Absolute purity

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Four days ago, I opened my tap and learned a lesson in purity.

I’ve been drinking tap water from Lincoln’s Municipal Water supply for most of my life–and I consider it to be the best tasting water imaginable. It’s hard water, with lots of minerals–not so nice when it comes to cleaning, but fantastic when it comes to flavor.

But four days ago, I took a swig of water from the tap and almost retched. The water tasted… dirty. There isn’t any other way to describe it.

I almost dehydrated myself that first day, drinking only when I was about to faint.

The second day, I took my water bottle to campus and filled it with the tap there. Surely, it would be better. But it wasn’t. I got some water from the residence halls at lunch–it, too, tasted dirty. I asked others if they felt that the water tasted funny. I got mixed responses, but general consensus was that I was going crazy.

By Friday, I was almost completely dehydrated and I knew I had to do something about it. So I drank massive quantities of hot tea–the tea covering up the dirty flavor of the water.

Saturday morning, I got a call from one of lecturers I TA for. She said she didn’t know if I got the Lincoln Journal Star, but there was an article in the Saturday edition that explained my weird experience.

Lincoln started using a new well recently and that well had unusually high levels of “organic matter”. Apparently only those with super-sensitive taste buds have been able to detect the impurity in the water–but I happen to be one of them.

Purity: the quality or state of being pure

Pure: unmixed with any other matter; free from dust, dirt, or taint; spotless, stainless; free from harshness or roughness and being in tune; free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt; marked by chastity;

Maybe you’re living in Lincoln and haven’t noticed anything different in the water. But if you think my taste buds are sensitive, you should see God’s!

I won’t drink water that’s been tainted with “organic material.” God won’t abide in the presence of sin.

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
Psalm 24:3-5

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
I Corinthians 6:9-10

God can’t stand sin–and He’s not going to let anyone with sin enter into His presence. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). What He doesn’t say–but what is made clear by the verses quoted above–is “Damned are the impure, for they shall be barred from the presence of God.”

Which pretty much damns everyone, because we’re all by nature impure.

And we can do nothing to make ourselves clean. The Bible says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are impure. We can do nothing to to make ourselves pure. Impurity cannot abide in the presence of God. Therefore, we can not abide in the presence of God–and we can’t do anything to make ourselves able to abide in the presence of God.

Yet there is hope. God has made a way for the impure to become pure–a distillation process, if you will.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Through Christ, the impure can be made pure.

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Hebrews 9:13-14

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I John 1:7-9

Jesus Christ is in the business of cleansing and purifying the unclean.

There are three potential responses to an awareness that God cannot abide impurity.

The first response is to try our hardest to be pure. But, as I’ve already mentioned, we can do nothing to make ourselves pure. Any attempts to purify ourselves are only dead works–more of the very thing we must be saved from.

The second response is to recognize and accept Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross and its sufficiency–and to continue to sin however we like. After all, Christ has made the impure pure–and His work covers all our sins (past, present, and future)–so why not keep on walking in impurity? Romans 6:1-4 addresses the folly of this response:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? – Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

The third, and appropriate, response is to recognize and accept Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross and its sufficiency–and to desire to walk in purity out of love for the One who has made us pure. This love compels us to ask not “how impure can I be and still be acceptable” but “how pure can I be?”

The Christian should be serious about purity because God is serious about purity.

As we begin to discuss the “practicalities” of male/female relationships, lust, and the like, we need to establish our goals.

Is our goal to keep the “organic matter” low enough that most people can’t taste it? Maybe our goal is to trick our own taste buds into accepting impurity by covering it up with something else (like my making tea out of impure water).

But in the letters to Timothy, Paul makes clear that our goal should be absolute purity.

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
I Timothy 5:1-2 (NIV)

The words “pure” or “purity” occur six times in the two epistles Paul wrote to Timothy–and each time, it was an injunction to Timothy to be pure, keep himself pure, or act in purity.

Resolve today to glorify God by living a life marked by absolute (complete, unquestioned) purity.

Skills in Singleness

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If God does indeed have a purpose in my singleness, then it probably follows that the best use of my time of singleness is NOT moping over my lack of a husband, a boyfriend, or some other “significant other”.

But what should I be doing while I’m single?

The love months of my youth gave some advice: pray for your future spouse, prepare to be a good spouse yourself. Good advice, but incomplete (in my *humble?* opinion.)

I would propose that while singleness can be used as preparation for marriage, the primary goal in singleness should not be preparation for marriage but… well, glorifying God by being conformed to His image.

You can learn skills in singleness that can bless you, your friends and acquaintances, your family, your church–and ultimately God–whether you remain single or eventually marry.

What are some of these “skills in singleness”?

I think Paul’s letters to Timothy are a good starting point.

