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.

You don’t have to live life alone

I spent last weekend hanging around people who speak my language. I have so many friends, so many wonderful encouragers that God has put in my life, so many incredible people who mean the world to me, but last weekend, I got to spend time with other people who write down what the voices in their heads are saying.

No, we’re not psycho. We’re writers. And we’re all a little weird. I’m just being honest. And while I adore my friends and family here at home and around the world (people who I know love me), I don’t always like to talk about writing with them. It’s not that I don’t want to share. It’s just that writing means something different to me than it does to them.

My brother is an engineer. He’s freakin’ brilliant, and he loves all those complicated engineering type things. He loves talking about them too, but many of his friends aren’t engineers. So he refrains from talking about it so that everyone can participate in conversation. That’s the same thing a lot of writers do. If you know someone who writes, they may not talk about it all the time for fear of coming off as a complete psychopath, but if they’re serious about their craft, it’s all they think about.

So it was really nice to be in a giant room full of writers because we were all on the same page. More than that, this conference is for writers who believe in Jesus, so not only are we wired the same way, we all write for the same reason–to glorify the Lord. Being around so many people who “just get me” was such a blessing, and then this morning I ran across a Psalm that reminded me I don’t have to go looking for a writer when I need someone to understand me.

bench-couple-love-people_1534x1023Today’s verses are Psalm 139:1-6.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

God gets you. You know that, right? He made you the way you are, so He understands how you’re wired. It’s comforting for me because my brain is so very strange. It’s good to know that God understands how the circuitry works.

Everyone feels isolated at some point in their lives, and that’s normal. But if you’re a Christ-follower, you don’t have to live life alone. God will have put people in your life who love you. Maybe they don’t always understand you, but they love you anyway. They’re there for you. Don’t take them for granted.

But more than that, God understands you. He knows your heart. He knows your thoughts. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing or what you’ve done or what you will do, God knows you and loves you and wants to have a personal, face-t0-face, one-on-one relationship. Imagine that! Having the God of the Universe for a friend! You can’t beat that.

So don’t trick yourself into thinking you can hide from God. It doesn’t work. You don’t want to hide from Him anyway. It’s just kind of silly to even try. And don’t convince yourself that you’re on your own either. You’re not.

The next time you’re feeling lonely or misunderstood, tell God about it. He’s always ready to listen, and He always wants to hear from you. He likes your ideas, and He believes you’re worth listening to. So what are you waiting for?

Don’t shoot rabbits from a motorboat

Ever hear a law that someone had to come up with when they were smoking something? Spend a little time on www.dumblaws.com and you’ll wonder. There’s actually a Kansas law about not shooting rabbits from a motorboat.

Seriously? Does it have to be in the water when you shoot? Because if the boat’s in the water, I doubt a rabbit is going to be out in the water with you. There are tons of these crazy laws out there, and it makes me wonder why they exist. Because there had to be a reason for creating them.

Spend enough time searching through Kansas laws on this website, and you’ll see what I mean. Because Overland Park, Kansas has a law against picketing funerals. For anyone living outside of Kansas, that sounds dumb. Who would picket a funeral? But if you live in Kansas, you know there’s a horrible group of people in Topeka who used to protest at soldier funerals, and this law in Overland Park was designed to protect families.

That law sounds dumb until you understand why it exists. That’s the tricky part about laws. Sometimes at first blush, you don’t think they make any sense, but once you understand why they’re there, it changes your perspective.

No rabbits and not a motorboat ... but you get the idea

No rabbits and not a motorboat … but you get the idea

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:144.

Your laws are always right;
    help me to understand them so I may live.

No, that’s not a typo up there. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, coming in at 176 verses. But it’s an easy read. If you’ve got time, you should check it out some morning. It’s a beautiful chapter.

The central theme you’ll see repeated over and over in Psalm 119 is God’s laws and how keeping God’s laws brings life and joy and blessing. What I love about this verse is that the writer is asking God’s help to understand His laws.

Human beings are just all screwed up. We’re turned around every which way, upside down and inside out. If left to our own devices, we live life backwards. We place value on things that don’t matter in the end. We focus on things that don’t last.

