Costly Perfume

I read something recently that said something like, “ Whole fields are crushed to make an ounce of fragrance”. This thought has been rolling around in my mind lately as I am enjoying the short season of bloom happening with my roses in the backyard. Here are a couple pictures taken last week:

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I purchased the roses last year because of their sweet fragrance. Yeah, I was “that lady” walking around Lowe’s sniffing the roses like a weirdo. They were beautiful and so intoxicating. I stumbled around between the aisles, drunk on their lovely scent. I couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so I bought two bushes. Yes, two. $50 bucks in roses. I skipped happily home, imagining a glorious season of clipping fresh blooms, filling my house with beauty and dreams.

But the dream turned nightmarish before I got them in the ground. What did I know about caring for roses? First of all, I about died while digging up the hard ground to plant them. Preparing the soil? Pish Posh. A tiller? Nope. Just me and a shovel in a hole that could be big enough to plant a swimming pool soon. But I persevered.

Roses in the ground. Check.

The next problem I noticed was the blooms were very delicate. I am talking f.r.a.g.i.l.e. The same day a rose opened, the petals fell to the ground. Like the entire flower. Clumps of petals fell , leaving behind an ugly potsherd of a center nub.

Vases of blooms all summer long? Uncheck. Potpourri, maybe? 

I had hope.

Until the beetles arrived.

No one told me about the blasted beetles. Ugly, black beetles took up residence in my roses. I am talking a whole nation of them. In every crevice, everywhere. These beetles brought brothers, and cousins, and nephews, and, well, you get the picture. It was nasty. My beauties were gone in a matter of days. The beetles destroyed them. Completely. All of them. My rose bush corpses stood naked and ashamed the rest of the year. I had hoped for roses, now had only thorns. Life lesson, anyone? Something about beauty and ashes? 

So, this year when the roses started to bud and bloom, Glory! I got ready with the camera. I snapped some pictures to remember what once was. I even managed to clip a few that I enjoyed indoors for a minute, until a band of earwigs filed out, and I moved the rose bowl back outdoors. Sigh. No clue about bugs and roses.  Seriously, who knew roses were so hard to grow? So much against them. Such a short cycle of bloom and beauty before the barren begins again.

Is it worth it?

This is the question I ponder as I tend my roses. The Christian life can feel like this. So difficult, and so much comes against us. Can we really hope to be a long-standing sweet perfume unto the Lord? I thought of Mary, who poured every ounce of her costly nard over Christ before the Cross. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Judas, the traitor, objected to such waste. The hypocrite – who later traded his Treasure for 30 pieces of silver. Hardly competent to criticize.

But Jesus, our Treasure, spoke up for Mary. “Leave her alone…it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The Rose of Sharon, whose hour had come, the hour when His seed would break and fall to the ground, producing many more. He who lived this question out in his own life, “Is it worth it?” HE thought her act was worthwhile, appointed even for the hour. Yes, the roses are worth it, though fields are crushed for an ounce.

Though we are crushed in its making.

Could our lives be a costly perfume? A brief season of fragrance we can offer to the Lord, or not. The choice is ours.

But so is the result.

The life that pours out has fruit that lasts in the treasury of heaven. This life bears more than brief roses, and leaves behind more than naked shame. His promise, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) means little, until you’ve stood in your own ravaged garden, clinging to crushed remains, believing there will yet again be a season of beauty.

One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

I was sitting outside reading my morning devotions when a familiar song floated through the air to my listening ears. I had just finished praying the verse above for my husband, asking the Lord to bless him in his work. These were the words stuck in my mind, “I pray my husband has a desire to serve You and to work unto You no matter what his job title states”[i].

The next sound I heard was the lyric, “Great are You, Lord” coming from somewhere in front of my house. I could hear what sounded like a bus or a truck running, and the worship song was playing above the idling vehicle, fairly loud for the early morning hour. I started to sing along, “All the earth will shout your praise, our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, Great are You, Lord!” Then I started to cry. The words so poignantly resounded with my prayers. And all so unexpectedly. It amazed me how the song mingled with my words, lifting a sweet fragrance of prayer.

