Tag Archives: the flesh

I am confident

Words of Grace  

 

For many believers, perhaps most, there is a disconnect between the way they feel and the truth. In other words, we often don’t feel strong, even if Jesus is our Strength and in Him we are strong. We often don’t feel free, even if Jesus has set us free. And we certainly find it hard to feel righteous or good or even forgiven most of the time.

That disconnect is normal. For so long the flesh has told us what we are supposed to feel and then has shown us that our feelings reveal the reality of our lives. If we find ourselves in trouble, for example, the flesh tells us to be afraid. Then our flesh tells us that the fear proves our weakness. In fact, a great deal of evidence could be shown that in these circumstances we find ourselves to be strong, and we would still think of ourselves as weak because we felt fear.

The message of the flesh is a lie. Yes, it feels right. Yes, it feels normal and familiar. Yes, it is what we have always felt. But it is still a lie. The message of the flesh is designed to keep us walking according to the flesh. But you and I, and all those who belong to Jesus, live according to the Spirit and must learn to walk according to the Spirit. The flesh is no longer our master and no longer our “normal.”

I suspect that many of us have shared an experience like the following. You are called to talk with someone about something that is uncomfortable. Perhaps you want to share the good news. Perhaps you are supposed to challenge a decision or an opinion. Perhaps you need to ask the person to do something. Whatever it is, you lack confidence and you are afraid. At least that’s what the flesh is telling you.

One time I was moved by God to confront a man in my church about his relationship with another man’s wife. It was one of those times when I couldn’t take someone with me and I had to do it right away. There was little choice. But I was afraid. I actually drove to his house and then drove away again. Finally, I stopped and talked it over with the Lord.

Now, you have probably done that. You have examined why you are feeling afraid. You have asked yourself or the Lord if this is the right thing to do. You stopped in the midst of your fear and confronted it. And, when you did, the fear was put into perspective. It maybe didn’t go away, but you knew that you had to do the uncomfortable thing and you knew it would somehow be okay.

Well, I decided that the man could try to punch me, but I would still talk with him. I knew my heart was right. I had respect for him and spoke to him in love and the visit went very well.

You see, my flesh lied to me. First it told me that I had something to fear. The man might get angry (even though I had never known him to be an angry man), or he might get violent (even though I could hardly imagine him doing anything), or he could leave the church or organize his supporters against me or whatever. My flesh played through all those scenarios and more until I was afraid. Then my flesh showed me my fear and told me I was too weak to do this thing.

But it was a lie. Once I understood that none of the things I feared could really hurt me and I was doing the right thing, the thing God wanted me to do, then I found the confidence that was there all the time.

You see, the Spirit is confident. The Spirit knows that you and I can do whatever the Lord calls us to do. The Spirit knows that there is no reason for fear and no reality of weakness. Jesus is my Strength and my Confidence.

Don’t let the flesh pull you back into bondage by pushing away your confidence. If the Lord is calling you to do something, do it in strength and know that He is with you. The results are His.

 

I am confident!

I can do what I am called to do.

My fear and anxiety may try to pull me down,

But I will not listen to the lies.

I am confident.

3 Comments

Filed under Words of Grace

Default Mode

Grace 101

My good friend, Lee LeFebre, has recently written a good book entitled, “The Shackling of Grace,” where he says that the “Mother of all Obstacles” to grace is pride.  Lee’s right.  I haven’t talked much about pride on this blog, but I have talked about the source of pride, the flesh.  Make no mistake about it; your flesh is an enemy of grace.

Your flesh has been trained, throughout your life, to “do-it-yourself.”  It is your default mode.  You and I have learned certain behaviors that work for us.  They might seem weak or they might be labeled avoidance instead of strength, but they have worked for us in the past and we expect them to work in the future.  In fact, when a difficulty comes our way, we jump to those behaviors without thought or plan.  These are the things we just do.

And grace is not part of the flesh’s equation for how to handle life.

Now, I would call the flesh the source of pride, but it might also be true that pride is the source of your flesh.  Basically, this is the inclination to do the work of God ourselves.  For some it is the expectation that they can be good enough by the actions of their flesh to satisfy God.  For others, even God doesn’t matter.  And, for others, there is the decision that they will never be good enough because they can’t do it for themselves.  Whether the outlook is positive or negative, the root of the problem is the same.