That’s why God’s commandments seem confusing if we look at them through the world’s eyes, because the world is backward.

God has given us rules and laws for a reason. Not to squash our fun. Not to prevent us from achieving our goals. But because He knows what’s best for us. He knows the troubles that we’re facing, and He wants to help us succeed and thrive in this life. But we have to do it His way.

If we try to do it our own way, we’ll end up lost and confused. Because that’s what we are without Him.

So if you run across one of God’s rules that you don’t understand, ask Him to help you understand it. That’s one of the great things about God. He wants to hear from us. He wants us to talk to Him, and part of getting to know Him better is learning to understand why He asks us to live according to His rules.

The rules that don’t make sense are usually related to the cultural differences between modern day America and ancient Israel. But what God said back then is just as relevant in today’s world. You just have to understand His reasoning and His purpose behind it.

So when you’re struggling to understand, just ask. God has a habit of revealing answers to you in ways you won’t be able to ignore.

And, make a note to yourself. If you’re ever passing through Kansas on a motorboat, don’t shoot any rabbits.

A kitten swatting at a cat's tail, Haven, KS

Why the why in discipline matters

When was the last time you got spanked? It’s honestly been so long since my parents punished me for anything, I don’t remember. Not that I was a great kid. I was actually the bad one. Or rather, the independent one. I liked doing things my own way, and I was stubborn about it. (Imagine that, right?)

Even then, I don’t remember the last spanking I got. While I didn’t always agree with them, I always understood why it was necessary. And growing up, I learned not to do the things Mom and Dad said were wrong because I didn’t want to be punished. But as I got older, I began to understand that the things Mom and Dad said were wrong really actually were wrong. They weren’t trying to prevent me from having a good time. They were trying to protect me from doing something that could damage my life.

So as I grew older, I stopped obeying them out of fear of punishment and started obeying because I recognized their rules existed for my benefit.

Typo as a kitten swatting at Gremlin's tail, Haven, KS

Typo as a kitten swatting at Gremlin’s tail, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 3:11-12.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.

Anyone ever have a similar experience with God? When you first met Him, did you do what He said was right because you were afraid of being punished? Did you only obey Him because you feared what He would do to you if you disobeyed?

Well, I could be opening a can of worms, but I really don’t know if God works like that. Now, will He allow you to face the consequences of your actions? Definitely. But is He watching for the moment you make a mistake to smash you with a hammer? No.

I remember being young, both in age and in my relationship with Jesus, and I was often afraid that I would do something wrong. And if I hated spankings from my parents, I could just imagine what a spanking from God would be like. So growing up, I always made sure to obey the rules because I didn’t want to be punished.

But I’m older now. I’ve known Jesus for a long time. And after all the years I’ve walked with Him, after all the life He’s let me experience, I can honestly tell you that fearing punishment isn’t the way to build a relationship with Him.

The same holds true for your parents. If you go through life just doing what they say so you won’t get in trouble, you’ll never understand why. And it’s often the why that leads us into closer relationships with others. It’s the why that breaks down the walls of our communication and gives us a glimpse at someone else’s heart.

I’ve known too many people who treated God like a strict disciplinarian. And I can tell you, each one of those people were never interested in getting to know Him. If that’s the way you see Him, you won’t want to take the time to get to know Him.

Because, honestly, who wants to know somebody like that? People like that are hard to get along with and uncomfortable to be around. And those people do exist. But God isn’t that way. And I can say that because I know Him personally.

There’s nothing wrong with the parent-child relationship that begins with obedience through fear of punishment. In many instances, that’s the only way to get through to a strong-willed, hard-headed child. But just because the relationship begins there doesn’t mean it has to stay there. If that same relationship exists when the child is an adult, something is wrong. If that same relationship exists when the child is grown, the child never actually grew up.

Relationships are supposed to grow. And maybe you start obeying because you’re afraid of discipline, but if you take the time to understand why the discipline is important, you’ll get to the place where you understand your authorities better. And—here’s a shocker—you might even agree with them.

