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 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:
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.