Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fragrance

Yesterday morning, after my morning walk, I smelled a lilac. Ah, sweet fragrance. Takes me back to spring in New England. Spring - or mud season as it is usually called - was late and short, but how we welcomed it. When the tall lilac in our front yard bloomed, delicate lavender flowers fed color-starved eyes and the whiff of that sweet fragrance meant that warmth and life and growth were on the way.

Makes me think of the words of a song we sang last Sunday:

Anything I thought gain,
Let me count it as loss.
May the fragrance I leave
Be of Christ and the cross.

The thing that's hard about this is that the fragrance of Christ and the cross is not pleasant to many.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
2 Corinthians 2:15, 16

The smell of the lilac is a smell of life to anyone who breathes it in. No one gets a whiff of its sweetness and thinks of death. But the fragrance of the cross, while sweet to those who, by faith, believe and receive the gift of salvation offered through Christ's atoning death, is the smell of death to unbelievers. The cross and those who wear its perfume have an unwelcome odor.

The problem I have is that I don't like to smell bad to people. I want everyone to think well of me and to think that I am, like the lilac, all sweetness and beauty. But it doesn't work that way. If indeed I count all gain as loss for the sake of knowing Christ and making him known, then the Jesus fragrance from my life will be an offensive smell to some.

The heartbreaking reality is that it is often not the deathly fragrance of Christ that offends, but the stench of my own sin - my weakness, my selfishness, my failure to love and care. It is the smell of me that is bad. The apostle Paul asks, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Clearly, not me.

More words from Sunday's song, however, remind me:

If You should mark my sin, Lord,
How could I stand?
You reach down from the cross, Lord,
And take my hand...

My dirty, stinking, sin-stained hand. Jesus takes it and holds it in his. Instead of accusing and condemning, he reaches out and raises me up and makes me stand. The chorus of the song says:

I'll stand on your promises;
I'll stand in the grace you give;
I'll stand when the darkness falls;
Upheld by your right hand,
I'll stand.

I add to my list:

70. thanks that a spring lilac led to thoughts of Christ and the cross.

71. thanks for a song that picked up where the lilac led and took me on to scripture.

72. thanks, most of all, for the sure promises of a gracious God who enables me to stand, even when darkness falls.

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