Most of us grew up thinking that money leads to happiness.  If we just had more, we could do this or that, buy this or that, attract him or her, and thereby be happy.  When we have money, we feel successful and proud.  But when we don’t have money, we feel like losers and are sad.  Never mind that we know better.  Either way, having money or not, the focus is wrong.  We know that money does not lead to happiness, but it took us a while to decide that in our lives.  Many have still not learned that truth.

In the same way, if I think I have the responsibility to be morally or spiritually good on my own, either for God or for society, then my focus is wrong.  If I do well, I may think of myself as better than others and worthy of God’s notice—and I would be wrong.  If I do poorly, I may think of myself as worse than others and believe that God could never accept me—and I would be wrong.  The focus, on either side, is still on what I can accomplish.

And, as long as I insist on that focus, I will miss the joy of grace.

Grace tells me to focus on what Jesus has done for me.  I am to take my eyes off myself and my efforts, whether good or bad, and trust in His work.  In fact, the message of grace tells me that my only hope for success and peace and joy is in letting go of my efforts and trusting in Him.  This is more than just a good idea; this is the source of life.

If you start your computer and go to the internet and the same page pops up first every time, that’s because that page has been set up to be a default page.  It is simply the first page your browser takes you to and you go from there.  But what if you don’t like that page?  Well, you have to go into your settings and change your default page.

Think of the flesh as your default “thinker.”  When something happens, that’s the first place your mind and heart will go.  That’s what developed as you have gone through your life.  Now, if you want that to change, the default mode has to be replaced with something else.  The Scripture reveals the division between the flesh and the Spirit.  We are called to walk according to the Spirit, now that we are in Christ.

Computers can change default modes with just a few keystrokes, but we are not so fortunate.  For us it takes time and will.  Desire the Spirit.  Ask the Lord to lead you first, before the flesh kicks in.  Learn to recognize the flesh so that you can choose to reject it and trust the Spirit.  This new life will grow in you more and more as you seek Him.  Trust the message of grace.

5 Comments

Filed under Grace 101, Grace definition

The Master of the Call

The gospel of pragmatism has caused the fall of many Bible teachers, from television evangelists to pastors, even seminary and denominational leaders.  The continual focus on the call, the goal, causes a blindness to foolish decisions, to deceptive marketing, even to sinful behavior.  Churches and ministries overlook immorality or try to deal with it inside the organization.  They fear that the negative publicity would “hurt the ministry.”  Mishandled funds, mistreated people, misled followers—all must be kept “off the record.”

So what is really wrong with this?  It sounds right to be dedicated to a call.  God gives a special call to a person and that person should bind himself to it, right?  Wrong!  No disciple of Jesus is bound to a call.  We are bound to our Lord.  He is the focus of our hearts, not the call He has given us.  In fact, a case could easily be made from Scripture that the call of God would happen almost naturally for the person who follows the Lord.  The call is never the important part; the relationship is what is important.

When God told Moses that he would lead the people out of Egypt, Moses only had to do the next thing God told him.  Moses was not responsible for the success of the mission.  Moses does not get scolded for the people’s unbelief.  God was going to do this and He was going to use Moses.  When God sent Abraham to settle the new land, it was the same thing.  When David conquered the Philistines, Solomon built the Temple, and Nehemiah led the people back to the land—God made sure of the success.  It was God’s project.

We are often puzzled by the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar.  But think about that in the context of this gospel of pragmatism.  Abraham had already shown himself to be the pragmatist, trying to accomplish the call of God in his flesh, by the birth of Ishmael.  But Isaac was the child that would begin a special people who would number more than the stars.  Isaac was the call, the goal.  Yet, Abraham had learned to look to God first.  He had made mistakes.  When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, it was the end of the call.  But Abraham had his eyes on the Lord, not the call.

Ask the leader of the movement what he would do if God told him to stop.  Ask the pastor what he would do if God told him not to build the new building.  And when an obstacle is discovered, immorality in leadership or embezzlement or something like that, and the leadership of the organization wants to cover it up to protect the ministry, ask why the ministry must keep going.  If they answer that God would never end the ministry or change the goal, they probably are no longer looking to Him.

