Better Than Incense
Like clockwork, the crooked little man entered the Home Style Café in
Hannaford, North Dakota. Perhaps it was the aroma of Mary’s cooking for
the noon hour lunch menu that drew him from the pool hall next door. My
teenage heart pitied this skinny old cowboy whose clothes told me he had
no one to care for him. Always dressed the same in a no-longer white
shirt and wool trousers, quite simply, in the summer heat, he reeked. If
he were able to bathe himself, he obviously had no way to clean what
appeared to be his only suit of clothes.
He sat down in his usual place at the far end of the counter, shoved his
greasy fedora back a bit from his face and ordered a single Stetson-brand
cigar. While I served him a cup of coffee, he lit a match and began to
smoke. I breathed a sigh of relief as the fragrance of that Stetson
covered the odor emanating from him.
Strange, how individuals and incidents from our youth can stay with us.
When old memories come to the surface, after stewing out of sight for
years, they often come with lessons. And Mr. Stetson did give me just
that, an understanding of how our own sinful nature must come up into the
nostrils of the Almighty.
Yet, even while He is displeased with the rotten smell of sin, the Lord
pities the sinner with no means to come clean on his own. No wonder, from
days of old to the present, incense is used as part of worship for many
seeking nourishment from God’s banquet table. Somebody, long ago,
recognized we needed a covering of fragrant smoke to hide our impossible
My Greek-scholar friend Lace Williams says, “Why does God hate sin so
much? Because He loves us so much.” He has provided for us something
better than the smoke of incense to cover our smelly sin. Emmanuel poured
out His own blood to wash us clean. He destroyed the very source of what
stinks. With the Living Water of His Holy Spirit, He washes us inside and
out so He can fill us with the fragrance of Jesus, for all the world to know.
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