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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God . . . and call on me in the day of trouble;

    I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:14-15).

Heels bouncing. Arms upraised. Palms waving. I did the happy dance today. Full-on, Snoopy-style. A long wait sweetens good news, and I had waited over a year for an acceptance letter. Could’ve sworn I tasted chocolate while reading.

I love champagne truffles as much as any girl, but I’m more thankful for achievements. Success and answered prayers fire up my worship to a near-charismatic levels. Hand-raising tends to linger outside my comfort zone. When gratitude for provision and healing bubbles up from my soul like a wellspring, I can hardly help myself.

Christ receives my best praise when things go well. Do I offer the same level of gratitude during tough times? I pour out passionate prayers, declaring the power and perfect nature of God. I cry out, reach out, and plead. But days of trouble don’t bring out my Snoopy-style, charismatic thankful dance.

Eternal, indefatigable blessings remain with me at all times, bright or dark. The Holy Spirit promises never to leave me. Christ redeemed my soul and declares me an heir to heaven. The All-Powerful Creator adores me as a Father. Whether I see circumstances working out in my current moment or not, the Lord assures me of His presence. God promises to work out the big picture for my good, and I can trust Him with the immediate details. His goodness never fluctuates. Christ’s most significant blessing remains with me always. Jesus deserves my happy dance every day.

In Psalm 50:14-15, the Lord promises two bonuses if we offer thanks when we’re in trouble. He first assures our deliverance, a cherished gift of His grace. A grateful attitude provides additional perks. Praise shifts our mindset toward hope. Faith grows and strengthens. We secure our footing in the awareness of God’s presence. Thankful prayer offerings sustain and support us through trying circumstances. The privilege of new status gleams on our souls like a crown, for He lifts us up as those who honor Him.

I’m a fan of pleasing my Lord, so I set a new prayer objective. Every day, rejections and life-worries notwithstanding, I plan to fire up some thankful Snoopy waving. I’m working on my “Woot!” Will you join me?

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving: (Psalm 69:30).

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 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 12:1-3).

Half the carrot harvest tumbled in the broth around chunks of their only lamb. Rich herb aromas billowed from the stew and pressed smiles into the sisters’ faces.

Mary patted Martha’s back. “You did a beautiful job, as always.”

“What better use of the food? I’d give Him all of it, if only we had more room at the table.” She stepped back from the kettle and peered into the next room. Eyes brimming, she laid a hand on her chest. “My heart leaps like a gazelle at the sight of Lazarus laughing alongside Him out there.”

Mary put an arm around her sister’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. “Yes, we know how well the Lord cares for us. God will provide another lamb for Passover.”

As they ladled the extravagant meal into a pot, a refreshing cascade of peace washed over Mary. She felt joy and calm as if a divine breeze cooled her perspiration-drenched skin.

Steam filled Mary’s head covering, infusing her hair with rosemary fragrance as she carried the pot toward the reclining circle of men. Her brother’s charming smile warmed her heart. The familiar faces surrounding him included curious neighbors and cousins. The Teacher’s closest followers dominated the conversation with animated gestures and challenging remarks.

Mary’s gaze secured on one pair of callused feet. Extended from the table, the rough heels bore cracks from miles of travel. Bruises and insect stings framed the sides and toes. The battered, lovely feet of her Master and Teacher. She rested the pot on the table and glanced at His marvelous eyes. In their infinite depths, they seemed to bear a wistful gleam of both joy and care at once. Her Lord.

“Tell Martha she outdid herself,” Lazarus said.

Mary fled the table without responding. She sprinted, not to the kitchen, but to the sleeping quarters she shared with her sister. She grabbed a stick from the table and dropped to her knees at the room’s corner. Five hand-breadths from the wall, she hacked the earthen floor broke open. Mary reached into the cool hollow and wrapped her fingers around the chilled alabaster vessel inside. A treasure meant to seal her in marriage.

She clutched the vessel to her chest and stood, recalling how she once considered this the only thing of value she possessed. Tears careened over the rising apples of her cheeks as she raced into the main room. There they were. The priceless feet of her Lord.

