What’s Your Smell?

I visited the home of friends who had recently lost an elderly loved one. I assisted them in cleaning up the rooms where the loved one lived. When I felt chilled by the cool afternoon air I asked why so many windows and doors were open. The lady of the house advised me she wanted to get rid of the ‘old man’ smell in the place. That surprised me, because I couldn’t smell anything.

I have often noted that my wife is more sensitive to odours than I am, but I can sniff things out pretty well too. 

That situation reminded me of a chap I tried to help many years ago. He lived alone and his smell was pretty strong. The smell permeated his clothes and so he just lived with the hermit smell all the time. He didn’t know he smelled, but I suggested he needed to use a deodorant, and gave him peppermint oil to use to neutralise his odour.

He never did anything about his odour for the few years I had contact with him. To this day he probably doesn’t realise just how potent his pong was.

Being ignorant of something doesn’t change reality. If you have no idea of your smell it doesn’t mean you don’t smell. In many areas of our life we need those around us, those who care about us, and God Himself, to make us aware of things we haven’t recognised.

One really critical area that most of us don’t ‘smell’ is the moral quality of the world around us. When a whole culture ‘smells’ of a particular moral quality that quality becomes normal and no one is conscious of it.

On my first trip to India the team leader told me I would smell Chennai (formerly Madras) before we landed. I did. The air was laden with a cocktail of sewer, smoke, smog and grime. Once immersed in that smell you just have to get used to it. You can’t get away from it so you tend to turn off to it. But the smell is there, nonetheless.

God is attentive to the moral smell of people and places even when we can’t smell anything. Because God is a moral God and we are His creation we exist in a moral universe. Everything that is morally wrong is tainted and stinky to God.

We can become quite accustomed to things, dulling our senses, or never sensing what is around us. But God, Who is perfect and holy, doesn’t adjust Himself to immoral things.

Because God is perfect there are things that we as humans might accept that God cannot accept. He smells stinky things we don’t even notice.

When God judged the seven Canaanite nations and sent Israel to destroy them it was not just to give that land to Israel, but to bring judgement on a people who stank in God’s nostrils. These nations did a host of things that were wicked.

“It is not by your righteousness or uprightness of heart that you are going in to possess their land, but it is because of their wickedness that the LORD your God will drive out these nations before you, to keep the promise He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There is not to be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.” Deuteronomy 18:9-12

Many people today think nothing of living for material goals, or practicing Eastern religions through meditation and martial arts, or sexual intimacy outside heterosexual marriage, or sidelining God in their life and decisions, or treating the Bible with contempt.

Rebellion, independence, self-will, perversion, greed and lust, godlessness, abuse, selfishness and a host of other unholy things are just the normal way of life for many in today’s culture.

So, guess how we might smell to God.

To give you a sense for the fineness of God’s sensitivity let me refer, discreetly, to the matter of sexual intimacy in marriage. We know that it is God’s order and God’s creation. We are told that such intimacy is ‘undefiled’.

“Marriage is honourable in all, and the marriage bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Hebrews 13:4

Yet when God was going to meet with the Israelites God required that the people abstain from normal marital intimacy for three days before God came to them.

“When Moses came down from the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.” Exodus 19:14,15

There is nothing immoral about sexual relations in marriage, yet God, preparing the people for Him coming to them, required an even higher standard of cleanness, that they had not had sexual intimacy.

The same standard came up when David asked for holy bread to feed to the men who were with him.

“The priest answered David, I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread which your young men can have if they have kept themselves from women.” 1Samuel 21:4

I don’t know what your ideas of holiness are, but this simple example shows that God grades things at a much higher standard than any church I know. So it’s quite likely that you and I and those around us have an unholy smell about us that we don’t recognise.

That’s not a cue for us to become legalistic and buried in holiness rituals, but it is a prompt for us to recognise that we are unclean people living among a generation of unclean people.

