There’s gross, and then there’s gross.
There’s the, “Gross!” you think silently to yourself when someone across the table chews with his mouth open and you wonder, “Who is his mama?” Then you realize it’s your kid, and you’re his mama.
There’s the gross you smell when you live in a boys’ dorm. This takes many forms, none of which should be discussed in mixed company.
And then, there’s gross. The completely disgusting, even repulsive kind of gross that makes you hold your stomach and bend at the middle.
It’s just gross.
Sin is like that.
Actually, it’s not just like that. Sin is that. It’s the essence of gross. We don’t like to talk about it, because, really, who wants to discuss gross things? We’d rather just say that God removes sin “as far as the east is from the west.” Which is true! He does! Or, we’d rather focus on the good that God brings when He redeems our sin. Which is true! He does, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.
But maybe we’d be wise to also see sin for what it really is: gross. To look at our ugly hearts, then at God’s holiness, and fall on our faces in repentance.
That’s just what I did a few days ago. A particular area of my heart was gross—and getting grosser. I often pray out loud when I drive alone, but that day, the words wouldn’t come. I realized, I didn’t want to confess. And I didn’t want to confess, because I had come to like the gross.
That realization terrified me, and the tears began to flow. I confessed freely to God, and then to Andy as soon as I could. Forgiveness was fast and sweet.
How easy it is to let sin take root! How alluring—and plain ol’ fun!—sin can be. But it’s gross. It’s disgusting. It separates me from the God who loves me, and it keeps me from all He has in store.
Why choose gross, when obedience always leads to beauty? Why settle for gross, when He gives such rich grace?
Lord, be honored when you look within me. See in me a reflection of Your holiness. Make me sick over my sin—may I hold my stomach and bend at the middle and realize just how gross it is. Help me—help me!—to guard against the enemy’s schemes, because I cannot do this apart from Your power. And thank You for Jesus, by whose death I’ve exchanged gross for grace. Amen.
I read once that you shouldn’t say, “It’s okay,” when someone hurts you—because it’s not okay. Instead, respond, “I forgive you,” because that communicates, “What you did wasn’t good, but I’ll let it go. I’ll let you off the hook.”
It’s like Andy Stanley writes in his book, It Came From Within. When we’re hurt, we say, “You owe me!” But to forgive is to say, “You don’t owe me anymore. You don’t have to repay that debt.”
And so, like a lot of moms, I often conclude my kids’ conflicts by making them apologize to one another and forgive each other.
“I’m sorry,” one will say.
“I forgive you,” comes the required reply, although, it often sounds more like, “Ifgvyu.”
And oh, isn’t that so neat and tidy? “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”—the debt is cancelled, problem solved, simple as that! Except, sometimes, people don’t say, “I’m sorry.” And sometimes, “I forgive you” is the hardest thing in the world to even utter—let alone mean. Some debts are harder to cancel than others. Some offenses hurt deeply, and some wounds don’t heal overnight. Sometimes, I want to forgive—truly I do!—but goodness. Sometimes, forgiveness is rough.
I hold two truths in my hands. In one hand, I’ve been wronged and wounded and it’s not okay. But in the other hand, God calls me to forgive, just as in Christ, He forgave me (Ephesians 4:32). And how do I balance both truths? I can’t. I simply must let go of one. Will I hang on to the injustice? Or will I let it go, and cling instead to the forgiveness and mercy and grace that are mine in Christ?
Because it’s only in holding on to Him that I find I’m truly free.
So, it turns out, gossip hurts my feelings just as much at age 36 as it did at age 16.
And 26, and 6, and every other number I’ve ever been.
Someone’s untruths about me really stung this week. In response, I plotted my revenge (which included public proof of my innocence), and I rehearsed a few witty lines to zing the gossiper into remorse. Then, with my plans all made and almost as an afterthought, I asked Andy his opinion.
“What do you think I should do?” I asked.
I meant, “What do you think I should do…to get her back? To prove my innocence? To defend myself?”
He must’ve misunderstood the question.
