See What the Lord Can Do!

The king of Aram was flustered. His every plan against Israel was being discovered, and he was ready to make an end of the traitor in his camp. Then one of his men explained to him, “My lord, Elisha the prophet reports everything you say, even your pillow talk!” I embellish but the news must have surprised the king, and it humors me just a little. Continue reading


Do You Make the Grade?

I’m not sure where things went off the rail in my apologetics course, but there was a schism growing between the class and the professor. Our prof was a swell man and a true scholar. I’d often sit amazed listening to him march through church history, doctrines, councils, and personages, all without notes, and facilitate great discussion.

Since most of us had other classes with him, we knew what to expect of his sessions. They were challenging but not difficult. Yet something baffling began happening in this class. Students started receiving low grades and didn’t understand why. When we inquired, our work just wasn’t up to par and not what he had explained. When it happened with a major topical essay, it was a last straw for some.

Mad and I Won’t Be Silent!

One of my buddies in the class got downright angry, and his response surprised me. He was taking the matter to the dean of the department. This guy was well-liked for his gentle and friendly demeanor, so I was stunned at his reaction. To me his response was overboard.

Now, I wasn’t happy about my grade either. I had written the biggest and most deeply researched paper I ever composed in grad school and was happy with what I had produced, knowing I had satisfied the professor’s requirements. When I received a “D” for it, I was dumbstruck; and so it went for most of the class, now for the second or third time.

I didn’t know what the solution was, but I knew it wasn’t being up in arms and reporting the professor, as I was encouraged to do. I was grieved because my friend had the wrong spirit about him. He was furious and hostile. I advised him to talk with the professor instead of going to the dean. He flatly rejected the idea.

A Surprising Message

The most curious thing then happened. One day soon thereafter I returned from that class and discovered that the professor had emailed me in that short time. It was a surprise since I wasn’t sure when I had given him my email address. But it was his memo that was still more surprising.

marsmettnn tallahassee, Flickr

marsmettnn, Flickr

He too knew something wasn’t right in the class, and he wrote to ask for my opinion about how to resolve it. Talk about shocked!

I used the moment to voice the concerns of the class. I told him that we were grasping all that he taught and meeting his stated demands; however, if there was more he desired, it wasn’t being fully communicated. Then, I offered him some simple suggestions. Well that solved everyone’s problem. The professor re-graded papers and graciously tossed out other low scores.

In Step with the Spirit

I’m still struck by that lesson and favor from the Lord. When I read that email, my first thought was about my classmate who chose to lash out in anger rather than to be prayerful and find a satisfying resolution. That opportunity wouldn’t have come had I harbored a contemptible attitude.

Another occasion taught me like principle. I had to confront a matter with a superior since no one else would—not easy. I took a weekend just to pray about it. On Monday when I addressed my leader, he replied, “Yeah, the Lord spoke to me about that.” I didn’t have to say more.

I’ve learned that if I stay in the spirit of Christ, God will work out the kinks.

A Faith Forged in Relationship

God’s way is the best way—do you believe that? I am certain that his commands to humans are grounded in a consuming love for them. What he orders us to do, whether spoken in the written Word or in the quiet of our hearts, is purposed for our benefit and joy, never burdensome or appeasing his need. God has no needs; instead, he only seeks to give us his best.

The scope of God’s directives transcends mere rule; they reveal him (Ps. 19:7-9). They explain so much about his intent toward us, which is only good and loving. Here is where some will quickly add, “Yep. This is not a religion, but a relationship”—and I’ll only partly agree, because Christianity is religion…is a religion, but one emphasized in relationship. The two are conterminous, for the one leads to the other.

Setting Our Spiritual Priorities

Relationship is the goal, however, life-changing, radical relationship. It has always been the basis of Judeo-Christian faith. God doesn’t ask us to trust him blindly. In Scripture and in our lives, he has always revealed himself…revealed his character and made sure that we never have to trust in One we don’t know or understand.

Wholesome, dynamic relationship is the clue we gather from the succinct reference to Enoch in Hebrews 11:5, relationship so wonderful that God whisked Enoch out of this life into another—and then come these words: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

In my post entitled “Getting Faith Right”, I write about this passage and myself: “I knew God was there, but I didn’t understand that before all the great possibilities of his power and my obedience was our relationship and that it is the touchstone to everything.”

When our relationship with God is strong, we’ll have no problems with his commands. And we can be used powerfully like Philip, Ananias, and others who were simply told “Go!”; and despite being given no further instructions, their confidence rested not in results or their own well-being, but rather in their Commander.

