We all want answers—and we want them. Now. Like why haven’t I gotten a text back about that yet?
But we don’t’ have the all of the answers.
We all have parts of our lives that don’t make sense. The HOW will I pay these bills? And WHERE should I go to school/move/work? The WHO should be my roommate or should I marry or should I ask to start this business with me? The WHEN will I find out or get a break? And the WHY is this happening? And without answers to our questions, without the full picture, our current situations are confusing and sometimes seemingly hopeless or scary or stressful.
Do you remember the scene in A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise's character wants answers?
“You want answers?” Colonel Jessup challenges.
“I want answers.” Tom Cruise is emphatic.
“You want the truth?” Colonel Jessup questions.
“I think I’m entitled,” Cruise cries out.
“You can’t handle the truth!” Jessup retorts.
And some days this captures my conversations with God.
“You want answers?” God asks.
I want answers.
“You want the truth?” God asks.
I think I’m entitled God, because I want to go where You want me to go, to do what You want me to do, I want to get rid of this stress, I want out of this relationship, I want a job that fulfills me and pays my bills, I want to do better, for things to be better, but I need answers, I want them, I deserve them.
And thankfully God answers much more gently than Jack Nicholson, “Oh sweet, beautiful, daughter, you can’t handle the truth. Not now. Not yet.”
Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 13 as, “Now I see in a mirror dimly, then face to face.”
When applying to colleges, I sent applications to four. I got into one—my backup school, the one I’d never visited. My last choice. Why, God, did I not get into my top three? I asked.
I’d studied hard, gotten good grades, been active in clubs. I’d checked all the boxes, how did I get dung? God could have told me, “Well, you’ll need to meet your husband here, and one day he’ll be a professor there, and you two will raise a family in this very college town.” But I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my mind around any of that. It was too abstract. All I could see was a dim fog. But Miami ended up being my dream school, and well, I already told you the fairy tale ending.
Is there anything in your life that has you wondering, “Why God? How, God? When, God?” That you are looking up at God and saying, “What the heck?” That you wish God would just tell you the ending, so you could move forward? Is there anything you might be seeing dimly? Something you think you might want the truth about, but maybe, just maybe you can’t handle it yet?
I don’t know the answers to your questions, but I do know God keeps His promises. He is always true to His word. And I do know whatever you’re wrestling with; God will keep His promises to you, too. How do I know? Because the Bible is one beautiful, cohesive testament of God’s promises for His people and how He fulfills them.
The Old Testament books written hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, promise a Savior whose hands and feet will be pierced (Psalm 22:16), who will be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9), and who will be rejected by the rulers (Psalm 118:22). The Old Testament prophet, Micah, speaks that the Savior will be born in Bethlehem (5:2-5). Ezekiel 34 foretells He will come from the lineage of David.
Each and every one of these predictions came true. They are historically noted. God told the writers of these books what would happen. And when God makes a promise. He keeps it.
Fast forward to the New Testament and over and over again, we hear Jesus say something, and then see it happen.
“Be healed.” And the afflicted are healed. (Mark 1)
“Pick up your mat.” And the lame walk. (Mark 2)
“Silence. Be still.” And the storm stopped (Mark 4)
Because when Jesus says something. It happens.
Jesus tells his disciples, “I will be betrayed. I will be killed.” These are not promises you give when you’re trying to gain followers, gather people to your cause, show off your power, or flash your credentials. You only make these kinds of promises if you mean to keep them.
And He did.
But Jesus also promised, “On the third day I will rise again.”
And He did.
He and God knew at the beginning of time that we were going to mess up, and that they loved us and didn’t want to be separated from us. So God made a plan to save us, to take payment for our sins, to right our wrongs, and He knew the only guy for the job was Jesus. So God whispered His plan to the prophets. And then God kept His promise. Jesus died on the cross for me and for you. He took our sins. All of them. Paid for them in full. This was always the plan.
Jesus said it would happen. And it did.
Even though we saw dimly. Even though we couldn’t handle the truth.
God promises to use all things for good (Rom 8:28), that He has plans for us to prosper (Jer 29:11) and that He'll be with us even to the end of time (Mt 28:20). These are promises you can bank on, because He made them.
