The Aroma of Christ

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:14-15 NIV)

There's a 'not so kind' saying that goes, "Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way." Well, your author is an old fisherman, and I suppose on some  successful trips I have smelled that way. Of course, I do try to remedy that condition at the earliest opportunity.

Science tells us that the sense of smell is more acute than any of our other senses. A single whiff of apple pie, fresh mowed grass, orange blossoms, or an approaching rain shower is immediately recognized, even to the unseeing eye. Age old memories are brought forth clear and distinct by a momentary breath of an aroma from our past. I still remember the smell of my mother, her passing some 24 years ago. I don't have to see my wife to know she is near; her fragrance is sweet, magnetic, and a joy for me to inhale. So it is with genuine Christianity. Those who love the Lord Jesus emit a lovely aroma.

The Greeks in Corinth would have been very aware of the significance of Paul's reference to 'fragrances'. Whenever the Romans won a major military victory they would celebrate with a spectacular parade. Preceding the victorious company of soldiers would be heralds and priests swinging their censers with sweet smelling incense. The commanding general would lead the procession in a magnificent chariot, followed by his soldiers, musicians, and other officials. Then, soldiers would lead the defeated enemies through the city in bondage. All along the parade route you could smell the sweet aroma of the spices people were burning.As a part of the celebration, the Romans would burn fragrances on altars, filling the entire city with a pleasant aroma. Even those who could not witness the triumphal procession could hear the victory music and smell the pleasing incense. Everyone would know that their army had been victorious. The special fragrance came to symbolize victory to anyone who smelled it.To the conquered victims the incense has the stench of death lingering all about them.

Paul goes on to say in verse 16, "To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." To those who are perishing we are the smell of death. At least we should be. Our righteous walk with the Lord should be evident for all to see and as such bring a sense of guilt and remorsefulness to our unsaved brothers. We wear this smell of death not haughtily or in false piety, but remembering always that we once walked the same path as they. As for the fragrance of life; "We are to God the aroma of Christ…". We wear that fragrance only by the grace of God; "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV)

Another aspect of having the 'aroma of Christ', and the more important one, is the aroma sensed by our Father in Heaven. There is a TV commercial presently depicting some people sitting around a garbage can blindfolded. Hanging over the stinking garbage is a deodorizer that has supposedly masked the stench and when the blindfolds are removed the people are amazed that they could not smell what they now can see.

Going back to Leviticus (chapters 1-5), where the LORD established the method and manner for each of the five sacrificial offerings, the text states that each offering would be "an aroma pleasing to the LORD" . Such is the aroma of Christ's death on the cross to our Father God. The stench of our sin nature, our unholiness is masked by Christ's sacrifice at Calvary. Through Christ Jesus we exude the aroma of His sacrifice.

We who were God's former enemies (Rom. 5:10) have been conquered by the sovereign saving grace of God (Eph. 2:5), and taken captive by Him, and as His bond slaves are led and displayed by Him before a watching world (v. 7). It is my prayer that as we daily walk with our Lord, His sweet fragrance fills the air of our passing and all those we encounter would breath in the sweetness of Jesus.

May the Lord abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

My Grace is Sufficient

"Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:20-21 ESV)

But He [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you. . ." (2 Cor. 12:9a NIV)

So how much grace is sufficient and how can we know we receive the promised grace that 'washes us white as snow'?

We should understand that the grace to cover your sin is not the same as the grace I need to cover my sin. God does not spray paint His grace.

I cannot compare your pain, nor your pain tolerance with mine. You may say that on a scale of 1-10 your pain level is 3. Were I to experience that same exact pain I might insist it is a 6.

Likewise your trespass and mine, even though we think them alike, are not alike because of the contriteness of our hearts, the sincerity of our sorrow, the understanding of the grief we have caused our Lord, and other considerations.

I cannot know the level or amount of grace, how big a helping of grace is required to cover your trespass, but I can promise you it is not the same as mine, or your child's, or your husband's or wife's. It is not equal to or the same as that needed by anyone you know or anyone you might encounter.