So what rule are you having trouble obeying right now? Have you taken the time to understand it? Have you taken the time to ask why it matters to your authorities?

If you’re fine living in fear of punishment for the rest of your life, that’s up to you. And, true, just because you understand a rule doesn’t mean that you’ll escape punishment if you break it. But understanding a rule will help you take a step toward building a relationship with people in authority over you, and that will have a tremendous effect on your attitude.

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoset), Wichita, KS

It would have been enough

I never used to cry in church. As a child, I’d watch adults cry and lift their hands during the worship service in church and wonder what there was to get so emotional about. Sure, I knew God, and I had a relationship with Him through Christ. He’d forgiven me of my sins, and I was thankful for that. But I just couldn’t wrap my head around how anyone could be so overcome by emotion just by singing a song.

Then I grew up. A relationship with Christ looks a lot different when you’re a child than when you’re an adult.

When I met Jesus, I was seven years old, and–let’s face it–there’s not a whole lot that a seven year old can do that needs the grace of God. Yes, a seven year old needs God just as much as a 70 year old, but one has lived a lot longer than the other–enough to make more bad choices.

I’ve lived long enough now to understand exactly how much God has forgiven me for. I’ve made enough bad choices–I’ve sinned enough–to understand why God shouldn’t love me, and a day doesn’t go by that I’m not amazed that He does anyway. But what amazes me even more is the fact that He didn’t stop with saving me. He loves me enough to take care of me too.

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoses), Wichita, KS

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoses), Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:7.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

At the Seder meal I was fortunate enough to attend a few weeks ago, there’s one part where the leader reads a list of all the things God did for the Israelites. After each statement, the rest of the people at the table say: “It would have been enough.”

Because it would have been. It would have been enough if God had just led them out of Egypt. It would have been enough if God had just showed them how to build a temple. It would have been enough if God had just provided them with manna. It would have been enough. But it wasn’t enough for God. Because of His love, He went the extra mile.

That holds true today, and that’s what hit me as I sang in church this weekend. If God had stopped with just making a way for us to go to heaven, it would have been enough–more than enough. But He didn’t stop there.

Not only did He save our souls, but He made a way for us to communicate with Him, to have a relationship with Him, to live life with Him. He cares about us enough so that when we need Him, we just have to tell Him what’s happening. He cares about our problems. He cares about our daily life, and He wants to be a part of it.

Can we really understand that? Because there’s no reason why someone like God should care about people like us. But He does.

God deserves our praise and worship for being who He is. The Creator of the universe. The Eternal One. He alone is truly good and righteous, and for that reason alone, we should worship Him. But instead of being a distant, terrifying Deity, instead He sent His Son to die for our freedom because He loved us enough to sacrifice for us. Instead of standing on the sidelines of history, God has touched every moment in time. There’s not a moment when He hasn’t been involved in our lives. There’s not a time when He hasn’t cared about our feelings, our fears, our futures.

Do we get that?

Even if He hadn’t done so much for us, He’d still be worthy of praise. It would have been enough for us, but it wasn’t enough for Him.

So when your Monday becomes Mondayish today, take a moment and step back from your problems. Tell God about what’s bothering you because He cares about your life. He wants to be a part of every decision you make. He wants to walk through life with you.

Let Him. It’s the best choice you’ll ever make. And the more you get to know Him, the more you’ll understand just how much He loves you. The more you’ll understand just how much you don’t deserve His love. And then, you’ll cry in church too.

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What has God done for you today?

What has God done for you today? Are you paying attention? I don’t know why it’s so easy to overlook all the awesome things God has done and is doing for us. Maybe it’s because we’re foolish, silly, little people. Maybe it’s just me. But I can tell you that God has done amazing things in my life, and I never want to take that for granted.

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 52:8-9.

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.

The thing is, God deserves our worship and our praise without any of the personal interaction we experience from Him. He created the world. He created the universe. He created us. That’s enough to recognize Him and praise Him, but He doesn’t stop there.

