Sacred Fragrance

Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. (Exodus 30:31-32, NIV)

Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD. (Exodus 30:37, NIV)

It is surprising to read “Do not make any for yourselves,” in the middle of these instructions. If we like it, why would God restrict us from using it? The scent of perfume and incense we use seems like a small matter that should be unimportant to God. We can be tempted to interpret these — and other commands from God — as controlling, mean, or selfish. But He did not restrict them to limit us, rather He did it to give them importance. He has declared those particular scents as sacred or holy. Set apart. Special. Separate to God. They have a specific purpose.

When I was a young wife, decorative towels were popular. The young husbands in our circle of friends did not understand why their wives hung up “no touch towels”. From the men’s perspective, all towels served the same purpose: a tool for drying something. But to the women, the embellished towels were set apart as special and should be admired but not used. The goal was to protect them from being soiled with use or faded with repeated washings. We did not want to prevent our husbands from drying their hands, we wanted to give some towels a different, decorative, purpose.

Many people have some items they consider “everyday” and others they consider “good”. Clothing and dishes come to mind immediately. We wear good clothes to weddings and funerals but have everyday clothes for mowing the lawn or jobs that will be hot and sweaty. We may have dishes that are only used for holidays or when serving guests. Like God, we have set some things apart as special.

Why would God set apart perfume and incense? Science tells us that scents are powerful. They evoke memories. They allow us to recall details otherwise forgotten. They can also set a mood. So it may not be surprising that God wanted the scent of one particular oil and incense to be associated exclusively with His house. Perhaps He wanted that scent to build a connection between His people and Himself. A reminder of His holiness. An invitation to offer Him praise and worship. A prompt to remember His provision, protection, and promises. A signal to lay all else aside and focus on Him.

But oil and incense are not all that God considers holy and sacred. There are several Bible verses reminding us that people fall into that category as well!

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4, NIV)

Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself…(Psalm 4:3, NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession… (I Peter 2:9, NIV)

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God looks at you differently from people who have not. He sees you as holy and blameless. He has set you apart. He considers you His special possession. He also has given you some specific instructions for life, including these:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil… (James 4:7, NIV)

Honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:20, NIV)

Fill your mind and thoughts with God’s wisdom. Seek righteousness and what will expand God’s kingdom. Submit to God and resist the temptation to sin. Use your body to honor God. God did not give these commands because He is mean or controlling. Instead he gave them so we could experience far more life! They restrict us in order to set us apart. His purpose for us goes beyond existing or surviving on this earth. He wants His children to be special. To be noticed. To be a reminder of His holiness, power, and grace.

While Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross ended the need for us to burn a particular oil or incense to honor God, the book of Revelation describes a scene in Heaven where something we do produces a scent that is special to Him:

Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:8, NIV)

This is hard to imagine, but the prayers of God’s children are a pleasant fragrance to Him! When we talk to God, share our thoughts with Him, give our adoration, seek His guidance, unload our burdens, declare His praise, or cry out for His mercy and grace, it is a sacred act. Praying to God is a sacred privilege. Those prayers are set apart for Him alone. They are valuable to Him. They connect us to Him. They are special.

You, your life, and your prayers are set apart. You can make them a sacred fragrance to God.

Sisters,
Do you have a scent or fragrance that has special meaning? Of what does it remind you?
Where in your life do you make distinctions between the “everyday” and the “good”? Do you feel differently about them?
Do you think God’s commands restrict you or set you apart? Why?
How do you feel about being sacred to God?
Fill heaven with a sacred fragrance as you thank God for far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Deceptively Peaceful

We have to make many decisions every day. But not all decisions are equal. Some are quick and easy because we know they have little long-term impact. Others we recognize as significant and consider the options carefully. But sometimes we do not see them clearly and overlook opportunities for far more life.

The book of Genesis gives the account of Abram and his nephew Lot. They lived a nomadic life, moving their herds from one location to another. As their wealth grew, the land could not support all the people and animals of both households. So Abram suggested they set up separate camps. He graciously let Lot choose his preferred location. The Bible records:

Lot looked and saw the whole Jordan Valley. He saw that there was much water there…At that time the Jordan Valley all the way to Zoar was like the Lord’s Garden. This was good land, like the land of Egypt. (Genesis 13:10, ERV)

Lot chose the land that looked more fertile and promising. That seems wise since his was goal to provide food and water for his herds, family, and workers. But the scene before Lot was deceptively peaceful. He actually pitched his tents near a corrupt city that, in time, corrupted him and his family.

