AUGUST 3, 2009

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. 2 Corinthians 2:15, 16

Happy Birthday, Zion National Park!

This place of massive canyons and colorful, towering cliffs, Utah’s first national park, was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument 100 years ago. A day-long celebration, featuring Native American dancers, music and even a commemorative stamp cancellation, was held Friday.

My family and I visited Zion in 1997, staying in the lovely town of Springdale, Utah. There were seven of us, and the hotel rooms were large enough so that all of us fit nicely into just one. Remarkably, we also managed to deal with having a single bathroom (we’ve had lots of practice, since Mom’s house also has only one).

On this trip we traveled from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to the Hoover Dam to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon to Zion, then back to Las Vegas and L.A. We certainly put a lot of miles on our rental cars (what, you thought we were crazy enough to be in one car? No way! We switched off transporting the pre-teen and teenager among us so we wouldn’t go totally nuts.)

We had several memorable moments on our adventure, but there are three which stand out from our time at Zion. First was my mother’s persistent cough, which got worse at night and, because we were all in the same room, threatened to disrupt our harmony. My niece, whose turn it was to share the bed with Grandma, whined about it so much that Mom finally said, “Maybe I should just go out and sleep in the car!” which we all privately hoped she’d do if she didn’t stop hacking away (this has now become a favorite family phrase). The hotel is also where we watched “The Leech Woman” on TV, a B movie classic if there ever was one.

But what I remember most from the park itself was the European tourists. Our national parks are very popular among foreign visitors—sometimes I think more than among Americans, but that’s a subject for another blog—and on one trail, we were behind a group of Germans. Now, you must realize two things: it was summer, and—how do I put this tactfully?—some Europeans do not consider deodorant a necessary part of everyday life. It’s hot and we’re hiking, so you might imagine what happened…

These Germans—I can’t put it any other way—stunk. Even to me, who doesn’t have a very good sense of smell, they reeked. We tried to lag behind, putting distance between them and us, but then we’d come around a bend and there they were. At one point we were all behind a waterfall, cooling off in the spray, and we kept wishing those hikers would plunge under the water and wash themselves off.

What we were up against was a clash of cultures. The way I understand it, body odor is not offensive to many Europeans. It’s a natural, normal smell they see no reason to cover up or do away with. To most Americans though, B.O. is something to avoid at all costs, and we’d be mortified to know anyone avoided us because of the way we smelled.

This experience really brought home what the apostle Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 2. Everyone has a smell, but for Christians—those who follow Jesus—our perfume is Him. His very essence—His grace, mercy and forgiveness—should permeate believers through and through, so that when people “smell” us, they inhale the fragrance of Christ.

The rub is that while to some it’s a pleasant, attractive scent, to others it stinks like death and decay. The same aroma that draws people to Jesus repels others.

I once asked a relative where he thought he would go if he died tomorrow. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he answered. This was a man who had gone to church his entire life, and who knew he didn’t have much more time left on earth. Sadly, I realized the smell that had surrounded him over the years was like a stench in his nostrils.

What leads some to follow their noses to Jesus while others turn away in revulsion will always remain a mystery. I imagine the Germans we encountered that day in the park would be just as mystified that they offended us. All I know is I’m so glad Jesus forgave my reeking sin (2 Corinthians 7:1) by taking it on Himself and dying on the cross (Isaiah 53:5). I’m pursuing the sweet smell of His sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2) all the way to the new Zion waiting for me in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24).

How about you? What experiences have you had being the “fragrance of Christ” or smelling it on others?  Sweet–or sour?


  1. April Lorier says:

    I just love this post! You think in analogies, just as I do. And I just bet I know where you will NOT ever be going on a vacation, too! Ha!
    Oh, I pray that I am a sweet savor unto Christ.

  2. Juliette says:

    Penny I hear you – Gods aroma leads us through to his wondrous kingdom-but if we just go by our physical capabilies we lose out. I like the way you phrased you it, pursuing….his sacrifice. It is a joy to smell his fragrance on others; sometimes just when I need to be uplifted – someone will do or say something that helps pull me through and I think “JESUS”…Yes!

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