I had taken daily trips to the garbage. Filled the container to the brim–and then some. Two hours later the truck pulled up. A feeling of joy came over me as I watched it being emptied.  Someone tell me I’m not weird!  

May we experience a similar relief with garbage that accumulates in our souls. We can forget it is there until our soul smells putrid. I take garbage out during my morning prayer. I do the acrostic “PRAY.” After time praise, I turn to repentance. I have a list of sins of the heart–a critical spirit, jealousy, a victim mentality, and more. I look over the list to see what God highlights. I take out the garbage so it doesn’t stagnate. Some truths about that:

Sin is garbage. Don’t make it sound nice. When I am carrying the trash out and a sack breaks, cleaning it up can be gross. Satan makes sin look beautiful.  Movies highlight affairs. Ugly and gross just became attractive. Sin is deadly. Garbage hides behind a victim mentality. Someone sinned against us, and we hold that person accountable, so we keep our garbage rather than eliminating it. Bad idea–it festers and torments us–literally. Read Matt. 18:34,35. We may share it with a friend. Another bad idea. We dump garbage on them, and they commiserate with us. Interesting word. They share our misery. Do we call that fellowship? It’s walking in darkness. 

Confession is taking out the garbage. As Cornelius Planting wrote, “Recalling and confessing our sin is like taking out the garbage; once is not enough.” Ours turned into maggots while we enjoyed our vacation. We came home to garbage that had multiplied. If we ignore sins, we start smelling. The longer we wait, the more putrid. We smell up the atmosphere with the toxic poison of bitterness and resentment. That is why James  wrote, “”Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…” (James 1:19-21). Garbage that goes in the truck on Wednesday is not recycled; it is used for landfill. Dump yours–don’t hold onto it!

We don’t focus on garbage. We focus on Jesus.  Garbage is not beautiful. As a high school student I thought it must be holy to look at my sins and say how bad I was. Wrong!  We become what we behold (2 Corinthians 3:18). What likeness do you want to be changed into? Looking at Jesus brings power to overcome sin. Unconfessed sin is gross, like the spaghetti in the back of the fridge that we forgot a month ago! Confessing sin and focusing on it are two different matters. Don’t call yourself a sinner. You are a saint who sins. Identity drives behavior. My dad used to say to me often, “Remember who you are,” long before Mufasa ever spoke it to Simba. He was establishing my identity so I could walk into my destiny. A skewed identity produces distorted behavior and an inferior destiny. We behave our beliefs, as my friend Kevin McClure says. We are what we think we are. The cross deals with the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin, but not all at once. We know Jesus dealt with the penalty of sin on the cross–suffering and death. But he also dealt with its power, so Paul was able to write, “Sin shall have no power over you, because you are not under the law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Romans 5-8 says nothing about forgiveness but a whole lot about freedom from sin. Believe it. 

We have two big bins at our house, one for recycling, the other for garbage. We recycle things like cardboard and empty bottles. Some people are recycling sin, dumping it on friends. Don’t treat them this way–unless you are confessing your sin.

Unattended garbage is not pretty. I helped my son Israel clean out a duplex he owned. The people had left quickly without cleaning. Food was left out. You could smell the chemistry when you walked in. Not even fun to clean up. You may think that you want to take your time to forgive someone, like you don’t have to do it right away. Be careful: you will start smelling like that abandoned duplex. 

The Gospel is the best way to handle garbage. We deal with two systems–mercy or merit, law or gospel, old covenant or new covenant. If you are saying, “I can’t just forgive them; that is letting them off the hook,” you are operating under the law, not the gospel. Fairness is “an eye for an eye.” The gospel is Jesus from the cross saying, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus brought in a new culture. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Radical, a totally different way of dealing with sin than the system that most people in the world operate with, but not Christians, at least not those who want to live in the freedom of the gospel. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Amen!!

Forgiveness is power! Use it to keep your insides clean and to transform others. The words of Jesus on the cross did a number on one of the thieves. He had not operated with that system. They were getting what they deserved for their lives of crime, and the Lord of the universe just forgave him for everything he ever did. Wow! Forgiveness is powerful!! It opened his heart to the revelation of God’s mercy. Operating with the merit system keeps us tied to justice rather than mercy. James wrote powerfully, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12,13). Was it easy for Joseph to forgive his brothers? I don’t know, but he had already practiced it long before they met him as prime minister. He had been sinned against by Potiphar, who sent him into the dungeon. He had been sinned against by Potiphar’s wife, who wrongfully accused him. He had also forgiven the butler, who forgot to mention him to Pharaoh–for two full years, 730 stinkin’ days! He dealt well with his garbage!

Regret, by the way, is not repentance. It does not take garbage to the dump. It stays inside, keeping us in the past. Repentance moves us to the future. Regret is wishing something were different. Repentance removes the trash from our soul to the dumpster. Holding an offense sounds like a privilege. It is a prison. Joseph’s brothers didn’t expect him to forgive them, because they didn’t operate with the mercy system. He did. Through more than a decade of pain, Joseph managed to take life as it came to him without growing resentful.  When they lied to him about what their father had not said, he was broken rather than bitter. He had the power to send them to prison or to death. Instead he said, “I will take care of you and your little ones.” Powerful! They lived under his care the rest of their lives. Had he not really forgiven them, he would have boiled over sooner or later. He forgave immediately and completely. Call it the mercy system. He knew how to take out the garbage. He would not allow trash like resentment, bitterness, revenge, or unforgiveness to hide in his soul and keep him from walking into his God-appointed destiny. And he became the second most powerful man on the planet! Way to go, Joe! How about you?


  1. Jay says:

    Love your columns Paul. I also pass them along to young people I mentor in Christ.
    God bless you. 🙂

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