Mary knelt. The conversation buzzed on as the men gave little notice to the one so often drawn to the Master’s feet. The vessel trembled in her grip. Fingers slippery with tears, she broke its neck. The crack of alabaster silenced the room. Her chest burned as she poured her heart out with its contents. Mary drenched every beautiful, bruised inch of those feet with the rich oil. The overflow soaked the tattered hem of His garment. Her eyes blurred as she kissed the blisters on his toes.

More. Her core ached with adoration.

She tore the covering from her head. Untethering her locks, she wrapped them around his soles. Pressing, patting her hair against the magnificent feet of her Savior.

Not everyone enjoyed the overpowering rush of nard at dinnertime. The scent’s strength qualified it to perfume the dead. Most of the guests waited for Jesus’ reaction. Except the one most offended by heartfelt praise. Judas dwelt outside the capacity to appreciate sacrifice, to give or accept divine love, or to understand the fragrance of true discipleship.

As Easter approaches, the opportunity to pour our heart’s treasures onto the Lord’s feet dawns before us. Our worship will be unique in nature. However it looks for each of us, all genuine adoration flows with abandon. Nothing we could hold back compares in value to the One Who offers Himself so fully to us.

The fragrance of our love and commitment for Christ will fill the air around us. The impact lingers and spreads. No one can deny such a compelling effect, for it seems to cover the stench of death so common in the rest of the world. Not everyone will enjoy or understand it. Some will find our aroma offensive.

When others shame or ridicule our extravagant love for the Lord, we can assure ourselves that we’re in good company. They found Jesus offensive, too.

Let’s pray for tho who remain outside to grow appreciative of sacrifice, to accept divine love in order to pay it forward, and to comprehend at last the divine fragrance of true discipleship. And through all, keep that strong fragrance pouring forth.

“children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ . . . Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?’” (Matthew 21:15-16).

Easter dawned on the horizon as Christ marched through formidable gates to redeem His house of worship. With every step across the courts of women and Gentiles He manifested God’s presence among those furthest removed from the holy place. In strode the One Who would make all things new.

The resident authorities balked at change. The current state of worship served their lifestyle of disdain and exclusion. Sizable gifts impressed them, not whether men offered them from their hearts. The swindling of poor worshipers failed to prick their conscience. Priests and politicians shared the drink of corruption. The Temple rulers shrugged away such apostasies.

But, oh, those children.

Jesus foreknew the Temple purification would meet resistance. Sanctification always does. He took time to weave a whip, readying His physical instrument as He prepared for battle against unseen forces. While we don’t know the inner details of this quiet time, Christ maintained perfect concordance with His Father throughout His life. That He prayed during these moments requires little conjecture.

God’s maelstrom thundered across the Temple as He flipped wooden tables over onto the stone floors. Merchants pawed across the marble tiles to recover spilled coins. Christ’s whip cracked over their heads and spurred them to flee the halls. His voice echoed off the smooth walls, declaring the purpose of His Father’s House. And His task was not yet complete.

Sanctification requires more than cleansing filth away.

Enter those relentless little worshipers. As the children ran through the Temple, the Lord used their praises to help cleanse the Temple by renewing its divine purpose. It wasn’t enough to stop doing wrong. The right type of worship had to fill God’s house again. Worship like a child who loves the Lord.

Scripture defines Christians as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 6:19). Just as the driving out of money changers represented something larger in need of removal from the place of worship, our lives tend to harbor elements that don’t belong. Our sin nature clings to its corrupt old ways and resists change. Despite human and supernatural opposition, Christ’s sanctification can renew our lives. If we submit to His ongoing work of transformation, He drives out residing powers that don’t belong. Pride, selfishness, all manner of sinful strongholds flee out of the halls with a pathetic squeal.

A purged Temple isn’t fully cleansed yet. After the Lord relieves my soul of a nasty attitude, renewed purpose must complete His work. I need to reorient my spirit and fill the cleansed spaces with the worship He desires. Whether He prescribes certain actions or a discipline of stillness, complete renewal means submitting to renewed purpose. I must worship Him with the relentless praise of a devoted child.

Not childish, but child like. Knowing my utter dependence upon Him, yet comfortable that He carries me. Filled with awe and wonder. Accepting the unexplained. Believing without seeing. Trusting with all my soul. Loving Him with all my heart.

Will you join me in worship today, accepting the royal status as His transformed child?

 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:14-15).

“‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'” (Matthew 18:3-5).

