Smelling Pleasant to God

My favorite scents are vanilla, pumpkin, babies, books, homemade bread, coconut and suntan lotion, campfires and lilac. Some smells evoke memories of my childhood: reading my mom’s Nancy Drew books and visiting libraries and bookstores, going to the pool, and walking around my college campus during spring. Some scents are comforting. Some invigorate. Some help me relax.

We are made in the image of God. A God who also loves pleasing aromas.

Imagine Noah in the ark: 40 days with hundreds of animals. Would his small family have been able to keep up with cleaning the manure of all those animals? Doubtful. I assume the ark stunk. And outside the floodwaters would have carried the decay of all of humanity, besides Noah’s family. But when Noah finally left the ark and made a sacrifice of clean animals and birds, the smoke rose to Heaven, and the scent pleased God.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are instructions on how Israel was to make offerings and sacrifices to God. The aromas of the grain, animals, drink, and incense pleased God.

In the New Testament, under the new covenant, Jesus died as a final sacrifice to take away the sins of those who believe in him. And the aroma of that sacrifice pleased God. Ephesians 5:2

Did you know we can have a pleasing aroma to God as well? When we spread the knowledge of God to others, we are the pleasant aroma of Christ. When we spread the Gospel, we bring the scent of life into a dying world.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

It is incredible to think that if I am sharing the Gospel and telling others about Jesus, the creator of Heaven and earth is breathing deeply and is pleased with the scent of my obedience.

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Living as a Christian in a Hostile World

We live in a crazy, lost world. Political divides, war, genocide, infanticide, suicide. Mental illness, poverty, and violence, all amplified on social media as part of our daily feed. And while the screaming might seem louder and the voices amplified by the media, this discord is nothing new.

Two thousand years ago Jesus lived in a time when Rome was trying to take over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was conquering nations and seizing control. In Asia, dynasties battled for control of China. There were coups and assassinations. There was civil war, tyranny, and greed.

Jesus was born at a time when Judea had been conquered by Rome and was ruled by the emperor Augustus, adopted son and great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Tiberius ruled when Jesus was crucified and the early Church blossomed during the rule of some of the worst Roman Emperors: Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. Life under these rulers included torture and death.

Knowing he was soon to face death, and that his followers would also face persecution and possibly death, Jesus said:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Around the world, Christians are facing persecution. In America, we don’t face physical persecution, but a growing sentiment that Christians are bigots, hateful, and stupid. Some of this sentiment in the U.S. is deserved because of some Christians disobeying Jesus’ command to love. But some of this prejudice toward Christians is Satan at work, to turn the world from the truth of the gospel.

How are Christians to live in a world of darkness and hostility?

How to Talk about Jesus with Unbelievers

How should we respond to people who are questioning our faith? How should we bring the truth of the Bible into everyday conversations? How should we talk to unbelievers and share the gospel message?

In Luke 20, Jesus was always prepared to give an answer to the questions he was given by the Pharisees and Sadducees. They tried repeatedly to trick him with their questions, but every time he came back with an answer that stopped them in their tracks. Jesus frequently used scripture to answer those who questioned him (Luke 20:17; 41-43).

We are commanded to always be prepared to give an answer, but to do it with gentleness and respect.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ‘ 1 Peter 3:14-16

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6

Lessons Learned on How to Talk to Unbelievers About Jesus

  1. Know the Bible. Read it every day. Memorize it.
  2. Know my own personal testimony. Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I have my hope in Jesus? Take time to write out my personal testimony with examples of how my life has been changed.
  3. Do not be afraid to discuss Jesus or share my faith.
  4. Speak and act with gentleness and respect.
  5. Revere God. Submit to Him. Don’t let my personal pride, fears, or anger get in the way of sharing in a loving way.
  6. Pray. Pray for opportunities to share about Jesus. Prayer for strength, peace, wisdom, and clear-speaking when those opportunities arise. 
  7. Make sure my behavior matches what I say. Don’t be a Pharisee who talks a good talk but doesn’t walk the walk.
  8. Look for opportunities to share and make the most of the opportunities in front of me.
  9. Be full of grace and love.

Loving vs Sharing the Gospel

Skimming through my Facebook feed yesterday I ran across a sponsored article from Crosswalk.com and I stopped to read it (side comment: Facebook, you kill my productivity!). The article – 5 Signs Your Church Might Be Headed Toward Progressive Christianity – made me stop to think, especially slide #5 about “Love” and the red flag if a church teaches: “It’s not our job to talk to anyone about sin—it’s our job to just love them….”

My church talks about love a lot. Which is a good thing. We are called to love. Love God. Love others. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in our life when we are full of the Holy Spirit. Rough estimate: I think my church’s sermons on love vs. sin/redemption are probably close to 85/15. And I think that is intentional because the church I attend has a mission of trying to attract people who don’t like church, people who have been burned by a church in the past, people who are new to the church, etc.

“Love” is a much easier pill to swallow than “sin,” “atonement,” and “hell.”

On the other hand, I grew up in a legalistic church that was all about sin and hell, at least that was my perspective as a child. We aren’t supposed to love on sinners. We were supposed to hand them a track and run, in case their sin rubbed off on us and we were corrupted.

The concept of loving people to heaven is very attractive. Just send money to Haiti. Volunteer at a food pantry. Pay it forward to a stranger at Starbucks. Pray for the unsaved from the comfort of my living room.

But what does the Bible say?

If you read through the entire Bible there is a clear theme:

  • Love
  • Sin
  • Punishment for sin = death
  • Sacrifice/Blood
  • Turning from sin to God
  • Forgiveness
  • Salvation
  • Obedience
  • Love

God absolutely tells us to love. We are to be hospitable. We are to be kind. We are to help the poor and the sick, the prisoner, the orphan and the widow. We are to love them because God first loved us.

But God calls us to take things another step. He called us to share the entire gospel message. Not just the love/heaven part. But the turning from sin part. The leaving your old life behind and following God, no matter what the cost. The penalty of sin is death part. Because you can’t get to the gift of God being eternal life if you don’t first address that the wages of sin are death.

Jesus said: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

And that, my friends, gets me way out of my comfort zone. That makes me nervous sweat a little.

But I also know real love isn’t just sponsoring a girl in Ecuador or going on a missions trip to love on orphans. Real love is telling the truth. The whole truth. Because the gospel truly is the most beautiful love story ever written.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38