Who was this, playing this song in my front yard, at exactly this moment? I didn’t know, but I had to find out. I tip-toed carefully through the wet grass in my flip-flops to get a peek around the corner before whoever it was pulled away. What I saw surprised me further. A trash truck. A large, white, Rumpke truck in front of the neighbor’s house, and men outside of it, loading the trash, and worshipping God.

Is it just me, or is this the perfect illustration of glorifying God in our work? The work is hard – heavy lifting, dirty, smelly. Literally, garbage. Handling garbage. All day, every day. And the men are worshipping, as they work. Trash.  

I felt conviction in my spirit. The things I bemoan about my daily work. The “trash” I just want to go away because I don’t want to deal with it again today. Pray about it AGAIN today. Think about it, much less worship in it, today. Truly, my trash is often just trash. But today, my trash was transformed into treasure. Something about this scene invigorated me. Inspired me to truly want to serve the Lord in all my “garbage”.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings, the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world: the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

Emphasis: everywhere.

A paean of praise rises, even in the rumble of a Rumpke truck. Treasure that in your heart today as you rise to the work set before you.

[i] “Thirty-One Prayers for my Husband, Seeing God Move in His Heart” by: Jennifer Smith

Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

When you are Pouting in Patmos

A picture is worth a thousand words. Visualizing something helps us internalize it. I have been working with Chloe on her writing skills. Specifically, describing a character in a way we can “see”. I am learning it often takes more than a first pass to do a good job with this, and that’s where the trouble comes in. Both of us are tired of the activity and ready to move on long before we’ve given it enough work and rework to do our character justice.

I find it’s the same with life. We often don’t look long enough to really get the lesson. This keeps coming up for me again with an area of struggle. As I mentioned before, I am studying Revelation this year. And it is full of vivid imagery. Crazy, in fact. Hard to know what to take as literal vs. symbolic. And even harder to know what/how to apply it to my actual life. But I keep coming back to John – the disciple who received and wrote down the Revelation. God won’t let me get distracted by all that’s happening. He keeps bringing me face to face with the character of John. Clearly, there is a life lesson he wants me to look hard and long to learn.

John, who has pastored the first century church. John, who had been an elder in Ephesus. John, who took care of Mary, the mother of Christ. John, who enjoyed years of fellowship with other believers, faithfully doing the work God had given him.

But that’s not where John is now.

Now, John is alone on the island of Patmos. Exiled unjustly by persecutors. I am sure at great personal cost, sacrifice, loss of comfort, etc. Possibly even in shock, confusion, and trauma. This most certainly must have been a difficult change for John. I can think of more than a few reasons I would have been rather unhappy about it, if not downright disgruntled.  But not John. We don’t see any evidence of pouting in his part. John, in faith, kept right on doing the things he did all those years of fruitful ministry.

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…” (Revelation1:9-10)

Here is John in worship and prayer on the Lord’s Day. Like always. Even alone, even when experiencing the pain of persecution. John keeps doing what He is called to do, trusting in God’s purpose, presence, and provision in Patmos. Hmm. Is that so?

This is the part when I became vividly aware of my brooding spirit. Sure, I’ve gone through the changes of the last year, and I have kept doing what I feel God has called me to do. But reluctantly, and fighting a pervasive poutiness all the way. I’ve confessed a rotten attitude to the Lord many times, and asked Him to renew my spirit. But frankly, it is still a struggle on most days.  John’s steadfast spirit has encouraged me to persevere despite my poutiness. To “see” that John received a greater revelation as He continued to serve the Lord in faith – making no provision for the flesh that wants to sit down and sulk. And resisting Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy our faith and our lives. What change are you wrestling with? Confused by what God is doing and what it means for your life? What is your Patmos, the place where you are sorely tempted to pout?

