Thursday, April 3, 2014

What’s That Smell?

Take a moment and think about your favorite smell. In your imagination, take a long sniff. Is it bacon? The fragrance of a rose? Freshly baked pecan or cherry pie? The scent of a particular kind of perfume?

For me, nearly 40 years after my mom’s passing, I can still remember the smell of her unbelievably delicious Hungarian nut roll baking in the oven, the crushed walnuts mixed with sugar and lemon rind to comprise the pasty filling inside the delicate dough turning a golden brown. It only happened around the Christmas season, so that aroma was extra-special.

The nose knows what it knows - and remembers.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the most revered Supreme Court justices, observed, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

For years after I broke up with my first girlfriend back in high school, whenever I caught a whiff of a certain brand of cologne, thoughts of her would come to my mind. As Justice Holmes correctly noted, our olfactory system – sense of smell – does wonders for the memory.

The point is, although most of us are very visual – men even more than most women – and we rely greatly on our sense of hearing as well, our sense of smell exerts considerable influence on our thoughts and emotions.

Before you get lost on a fragrant stroll down memory lane, let’s shift gears. Now, think of some repulsive, repugnant odors that particularly bothered you. Maybe a too-long hidden “treasure” in the back of your refrigerator comes to mind. Or a rotten potato forgotten at the bottom of a storage bin. Or a particularly pungent diaper produced by an infant nearby.

I’ve never been thrilled about going into florist shops because the smell of multiple varieties of flowers, although not unpleasant, always reminds me of a funeral home. If you enjoy visiting a florist, that’s fine. Just don’t invite me to tag along. Maybe you’re that way when you smell certain foods, cooked liver or cabbage perhaps?

Whatever negative odors come to your mind, this second assortment of “memories” elicits an entirely different set of reactions, doesn’t it? If you’re still meandering down memory lane, watch where you step!

Interestingly, God uses this reality as an analogy for an important spiritual truth. Have you ever wondered why the gospel of Jesus Christ seems so inviting and appealing to some people, while others find it repulsive and offensive? The apostle Paul explains it this way:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

What an odd thought: Jesus being “the fragrance of life” to those who are being redeemed and forgiven for their sins, but “the smell of death” for those that reject Him.

This isn’t to imply in any sense that those who profess Christ as Savior and Lord are better or superior to those who don’t believe. In fact, to turn one’s life over to Him is a humbling experience of recognizing our own unworthiness, our utter spiritual bankruptcy before the God of the universe. It cuts against the grain of human pride and self-sufficiency to respond to Jesus’ claim of being “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But as His followers, we bear the responsibility of making certain if people turn away from Jesus, it’s Him they are rejecting and not a skewed, offensive caricature of Him we present.

Frankly, I’ve been around some people quick to define themselves as “Christians” who were pretty “smelly,” but not in the way the apostle Paul described. More than once I’ve thought how glad I was to have already known Jesus personally before I met them. Otherwise, I might have received the wrong impression, one that wouldn’t have drawn me closer to Him.

The Bible describes Jesus as A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:8). For some He will be offensive, the “smell of death,” even though He is so attractive for others. In our efforts to express to friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues at work what He means to us and what He could mean for them, we should make every effort to ensure if there’s an offense to be taken, they’re truly offended by Him – and not by us as poor, inaccurate reflections of who He is.

We’re called to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15), but not to make a big stink about it.

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