How often do we look only at the surface when making a decision? We, too, can be fooled by a deceptively peaceful exterior and fail to see the situation accurately. I participate in a White Elephant gift exchange each December that makes a game of giving away useless and almost-useless items. Over the years we have found the worst gifts are often hidden beneath the most elaborate wrapping. They are deceptively appealing because the outward appearance leads you to believe a treasure is waiting inside. One participant enjoys warning newcomers, “Beware of the pretty wrapping paper.”

Satan also loves to hide behind a beautiful or peaceful exterior. He tricks us into thinking sin is not “that bad”. Or he makes it seem like an experience or circumstance will fulfill us. But Satan is a liar whose goal is to keep us from experiencing God’s best. He makes sin and pain appear deceptively peaceful. He wants to distract us from finding what truly brings far more life.

God wants to satisfy our hearts and minds. He offers true peace — and far more life. Consider this powerful promise God gave His people through the prophet Isaiah:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:7-11, NIV)

Giving, investing, sharing, caring for others because they are valuable to God and therefore valuable to you…these lead to far more life! But Satan whispers — or yells — lies to dissuade us from experiencing this: Do not sacrifice for others; they will not appreciate it! Do not give too much; you may not have enough left for yourself! Do not get involved; everyone needs to learn from their own mistakes! Do not take risks; someone else is in a better position to help! People are too messy! Protect yourself!

Repeatedly God’s Word instructs us to focus on His work and trust Him with the details. He wants us to look deeper into His ways when making decisions so we can invest in far more life.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29, NIV)

…For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (I Corinthians 10:33, NIV)

[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (I Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. (I Peter 3:10-11, NIV)

Following and trusting God are not passive pursuits. Far more life requires us to actively engage with God and others. Disengaging offers deceptive peace while investing in others brings far more life. Building our own kingdom offers deceptive peace but building God’s kingdom results in true peace. Striving to fulfill God’s plan fulfills us in a way that pursuing our own plans cannot match.

Be on the lookout for deceptive peace. It is all around us, tempting us to turn away from God and join the majority. The road to God may not look as lush and fertile as the one most people choose to follow through this life, but it actually offers all we need for far more life that lasts throughout eternity.

Sisters,
When have you pursued something that looked good but ended up being bad?
When making a decision, what helps you look below the surface?
How has God blessed or satisfied you when you did what He instructed, even if it seemed like a bad idea?
How are you actively engaging with God and people?
Thank God that His road leads to far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

A Prosperous Soul

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 2, NASB)

I have read 3 John numerous times but never noticed this verse before. What a great perspective! What a memorable description of far more life: a prosperous soul!

We work hard to prosper in many areas of life and to have good physical and mental health. But how much attention do we pay to the prosperity of our soul? We may attend church, pray, read our Bibles, attend Bible study, serve in the church, and do other good works. But these activities may or may not lead to a prosperous soul. They can be soul-feeding connections with God that fulfill and energize us. Or they can simply be habits, obligations, or items to check off our to do list.

What is a prosperous soul? Other Bible versions translate 3 John 2 as: strong in spirit; doing well spiritually; progressing spiritually; it is well with your soul. A prosperous soul is consistently experiencing (and sharing) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A prosperous soul is growing in understanding God and becoming more like Him. A prosperous soul is far more life.

When someone asks how we are, imagine if we answered based on the condition of our soul:
“I am having wonderful fellowship with God today!”
“I am praising Christ for all He has done for me!”
“I am expectantly waiting for God’s best in some areas to become evident!”
“I am having a hard day but trust Him to keep all His promises!”
“I feel disconnected from God.”

“God’s promises feel empty and meaningless.”
“I am struggling to walk in the fruit of the Spirit.
“I am angry with God.”

In many situations, those would be awkward responses. But it is refreshing and life-changing to be self-aware and open with trusted brothers or sisters in Christ. I have a good friend who regularly asks, “How are you doing spiritually?” I confess that sometimes it is tempting to answer “Fine,” and change the subject. But I know she is offering me a precious gift! Sharing the condition of our souls helps us prosper by living out Paul’s instruction to the Philippians:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2, NIV)

This Scripture passage was read at my wedding and has challenged me many times to get my heart right toward God and my husband! Being open about the prosperity — or lack of prosperity — in my soul has benefitted me and our relationship. It has helped me maintain far more life. And enabled us to have a loving, Christ-centered marriage.