20140521_164204Bridges draw my eyes up and across their magnificent structures. Age and wear tug at my slumbering imagination, inspiring me to wonder at a bridge’s creation and years of shouldering live burdens toward safety. The builder invested careful engineering before setting the first stone at its foundation. Intense toil erected its magnificent path. The suffering laborer knew his work would provide means to cross a treacherous divide. For those who would follow his work, the bridge offered freedom from grave pitfalls below. The number of bridge goers would continue to increase beyond the end of the worker’s life. How many life stories plodded across this divide? Who paused to gaze into the ravine below and consider the passion required to secure their way?

So it is with our Bridge to Eternal Hope. Our Father, the Great Bridge Builder, engineered our way as soon as its need began. When sin ruptured the earth and triggered an epic collapse, a ravine gaped between the Father and His children. Deadly pitfalls threatened us, and we could not reach Him. The Father placed each stone with precise engineering, His heart empassioned to carry His children home securely. At the perfect moment, He set the Cornerstone which would never falter. Christ toiled and suffered, rending His body as building materials for the cross beams. He crafted a bridge to traverse the impossible divide.

We no more need linger on this forsaken shore. The passage welcomes us, drawing our wondering eyes up and over its secure structure. Let’s cross together with thankful and joyous hearts, pausing to cast a tearful gaze across the ravine. Thank You, Lord, for making the Way for us.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. ..But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christand seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:1-9

“God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” 1Timothy 2:3-6

It improves cocoa and makes chocolate more interesting. Nutritionists claim it boosts metabolism and immunity. While a little goes a long way, Mexican food isn’t the same without some form of this spice. Cayenne powder takes the chili seasoning to another level.

Life could go on without cayenne peppers, of course. We’d eat our dull food and survive. Some might even thank heaven for less heartburn. Bland routines avoid pain.

I recognize the comfort of routines. It’s easier not to think about adventure or passion. A day like yesterday risks nothing. If I raise my hands halfway in worship, no one will think me over-zealous. If I only offer blessings when someone sneezes, I can avoid offending someone who doesn’t believe.

Living in Christ means I no longer feel comfortable in my comfort zone. I’ve tasted the zest of grace, enjoyed the boost of God’s love, and dwell in the shelter of a glorious Father. My Lord offers more than a ho-hum, routine love for me. God’s love always rises to another level, one with intense passion.How can I settle for anything less than grabbing Jesus’ arm each day and setting out with Him on an adventure?

So, I’m endeavoring to add my spirit’s zeal to each day, like a dash of cayenne. Whether there’s a risk of pain or rejection, I know from my Savior’s example that passionate living is worth every kind of risk it takes.

 

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:3).
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:7-9).
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

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.

Leaning against his favorite tree, Abraham swept the hair back from his son’s eyes. He pointed to the inky sky. “See those stars, Isaac?”

“Mama says other nations worship them.”

“Yes. Some even think they predict the future.”

The lights twinkled in Isaac’s deep brown irises. “But, we don’t believe that.”

Abraham smiled. “We worship the One Who created those stars, sun and moon, and Who whispered the light into them. Only He knows the future.”

Millennia of astral deaths and discoveries after Abraham explained Creation to his son, the world continues to misconstrue its sources of light and truth. Countless souls attempt to divine their futures from the stars. Others believe the sun’s warmth encouraged the genesis of life on our planet. Those who seek energy and truth from created things remain unfulfilled, desperately lost whether they know it or not.

God created light to draw us toward understanding Him. Physical light symbolizes the illumination and vitalizing power of His Spirit. He set the sun, moon, and stars to orchestrate our lives around His warmth and wisdom. He never intended physical light to receive worship, but to point us instead to the true center of life.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).

Jesus defined Himself as the source of eternal light, life, and truth, distinguishable from created things. Just as God set the heavenly bodies in the skies to remind us of Him, He also encourages us to reflect His character. 

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

We serve as His image bearers, reflecting the light of Christ to the dark, lost world around us. Though some will fail to understand its message, He urges us to shine with all the brilliance of His love, truth, and grace. In the spiritual universe, He has set us as the stars, moon, and sun. Where we fail to convey His light, a perilous chill befalls the earth. 

How you reflect His light could shimmer in the eyes of children not yet born. Consider how and where the Creator purposed you to shine.

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