Cavities can’t be forgiven

God gave me a trip to the dentist. Maybe that’s not what you would pray for, but I needed to go. And I didn’t have insurance to cover it, so when I found out that my former employer had underpaid on my 401K and was issuing a check to make up for it, I hoped it would be enough for a visit.

Surprise! It was! Such a huge blessing. And it arrived exactly when I needed it, and it was just the amount I needed for the exam. God is good, ain’t He?

But this post isn’t about going to the dentist. Well, it sort of is. Mainly because I had a random thought while the cute little dental assistant was scraping the plaque off my teeth. You can’t cover up whether you’ve been brushing your teeth or not.

When we were little, my brother and I were always very careful to brush our teeth, but my mom always insisted that we brush our teeth thoroughly before we went to the dentist. Somewhere in my strange little child brain, I thought that brushing my teeth before I saw my dentist would erase any of the times I had forgotten to do it.

I didn’t quite understand it, though, because if I could brush my teeth once and cover up the fact that I hadn’t been brushing regularly, what was the point of brushing regularly? That being said, I was an obedient child. So I brushed my teeth.

I’m ashamed how long it took me to figure it out. I think I was in college by the time I realized brushing your teeth before you went to the dentist was less a cover-up and more a courtesy. Brushing your teeth once doesn’t undo six months of not brushing at all. That’s impossible. But what it does is get the top layer of food and such out of your teeth to help your dentist out with the cleaning.

It won’t do anything to take care of the mess under the surface.

And as I lay under the scraper, listening to the dental assistant scratch off the layers of plaque (in spite of brushing nightly!), I thought about sin.

My brain is weird. But hang with me.

Because how many of us treat sin the same way we treat brushing our teeth?

We cheat. We lie. We steal. Whatever we do, we know God said not to do it, and we do it anyway. That’s sin, and we all do it. Repeatedly. (Romans 3:23)

That’s where talking to God comes in. Confessing our sins. Telling God what we’ve done, telling Him that we’re sorry (and actually being sorry about it), and asking for His help so that we don’t do it again. (1 John 1:9) Sometimes you get an accountability partner to hold you to the mark, someone who will check up on you and make sure that you haven’t slipped back into doing what God says is wrong.

That’s like brushing your teeth daily. That’s a habit, a routine, of following Jesus, of doing what He says, and trusting Him to bless you for it. It’s a lifestyle.

If you let all those things pile up without confessing them, though, you’ll be a mess inside. If you hold on to all those sins, all those choices you’ve made that go against what God says is right, your heart will be hard and cold and dark. (Matthew 23:28) And maybe you can clean yourself up on the outside. Maybe you can put on the nicely pressed clothes of a Churchgoer. Maybe you can pass as devout and dedicated. And on the surface you can look for all the world like the greatest Christian in history, but underneath you’re rotten to the core because sin has taken root in your life.

You can’t erase your sin. You can’t just brush it away, sweep it under the rug, ignore it like it doesn’t matter. It always comes back to haunt you. And you can try to cover it up as much as you like, but eventually the truth will come out. (Numbers 32:23)

The main difference here is that cavities can’t be forgiven. But your sins can.

If you’ve screwed up your teeth, they’re screwed up for good. Worst case scenario, you’ll lose them all and have them replaced.

If you’ve screwed up your heart, ask God for a new one. God’s the only one who can wash away sins, but you have to bring them to Him first. No matter what they are. No matter who you hurt. No matter how long it’s been. He’s listening. He knows anyway. And He’s waiting for you to come to Him. (Romans 10:9)

So stop trying to cover up what you’ve done wrong. Tell God about it. It’s not like He isn’t already aware. He’s just waiting for you to come clean, so He can make you clean inside.

Advertisements

Stop trying to hit a ball that’s not in your court

Have you ever made somebody angry? Whether you intended to or not, you hurt someone. What do you do? How do you handle it?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you should take responsibility and ask forgiveness. Period. There’s no hemming and hawing. There’s no rationalization. There’s no trying to get out of it. At least, there shouldn’t be. Own what you did and ask forgiveness.

