Need Some Deep Cleansing?

My eyes and nostrils burn from the pungent fumes of household bleach. For today, I meant business with my upstairs shower stall—the one I never use—which got plenty of use this summer.

Long, steamy showers (and a lack of ventilation) allowed specks of black mold to creep into the crevices of grout between the shower tiles.

With gloved hands, I scrubbed the shower walls and basin with a brush. Then I held a dish towel to my face while I attacked the grout with my spray bottle of bleach.

Spray. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.

Water flowed down the shower stall walls, becoming a mucky grey, and swirled down the drain.

Satisfied, I advanced towards the commode, brandishing my toilet brush. I showed no mercy to the porcelain. I also mopped floors. Washed laundry. Cleaned out the cat’s litter box.

My housework wasn’t finished until I’d emptied all the garbage cans and took the outdoor trash can to the curb. Then I washed my hands of last week’s rubbish. Good riddance. 

However, I believe God had something else in mind that needed cleansing. Because when I grabbed a red apple from the fruit bowl and sliced it open….

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The core was rotten.

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Disgusted, I tossed the apple in my yard (picnic for the ants) and sensed the core of my being under God’s scrutiny.

I can appear pleasing to the eye. Paste on a smile, straighten my halo. Only, there are grimy weeks when unconfessed sin festers inside me like that rotting apple.

“Forgive my trespasses” is spoken hurriedly so I can pray for my needs and intercede for others. When in fact, my real need is a contrite heart that will…

  • Pause for genuine reflection and confession.
  • Implore God to reveal sins I’m not aware of that hinder my walk; break His heart.
  • Allow Him to “wash me” clean

“Wash me” the same way a woman would wash her clothes on a scrub board or the river rocks. No quick rinse cycle. She pounds and beats the cloth to purge the dirt.

When King David sinned with Bathsheba he prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

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David’s plea for God’s forgiveness included his desire for a deep-heart cleansing.

He wanted God to purge him with hyssop—an herbal plant related to the mint family which contained medicinal and cleansing agents. Hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleansing of people and houses.

Hyssop is also mentioned during Jesus’ crucifixion. A Roman soldier offered Jesus a drink of sour wine on a sponge at the end of a hyssop stalk (John 19: 28-30).

While the plant may have been chosen because the stalk was long enough to reach his mouth, surely God meant this as a picture of purification. For in the Old Testament, blood and hyssop purified a defiled person. In the New Testament, Jesus’ shed blood purifies sinners.

Even in this…filthy mess of a day when my sins disgust me…I can lift my bleach-scented hands and praise the Lord because…

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

When Death Interrupts Life

My uncle died Friday night.

Lying in hospital, his one strong hand clung to the woman he loved. His pale cheeks wet from my aunt’s  teary butterfly kisses.

My uncle had suffered a Stroke weeks earlier, but on Friday—the first day of spring—I didn’t know his frail body was shutting down….

While I played Florence Nightingale to my outdoor plants—amputating dead limbs, nurturing them with life-giving water.

Springtime—the smell of fresh-cut grass, a sky the color of robin eggs, yellow buds unfurling in the afternoon sun.  My Friday was pregnant with new life around me and joyful possibilities.

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 What a stark contrast to my uncle and aunt’s reality. Death’s chill shadow loomed over them as the life they knew and shared concluded.

And yet, even in this…gut-wrenching pain of letting go….Hope was present.

Hope is the balm that soothes the burning sting of death.

 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. BUT Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Death can’t be sugar coated. “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.” (Lyric from Empty Chairs at Empty Tables)

However, my uncle and aunt believed “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day….”

And their FAITH is what the Bible describes as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This world isn’t the end all. There may be mysteries we can’t explain. But God has given us His Word, and His Promise, that death will be swallowed up in victory.

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The Columbine seeds I scattered in my garden last year now rise from the earth, but in a new form. The clover-like foliage and lavender bell-shaped flowers are more beautiful and fragrant than its seed.

So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Because Christ lives, we live too!

That is the sweet reality for those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in His name.” (John 20:31)

*Other scripture  cited is from 1 Corinthians 15

Photos by Jennifer Foster

What Reputation Precedes You?

Wearing a navy blue cap and gown, my son strutted across the stage to receive his high school diploma last week. All I could see through misty eyes was a bundle of joy wrapped in a blue blanket that lay in my arms eighteen years earlier.

Memory is a marvelous thing.