Only God knows the entire picture, all of the information. Because He’s the only one who can handle the truth. When we doubt, when we see dimly, when we can’t handle the truth, we have to find hope in the fact that Jesus is the TRUTH, in the fact that He keeps His promises. We might not have all the puzzle pieces yet, but when we do, we’ll say, wow, that is more spectacular than I ever imagined.
I have coffee splatters on the console of my car and a smear of toothpaste on my bathroom counter. A drop of shimmery lavender nail polish marks the top of my planner. There’s a spot on my jeans that’s been there so long, I’m not sure how it got there, but my suspicions are it’s chocolate in one form or another. And then last night, somebody (no one will be named) dropped a piece of pizza on the living room carpet. Which happens to be white. With six of us running at full speed, our house is lived in, to say the least. The dropped pizza was no big deal. But I couldn’t let the red splash of tomato sauce just sit in the middle of the floor, so I dug under the sink for that carpet spray stuff. I read the back and sprayed and scrubbed and scrubbed a little more. And then I turned it around—reading the label, Spot Remover.
Which made me laugh, because yesterday morning when I’d washed my face and noticed the twin zits on the end of my chin, I’d gotten out a product called Super Spot Remover—the cleverly named zit gel I keep handy for just such occasions.
I am covered in spots!
But my spots aren’t just literal spots. I am also covered in spots you can’t see. Splatters when I yell at one of my kids instead of talking through a rough moment. Dribbles when I forget to bring the dessert or sign the form or write the check or text back. Giant globs when I recall how I tucked God under my pillow in college and did things my way instead of leaning on Him. Shameful spots for things I’ve done in my past. Stains as I struggle with a broken relationship. Big blobs whenever I doubt God’s perfect plans in the every day (how will I ever get everything done on my to-do list?) or in the big decisions of life (where should my daughter go to college?). I could go on. I am covered in so many spots inside and out that I resemble a leopard.
And although I use stain stick on my clothes, spot remover on my carpet and face, spray on my counters, there is no cool new product that can clean my inside spots. It’s like the animal in the children’s book, Put Me in the Zoo. He can change the color and size of his spots. He can put them on the wall or on a tree, “But then,” the animal says, “All my spots are back on me.” And I can smile and laugh and apologize. I can move forward and try to bury my past and doubts and insecurities and shame and guilt under the busyness of the week or the façade of having it all together. I can try harder, work more, do better, but in the end all my spots are back on me.
Or at least I used to think so. But I’ve discovered the ultimate spot remover. And it doesn’t come in a bottle, it never expires and it’s absolutely free. It’s having a relationship with Jesus. See, He scrubbed all of my spots clean. So clean, He who knows everything about me—all my breakdowns and blunders—completely forgives me and loves me and doesn’t notice those old spots at all.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried--
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him--our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed. Is 53:5
No more spots to stick in a box or on a tree. No more spots can come back on me. Or on you. Whatever our spots may be, whatever color or size they are, no matter where we’ve tried to stick them or how we’ve tried to change them, Jesus died so that all of my sins and yours, all of our mistakes and failures past, present, and future were nailed to the cross and washed completely clean. And with all of those spots removed once and for all, we can clearly see our beautiful true reflections.
Do you have any spots you're working on removing? I'd love to hear. Leave a comment on the Read More or Comments tab below.
My daughters and I don’t perspire. We sweat.
After an intense summer of ninety-five degree runs, soccer practices, Zumba classes, and training sessions, we collectively created enough sweat and stench to rival the toxins of the local trash heap.
Unfortunately, so had our sports bras. I know they’re made out of some high tech fabrics that maximize comfort and movement during workouts, but that same fancy material seems to be a body odor sponge. Washing them was not doing the trick. They’d come out of the laundry cleaner, but still reeking of sweat. It was time to take some serious action. I tried drying them with fabric softener sheets, even though they’re never supposed to go in the drier. Desperate times call for desperate actions. Sadly, it was a fail. Once the humidity level dropped enough that I could actually walk outside without becoming instantly soaked, I tried drying the sports bras outside to air them out and let them soak in that fresh outdoorsy aroma. No luck. I tried sprinkling loads of laundry with lavender oil. Although the laundry room smelled lovely, the sports bras still came out of the machine putrid. By back-to-school our sports bras were so foul I wasn’t allowing them to be thrown in the hamper, because they were literally stinking up all of the other laundry. It was that bad. Nothing was working. Nothing.