“I said, Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5

Our culture stands in a very precarious place due to the stink and the cry of the land rising to God. Our Christian heritage has been crushed and crumbled over recent decades and things that are offensive to God have become popular things to support. Those who stand up for God are attacked.

Before you get all worked up about what is happening in the wider community, take a moment to stop and ask yourself What’s Your Smell?

God Loves You

As I reflect on what messages over the decades of my life have been the most important and impactful to me I immediately think of the revelation that ‘God Loves Me’.

Of course I sang about that in Sunday School as a child. “Jesus Loves Me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. Yet that truth, like so many others, was more like a nursery rhyme than a living truth that I took hold of and allowed to change me.

I was in my late teenage years before I heard preachers talk about God’s love for me in something other than childish or evangelistic terms. Of course the message to sinners is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”, but that always seemed to be a message for the masses, not a personal truth for me.

In the late 1960’s, as my family encountered the Charismatic Revival, I began to hear preachers who were different to those I had listened to since my childhood. These preachers spoke of things that were alive in their life, not just documented in the Bible. These were men who experienced God and passed on what they knew from experience.

A message that I head multiple times was about God’s Love for me, not just the world, but ME! Preachers like Ps Jack Hayford were among those who broke open to me the living truth of God’s abundant love for me. He, like the others, contended with the religious ideas that were so often found among Christians, that God was more a judge than a father.

I certainly felt as if coming into God’s presence was like coming before the School Headmaster, unsure what you might be told off for, but certainly not expecting him to show affection.

As I heard those messages I had to accept the Bible truth of God’s personal love and devotion to me, but I also had to be set free from fears, guilt, shame and unworthiness.

I had never applied the concept of relationship to my notion of God. God was an authority figure, but not a warm and friendly, caring Father I could relate to.

An image that formed in my mind as I heard repeated messages about God’s love for me is that of an infant prince in a palace. His father is king and, as such, is virtually unreachable by the masses. Even dignitaries and high officials have to wait indefinitely for an audience with the monarch.

Yet the prince could virtually run into the throne room and approach his father. Others would be punished for such things. Dignitaries have to wait on the whim of the King, but the prince, the King’s son, has virtual open access.

The same applies for you as God’s child. God is the ultimate authority in all eternity and even the world’s richest and most powerful would have to wait for an appointment and approach with the right protocol. But not you. As God’s child you may come boldly to the throne of grace at any time of day or night, whether you have mud on your feet or not, because your loving Heavenly Father is in a most intimate relationship with you.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (at our moment of need).” Hebrews 4:16

Another reflection on God’s grace came from the teaching of Ps Jack Hayford, way back in 1972. He talked of a father who had an infant son which he wanted to learn to walk. Jack suggested that the father would pick up the son, stand the child on its feet and then speak sternly and with great authority, explaining to the child that it was time for the child to walk.

Jack suggested that the child, aware of the austere sternness of the father, would swallow hard an do his absolute best not to fall over. The child took one step, with great relief, then another, but then fell flat on his face.

Jack suggested then that the father would pick up the child, walk to the back door and throw the child out the door, while telling his wife, “This one’s no good. We’ll have to make another.”

That suggestion is absolutely offensive to our imagination. No true father would do such a thing. Yet somehow we think our Heavenly Father will treat us like that.

A story like that did a lot to break down the religious notions that many Christians have caught, that God is judge first and foremost, and our performance, or failure to perform, is more important than the relationship of Father and Child.

I came to realise that God actually loves me, as His son, and His greatest delight is not in my service or obedience, but in the sweetness of the relationship.

And a father/son relationship is able to overcome failures and disappointments, mistakes and moments of anger and frustration. That relationship is able to overcome all that would destroy it, such as we see in the account of the Prodigal Son.

That son humiliated and mocked his father, yet the father’s heart was still totally committed to the son who deserved nothing but scorn.

So, welcome to the family and welcome to the revelation that God loves you. God loves YOU, as a perfect father loves an imperfect son, and nothing you do can make God stop loving you.

