This is the text of the first message I spoke from the pulpit after attending Licensed Local Pastor School in July. I’ve explained to a few people one specific conversation which set me on this course. That conversation was not the only factor, though. The biggest factor in this was what I believed and still believe was strong direction from God to do so.
I knew it would not be an easy course for 3 reasons:
- The last time I was in school (aside from one college chemistry class 25 years ago) was 40 years ago. This really wasn’t an issue at all as I discovered in the prerequisite work that I love learning. The only reason I couldn’t enjoy it when I was a kid was because I didn’t know how to be a kid.
- Differences in my interpretation of the Bible from what I expected the teachers would believe. Thankfully, we were all in agreement on the biggest issue, that of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
- Then, of course, there was my “weird wiring” to contend with. Black and white thinking, overthinking, taking myself too seriously, being too serious in general were all areas which I knew going in might be more problematic than any variances in theology. And they were.
Despite these things, my days in the school were highly educational. Some of the lessons I learned were not in their teaching plans; of that I’m sure. But I learned both what they intended and other things perhaps not intentional from both the teachers and students.
One of the Bible studies several students selected for their practice Bible study was the life of Abraham, particularly the initiation of his journey to the Promised Land. It was crazy how easy it was to liken Abram’s journey to the journey we students experienced stepping out of our life patterns (some of us even our life path, just as Abram did), to follow the direction of God.
It was not just a learning experience, though—it was a deeply rewarding experience. The closest thing I can compare it to is a Walk to Emmaus weekend except this was 10 days rather than 3. The Presence of God was tangible.
On July 25, I graduated with the rest of my class. The license itself can take up to two months to be issued, and I wait now to see if that is how the path will continue for me or if it will take a turn in another direction. In either case, I don’t doubt it will be exciting and a little scary. The last words of the New Testament Scripture cited below were “Find out what pleases the Lord.” By attending Licensed Local Pastor School, I believe I followed that directive.
Now, what is that smell?
Isaiah 65:1-5 ““I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—
3 a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick;
4 who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat;
5 who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.”
Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-10 “1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” “8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.”
If you were to think about smells, both good and bad, you could probably come up with a good list for both. Bad would undoubtedly include things like skunks, rotting things, and poop. Good things would consist of flowers, baking cookies, and men’s perfume (if you are a man reading this, sorry, I call it perfume whether it’s for men or women—always have—Rod got used to it eventually).
I did a Google search on bad smells. A study conducted at a university in Melbourne resulted in a smell so overwhelmingly nasty that it led to a mass evacuation of the university. That was the horrendously malodorous aroma of a rotting durian fruit. A pastor/mentor friend who had the dubious honor of hearing this message at each of the 3 churches where I shared it on Sunday told me today that the durian fruit is not the worst smell known to man. As a retired EMT, he is aware of something far worse.
What about the things God smells? In the OT verse above something smells bad to God; in the NT something pleasant.
In 2008 contemporary Christian singer Ray Boltz, singer/writer of “Thank You” and “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb”, left the Bible-based faith, his Christian ministry, and his wife and 4 children to pursue an alternate lifestyle. In 2014 Dan Haseltine, front man for Christian rock band Jars of Clay made statements on Twitter that he was leaving the faith he had previously espoused. These are two instances of headline-making lifestyle choices made by people in positions of Christian influence. Two over the course of at least a decade.
In 2019 in the past month alone, there have been two more well-publicized accounts of men in positions of Christian influence abandoning their faith because the weight of the world and its enticements and their own desire for “happiness” grew too heavy for them to bear. First, we learned of Josh Harris, author of Christian bestseller of the late 1990s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who a few weeks ago left his wife and family then a couple days later stated he no longer considers himself to be a Christian.
A week or so after that, contemporary Christian worship band Hillsong songwriter, Marty Sampson, renounced his Christian faith declaring Christianity is “just another religion” and “it’s not for me”.
What in the world is going on?
Pun is intended. It is a problem of the world and the soul-led mindset. These men all reached the conclusion that could not be found with a Jesus mindset in this world, and they were not willing to wait for the next.
Throughout my faith-walk years, I’ve heard more than one pastor/teacher/evangelist state that and joy are not synonyms. is a state achieved through circumstance; joy is achieved through the blessing of God regardless of circumstance. That’s the direction I thought this message would take. However, my deeper investigation will not allow me to make this statement with 100% belief in its veracity.
“The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly.” This quote by Canadian-English theologian JI Packer does not mean to make yourself your own god as we’ll look at more fully later. It does mean to make yourself as much like Jesus, the One you follow, as you possibly can. It also nicely summarizes the contents of one of my favorite books “Becoming Who You Are” by Dutch Sheets.
Does the Bible tell us anywhere that we are to be “happy”? When I searched, I really didn’t expect to find anything. As expected, there were many more references to words with similar meaning to “happiness”. I found words/phrases such as “delight” and “desires of your heart” in Psalm 37:4; “joy” in Psalm 16:11 and Isaiah 12:3; “overjoyed” in 1 Peter 4:13; and “freedom from fear”, “grace”, “hope”, and “blessed” in many places.
