A few weeks ago, during a quiet moment at my desk, I tried a little experiment. I went back through my iTunes library and dug up all my old worship music from when I was a teenager and in college. I went through my old Deliriou5? records (true fans know to spell it that way), Matt Redman, Charlie Hall, and even the old Hungry record from Vineyard worship. I found all my favorite songs and put them in a playlist, and started to let it play while I read and prayed each morning. At first, each song that came on made me think, “Oh my gosh, I remember singing this song when I was (insert school-aged memory).” Some songs brought tears to my eyes, others just made me smile. Through each one, I was caught up in powerful memories, and eventually I found myself worshipping in a way I haven’t done in years. I got completely lost in the moment, and it was really, really refreshing.
I think part of the reason why those songs led me to such a deep place of worship is because they’re just really good songs. They aren’t slick or super-produced. They weren’t really written with marketing or chart positions in mind. There was something special about that time in worship music. But more than that, the reason they impacted me personally was because of the memories they evoked. They took me back to my first summer camp, where God completely overwhelmed our youth group in a way I’ve never experienced since. They took me back to college, where I would sing some of these songs in a dingy chapel with fifty or so of my closest friends. They took me back to a place of innocence, where I believed anything was possible and God could speak at any moment, beliefs that had yet to be beaten out of me by life.
I think it’s funny that Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, mentioned that we are the “aroma of Christ” and that we spread the “fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” I’ve been reading a bit about the brain lately, and as it turns out, smell is the only sense that doesn’t pass through another “switchboard” in the brain before it gets processed. It goes straight to the core and impacts us immediately. Also, the section of our brain that processes smells also processes deeply stored emotional memories, so those distinct smells interact with memories in a powerful way. This is why smells take us back to places, they remind us of key moments and relationships in our lives.
So what does the “aroma of Christ” take us back to? What memories does it call up? I have to wonder if it’s kind of like those worship songs for me, taking me back to a place of innocence and wonder.
I also find it fascinating that in the passage from Mark 10, Jesus begins with a really complicated and somewhat shocking passage about divorce (no fun), and then immediately switches to a teaching about little children (all fun). “Let the little children come to me…for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” If nothing else, that phrase ought to blow up our neat categories about salvation and belief in Jesus. The Kingdom belongs to kids? Are they baptized? Have they made a profession of faith? Can they even understand a profession of faith?
But it seems as if Jesus isn’t interested in a theological discussion, he’s not trying to lay out a systematic statement about salvation. He’s simply urging us to remember that the Kingdom of God is much like the innocence of being a child. My kids are a constant reminder to me of what this looks like. They’re completely dependent, messy, easily distracted, rambunctious, and full of uninhibited emotion. But above all, they know how to love. They love without fear, they love without reason. They just love because that’s what kids are wired to do. They love with abandon.
So what do we do with this today? Two things: First, If we’re confused by the complexity of the world or beaten down by the effects of sin, hopefully Jesus’ words can bring us peace today. It’s not about our effort, knowledge, or merit. It’s about being humbled and brought back to a child-like faith, where we don’t understand everything but we love like crazy. Breathe deeply, let the weight fall off your shoulders, and just do (as Andy Stanley would say) what love requires of you.
Then, as we walk through the world, let’s be an aroma that calls up good memories for the people we pass by. Let’s love people like we loved when we were children, without reason or reciprocation. Hopefully, as we do that, the grace of Christ will work powerfully through us, making us a “fragrance from life to life.”