It All Points to Him

God tells us to do nothing without orienting it to himself, his character and purpose. He never just says “Believe”; instead, he says, “Believe me.” He doesn’t say “Love,” but “Love me.”

Don’t believe the many slogans—“Love is all that matters” and “Just believe”, or at least judge them by the scriptures. Jesus exemplifies a life with every sensibility aligned with his Father and his purpose. No love exists in a vacuum without the potential for abuse; there is no worth in a faith in ourselves.

Furthermore, ours is a caring Father peering into our faces giving his instructions, which is especially important when the orders appear dreadful or are tough to our will.

God is all. He guarantees what is done for him and achieved by his strength. And if we do all for his glory, we’ll accomplish his will and discover incredible joy doing so.

Read more: The Goal of Religious Practice

Be Careful Little Eyes…

CC BY-NC-SA, Peter Nederlof, Flickr

CC BY-NC-SA, Peter Nederlof, Flickr

I’d like to share a humorous story I read in a local magazine written by a pastor.

He reminisces about an encounter he had with some cattle ranchers from the Midwest. The pastor grew up in the city, so learning about the ranchers’ way of life excited him. He describes himself as being “mesmerized” by the details of their work and underscores the immense skill and dedication the job requires.

One of the ranchers vividly recounted helping one of his cows give birth several years before. Yet the focal point of his detailed account was not the process; instead, it was something unexpected: the rancher’s young son. While the rancher eagerly midwifed the cow, the boy, maybe five years-old at the time, stood by a fence absorbing the whole event.

The rancher dreaded that he would have to explain the birds and the bees to the preschooler; but maybe the boy wouldn’t care to talk about what he saw at all. When everything was over, the rancher approached the little one, fearing he was “too traumatized” by the event, and asked him if he had questions.

The boy, still gazing at the newborn, nodded and said, “Yeah, just one: How fast was that calf going when he hit that cow?”

The pastor explains, “At some point in life, we are each faced with some experience that exceeds any rational explanation.” You can read the entire article here: “Musing About: Rational Skepticism”.

Counting the Cost

CC BY-NC, Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., Flickr

CC BY-NC, Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. Flickr

The Islamic militant group Boko Haram recently kidnapped hundreds of Christian and Muslim teenage girls in northern Nigeria. Video of nearly half the girls surfaced showing the leader bragging that all had supposedly converted to Islam and been “liberated.”

That’s the part that provokes me—“Michael, what would you do?” Knowing Christ as I do and my love for him, how would I handle the situation when the time came to make a vow to Allah? In no way am I trying to cast aspersion on any of the girls; instead, I’m attempting to place myself inside their horrible experience and explore my own spiritual moorings.

I have never experienced that level of persecution, for anything. So I cannot predict my response with 100 percent certainty. Making bold promises from the quiet of my home and a decision about God while staring down an assault rifle is a world of difference psychologically.

Yet this is why we strengthen ourselves in godly devotion. We prepare for the day of trouble directly aimed at our faith in Christ, not unlike in the early church and for those today in persecuted areas. Hopefully, we keep in mind that our profession might cost us everything, all comforts and our very lives.

Jesus didn’t try to save his life for us, so will we save ours for him?

Something for Every Occasion

CC BY-NC, Kevin Jaako, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Kevin Jaako, Flickr

Fragrance is contextual. Every perfume is not right for every season or occasion. So the conscientious wearer will build a fragrance wardrobe that might include essentials for casual and work times, formal events, sporting, festive occasions like holidays, and warm and cool seasons. The assortment helps one fit the mood or event.

CC BY-NC, CityRover Media, Flickr

CC BY-NC, CityRover Media, Flickr

Now that’s the more common method of fragrance wardrobing. Another technique is to layer the body with the same scent. Thus, a person will use a body scrub and a body lotion in the same fragrance; then finish with a light spray of the perfume or cologne. This ensures that the fragrance lasts the entire day.

A third and less common way is to use different scents at the same time to create a customized fragrance. But since this is an easy way to unintentionally make yourself stinky and talked about, I’ll stick to one scent and leave the mixing to the perfumers!

Something Old, Something New

Wardrobing is a rich illustration of the way God has stocked our lives with talents, experiences, ingenuity, wisdom, and an array of elements, including the power of the Spirit, to match any occasion in which we find ourselves.