He sent His Son to die for us, to pay for our sins so that we could have an eternal relationship with Him. Figure that in, and He’s worthy of our love and adoration ten times over. But He doesn’t stop there.

He takes a personal interested in our lives. He cares about what choices we make, what struggles we face, what challenges we overcome. He wants to play an active role in our lives, and all we have to do is let Him.

That goes beyond deserving our worship and our praise an d adoration. We don’t deserve any of that. We don’t deserve a love like that, but He invites us to accept it anyway.

God had does great things for me, and I’ll never stop thanking Him. What about you? What has He done for you? What ways has God made Himself known to you? What ways has God shown you how much He cares?

If you’re not paying attention or if you’re too focused on yourself, you might miss it. Trust me, the signs are there. Open your eyes and start looking today.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live more, learn more, love more

I haven’t lived a lot of life. Some days I feel like I have, but in comparison to other people I know, I’m still one of the new kids on the block. I still have trouble considering myself as an adult, let alone that I have any sort of experience to share on how to live. But one thing that I have learned is that the longer I live, the more I understand how amazing God is and how undeserving I am of His grace.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:6-7.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

I made the decision to believe in Jesus when I was seven years old. I remember walking the aisle of Inwood Baptist Church in Houston. I remember stepping out in front of the whole congregation. And while I knew the choice I had made and it had been my choice alone, I didn’t feel any different.

How many sins can a seven year old commit? This was pre-1990. This was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. The era of mostly wholesome kid’s cartoons and classic Disney. So when I would hear in church or read in the Bible that I was supposed to be thankful that God had saved me from my sins, I was, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant because even though I certainly wasn’t a perfect child, my life didn’t change overnight. I didn’t really become a different person, even though spiritually I became a new person.

I was thankful, but I didn’t know what I was thankful for.

Well, let’s fast forward 24 years. Isn’t it funny how living a little bit can change your perspective on so many things? I’m not old, but I’ve lived enough to make mistakes. I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and wish I’d listened more closely to what God was telling me as a child.

The simple truth of the matter is that the longer we live, the more we have to be thankful for. Sometimes just waking up is something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s just having enough to eat or having a car to drive or having a friend to talk to. When you’re young, you don’t have those things to miss. But there’s a big difference between having things to be thankful for and actually being thankful; it’s like the difference between having a car and having a car you drive. Being thankful takes living to another level.

I think it’s interesting that the passage for today connects our faith growing strong with thankfulness. Those two things don’t normally go together, if you think about it from our perspective. When your faith grows strong, it’s usually through testing, which means it’s usually a time of trouble or difficulty of some kind. So this verse is saying that the troubles in our lives will result in us overflowing with thankfulness.

How does that work? Because from our point of view, trouble is really just trouble. Difficulty and challenges are just frustrations that life throws at us. But remember as Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to live by our point of view. We’re not supposed to rely on our perspective. We are to look at the world the way Christ does. We’re to live like Christ lived. We’re to follow Him every step of the way, and when you look at trouble from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look like trouble. It simply look like an opportunity to grow stronger.

As a seven year old, I wasn’t really looking for those opportunities, and I didn’t really understand them when they came. But as I got older and I got to know God better, I realized that the troubles and challenges I faced in my life weren’t merely obstacles. They were a chance to help me get to know God better than I already did. They gave me the chance to dig in and search out who God is and what He wants from me and what He offers me as His daughter. And when you think about it that way, how can you not overflow with gratitude?

This is God we’re talking about here. The God. Through His Son’s sacrifice, I can come to Him and ask for anything. I can have a relationship with God through Jesus, and the more I get to know God and Jesus, the more I love them.

Stop viewing the difficulties in your life as obstacles. Try changing your mind about them. Try seeing them as opportunities to get to know God better, and He might surprise you. Build the foundation of your life on the truth from God’s Word and watch what happens. Even when the hard times come, even when you’re surrounded by trouble and hollowed out by heartache, if you’re living your life in God and for God, you’ll see life differently. And in spite of the darkness around you, you will bubble over with gratitude toward God because even though life is tough, God has chosen to be there.