I sat down my daughters and said, “I know our sports bras have all these fabulous colors like teal and hot pink. I know they have cool designs of squiggles and zebra stripes and dots. But I also know they smell to high heaven, and I haven’t been able to figure out a way to make them smell fresh again. I have one solution, but it’s risky. Bleach.”
Not being laundry experts they shrugged and asked, “Why’s that a problem?”
“Bleach is great at deep cleaning, but it literally takes color out of things, so our sports bras might have white spots or pale discolored patches, but come on, who sees them anyway? I think we need to try,” I answered.
They agreed and we ran the experiment. First round of sports bras bleached smelled…fresh. No way! It was true! Could it have been that easy all along?
And so now, the sports bras in question continue to go in with the whites, the towels, the sheets, the undershirts, and the Clorox. So far, none of them have come out faded, but they could at any time. And it would be okay, because we can actually put them on our bodies without cringing.
The same is true for us and our sins. We all sin. We judge someone else while pumping gas because of the way they look or because of the music coming out of their car. We tell a white lie to cover up the fact that we forgot or were running late. We gripe about a co-worker or teacher or coach. We do worse things too, but big or small, often or rare it’s sin. And it stinks!
We can try all kinds of crazy things to cover up our sins—to make them “smell better”. We can tell a great story around them to try to make them more acceptable. We can confess them to a friend to try and air them out. We can promise to work faster, try harder, do more, but the truth is none of our attempts can get the sin out of our lives. That’s right. None of them. Nothing will work to get that stench out of our souls. -- except Jesus.
In the same way Clorox literally pulls stench and stain out of clothing, Jesus pulls sin and all its nasty residue out of us; only He’s way better. He didn’t do it through a potent chemical, but through His blood. By dying on the cross, all of our stinky habits and smelly mistakes were bleached clean forever. Jesus washes us pure and clean any and every time we ask Him.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
“Nothing but the Blood” by Robert Lowry, 1876
Are there any sins stinking up your life? Give them a spin with Jesus, and I promise you’ll feel cleansed.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about boldness. About being bold in my faith. About what that means. About how I’m doing with it.
This is a tricky, sticky topic, not in whether we should or should not be bold in our faith. But how bold? When? With who? Again, I know the easy answers, everyone, all the time, everywhere. But I also know that smacking someone in the face with Jesus, might not explain His love to them, might not make them curious. Not only could an all out in your face approach to sharing the Gospel make some people feel nervous about Jesus, it just may make them put up a wall. Yet other people, want the cold bucket of water to fall on them, so they can feel something, have the a-ha. So how can I be bold in all the right ways, sharing Christ’s love, His grace, in beautifully finessed, natural transitions, real life examples that will touch the right people at the right times in the right ways. It’s a challenge.
I was invited to a lovely brunch over the weekend with people of varying faiths. There was a delicious traditional Jewish spread complete with bagels, lox, knishes and Hamantash, cookies in the shape of Haman’s hat to celebrate the Jewish people being saved when Queen Esther was bold enough to confront King Xerxes -- picture Mr. Lunt from the Veggie Tales, Esther. At least I did.
The food was set up buffet style. We all piled our plates, complemented the host and hostess, sat, and then… everyone started eating. Was this where I should offer up a prayer? Or would that have been rude in a Jewish household, or rude in someone else’s household regardless of faith or tradition? Is it my place as a Christian? Or not my place as a guest? I didn’t know. So, I sat, and bowed my head and thanked God in my mind for the food and fellowship and prayed that I could be a light. Did anyone notice my head bowed? I don’t know. Nobody commented. What would I have said if they did?
Boldness. It’s challenging.
And so, I’m challenging myself over the next couple of weeks to be bold in new ways, to intentionally share my faith.