“I think,” he said slowly, “that you should let it go, and forgive, and not care what people think about you.”
Oh, who asked him, anyway?
The truth is, Andy lets things go all the time. All. The. Time. You can’t be a pastor—or at least not a good one—unless you’re able to let things go. Just this week, I’ve seen Andy take unfair criticism, without defending himself, and then turn right around and love his critics. Several months ago, when a particularly ungracious woman maligned him, I watched Andy literally kneel beside our bed and pray God’s best for her. This is the man I married, and I love his maturity and grace and forgiveness.
But oh, I’d rather not emulate them! I’d rather win, and prove my rightness! I’d rather write a blog post that zings the gossiper! Lord, I’d rather do just about anything else than let it go, and forgive, and not care what people think about me.
And yet, isn’t that exactly what Jesus would do? Aren’t those the very things that Jesus instructed…and then, demonstrated, all the way to His death?
Lord, I can’t be a disciple—or at least not a good one—unless I’m able to let things go, and forgive, and not care what people think about me. I need Your divine power for this, God. Find me faithful, and gracious to others because You have been gracious to me. Help me forgive my friend, not zing the gossiper. Amen.
We Stormses are hardly what you’d call rule-breakers. In fact, I rather enjoy keeping the rules, and the mere thought of breaking one makes me feel a little itchy inside. I’ve also, for better or worse, passed on my rule-keeping tendencies to my children.
In spite of the fact that we don’t, as a rule, break the rules, lately we’ve had a few run-ins with our home owners association. Nothing much…one parking violation, and one tree-climbing violation…but oh. My. Lands. The reaction!
And to be clear, we did break those two rules. We parked where we shouldn’t have parked and we (well, one of us, anyway) climbed where we shouldn’t have climbed. We were in the wrong and we accept the consequences.
The drama? The over-the-top meanness? I think we can all do without that. A few ladies in our HOA take rule-keeping to a whole new level. These women make Javert from Les Miserables look like a pansy.
One of us came home in tears today, and finally got composed enough to say, “I was in a tree, and an HOA lady came by and said, ‘Hey, KID, get out of there!’ So I jumped out, and then she said, ‘Did that hurt when you landed?’ I said, ‘No.’ And then she said, ‘Well, it SHOULD have hurt…I WISH it WOULD have hurt…because YOU are a BAD kid who did something BAD, and it should always hurt when you do something BAD.’”
You wish it would have hurt?
The rule-breaker and I hugged and dried our eyes and blew our noses, and yes, we discussed that we were wrong to climb the neighborhood trees (which, by the way, are so puny that we can jump out of the tops of them). At the time, I was outside sanding varnish off an old rocking chair, so during the eye-drying and nose-blowing, I took my frustration out on that poor chair. I was so angry with Mrs. Woman-who-was-never-a-child-and-has-too-much-time-on-her-hands that it’s a wonder I didn’t sand it into a pile of toothpicks.
But then, the rule-breaker walked back outside and said sadly, “Maybe that lady was so mean ‘cuz she had just, like, buried her sister or somethin’.”
“Maybe,” I said, “and I’m proud of you for trying to understand her.”
“I guess,” continued the felon, “that I’m supposed to ‘love my enemies, and pray for those who persecute me,’ right?”
“Right.” (That, or, just sand the daylights out of a rocking chair.)
So, that’s what we did. Right there, in the middle of rules and rocking chairs, we took turns praying. We asked God for help remembering to not climb trees, and we especially asked for extra love for someone who may have just buried her sister or somethin’. The rule-breaker even asked God to bless her. Finally, we thanked Him for His forgiveness…to her, and to us. And then, we blew all the sandpaper dust off the rocking chair. Every last particle.
It, and we, were ready for a new start.
Most dogs get nervous if you look them in the eye. When I was a little girl, my spitz, Snowball, jumped around in a fit if I stared at him too long. I remember learning at school to never look a stray dog in the eye, or it might attack you. I read that once in a Weekly Reader article, because I was the kind of kid who actually read Weekly Reader articles, and from then on I walked home from the school bus stop with my head down, so as to avoid all eye contact, stray dogs, and attacks.