But what happens if the person you hurt won’t forgive you? What happens if they see your action as unforgivable? What if, despite your trying to make amends to the best of your ability, they still want to hurt you?

bird-sparrowToday’s verses are Matthew 10:26-31.

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We live in a difficult world. Hurting people hurt people. That’s just the way it works, and often times we get caught in the middle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you will hurt the people around you. And the world has gotten so small that you can hurt someone you don’t even know.

The number one thing to remember is that you should never ever automatically assume you are in the right. You’re a flawed, broken human being, and you could be wrong. Granted, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes your actions are justified. Sometimes your choices were the right ones. But not always. And you should never assume that you are blameless, because it’s rarely the case.

When there is blame to be cast, accept it. Don’t shrug it off. Look it in the face and don’t flinch. And do what you can to mend fences (within reason). But once you’ve done your part, step back.

It’s important to understand that not everyone will forgive you. And, this is the part that kills me, not everyone will like you. Some people will just dislike you for no reason you can fix. And even if you do everything in your power to make them like you, they still might not.

Ultimately, following Christ isn’t about whether people like you or not. Following Christ is about living a life that honors Jesus. As much as possible, we’re to live peacefully with people around us, but that won’t be possible in every situation.

You can’t live your life in fear of what people may do to you. Maybe another person is holding something against you, but you can’t control them. You aren’t their Holy Spirit, and they have to make the choice to take their hurt to Jesus instead of piling it all on you. All you can do is humbly ask forgiveness, decide not to repeat your actions, and then get on with your life.

In the end, just remember that God isn’t blind. He knows more about your situation than you do, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. He cares about you. He cares about your problems. He cares about your losses. And if He notices when a sparrow falls, you can be sure your troubles won’t go unnoticed.

Have you done everything you can to make peace? Have you done all God asks to resolve the conflict? Then move forward. The ball isn’t in your court anymore, so stop trying to hit it. God sees the truth, and He’ll work out the details in a way that’s better and more beneficial for both sides. What we have to do is to learn to live without resentment.

Don’t be afraid of what people can do to your body or your finances or your possessions. Everything you have is a gift from God anyway. If it’s taken from you in a way you feel isn’t fair, just trust that the Lord will restore it. You might find out that you didn’t need it as much as you thought in the first place .

God’s love is bigger than our failures

Nothing stops us in our tracks like shame and guilt. Have you noticed that? You can be booking right along on your path of life, and you do something that causes you shame or makes you feel guilty, and it’s like everything stops.

Maybe it’s just me. But that’s how it works for me. I can feel anger and keep moving forward. I can feel sadness and keep working. I can feel lost and frustrated and totally overwhelmed, but I won’t stop. But nothing causes me to despair more than guilt or shame.

Maybe it’s something I did or said. Maybe it’s something I didn’t do or didn’t say. Whatever. When I’m trapped in despair, I don’t feel like I can get out. In his master work, Pilgrim’s Progress, Charles Bunyan described despair like a swamp, that sucks your feet down and holds you in place while your life wastes away.

But if you’re a Christ-follower, you should never get mired in a swamp. You should never be stopped in your tracks by guilt or shame. Know why? Because all your guilt and all your shame is gone–paid for by none other than the Creator of the Universe.

1435763_14612154Today’s verses are Micah 7:18-20.

Where is another God like you,
who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
You will trample our sins under your feet
and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.

Our enemy likes to remind us of all the times we’ve screwed up. Satan is called the “Accuser of the Brethren” for a reason, friends. That’s what he does. He stands in heaven and points his fingers at us, reminding God of all the ways we’ve failed and all the ways we are unfaithful.

Not one of us can plead innocent, because we’ve all left God’s way to do our own thing. But Jesus has paid for our sins with His own blood, so when God looks at us, He sees nothing but His Son’s perfection.

If you follow Jesus, if you’ve given your life to Him, and you are feeling shame and guilt, stop. Have you asked God forgiveness? Have you repented?