I pray that you receive and enjoy the revelation that so impressed me, and let me impress on you once again that God Loves You!

Being a Father in a Child’s World

Being a Father in a Child’s WorldHumans are self-aware. Some people are more or less aware of themselves than others, but it is safe to say that we are conscious of ourselves all the time.

We are aware enough to avoid doing things that might be inappropriate or embarrassing. We are aware enough to know our responsibility at work, or whether people of interest to us are nearby.

Yet for all that self-awareness, and possibly because of it, we often fail to see ourselves as others see us. This is particularly important in our role as a parent.

I was reminded of this in recent years as a Grandad. I was visiting one of my children and the suggestion was made that some of the grandchildren might like to have a sleep-over at Nanna and Grandad’s house. The children showed great enthusiasm for the suggestion. I was a little surprised because I don’t think my home is particularly interesting to young children.

What I had to recognise is that my grandchildren see me through their eyes. They see me as a very significant person in their life, as a grandad. I might see myself as an older man, with greying hair, interested in matters that children wouldn’t even understand. I might see myself as of no interest to young children, but to some young children I hold a special place.

I remembered how much I enjoyed visiting my grandparents and exploring around their home and yard. They might have spent most of their time talking with my parents, but they were still very special people in my world.

King Solomon knew that fathers hold a special place in the lives of their children.

“Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.” Proverbs 17:6

I recall how proud I was of my dad as a child. Everything my dad did seemed important and seemed to set him above others in my mind.

When I did things I wanted my dad to see me and I valued his appreciation.

How sad that the majority of dads fail to see themselves through their child’s eyes. They might know that their opinion doesn’t count for much, so they don’t see any real need to show their ignorance. But to the child an affirmation from a father is solid gold.

Maybe we should teach dads to say something like, “That looks pretty good to me!” and “I think you are Amazing!” That’s what many a child wants to hear.

Sadly, over time, children can turn to scorning their father. If a dad has made a major investment in his child that child will hold their respect for the father much longer.

It is a sad reality that we instinctively form our impression of God, that great, external authority figure, based on our impressions of our dad. We are likely to expect God to be like our father.

If our father is uncaring or demanding, we might see God that way. If our father is hard to get through to then we may feel God is hard to connect with to. If our father is moody and changeable we find it hard to believe God is not equally as unpredictable.

Now, since God is perfect, no father will adequately represent Him. But we should at least be aware that the tone we set in our home and in relationship with our wife and children sets an unconscious expectation in our children, as to what God is like.

I suggest that dads take time out from time to time, starting right now, to observe their children and consider where they fit in the child’s world. Even if the child is rebellious or difficult, remind yourself that you are the only father your child has and your child has an innate desire to admire and to be in close fellowship with you.

Consider how you can take just a few minutes to connect with your child. Maybe some of the tasks your dump on your wife, such as listening to their schoolwork and reading, or reading them a story, can be picked up by you at times.

Maybe you can just ask them to give you an update on how things are going with them. Don’t turn that into an interrogation, but take genuine interest. Maybe you could also ask them, “Is there some way I can help you, or are you doing fine?”

I know dads who take their older children for coffee from time to time, or even once a week. I know dads who coach their child’s team or take the child off to some activity they can do together. That’s all great.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you are part of your child’s world. Yes, they are in your world, but they too have a world they see through their eyes. You are in that world, and it is wise for you to see how you fit in for them and the good and bad of how your are going.

Watch how you react to your children. They are not as grown up and tough as you are and their tender hearts can be deeply wounded by your insensitivity.

The end result you are aiming for is that your heart is turned to your children and each child’s heart is turned to you. If that doesn’t happen then the situation works out to be like a curse.

“He will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:6

May the Lord open your eyes and help you see how you can make the most of Being a Father in Your Child’s World.

How’s Your Reality Check?

We are instructed in scripture to think soberly about ourselves. We are inclined to see things through our own lens and to excuse our wrongs and over value our assets. So it’s always wise to do a Reality Check on who we are and how we are tracking.

