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[See if someone can identify objects in box - blindfolded]

How did she identify these things? Smell. Things can be identified by their smell.

Of all our senses, smell is the least understood. How is it measured? Scientists have calibrated sound and light waves so that a piano tuner can make sure that your Bb keys play Bb. Your ophthalmologist can measure the sensitivity of your retina to the color purple. But what happens when an odor molecule lands on the nerve receptors in our nose and the brain says, "Ah, pizza!"? Science knows practically nothing.

Odors reach into all our emotional lives, drawing from the deepest caves in our minds. Odors suggest, stimulate associations, evoke, frighten, arouse us, but they seem to be just below conscious thought. Smells arouse us. Fear, sadness, disgust, longing, love, passion - the whole gamut of emotions - are all buried deep in our subconscious, waiting to come rushing to the surface with a single sniff. When you look at a pencil, touch a book, you probably don't get an emotional response. But there is nothing quite like an odor to drive your emotions. Our sense of smell is tied directly and intimately to the part of our brain most involved with memory and emotion.

As we studied the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Brenda tried to give us an emotional response of disgust by lighting some sulfur. Why? Because once you smell something, it's pretty well locked into your memory and your emotions.

Many people arriving in a foreign country often experience a phenomenon known as culture shock. A large part of this is due to the new odors they experience and from the lack of familiar odors. The visitor isn't even aware that a missing smell is what is making him feel uncomfortable.

Our reactions to odor largely depend on our experience with it and what our brain remembers. The smell of a varnished hall may bring the memory of high school back to many people. To one it may be a pleasant odor because of a memory of a puppy love with a boy whose locker was nearby. To another it may be an unpleasant odor bringing up feelings of dread and insecurity because near his locker was the school bully's locker.

Smell is a memory response. Smells will bring up memories, pleasant or unpleasant and with them the emotions of those memories. The sense of smell is at the heart of remembering and emotion. It's a matter of anatomy.

Jacob said to Levi and Simeon in Genesis 34:30, "You have brought trouble on me by making me a STENCH to the Canaanites and the Perizzites." Other versions say, "You have made me ODIOUS" or "You have made me STINK!" The action of Jacob's family made them stink and it threatened their very existence as the elect of God.

What was their excuse for doing such a malodorous thing? REVENGE. "Let's get even! Let's fix their wagon! Let's make sure they don't do this kind of thing again!" King Arthur says in the play Camelot, "Revenge is the most worthless of causes." God says, "Vengeance is Mine" (Hebrews 10:30).

As I was working through this lesson, I started jotting down ideas as they popped into my head - such as, These guys certainly weren't soul-winning oriented. They certainly weren't setting a good "Christian example." But, then, they had the misfortune of never knowing or never hearing the good news of Christ.

Jacob makes it very clear that the sons' action of revenge made him STINK to his neighbors. If bad behavior makes one stink, what does good behavior do? It makes one smell GOOD. Last year I was sick with the flu. Lynn brought a couple of containers of stew by for me and my family. What a SWEET thing to do! Her actions make her smell sweet or good. And that's locked into my memory.

Let's open our Bibles and read II Corinthians 2:14-15. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. (RSV)

What does that mean? Put simply, it means our good, sweet smelling deeds are meant to draw or lure others to Christ. (Reminded of Sylvester the Cat being drawn toward food by the smell.) When we walk past a bakery or pizzeria, etc., we tend to slow down and savor the aroma - we tend to gravitate toward the pleasing odors. Yet we go out of our way to avoid malodorous things - diaper pails, garbage cans, etc. We shun them - push them away.

Remember that Levi and Simeon had the misfortune of never knowing or never hearing the good news of Christ. The fragrance of the knowledge of Christ was not around. Therefore they could not be the aroma of Christ to God among others.

But Christ's fragrance is in the world today. II Corinthians tells us WE are to be the AROMA of CHRIST. Just as we can identify these objects [in the box] by the way they smell, our neighbors can identify us by the way our actions smell. They can tell if we belong to Christ by our deeds.

Where you spend your time also influences the way you smell. If you've been to the gas station this morning, you possibly smell like gasoline. If you've been in an office where others have been smoking, you smell like cigarette smoke. If you've been spending time with the devil, your actions are going to reflect that and you'll end up smelling like the devil. If we spend time with Christ, we'll have the Aroma of Christ we need to lure others to Him.

We need to remember that smell is a memory response. Things can be identified by their smell. Our actions have a smell, too. People are not likely to forget what they smell in you. Next time you catch yourself checking out your physical smell so you won't offend your neighbor, check out the smell of your actions -- for they will be remembered, too.

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Spring 1989

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