Jeremiah wrote of God's grace in his book, Lamentations. He labeled that grace as 'compassions', and said, "They are new every morning".

Read with me chapter three of that book. Jeremiah is in despair. Though one could assign his woeful laments to all of Zion, or even appropriate them personally, we find in this chapter the outpouring of the author's own sorrows. No person, save Jesus, was treated with more contempt than Jeremiah in all the Bible.

And yet, like a match struck in the dark, there sandwiched by so many travails Jeremiah proclaims the soul saving grace of God:  "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,  for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:22-23 NIV)

Again I tell you, God does not spray paint His grace. Just as He has counted the hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30), just as He has ordained the number of your days before you were born (Ps. 139:16), and just as He has devised a plan for your life (Jer. 29:11), so too has He conceived and formulated the level of grace you need for today.

That is not the same grace you needed yesterday, nor the same you will need tomorrow or next week. It is the grace you need for today, for right now. If tomorrow your trespass is greater than today's, then His grace is greater still than today's.

The English versions of many verses in the Bible loses much in translation, and such is the case as we dissect Romans 5:20.  "…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…" Several translations use the same English word for 'increased' and 'abounded', i.e.., 'where sin increased, grace increased', or 'where sin abounded, grace abounded'.

It is important to note that in the original Greek the two terms used different words altogether. I think it important that we see and understand the difference. The Greek word in the first instance is "pleonazō" (Plain-Jane increased or abounded), whereas in the second instance the Greek word is "huperperisseuō" meaning super-increased or super abounded, and the difference in meaning is as great as natural and super-natural!

Mankind may "pleonazō" his sin, where, as only He can, God provides "huperperisseuō" grace.

And – "They are new every morning"! Great is His faithfulness!!

Stepping Out in Faith

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." (James 1:22-25 emphasis added)

My wife has a little ceramic plaque in our bathroom with the quote, "Ships are safe in port, but that isn't what ships are built for".

There is the story of Daniel Smith who was the first mate on a ship. He ran the everyday operations of the ship with great skill and earnestness. He got along well with his fellow officers and the ship's crew had much respect for him. His orders were always carried out with no dissension or sullenness.  His captain came to him one day with the  great news that the admiral of the fleet was promoting Smith to captain and he was to be master of his own ship.

Soon Smith took over his new command, a beautiful three masted prize. Just as he had done before Smith soon had everything on board 'ship-shape'. The woodworks were freshly varnished and the brass was polished to a brightness not seen aboard the vessel in a very long time. The hull was repainted, and the ship even sported a brand new ensign.

Smith diligently ran the crew through exercises, emergency fire drills, and all the regular operations of a fine sea going ship. This went on for some weeks and finally the Admiral came aboard to see why Smith had not weighed anchor and put to sea. The Admiral looked around and was greatly impressed with both ship and crew. "Very impressive" commented the Admiral. "Now, Captain Smith, when do you plan to set sail?"

Each time I see our little plaque I am reminded of my responsibility to serve God in some way. He has, in His mercy and by His grace, saved me from a sinful life; He has given me talents and spiritual gifts by which He intends me to 'feed His sheep', and He has opened my eyes to His Holy Word that I may understand my role in His kingdom. He has provided all that is needed for His work.

I look at that plaque and I hear my Lord asking me, "When do you plan to set sail?

When are you going to stop planning? When are you going to trust in My plan and abandon yours? When will you set your fears aside and surrender yourself to me? I did not create you to sit and ponder, or meditate on how you will serve Me! Get up – go out – do!!

When the Lord God asked "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?", there was no hesitation on Isaiah's part. He was quick to answer, "Here I am, Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8); and God also responded without hesitation, "Go and tell this people. . ." (vs 9).

There is a short verse concluding the narration of Jesus washing the apostle's feet. He tells them to follow His example and then He says "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:17) Not only are we instructed to serve but there is the promise that we will be blessed when we do.