And yet, there are things I wish I could forget. The pain I’ve caused others, grievances I’ve harbored against someone who hurt me or mine.

Memories… good and bad…appeared in my mind’s eye when other graduate names were announced that evening. Their reputation, some tarnished by previous poor choices, accompanied them. And because I fail to forget….my impression of some students has remained skewed.

“Character is what you are. Reputation is what people think you are,” said Henry H. Aunderson.

Even if it’s not true, excellent, or worthy of praise.

“Give a man a reputation as an early riser and he can sleep ’til noon.” ~~Mark Twain.

Who do people think I am, if they think of me at all? What is the reputation that precedes me? I cower to think my flaws and my past define me.   

Praise God for His tender mercies that are new every morning.

Praise God, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us….” Psalm 103:10-12

By God’s grace, may I learn to see people through my Benevolent Heavenly Father’s eyes so I can Forgive and FORGET.

What is Fear, but a lack of trust?

It was dusk when I walked the narrow path made of white butcher paper, marked with a male’s naked, red footprints.

High school students had transformed the school gymnasium to recreate a Journey to the Cross. It was an outreach to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus.

By God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, these hearts would be convicted and healed.

Instead of praying: Fix my problems. Show me the way.  

I asked God, Show me my SIN.

Show me what action or attitude within me, is offensive, or contrary to Your will.   

The very sin Christ bore as He died on the cross to set me free.

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As I entered the gymnasium, somber music played from The Passion soundtrack. Black and burgundy cloth, hung from wires, subdivided the gym to create smaller rooms depicting Jesus’ betrayal, trial, scourging, death, and resurrection.

In one area, there was a sign: Take a black scrap of cloth and a piece of chalk. Write a sin, something you wrestle with….then nail it to the cross.

Of my many vices, FEAR surfaced. For what is fear, but a lack of trusting God?  

We can’t trust someone we don’t know.”

That’s what my friend, Loretta, told me years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone from head knowledge, knowing about God, to KNOWING HIM in a more intimate way that satisfies my heart.

And yet, FEAR remains my Achilles heel.

So I scribbled: FEAR; lack of trusting God.

Prior to writing those words, I had glanced inside a small nearby area designated “Prayer Room.” Since it was evening, the room was devoid of people, but I hesitated to enter. After God revealed my sin, this weakness that cripples my faith, I stepped inside.

Pillows and blankets lined the floor, tea lights in mason jars flickered, and white icicle lights hung overhead. I sat down to pray, but my jaw dropped. For next to my ankle was an index card with the word TRUST.

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I picked up the card, turned it over. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:4, 5

A few other cards were scattered on the floor. Different words, different verses. But TRUST was the word next to me, the first card that caught my attention.

Coincidence? That a student felt led to write TRUST, two days earlier?

Coincidence? That beckoned me into that prayer room, caused me to sit down in that exact spot?

Tears of joy, not condemnation, filled my eyes. How can I not love my Lord who reveals my sin, but then gently reminds me to TRUST.

  • Trust…the Lord with my life, and circumstances beyond my control.
  • Trust…the Lord loves me and died for me too.
  • Trust…the Lord that I’m forgiven and a new creature in Christ Jesus.

I nailed that scrap of black cloth to a large wooden cross. A cross blackened with the sins of teachers, students, and parents who had gone on this Journey before me.

And like the others, I wrote on a wall near the empty tomb,

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One of the many benefits that come when we’re Born Again, and our sins are forgiven: Peace, joy, gratitude, hope, love, victory, freedom, a new identity…..

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Have you trusted in Christ?

If so, have you told Him how much you love Him?

What Am I Covering Up?

A large, purple plastic bowl lay upside down on the cement slab of our back patio. The bowl had been there for several days, untouched like the pile of discarded, mud-caked sneakers next to the back door.

Assuming the old bowl had toppled from the patio table, I stooped to pick it up.

My stomach lurched.

Beneath the purple bowl was a wet mess of rotting … cat puke.

My cat pleads the Fifth Amendment, but Someone covered the puke rather than clean it up.

“I didn’t want anyone to step into the mess,” Someone later explained.

Covered it up? Were you ever planning to clean it up?   

But even in this ….disgusting cat puke hidden beneath a purple bowl, I had an AHA moment about SIN.

Shuddered to think people, even those closest to me, might look “beneath my bowl” and see my disgusting sin.

