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.

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A lifestyle that’s for the birds

Yesterday, a friend and I went hopping all around Wichita scouting locations for some photoshoots that will be featured on the next year’s catalog of books from Crosshair Press, and we found ourselves in the renovated jungle exhibit at the Zoo. Seriously, if you’re in the Wichita area, you must go to the Zoo. It’s amazing.

But as we were walking around, I kept hearing this one particular bird. Now, the jungle exhibit is packed full of birds. There are always birds singing. But this one bird? My goodness. That sucker had a set of lungs. And I had no idea where it was until it landed on the post right in front of me, and I snapped this photo.

Imagine. Being a bird. You eat. You sing. You hop around and look pretty. And that’s about all you’re responsible for. No wonder birds sing all the time. That’s got to be the greatest life! No worries at all!

Know what? That’s the kind of life you can have too.

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:26-27.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

I always think of this verse when I hear birds singing. Birds are carefree because they don’t have to worry about anything. But it’s not that birds have nothing to worry about. They just know they don’t need to.

People are a different story. We have the ability to worry, so we take advantage of it. We think about what we’re going to eat. We think about what we’re going to wear. We think about what we’re going to drive. We think, think, think all the time, and when we discover that most of the things we think about are out of our control, we worry.

Stop right there. That’s not the life we were designed for. I’m talking to myself here, because worry is one of my besetting sins. I don’t talk about it out loud, but inside I’m usually a mess of anxiety and nerves about something. And in my brain I know that worrying is silly, but I can’t seem to help myself.

So it was a joy yesterday to run into this little fellow singing his little birdy head off. A great reminder that birds don’t worry about tomorrow because they’re trusting God to take care of it. God is trustworthy. He’s never let them down, and He never will. So why stress?

That should be our lives. That should be my life.

I belong to Jesus, but it’s a daily choice to follow Him and live the way He would. Sometimes is less of a choice and more of a battle. But regardless, God has promised to take care of me and provide for me and help me. He’s made the same promise to the birds, and He’s never let them down. He’s never let me down either. And He won’t let you down.

So that think you keep worrying about? Let it go. And when you start worrying about it again? Let it go again. Sing a song instead of worrying. Turn your praise music up as high as it will go and sing at the top of your lungs. Tell God how great He is and get on with your day.

It works for the birds. It’ll probably work for us too.

Take time to recognize God’s abundant blessings

I ate way too much last night. Americans have this idea that British food is strange, right? Well, it’s not. There may be some strange things here, but hey, we have deep fried Twinkies.

Last night, we had a ladies evening at a restaurant here in Carlisle called The Dutch Uncle. The way the deal had been set up was really fantastic. You came in and sat down with your group, and they just kept bringing food out family style until you couldn’t eat anymore. Pizzas and nachos and platters of meats and cheeses. Pasta with mussels and clams. Olives and fried chicken thighs. And just when we would finish one plate of food, they’d bring another one out.

For two hours. One plate after another. And I couldn’t help but compare the experience to God’s blessings.

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Today’s verse is John 1:16.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

Sometimes God’s blessings are hard to recognize. Sometimes they’re obvious. But whether we actually recognize them or not, they’re abundant. They range from the generic but beautiful sunrises and sunsets to specific answers to specific requests.

We don’t deserve any of them, but God gives them away freely, expecting nothing of us in return. We can’t earn His blessings, but we can be in a position to experience them. That’s the only part that’s up to us. And even when we don’t make the wisest choices, God is still blessing us in small ways, which we choose not to notice most of the time.

Just like those plates of food that kept coming to our table at the Dutch Uncle, God’s blessings just keep coming. Over and over again. But unlike a meal, you never get tired of God’s blessings.

What was really interesting to me last night was that while I was chewing on a delightfully fried chicken thigh, I was having conversations with six British women who’d come to join us. Six wonderful women who are friends with my best friend, who has been living over here for nearly a year now.

I had prayed specifically that God would provide a group of friends in Carlisle for her to fit into, and last night I got to see exactly how God had answered that prayer. And I was so thankful.

What’s a blessing that God has given you today? How about a second blessing? Or a third? He hands them out all over the place, so sometimes they’re easy to miss. But take a moment and recognize them, because He doesn’t have to bless us. He just does. Because He’s that awesome.

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

God won’t let your well run dry

Facing an unknown future is hard enough when you know where your next meal is coming from. Imagine facing it without that knowledge. How much more difficult is life when you aren’t sure if you’re going to have enough to live on? Clothes to wear? A shelter to sleep in? If you’ve never had to live with those questions, it might be difficult to imagine it, but there are people all around us–and not just in foreign countries–who face those questions every day.

Times are tough for everyone. Even people who have the finances and resources to survive are threatened with job loss and propane shortages and high taxes. And so many of those people would be generous if they had enough to share. Are you one of those people? The ones who would give what they have to help someone else if it didn’t jeopardize your own security?

How do you reconcile being generous as God has asked us to be with our current financial state? Can it be done? I think it can, as long as we remember where our financial security comes from. It’s not our job and it’s not our own resources. We have what we have because God has given it to us in one way or another, and if you look at it that way, how can we refuse to help people who need it?

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

Drawing water from a well in Se’tul, Peten, Gutemala

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 9:8-11.

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this. God has provided for me in so many ways I can’t begin to number them, and it never ceases to amaze me how I can have everything I need and most everything I want and still have enough to share. It happened again just recently. I’ve been praying because I knew I had some extra expenses coming up. I always do at the beginning of the year. And I just didn’t see how I was going to make certain things happen financially, but I had decided that I wasn’t going to worry. And that if God wanted it to happen, He would work it out.

Surprise, surprise. He did. In His own way, of course. On His timetable. According to His plan. Not mine.

The hardest thing is taking that first step and committing without knowing for sure. I mean, you can know for sure that God will provide for you; you just won’t know how. And sometimes He’ll turn everything on its head. Most of the time He doesn’t do what you expect Him to do. But He always keeps His promises. You just have to trust that and keep moving forward even if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re going to find on the other side.

Don’t grasp and cling to your possessions. Don’t hold on so tightly to your finances that you can’t see the needs of other people. And if you have the opportunity to help someone, do it. It’s not an accident God brought them into your life. There are no accidents.

Be open. Be willing. Don’t be afraid to help others. Don’t be afraid to invest in other people. Ask God about it before you do it, yes. But if He says to do it, don’t hesitate. Don’t make excuses. Jump in with both feet and give what you have. God won’t let your well run dry when you’re using it to bless other people in His name. On the contrary, usually you’ll end up with more than you can handle,