Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NLT)

I love the scent of poplar trees when the sap begins to flow. It reminds me of paddling down a sun-dappled river with my friends when I was a teenager. I have to stop in a pine forest just to breathe the fragrance in the air. It carries memories of carefree Saturdays in the mountains with my family when I was a child.

My friend feels differently. The aroma of spring sends her to the pharmacy for tissues and antihistamines in preparation for allergy season. I understand. Personally, I hate the smell of motor oil. It reminds me of the disappointment of a broken car being worked on in the garage instead of taking us on another adventure. I’m obviously not a mechanic who enjoys hours tinkering under the hood.

Many passages of scripture tell us that certain aromas carry a sweet fragrant aroma of a sacrifice which is pleasing to God. I wonder if it the aroma metaphorically carries the attitude of worship to him, the way the aroma of freshly baked bread carried the message of motherlove to me.

Some passages of scriptures continue the metaphor of aroma and tell us some smells are good and some are bad. Evil rebellious people are like a bad stink to God:

All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemesThese people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (Isaiah 65:2 & 5)

A life filled with sacrificial love is pleasing aroma to God. False love (aka manipulation) smells, well, off. We say something smells fishy when we are around people whose services seem self-serving. Something is off. We detect a stink under the rose water. In contrast, the kind of love Christ demonstrated is a pleasing aroma. God discerns the attitude of the heart.

In dream symbolism the nose often represents discernment. It’s that sense that detects what usually cannot be seen. Some people have told me they can discern what spirit is operating behind the scenes in room by pleasant and unpleasant smells. Apparently demonic spirits can stink like latrines or decaying flesh.

I once detected the beautiful scent of orange blossoms while in worship with friends. No one was wearing that fragrance. It was wonderful! Have you ever sensed something like it? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Aroma

Living Hope

My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life:
to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment.
Don’t ever forget how they empower you.
For they strengthen you inside and out
and inspire you to do what’s right;
you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring.
They give you living hope to guide you,
and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble

(Proverbs 3:21-23 TPT)

When God Says No

Danger unsafe road sign IMG_2110

I’ve learned that God is not nearly as restrictive as the culture I grew up in. He doesn’t place fences around fences around fences out of fear of one of us accidently going too far – at least for those who desire to grow in relationship with him.

The more we look to the Holy Spirit to guide us with his love and empower us with his grace, the more rule-making and rule-keeping becomes superfluous. In fact, rule-keeping can keep us from a closer walk with God, for we tend to focus on definitions of right-and-wrong behaviour rather than a love-based relationship that shows in our choices. When we rely on study alone and forget that the scriptures tells us we can, indeed, hear the Shepherd, we don’t bother to listen. (for Weeding Out the Noise click here.)

My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me. (John 10:27)

But sometimes I forget to ask him. Sometimes I start to walk in self-confidence instead of Holy Spirit-confidence. It looks good to me so away I go. Sometimes I barge ahead when I need to stay close to God and pay attention to the wisdom from above. Not all is as it first appears. Not every well-intended action is wise. Not everyone has the same assignment. Not all my own unexamined motives are pure.

More than once I have gone along with projects that looked good and ignored warning signs. The road may be right for them and suited to their personal equipping, but it’s not for me, at least not now. Often, I have found myself bogged down in burdensome tasks because I was led by my own desire to alleviate suffering (or my own privilege-guilt) without paying attention and asking for discernment in this particular situation. I wanted to do something – anything. So I did.

It didn’t turn out so well.

I once joined a group of people who seemed to be forging the way for greater things to be done in this city. I was happy to learn from them, even though they seemed to concentrate more on looking for historic strongholds of evil and what the devil was doing than looking at what Jesus was doing. Then I had a dream.

In the dream I was travelling down a local country lane which is called Hidden Valley Road. I came to a red light where there is no red light in real life. When the light didn’t change, I assumed it wasn’t working and kept going. Then a barbed wire fence appeared across the road. Now my curiosity kicked in. What was it I was not supposed to see?