Lips sealed, fingers crossed, do I hide sin behind good works? Masquerade as a good Christian, wearing blinders rather than confront my sin?

Out of sight, out of mind, I fool myself.

 “Oh God, you know my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from you (Psalm 69:5).

 “He that covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28: 13).

King David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder. When David covered his sin, he suffered.

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Psalm 32:4)  

When David came to his senses, he humbly came before the Lord.

“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my heart” (verse 5).

Heaven forbid I cover my sin by comparing myself with others; pat myself on the back. I’m not as bad as….  

“Our Lord taught repeatedly that sin bottled up on the inside, concealed from everyone else’s view, carries the same guilt as sin that manifests itself in the worst forms of ungodly behavior (Matt. 5:21-30).” ~ John MacAuthur

The only remedy for sin involves uncovering our guilt.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us ours sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Does a Broken Spirit Hurt?

  I’m done!” I fussed. “I refuse to plant something else in that hole!”

Those angry words, along with the memory of my husband and daughter chopping down my Japanese maple, were like television re-runs in my head a week after the fact (previous blog).

I’d confessed my sin before God and apologized to my family for my emotional outburst, but I’d rewind the tape, stuck in self condemnation.

I knew I was forgiven, but the weight of sin and my inability to walk in a manner worthy of Christ held me captive.

When I shared my sorrow with others, I was told to lighten up. “You’re justified in your anger. I’d be furious too.”

Perhaps, but God used that felled tree to prune my heart and rip out the root of bitterness  that had been growing inside of me long before that autumn day.

And the process was painful.

Not unlike a broken bone whose fracture has to be re-aligned in order to heal properly.

The image of wearing sackcloth and covering my head in ashes as a sign of repentance became a Biblical truth that finally went from my head to my heart. And left me …

Broken.

Which isn’t a spiritually bad place to be.

Because Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

For that’s when spiritual transformation and healing begins.

Because the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Not unlike the sinful woman who brought an alabaster jar of perfume to a Pharisee’s house where Jesus was dining. “And she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50).

As God restored to me the joy of His salvation, I longed to be like that woman and show my adoration towards Christ who forgives sin and tells me to “go in peace.”

Instead of pouring perfume on His feet, I erased the tape of re-runs in my head.

And where the Japanese maple once stood in my yard, I ate my words and planted a fragrant Italian Cypress.

Ever green; ever a reminder that even in this situation,

Beauty can rise from ashes and mourning turn to joy

When Christ is allowed to be the Gardener of my soul.

Why’d You Do it?

The dark-haired woman sees me enter the jail room. Standing up, she flings her cards on the table and tells me, “Don’t even ask.”

We go to another table and sit across from each other. I study her downcast eyes, and wait for an explanation.

 “I couldn’t do it. I got lonely and anxious. So I went back to my old friends and habits.” She covers her mouth with her hand while she speaks. But it doesn’t hide her missing upper teeth. I never realized she wears dentures.

I touch her arm, remembering her joyful mood the previous month. We had praised God because she was clean of drugs, leaving jail, and determined to follow Jesus instead of her peers.

She’s not the exception. I’ve watched too many women leave jail with great intentions only to return again and again. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is the culprit. Ruined lives, and families ripped apart, are the collateral damage.

I leave jail despondent. Will these women ever break free of the lifestyle they’ve chosen? Where’s their will power?     

Days later, I come home after a long day. I’m alone. Hungry, I open the refrigerator. I don’t want to cook. I’m tired of salads. Looking for leftovers, I open a container of homemade onion dip. My mouth waters as Will Power shouts “Put it back.” But the onion-flavored sour cream lures me like a Greek Siren.

 Why not? I’ve been on a strict diet for a month. I’ve lost weight.  A few bites shouldn’t hurt.

Instead of spooning small portions of dip and potato chips onto a plate, I grab the bowl and a half bag of chips on my way to the couch.

Will Power warns, “You’ll regret this tomorrow.”

“But it tastes so good tonight.”

One bite, another. I’m hooked. Soon, I’m craving nachos. I cave into desire and smother tortilla chips with melted cheese and fresh jalapenos. If it weren’t midnight, I’d order a pizza.

At bedtime, my breath reeks of onions. I must chew Tums.

Disgusted, Will Power shakes her head. “You knew better. Why’d you do it?”

Groaning, I rub my stomach….

And weep for the dark-haired woman.

  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do; but what I hate I do. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:15,18,24,25)