Too often we have heard of church and ministry leaders who overlooked too much, who compromised too much, in serving their goal.  The precious ministry they protected with lies and cheating and stealing and covering up still died.  By taking their eyes off the One who called them, they opened themselves to error and sin and destroyed the very thing they believed they must protect.

 

When a believer receives a call and focuses on the goal, rather than the Lord, the implementation of the call is left to the flesh.  The person’s background and values interpret the call.  All kinds of personal preferences can become “principles” when the flesh interprets the call.

And the more the flesh is involved in the call, the more the person’s own sense of value will be tied to it.  Because the call is seen as his own and the interpretation of it is his and the energy in it is his, he cannot see a difference between the goal and himself.  No one else will be good enough to lead it.  Those who challenge the goal, challenge the man.

Finally, when the goal becomes a monument or affirmation of the man, he will protect it at great cost.  It must not die or even suffer loss.  He may do things for the sake of the ministry that are against his own principles and hurt people he truly cares about.  But he will see no choice.  And when it collapses, so will he.

 

The goal for any believer is to walk with the Lord.  When the Lord places a particular call on the heart of a person, the Lord Himself will accomplish it.  The person who is called is, in a sense, along for the ride.  The call is not the Lord.  The Lord is the master of the call.

1 Comment

Filed under heart, Legalism, Relationship

Perhaps Not So Foolish

Today is “National Atheist Day.”  At least that’s what some say.  The idea is based on a familiar Scripture quote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1)  Since this is April first, April Fools Day, some have deemed it fair to point out how foolish it is not to believe in God.

But before we accuse atheists of being fools, perhaps we should find out what god they are rejecting.

Over the past few years I have heard from several people who find it very hard to believe in God.  They, in fact, seriously doubt that He exists and want nothing to do with Him if He does.  In their minds, God is cruel, distant, and arbitrary.  He is kind to some and mean to others.  He judges on the basis of sin, yet lets the oppressors get by with almost anything.  His judgment looms for those who try hard to please him, but there seems to be no judgment for those who don’t try at all.  This god is someone they reject.

But this is not the God of the Scriptures.  This is the twisted image of God presented by the flesh and the religious system.  People operating in the flesh expect their efforts to be noticed and their “mistakes” to be overlooked.  They want to be judged on what they intended or on what they wanted to intend to do.  They developed a religion that has a god who operates like we do.  The flesh expects God to bargain, to recognize our works, and to turn His back as we hurt ourselves and others.

This is the god many churches present.

This is the god many who call themselves “atheists” are rejecting.

If God is impressed by the rich, like some churches are;  if God finds pleasure in catching us in sin and holding that over our heads, like some churches seem to teach;  if God rejects whole groups of people because of the struggles of their hearts, the color of their skin, or the culture of their birth, like some churches have taught;  and if God is so focused on His anger that He killed His Son just because He had to kill someone—then I don’t think I would want Him either.  But none of that is true.  That is not the God of the Bible.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I have read the Bible and I have seen the consequences suffered by those who turned away from God.  But I have also seen His continual invitation for deliverance and protection.  I have seen, throughout the Bible, His attempts to reach out in love to anyone.  And I have seen that He respects each one enough to allow them to go their own way.

The Bible presents a God who loves people enough to call them from sin and the consequences that will hurt them and others.  And, even when they fail and continue to sin, He still calls them to come and be washed and saved.  This is the God who loves.

Most of the people who have told me they no longer believe in God have never really known Him.  They have known only the god of the flesh and religious system.  They have never met the God who loves them.

Before you think of the atheist as a fool, be sure he is rejecting the true God.  It isn’t foolish at all to reject a false god.

Leave a comment

Filed under grace, Grace 101, Legalism

The People’s Plan

Grace 101

 

When Adam and Eve decided to do things their own way, they left the Garden where God had provided and protected.  I don’t think they believed they would die, but the life they lived was certainly gone.  I think they thought they could have both God’s blessing and their own will.  But the Lord had warned them and they listened to the lie of the serpent and they chose poorly.

