Fragrant Living

I am full, having received . . . the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma . . . well pleasing to God. —Philippians 4:18

I’m grateful that God has given us the sense of smell so we can enjoy the many fragrances of life. I think of how much I enjoy something as simple as the fresh and inviting aroma of after-shave lotion in the morning. Or the mellow smell of fresh-cut grass in the spring. I especially enjoy sitting in the backyard when the delicate scent of my favorite roses fills the air. And then there are the savory aromas of delicious food.

So it catches my attention when the apostle Paul says that our generous acts of love toward others are like a “sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). When we think of helping those in need, we usually think of it as the right thing to do—or even the Christlike thing to do. But Paul says that our intentional act of reaching out to meet someone’s need actually fills the throne room of God with a fragrance that brings pleasure to Him.

We can please God with the aromas that rise from being a blessing to others! What an added incentive this is for us to perform deeds of kindness in His name.

Who might need your act of kindness today? Ask God to lead you to someone. Be a blessing. It’s a fragrant thing to do!

Here is what I hope to do for others today: ________________
Blessing others is a blessing to God.
INSIGHT: Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content . . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:11,13). Paul’s contentment came from the sufficiency of knowing Christ, not from the gifts he received from the Philippian believers (vv. 14-17). However, these sacrificial gifts were a “sweet-smelling aroma” to God (v. 18; see Lev. 7:12-15).


Firm Foundation

Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock. —Matthew 7:24

Earthquakes are prevalent in the Pacific Rim region known as the “Ring of Fire.” Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes and 81 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur there. I learned that many buildings in the city of Hong Kong have been built on granite, which could help minimize damage in the event of an earthquake. The foundation of buildings is especially important in earthquake-prone regions of the world.

Jesus Christ told His followers that a stable foundation is critical in building lives. He said, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:24-25). The foundation of Jesus Christ is what will give us the stability our hearts and lives need now and into the future.

By allowing the Lord’s wisdom to guide us in our relationships, decisions, and priorities, we find that He provides the most trustworthy foundation any life could be built upon.

Gracious Father, You are the Lord God, the King of heaven, and I choose to place my hope in You because You alone are worthy of my trust.
Jesus is the best foundation upon which to build a solid life.
INSIGHT: Here, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus returns to a theme He had already discussed earlier in this message—the Father’s will. In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus teaches His followers the “model prayer,” which begins with “Our Father” and continues with “Your will be done.” The Father is the object of our worship and devotion, and in everything we want His purposes to be fulfilled.


Solid-Rock Faith

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. —Psalm 18:2

My wife and I both have grandmothers who have lived past 100. Talking with them and their friends, I detect a trend that seems almost universal in the reminiscences of older people: They recall difficult times with a touch of nostalgia. The elderly swap stories about World War II and the Great Depression; they speak fondly of hardships such as blizzards, the childhood outhouse, and the time in college when they ate canned soup and stale bread 3 weeks in a row.

Paradoxically, difficult times may help nourish faith and strengthen personal bonds. Seeing this principle lived out, I can better understand one of the mysteries relating to God. Faith boils down to a question of trust. If I do stand on a solid rock of trust in God (Ps. 18:2), the worst of circumstances will not destroy that relationship.

Solid-rock faith allows me to believe that despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign. Regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love. No pain lasts forever, and no evil triumphs in the end.

Solid-rock faith sees even the darkest deed of all history, the death of God’s Son, as a necessary prelude to the brightest moment in all history—His resurrection and triumph over death.

Lord, You are the Rock, the object of my faith. My faith stands on You and not on my shifting feelings; otherwise I would be sure to fall.
Christ, the Rock, is our sure hope.
INSIGHT: Psalm 18 is a song of thanksgiving. The long superscription, taken from 2 Samuel 22:1, gives the circumstances that led David to write this song of deliverance: “A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” David used seven metaphors to describe the Lord: He is a rock, fortress, and deliverer. He is our strength, shield, horn of salvation, and stronghold (vv. 2-3).


Come To Me

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. —John 20:29

Charlotte Elliott wrote the hymn “Just As I Am” in 1834. She had been an invalid for many years, and though she wanted to help with a fund-raiser for a girl’s school, she was too ill. She felt useless, and this inner distress caused her to begin doubting her faith in Christ. She wrote “Just As I Am” as a response to her doubt. The crux of her distress is perhaps best expressed in these words:

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Three days after His death and burial, Jesus rose from the grave and invited the disciple whom history has nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” to examine the marks of His crucifixion (John 20:27). When Thomas touched Jesus’ wounds, he finally believed in the resurrection. Christ responded, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v.29).

As Christians today, we are the ones who have not seen but still believe. Yet at times our earthly circumstances create serious questions in our souls. Even then, we cry out: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Jesus welcomes us to come to Him just as we are.

