Smells Like Spirit

Exodus 30:22-38 (NRSV)

The Lord spoke to Moses: Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand; you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests. You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.”

The Lord said to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. When you make incense according to this composition, you shall not make it for yourselves; it shall be regarded by you as holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from the people.


I still find it remarkable how God wants to engage all our senses as we relate to our creator through worship.

God gave Moses detailed instructions regarding how worship was to be carried out when the Israelites were on the move and needed a portable facility, and these principles would continue to undergird Jewish worship once a temple was in place. As we read these instructions, it’s not difficult to let our imaginations come alive and sense the experience: the colors we would have seen, the feel of the fabrics and utensils (assuming we were in the group allowed to touch them), the sounds of consecration and sacrificial slaughter, and yes, the smells.

As we see in the instructions for the production of anointing oil and perfume, most of what was created for worship was distinctly different from daily life, set aside for use in worship of our unique God. And our experience of the holy God should be different from any other experience.

If you have ever smelled any of the items in the text—myrrh and frankincense, two of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus, are possibilities—you may understand my reaction. They can be earthy and biological in a familiar way, but simultaneously they transport me somewhere strange, a place beyond my normal olfactory experience. I then think of the promise in Revelation of a new heaven and earth, the re-establishment of holiness in all of creation.

Wow. Sometimes I can get carried away more than a wine snob with a bottle of Etna Rosso Lacryma de Christi. (Confession: I found that by running an internet search on “wine snob.”) But we should be excited when we explore our relationship with God using all our senses.

After all, God made all five senses to be used. Think about that the next time you are in worship, wherever you may be.

Lord, thank you for engaging with us as we are, where we are. Through our senses, you lift us up, and it is our prayer that through our senses you are glorified. Amen.

The Long Road to Leadership

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Exodus 2:11-15a (NLT)

Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.

The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight.

The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”

Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.


Meet the not-fully-formed Moses. After living the first part of his life as a sheltered member of Pharaoh’s court, Moses was discovering his ancestry and seeing the terrible injustices the Hebrews faced every day.

For Moses to become the man God wanted him to be—a liberator—he had to develop the sense of righteous indignation necessary to rescue his people from slavery. We see the seeds of that important emotion in this story.

Great leaders cannot be emotionally driven reactionaries, however. Moses clearly was impulsive at this point in his life, reacting to events rather than shaping them. He responded to a terrible crime by committing a more terrible crime, forcing him to flee the one place he could be effective.

I suppose impulsivity is a stage through which most future great leaders must pass. There is little basis for becoming a mature, thoughtful, right-minded leader if you have not felt youthful energy and excitement for big ideas like justice. A budding leader can make a lot of mistakes during that early phase, though.

Moses, who lived to be a supernaturally vigorous 120, needed four decades in the desert and an encounter with a burning bush to prepare. Today’s developing leaders probably cannot train for so long. But they do need time to seek guidance from God, time to watch and work under other leaders, and time to learn the importance of planning.

As leadership expert John Maxwell wrote, “God prepares leaders in a crockpot, not a microwave. More important than the awaited goal is the work God does in us while we wait. Waiting deepens and matures us, levels our perspective, and broadens our understanding.”

In our own culture, there remains much in the way of injustice needing to be cured and problems needing to be solved. My concern is whether enough people are taking the time to hear from God before trying to lead others. Impulsively burying a body or two in the sand won’t make a long-term difference.

The good news is the right leader, properly prepared, can do wonders. When a fully formed, God-inspired Moses returned to Egypt, the Hebrews left their chains behind and crossed the Red Sea in a remarkably rapid way. Moses went in with God on his side, and it didn’t hurt that plagues fell upon the Egyptians rat-a-tat-tat.

As we consider leaders around us in all our institutions, large and small, let’s look for sober judgment, sound reasoning, and a clearly expressed desire to follow God’s will both personally and professionally. With such servant leaders in place, our world might improve faster than we expect.

Lord, raise up for us new leaders where they are needed. We pray fervently that many have been preparing themselves through the years and are ready to step forward. Amen.

Small Groups Save Lives

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The above headline makes a bold assertion. In the past few weeks, I’ve talked about how small groups restore people to God, keep people in a tight-knit community and help their members grow as disciples.

And yes, when times are tough, when much is at stake, small groups save lives.

One example is how small groups save the lives of leaders. While the idea of modern small groups is of course not fully formed in an ancient text, we see the basic concept at work in Exodus 18:13-27. Here, we are deep in the story of Moses and how he leads the Israelites out of Egypt.

At this point, Moses has been reunited with his wife and children, who have been staying with Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest. Jethro is astonished by the miracles God has performed while liberating the Israelites from Egypt, but he is also concerned about how Moses is trying to handle every problem on his own.

“This is not good!” Jethro says. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too.”

