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Monday, May 23, 2005


stink

It was just a whiff at first, but my friend caught it.

"Denny!" Lynette called to her husband. "Come here and tell me if you smell something awful."

How can anyone resist an offer that appealing? The only thing that could have made it even more tantilizing is if she'd teamed it with, "Touch this hot stove and tell me it's not excruciatingly hot," or "Taste this milk and tell me it's not two weeks past its expiration date."

But Denny obliged. He walked into the kitchen, snorted a big noseful of middle-of-the-room air, and shrugged. "I don't smell anything."

But she did. And she couldn't find the source, not that morning, not that afternoon, not even the next day, when the stench finally made itself known to the rest of the family. Even Denny could smell it by then.

"It's worse in the kitchen," they all agreed. But nothing in the fridge accounted for the smell. Taking out the garbage didn't relieve it. It just grew and grew, swirling around the house in a hot, putrid wave.

By Saturday of that week, Lynette had reached the breaking point. In just a few hours, a dozen little girls would be coming over to celebrate her daughter's birthday, and the stench in the house was now a thick, palpable presence. You could practically taste the rot--and that wasn't going to go well with chocolate cake and Neopolitan ice cream.

She called Denny at the church office and begged. "You have to come home. Something must have died under the house--and I think you should go under there and pull it out." Again with the hard-to-resist offers.

But Denny did come home. And before crawling under the house, he decided to take one more sniff-walk through the house. The smell was everywhere, but he noticed that it really was thicker in the kitchen ... and stronger still near the door to the back hallway ... and really, really hideous when he took two steps into that hallway. He stood at the freezer, and then for some reason, he did something none of them had done in previous searches: He looked up. And there was the source of the death-smell. A gallon-sized baggie full of some sort of meat sat on top of the freezer, and the sack was so bloated, so ready-to-burst, that there wasn't a single crease or wrinkle. It looked like a balloon--a dangerous, fragile, death-filled balloon.

When Lynette saw that bag, she suddenly remembered. She'd been getting something out of the freezer several days earlier and she'd had to move a bag of chicken to reach what she wanted. Apparently, she'd set it up on top of the freezer and then just forgotten to put it back in.

I shuddered when she told me that story, but I had to laugh as I pictured Denny trying to remove that chicken without popping the bag. I'm sure no bomb squad ever moved with the precision Denny exhibited that day.

A big bag of flesh. Dead flesh. Rotting, putrid flesh.

Since hearing that story, it's occurred to me that Lynette's chicken offers a perfect picture of my flesh. (Warning: what is to follow is of a heavy, theological nature. If you're not given to theology and you want to stop with the chicken story, stop here.)

"Flesh," in Christianese, is just another word for "old nature." My pre-Christ nature, the nature I was born with, is nothing more than a baggie full or rot. People will tell you otherwise. They'll say we're all basically good at heart and to prove their point, they'll mention someone they know who once spent an afternoon working in a soup kitchen. But Scripture tells us otherwise. Scripture tells us we're born with a broken nature, a nature given to sin, a nature at war with godliness (and with God). That's the whole point of a Savior--he came to free us from our old nature, give us his nature, and open the doors of heaven so we can abide forever with a holy God.

I know from God's Word that at my conversion, at my born-again moment, Jesus freed me from the death-stench of my flesh. That baggie was taken straight out to the trash. But for some inexplicable reason, I'm not content to leave it there. I have a tendency to creep back outside, lift the lid, retrieve that nastiness, and tuck it in my pocket.

The proof that I've done that is when I find myself getting irritated with my loved ones or thinking the worst about others or putting myself first and foremost in a situation. That's not my new nature. That's not Christ in me--that's me in me. More to the point, that's my flesh.

Paul talked at great length about our struggle with the flesh. In Romans 7:17-19 (LB) he said this:
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.

I remember the first time I read that and really understood it. I'd been going through a "Shouldn't I be further along than this?" mood after saying or doing something that disappointed me. But when I read this passage, God opened my eyes to a freeing revelation: my flesh is rotten, and it's not going to get unrotten. Just as the ticking of the clock did nothing to improve Lynette's baggie of chicken, the mere act of walking on the earth year after year will do nothing to improve my flesh--nothing. In fact, the longer it's with me, the more it will stink.

That comforted me. I realized that the problem wasn't that I couldn't get my flesh to obey, the problem was that I was still dealing with my flesh at all. Dead things don't have power. I've been freed from the control of my flesh--unless I choose to obey that old nature. Sometimes we do that, simply out of habit.

