When I was a child, there was a store in Roebuck that I used to love to go to with my mom. It was called the Old America Store. It was like the precursor to Hobby Lobby and Michael’s. It had all kinds of crafting and floral items, home décor, and frames. I remember one time, my sister Bekah and I found a giant hourglass. It was so cool, like the one from Wizard of Oz. I even found this old commercial for an Old America Store.
But my favorite part about the Old America Store was the smell. Oh the smell! There were aisles and aisles of candles in that store, and I would just stand and breathe in all the fragrant aromas.
At our church, we have a group of women who decorate the altar table weekly. They are very talented and creative, and try to incorporate the theme of the sermon as to make the overall worship experience more personal. They have their own ‘worship closet’ where they keep all their goodies, decorations, and supplies. There are shelves of crosses and floral arrangements. There are stacks of large stones. There is a rack of altar linens and banners. And of course, there is a shelf full of candles.
When I first walked into the worship closet, the fragrance overwhelmed me. I was immediately taken back to shopping with my Mom at the Old America Store. I smiled to myself at this pleasant memory, wishing the Old America Store was still here, and even more so, my Mom.
There is something very powerful about smells. They can take you right back to a place in time with one sniff. Whenever I smell the perfume White Shoulders, I think about 1986, when my mom had my little sister Deborah. That was the perfume she wore at that time. Or when I smell a burnt “irony” type of smell, I think of my dad, because he works at ACIPCO, and always smelled like that when he came home from work. When Scott had his Jeep, we would often take road trips with the top off. You encounter lots of smells when you are driving through the country! Some pleasant; others, not so much! But he said he loves the smell of the hot sun beating down on standing green corn. It reminds him of his home back in northwest Tennessee. Scott’s grandmother, Marcy, always wears the perfume ‘Knowing’ by Estee Lauder (a very pleasant fragrance). So whenever I smell it, I think of her. We went to Walt Disney World 2 months ago. The most magical place on earth, right? But when you are around so many people, it often does not smell very magical! Smells are powerful.
I recently read through the book of Leviticus in the Bible. It was not an in-depth study, but a general daily reading, as I was going through the first 5 books of the Bible. Leviticus really lines out all of the Jewish laws and regulations for worship, including instructions on ceremonial cleanliness, morality, and holy days. It details out all these different types of sacrifices that are to be done based on the types of sin, time of year, or life events. There were burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. But they all ended with this statement: ‘an aroma pleasing to the Lord’. It says it at least 16 times that I read. I just assume that God must really love the smell of BBQ!
This past November, I went on my 5th medical mission trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras with a group of Orthopedic Surgeons. I am on the prayer team. Every morning, we have a group devotion time where we take turns leading. One morning, Dr. Langford led the devotion and spoke about 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. This is from The New Living Translation:
“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?”
So good! People breathe in what we give off. Because of Christ, we should be giving off life-giving perfume, which benefits others and brings them to salvation, which in turn becomes an offering to God. But… there is the flip side. Sometimes we are offering the stench of a rotting corpse. What aroma are we offering to others? What aroma are we offering to the Lord?
Thinking about Christ-like fragrances, I immediately thought of the worship closet. That room is filled with fragrances that are pleasing to me. I assume they are pleasing to God. But God showed me something. The fragrant candles and beautiful paraments (altar cloths) are nice, but those items are not what is most pleasant to Him. And the act of decorating the altar and providing a more pleasant worship experience is nice, but again… that is not what is most pleasant to Him. What is a pleasing aroma to Him is the heart in which these ladies serve Him.
That goes for anything related to service in the church or mission to the community/world. I know a lot of ‘busy’ church people, including MYSELF. But it is not bringing the Lord one moment of pleasure if I’m in it for selfish ambition, attention, obligation, or pity. We may look like we smell good and we may think that we smell good, but spiritually speaking, we REEK.
Our church always has an annual VBS. I was in charge of music and dancing, which I always love to be a part of. The only bad thing about it is that I SWEAT. I get so hot from singing and dancing, and I sweat like a beast. I call it the ‘Jesus Sweats’. 🙂
After we were done with 3rd night’s opener, I went up to the sound booth to talk to the audio/visual guys. All the sudden, I encountered a terrible smell! I looked around, sniffing, trying to figure out where this smell was coming from. Finally, I lifted my shoulder and there it was! I was the offensive odor! Apparently, the shirt I was wearing had mildewed in the laundry. So now that it was wet with my sweat, it REEKED! It was so gross! And I had the whole night still to go, plus the closing session. I just kept apologizing to everyone I encountered that night, praying that I wasn’t making anyone sick!
On my way home, sitting in my car, smelling my own funk, God spoke to me. He showed me that for several minutes that evening, I was giving off an offensive, foul odor, of which I was totally oblivious. I was making any encounter with me unpleasant for others that happened to be in my presence. And I was absolutely oblivious to it. When I finally stood still long enough to catch my breath is when I finally realized my stinky problem. He showed me that I do that very same thing with my words, actions, and reactions. Am I giving off an offensive ‘odor’ with how I treat or don’t treat people? Am I making any encounter unpleasant by spreading foul or idle words? Am I leaving behind the smell of death as I journey through life? Maybe. But until we take the time to be still and catch His breath, we are oblivious to our ‘aroma’. In the stillness of prayer and His Word is where He can show us how to become more like Him, a pleasing aroma in this very vile world.
Although animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus are no longer required, an appropriate response to God’s great love and salvation is. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” We are the sacrifice. Our lives are the sacrifice. And my prayer is that my ‘living sacrifice’ is nothing less than a “pleasing aroma to God”, just like the Old America Store was to me.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to Honduras on several medical mission trips. We usually enter in through the ER when we go to Hospital Escuala. It is always overcrowded, hot, and very unpleasant smelling. My first time through, I asked our prayer team leader what the terrible smell was, and her answer shocked me. She said it was “rotting flesh… the smell of death”.
I could hardly believe what she said. I had never been around that smell before. I’m not medical, and at that time, I had not spent lots of time in a hospital. The smell overwhelmed me, and not in the good kind of way. But as I was preparing for this post, God showed me that the smell of death is exactly the pleasant smell He desires. The sacrificing of self / dying to self is the most pleasing aroma in His nostrils. That, my friends, is our spiritual act of worship, which smells heavenly to the Lord.
You may wonder, how do I do that? How do I become a living sacrifice? God does not leave us hanging. As Ephesians 5:2 tells us:
“1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
That’s it! Walk in the way of love and giving yourself up. Sharing His love with everyone you come into contact with, acting with integrity when people are watching and when they aren’t, using words of life whether we are speaking face to face or behind a screen posting on social media… those are ways to ‘walk in the way of love’. And loving your neighbor as yourself and putting others first is how we give ourselves up. That’s the formula for a fragrant aroma that pleases the Lord.
Walking in love and putting others first sounds easy, but in reality, those things are hard to do. That is why we constantly set time aside with the Lord for Him to reveal our ‘smelly’ parts and to teach us how to love. It’s crucial in learning how to be a living sacrifice.
I personally believe that our world is quite stinky these days. And sadly, Christians, or those who call themselves by that name, are often the smelliest! It’s time, friends, to start loving our neighbor and spreading that Christ-like fragrance here on earth, while dying to self and smelling to high heaven!
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