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Wednesday

Do today's essential oils mix with Christian faith?


Essential oils are big business these days. Purveyors are striking it rich with these aromatic concoctions, marketed as age-old natural remedies for everything from acne to Alzheimer’s, from back pains to brain injuries, from hair loss to hyperthyroidism, from seizures to sleep disorders, and from warts to whooping cough. 

I admit it: I’m a little late to the party with essential oils (and aromatherapy). I’m just beginning to learn the specifics pertaining to the various sorts of popular natural oils (and oil combinations) and how they are intended to help with different sorts of ailments and conditions.


Clearly, I believe many herbal and natural remedies can do some good.

For example, we know eucalyptus can relieve sinus congestion. Lavender can ease stress. Chamomile can comfort an upset stomach (Remember Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit?) and hasten sleep. Peppermint can soothe sore muscles. Aloe can cool a burn. Nature can be healing in such practical ways.

And I agree with those who urge us to seek non-drug solutions for as many personal problems as we possibly can. Definitely, a natural and organic and non-prescription solution sounds pretty positive and safe and good, especially if it works. Right?

Essential oils/ natural remedies - Pixabay public domain photo


Enter essential oils.

I have several close friends (including people of firm biblical faith) who have plunged into the waters of essential oils practices. Some are even carving out careers as vendors of various oils.  I respect and admire these friends, and the last thing I would want to do is disrespect or disparage their efforts.

At the same time, I am feeling a certain check in my spirit about much of the essential oils world. As a Bible-believing Christian, I am convinced that the prudent course is to research and check and test any trend before going whole-hog with it.

Is the Christian + essential oils a good mix, or is it more like oil + water?

I think believers need to ask ourselves some honest and probing questions, before we jump with both feet into the essential oils world and all it involves.

  1. What does the Bible say about oils? Perhaps the most frequent mention of oil in the Scriptures is its use in anointing those chosen by the Lord for leadership (see Exodus 40:12-15). It also fueled lamps providing light (Remember the Hanukkah miracle, in which one day’s supply of oil lasted the duration?). The Holy Spirit is also likened to oil (see 1 John 2:20), especially in passages discussing His anointing and empowering individuals to serve God more fully and effectively (see Isaiah 61:1). Oil is also used to anoint those receiving prayer for particularly serious purposes (see James 5:14). In all such instances, olive oil was usually the pick.

Throughout the Bible, many mentions may be found of the relationship between oils (and herbs and other natural ingredients) and healing. Surely, the curative use of oils is not a new concept. It’s been around for millennia. But the methodologies and marketplace are vastly different than they ever have been.

  1. What can we learn about the companies providing essential oils? Before using a product, a wise consumer will examine the accompanying literature (and perhaps the company’s own website) to consider the organization’s mission, ownership, and affiliations. It’s a good idea to look for guarantees and return policies.

More than a few essential oils companies are offered by web-only sellers (who may or may not include company and contact information on their websites). Others are sold by neighbors and friends at home parties. A few essential oils brands are sold by major grocery and discount department store chains.

  1. Who is profiting from essential oils? In the Bible, those possessing large quantities of oil were seen as those who were most affluent and prepared for the future. (Again, this usually referred to olive oil). In today’s marketplace, where the popularity of essential oils has reached fever pitch, it’s worth considering who stands to gain from the sales of these items. Many of the top-selling products come from companies practicing multi-level marketing (MLM), by which sellers gain most by enlisting under-sellers in pyramid sales structures. That strategy may be legitimate, but it is a good idea to check.

  1. Do the essential oils purveyors display any religious, pagan or new age practices or ties? Companies offering these products are proliferating. The top ones openly claim to represent all sorts of interests, from Native American spiritual traditions to modern naturalists, and from New Age to Eastern mysticism causes. One company, which boasts many openly Christian marketers, posts product descriptions that claim their concoctions bring “harmonic balance,” “put the power of complete wellness in your hands,” and “take you on a sensory journey that can instantly soothe, enliven, or balance both body and mind.”

Umm, what?

Some essential oils (and related products) are sold in Spiritist or occultist shops or via such websites. The believer who knowingly patronizes such enterprises dabbles in unequal yoking. At the same time, there’s a strong likelihood that the products procured thusly may come with unpleasant spiritual baggage.

  1. Do certain essential oils come with curious or odd-sounding procedural instructions or product descriptions? Clearly, if supernatural-sounding activities, word-chanting, or other strange methods are advised, this should be a red flag for the believer. And any description which claims a product can boost spiritual or universal energy, align chakras, improve magnetic flow, help with chi visualization, or aid one’s life force smacks of New Age, Eastern mysticism, or even occultist ties.

  1. Is a specific list of ingredients available for each product? Allergies and personal sensitivities can pose medical problems, especially when we are unaware of the possible exposure. A person with hay fever, for example, would certainly need to know if grasses were included in a particular concoction. Another with tree or pollen sensitivities might opt not to use a product containing such elements. I just discovered this allergy risk firsthand, after dabbing on a few drops of an essential oil tincture I received as a gift from a friend, only to develop a rash on the application sites. (I should have asked if the mixture contained fish oil.)

  1. Can we be sure of consistent recipes and quality control, when purchasing essential oils? So far, the essential oils industry (and alternative treatment business as a whole) is basically unregulated in the U.S. (and elsewhere). That means product compositions, quality, purity, and potency can vary dramatically. If Aunt Susie is mixing up tinctures in her kitchen, how can we tell if this month’s batch will work the same as last month’s?