Jesus wrapped up His Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . .but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. . ." (Matthew 7:24-27 emphasis added) Both the wise and foolish builder 'hears these words', but it is the ones who 'put them into practice' who find themselves anchored to a rock – The ROCK.

I pray we would all weigh anchor and set sail for Jesus. Let us all be doers of the word and not hearers only.

Be blessed.

Conditional Grace

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . .Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16, 18)

As we re-visit this most beautiful promise of eternal life we must also reread the conditions for that eternal life. The first few words of the passage assures us of God’s unconditional love – “For God so loved the world. . .” – no conditions, no stipulations, no caveats. How wonderful it is to know that there are no prerequisites to His love of us all.

Jesus followed that unconditional promise of God’s love with the conditional promised reward of eternal life – “that whoever believes in Him. . .”  Jesus was speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, of whom He referred to as “Israel’s teacher”. He then expounds on this  promise in more explicit terms in verse 18.

Jesus had opened the conversation with the declaration that “. . .no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) Here the terms are reversed – a curse is promised, but with a conditional reprieve.

Another verse you see me use often is 1 Corinthians 2:9 – “However it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him”. Then follows verse 10 – “but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” Here again we see God has done the preparatory work, but there is a condition for who will benefit  from His providence – “those who love Him”, and verse 10 declares that we have no excuses as the truth has been revealed to us.

In second Chronicles, chapter 30, we read of King Hezekiah’s restoration of Passover for Israel. Although Hezekiah was King of the southern kingdom of Judah, he sent letters out to several of the tribes of the remnant of the northern kingdom, having been conquered by the Assyrians. We will address only a few verses from Hezekiah’s letter here, but may I encourage you to read the entire chapter for better context. (2 Chronicles 30:1-12)

  • Verse 6: “People of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” In other words, if you return to the Lord, He will return to you.
  • Verse 7: “Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that He made them an object of horror, as you see.” The cause – the condition of their being made an object of horror was their unfaithfulness.
  • Verse 8: “Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you.” God’s burning anger is due to – conditional on – your being stiff-necked. His anger will turn away if you will serve Him.
  • Verse 9: “If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him.” Not only will God show His compassion, He will cause whatever may be your ‘captor’ to relent.

The narration of the response to Hezekiah’s letters follows in verses 10-12. Some responded with ‘scorn and ridicule’ (10), while others ‘humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem’ (11). Why did some respond negatively and some positively? Read verse 12 (2 Chron. 30:12). “. . .the hand of the LORD was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.”

We should meditate on this and think of the stunning implications. Is there a contradiction implied here? Is the Bible saying that God says “return to Me, and I will return to you” and yet “the hand of the LORD was on the people to carry out the word of the LORD”? Does God choose to ’cause’ some to follow His will and others He does not? Where does that leave us in our responsibility to choose to obey or not to obey?

Such thought is a grave mistake and a misunderstanding of the scripture. Verse 12 is a revelation of God’s unmitigated grace. For those who are predisposed to disobey, God’s grace passes them by like an invisible, unknowable spirit. For those who are predisposed to obey, God grants that same grace that allows us to choose to follow Him. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Someone recently shared with me their vision of God’s grace. He said he pictured grace as an umbrella. We choose to stand under it or not – and yet it is God, by His Holy Spirit, that guides our choice as where we may stand – in His grace or not. We should never jump to the conclusion that what we choose, and what God does in response, depends ultimately on us.

Verse 12 teaches explicitly: ‘What God commands, He may also give.’ It is a very close parallel to Augustine’s famous prayer: “Command what you wish, but give what you command.” (Confessions, X, xxix, 40).

Let us be ever mindful of the sovereignty of our Lord God. He rules and reigns with no input or counsel from His creation.

We pray God’s blessings on you and yours and that He will bless you with the grace to choose to follow Him.

