Smelling Pleasant to God

My favorite scents are vanilla, pumpkin, babies, books, homemade bread, coconut and suntan lotion, campfires and lilac. Some smells evoke memories of my childhood: reading my mom’s Nancy Drew books and visiting libraries and bookstores, going to the pool, and walking around my college campus during spring. Some scents are comforting. Some invigorate. Some help me relax.

We are made in the image of God. A God who also loves pleasing aromas.

Imagine Noah in the ark: 40 days with hundreds of animals. Would his small family have been able to keep up with cleaning the manure of all those animals? Doubtful. I assume the ark stunk. And outside the floodwaters would have carried the decay of all of humanity, besides Noah’s family. But when Noah finally left the ark and made a sacrifice of clean animals and birds, the smoke rose to Heaven, and the scent pleased God.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are instructions on how Israel was to make offerings and sacrifices to God. The aromas of the grain, animals, drink, and incense pleased God.

In the New Testament, under the new covenant, Jesus died as a final sacrifice to take away the sins of those who believe in him. And the aroma of that sacrifice pleased God. Ephesians 5:2

Did you know we can have a pleasing aroma to God as well? When we spread the knowledge of God to others, we are the pleasant aroma of Christ. When we spread the Gospel, we bring the scent of life into a dying world.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

It is incredible to think that if I am sharing the Gospel and telling others about Jesus, the creator of Heaven and earth is breathing deeply and is pleased with the scent of my obedience.

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Light Shining through Darkness

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

While reading through the Bible, I haven’t found one specific answer to this question of why bad things happen to good people. The Bible gives examples pointing to various reasons for different people and different situations. And sometimes what we think is a “bad thing” isn’t actually bad if viewed through the lens of eternity.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

This man was born blind. I am sure for his parents thought this was a bad thing. People thought the parents’ sin caused their son’s blindness. They probably carried guilt, shame, sadness, and maybe anger.

For the man, a life of blindness probably equated to life as a beggar. People might have also blamed him for his blindness. He may have felt sorry for himself, blamed his parents, and been angry at God.

But for this man, in this situation, the reason for the “bad thing” in his life was to bring glory to God. Jesus mixed saliva with mud, put it on the man’s eyes, had the man wash it off, and the blindness was gone. Jesus showed God’s power by healing the man.

And not only did Jesus heal the man’s physical eyes, but Jesus gave the man the opportunity to see the light of eternity. His physical blindness allowed him to see Jesus, physically and spiritually.

Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

John 9:35-38

Sometimes, what we see is a curse, is a blessing in disguise. What we see as a bad thing, may actually be something good. God sees the bigger picture and sometimes uses the darkness in life to lead us to eternity.

Lessons learned from Mary, the mother of Jesus

Mary had been waiting 30 years. Thirty years earlier, an angel had come to her and told her that as a virgin, she would miraculously conceive God’s son. She was to name him Jesus and he would be given the throne of King David, and he would reign over Jacob’s descendants. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary’s response: “I am the Lord’s servant; may your word be fulfilled.”

Mary most likely experienced ridicule as an unwed, pregnant teen. Her fiance almost left her. She gave birth in a barn and then had to move multiple times to escape a king who wanted to kill her baby. She had experiences that she knew pointed to Jesus’ destiny, and she stored those things up in her heart.

I wonder what Mary experienced spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I wonder what she thought when Jesus followed Joseph’s footsteps in becoming a carpenter. Did she worry she had misunderstood something the angel had told her? Did she doubt? Was she relieved that his ministry hadn’t started, thinking about Simeon’s prophesy that a “sword would pierce her soul” or was she anxious for Jesus to show the world who he was?

After 30 years of waiting, things were starting to happen. First, Jesus was baptized by the son of one of Mary’s relatives, John, and God spoke from heaven during the baptism. Then, a few of John’s disciples left John to follow Jesus, and Jesus recruited a few more followers. The wheels were starting in motion.

Then there was a wedding. Mary and Jesus and his disciples attended. Mary noticed that they had run out of wine, and she saw the chance for Jesus to shine.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:3-5

Even though it wasn’t yet Jesus’ time, he obeyed his mother and turned the water into wine, performing his first miracle.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:6-11

What lessons can I learn from this story?