Further down in that passage in Romans, Paul sets up the angst and offers the answer:
In my mind I want to be God's willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin. So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free. Rom 7:23

It's true. When I fill up with Jesus--when I start my day meditating on His Word and communing with Him--my flesh gets kicked to the curb. But when I walk around Him instead and avoid the intimate contact that would strengthen me, I find myself sleepwalking to that curb, grabbing that bag of death, and dragging it back to the house.

The only sane solution for a Christian is to render their flesh as dead, focus on Jesus, and walk in the Spirit. Or not. There's always the other option: stick that baggie in your pocket and walk around stinking.

This is a favorite topic of mine. I could go on and on and on ... but I need to start a load of laundry and get something in the crockpot for dinner tonight. I haven't decided for sure what I'll make yet, but I can promise you this: we're not having chicken.

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25 Comment:

At 5/23/2005 7:55 AM, Anonymous Joe Cool Cowboy Poet had this to say ...

WOW you weren't kidding on that one. Heavy, but so appropriately accurate. I suppose we all have our own little baggie of stink we carry around and try not to let others see/smell. But as long as we keep trying to leave that baggie in the trash, well, one day at a time.

 
At 5/23/2005 9:59 AM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

Thanks for not stopping with the chicken story and I'm glad I didn't stop reading too. Praise God for His mercy and grace and power that strengthens us. The daily walk in an intimate relationship with Him is so important.

 
At 5/23/2005 10:30 AM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

Well, aside from the fact that I WAS enjoying a morning snack of yogurt.

We can take all the showers we want, use all the perfume, deoderant and whatever else to cover up our stink, but the only thing that will take away the smell is Jesus. Thank you for the reminder.

What a great passage from Romans!!!

Um, no chicken for me tonight.

 
At 5/23/2005 10:44 AM, Blogger Bill and Glory had this to say ...

Oh my! The rotting chicken was bad enough, I was just hoping it wasn't some decaying animal somewhere hard to get at. And I do have my own stinky sack of flesh I have to dipose of, often. Thanks for turning this story around!

Glory

 
At 5/23/2005 11:35 AM, Blogger Tyrone had this to say ...

blogroll me back

 
At 5/23/2005 1:14 PM, Blogger thequeen had this to say ...

THis is where our opinions differ but I respect yours, you have such a way with words...
I was going to make roasted chicken tonight, um ya, thats gonna change now;)

 
At 5/23/2005 6:45 PM, Blogger BJ had this to say ...

Shannon--

I love Romans 6-8 and have spent many many hours there. Here's my biggest question: why if my flesh has no power, do I choose it? I don't think it's just out of habit, because in all honesty, most of my habits in life haven't been nasty. Yet within me there is this urge to promote myself and serve myself--the essence of selfishness. I just want to do it, so I do, with litte-to-no regard for what I know to be right. I think this has to do with sanctification, or in understandable English, the process of becoming more holy and pure. I guess I used to think that when I accept Christ I jump to the level of being perfect. I don't think that's true. I think I still struggle as I did before but "God knows the heart" and my heart is characterized by the fact that I'd rather live for Him than for me, (but me isn't out the picture yet).

Now how God sees us is another issue...a miracle actually. When we've accepted Jesus into our lives, God looks and doesn't see you and I in the process of becoming more holy but rather as holy and pure and spotless, because He doesn't see us but He sees Jesus. Now judging from how putrid the smell of my flesh is, that is truly a miracle...and I'm so very grateful.

Thanks for yet another wonderful post. And let me know what you think about my comments here. Bless you!

 
At 5/23/2005 7:29 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Hello all! Sorry for single-handedly cutting chicken from your diet. :)

BJ--I love your comments! I'd like to get a discussion going on some of these topics, so please feel free to add your thoughts.

I think you're right about sanctification. The longer we walk and the closer we get to Him, the more we lose our interest in sin.

I once heard a pastor suggest that a good way to interpret Romans 6:6 (Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin) is "the body of sin was paralyzed," because that would remind us that it's not voiceless, although it is indeed without power. We're so used to listening to the suggestion of the flesh that even though it's lying paralyzed on the ground we still, on occasion, obey.

A woman asked me for counsel several years ago and I was saying to my husband, just before she and I were to meet, "Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite urging someone to give up their sin, because I've been a Christian for almost thirty years and I still sin!" He said something that has always stuck with me. He said, "Of course. We all still sin. The difference between your life now and your life before Christ is that before, you loved your sin. Now, you hate it." That's so true. Though we stumble, we can't enjoy it. In the end, the Holy Spirit in us will stir us to repentance (and disgust toward the sin).