Jethro’s advice is pretty simple: Find men you trust, men with high moral standards, and group the people under them to help. Moses takes the advice, at least initially.

Sadly, Moses eventually burns out anyway, the stress of leadership proving to be too much. A fit of anger while leading the recalcitrant people ultimately costs him entry into the Promised Land. No matter how smart we may think we are, we all need wise companions as we make our way through this broken world toward God’s kingdom, particularly if we are called to lead.

Small groups save lives in more direct ways, too. Churches structured around small groups have been able to do great kingdom work in the midst of terrible evil.

For example, if you don’t know the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, you should take time to learn more about it. This little French village, working mostly out of its small Protestant church, was able to save thousands of Jews from deportation and extermination during World War II. What fascinates me is how the people of Le Chambon said they never needed a planning meeting or a vote to figure out what to do.

Well before the war, the pastor had put in place a biblical system for teaching and communication. He taught a small group of leaders, each of whom then taught their own groups.

When genocide began to happen around them, the people knew biblically what God called them to do and they simply did it, using their established small-group system. They passed Jews back and forth, keeping them safe without ever having to discuss out loud what they were doing.

I once saw an interview with a church member from that era. She said that a knock might come in the middle of the night, and a church member, child in hand, would say, “Please take care of this one.”

Trust of the church, and a common biblical understanding of the need to love others in risky ways, had been established via the small groups long before the war broke out. The church members very naturally said yes to such requests, without hesitation.

Through their small-group system, they knew when to hide their charges in the woods. They knew how to call them back into the houses by singing a song. Forged papers quietly made their way from house to house, allowing many of the Jews to flee to the safety of Switzerland.

Le Chambon reminds us of the powerful, life-saving response we can make to evil when we follow common-sense biblical strategies.

Lord, grow us in our understanding of how to structure our churches along biblical lines, so we may be ready when people around us are suffering and in need. Amen.


I also have an invitation for you today. I am organizing a weekly online small group. If you want to participate, let me know. You do not have to be a member of Holston View UMC, where I am pastor, to join. It would be helpful if you are comfortable using Google Meet, or if you think you can become comfortable after a little guidance. Contact me at chuck@methodist.life.

Once I’ve worked out who is interested, we will decide together when to meet, and we will establish a particular focus for the group. We of course will be spending time in the Bible.

The Meaning of Manna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Exodus 16:1-8 (NLT)

God gave the Israelites a lot of signs and miracles in Egypt and on their way out of Egypt—plagues on their captors, a pillar of cloud and fire to lead and guard their exit, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army. We might think they would have been ready to trust God once in the desert. Trust faded as soon as they got really hungry, however.

God faithfully responded with the promise of provision. The Israelites didn’t even need to carry food with them on their journey. Instead, food rained down as quail and manna, described as a substance that makes me think of Frosted Flakes. (I like cereal, so my interpretation may be biased.)

The lesson was simple: God will provide. In fact, God wanted the Israelites to go to bed every night trusting his provision would be there for them the next day—no long-term planning needed on this journey. There was work to be done in the gathering of the food, but they always had enough. The weekly exception was when God sent them enough food for two days in anticipation of the Sabbath. God also wanted them to rest!

God still seeks the same kind of trust from us today. Pray this prayer with me: “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … .” Stop right there just a second.

Do we mean it? Do we live it? What does it mean to live as if we trust our bread will come on a daily basis?

The idea certainly conflicts with our 401K/pension plan/Roth IRA mindsets. We’re taught to store provisions for use 40 years or more into the future, with all of that planning affecting when we can retire. We’re sometimes even left with the strange concern that we might live too long, running out of money in the process. Can we reconcile these two very different world views?

As I ponder this, I’m first reminded of one of Jesus’ parables. He begins telling it at Luke 12:16:

“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.”

Luke 12:16-22 (NLT)

As bad as his hoarding was, the rich man’s real problem was the way he deluded himself about how much control he had, in the process failing to understand his basic relationship to God.

Preparation is prudent, but we should never let go of this basic truth: We don’t control the future. Planning  and stored provisions cannot eliminate our need for God.

There also is the issue of how we use the resources we are given. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening? After all, we believe that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity.

John Wesley had a sermon, “The Danger of Riches,” that explained his idea of how to balance proper planning and trust in God. (Wesley was working from 1 Timothy 6:9.)

In the sermon, Wesley said that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs. We should even save to ensure the well-being of our families and businesses we may own. Beyond those provisions, everything we are given counts as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.” Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Even for a tither, this is a concept that requires thought. It forces a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions, simply because we learn to say, “It’s not really mine, anyway.”

When we learn to make decisions about money and other resources in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth. We let God work through us so others see their daily bread arrive.

When all Christians adopt such an attitude, God’s presence will be as visible in this world as a pillar of cloud in the sky and manna on the ground.

Lord, give us this day our daily bread, and let us be content with your gracious provisions. Amen.