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Silas twisted on the uneven stone floor and squinted through the cell’s dank shadows.The rough hewn stocks chafed at his swollen ankles. Pain raked across the raw flesh of his back as his shoulders rolled into a sticky puddle–his blood mingled with Paul’s, no doubt. Sour and metallic odors weighted the air between their bodies.

With trembling hands, Silas pressed the grimy floor to sit himself upright. His wrist shackles clattered as he pressed the throbbing lumps on his skull. Scurrying noises echoed around a grate near the corner. Furry creatures as long as his thigh squeezed through the bars. Tails whipped like scourge cords behind them. Crimson dots flashed near the wall. He blinked. An army of rats crept toward them, sniffing.

His heartbeat clinched his throat and pounded into his ears. Silas squeaked a whisper to his friend. “Do you see them?”

Paul’s wrist chain jangled as he clutched onto Silas’ hand. “It’s time to pray and sing. We praise and worship You, Lord…”

Silas closed his eyes. The nibble at his toes faded out of his thoughts as they sang in praise. Light filled his mind. He sang in harmony with Paul’s rattling voice, but another melody chimed in. From the back of his mind, he pictured a thousand gleaming soldiers who joined their song. The angelic voices lilted like the sounds of ethereal birds floating on island breezes.

A deep rhythm stirred beneath them. The ground shook the floor, walls. Silas opened his eyes to a brilliant flash. The stocks and chains exploded from his limbs. A roar of voices swept through the room, blasting the bars from the cell.

He and Paul stood, legs quivering. They strode out of the shadows toward a wailing man. Now, to set the jailer free…

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

-Philippians 4:4-8

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.