2 Corinthians 2:12-17 – The Sweet Scent of Salvation

“When I went to Troas to preach the good news about Christ, I found that the Lord had already prepared the way.  But I was worried when I did not find my friend Titus there. So, I left the other followers and went on to Macedonia.

I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory. God also helps us spread the knowledge about Christ everywhere, and this knowledge is like the smell of perfume. In fact, God thinks of us as a perfume that brings Christ to everyone. For people who are being saved, this perfume has a sweet smell and leads them to a better life. But for people who are lost, it has a bad smell and leads them to a horrible death.

No one really has what it takes to do this work.  A lot of people try to get rich from preaching God’s message. But we are God’s sincere messengers, and by the power of Christ we speak our message with God as our witness.” (CEV)

God is the One who calls and empowers people for service in the church and the world. God is the powerful sovereign ruler of the universe who prepares the way for people to proclaim the good news of deliverance in the name of Jesus. God is the Being who dominates Holy Scripture. God is the main and principal actor in the unfolding drama of redemption in the Bible.

God is the Great Shepherd who calls, gathers, assures, forgives, teaches, leads, and sends people throughout every era. God is the diligent and careful farmer who enables the knowledge of Jesus to spread across the earth and cause a bloom of grace to flower.

God is the divine florist who produces the sweet smell of salvation from a rancid past of relational separation.

You see, my friend, that unless we capture the vision of a God who orchestrates and animates self-revelation to others, you and I will muck around this world trying to live the Christian life in the misguided notion that leading others to Jesus Christ is on our shoulders – that somehow our ability, or lack thereof, determines whether another person is delivered from their brokenness and finds God.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are estranged from God, like vulnerable lost sheep in the world, are called by the shepherd, not us. We simply go in the enablement of God’s power and blessing to pick up lost sheep and carry them back to the fold. 

You and I are messengers, couriers from God with a life-giving message of forgiveness and deliverance for all whom the Lord calls – and God’s voice can be heard across the entire world.

We are field hands who enter the harvest and enjoy the gathering of fresh grain into God’s great storehouse of grace. You and I did not make anything grow. God was really behind the planting, the growth, the rain, the sunshine, and the harvest. In many ways, we are just along for the tractor ride.

Many Christians put far too much emphasis on themselves – what they should and could be doing, as if the salvation of others depended on them. But God is behind every good and beautiful thing in this earth. Learning to trust the Lord’s leading and power makes all the difference in a world needing Jesus. 

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I might be an instrument in your grand orchestra of salvation, giving off the sweet scent of salvation and blowing the sound of Jesus Christ in melodious sounds of deliverance; with the breath of the Holy Spirit giving the wind.  Amen.

Psalm 147:1-11 – Awaiting Divine Love

Praise the Lord!
    Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
    Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted
    and bandages their wounds.
God counts the stars by number,
    giving each one a name.
Our Lord is great and so strong!
    God’s knowledge cannot be grasped!
The Lord helps the poor,
    but throws the wicked down on the dirt!

Sing to the Lord with thanks;
    sing praises to our God with a lyre!
God covers the skies with clouds;
    God makes rain for the earth;
God makes the mountains sprout green grass.
    God gives food to the animals—
    even to the baby ravens when they cry out.
God does not prize the strength of a horse;
    God does not treasure the legs of a runner.
No. The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
    the people who wait for his faithful love. (CEB)

Early each morning I rise, take the dog for a short walk, make a cup of coffee, then open the life-giving message from the God of the Bible. I read out loud – slowly, mindfully, carefully – allowing the words to seep and make their way down into my soul. 

The Holy Spirit of God gently nudges, sometimes forcefully hurls, me toward a verse, phrase, or word from the text. Contemplating, ruminating, thinking about the Holy Scripture begins to set the trajectory of my day. God is throughout the hours, as I move from one to the next. Sometimes the Lord and Scripture are very much at the forefront of my thinking, other times in the background shaping how I speak and act, and always on my heart enlarging it and filling it with his grace.

Most of life is lived in the mundane. The banality of life is the norm, even in times of change. While others run from prayer to prayer looking for miracles and the next big spiritual high, the one who is patient… waits… and honors God… has a treasure within which transcends language or outward fanfare. The settled conviction of the person in continual communion with the God of the universe peacefully waits for faithful, steadfast, committed, divine love.

There is no description for such a divine/human spiritual relation which exists, giving patience to the penitent and joy to the heart of God.  Such love exists beyond the plane of daily news crises and the continual hum of the crowd. Indeed, the Lord God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, has stooped to cup his hands and treasure the creature formed in the divine image. 

“Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.” 

Teresa of Ávila

Patience is not a bore. To wait is to be at peace. Because God is there. And it is good to be full of God.

O God of peace, you are the one who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your gentle Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your loving presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 111 – Theology 101

Total Praise by Barbara Hayes

Praise the Lord!

I will thank the Lord with all my heart
    in the meeting of his good people.
The Lord does great things;
    those who enjoy them seek them.
What he does is glorious and splendid,
    and his goodness continues forever.
His miracles are unforgettable.
    The Lord is kind and merciful.
He gives food to those who fear him.
    He remembers his agreement forever.
He has shown his people his power
    when he gave them the lands of other nations.