Dear Jesus, help me to trust You when life doesn’t make sense. Please take my doubt and replace it with fresh faith in You.
The risen Christ opens the door for you to have fullness of life.
INSIGHT: The world remembers Thomas the disciple for his statement of doubt about Jesus’ resurrection. However, it was also Thomas who showed more loyalty to Christ than many of the others. When the Pharisees were actively seeking to kill Him, Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go to Judea again” (John 11:7). Thomas is the one who said, “Let us also go that we may die with Him” (v. 16).


The Tree Of Love

[Jesus] bore our sins in His own body on the tree. —1 Peter 2:24

The corkscrew willow tree stood vigil over our backyard for more than 20 years. It shaded all four of our children as they played in the yard, and it provided shelter for the neighborhood squirrels. But when springtime came and the tree didn’t awaken from its winter slumber, it was time to bring it down.

Every day for a week I worked on that tree—first to fell it and then to chop two decades of growth into manageable pieces. It gave me a lot of time to think about trees.

I thought about the first tree—the one on which hung the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve just couldn’t resist (Gen. 3:6). God used that tree to test their loyalty and trust. Then there’s the tree in Psalm 1 that reminds us of the fruitfulness of godly living. And in Proverbs 3:18, wisdom is personified as a tree of life.

But it is a transplanted tree that is most important—the crude cross of Calvary that was hewn from a sturdy tree. There our Savior hung between heaven and earth to bear every sin of every generation on His shoulders. It stands above all trees as a symbol of love, sacrifice, and salvation.

At Calvary, God’s only Son suffered a horrible death on a cross. That’s the tree of life for us.

Father, on this day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we’re grateful for the cross and for Your Son who gave His life so that we might have life. Thank You.
The cross of Christ reveals man’s sin at its worst and God’s love at its best.
INSIGHT: The “garrison” of Roman troops mentioned in verse 27 is a detail that adds to our understanding of the events surrounding Christ’s death. Mark’s account of the same event translates the word as cohort (15:16 NASB). Garrison or cohort was a Roman military term that described a company of soldiers consisting of at least 200 and perhaps as many as 600 men. The same Greek word is used in John 18:3 when a “detachment of troops” comes to arrest Jesus in the garden. Imagine, possibly hundreds of men were sent to arrest Jesus and hundreds gathered around Him when He was tormented.


And Then You Laugh

[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthians 5:21

Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.

His description made me think of the days leading to my mother’s death. The heaviness of life kept increasing until she no longer had the strength to breathe. She was then released from her pain and broke free into the “weightlessness” of heaven. I like to think of her laughing when she took her first breath in Jesus’ presence.

On the Friday we call “good,” something similar happened to Jesus. God placed on Him the weight of the entire world’s sin—past, present, and future—until He could no longer breathe. Then He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit’ ” (Luke 23:46). After being suffocated by our sin, Jesus received back from God the life entrusted to Him and now lives where sin and death have no power. All who trust Christ will one day join Him, and I wonder if we’ll look back at this life and laugh.

Father in heaven, words cannot describe our gratitude for Your Son Jesus, who bore the weight of our sins. Thank You that to be absent from this body with its heavy burdens is to be present with You forever.
The sacrifice of Jesus points us to the joy of heaven.
INSIGHT: Paul uses metaphors such as “earthen vessels,” “earthly house,” and “tent” (2 Cor. 4:7; 5:1) to contrast the frailty and mortality of our earthly existence with the indestructibility, immortality, and glory of our resurrection bodies. When a believer dies, the body goes to the grave, becoming dust (Gen. 3:19; Job 34:15; Eccl. 3:20), but the spirit goes to be with Christ (Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21–25). When Jesus Christ returns for His own (John 14:3), our body and spirit shall be raised together for a glorious eternity with God (5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:50-53; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:16–18).


Enjoying His Meal

Do this in remembrance of Me. —1 Corinthians 11:24

It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.

I love gathering around the table, enjoying a good chat with friends and family and talking about a multitude of topics. However, instant technology has made it difficult. Sometimes we are more concerned about what others—sometimes miles away—have to say than what the person just across the table is saying.

We have been invited to another meal at the table when we come together in one place to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It’s not about the church, if it’s big or small. It’s not about the type of bread. It’s about turning off our thoughts from our worries and concerns and focusing on Jesus.

When was the last time we enjoyed being at the Lord’s Table? Do we enjoy His presence, or are we more concerned with what’s going on somewhere else? This is important, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

I want to learn, dear Lord, when I sit at Your Table, to concentrate only on Your great love and sacrifice for us. Help me to enjoy the fellowship of others as we remember together what Jesus did for us at Calvary.
Remembering Christ’s death gives us courage for today and hope for tomorrow.
INSIGHT: The Lord’s Supper—communion—is a time to remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers to remind them not to partake of this supper in an “unworthy manner” (v. 27). The ESV Study Bible explains: “When the Corinthians observe the Lord’s Supper they are not rightly representing the sacrificial death of Christ (vv. 24,26) and the true character of the Lord. . . . The few who are wealthy in Corinth (1:26) have no regard for those who are hungry or who have nothing, while others have too much and some even get drunk.” The practical application of Paul’s instruction culminates in verse 33: “Wait for one another.”