  1. What dangers might exist, if we substitute essential oils completely for expert medical care? This probably sounds rather obvious. But it’s astonishing how many folks rely on these gentle remedies, rather than seeking the counsel of professional physicians, even if they have (or may have) serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions. Muscle soreness or a short stretch of insomnia are one thing. Advanced-stage cancer is something else.

Once again, believers need wisdom to navigate today’s marketplace, and essential oils offer one more example of this necessity. Plenty of these products may be helpful, effective, and useful. We need heaping helpings of divine discretion to decide where to procure them and how to use them. Maybe, in a way, we might liken essential oils to yoga – at least, in terms of exercising prudent and faithful discernment. If we are able to borrow the practical benefits without buying into the spiritual baggage, then we will walk wisely.


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Tuesday

Peace in the storm can only be God's.




People love to talk about peace. Everybody wants it. And who can argue with that?

But what are we really asking for?

  • an absence of all aches
  • an assurance of ease
  • a break in the battle
  • a cessation of scorn
  • a conclusion to all concerns
  • a cutoff of all crises
  • a downtime for all disappointments
  • a finish to frustrations
  • a freedom from all frays
  • a halt to hostility
  • a hiatus from hate
  • a pause of pain
  • a remission of rivalries
  • a stop to all storms
  • a time-out from troubles
  • a waning of worries
  • or just a good night’s sleep?

What do we mean by peace?

It seems as if crowds flashing peace signs and crowing for peace may not have a sturdy handle on what they’re even asking. Have we missed the mark? Dictators and demagogues may point to momentary lulls as badges of honor, as if they’ve achieved peace. Others claim they can offer us peace, if we will follow their leads, vote in their favor, or buy into whatever they’re selling. But if we look closer, we are likely to find certain crises still prevailing and troubling concerns continuing. 

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“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14, NIV)

Is peace even possible?

The storms continue to rage. Maybe it will ever be so, at least until the Lord’s Kingdom comes into full view. And yet God promises peace to His people.

We know He can do it. We can quote chapter and verse on instances where He calmed the waves, healed the sick, cast out demons, and worked many other miracles to bring His answer of peace to those who sorely needed it.

What about us, Lord?

Perhaps the peace the Lord offers is unlike anything we may have imagined. Maybe He’ll stand and still the storm around us, but maybe He won’t. Perhaps He’ll offer us His strikingly supernatural peace right in the middle of the maelstrom.

We may still have to slog through rivers, wade through rough waters, swim upstream, and flail through fires – either proverbially or literally. Flames of angry words and unfair attacks, wild storms of medical crises, wild waves of career upsets, hurricanes of hurt feelings and upsetting emotions, and smoldering embers of broken relationships may persist.

But the One who can calm the harshest gale with a single word is willing to walk through all of these perils with us.

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“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a, NIV)


God, give us a glimpse of Your peace, even in the middle of the storms in which we live.


 
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Friday

Feasting among foes: Is it biblical?



Although believers are commanded to reach out to others with the gospel of grace (see Matthew 28:16-20 and other spots), the Bible also warns us about shunning outright evil (see Job 1:8 and 28:28, as well as Proverbs 3:7-8 and 14:16). The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church especially to avoid ongoing association with fellow believers who refused to turn away from obvious sins (see 1 Corinthians 5).

Sometimes it’s a necessity. It may be impossible to break away from such company – at least, for a season.

Maybe it’s a disgruntled roommate. It could be an unpleasant neighbor. It might even be an abusive family member. And the question may not be one of such folks’ own faith or personal conduct (which really isn’t up to us), but of outright hostility to us for our faith or some other reason. It could even be a matter of a certain individual’s own psychological baggage from the past.

And, at least for the moment, we’re stuck in a prolonged period with such a one.

Hey, you probably get it. We’ve just come through the holiday season.

Although December is a month of merriment for many, plenty of people endure unfavorable interactions, especially in extended family gatherings.

Simply put: Life may include times when we cannot help but break bread (or spend time) with those who berate, belittle, browbeat, and betray us. We may have to make nice (even for a while) with those who degrade, disregard, disrespect, or dishonor us.

Today, I’m looking at Psalm 23:5a in a way I never considered it before.

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“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Just yesterday, someone lashed out at me for someone else’s minor misstep that apparently represented his own last straw. Hurtful words exceeding even the dreaded F-bombs (Yes, that’s possible.) circled around me. I just happened to be there, in his wake, as words and fragile objects were hurled about.

I’m reluctant to haul off and call someone like that an actual enemy. But the unsolicited attack still hurts. (I cringe every time.) So the verse seems to fit.

Jesus feels our pain. It’s His pain too.

And He feeds us and sustains us, especially in those tough times. He prepares a place for us in His own presence, surrounding us with His acceptance and grace and mercy and love – even while others try to bring us down.

Someday God may call us to shake the sand off our proverbial sandals and walk away from such opposition. But He might not. In the meantime, how far are we willing to loan our cloaks and carry those packs? Can we continue to turn the other cheek, when someone persists in kicking us in the proverbial other-kind-of-cheek?

But we may still have to show up, even if others aren’t willing to grow up.

If we’re wise (and in our best moments of mental clarity and solid discretion), we’ll try hard to hold our peace on certain subjects around those who oppose or assail us. Dogs like to fight over prized items (see Matthew 7:6). So there’s that.

Can we break bread with such folks without being broken beyond repair?

Prisoners of war still eat in their cells, even though their captors lurk by the doors. Maybe, on a much smaller scale, this is sort of the same idea for some of us. And maybe we can turn that notion into intercession for those whose very lives are imperiled in such ways.

God, grant us grace. All of us.



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