A prosperous soul is the foundation of a healthy life. When our soul is healthy, we keep everything else in the perspective of eternity. It reminds me of the promise in Matthew:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

“All these things” are covered in the preceding verses: life (what you will eat and drink) and clothes (what you will wear). At a minimum, when we are investing our lives in God’s kingdom, He will supply our basic physical needs. But this promise is attached to a command found a few verses earlier:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25, NIV)

The command that produces a prosperous soul and healthy life is, “Do not worry.” When we replace worry — mental distress resulting from concern for something anticipated — with trust that God already knows our needs and is prepared, willing, able, and planning to meet them, our soul prospers. And we gain far more life.

Worry is based on a faulty belief about God and our position before Him. It robs us of far more life. Perhaps we can recite multiple Bible verses about God’s faithfulness, love, provision, and our righteous standing before Him. But some part of our mind does not believe it. Some experience from the past planted a seed of doubt that Satan has watered and fertilized to keep our soul from optimal prosperity. Thankfully we are not stuck with that lie. We can expose it by exploring our negative emotions and the reasons behind them until we discover the false belief and replace it with God’s truth. (To learn a systematic method for this, read the post “New Master”, published October 29, 2020.)

What keeps your soul healthy? Your spiritual diet and exercise choices!

He refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:3, NIV)

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

Choose what goes into your mind and heart: connect daily with God and His word; engage meaningfully with other believers; pursue pure entertainment and recreational options. Also engage in the disciplines that promote spiritual growth: regular praise and prayer; capturing false or harmful beliefs in obedience to Christ; blessing others by using your spiritual gifts. When you recognize your soul is unhealthy — not experiencing the fruit of the Spirit — confess it and do the heart work needed to get back on track.

Every day can be a prosperous and healthy day for your soul. A day of far more life!

Sisters,
Do you focus more on your prosperity in life, your health, or the state of your soul?

How would you describe a prosperous soul?
What is the condition of your soul right now?
What spiritual diet or exercise practice would improve the health of your soul?
Thank God for enabling you to improve the prosperity of your soul today and embrace far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Pursuits

Coming off an election that cost nearly $14 billion, I was thinking of the general message underlying the ads and platforms. Many candidates promised variations on the rights promised in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And while these are good things, are they the most important things for us to pursue? Do they truly bring us far more life?

It is easy to focus on our own life, our own liberty, and our own happiness. Our natural human tendency is to pursue things that increase our individual freedoms and personal benefit. But compare that focus to the overarching message of the life we are called to pursue in Christ:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8, NIV)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32, NIV)

 So when you give to the needy… (Matthew 6:2, NIV)

Our Creator and Savior wants us to be happy, but that happiness is not found in self-serving pursuits. Pursuing and fulfilling God’s purpose for us is what truly makes us happy. The verses above remind us that His desire, His purpose for us, is to love Him and love others through our choices and actions. By doing this, we bring God glory and make Him visible to people who do not have a personal relationship with Him, attend church, or read the Bible. We do this, in part, by pursuing personal growth so that we become more like Him. As we are filled with His character qualities (love, joy, peace, and more), those we interact with can see Him reflected in our words and actions. But we see even greater results and are even happier when we intentionally reveal God through our giving, sharing, living, and words.

God blesses us, so that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. (Psalm 67:7, NASB)

generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

God has blessed us richly! Many of us put extra effort into reflecting on and acknowledging those blessings at this time of year. But God does not intend for us to hoard our blessings. Sharing our blessings with others honors God and brings far more life! The parable of the talents (money) in Matthew 25 illustrates this. The master gave some of his servants money to hold for him while he went away. When the master returned, the servants who pursued opportunities to increase their holdings were praised by their master:

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 & 33, NIV)

Whatever “talents” God has entrusted to us, He wants us to invest in building His kingdom. Our “talents” could be money, leadership or organizational skills, influence, compassion, health, time, education, wisdom, or simply a willingness to do good wherever we see a need. We may pursue investments that benefit those for whom we feel special concern, whether that be those who are poor, abandoned, ill, mistreated, abused, neglected, or overlooked. We also have freedom to use our talents to pursue personal gain. But we will find far more life by using what God has given us to bless others, especially when we are sharing His love, grace, and truth with them.

