I did a little cleaning this morning. I didn’t intend to clean. I intended to sew on my quilt on my day off. In preparation I was cleaning off the island in the kitchen so I could work on the quilt there and noticed the rest of the kitchen was in need of attention. So I got out my spray cleaner and a cloth and went at it.
For the most part that combination of spray and cloth was just fine until I got to the stove top. Yikes! It looked like we had boiled over a pot of cooking potatoes and maybe a few other things. I sprayed liberally and left it to soak a bit. When I came back, much of the dirt came up… but not all of it. So I scrubbed with my cloth, scratched with my finger nail and left more spray to soak. A few minute later it was improved but those potato water stains were stubborn. So I got out the big guns – just a little scrubbing powder on the end of a sponge. I scrubbed! And I scrubbed! I toyed with leaving the last little bit, but that never works out well for me. just have to come back later and work harder at it. So I stayed at it until every last bit was gone. I’m probably ready for a nap now! (Just kidding.)
As I was scrubbing my thoughts turned to theology – one of the dangers in being a pastor. I was reminded of the frequency with which the scriptures refers to our need to wash in order to rid ourselves of sin. In protestant churches we believe that God forgives our sins whenever we ask. We even believe that God forgives us our sins when we miss one or forget to ask. This was one of the theological eureka moments for Martin Luther. When he was a Roman Catholic priest he was terrified he would forget a sin or miss a sin and so he went to confession several times a day until his confessor was worn out. When Luther finally realized the grace of God in Jesus Christ was complete and final, he was greatly relieved.
This does not mean, however, that we have no need to confess our sins. Confession is part of the way we recognize there is something harmful in our lives that needs to be washed out. Knowing we are forgiven is another part of cleaning up our lives. Resting in the love and grace of God helps us to have the courage to change. My experience, however, tells me that simply confessing and receiving forgiveness does not always result in the change I need in my life. Sometimes there is a little scrubbing needed. That is… sometimes I need to put some effort into make the changes needed in my life. I try to be patient with myself as the Lord is patient with me. At the same time, I keep working to rid myself of my those self-defeating patterns of behavior in my life. I pray for help. I make changes in my daily patterns or daily haunts to avoid the sin I am trying to scrub out. I invite help from friends or mentors if appropriate. I usually fail, confess, and receive forgiveness again. I pray for help some more. I keep working away at change a little bit at a time. And eventually, months later or sometimes years later I wake up one morning and realize I’m free. Like the cleaning of my stove, change of behavior takes time, perseverance, helping for others, patience and in when it comes to scrubbing out self-defeating patterns of behavior… it take the partnership and power of God.
Be of good courage. God is faithful and loves you dearly. He will never leave or forsake you.
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