  1. God is in Control: God had a plan for Jesus that had been in the works since the beginning of time. God had a plan for Mary. Jesus knew when his ministry should start and how. He knew the time and place. God also has a plan for my children, and He sees the bigger picture. One of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend and it is eating me up, but God sees the bigger picture. Maybe there is something my daughter should be learning from this tough situation she is going through. Maybe there is something I should be learning. Maybe this is an opportunity and a blessing, rather than a curse. He loves my kids even more than I love them. So much he sent His son to come to earth, to be born to a virgin, and die for me and my kids. God has it under control. My job is to trust Him.
  2. It isn’t my job to try to “fix” everything for my children: I’m really struggling with this one right now. As I’m mentioned, one of my daughters is having a tough situation with a friend, and I want to jump in and fix everything. I hate seeing her hurting. But in reality, I can’t. I can’t control her friends. I can’t control her friends’ parents. And God never calls me to smooth the road for my kids or open doors for them or fix things for them. God commands me to train them up in the way they should go, to discipline them, and to teach them about Him. God’s commands should be my first concerns when it comes to parenting.
  3. Be Patient: God isn’t finished with me or my kids yet. Mary waited 30 years for her son’s ministry to begin. I imagine these were 30 years of praying and pondering, but being human, probably also doubting and wrestling with all the emotions that mothers feel. God knows the perfect timing. My job is to keep loving, keep praying, keep obeying. And to wait on Him.
  4. God is bigger than my mistakes as a mom: Jesus clearly stated that it wasn’t yet his time to begin his ministry, but in obedience to Mary, he started his ministry. No, it wasn’t the right time. Maybe there was another “start” that would have better, but God worked it out. Mary’s mistake as a mom didn’t derail Jesus’ ministry. It didn’t make God abandon His plan. God is bigger than my mess ups as a mom. He’s bigger than my sins, and temper tantrums, and poor timing and poor parenting. Regardless of what Mary did or didn’t do, Jesus still fulfilled his mission and died to save us.

Serving Jesus by Serving Others

It was just hours before Jesus’s betrayal. By the end of the night his trials and torture would begin.

Jesus sat down to enjoy a final meal with his closest companions. It was the Passover, a Jewish celebration of God delivering them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12) and Jesus had been eagerly looking forward to the meal and time with his disciples (Luke 22:15).

Instead of savoring that last meal and praising and thanking Jesus, what did the disciples do? They started arguing with each other about which one of them was the greatest. Now granted, Judas was the only one of them who knew he’d be betraying Jesus that night and none of them seemed to understand that Jesus’s death was imminent, even though he had told them many times in many ways. But still Jesus had already talked to them about humility and serving others and the first being last. He had also taught by his example of serving.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Jesus, Mark 9:33-35

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus, Mark 10:42-45

How many times am I like one of the disciples? Rather than focusing on Jesus and eternity, I look inward and ask, “What about me? What about my convenience and pleasure and success and satisfaction? What about my rights? What about my self-care and self-esteem? What about my needs and wants?”

Jesus responded to the disciples as they argued that Passover:

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Jesus, Luke 22:25-28

I need to take my eyes off of myself and keep them on Jesus. I should be fully listening to what He is saying rather than being self-absorbed. I should be storing up my treasure on heaven versus earth.

I need to look for every opportunity to serve others. Whether it be my husband, or children, or friends, or strangers.

I need to submit my wishes and wants to God.

I need to humble myself.

I need to view others as more important than me.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Paul, Philippians 2:1-8

Worry Getting in the Way

Today’s #DailyBibleReading (Luke 21) spoke to my heart, especially about not letting worry get in the way of focusing on Jesus and hearing his word.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.

Jesus, Luke 21:34

And earlier in the chapter, Jesus talked to the disciples about the persecution that they would face and he said they should make up their minds beforehand not to worry:

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.

Jesus, Luke 21:14

Jesus told his disciples not to let their hearts get weighed down by the anxieties of life and also to make up their minds not to worry. Right now I’m struggling with some worry. I can feel it physically in my shoulders and stomach. It isn’t even anything terrible that I am facing. I am re-branding my company and designing a new website and marketing materials. All good stuff. Exciting stuff. But what if the latest effort fails? What if I can’t find new customers? What if my current customers don’t like the new brand? What if I can’t live up to what I’m selling?