Most dogs get nervous…but not basset hounds. Droopy-eyed bassets could win a staring contest, hands down.
I first experienced this when Belle was a few weeks old, and we picked her out from her litter. We sat on the patio in the breeder’s backyard while Belle and her siblings climbed all over us. Then, Belle’s very tired mother wandered over to me. She stepped into my lap, just as her puppies had done, pointed her nose directly at mine, and stared me down. She would not look away. She wouldn’t even blink.
Now that Belle is older, I’m used to this stare-down. But that day with her mother, I was as nervous as Snowball the spitz. Why was she checking me out? Did she know I was going to take away her daughter? And why did I suddenly feel like confessing my sins to this dog who was reading me like a book? I began to feel guilty for things I hadn’t even done.
Look away! Nothing to see here! Eye contact makes me uncomfortable.
But God’s Word says eye contact is a good thing.
“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (Psalm 25:15)
“But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 141:8)
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Belle the basset hound fixes her eyes on me, and I must fix my eyes on the Lord. Focus on Him brings a long-term hope to my immediate circumstances. Financial hardships, illnesses, relationship struggles and more all gain an eternal perspective when I stare, not at the problem, but at the Christ.
Fixing my eyes on Jesus also brings conviction of sin. I can’t look long into His holiness without coming face to face with my lack of it. When I look at the Lord, I see my pride, my unbelief, my disobedience. Look away, please, Lord. There is nothing to see here. And yet, thankfully, somehow, focus on Him also brings a fresh vision of His mercy and forgiveness.
A prayer from an eye-contact-avoider: Lord, fix my gaze. “Be Thou my vision,” and let me see Your love, Your holiness, Your grace. Don’t let me look away, uncomfortable with what You reveal. Let me “look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom,” and come away changed. (James 1:25) “My eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord.” Amen.
Previous Lessons from a Basset Hound:
- Lesson 1: Obedience
- Lesson 2: Perseverance
- Lesson 3: Love
- Lesson 4: Hope
- Lesson 5: Smelling Like Poo
- Lesson 6: Tweet!
- Lesson 7: Reward
- Lesson 8: Wisdom
- Lesson 9: New
- Lesson 10: Friendship
- Lesson 11: Being Stung
- Lesson 12: Acceptance
- Lesson 13: Rest
- Lesson 14: Joy
- Lesson 15: Compassion
- Lesson 16: Sabbath
We were having lasagna for dinner with friends, and garlic cheese biscuits were my contribution. The recipe couldn’t have been simpler—as if I would attempt anything difficult—but I still managed to turn them a lovely charcoal black on the bottom. Some friends ate the burned biscuits without a word. Others cut off the blackness, giving kind assurances like, “Well, the top tastes just fine!”
It’s a good thing my friends love me.
Burned biscuits remind me of an analogy in the altogether nutty story of Hosea. Hosea isn’t just about a prophet marrying a prostitute. It’s about God’s faithful love for His unfaithful people. And, it’s about burned bread. Hosea rebuked Israel for sin, and for “mixing with the nations” that led them to follow false gods. Then, Hosea described Israel as “a flat cake not turned over.” (Hosea 7:8)
The top looked just fine, but the bottom was black. Partly God’s, and partly godless, God’s people were half-hearted and unfaithful. Commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “Israel was as a cake not turned, half burnt and half dough, none of it fit for use; a mixture of idolatry and of the worship of Jehovah.”
None of it fit for use! Um, Israel, I’m pretty sure he just called you half-baked. It’s a good thing your God loves you. But what does a gracious God do when His half-hearted people finally return wholeheartedly? He forgives. He says, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” (Hosea 14:4) He says, “Child, I love You completely. Be completely mine.”
Lord, no more half-hearted devotion. Let me be all Yours, and make me fit for Your use. It’s a good thing that You love me. Amen.
