Just for him

Scientists have been able to examine and analyse the ingredients used by the ancient Egyptians for perfuming and mummifying. Archaeologists have discovered they were the best perfumers in those times, and their products and recipes were highly sought throughout the known world. The Hebrews must have picked up some knowledge of this expertise during their time in Egypt, and they too, had perfumers who practised the skills.

In Exodus 30:34-38, God commanded a specific blend of ingredients to be used to make incense. As with the anointing oil, the recipe was to be unique for this purpose. It could only be used in the tabernacle, and was to be considered ‘holy to the Lord’. Any other use of either the anointing oil or the incense demanded the terrible punishment of being cut off from the people of God. The formulas for each were sacred, and had to be kept that way.

Some time ago, I realised that God wanted to be involved in every part of my life, included in everything I do, and for me to talk to him about anything and everything as I go about my daily life. I shared this in Coming home. I really enjoy that fellowship with God, But a little while back, he said something new. “As much as I like to come and spend time with you doing your things, I’d love you to come and share time with me too.” I realised that our relationship was all about me – what I was doing, the people I wanted God to help and bless, the things I wanted him to do for me.

What I get from the unique application of these formulae, is that there should be a bit of our lives that is uniquely set apart for God. Time, space, effort, that is just for him, when we still our tongues and thoughts, and focus our all on his heart. Just to worship him because he is holy, and love him because he is lovely. Just for him.

A woman broke an alabaster jar to anoint the feet of Jesus with the costliest of her treasures. The perfume of it filled the house. Sacrificing a little of our time to just focus on God, without any agendas, recognising it as a time ‘holy to the Lord’, just for him, must surely bring a beautiful fragrance to our lives.

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That smell reminds me of…

You know how sometimes you get a whiff of something, and it takes you to another time and another place? A friend of mine wrote to many celebrities, asking them if they had a memory that had been triggered by a smell. Quite a lot wrote back, and she compiled a fascinating, beautifully illustrated book of these memories, and sold it in aid of Parkinson’s UK, as her husband has this horrible disease. It’s called Smellebrities and it’s available on Kindle. Do buy a copy if you don’t already have one, and support this great charity.

Smells do evoke memories, and I wonder if that was part of the purpose of the aromatic anointing oil that God instructed the perfumers to make for the tabernacle, Exodus 30:22-33. What did he want them to remember? That God is in this place. His presence. His love. His provision of a way that their sins could be forgiven, and their relationship restored with their God.

Another possible reason God commanded for this oil to be smeared on everything, was it’s antiseptic properties. With so much blood being poured out and sprinkled, it would have acted as an antibacterial to keep everyone healthy.

It was to be made to a strict formula, which could be used in no other context: unique to this place. And it caused things to be holy, special, set apart. Whatever that oil anointed, was purified and made holy.

Jesus was ‘the Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ which means the anointed one. What was he anointed with? Acts 10:38 “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…” And we who follow him, are likewise anointed – “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  (2 Cor 1:21-22) We are meant to be holy, cleansed, set apart for his service.

Anointing carries a perfume. Are people around me, or you, caused to remember that God is in this place? Do I carry a sense of his presence and his love? Can I demonstrate to them the way of forgiveness and restoration of relationship with my God? Is my anointing fresh today, so that the perfume of the presence of God lingers and reminds me of his love? Can others smell God on me? Do I make the atmosphere around me a better, healthier place?

Anointing Oil

Exodus 30:22-33

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Good, clean water

Got my water bill this morning…so glad we use showers mostly instead of baths. Reminds me of the time I was giving my first little niece a bath…sat on the edge of the bath, leaned across as I was playing with her, slipped, and suddenly found myself with my bottom in the water, legs in the air! And try getting out of that one without getting even more of you wet! Still, water is wonderful stuff. We are so blessed to have it piped in, warm and pure, to help us keep clean and healthy. As well as for drinking of course.

God knew all about bacteria. An invisible and necessary part of our eco system, but dangerous in the wrong places. Like on our hands. It’s so much a part of our general education that we should wash our hands before eating or preparing food, after handling anything dirty, or even just being out and about, that it’s hard to imagine life without water in the tap or hand gel in the handbag.