I really believe that it all comes down to the measure of our love for God. You're absolutely right (in my opinion) about His love for us and the fact that He already sees us as holy and spotless (by the way--one of my favorite passages in Romans is 8:29-30: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. The first time I realized that all those verbs were in the past tense, and that meant it was already done from God's perspective (including the part about us being glorified), it blew me away. We are so very hard on ourselves, but He sees the finished product. I'm so grateful!)

When I disciple new Christians (one of the great joys in life), I always try to get them away from a list of rules and have them simply put their eyes on Jesus. You can't look long at Him without learning to love Him. If we keep the Cross and His sacrifice uppermost in mind, all our actions will be motivated by love and not by duty or fear. This is the great legalism inoculation!

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, BJ. You're a blessing.

 
At 5/24/2005 1:31 AM, Blogger Clublint had this to say ...

I take it that trips to the freezer are not a common thing...

I may never eat chicken again.


Deb

 
At 5/24/2005 10:30 AM, Blogger Gone Away had this to say ...

Amusing story and a great lesson drawn from it.

I just love your header picture too - the one of the reflected sky...

 
At 5/24/2005 10:39 AM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

I really like the "paralyzed" analogy, I have struggled with how to put that same thought into words. Even in trying to write this comment I can't find the right words to express how I appreciate the thoughts that you and BJ have articulated so well. Simply restated: selfishness-stumble-sin; Spirit-disgust for sin-repentance; love God-sanctification-already justified.
Thank you.

 
At 5/24/2005 11:08 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Yes, Clublint--it seems odd they wouldn't have seen it. But it was one of those upright freezers and they just didn't think to look on top.

Thanks, Gone Away. I really liked that picture when I came across it, too.

Whaaat!--thank you so much for the positive feedback. This is definitely one of those hard-to-fathom realities of the faith. All I know is this: I will be glad to eventually not have a sin nature to deal with. :)

BTW--where are you in the Northwest?

 
At 5/24/2005 12:00 PM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

Over the river (the Yakima, but not the Columbia although I cross it all the time), and through the woods (and mountains and orchards), to whaaaat's house we go (which is in the desert near the fabled bright yellow glow). Can you guess?

 
At 5/24/2005 3:10 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Oh, that's just great ... now my geography issues are going to show. Let's see. Yellow glow. I'm guessing that's not the sun ...

I'll have to work on this. NW readers--feel free to jump in here.

Cute riddle, though, whaaat!

 
At 5/24/2005 3:13 PM, Blogger BJ had this to say ...

So here's a topic that we've started a little discussion on after a recent post on my site (please join in and add to the conversation) but Shannon, too, brought up the idea of "walking in the Spirit" and not giving into the flesh. How do you know if you're walking in the Spirit and not just experiencing some indigestion (from bad chicken)? :)

 
At 5/24/2005 3:59 PM, Blogger Lee had this to say ...

Boy, that could really make a reader shiver with the prospect of having to stumble upon such a wondrous find ready to explode. The detail was wonderful.

 
At 5/24/2005 4:15 PM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5/24/2005 4:17 PM, Blogger Nancy had this to say ...

Shan that was me that deleted my comment. I had terrible grammer!

The yellow glow must be from Hanford. Or maybe a mustard field.

 
At 5/24/2005 6:48 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Nance, you may be right. I was thinking about Hanford, but then I wasn't sure if it was there or in southern Washington. Like I said ... I'm geography challenged. (But I can tell you where Tel Dan is in relation to Jerusalem!)

Hello Lee! And thanks. :)

Good question, BJ. For me, I can usually tell when the nudge I feel to speak or act is from the Holy Spirit and not just my own impuse (or bad chicken :). The key is that those nudges are things I would NEVER suggest to myself--usually something that requires I squelch my natural inclination or put aside my own preferences or go out on a limb. In other words, in those situations, something in me has to die. My flesh just is not in the habit of making sacrifice of any kind.

The whole notion of walking in the Spirit is where the adventure of the Christian faith begins. I'm always amazed when I've gone through an ordinary day and took a few random, odd turns and discovered--later--that God had an appointment for me on the new path. I blogged about such a time a month or so ago: aisle two. This was an account of a night when God clearly led me to a conversation.

Thanks for keeping the discussion going, BJ. I'll run over and check to see what you all are talking about on your blog.

 
At 5/24/2005 7:38 PM, Blogger BJ had this to say ...

Yeah, I agree Shannon. I also really trust the fact that if God has given us His Spirit within us, then that still small voice that I hear really is His voice. If I've given my life to Him, even though sometimes I act like my life is mine, really it's His, and so when I feel "led" to do things, I really believe that's God. (And like you said, most of the time the Spirit tells you to do things you wouldn't normally want to do or something that many people might this is weird. I have many of those stories. I guess I'd just rather listen to God in those circumstances and be weird to people, because He's called me to it. I almost like being weird for those reasons--a true Jesus freak. :) I mean, I'm used to being weird, having been a youth pastor for three years. When I can be weird for His glory, I enjoy every second of it...usually. :)

 
At 5/25/2005 2:47 AM, Blogger jj had this to say ...