If you ask me, the story of Hosea is altogether nutty. At God’s instruction, Hosea married the prostitute Gomer, knowing that she would be unfaithful to him. Not exactly the picture-perfect partnership. And perhaps the newlyweds would’ve benefited from a baby names book, because they called their kids Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi.
I think I had a Lo-Ammi once, but the doctor gave me a prescription for it.
Anyway, firstborn son Jezreel meant, “God will plant.” Middle sister Lo-Ruhamah’s name signified, quite sadly, “not loved.” And baby brother Lo-Ammi meant, “not my people.”
After all the baby-making, Gomer was again unfaithful, so God sent the prophet to literally buy her back. God told Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they have turned to other gods.” (Hosea 3:1)
Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites. There, in one simple command, is the whole point of the nutty story: God loves His people. Gomer’s unfaithfulness depicted Israel’s wayward heart toward God. But more importantly, Hosea’s pursuit of his wife shows God’s undying love for us. “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13) Hosea bought her back, just as God redeems us.
Remember what the kids’ names meant? The redeemer God said of His people, “I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ “You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23) God plants us, God loves us, God calls us His own.
One more name…Hosea…Hosea’s name meant, “to deliver, to save.” In a word, salvation. Hosea is the same name as Joshua, and in Greek…Jesus. How fitting. How humbling, how amazing, how freeing that the God of the universe pursues us in order to bring about our salvation. Just like Hosea bought back his wife.
Lord, thank You for Your saving name. If You ask me, the story of Hosea—the story of salvation—is altogether nutty. But, planted by Your grace, I’ll live every day in glad obedience for it. Amen.
One evening several years ago, my then-boyfriend Andy was on his way to pick me up, and I was in my dorm room, primping. I fixed my hair, added yet another coat of mascara, and picked up a bottle of lotion—a brand-new, purse-sized bottle of Victoria’s Secret perfumed something or other. I unscrewed the lid and tipped the bottle at my palm, but nothing came out.
A sticker, I noticed, sealed the top. I scraped at the stubborn seal, and poked it, but it wouldn’t budge. Determined, I kept after it, not realizing just how tightly I was squeezing that little bottle. Or, how directly I was aiming it at my face.
Then all at once, pop! Off blew the sticker, and out blew the lotion—all of it, I think—right onto my forehead and eyes. But it was my poor bangs that took the most direct hit.
I staggered back, sure I was the first person ever to be blinded by lotion. Then I remembered Andy. He was due any minute! I grabbed a towel, ran to the bathroom, and stuck my head in the sink. My hair needed a good wash (or six) but there was no time. As Andy called for me on the dorm intercom, I tried to fluff my greasy hair with a hairdryer. Finally, I slicked it all back in a giant bow and ran downstairs.
“Ready?” Andy asked.
“Mm hmm.” I was near tears—and not just because the perfume burned my eyes.
“Yep.” How could I confess to anointing myself with lotion?
We got in the car. He persisted.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. Well…you smell pretty!”
At that, I exploded in tears and sobbed out the whole story. “I couldn’t peel off that sticker….lotion in my eyelashes…now my bangs won’t fluff….”
It took Andy a good five minutes to interpret what had happened, and another 20 to stop laughing. Even my giant hair bow couldn’t hide the fact that I smelled like a perfume factory.
I think it’s the same with sin.
Sin explodes in my heart, with all its ugly ramifications. It sends me reeling, but I cover it in a hurry. Too proud to confess, I fluff it up. “Surely my sin isn’t as bad as hers.” I slick it back in a bow. “Nothing to see here! Look at my great works…pay no attention to the unsightly mess of disobedience and rebellion.”
But God isn’t fooled. He sees…and smells?…all. Not, “Well…you smell pretty!” but, “Child…you stink!”
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper,” wrote Solomon, “but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
Lord, there’s no concealing the fact that I stink. No fluff, no bows. I confess to You my pride, my jealousy, my unbelief. Reveal every stinky part of my heart. Thank You for mercy. Thank You that, by Your grace, I can be “the aroma of Christ”—the very “fragrance of life”. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16) I love You, Lord. Amen.