In the dream I crawled under the fence to peak at what was around the bend. Suddenly a rockslide tumbled down the hillside in front of me. Boulders covered the road missing my toes by millimeters.

“What was that about?” I prayed after I woke up.

Over the next few days, I came to realize that when I asked the Lord to guide my path he would. He was saying no. Exploring the hidden valleys of darkness was not for me. My assignment is to talk about his goodness and his mercy. I longed for a group of friends in which I felt I could belong and be understood so much that it was difficult to drop out, but I did.

It wasn’t until months later the wisdom of stepping away was confirmed.

Most of the time I hear the Lord say that he gives us much more freedom to grow than we have this far taken advantage of. But greater freedom comes with greater responsibility to stay close to him. When he says no we need to stop immediately, even when we don’t understand the reason or fear offending someone.

I am learning to hear his voice. Sometimes I am wrong, and I need to admit when I have missed it, but God is good and there is grace for the maturing process. The faith walk in real time means taking risks, taking responsibility, and learning how to respond more quickly the next time.

But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.

(Hebrews 5:14 TPT)

To Walk in Wisdom and Discover Discernment

eager hill trail ch sq

Today I have been asking, “What’s really going on here?” Spiritual discernment involves far more than sensing something is off and coming up with an argument to beat someone at I-know-more-Bible-quotes-than-you. Spiritual discernment is also far more than sensing something is on, because it backs up my opinions.

Spiritual discernment means gaining a sense of that which is not obvious — the forces and mindsets that influence us without our being aware of them unless we learn to pay attention. Discernment means stepping back out of the current of flooding emotion or the apparent logic of “facts and statistics.” It’s not suspicion. It’s not cynicism. It’s a matter of seeing the bigger picture and understanding the times.

I have also been asking for wisdom. It is one thing to see things as they are and another to understand what to do to bring about change. May I admit the phrase, “It is what it is,” feels like defeat to me? I react with irritation, particularly when it’s delivered with a sigh of hopelessness.

There must be more than this. Which voice is telling me there is no hope? Which voice is reminding me Jesus promised he will never leave me and his grace is the empowering force to transform me into what he sees when he looks at me? Which voice am I actually paying attention to?

I didn’t feel very powerful today. I was tired of dealing with another life test. I needed to get away and go for a walk with the Lover of my soul. No talking. No doing. Just being. Just listening.

When I got home I read this:

My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life:
to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment.
Don’t ever forget how they empower you.
For they strengthen you inside and out
and inspire you to do what’s right;
you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring.
They give you living hope to guide you,
and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble.

(Proverbs 3:21-23 TPT)

Lord, thank your for your never-failing love. Reveal to us the way that leads to wisdom and discernment. We thank you for provision for empowerment, strength, inspiration, energy, refreshment and healing. Show us how not to drift into distraction but keep our eyes fixed on You, our living hope.


Pedestal Perching

statue pigeon IMG_1039

One of the commonest causes of failure in Christian life is found in the attempt to follow some good man whom we greatly admire. No man and no woman, no matter how good, can be safely followed. If we follow any man or woman, we are bound to go astray. There has been but one absolutely perfect Man on this earth-the Man Christ Jesus. If we try to follow any other man we are surer to imitate his faults than his excellencies. Look to Jesus and Jesus only as your Guide.
– R. A. Torrey

I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from great heroes of the faith from the early church fathers to contemporary writers, podcasters, preachers and conference speakers. I honour them. I quote them. I pass on what I have learned from them. But I don’t put them on a pedestal or follow only one person. That’s not fair to them, and it would be dangerous to me.

When I quote someone it does not mean that I accept everything they have ever said or written. The freedom to exercise the discernment Christ gives everyone in whom he lives is far too precious to surrender, but I do value truth when I hear it.