It’s no wonder that God instructed Aaron and his descendants, to wash their hands when they were handling stuff like blood and carcasses in the tabernacle. And of course, their feet would get splashed with blood, and they’d be walking it around, so naturally their feet would need washing too. Cleanliness was important for longevity, even if they didn’t understand why.

Water of course, represents spiritual cleansing too. Clean inside and out. As Psalm 24:4 puts it, “Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” And just as you have to wash your hands many times over – as did those priests – so keeping your heart clean means constantly coming before God, repenting and rejoicing in his forgiveness – keeping short accounts – and then asking for a fresh infilling of his Holy Spirit, for power to live life better.

Keeping that bronze laver full of fresh water must have been a full-time job. But in John 7:38 Jesus invited the thirsty to come to him and drink, “Whoever believes in me… rivers of living water will flow from within them.” That cleansing, refreshing, empowering stream is with us 24/7. Are you thirsty? Come and drink. No water bills for this living flow – use as much as you like. Drink it, cleanse yourself in it, bath in it, swim in it, enjoy it.

Exodus 30:17-21

Exodus 30:17-21

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No concessions

There really aren’t many joys about getting older, but one small blessing is concessionary entrance fees. What really bugs though, is that no-one ever questions my eligibility for age concessions. Huh! There again, is it fair, that wealthy elderly folk should pay less than poorer younger people? Concessions are just not that simple!

In Exodus 30:11-16, God was telling Moses that when he took a census, every adult had to pay a fee. And everyone had to pay exactly the same. No concessions! If you wanted ‘in’ to the community, with all its benefits, then that was the price you paid. It gave you a right to be included in those for whom the daily sacrifices were offered, sparing them from paying the price for their own sins. Interestingly, the money was not used to pay for the sacrifices, but to maintain the furnishings. This reminds us that no money can ever purchase our redemption – Jesus paid the price for our sins, once and for all. We can never repay him, except to offer back our lives for his service. No amount of money would ever be enough, and we all pay the same – everything we’ve got.

In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus demonstrated that he did not have to pay this contribution to the Temple, since he, the sinless one, had no need of the atoning sacrifice. But he chose to pay it, to identify himself with sinful man, and at the same time, symbolically, paid the price for Simon Peter too.

Christians have chosen to enter in to the sacrifice that Jesus made, to atone for their sins once and for all. It didn’t cost any of us a penny. That said, the furnishings and expenditure at our churches need to be financed, and we should gladly and generously pay our way to be part of that community.

Simon Peter had his tax paid for him on that particular occasion, but later laid down his whole life: living to serve God with every ounce of his being, and then dying a martyr’s death. It cost him nothing, but he gave all he’d got.

I enjoy the benefits of free access to my Heavenly Father – Jesus paid my entrance fee in full. But the deal I made, was that I would offer him my life back. Everything I’ve got. It’s good to remind myself of that. No concessions there!

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-09-50-51

Exodus 30:11-16

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Consumed

I lifted the lid of the suitcase, and a gentle aroma of wood smoke emanated from it. We’d stayed overnight in a B&B that had been a railway station house, and still used the wood burner for their heating. The smell of it subtly pervaded the whole house there, and unknowingly I’d transported home a little of the fragrance with me: a delightful souvenir of perfume in my suitcase.

Incense has played a large part in many religious expressions throughout the history of mankind, and here we find it, in Exodus 30:1-10. God instructed that an altar be made just for burning incense, and that it should be burnt morning and evening, twice a day, for perpetuity. This altar was to stand immediately in front of the curtain, the veil to the holy of holies, wherein was the very presence of God. As the pan of burning coals was brought, and the sticks of incense placed over them, clouds of billowing smoke would waft out the sweet perfume and pervade the atmosphere. Those who stayed there for any length of time would themselves take on the aroma.

Those rising clouds signified prayer. Prayer: the entrance to the presence of God. Prayer: thoughts rising and curling and making their way to the heart of God. Prayer: offered regularly with discipline and intention, yet pervading every part of life.

But what use would the incense be without the flame underneath it? Cold, it gives off no perfume; no rising of mists to heaven, no aroma to cling and remind you. Purposeless. And so too, cold prayer is ineffectual. Just praying because you should, because it’s the routine is largely unproductive. Lukewarm prayer is not enough to cling around us throughout the day, to impact those around.