“By the grace given to me I say to each of you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned.” Romans 12:3

Thinking soberly about ourselves is a wise instruction, but the hitch is that we can often be deluded and fail to see our own reality.

I have helped various people suffering from bi-polar disorder, which was once called being Manic-Depressive. One chap, in his manic state, set off to start a business that was obviously doomed from the outset. He later told me that he was euphoric with excitement about how easy it was going to be for him to succeed.

That kind of delusional thinking frustrates our attempts to see clearly what is really going on in and around our lives.

Another chap I think of had extreme persecution notions, confident that everyone around him was determined to make life miserable for him. No amount of reasoning with him changed his mind. No wonder his marriage failed and he found himself friendless.

While most of us are not so extreme in our personal delusions the fact is we are highly likely to be misguided and blinded about things relating to us and our lives.

The instruction is to think soberly, clearly taking stock of ourselves for who we are. In particular we are to be clearly aware of what God has given us, the ‘measure of faith God has assigned’ us. That instruction is linked to not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. So pride and over-rating ourselves is a potential problem for us all.

I have heard of several reports indicating that people convicted of serious crimes rate themselves much more favourably than the normal community would. We often find in children an overconfidence about what they could do if given opportunity. We all like to be thought of more favourably than we deserve.

What does the evidence say about you? Who are you? What has God placed in you and what are you doing to make good use of it?

Some people carry vain dreams of achieving things, which will never come to pass. They would be much better off to face the truth about themselves. So what is the reality of your life and potential? Are you thinking soberly about the gifts and capacities God has given you?

One of the blessings I have discovered in working in team settings is to recognise there are people with real skills and natural abilities in areas that I struggle. I would love to have those abilities but I don’t. Yet people also tell me they are amazed at what I can do in areas that come naturally to me.

So I have had to give up some hopes and dreams, recognising God has not graced me with the right set of capacities. At the same time I have had to recognise where I am gifted and to employ the capacities God has given me.

Many years ago I was able to make some connections with people wanting to bring foreign students to Australia. I thought of that as an opportunity God was giving to me. I had no idea how to capitalise on the contacts so I went and spoke with an older Christian businessman, hoping he might work with me to get a business up and running.

Instead, the man shut down my hopes. He pointed out to me that I knew nothing about the travel and accommodation industry, or about the risks, insurances, challenges, etc. He pointed out that there are many companies already specialising in those areas who not only knew how to compete with me, but also how to exploit my vulnerabilities if they felt I was a threat to them, or they just wanted to take over my business.

He also pointed out to me that I had a number of natural talents and years of experience in media, communication and ministry. He strongly urged me to drop the idea of building a brand new business and to concentrate on the natural skills and areas of expertise that were already mine.

I didn’t like the conversation, but it pointed out one of my weaknesses. I love ideas and new things, and am not so strong on follow through of previous ideas. I would have rushed at the new business but not have had the stamina to press through the learning curve that was needed.

It was one of the Reality Check moments for me along the way.

So, while there’s many other aspects of this which I could bring up, let me leave it here and simply prompt you with the question, How’s Your Reality Check?

Keep It Fresh

Many years ago I assisted Wayne, a young husband, who was being treated badly by his wife. Wayne felt totally committed to his vow to love his wife and so he continued to forgive her for what she said and did and to keep expecting that the marriage could be restored.

The wife divorced him and threw a party the day the divorce was finalised, yet he continued to be determined to love his wife.

At the time, reflecting on what Wayne was going through, I gained a fresh insight into what commitment can be like. It is easy to volunteer for something on the spur of the moment, or to feel good about something when all is rosy. But when things get tough many people drop out.

A friend told me yesterday of his daughter doing a rather challenging Paramedic course. The course is famous for the high level of people who drop out during the first year. That kind of dropping off is often the case, especially in challenging circumstances.