The Apostle Paul writes it this way:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (I Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV)

Accepting Jesus’ death and resurrection as payment for our sins and entering into an eternal relationship with God is the foundation of far more life. That foundation is secure, no matter what we do with the rest of our lives. But we choose what we add to that foundation: will we pursue personal life, liberty and happiness? Or will we pursue God’s purposes and plans?

Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (Matthew 6:33, NCV)

Pursuing God is the guaranteed path to irrevocable life, inalienable liberty, and eternal happiness — far more life!

Sisters,
What do you desire most in this life?
Think of times when you have hoarded your blessings and times you have shared them: which made you happier?
What “talents” has God entrusted to you? How are you investing them in His kingdom?
How have you found far more life pursuing God’s purposes?
Thank Him for richly blessing you and offering you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Finding Your Purpose

We all want to find purpose in life. God created us in His image; He is purposeful and instilled that desire in us. But finding our purpose can be hard. Some of us have explored many paths that ended in disappointment; we may have become discouraged and quit searching after several failed attempts. Others are so bogged down surviving life’s challenges that we don’t have the energy or desire to look for our purpose. Should we give up and settle for simply existing?

No! Remember the promise from John 10:10? “I came to bring them life, and far more life than before” (PHILLIPS).  Purpose — far more life — is waiting for you! But maybe not where you expect.

King Solomon sought the purpose of life, too. He journeyed multiple paths but deemed them all meaningless: wisdom; pleasure; work; advancement; riches; and more.  Along the way he saw God’s hand at work in the world. His ultimate finding: “After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that we were created for” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, GNT).

This is echoed in New Testament Scriptures (GNT unless noted):

  • “You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God.” (Colossians 3:1)
  • Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NCV)
  • “Whatever you do..do it all for God’s glory.” (I Corinthians 10:31)
  • “Yet there is for us only one God, the Father, who is the Creator of all things and for whom we live; and there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom we live.” (I Corinthians 8:6)
  • “This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.” (Galatians 2:20b)
  • “From now on, then, you must live the rest of your earthly lives controlled by God’s will and not by human desires.” (I Peter 4:2)

Some people think living for God means obeying lots of rules or commands. But what if those commands reveal our purpose and offer far more life?

The instruction manual for my kitchen range shares several rules, including: “Do not store explosives on or near the oven”; “Never modify or alter the construction of the oven”; and “Never leave surface burners unattended.” I can view these rules in one of two ways: 1) maximizing the purpose of the range or 2) limiting my freedoms. One view leads to good results and greater satisfaction. The other leads to frustration and serious injury or death.

The same is true for our lives.  God has given us an instruction manual that defines our purpose and tells us how to get the most out of this life and eternity. Would your life be more satisfying if you followed His instructions in Colossians 3?  (I am including The Message translation here because its directness made me think. Please consult your favorite translation if you prefer a different tone.)

“…Be content with obscurity, like Christ. And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy…make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life…
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

Why does God expect us to do everything for His glory?  The short answer is in Revelation 4:11 (GNT), Our Lord and God! You are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power. For you created all things, and by your will they were given existence and life.”  Without God we would not exist.  As our creator, He gets to proclaim our purpose and instruct us on fulfilling it.

Following Your Creator’s instruction manual and the purpose for which He designed you is far more life. Reshaping your heart, mind, and actions to match His purpose for you will bring far more satisfaction than anything you can pursue on your own. We will build on this foundation in future posts as we examine how God created each of us with an individual passion — a personalized talent, skill, or desire — that energizes us and glorifies Him. But if you haven’t found far more life, start by embracing your primary purpose; “Whatever you do…do it all for God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31).

Sisters,
Do you believe following God’s instructions bring you far more life?
Are you allowing His Word to shape your heart, mind, and actions?
Do you “do it all for God’s glory”?
If not, tell Him about it:
Tell Him what is holding you back;
Tell Him what you fear;
Tell Him what you think you will lose.
Give it a try: choose one instruction from His Word (the Bible) and commit to follow it this week.
Reap the benefits of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso