I have an unusual gift: a SUPER-sensitive nose. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as you can imagine. A few nights ago, as I went to bed, windows gloriously open to let in the crisp autumn air, apparently a skunk decided to spray just outside my window-- NOT a delicious perfume, as it made my nose burn and my eyes water! Most of the time, though, I appreciate my gift. Often, like Proust, a certain smell can transport me to a time or place of wonderful memories. The fragrance of roses always brings back sweet thoughts of my dear mother, who for years wore Tea Rose perfume every day. Maybe a little strangely, a hint of diesel fumes transports me to various cities in Europe, where I've made special memories over the years, while the essence of pine trees brings happy thoughts of my beloved lake and so many occasions I hold dear.
But there's one scent that takes me to a place apart from the world. It's the fragrance of church. Ours is nearly 200 years old, so I suppose the old wood is a little bit musty, but it's far from offensive to me. I attended Wednesday night Bible study in person this past week. It was the first time in a very long time I haven't "attended" on Facebook. As I entered I inhaled the familiar yet unique smell. All at once I felt at home, like revisiting the place you grew up or where your grandparents lived when you were a child, a place filled with nothing but loving memories. As I settled into a pew, I felt a peace and security I find nowhere else. And my heart began to realize this feeling of comfort had nothing to do with the building or the pews, even the organ or the pulpit. It was the knowledge that I was surrounded by the prayers of the people who have worshipped in this place for nearly two centuries; the voices and instruments lifted in praise through the years; the Words of Truth proclaimed from the pulpit, read in the pews, studied in the Sunday School classes, and then carried out through creaky doors into pavement and forest and field, school and home and businesses who knows how far and wide. Some may say, "But I don't go to church-- I can worship just fine in the woods, by the lake, or even in my home." Oh yes, I hope we all worship in all those places! Throughout my life I have experienced church meetings in a home, in an open-air shelter, in an ornate cathedral, even an office building or a restaurant. But the common thread in those experiences is the people of God gathering to be led by the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend, church is not a place, it's a gathering of God's people, and God created His Church for a purpose. He's been a God of relationship before the creation of the world, because He Himself is One in three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He created us for fellowship with Him and with each other. He intended for us to unite in groups small or large to worship Him and study His Word, pray together, encourage one another, and share one another's burdens! He tells us in His Word: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV, emphasis mine) In a recent sermon I listened to I was reminded of this compelling Scripture: "Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God." (2 Corinthians 2:15a NIV) I am both challenged and comforted by this verse. I wonder if I am living up to the challenge? On the other hand, what a thrilling thought that my life can be to God the fragrance of His Only Son, Jesus! I can say from my own experience of being physically unable to attend church regularly for more than 5 years, there is something almost undefinable about the fellowship of believers. I can only pray that each time I AM able to gather with God's people, I carry His fragrance with me wherever I go. One of my favorite devotions puts it this way:
" Dear Lord, abide with us that we
May draw our perfume fresh from Thee."
("Streams in the Desert" by Mrs. Charles Cowman.)
"He must increase and I must decrease." John 3:30