  • Learn to be a person of prayer (I Tim 2:1-8)
    Too few of us, myself included, have established strong prayer lives–yet Paul states that this is essential for living a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
  • Learn modesty, good works, and submission (I Tim 2:9-14)
    Women are encouraged to adorn themselves with modesty, with good works, and with submission. This is a skill we can grow in, even as single women.
  • Learn discernment (I Tim 4:7-8, 6:20-21, II Tim 2:15-19)
    Paul commands Timothy to “reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise [himself] toward godliness.” So we too, would do well to develop discernment in doctrine and practice.
  • Learn to walk in purity (I Tim 4:12, 5:22, II Tim 2:21-22)
    Contrary to the depraved world in which we live, where singles are encouraged to do whatever they like, Christian singles are called to live lives of purity.
  • Devote yourself to the Word of God (I Tim 4:13,15-16, II Tim 1:13-14, 4:2-4)
    I believe single adults have a unique opportunity to dig down deep into the Word of God–both reading it, speaking it, and doing it. Paul says singles are not distracted–what better time to “give attention” to the Word?
  • Learn to walk in your giftings (I Tim 4:14, II Tim 1:6, 4:5)
    Singleness is also a great time to learn what your gifts are and to begin to practice them. Don’t sit around and wait until you are married to get involved within your local church and your community. Ask God what role He would have you play–and get doing it. Don’t waste your singleness by living only for your own pleasure.
  • Develop healthy relationships (I Tim 5:1-2)
    Paul encourages Timothy to develop healthy relationship with older men and older women (treating them as parents) and with younger men and women (treating them as brothers and sisters). We can learn how to glorify God and honor others in our relationships.
  • Learn to take care of your physical body (I Tim 5:23)
    Of course, I’d add this part–but Paul says it: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” We can (and should) learn good health practices while we are still relatively young. Learn good sleep habits. Learn to eat well, to exercise, to get regular medical care.
  • Learn to be good employees (I Tim 6:1-2)
    This is a biggie. We can, and should learn to be good employees within this world. Remember that your reputation as an employee can either bring God glory or blaspheme His name. That’s a big deal.
  • Learn contentment (I Tim 6:6-10)
    I’ve spoken already of contentment with being single–but contentment goes further than that. We can learn to be content with our circumstances, with our possessions, with our relationships.
  • Be discipled and disciple someone (II Tim 2:2)
    Paul encourages Timothy to take what he (Timothy) has learned from him (Paul) and to teach it to others. Timothy is one link in the chain of making disciples. In the same way, we ought to be links in the chain of discipleship. Seek out older believers who can mentor you. Don’t wait until you have kids of your own to begin to pass along what has been entrusted to you. Find a younger man, a younger woman, a child, that you can commit the word of God to. I promise you won’t regret it.
  • Maintain your focus (II Tim 2:3-7, 4:5)
    Endure hardship. Resist temptation. Look forward to the prize. Don’t let either the trials or the pleasures of this world distract you from the treasure that is Christ Jesus.
  • Learn humility (II Tim 2:24-26)

    This one gets me every time. Learn humility–avoiding worthless disputes. Being gentle. It’s tough, but it’s necessary.

Recognize that singleness is not a sit-on-your-hands-until-something-better-comes-along time. Singleness is a time when we should be fully focused on God and on advancing His kingdom. Singleness is a time when we can develop our relationships with God, with His body, and with the lost. Singleness is a time to grow in godly character and to be conformed into the image of Christ. Don’t waste your singleness.

(A few extras I might add from my own experience to the list above: learn to hear the voice of God, learn to trust God with everything, learn to resolve conflicts, learn to serve one another with love, learn to budget your time and money, learn to give sacrificially of time and money, learn to be a member of the body.)

Luckiest girl on earth

If I said I was the luckiest girl on earth, I wouldn’t be the first to say so. But that doesn’t change my general sense that I am indeed the luckiest girl on earth. And why might I be so lucky? What happy occasion heralds this joyous exclamation?

I began to realize it last night, when I told my family that it was official: Love Memorial Hall and AGN will be doing a bike-a-thon to raise money for Cedars Youth Services. We will be riding our bikes to the Missouri game on October 22. I mentioned that I should probably bring my bike back to the hall and start doing some serious riding before then. My mom told me that she’d gone out and gotten me a new inner tube for my bike as soon as she’d heard that I was possibly going to participate. My old tube was leaking around the stem and couldn’t be patched. My little brother Timothy put it on for me. But not only did he replace my inner tube, Timothy also prevented me from taking the bike back to the hall until he had adjusted the brakes so that they wouldn’t rub.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I have a family like no other. My sister offered to take me back to the hall in her new car, but took a bit of a circuitous route. First she dropped by Walmart to get me all of my little necessities–tissues, printer paper, deoderant. And not only that, she ran me by Wendy’s and got me a sandwich and a Frosty. What have I done to deserve my sister’s lavish gifts? Nothing. She works her butt off between going to school and her job as a Diet Tech, and I enjoy the fruits of her labours.