Everything he does is good and fair;
    all his orders can be trusted.
They will continue forever.
    They were made true and right.
He sets his people free.
    He made his agreement everlasting.
    He is holy and wonderful.

Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord;
    those who obey his orders have good understanding.
    He should be praised forever. (NCV)

First and foremost, the psalms are about God. So then, the psalter is a rich description and repository of sound theology. As such, each psalm enlightens us about the Lord of the universe. Keep in mind that Christians are presently in the season of Epiphany. Although Lent is fast approaching with its own seasonal focus, we are still inhabiting the light shown for us – beginning with the star of Bethlehem and bringing all kinds of people to the Christ.

The Psalms are a wonderful source of light, leading us to discover, know, love, and serve the God who has shown grace to us by divine revelation. To read and pray the psalter is to have a crash course in Theology 101…

  • We pray because we believe we will be heard. 
  • We believe we will be heard because we believe there is a God who listens. 
  • We believe there is a God who listens because we believe the One who listens is always merciful, kind, and good. 

The basis of all prayer is our view of God.  Nobody sustains a prayer life to a fickle distant God who is only attentive whenever it strikes his fancy. But if God is really God – fair, just, committed, and full of good deeds – then, prayer is an effortless interaction, and we are eager to do it.

Notice the descriptions of God in today’s psalm. God’s attributes and character translate perfectly into just and loving action in the world:

God is full of glory, therefore everything the Lord does is splendid.

God is good all the time, therefore goodness never runs out of steam.

God does miracles so that we will not forget the accessibility of divine power.

God is kind and merciful as demonstrated by providing for human need and keeping divine promises.

God is honest and fair; therefore, humanity can trust in divine judgments.

God is free, and so, can set people free from their worst spiritual bondage and self-imposed prisons.

The way to access such incredible divine resources is through honoring and respecting the Lord. Because God is the very definition of merciful grace and steadfast love, human overtures of respect and obedience become willing and joyful. In other words, we obey God because we want to – not because we must.

Entrusting oneself to a benevolent God who makes and keeps promises to people is easy. No coercion or persuasion is necessary. All that need be done is to declare the good things God has done.

Loyal and gracious God, you always keep your promises, and there is never a time when you renege on them.  Thank you for promising deliverance from sin, death, and hell through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit benevolently reign forever and ever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:14-18 – Overwhelmed with Grief

By Unknown artist

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame? (NIV)

Perhaps you feel as though you must put on a good face, a decent front for others to see. You don’t like other people seeing you upset or cry because it can be embarrassing. Maybe you believe others don’t need to be burdened with your sadness. The last thing you want is to be a killjoy.

Sometimes you might even put up a front with God.  Maybe you think God wants everyone to be perpetually happy and always sing with the birds in blissful joy and gladness, or whistle while you work. However, that would not be an accurate view of God.

One of the most faithful people in Holy Scripture, Jeremiah, freely and unabashedly lamented before God – to the point of wishing he were dead. Jeremiah, the incredible prophet of God, closer to the Lord than anyone of his generation, was so despondent and ashamed that he wished he were never even born. The suffering and the shame were just too overwhelming.

To say that Jeremiah had a difficult ministry is a gross understatement. He literally had the ministry from hell, prophesying to people who neither liked him, nor his message to them. In the middle of it all, Jeremiah threw up his hands and let out his complaint to God. Jeremiah was in such ministerial misery that he wished he had been a stillborn baby.

Lest you think Jeremiah was sinfully depressed or just cuckoo, he is far from alone in the Bible. King David had no scruples about letting God know how he felt about his dire circumstances. Job, likely the most famous sufferer of all, spent time doing nothing but lamenting his terrible losses for months. What all three of them have in common is that they openly grieved with great tears, yet neither cursed God nor forsook the Lord.

Lamentation is the sacred space between intense grieving to God without blaming the Lord for our significant changes and losses in life. I would even argue that lamenting and grieving before God is a necessary spiritual practice which needs full recognition in the Body of Christ. Please sit with that last statement for a bit and consider how it might become a reality in your own life and context.

Grief can and does attach itself to any change or loss. It is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that injury of the heart. There is only one way through grief. We must tell our story to another. It is both biblical and quite necessary.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

galatians 6:2, NLT

We need our spirituality to support us in such times – not drive us away through a misguided theology of believing you must keep a stiff upper lip. It is critical to have safe and supportive people in our lives when going through overwhelming circumstances.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”

Brené Brown

Our tears are holy. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. The prophet Jeremiah was doing a very godly thing in expressing his grief. And Jeremiah’s lament is what helped steel him for the several attempts on his life that he faced.

Let the tears do their intended work in your life.

God of all, you feel deeply about a great many things.  As your people, we also feel a great depth of emotion when our lives go horribly awry from our dreams and expectations.  Hear our lament as we pour out our grief before you, through Jesus, our Savior, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.