God called the tree “the knowledge of good and evil.”  That has puzzled people for a long time.  What does it mean to know evil?  I would suggest that it means they knew evil intimately.  They lived in it.  They explored it.  They wrestled and played and embraced with it.  Just as they had lived immersed in good, they now found their existence immersed in evil.

And many of them turned their hearts and thoughts away from the Lord to explore this new existence.  In fact, it seems that the normal, the natural, path for people to take after the Fall was away from the Lord.  So universal was this that, by the time of the Flood, the Lord’s observation of man was that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  All they thought about was evil.

But evil is lonely.  Inherent in evil are things like mistrust, greed, abuse, and hatred.  Emotions like fear, anxiety, jealousy, sadness, anger, and confusion flooded the human soul.  Nothing was right and nothing was easy.  How were they to live without God?  They had turned away from the source of good, but evil provided a cruel world.  What were they supposed to do?

Apart from God, they developed a system of living that made sense to them.  Based on trial and error, cause and effect, they began to see that certain actions brought certain responses or consequences.  As life went on, they began to remember the system and teach it to their children.  The system became part of their lives, part of their world.  It became so integrated with their daily lives that Paul would later refer to it as “the flesh.”

The flesh is a strange mixture of things learned from the world, from parents, and from the individual’s own experience.  It consists of evaluation and judgment of these experiences.  Apart from God’s guidance and in the realm of fear and death, the flesh offered the only survival tool available.  The fact that it rarely worked only served to cause people to look deeper and work harder.

Fear seemed to be the primary motivation, but greed/lust and isolation were close behind.  The reasoning is familiar to all of us because it was there at the beginning of our lives as well.  Why do more people admit to a fear of public speaking than to a fear of death?  Because exposure makes one vulnerable and vulnerable people are used and abused by others.  This is what the flesh learned.  But some learned it differently.  They learned that those who hold back exhibit vulnerability, so they grab attention and opportunity before others can get it.  But those who grabbed the attention and those who avoided it both still felt vulnerable and afraid.

The human heart focused on meeting its own needs and developed a way that seemed right.  In fact, it seemed like the only way.  But it organized and learned to cooperate within a spirit of fear and mistrust and built systems of politics and morals and laws to mitigate the evil.  The strong ruled because they needed to be on top and the rest allowed it because they were afraid.  Morals were based on what was good for society and what pleased the strong.  But at least there was a system that attempted to lessen the pain and suffering of being alone and without God.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12

The real need was still not met.  The real fear came from inside.  The emptiness of the human soul could not be filled by any system of government or morals.  A person might survive, but still feel dead inside.  There was a longing for God that would never be met apart from Him—but they tried.  And there was an instinctual knowledge of judgment that entered the heart whenever death was considered.  How could they face death apart from God?

Religion was designed by humans to meet the spiritual emptiness of their souls.  The act of worship made them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  The responsibility of obedience made them feel better about their hearts.  It didn’t seem to matter what they worshiped or who they obeyed.  Some worshiped animals, some made idols of wood or stone, and some created gods much like themselves.  Religion became a part of their system of flesh.

But then they connected their plan to God’s plan.

4 Comments

Filed under Grace 101

Finding our Selves

I have never fully understood why some people insist on making the Christian life so negative.  They talk about what we have to give up, what difficult things we have to do, and how much it costs to follow Christ.  Maybe that’s how they see things.  Maybe they have been told through their own lives that suffering is the price they were to pay for their salvation.

Contrast these two statements:

From Bonhoeffer – “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

From Jesus – “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Bonhoeffer wasn’t wrong, but many of those who teach his words are.  We are called to die, to die to the old and worthless values and attitudes that took us ever deeper into grief and despair.  We are called to die to the things of this world which bring so little benefit and so much trouble.  We are called to die to that which Christ came to deliver us from.

But so many people twist this idea so that we are supposed to die to our selves.  We should have no desires, no hopes, no expectation.  We are, in their teachings, supposed to die to everything that makes us who we are.