I’m the luckiest girl because for a seventh grade research paper, my dad brought me to UNL’s Love library. It was a research paper-why not go to a research library? He believed I could understand what I read and I was determined to prove him right. We wandered the stacks at midnight, searching for just the right book. We walked the stairs with crisp turns, pretending we were nerds without needing to pretend. In sixth grade, he got a book on HTML and wrote up an announcement to post on our family bulletin board. “Wanted: Web Designer. Must have at least a fifth grade education. Will train. Send resumes to…” I sent my resume in and got the job. We skipped, hand in hand, in the SAMS club parking lot on our way to get milk for the family.

I’m the luckiest girl because my mom spent five hours adjusting the bodice for a pattern I just couldn’t get to fit. It was supposed to be a simple pattern, the design of the dress would be a cinch to sew. I hadn’t counted on the adjustments–Mom patiently walked me through them. When I was in second grade, she read us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I loved it and always will. When my fish died and she found it before I did, she flushed it so I wouldn’t have to. And when my bike had a leaky inner tube, that I didn’t even know about, she bought me a new inner tube.

I’m the luckiest girl because my sister Anna, though I once thought she was my worst enemy, is my best friend. Out of the blue, she announced to me that she was paying my car’s registration–“After all, I think you might have paid mine last year.” She’s at home because she can’t afford the hall, so she buys me everything I need to be comfortable here. She came and cooked for me on my busy day–despite the fact that everyday is her busy day. She never lets me dwell on crushes. She protects me from my own mind. To paraphrase Colonel Fitzwilliam, she takes prodigiously good care of me.

I’m the luckiest girl because I caught my brother Joshua as we were crossing Cornhusker Highway on our bikes today–going the opposite direction. I waved and shouted, and he was a bit embarrassed. But he’s my brother and it’s okay. When he’s in the middle of a deep history conversation and I break in with a piddling contextual question, he patiently answers. He lets me read his stories, even though I’ve always been a hard critic. And he took on my dish job when I went away to college.

I’m the luckiest girl because I’m always trying to one up my brother Daniel at busyness. I go to school and do a thousand piddly things. He goes to high school and works almost thirty hours a week. But that doesn’t mean he’s too busy to drive me around while the gas prices continue to rise. He’s always trying to torque me off about women’s lib, but I know that he respects me as a woman and as his sister. He started to work out and dropped fifty pounds after he scared himself at 200 lbs. And he had the grace to let me come to the gym and spot for him–even though I’d never done it before. He let me buy him some jeans for Christmas last year–even when I insisted on them being European style. And he asks me for clothing advice. He actually thinks my opinion matters.

I’m the luckiest girl just because my brother John is alive and is my brother. Because he loves missions and is on our church’s mission team with me. Because he loves children and begged me to let him help out in the nursery–we work together so that he’s not a boy alone with them. He’s got more energy than anyone I know, and he never lets anything get him down. He loves people and he wants to do everything within his power to help them. He’s the only one of my siblings who doesn’t correct me when I sit down at the piano. And he actually begs me to cut his hair–even though I cut his ear the one time I tried.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I can talk to my brother Timothy about books. We started with Lemony Snicket, back when he hated to read. Now he’s begging me to read Eragon, because he thinks it’s the best thing in the world. We read Phantom of the Opera out loud together in three days. We discussed our melancholy over loving and hating Eric at the same time. Tim’s growing up and his voice is deepening, but he isn’t outgrowing his sister. He comes up to me at youth group and gives me a hug, tells me about his day. He’s gotten into fixing bikes recently, and wasn’t content until he’d gotten my seat to just the right height.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world because my little sister Grace spent the night with me on Saturday. She helped me prepare the Sunday school lesson, and tried to pick out what I wore. She asked my advice on the right kind of eyeshadow to get as her first makeup. She asked me if I thought Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl was appropriate for her. (It isn’t.) She asked me “What does eighties music sound like?” Grace sewed me a patchwork pillow that perfectly matches my decor, being careful that all the little people on the toile fabric pointed in the same direction. And she only glares at me but does no more when I call her Trixie for the thousandth time.

And that’s only my immediate family. I could go on for pages and pages about the rest as well. How my grandpa checked my antifreeze and gave me an extra jug before I came back down from their farm last spring break. How my grandma and my aunts and I always get into huge theological discussions every time we’re together. How my Aunt Martha-ma-ba took me for a drive and asked me why I was thinking about going into teaching. How my Aunt Lisa, new to the family, had my sister and me over for a week when we were eight or nine. How my Uncle Jim solemnly informed us not to drink the pickle juice out of the pickle jar until the pickles were all gone. How my Uncle Leo places coffee filters on the girls’ heads and suggests that we become Mennonite. How my Aunt Alice organized a family dance after we discovered that we enjoyed dancing together at my cousin’s wedding. Yes, I could go on forever, because I’m the luckiest girl in the world.