We all need to learn and sometimes that means living with incomplete concepts and trusting that more mature people may have a grasp on paradox and aspects of Christian living for which we do not yet have a grid. There is grace for that, and humility makes room for trust. Sometimes, however, we are prone to looking to public figures instead of looking to Jesus Christ for our answers.

For many years people, especially women, were given the impression they were not educated enough or spiritual enough or had enough authority to respectfully ask questions. Many have not been in a position to reject teachings or practices that didn’t line up with what the Holy Spirit and the scriptures were revealing to them. If they dared they found themselves rejected.

No one knows the perfect truth but God, but even if they did they still wouldn’t lord it over anyone. That would attract attention to themselves and distract their audience from being Christ-centered.

If you are coerced into obeying a church leader who doesn’t permit honest questions or any thoughtful disagreement, that’s not the mutual submission the Bible talks about. It might be time to get your eyes back on the One who sets you free. It might require you to forgive, bless, and move on.

For now we see in part

Photo: night on the lake

On the one hand I grieve over the way some self-appointed guardians of the extra narrow way are quick to disqualify other writers and speakers when they discover flaws; on the other hand I do worry about the under-use of the gift of discernment and a tendency for some people to turn those with a certain amount of insight into heroes or even idols.

Do we tend to place some people on a pedestal that is too high because they are like one-eyed men in the country of the blind? Do we ourselves install some people as gods and then stone them when we discover they are frail humans?

Perhaps the problem is not the person with greater, but still imperfect vision. Perhaps the problem is that not enough people realize they can learn to see better as well. Perhaps we need to pursue the Healer himself. Perhaps if we combined our glimpses of truth we could all see better.

Perhaps all of the adopted children in God’s family are meant to be royalty.

Stepping on the brakes

Photo: Manitoba highway

While on a recent road trip my husband and I were discussing how discernment should operate in an atmosphere of love and grace. Just then a car pulled out in front of us as it turned left onto the highway. My husband had to hit the brakes to avoid a collision. He let out a heart-felt, “Whew! Lord, help that guy!!”

I felt the Lord say, “Like that.”

As I thought about it, it came to me that our vehicle had the right of way. We were in the right. The vehicle that pulled out ahead of us was clearly in the wrong and it was his responsibility to yield. Had we continued going the speed we were going, and had there been a collision the other driver would have been charged –but we both would have been wounded -probably very seriously.

I realized the Lord is teaching me that in discerning wrong teaching or a wrong spirit we have the option of restraining ourselves, even if we are perfectly right, to makes allowances for a brother or sister’s error in judgment.

I think this person driving the other vehicle just made a bad judgment call. Perhaps they were inexperienced, or tired, or just plain inconsiderate; perhaps they had an emergency we knew nothing about. Now had it been obvious that they were drunk and careening about the road in a grossly unsafe fashion, obviously being a threat to their own or others safety, we would have gotten their license number and called the police. Had the driver been someone under our authority, one of our kids or a student we were teaching to drive, we would have made a u-turn and followed them until we could have pulled them over, found out what on earth they were thinking (or not) and given them a kind but honest talking-to, or even taken their keys if the situation called for it. Had the driver been a close friend we may have done the same, but perhaps would have appealed to them to be more careful.

Sometimes, in the church Body, we are called to do that, but not often. Sometimes we need to warn others, but most of the time we need to apply the brakes, make concessions, let them by, pray for them and trust Holy Spirit to police the roads. He’s the one who brings conviction. Neither party would gain anything by ramming them to teach them a lesson. In fact, both would lose and the journey would be greatly hindered.

It’s not as if no one has ever had to apply the brakes for me. As much as it hurts I’d rather have a friend come along side, pull me over, speak kindly and honestly to me, and bring the consequences of my choices to my attention, than to read about “some people” on Facebook or read a rant about my heretical beliefs on a blog, or overhear “concerns” in a hallway. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

Today I read, “…pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord from pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2: 22b-26.

There are, indeed, some reckless, inconsiderate, inexperienced people with too much power out there on the road. Be alert. Be ready to step on the brakes. Drive carefully. Pray.