WHAT A WELCOMING CHURCH SMELLS LIKE
Certain things trigger happy memories. A special song which was current during a particularly happy event. A date (such as 2007, when the Geelong Cats dominated the world of football and has ever gone down in history as the greatest team ever). And an aroma which reminds us of a happy place and time. Yesterday I was playing tennis near a home which was obviously cooking a lamb roast for their evening dinner. This highly distracting fragrance wafted over our tennis court and virtually invited us to join them for dinner. That’s what pleasant fragrances do. They attract. They invite. And I hope that our church is “smelt” by many who feel they have no home, no family, no hope.
I was listening to Wayne Cordiero’s Monday night teaching program on radio this week when he told the story of a YWAM evangelist who went to the local Red-Light district of Honolulu to reach out to the ladies there. As he shared the Gospel of God’s true love with them, many of them received Christ. The evangelist encouraged these ladies to go to church – for, as Wayne Cordiero said, evangelism is not truly evangelism if there is no church to disciple the evangelised. But they asked the evangelist if he could start a church for them. He responded by saying that there was no need for this as Honolulu had plenty of churches in the area. The girls responded with – “Look at us! What church would welcome us?!” This stumped the evangelist. When Wayne Cordiero, who pastors a church in Honolulu, heard the evangelist tell him this story, he immediately prayed, “Lord, may we be a church that would welcome all people – especially people like this.” And when I heard Wayne re-tell this story, I also prayed the same prayer for our church!
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Song of Songs 2:4
Every Sunday we put on a banquet. We serve up an entrée of music that whets our appetites for God’s presence. We serve a delicious pre-dinner Communion which helps us to remember Christ and His finished work of rescuing us. We receive an offering which detoxes our souls of self-centredness. We serve up a bountiful feast of God’s Word as the sermon delivers a carefully constructed recipe of soul-nourishing, mind-stimulating, and spirit-refreshing insight and truth fresh out of the oven. We then enjoy the dessert of fellowship together as we look into each other’s souls with the care of Christ. All of these aspects of our weekly banquet combine to produce an aroma that attractive, appealing, and inviting.
The banquet we put on each Sunday doesn’t require formal attire. Anyone can come as they are. Neither is it for “perfect” people. None of us are. It’s a family dinner table made up of orphans like you and me who have been adopted by God and made into a family. When we come together before the Father, we feel His great love for us and no matter how many people are added to our number at the Table, we feel no less loved by the Father! Yet, each Sunday we have vacant chairs at our banqueting table. The Father longs for His children to meet together with Him and to welcome in new family members – and these empty chairs remind us of the Father’s heart for His lost children.
And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
F.W. Boreham tells the story of a man who grew roses. All day every day he worked in a hot-house with the fragrance of roses all around him. Whenever he visited someone or dropped into a local shop, everyone knew immediately who it was even he was sighted or heard. As you probably suspected, this was because they could smell the sweet rose aroma which he inadvertently carried with him. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and gave them a vision of what it meant to spend all day every day with Christ. It was, he wrote, the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ – the fragrance of life.
¶ But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere…a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?
Second Corinthians 2:14, 16b
I think we have a sense that there are thousands of people in our city who right now can only smell death. Their parents have mercifully yet sadly split. Their friends ignore them. Their marriages have turned bitter. Their childhoods have been robbed. Their teen years have been destroyed by poor decisions. Their finances have all gone and now all they have is debt. Like their fridges, their hearts are empty. And no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to escape the fact their lives stink. These are the ones whom our Father longs to see sitting our “Sunday Table”.
I am currently sitting in Melbourne Airport writing these few thoughts. One of the blessings of air travel is that I get to watch a new release movie in flight. This morning I was thrilled to watch a movie I’ve wanted to see for a while – Hidden Figures. I’m halfway through, but already I’m angry. Not at the quality of the movie, but at the fact that this is a true story of how unwelcome these Negro women who worked for NASA were made to feel. Just a few weeks ago I got to watch the outstanding Bruce Beresford film, Mr Church. This film also explores what it means to deal with being made unwelcome. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and the next time I see Mr Beresford I’ll let him know that (as well as complain to him that he made me cry on the plane like a girl!).
Watching both of these movies causes my heart to cry out to God that we can be a church that welcomes. May we exude a fragrance that invites, appeals, and woos people to Christ. May those who think their lives stink come to us and enjoy a different aroma – an aroma of life, the fragrance of Christ. And may all this happen despite what they’ve done, how they look, how they’ve treated us, and or how they’ve been living. Let’s smell like Christ and welcome whosoever!