Visiting Sodom and Gomorrah

I invite you to return with me to the familiar saga of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis chapters 18 & 19. As we read between the lines, (and your author takes some literary liberties with the scripture), we detect a few subtle hints which may help us paint a clearer picture of the events of that fateful day and the message God would send to us all.

Let’s review the cast. We have an angry God, two angels of destruction, Abraham, Lot and his wife, two daughters and their husbands to be. Oh yes, and a mob of perverts.

It is a curiosity to me that we are given that God tells Abraham that He must “go down and see if what they have done is…” (Gen 18:21) – This from an omniscient God??? He must go and see?? But from this anomaly we find solace in knowing that merciful God is not impulsive in His discipline. He does not act hastily nor on hearsay evidence. He is slow to anger, abounding in love.

But the evidence is conclusive and the sentence is passed; Death and destruction – complete and irreversible. Centuries later Ezekiel will tell of how God derives no pleasure in such judgments – but they are just and prosecuted with due cause (Ezek. 14:21-23)

Although St. Peter relates that Lot was a righteous man (2 Peter 2:6-8) we find he has abandoned the tent life of his Uncle Abe for a house in Sin-city Sodom (Gen 19:3). We wonder how he can tend his great herds (Gen. 13) from a house in the city. Actually we find Lot is not a practicing shepherd now as he is found lounging around the city gate as the two angels approached. I guess he traded his flocks for a home in the hood. Let’s give the guy a break and say he was on mission. Again quoting old St. Pete – Lot was “….distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men”

Yet many a Bible scholar will insist that the bloom had fallen off Lot’s rose. The moth cannot with impunity flutter about the flame. By and by, much as the frog in the cookpot, we are slowly, blindly, drawn into believing the lie. Lot had betrothed his daughters to Sodomites and so we surmise he was well entrenched into that society.

Even as God has sent His emissaries to the rescue, they will go kicking and screaming, each of the two angels grabbing a hand of the party of four must drag them from the city. And in a last moment’s yearning, Lot’s wife would disobey once too often, glancing back at what she had embraced as home. In a visit to the Dead Sea today, you will encounter ‘pillars of salt’ around the perimeter of that desolate body, some of which your guide may suggest could be our disobedient gazer.

Not satisfied to have been rescued, Lot now protests the Divine’s appointed place of rest and demands to choose his own refuge in Sodom’s sister city of Zoar. How often do we choose our preferred city of refuge following His rescue from certain disaster. Surely Lot and company had no claim to be saved, nor do we. As we are admitted entrance through those pearly gates how surprised we will be to find who is among the saved, and they too surprised by our own salvation. (Rom. 3:9-11)

In summarizing the epic tale we should consider this:

  • Lot was saved, at least in part, due to Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 19:29). Pray on brother! Pray on sister! The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:13-16)
  • God sent His rescuers to Lot – yes, He sent His angels to Sodom. He sends His angels to your Sodom. He stands at the door and knocks, and knocks, and knocks. He rescues all who will answer His call. None are too sinful. He goes after the one which is lost until He finds it. (Luke 15:4)
  • The angels sought to rescue more – (Gen. 19:12) Who will you bring with you? Today we’ve lined our tongues with velvet lest we offend. Sometimes we need to offend. An atheist comedian recently commented, “How much do you hate the unbeliever that you would not share your message of faith with him?”
  • The destruction was imminent! The angels told the party, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!” (Gen 19:17) The Bible tells us that our Lord Jesus’ coming will be like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-3) Hurry my friend. Hurry to your salvation. Flee from that sin that so easily entangles – (Heb. 12:1)

In closing, we know that comparisons have been made to Las Vegas, New Orleans, but in reality whether you live in Smalltown, Alabama, Middleburg, Ohio, or Bigcity, Texas there are those ‘seedy’ sides of town that are as exceedingly sinful as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were. You need not travel to the night lights to find that perversion that so incensed God; today it is delivered, free of charge, by satellite dish and cable. Don’t be drawn into the candlefire.

Until next time. . .may you be abundantly blessed by God, and may you be a blessing to others.