Don’t be afraid of the churchy word. Repentance is simply a change of thinking. It’s seeing your choices and your attitude the way God sees them. It’s seeing your life from His perspective and changing your mind about which is better–your way or God’s way. That’s all repentance is.

If you’ve asked God to forgive you, He has. He never turns people away when they come to Him. And if you recognize that what you did was wrong, God knows your heart. So if you are continuing to feel guilt and shame, you can have confidence that it isn’t coming from God.

If guilt and shame are weighing you down today, don’t let them. Don’t listen. That’s our enemy roaring in your ears, trying to mire you down in a swamp of despair. If God has forgiven you and you are actively allowing the Scripture to transform your life, guilt and shame have no hold on you. Jesus freed you from their grasp. So don’t give in to them.

God forgives. He throws our sin to the depths of the ocean, regardless of how unfaithful we’ve been, regardless of the sins we’ll commit in the future. He knows all that, but His love is bigger than our failures.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Asking forgiveness isn’t for God’s benefit

I struggle with living in denial, sometimes. I can convince myself that just about anything isn’t a problem, or at least that anything can be dealt with later. In some cases, this is a big blessing because otherwise I would drive myself crazy with all the things that I can’t accomplish. Example? I live alone in a 100-year-old farmhouse that brings new meaning to the phrase deferred maintenance. It’s not that the place is falling apart, it’s just that there’s a lot to do and no way for me to do it all, especially not alone.

Right now, my yard (which is mostly weeds) is knee-high because my mower broke. My basement is still half put together after the flooding last week, and I still have towels under the leaky window well because it hasn’t rained enough since then to prove that we’ve fixed the problem. Also, the house is still damaged from the major storm that blew through a month or so ago, but we’re still in storm season, so fixing the damage is a bad idea until the majority of storm season is over. The chicken house is still mostly destroyed from the major windstorm in November, but the only way to fix it is to tear it down and build another one, and who has time/money for that right now? On one hand, this stuff could drive me nuts. But I don’t let it. I know it’s there, but I can live without it being perfect for a little while.

But what about the stuff that I can fix? That stuff isn’t so good to live in denial about. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know I have an aversion to doing the dishes. And putting away my laundry. And keeping my office clean-ish. And just housework in general. Granted, there’s no problem with living in denial about any of that, but it doesn’t make for a very orderly home. And I wouldn’t exactly say that being able to ignore those things is a blessing. It’s more of a bad habit, and unfortunately a habit like that can spill over into other areas of our lives.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Can you pray without asking for forgiveness? I can. And I really probably shouldn’t. If you can get through a day without needing to ask God’s forgiveness for something you did or something you said or something you thought, you must be perfect. Either that, or you’re living in denial.

There’s a reason asking for forgiveness, and conversely forgiving others, appears in the Lord’s Prayer. This month I’ve been studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer, which is actually more of a format to follow than a prayer to be repeated. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow when we pray.

Why is it so hard to ask forgiveness? Well, who likes to admit when they’re wrong? Who likes to admit that they need forgiveness? Let’s be real here, Christians. It’s easy to say we need it, but it’s not so easy to live like it. It’s not so easy to ask it. It’s easy for me to sit at my computer and write about how I’m not perfect and how I need God’s forgiveness, but when I get out into the world and I’m making snap decisions and fast judgments and doing the best I can, living the way I’m supposed to isn’t always at the top of my mind. Not like it should be.

And when I make mistakes and realize it, I get defensive because I know better. Of course, I know better. I’ve been following Christ since I was seven years old. And there’s some part of me that tells me to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. It’s forgiven. It’s not a big deal. God knows I’m not perfect.

But what happens if we do that? What happens if we ignore our sin, even the minor ones? Well, in my case, I become accustomed to them. I don’t notice them anymore. I desensitize myself to them. And before long, they become a habit. And when sin becomes a habit, you’ve got big trouble because habits are hard to break, especially bad ones.