Here is a trustworthy saying: God does not speak to sidelined saints.

Rise up and do the things you did at first. Even if you feel futile, empty, and alone. Especially then. And know you are not alone. The God of Revelation stands behind you, ready to speak to him who has ears to hear.

Boots on the Ground

This might be a strange topic for the Christmas season, but something I wanted to share. I have been studying the book of Revelation this year in my Bible study class, and so we are taking a close look at “end times”. Biblical prophecy is a complex matter, often with elements that have been fulfilled, and some “not yet” fulfilled. The matter is further complicated by the differing opinions of the scholars. There are so many different beliefs on the same passages, it is hard to form a solid understanding.

But that is exactly my prayer this year.

I want to know, and take to heart, what the Lord would have me learn from this year. I am praying for concrete, tangible take-aways from all intangible, often symbolic, complexities. Mostly, I want to know what I need to know to live my life effectively for Him – now. Today, and every day, until the end comes; one foot in front of the other.

When the study began, my first thought is that studying the end is not so different from studying the whole, and, specifically, the faith required is the same faith required to believe any of it. I am not sure why, at first, it appears to be so different and complex. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, prophesied as “the child born to us” (Isaiah 9) at Christmas, Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), Jesus who rose from the grave (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20), and ascended to heaven (Matthew 28, Acts 1), then why do we struggle to embrace the Jesus described in Revelation? He is the same Jesus. All the other things recorded about Him have been true, and happened just as the Word of God said. Why do we question or doubt the certainty of a final end – judgment of the earth?

Our leaders have been talking about the “certainty of judgment” the last couple of weeks. They have also acknowledged the hardship in looking closely at the fact that judgment is real, and coming. It is difficult to think that the world as we know it will be destroyed, and all who reject Jesus will perish. It is a sobering and unsettling reality. But it should unsettle us. It should ignite a fire under us in how we are living life today. Who are we telling about this? Who needs to know? But this presents a whole host of other problems, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be an alarmist, labeled a fanatic. We fear rejection, ridicule, and scorn. Don’t we? I have to admit that I do.

I believe understanding Revelation is critical to “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Peter 3). This is not an area where we can rely on others to interpret. Just as faith forms in concrete ways from studying the other parts of the Word, so it must be with Revelation. I would encourage you to get into the book of Revelation. For local friends, Bible Study Fellowship offers classes for men, women, and children. We have a welcome class the first week of every month. Please consider this for the first of the year, we are only on chapter 7 this week. There is plenty to go, and learn.

Last week, my group was talking about the fear we all have in the increased violence and killing in our world. We talked about how fearful we are to be in public with our families, and how God has called us to be a light and hope to others as the terror increases. We prayed for one another to get free from our fears by focusing on Jesus – the Sovereign Lord – who rules and reigns over every aspect of every life. In the middle of this discussion, the Lord brought to mind a concrete visual (just as I have prayed). I thought of the Scripture we cross-referenced this week in Zechariah 14, as we talked about the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. It says, “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south”.

In this country, we talk a lot about whether or not we should send troops to the Middle East to address the savage terrorism there. We look to political candidates for leadership and actions. Who will put the “boots on the ground” in the conflict?

Jesus is coming, and His boots will split apart the mountains when He sets His foot upon the Mount of Olives. I want you to think about that. Jesus Christ, with His nail-scarred feet that shine like bronze glowing in a furnace (Revelation 1:15), will set foot on this earth again. And when His boots hit the ground, the battle belongs to Him. All terror and sin will be removed from the earth in its final judgment.

Let this thought encourage you, and terrify you in the fear of the Holy Lord. Let this thought stabilize you because He has set our feet upon a ROCK – that cannot be shaken. Though the mountains give way, His covenant of peace will never be removed (Isaiah 54:10). If we belong to Him, we have nothing to fear in the day of judgment.

This Christmas, as you behold the tiny toes wriggling in the manger, see the feet that will crush the head of Satan when Jesus once again sets foot on this earth.