I would add such a caution to the twelfth chapter of Romans, because it is, most definitely, hot. Perhaps even a little unpleasant.
I’ve had a few relationship struggles lately. Each is strained for a different reason, but each leaves the same anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I am a mixture of anger, hurt, stubbornness, apathy, pride…all wrapped up in the nagging knowledge that I am not completely honoring God with my attitude and actions.
It was in this state that I unwittingly turned to Romans 12. Again, dear reader, caution! Don’t go there unless your toes (and possibly your heart) are made of steel. I had barely started reading before Paul had gone to meddlin’.
“…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…” Lord, I give You all of me. No more inward resistance. Find my heart and mind holy and pleasing!
“…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” Oh, ouch. I do make things all about me, don’t I? Let me never forget my weakness and my desperate need for Your grace. Then I’ll be gracious toward others, too.
“…Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves…” Sincere love is so hard, especially when I’ve been wronged, Lord! Disunity is an evil to You–help me to hate it. Clean my heart until it’s devoted to unity, and to the people you love.
“…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Live in harmony with one another…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends….” (Full disclosure: it was at this point that I closed my Bible for a few moments. I may have also rolled my eyes.) Lord, really? Have You not paid attention to these conflicts, God? Because frankly, this seems like a lot to ask.
Yet, in light of the cross–in light of Your grace to me–isn’t it so very little to ask? You gave Your Son; I can give a kind word. You forgave my mountain of sin; surely I can forgive a few petty wrongs committed against me.
Not only “can” I forgive…I must. If I claim to belong to You, I must imitate Your forgiveness and love. Oh, I do long to be like You, Lord! I want my life to please You and honor You. Don’t let my heart rest until every hidden part of it obeys You and reflects You. Let me trade in my “rightness” for Your righteousness.
And thank You for speaking so clearly through Your Word.
But I still say, it should really come with a warning.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:9-12)
A few months ago, women from my church attended a great retreat with author and speaker Jackina Stark. One day, Jackina spoke on Psalm 103, and we wrote private prayers about forgiveness. On paper, we confessed our sins to God, and asked Him to help us forgive others. Later, as we walked to the front of the meeting room and took communion together, we brought our prayers and stamped them “paid”. Canceled. Forgiven.
We sang “At the Foot of the Cross”, and thanked God for His forgiveness as we “laid every burden down”.
There was only one problem.
We didn’t lay the papers down at all. Each communion table had a basket to collect our prayers, but not one woman put her paper inside. It seems the person in charge of the stamping/forgiving/communion-taking procedure…I don’t want to name names, but hers rhymes with Jamie Blorms…forgot to explain why those baskets were there.
When I realized my mistake, my type-A self had an internal fit. “Oh, no! They’re doing it wrong!” I wanted to call the women back and make them put their prayers in the baskets. “You have to leave your burden here!”
I panicked in my chair, until the Lord nudged me gently. “Isn’t this a perfect picture of what you really do?”
How many paid, canceled, forgiven sins do I refuse to let go?
God will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat Amy as her sins deserve or repay her according to her iniquities. In fact, He does the opposite; He takes my sin as far as the east is from the west.
God says, “My Son took your sin on Himself. Child, you are forgiven and free!”
“Thank you,” I whisper, but then, remembering the horror of my own sin, I blurt, “…but I can’t lay it down. I don’t deserve freedom.” And like the ladies who carried their “paid” sins back to their chairs, I carry around shame, guilt, and regret.
God, forgive me for doubting Your limitless love. The thought of being truly forgiven is too much for me to handle! But when I reject Your forgiveness, I reject Your greatest gift and Your very nature. You are unbelievably good to one so undeserving.—Thank You. How foolish I am to carry around a debt that You don’t even remember. Instead, let me walk in the confidence and joy and freedom that Your amazing grace inspires. Thank You, thank You, thank You, for forgiving me. Amen.
- Psalm 103, part 1: Redeem
- Psalm 103, part 2: Crown
- Psalm 103, part 3: Contentment
- Psalm 103, part 4: Character