Jesus talked about that, too, in His parable of the Seed in different Soils. The seed that fell in the rocky ground could not find deep root and so the plant shrivelled when the sun was hot. Jesus explained that people without depth will get excited at first, but will fail when they face difficulties.

“Seed among the rocks are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But they have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Luke 8:13

People who can stick with their word and their commitments in the face of challenges are rare and honourable. This is the way we are meant to be in all aspects of our life.

If you are a shallow, irresponsible person, who can’t be relied on, then there is a lot of work needed in your inner life. You may need God to plough the soil of your heart and dig out the rocks of selfishness, independence, weakness, fear, pride and the like, that keep you from being a fully reliable person.

Wonderfully, God is on your side, even if you are a very weak person. He is able to uphold you and He is willing to carry you through, as you call on Him. God will also take out the stony heart within you and replace it with a tender, soft heart.

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

What I saw happening in Wayne’s life, that was so wonderful, despite how hard it was for him, was that he kept his commitment to his wife fresh. By ‘fresh’ I mean that he didn’t just hold onto his old commitment to her, but re-made that commitment regularly.

Let me explain it this way. A man finds a wife and commits to love her. He says to her, “I love you.” Then he finds out she is a much more difficult person to live with than he thought. So he stops and re-thinks his commitment. He said “I love you”, thinking she was one kind of person, but now he finds out she is different. So he re-calibrates and decides to make a Fresh commitment, and he says to her, “I love you.”

The second “I love you” is not a repeat of the first, even though the words sound the same, because in heart he is making that commitment to a wife who is difficult, instead of to the dream wife he imagined her to be.

Then she lies to him, betrays him, mocks him, humiliates him and scorns him. Again he has to re-think his commitment to loving her, now that he knows how unpleasant she can be. Drawing a deep breath, and making inner resolve to love his wife, despite how horribly she treats him, he says, “I love you”. Again this sounds like a repeat of past words, but internally these are completely fresh words, reflecting a completely fresh commitment to his wife. This time he is saying, “I love you, despite how horribly you treat me.”

The wife then goes and has an affair, hoping to drive away her husband. This hurts the man deeply so he has to once again re-think his commitment to her. He deals with his internal hurt and shame and decides that despite her actions he is still committed to loving her. So, once again, he says, “I love you.” But this time, the words speak of a brand new fresh and even deeper commitment on his part.

The wife might rebuff him and say, “Stop saying the same old thing over and over again.”

But he could reply, “I’m not saying the same thing. Every time I say ‘I love you’ it is a fresh commitment, a freshly deeper declaration of my will to continue to love you despite how severely you oppose me.”

Years ago I wrote that thought as a poem titled ‘A Fresh I Love You’.

But today I want to take that principle, the idea of keeping things ‘fresh’ as we face new depths of challenge and growth, and encourage you to apply it widely in your life.

Do you love your spouse, your children and your extended family? Have they hurt and disappointed you? Can you recognise the challenges that now exist in your relationships and make the choice to love them afresh, loving them and forgiving them and wanting the best for them, despite how they disappoint, hurt and offend you?

How would it be if today you were to refresh all your relationships, recalibrating them, getting back to manufacturer’s settings, applying God’s grace, wiping away all the negatives, because you made a fresh commitment to them?

What about your walk with God?

Have you gone cold on your walk with Him? Have you become offended because God asked hard things of you or didn’t rescue you in some situation where you felt He should?

Have you withheld praise and adoration, and gotten on with the other things of your life? Have you gone cold on prayer and reading God’s Word? Have you given up going to church and connecting with God’s people?

It’s time to make things ‘Fresh’ again. It’s time to dig deep and realise that you can remain faithful and recommit to your past commitments, and find grace to overcome those disappointments, hurts and frustrations. You can put aside your selfishness and love and bless people, and love and serve God, with all the joy and excitement you’ve ever known, by making fresh commitment from deep within.

So, my friends, today and every day from now on, I call on you to Keep it Fresh!