Two scripture passages convey the wardrobing concept to me. First, Peter marvelously explains, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Pet. 1:3); then, he encourages his readers to continually add godly virtues to their faith. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 8).

CC BY-ND, WCSU Peggy Steward, Flickr

CC BY-ND, WCSU Peggy Steward, Flickr

This verse is so versatile with the concept. In the sense of variety, we can view adding goodness, love, and more as maintaining our witness of Christ despite the circumstance. Tempted? Christ smells of self-control. Persecuted? He’s a strong whiff of perseverance. Or, in the sense of layering, we can perceive those virtues, one upon the other, as keeping the scent of Christ strong on us, the scent Paul calls “the pleasing aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15).

Lastly, I cannot forget Matthew 13:52: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

This verse describes the connoisseur and discriminating one who understands propriety and possesses the depth, creativity, and facility to handle any occasion, masterfully so.

This is also Christ in us keen—“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16); “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9); “When you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place’” (Luke 14:10).

I encourage you to do as Peter advises and wisely make your spiritual fragrance wardrobe as varietal as Christ has made it possible for you. He in his many ways is the scent you spread.

More on this topic: The Perceptive Householder

The Cost of Fine Scent

The World's Most Expensive Perfume Cost: $215,000 Credit:

World’s Costliest Perfume

I’d like to share words from* about the world’s most expensive perfume, Clive Christian No. 1. Read the fascinating excerpt below and then view the minute-long video.

In 1999, famed kitchen and interior designer Clive Christian purchased the London-based “Crown Perfumery” company…As a result, when Christian approached world famous perfumer Roja Dove, he had one criterion: Money is no object.

According to Symrise, Roja Dove “opened his treasure chest – his collection of scents – and looked for the most precious and expensive notes the world has to offer. Rose oil for 6,000 euros, orris root for 11,000 euros per kilo, jasmine from India, Italian cinnamon rose which requires at least 170 blossoms for a single drop of oil!” A batch of this liquid gold reportedly takes six months to reach the perfect stage of spice.

The result was Clive Christian Perfume No. 1. A single ounce, or 30 ml, costs $2,350. And then, there is the magnificent Clive Christian No. 1 Imperial Majesty Edition…

A 500 ml release known as Clive Christian No. 1 – Imperial Majesty will set you back approximately $215,000.  This fantastic edition comes in a French Baccarat crystal flacon.

[T]he bottle is made of, “a material which is so difficult to work with that one of every three attempts breaks during the production process. The neck of the bottle is fashioned after the coronation tiara of the British queen and is made of 18-carat gold inset with a five-carat brilliant-cut diamond. This collar is later engraved with the owner’s name.” This one-of-a-kind bottle is then gently placed into a velvet-lined ebony case with gold and platinum details.

Amazing, eh?

The Price of Our Pain

Two things usually make a perfume expensive, one more legitimate than the other: 1) rare ingredients and 2) marketing. It all has to do with the rarity and quality of ingredients and their ratio in the mix, especially with pure ingredients as opposed to synthetic ones.

I shared the info above about Clive Christian because it so captures how God values our painful experiences.

Pain—who cares for it? Paul begged God three times to release him from a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Nobody likes pain and life is rife with it. But God is able to redeem it and allows none of it to be wasted.

People do not always understand what goes into making us who we are. They just know—keeping with our theme—that you “smell good.” They like what they smell because they sense the fragrant oil of the Spirit on you. You’re devout and ministry-minded and anointed (“smeared”); everything seems to be going your way—now. But they rarely understand the cost that makes you…you.

Wasn’t this the case when Mary, Lazarus and Martha’s sister, broke open the alabaster flask and anointed Jesus? The disciples protested the expensive “waste”; however, they didn’t understand the cost of her extravagant worship. Surely, she could have told of her personal pain and the mistakes that brought much of it on her.

Those mightily used by God have oftentimes experienced the greatest pain. The interesting thing, however, is they have usually lost the scent that others admire. Their pain has been a hugely formative experience leaving them focused on their mission. So it can be difficult to comprehend that what hurt them and cost them everything heals others in a marvelous way.

God values that like we value Clive Christian No. 1.

*Credit: Clive Christian Releases the World’s Most Expensive Perfume—Clive Christian No. 1”, July 28, 2010

A Scent of Your Own

CC BY-NC-ND, David Nutter, Flick

CC BY-NC-ND, David Nutter, Flickr

Today begins the first of a 3-day series I call Making Sense of Your Scent. I will draw comparisons between the spiritual graces in our lives and perfume. Also, make sure you watch the video; it’s very interesting.