Personal insecurities and worries start to creep in. My mind starts going through scenarios. Trying to be proactive, I begin to strategize for every possible option, including failure. And then my time spent with Jesus in the Bible starts to suffer as my mind wanders. My prayer life starts to become rushed and unfocused. I snap at my kids and husband.

Jesus said not to let my heart get weighed down by the anxiety of life. It is a mental exercise. I need to make up my mind not to worry. I need to give it to Jesus.

A few weeks ago I read in Luke 8 about having my soul be “good soil.” Again, Jesus talked about letting God’s word penetrate my heart and not letting the worry of life get in the way.

This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Jesus, Luke 8:11-15

When my mind starts to wander into worry, I need to stop it. I need to take the worry off my hook and put it on Jesus. Look to him. Pray. Focus on him. And be careful not to let the worries of life get in the way of my walk with God.

How to Talk about Jesus with Unbelievers

How should we respond to people who are questioning our faith? How should we bring the truth of the Bible into everyday conversations? How should we talk to unbelievers and share the gospel message?

In Luke 20, Jesus was always prepared to give an answer to the questions he was given by the Pharisees and Sadducees. They tried repeatedly to trick him with their questions, but every time he came back with an answer that stopped them in their tracks. Jesus frequently used scripture to answer those who questioned him (Luke 20:17; 41-43).

We are commanded to always be prepared to give an answer, but to do it with gentleness and respect.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ‘ 1 Peter 3:14-16

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6

Lessons Learned on How to Talk to Unbelievers About Jesus

  1. Know the Bible. Read it every day. Memorize it.
  2. Know my own personal testimony. Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I have my hope in Jesus? Take time to write out my personal testimony with examples of how my life has been changed.
  3. Do not be afraid to discuss Jesus or share my faith.
  4. Speak and act with gentleness and respect.
  5. Revere God. Submit to Him. Don’t let my personal pride, fears, or anger get in the way of sharing in a loving way.
  6. Pray. Pray for opportunities to share about Jesus. Prayer for strength, peace, wisdom, and clear-speaking when those opportunities arise. 
  7. Make sure my behavior matches what I say. Don’t be a Pharisee who talks a good talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
  8. Look for opportunities to share and make the most of the opportunities in front of me.
  9. Be full of grace and love.

Making the Bold Ask

Most of my adult life I’ve done fundraising in some capacity. I’ve raised money for charities and political campaigns. I’ve asked for all kinds of donations: from cars to vacation packages to table sponsorships to multi-million dollar grants. While I know that most people hate asking for money, personally I’d much rather ask for money for a charity or political campaign than to ask for something for myself.

I struggle with clearly asking for what I want or need in professional settings, friendships, close intimate relationships.

The same is true for my prayer life.

I have no problem reciting a list of needs to God, especially when the needs are for other people. I struggle a little more when I am asking for things for myself – wisdom, to be a good wife and mom, to be disciplined in my walk with him – but I also know God says to ask for those and wants me to do them.

But I spend very little time having any really deep conversations with God about the desires of my heart. My personal battles. The temptations I struggle with. The wars I feel like I keep losing. The ugly stuff.

In Luke 18, Jesus gave two examples of people petitioning God for what they wanted.

The first (Luke 18:1-8) was a parable about a widow who kept coming to a judge with her plea for justice against an adversary. He finally gave in because of her persistence.

The second (Luke 18:35-43) was a blind beggar who came to Jesus and asked for mercy. Jesus asked him specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him, and he told Jesus he wanted to see. Because of his faith, Jesus healed him.

But what if the blind beggar didn’t just ask for his physical eyes to be healed. What if he asked for salvation and for eyes to see both physically and spiritually? Jesus asked the man specifically what he wanted Jesus to do for him and the man could have asked for anything.

Do I do the same thing? Am I shortchanging myself by not being bold and thinking big when I come before the Maker of the Universe?

Lessons Learned about Prayer in Luke 18:

  • BE BOLD!
  • Keep asking God over and over. Don’t give up on my prayers.
  • Cry out to God day and night.
  • Ask with faith.
  • Don’t just ask for the minimum. Think big.