And that’s where we find the LIE.  The lie tells us that we are the old man, tied to this world and Adam’s sin.  The lie tells us that the patterns of the flesh, built in us to deal with life apart from Jesus, are who we really are.  That’s the lie.  The truth is that we belong to Jesus now and we have a new life in Him.  New heart, new Spirit, new life.  We died to the old and we live to the new.

Christ does not call us to die to self, but to find our selves in Him.  He is the fulfillment of our self.  In Him we find the abundant life, the whole self.  He gives us what we were made to have and to be.

We are our selves.  Before Jesus, our selves were held in bondage to sin and error.  We were lost, broken, wicked, and unfulfilled.  But when Jesus gave us life, His life, the bondage to sin was broken and we became what and who we were always meant to be.  Our selves found freedom and identity in Jesus.

Let the old man die.  Let the flesh die.  But don’t die to self.  Instead, find your self in Jesus.  Be free and full of the joy of knowing who you really are.

1 Comment

Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship

Competing Goals Lead to Failure

 “Ya gotta have goals!” Zig Ziglar

 

I have always been a Zig Ziglar fan.  He’s a believer and a great motivational speaker widely accepted in secular business circles.  His message is mostly secular, but the principles he uses are good.

We all have goals.  What the motivational speakers ought to do is teach us how to set different goals.  You see, we are led around by goals whether we know it or not.  You may have a goal of feeling loved.  You may want God to accept you.  You may want security or peace or rest.

But, you say, those things are different from specific goals of writing a book or losing weight or climbing a mountain.  Not really.  In fact, the goals of your flesh may be just the things that are keeping you from fulfilling your specific goals.  What happens when your desire to feel good clashes with your desire to lose weight?  What happens when your goal of being accepted by everyone interferes with your goal to write a book?  You see, these competing goals cause you to lose on both sides.

For example: Fred (pick a name) wants to lose weight.  He knows that he is unhealthy and at risk.  Fred struggles with depression because he wants to be appreciated and respected, but feels like a loser.  In order to feel better about life, Fred eats.  He slips into the grocery and buys chips and candy.  When he eats them, he feels good.  Then, he begins to feel bad again because he knows that he can’t lose weight by eating candy and chips.  But Fred also has a goal of being thrifty.  He hates to waste money and he already feels a little guilty about spending on the chips and candy.  So he eats the whole bag of chips and all the candy.  That way he hasn’t wasted the money.  He feels good about not wasting the money, but he feels bad about not losing weight.

Do you see the competing goals?  As long as Fred has this internal struggle, he accomplishes very little.  Some people would say that there are two natures in Fred, a good Fred and a bad Fred.  They will suggest that he fight against the bad side with rules and accountability.

I say that there is only one Fred and he has forgotten that the old way of thinking and living is in the past.  He is free from his former goals.  He no longer has to feel bad about himself because God feels very good about him.  He no longer has to feel like a loser and to compensate for his bad feelings with behaviors that help only for a moment while adding to his pain and frustration in the long run.  Instead, Fred has a whole new set of thoughts available to think.

Suppose Fred began trusting the Lord for his money.  Then, if the Lord revealed that he had made a bad purchase in the chips and candy, Fred could trust that the Lord would provide as he threw them away.  Suppose Fred believed that Heaven was his and success was in the hand of the Lord.  Then the next time Fred began to hear the accusations of him being a loser, he could trust in God’s assessment of him and not feel bad so that he has to buy chips and candy to feel good.

Now, I know this is simplistic, but it is also exactly how this process goes.  Our goals in life are the product of our thinking.  Competing goals will lead us to failure.  Competing ways of thinking are the problem.  The flesh and its thinking is part of your past.  It represents the old way.  But that old way is gone, replaced by a whole new life.

The Lord loves you.  He has already accepted you in Christ.  When you came to Him, He was already waiting because He had already been calling for you.  Nothing you have done has barred you from His love.  Once you came to Him, He has made all things work together for good in your life.  There is no failure, no bondage, no fear to identify you.  You are the victor in Him.  You are free in Him.  You are safe in Him.

Once you and I begin to think like saved people, we will begin to see amazing changes in our lives.  We will see the goals of our hearts fulfilled.

3 Comments

Filed under Freedom, grace, Relationship