Wow, what an awesome entry! Just had to let you know that I stumbled across you via blogexplosion, and really needed to hear what you wrote! I'm going to blogmark you, if you don't mind.

 
At 5/25/2005 3:57 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley had this to say ...

Manual trackback: I'm linking to your post this morning at my blog. Peace.

 
At 5/25/2005 7:19 AM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

I'd like to hear some of those stories of weirdness, BJ. :)

I believe that when we finally see the face of God, and we gain that understanding we don't have here, we're going to be amazed at how much more natural our walk was intended to be than what we turned it into. I think God just wants to walk side by side with us and be included in every detail--big and small. And I think He whispers to us every second of the day. If we tune in, we hear. If we don't, we won't.

We worry a bunch about whether or not we're in the center of God's will. I've heard people really anguish about whether or not they're supposed to do this that or the other, but Scripture promises that If we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will make our path straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6) That means if we open our hands and offer whatever decision we're about to make--"God, I'm thinking about doing this? What do You think?"--then He'll either give us peace or He'll give us a lack of peace. I love Isaiah 30:21: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way--walk in it.'"

This is the longest discussion I've had yet on my blog--thanks, BJ!

JJ and Milton--thanks for stopping by! I've added you both to my blog links.

 
At 5/25/2005 9:10 AM, Blogger BJ had this to say ...

Well, here are just two of the many "stories of weirdness"...sounds like it could be a blog in and of itself but anyway.... One success and one failure...both of which I learned from.

A few years back I was at a party where I was potentially the only believer (I really don't know the spiritual state of the others there) and was just hanging out. I would strike up random conversations with friends and new acquaintances and was just passing the time. Eventually the question was posedto me, "so what's your major in school?" To which my response was "business", and I added "and I'm a Spanish minor". At that moment, I felt the Spirit of God telling me so strongly to be completely honest (because I was also a Christian Education and Ministry major). I just sort of ignored the thought in my head and pretended I didn't hear it. Yet it came back again...and I ignored it again. Needless to say, that I ignored the Spirit's leading over and over that night because I didn't feel like going there when I was at a party and really didn't want to be seen as one of those "Christian freaks". I blew it in a major way that night; I stifled the Spirit of God, and I'll never forget it. I'd very freely call that a failure except that God really taught me through that experience and I hope (and pray) that I'll never make a similar mistake like that again. Fast forward to a year or so ago.

Here's what I might call a success: Last summer I took a group of students to Peru on a missions trip. The year prior I went down to Peru by myself to visit the place we'd be living and working and just to get to know the missionaries there. Needless to say that I fell in love with John and Jannette and really felt a strong connection with them. We were able to openly talk about deep spiritual things and share our lives with one another.

In one of those moments, they were telling me about their daughter who it was so obvious that they loved dearly who had kind of fallen away from God and was living with a guy that she'd recently had a baby with. (This isn't a statement of moral judgment...just relaying the facts for you.) She was a little younger than me at the time, and Jannette was telling me about her daughter as if she were her most prized possession. Tearfully, she shared some of the hurts and frustrations that her daughter had expressed from her and I could see the love that she and John had for their daughter.

Well, on my way back to the States, they asked if I could mail some letters for them. One was to their daughter. I brought it all the way back up to Chicago and as I was about to drop it in the outgoing mail, I heard a small voice telling me to write her. I started thinking...yeah right, why would I do that? Anyway, the Spirit was insistent, "Write her."

Needless to say, I wrote her, not wanting for me to again end in failure from not responding to God's still small voice. I wrote her and told her who I was and that I had just spent a week with her parents. I told her that in my time there I'd grown to love her parents a lot and I just wanted to tell her that they pray for her everyday. I told her that they gushed over how wonderful that they think she is and I told her that I just thought she should know that.

I don't know how weird that girl thought I was for writing her out of the blue and telling her that stuff, but I know that when I told her parents that I did that a year later, they both started crying. I'll probably never know what God did with that letter, but I do know that I didn't ignore the Spirit that time...nor will I intentionally ignore Him ever again.

So, sorry this is so long, but you asked for it Shannon.

Bless you.

 
At 5/25/2005 9:33 AM, Blogger BJ had this to say ...

I've rewritten my comments here in my post on my site today, and I linked to your site. Thanks for asking me about some of my stories and for encouraging me to think about the Spirit. I appreciate you. Bless you, Shannon.

 

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