But. . .
There were a few occurrences of “happy”.
The KJV Bible translates Psalm 144:15 as “happy is that people whose God is the Lord”.
2 Chronicles 9:7 reads as follows even in the NIV “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!”
When I looked at the Orthodox Jewish Bible, I was unable to understand the translation; so, I consulted Strong’s Concordance #3107. The transliteration of the original word for both “happy” and “blessed” is makários.
In both Psalm 144:15 and 2 Chronicles 9:7 the people’s happiness results from a relationship with the Lord. All the men above would be called the current catchphrase of “Christian influencers” (try saying that phrase out loud—I don’t think I pronounced it correctly a single time in any of the 3 services on Sunday). As nearly as I can discern, influencer means “popular person”. These men, popular in their individual Christian circles, quite large ones, walked away from the faith at least partly because they were unable to find that elusive state of mind called .
These are the words of John Cooper, lead singer of Christian rock band, Skillet on August 14: “More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once ‘faces’ of the faith are falling away.” The Bible speaks of this (AKA apostasy) in 1 Timothy 4:1.
Look again at Isaiah 65:2 “. . . people pursuing their own imaginations” and verse 5 “Such people are smoke in my (God’s) nostrils” If you reread verses 2-5 in Isaiah 65, it is clear Isaiah is talking about “sinful” people, not those of faith.
How does God look upon sin? Can he look upon sin?
On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The scholars who wrote the MacArthur New Testament Commentary believe this to mean exactly what it sounds like: because Jesus was bearing all sin, both the overall sin brought into the world in the fall and the sin of every human being who ever lived or ever would live, God turned his back on him.
This seems to be confirmed by Habakkuk 1:13a which reads: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.”
Does this mean God is incapable of being in the presence of evil? That can’t be, because several times in the book of Job he had conversations with satan!
I like the explanation of Michael D Guinan, OFM, professor of Old Testament the gist of which states the reason for Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross was to fulfil the prophecy in Psalm 22. More than that, though, with the evil all around him in his humanity at that moment he could not feel God’s presence. Remember how he wept at the tomb of Lazarus even though he knew he would be restoring his life? Jesus on the cross, utterly sinless, bore the sin of the world in his soul, but I don’t believe God turned his back on him.
So, if God did not turn his back, how did He feel about all that sin in one place at one pivotal moment in history?
Going back once again to Isaiah 65:5 the smell of evil in God’s nostrils is bad. It is truly stinky. This is just my opinion, but I suspect it smells like something dead. That was confirmed today in my conversation with my pastor and his wise and informed statement as to what is really the worst smell known to man. Verse 2 of Isaiah 65 tells us the people generating this foul aroma were “pursuing their own imaginations.” Is this not what anyone who walks away from a relationship with God is doing? Hear what the people say in the first part of verse 5: “‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!” If one is too sacred for God, does that not mean they have, in fact, made themselves God?
And therein lies the problem. Our imaginations (thoughts) get us into so much trouble. If you were to look up online any of the individuals cited above, you would find their difficulties started in their minds. Every time. James 1:14-15 “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” In the original edition of my book Fearless in Euroclydon, there is a chapter devoted to “The D Word”. In its rewrite, currently in progress, there will be two dealing with two different kinds of death. It should be our prayer that anyone who makes a deliberate decision to walk away will return to Almighty God before their sin gives birth to death.
Brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we “cast down every imagination, and every high thing (idol) that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5 KJV)
Do you really want to be the thing of which others ask “Ewww. . .! What’s that smell?”
On the other hand. . .
If we learn so much about Jesus and his love that we discover how to love in the same way, we become the person that JI Packer described as “truly godly”; and the Bible calls a “fragrant sacrifice. . . “ Some other translations of these words: “Sweet-smelling savour” (KJV), “aroma of adoration, sweet healing fragrance” (TPT)
Then when others ask the question of us: “What’s that amazing smell?” we will know we are on the right track to fulfilling the great commission: making disciples of all nations.
Father, I ask that you remove from our souls (hearts and minds) the smell of sin and death that so permeates the world in which we live. Help us to have open spiritual ears to the prompting of your Holy Spirit so that we will hear, understand, and obey thereby having words that are a sweet, sweet sound in your ears and lives that are a sweet, sweet savour in your nostrils. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
PS Concerning that new (to me) word “influencers”, I’m in the process of reviewing a book for Barbour Publishing called Obedience Over Hustle by Malinda Fuller. She writes of influencers frequently along with giving the word “hustle” the more traditional meaning rather than the one I am most familiar with which is cheating at pool. I should have a better understanding of both words and will post my review as a blog here first. I hope you come back to check it out. God bless you. JLM & JLY (think about it. . . )