While on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, I made sure to look for Sephora, the famous French cosmetic chain. I needed to visit because I was searching for cologne I couldn’t find in Japan; but I desired to go there to see their famous fragrance counter.

And there it was—an in-the-round, tiered, organ-like setup with hundreds of “essences.” A fragrance professional stood in the center eager to let shoppers try whatever scents they had in mind. She knew what each sent was, where to find it, and how best to use it.

Making One Smell Good

Perfumes are a combination of alcohol, water, and fragrant oils mixed at certain ratios. There are literally thousands of fragrances, and new ones are being made all the time. None are exactly the same; formulation is a painstaking science. Moreover, the final product is a specific, designed scent the perfumer originally had in mind.

But how a perfume smells on us individually depends on a host of things: skin chemistry, body heat, hormonal changes, diet, medication, stress level, and more. So not only is there a host of components for many different fragrances, there is also a host of conditions that make a particular scent blossom on one person and reek on another.

God’s Fragrance for You

Romans 12:6 explains that each of us possesses different God-given gifts according to the grace granted us to exercise those abilities. This set of gifts in Romans 12:6-8 have often been termed motivational gifts and serve as ministerial tools proceeding from aspects of our personality and character. Although these gifts deal with our temperament, God-given abilities are certainly not limited to those mentioned in scripture.

There are a few important points that should not be overlooked.

  • You have a gift. Call it a gift or talent—I don’t care; but God has placed a special ability, or abilities, in our lives that is our responsibility to strengthen and use for his glory.
  • You should be exercising that gift. We dishonor God by diminishing his graces in us. Let naysayers…neigh-h! But we need to be about God’s business. For when we scratch below the surface of that gift, we’ll discover a natural fitness for it and a personal enjoyment.
  • Never compare yourself to others. It is our responsibility to work the gift; it is God’s responsibility to make it effective. Only you know the level of grace given to you; so it’s not for you to tuck your tail when you perceive someone else with a greater measure of grace in that area. God gives increase and may desire to raise your gift to unimaginable heights. But don’t shortchange him because you feel inferior to someone else.

You see, the graces in our lives are the specific fragrance God has designed for us. It smells good on us because the formulation is suited for our particular makeup. But if you try to wear the fragrance that has been specially-made for me, it just might stink on you!


Word Study: Hosanna

CC BY, UmmZ, Flickr

CC BY, UmmZ, Flickr

We know the term “hosanna” from the New Testament when it was shouted in acclamation of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the colt. The people were quoting Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV): “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.”

Hosanna properly means to save, or to be saved or delivered (hosan-), beseechingly or now (-na). It is a prayer for rescue. With time, however, the word changed from a strong plea for help to praise for its arrival—and this is the context in which it is made of Jesus, the Messiah, entering Jerusalem.

Implications of Hosanna

We all understand the basic meaning of this expression because we cry out for God’s help regularly. Life gets tough, Satan is deviously wicked, and we are frail individuals. We call to him because he is El Elyon, the Most High God, the strongest One of all.

But there are two other connotations of hosanna, one already mentioned: hosanna as an ovation for long-awaited deliverance.

It is the difference between “God, help!” and “Look! God is moving!” Don’t you love it when you notice God acting on your behalf or rescuing someone you love?

Still, in this same subtext, there is a deeper acknowledgement: God is the only one able to save. It’s worshipful—“God, you’ve got the power. If this thing is to be done, you will do it.” Often God has to prove to us that he is far bigger than what we’ve made him out to be.

Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5)—or we knew of God’s great power to deliver in other’s lives but had never experienced it for ourselves, not until he allowed us to be wedged in just to prove he could pull us out. Thus, we cry, “Hosanna!”

I Need Thee

The final connotation of hosanna is implied: our essential need for God. C.S. Lewis correctly observes:

“God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there” (from Mere Christianity).

I really need God and I’m thankful I comprehend this because many people don’t, including some Christians. Our creature comforts, social connections, and money can make us less dependent on him.

Ecclesiastes 12 is also worth pointing out. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come…” (v. 1). Our need for God is deeper than mere rescue; nevertheless, it is best to know him well before we ever need it. No one learns CPR in the moment of crisis.

Our need for God acknowledges that he knows what’s best for us.

Keep hosanna in mind when you pray and when you praise. Keep it at the heart of you.