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I opened the door to greet the brilliant morning. Fair weather clouds glistened in the sunlight. Sparrows twittered overhead. An unfamiliar odor tainted the spring breeze. As I ventured onto the porch, my sandal crunched on the welcome mat. I gasped and retracted my foot from the wingtip of a dead parakeet.

Silly Cat poked his striped head around the bush and mewed. A purr underscored his stride toward me. He raised his head, as if expecting affection for the offering he pilfered from the neighbor’s child.

Yeah, not so much.

I scowled at the rancid corpse and covered my nose. Silly Cat’s ‘gift’ entailed a nasty cleanup job. Ugh.

As I consider the season of Lent, I feel compelled to examine my own offering.  I’m searching my heart and spirit for a fragrant blessing to present. I don’t want to create stench in the Lord’s nostrils or cost Him a nasty cleanup in the wake of my halfhearted devotion. Will I honor the Lord’s sacrifice, or steal some convenient token?

Traditional Lenten celebrations include fasts. For some, the discipline of fasting cultivates honor and submission. Others choose to add a spiritual discipline to their daily routine. The fasts and service done by my neighbors might sing with their hearts. Rather than stealing a random songbird, I must determine which offering best reflects a sacrifice from my heart. 

I must also ensure that I honor Lent in a way that increases my submission to God and love for my neighbors. A sacrifice that detracts from God’s calling or injures others will stink to high heaven. I’m good at sticking to my list, so it would be all too easy to hyper-focus on my personal laws and shrug off the needs of His precious children, saying, “I can’t…because I’m doing this for Lent.” I don’t want to cause Him to drag out the divine shovel to fix my mess.

My prayers today will revolve around Ephesians 5:1-3, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I trust the Lord to inspire a fresh and pleasing way for me to worship Him this season.

I’ve cleaned out my closets and set the extras on the porch for charity pick-up. One toy waits in my trunk to be joined by others. A few more canned goods will go along to the donations tent. Somehow, it seems I should offer more to the huge need in my community.

I scan my home and tap my chin. What have I missed? Have I something else to spare, another resource I’ve kept in reserve?

Need has mounted in our area, as it has elsewhere. The tearful shimmer in the eyes of gaunt children grows familiar across the face of the earth. Many adults share the Christmas wish to give while their hearts ache for lack of funds. I heard these stories this week, while I gazed into the eyes of God’s beloved children. And I prayed for them …

I now realize the most valuable resource to offer one another could not be found on a closet shelf or purchased in a store. I couldn’t transfer funds to provide for the greatest need online. Wealth cannot afford more of it, nor can poverty keep it at a distance. The best gift remains accessible to all, as it was the very first Noel.

God wrapped Love in warm fingers and toes, then laid Him in the arms of ordinary, homeless travelers. He gave more than we could fit under a tree. Into receptive hearts, His love continues pouring in such abundance that we have ample supply to share with all those around us. The more we ask, the more love He showers upon us.

Let us not forget to give the priceless gift, the single offering which honors the purpose of Christmas. In the mall, at the grocery store, in line, or on the phone, show others we care. Love the different folks around us. Ask strangers how they are, and take time to hear their stories. Regardless of our financial situation, if we avail ourselves of the abundant supply from Christ, we can all spare a little extra love this year.

“’Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a sabbath to the LORD'” (Exodus 16:25).

We’ve all heard the terrible story of Titanic’s victims who forfeited dessert to save their figure. Though I don’t advocate gluttony or any other sort of hedonism, each day has it’s own sweet opportunities. The gift loses its benefit when overlooked or hoarded. Yesterday and tomorrow must not be permitted to steal the value of today’s blessings.

The lesson of manna brings us permission to enjoy each taste of divine cake provided for the moment. Manna tasted like coriander seed wafers, sweet like honey (Exodus 16). God provided a sweeter treat than ordinary bread. Each person could collect only the proper amount for the day at hand. With the exception of worship days, leftovers rotted.

Life works the same way. When we store up the past, living in regret and bitterness, it rots our present. Hoarding up fears of tomorrow also deprives us of the sweet joy available today. Divine peace allows us to retain wisdom and grace instead of regret and bitterness. We exert only enough time and energy to be responsible to tomorrow without allowing anxiety beyond our ability to take action to erode our experience of today.

Like the Hebrews in Exodus, thoughts of the past and fears of the future tempt us to miss God’s presence with us today. Knowing how to sort out the past and prepare for tomorrow without worrying can seem impossible. In fact, we can’t manage the balance without God’s help. The Holy Spirit provides guidance each day for how to absorb lessons, prepare responsibly, and live today in the fullness of God’s indwelling  presence.

If we nourish our minds and spirits from God’s hand, growth will bless our days. Each day. What sort of cake will you share with the Lord and those He loves today?

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