Pain With A Purpose

[Jesus said,] “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” —John 16:22

I asked several friends what their most difficult, painful experience in life had been. Their answers included war, divorce, surgery, and the loss of a loved one. My wife’s reply was, “The birth of our first child.” It was a long and difficult labor in a lonely army hospital. But looking back, she said she considers it joyful “because the pain had a big purpose.”

Just before Jesus went to the cross, He told His followers they were about to go through a time of great pain and sorrow. The Lord compared their coming experience to that of a woman during childbirth when her anguish turns to joy after her child is born (John 16:20-21). “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (v.22).

Sorrow comes to us all along the road of life. But Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2), purchased forgiveness and freedom for all who open their hearts to Him. His painful sacrifice accomplished God’s eternal purpose of opening the way to friendship and fellowship with Him.

The joy of our Savior outweighed His suffering, just as the joy He gives us overshadows all our pain.

Dear Father, Your precious Son Jesus chose suffering for me. Thank You for His sacrifice on my behalf. Thank You that even my pain can be a tool in Your hands to make me more like Your Son.
Suffering can be like a magnet that draws the Christian close to Christ.
INSIGHT: John 16 concludes Jesus’ most extended teaching session recorded in the gospel of John (Chs. 13–16). Jesus had begun the evening by washing the disciples’ feet in a remarkable act of servitude (13:1-17). After this He would go to Gethsemane and, ultimately, to Calvary. There He would make the ultimate sacrifice as He died on the cross for the sins of humanity.


Why Me?

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

British pastor Joseph Parker was asked, “Why did Jesus choose Judas to be one of His disciples?” He thought deeply about the question for a while but could not come up with an answer. He said that he kept running into an even more baffling question: “Why did He choose me?”

That’s a question that has been asked throughout the centuries. When people become painfully aware of their sin and are overcome with guilt, they cry out to Jesus for mercy. In joyous wonder they experience the truth that God loves them, that Jesus died for them, and that they are forgiven of all their sins. It’s incomprehensible!

I too have asked, “Why me?” I know that the dark and sinful deeds of my life were motivated by a heart even darker, and yet God loved me! (Rom. 5:8). I was undeserving, wretched, and helpless, yet He opened His arms and His heart to me. I could almost hear Him whisper, “I love you even more than you loved your sin.”

It’s true! I cherished my sin. I protected it. I denied its wrongdoing. Yet God loved me enough to forgive me and set me free.

“Why me?” It’s beyond my understanding. Yet I know He loves me—and He loves you too!

How wonderful is Your grace, Jesus! It’s greater than all my sin. You’ve taken away my burdens and set my spirit free. Thank You.
God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who He is.
INSIGHT: There are two apostles named Judas in the New Testament, and the gospel writers Luke and John are careful to distinguish them. Luke states, “Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor” (6:16), and John says, “Judas (not Iscariot)” (14:22).


Habits Of A Healthy Mind

Trust in the Lord, and do good. —Psalm 37:3

There is much said today about improving our health by developing habits of optimism, whether facing a difficult medical diagnosis or a pile of dirty laundry. Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, says we should try activities that build joy, gratitude, love, and other positive feelings. We know, however, that more is required than a general wish for good feelings. We need a strong conviction that there is a source of joy, peace, and love upon which we can depend.

Psalm 37:1-8 gives positive actions we can take as an antidote to pessimism and discouragement. Consider these mood boosters: Trust in the Lord, do good, dwell in the land, feed on His faithfulness (v.3); delight in the Lord (v.4); commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him (v.5); rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, do not fret (v.7); cease from anger, forsake wrath (v.8).

Because they are connected to the phrase “in the Lord,” those directives are more than wishful thinking or unrealistic suggestions. It’s because of Jesus, and in His strength, that they become possible.

Our one true source for optimism is the redemption that is in Jesus. He is our reason for hope!

Lord, we can’t manufacture hope, and even if
we tried it wouldn’t be real. Help us to find
hope in You because of what Jesus has done
for us. We know You are walking beside us.
When there’s bad news, our hope is the good news of Jesus.
INSIGHT: Psalm 37 is one of the many “wisdom psalms”—psalms that give instructions on how to live wisely. In this psalm, David deals with the perennial perplexity of the injustice of life—the wicked go unpunished while the righteous suffer. He tells the righteous not to fret, be envious, or be angry, for God will ultimately bring justice (vv.1-2,9-10,20,35-36,38). Instead, they are to be patient, to trust, to delight, to rest fully in God, and to continue to live godly lives (vv.3-8). For the “Lord upholds the righteous” (v.17), takes delight in them (v.23), and will not forsake them (vv.28-29).