I’m starting today by wearing my “Slave to Nothing: Romans 6:6” graphic tee I got at a Holly Starr concert. So far, I saw two people I knew at the grocery store. Both of them have children who attend Christian school with my kids, but I have never discussed my faith with either of them. Did they notice? They didn’t say. But there it was boldly written across my chest. Did the cashier notice? Other shoppers? Did anyone read it and wonder what it would feel like to be a slave to nothing? No. Thing? Not a one? I hope so. I pray so. Did anyone take note of the verse and look it up later? Maybe even Google Holly Starr and listen to one of her songs filled with the message of Christ’s love. I hope so. I pray so.
This is day one. I like it. It makes me smile, wearing this shirt. Boldness. In this way fits as nicely as a comfortable tee.
How about you?
Any ideas on how you’ve recently been bold in your faith? Any challenges you face in being bold?
One of the bonuses of living in a college town is “free week”. The first week of each semester, all of the fitness classes at the University Recreational Center are free. You can try everything from Zumba to Kick Boxing. You can take five or six classes a day for free, if you’re body is up for it. There’s a ton to learn. There’s no limit.
Me? I already take yoga classes, so when I attend the first week of a semester, I’m not getting a sneak peek at what the class is like. I’m getting something even richer. I’m getting back to basics.
There is an underlying current in the yoga room during free week. There are twice as many bodies. Barely any of the polished wooden floor peeks out from the kaleidoscope of yoga mats. Regulars shift, make room, adjust, give up their familiar spots for class. Which is a good thing. It gives us a new perspective. New faces pepper the room along with a rainbow of workout clothes reflected in the back mirrors.
Our instructor, Holly, is especially brilliant during free week. She takes us back to basics. As the digital clock ticks 8:00 her voice begins, reminding us how to sit. Instructing us how to breathe. Reinforcing that our breath is the most important part of our practice. Breathing? Isn’t that so obvious? But don’t I forget? We spend an hour going back to the core elements of yoga. And it is beautiful. And it is extremely difficult. I discover there are multiple poses I thought I’d figured out that I haven’t. I realize there are certain times my hips are out of line or that I forget to breathe altogether. I’ve been so focused on transitions and balance and strength, I forgot to focus on the basics. Transitions, balance, and strength are all important. They all help me get more out of the class. And it’s not that I’ve never heard the basics, never been taught how to breathe. It’s just that I lose sight of them, in the midst of everything else.
My faith is like this too. It is critical for me to continuously go back to basics, to relearn how to breathe in God’s grace, to reteach myself the Gospel. God is always teaching me new things. And there are always things He helps me discover I can be working on in my life. If I flip through my most recent blog posts I get a clear picture of the recent issues on my heart—friendships in faith, following God’s plans instead of mine, turning over my fears to Jesus, slowing down. And these are all great things, things God really wants me to be working on. But want to know what He most wants me to be aware of? He wants me to breathe in the Gospel.
What is the gospel? Pretty simple, yet so complex:
1. I will never measure up. Sound harsh. Not really. I’m not perfect. I fall down. I screw up. Every. Single. Day. I yell at one of my kids. Fall. It’s fine to discipline them, have certain expectations of them, but yell? Nope. I judge somebody, based on what they say or how they look or how they’re different than me. I wish I never ever did. But I do. Fall again. You get the idea.
2. Jesus died for my sins, so I don’t have to measure up. He was “all that” and then some. He is perfect. His blood covers all of my ugliness, mistrust, pride, jealousy, and insecurities. All of them. All of the time. Time and time again. I don’t have to be perfect. Ahhh. I am loved. Double ahhhh.
Because God loves me, I strive to be the best version of myself – all those things on my heart—the slowing down and trusting. Yet knowing I’ll never be able to master them is a good place to start, because it reminds me of God’s grace. And how beautiful and loving and overwhelmingly amazing it is. And when I inhale the fact that He loved me enough to die for me and exhale all of my darkest moments, because He loves me even in the midst of them, it helps me with all of those other things I’m working on.
I don’t know what’s on your heart today, where God is working on you, but I can promise if you remind yourself of the Gospel, of what He’s already done for you, of how immense His love is for you, you’ll be off to a good start. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Laura L. Smith