who tout religious falsehoods as truth…and take in billions of people!

Do you have a source for spiritual truth? I believe the Bible is the only reliable resource for teaching true spiritual realities for many reasons, but perhaps the most important are: 1. When you study the life of Christ, he truly was morally good and wise. (Compare him to the historical biographies of other religious leaders. What did they teach? What did they approve? How did they actually live? Some were really awful! There were a few outstanding religious leaders out there, but no other who was without sin and blameless.) 2. Jesus, unlike every other religious leader, rose from the dead. He alone claims that He can grant us eternal life based on faith in His death to pay for our sins and His resurrection. Therefore, I choose to follow Jesus and believe that He speaks the truth, regardless of what others write or say about him today! How about you?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

“The number who died in the appalling violence following India’s independence and its partition is still disputed, but most historians believe it was a million civilians or more. What is not in doubt is that they died in the most horrifying circumstances. Arson, torture, mass rape, desecration of temples and indiscriminate murder were commonplace after the Indian Empire was divided in 1947 along religious lines into two separate nations, India (mostly Sikh and Hindu) and Pakistan (Muslim).

“As many as 12 million people were uprooted in the largest human migration in history, as civilians found themselves on the wrong side of the new border and traveled to their new nation state, often encountering—and butchering—those of different religious persuasions heading in the opposite direction. The bloodbath followed a nationalist struggle that had lasted for decades and will forever remain a dark stain on Britain’s colonial legacy, with accusation and counter-accusation being thrown over the question of responsibility” (Andrew Roberts, https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/fake-history-viceroys-house/(All photos from the movie, Viceroy’s House. In all fairness,  I believe it was the intention of the director to make the public aware of this horrifying historical event, although it appears that her political viewpoint may be quite skewed.)

 

Tacos for Breakfast? You Bet!

When we were in India last fall, we traveled with a very diverse group of people and ate a lot of really exotic food…pretty much morning, noon, and night.And, even in between times too…like this lovely tropical punch, which was part of  a very refreshing welcome when we arrived at the Jaypee Palace in Agra.

However, much as we enjoyed the food, there were definitely times when we’d daydream a little about what we missed from home! Several of the couples were Hispanic, and we learned from Marcy and Hugo that what they missed the most on the trip was what they always ate for breakfast in Texas. They appeared to be very wealthy (at least they’d been in 39 countries in the last 18 months), so I was expecting them to say “steak and eggs” or something like that. But, do you know what they love most?

Beautiful Breakfast Tacos!

Now, you might be familiar with breakfast tacos, but I’d never tried them. I’d never even thought about trying them! When I asked Marcy how she makes them, she said, “It’s easy! Anything you have in the kitchen wrapped in tortilla shells! I believe the most basic form is scrambled eggs with salsa, but you can add anything else you like. These have fresh spinach, but if you’re in the mood for something even more special, try adding any of the following:

*Chorizo sausage
*Any type of cheese you like, grated
*Avocado slices
*Fresh tomato
*Mango salsa
*Shaved slices of steak or ham
*Fresh or grilled onions
*Grilled mushrooms
*Anything else that appeals to you!

It’s super quick and easy…perfect for hot summer mornings when you want something with a lot of flavor that won’t heat up your kitchen much!

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

Rise Up, My Love (281): What Can You Do With a Door?

Song of Solomon 8:9 “And if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” What is a door? A door provides access. Some commentators seem to think that being a door would mean being promiscuous, and that enclosing her would mean shutting her in so that she couldn’t get into trouble. To each his own, I guess, but I see no justification for that in the text. I believe being a wall or a door were both good possibilities…just different! Why? Jesus said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).   A door is an opening…a way. Wouldn’t you like to be like Jesus, a door of hope and opportunity, opening the way for others to find salvation and rest in Christ? A door that provides access to the shady green pastures of God’s rest is most blessed! I think of missionaries, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as being like doors of hope! We should all desire to fling ourselves wide open and welcome others in to meet the Savior who resides in our hearts. If our hearts are truly Christ’s home, then they should not have locked doors (although, of course, we’re instructed to keep our hearts “with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23).  Our hearts should be like visitor centers along the highway of life where lost or weary pilgrims can come in for refreshment and direction. So, a door can be a wonderful thing…if it provides access to something good. “God is good” (Psalm 73:1; see also Mark 10:18). May we be like doors through which others may find the true door, the Lord Jesus. And, through our Lord Jesus Christ may all gain access to the one true God! “One door, and only one, and yet the sides are two. I’m on the inside, on which side are you?” goes the old Sunday school song.   A wall is something that goes around an area to protect it, but it needs a door to allow access into the protected area. A door, on the other hand, is something designed to provide access to a protected area, but it needs a wall around it before the door is of any practical value. What is the only reasonable thing to do with a door? Attach it to a wall or enclosure so that it can be used for its intended purpose. “If she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.” The husband is saying, “No matter what your little sister is like, we will care for her and provide whatever she lacks to help her fulfill her purpose.”

(P.S.—I am fascinated by doors! All of these photos were taken of doors in Nepal from my trip there last fall.)

An Easter Meditation from Nepal: There is a Sacrifice Better than the Blood of Bulls and Goats

One sunny day in early October last fall, we visited Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a vibrant potpourri of palaces and temples dating back nearly a thousand years.  Nepal is a melting pot of eastern religions, I think not only because it’s a very small country sandwiched between China and India, but also because it has a heritage of religious thinkers, including the original Buddha.  Durbar Square reflects this confluence of eastern spiritual ideas by providing places of worship for many gods and goddesses from various  religions, most prominently Hindu and Buddhist. There is even a Temple for Kumari, home of Nepal’s “living goddess” (a little girl chosen about once a decade who becomes a “goddess” until she hits puberty). There is also a temple to the Hindu god of destruction, and a statue of Hanuman, son of the Hindu wind god, Vayu.  The day we visited was a particularly holy day for the Buddhists, who were  slaughtering 108 bulls and goats as a sacrifice to appease the 108 manifestations of Buddha on earth.  To westerners, it seemed so macabre that many of our group turned their heads and walked away, looking for something less awful to take their attention. However, I was stood mesmerized, contemplating the somber import of this ritual and recalling a verse from the Bible: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). It occurred to me that every religion recognizes the need for us as sinful humans to somehow become reconciled to a holy god, but only in Christianity do we find a high priest who is willing and able to offer the ultimate sacrifice: Himself, unblemished and without sin, to die as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone in the entire world so that any person who is willing can be reconciled to the God who is “God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward” (Deuteronomy 10:17).  Are you willing to be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus? That’s what Easter is all about—the death and resurrection of Christ. He died for us and rose again to redeem us from our sins and make us into new creations, children of our heavenly Father who will love and serve the living God!  Christ appeared as a high priest… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV; the entire chapter is excellent reading to understand redemption through the blood of Christ).  Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

(Credits: I took all the photos last fall in Durbar Square, Nepal, except for the depiction of Jesus on the cross, painted by Rembrandt in 1631, and the picture with Psalm 63:2, contributed by my friend, Bob Hardee.)