We need the flame of the Holy Spirit to set us alight, to make our prayers alive and active. I want my prayer life to make a difference to my whole life, and to the lives of all who come into contact with me. I want to pray with a Holy Passion.

Pray this if you dare:

Holy Spirit, I reject my lukewarmness and submit myself completely to you. Fill me afresh, and make me satisfied with nothing but your full-on power that changes my life and impacts those around me. Set me alight to live for you. I’m yours.

Exodus 30:1-10

Exodus 30:1-10

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What a waste!

I’d had some birthday money, and bought myself some new cosmetics. My husband was concerned with the source, that it might have pagan links, and felt uncomfortable with it. Much as I liked the product, after some thought and heart searching, I finally decided to bin it. I really didn’t want to, and I didn’t have to: I just felt it was the best thing to do. A sort of mini-sacrifice I suppose – because my relationship with my husband was worth a lot more than the stuff. And anyway, if it was dodgy, then it wasn’t going to be helpful to my spiritual life to use it. So in the bin it went. That evening, I had one of the most amazing spiritual encounters with God in all my life. I don’t think I have ever sensed his presence like I did that night.

Was that because I’d thrown the stuff away? I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that God is always delighted when we make sacrifices to honour him. Exodus 29:38-46 outlines the instructions for twice daily sacrifice, morning and evening, every day, of lamb, grain, oil and wine. These were significant offerings. That stuff had real currency, and the sacrifices were made in lean times as well as times of plenty, no let-up. Wasn’t it a bit of waste – just burning good food? Wasn’t it a waste, just throwing away high value cosmetics? Wasn’t it a waste, too, when Mary poured all that wonderful, fantastically expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus (John 12:3)?

God didn’t think so. He responded with his presence. His sweet, sweet presence. And his love. The place of sacrifice is the place where God comes. “There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory… Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.”

Sacrifice is expensive, by its very nature. It costs. It can be painful. But it is a way of saying, ‘I love you’. And when God sacrificed his son for us, that is exactly what he said. ‘I love you… I want to be with you.’ How do you want to respond to that?

Exodus 29:38-46

Exodus 29:38-46

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All the 7’s

Do you ever do any of the Facebook quizzes, that reveal so much about yourself? Well here is a quick Bible quiz – see how much you know.

How many times did Joshua’s army go round Jericho? (Joshua 6:3-4)

How many times did Naaman have to dip himself in the river Jordan? (2 Kings 5:14)

How many times did Elijah’s servant have to go look for signs of rain, before he saw the first cloud? (1 Kings 18:43-44)

How many days did Moses have to perform the ceremony to ordain Aaron and sons, and to consecrate the altar? (Exodus 29:35-37)

Easy Peasy. The answer was 7 each time. It’s a number of completeness in the bible. ‘The number seven possessed an ideal completeness, resting on the primeval facts of creation (Genesis 1, 2). It is the number almost exclusively used under the old covenant, when acts are to attain their result by repetition.’ (Ellicott’s Commentary)

After 7 days of ceremony, Aaron and sons were ready for the job of priesthood, and the altar was ready for sacrifice; but it all had to repeated again for their successors, and under that old covenant, the sacrificing had to go on and on, daily.

How many comments did Jesus make on the cross? You guessed: it was seven. His final words were to commend his spirit to God, but just before that, he said, “It is finished”. The job was done, once and for all. Everything Jesus came on earth to do was accomplished. Coming as a man, preaching, modelling the life, being shamed, becoming the scapegoat, being sacrificed for our sins, it was all done, all finished. Complete. Jesus only died once. This was the new covenant. We recognise his sacrifice, believe that he died for us, ask his forgiveness for our wrongdoing, and we are forgiven and free once and for all.

We won’t become perfect all at once – that will take the rest of our lives – but we are free to choose to do right. Forgiven so that we can forgive.

Loving others, forgiving others isn’t about doing it seven times and job done, as Peter thought (Matthew 18:21-22), but about loving and maintaining our forgiveness for them, for however long it takes. We are forgiven and so are they. Let it go. It is finished.

Exodus 29:35-37

Exodus 29:35-37

 

 

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