Flesh vs. Spirit

There are great lies among us, and inside us.  Insidious rumors that we desire desperately to believe.  One of the greatest of these deceptions is that indulging our desires for pleasure is the purpose of life.  This is one of the predominant falsehoods of the American dream…that the “pursuit of happiness” is the great goal.  Of course, pleasure does bring temporary gladness…and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the delights of this amazing world.  But the lasting joy & peace that every human seeks always eludes us just beyond the corner of whatever pursuit we’re currently engrossed in…as long as we hold pleasure as an end unto itself.

Pleasure was never meant to be the source of our wholeness, but a by-product.  We were made to be deeper, with greater purpose, than what mere experiences could ever fabricate for us.

Reflect on the following words of scripture.  I challenge you to ponder them, measure them against your own experiences, meditate on the truths you find in them, and allow them to draw you closer to the Living Spirit of God today:

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love…So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:13-25)

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

One could say that, in terms of the Spirit, the best defense is a good offense.


Lessons From Nicodemus

We have this way of thinking that our lives, and the generation we live in, are really unique.  Of course, no YOU has ever existed before, and the circumstances we live in are certainly unique in the sense that they haven’t happened before.  After all, we do live within this thing called “time.”  That being said, there are fundamental principles that drive our personal passions & pursuits (sorry for the alliteration), as well as the greater global dramas that drive people groups, nations, economies, etc.  That’s all just to say that, at the root, we’re not much different than people of the past because we have the same engine.  In a sense, our lessons were their lessons.  Today we all have all the knowledge of the whole world available on our phones, but there are things beyond knowledge that often elude us.

Jesus had this way of cutting to the heart of issues.  He spoke the language of knowledge, but was far more interested in what was deeper…what was behind the curtains of appearance.  He had a clandestine conversation once with a very well known & powerful religious & political leader.  Clandestine because Nicodemus the Pharisee came to Jesus at night, under cover of darkness, to avoid association with the revolutionary young teacher / miracle worker who was wreaking havoc on the status quo.  Nicodemus opened the door wide to hear Jesus’ thoughts, and we see in this dialogue some amazing things as Jesus brings new & unexpected realities across the threshold.  We would do well to consider taking them to heart for ourselves, in our day.  Here are some highlights from that conversation, found in John chapter 3:
  • “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  This is where the phrase “Born Again Christian” comes from.  Although in the original Greek language it literally means “Born From Above.”  Some English translations stick with this meaning…I like it because it connotes something very different.  To me, “born again” conveys the feeling of throwing away the first one and doing it again.  But I think Jesus’ intention was to convey more of a dual-citizenship idea.  There is, indeed, a sense in which we must throw-away our selfish, sinful desires in order to truly walk in step with God, but that’s certainly not a one-time deal, is it?  “Born from above” has this aspect of connecting us with a greater, other-worldly reality.  So we have Jesus’ invitation to live our lives in 2 realities simultaneously…with greater loyalty to the “one above.”  That would change everything for our lives, would it?
  • “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  This connects with many other scriptures that seem to say that that following God, for real, doesn’t follow conventional wisdom and won’t result in conformity with what’s popular in society at large.  It carries with it the call to surrender….surrendering our desires, plans, priorities.  This isn’t because God’s like a petulant child who wants to “be the boss of us”…He doesn’t need that, but apparently we do.  All throughout history, we tend to make a mess of things…and although the idealogues among us make great claims to their own versions of “utopia,” there is no such thing as unmarred & lasting peace and harmony in this world.  That’s because this world was designed to be temporary, it leads to something beyond.  The SPIRIT, which is God’s ongoing work in & through the hearts & souls of all His people, is from that place…and is constantly manufacturing personal revolutions that usher people into that reality.
  • “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”  “Evil” is a funny word.  Practically no one who does evil things considers them to be evil…that’s a really strong word, right?  Evil simply means “against God’s character/design/desire.”  We often want to soften the blow of evil so that it doesn’t seem so sinister and malevolent and “bad”…because those words certainly could not apply to us!  That’s an example of self-defensive reasoning…it doesn’t work, and would never hold-up in any serious discussion of logic…but we all do it, and it is what it is.  Not everything is “black & white,” but many things are.  IMHO, most people who make an informed decision against following Jesus do so, not because they truly “disbelieve” but because of the price that believing would require them to pay.  Many of God’s children love things that are inconsistent with Jesus’ character to the extent that giving them up to follow Him is simply “not worth it” to them.  But God’s invitation is to all of us (I’m saying me too!) who have evil tendencies, to come into the light.  What we find in the light is that there’s no comparison between the temporary happiness we glean from our evils, and the lasting joy & peace that rewards us for letting them go.  Choose your reward wisely.
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  Yeah, you’ve heard that one before, right?  Jesus, aka “God’s Son” / “God In a Human”, is the key to all of this…the pivot of history…the answered prophecy.  If I’m sounding like 100 movies you’ve seen right now with similar themes, consider their source.  I’d love to share with you, so feel free to reach out to me if you want more info about who the historical Jesus really was, what He did & said, and what we’re supposed to do about it.  Or talk to someone you know and trust who seems to understand this stuff…if they do, I’m sure they would love to share with you as well.  
“We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, 
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Corinthians 4:18)

Remember Your Chains

Amazing lyrics from one of my all-time favorites:

I couldn’t help but wonder
What he was thinking
As he stared out the window
Through the sky
It seemed he was taking
His last look at freedom
From the hopeless, longing look in his eyes
There were chains on his hands
And chains on his feet
And as I passed him by
The thought came to me…
Remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone
There’s no one more thankful
To sit at the table
Than the one who best remembers from his pain
And no heart loves greater
Than the one that is able
To recall the time when all it knew was shame
The wings of forgiveness
Can take us to heights we’ve never seen
But the wisest ones, they will never lose sight
Of where they were set free
And in the light of all that we’ve been forgiven of
We will find our heart’s full look at freedom
To give and receive God’s love
Remember your chains are gone
by Steven Curtis Chapman

Faith is a Verb



What do these have in common?  When we put too much faith in them, we end up disappointed & disillusioned.  We often tend to put our faith in the wrong things, don’t we?


…that things will get better if we just have faith.  That’s a real popular thought in our culture.  The problem is that, most often, it doesn’t have an object…a deep reservoir to pull from…a firm foundation to build upon…so we end up having faith in things that aren’t real.  Empty Faith.  Blind Faith.  I love optimism, but looking ahead to hopeful results based upon faulty or absent bedrock is not faith.

God defines faith for us:

  • “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
  • “Whoever has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
  • “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
  • “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

This kind of faith actually works!….as long as it’s a a verb, not a noun.

I do hope that things will work out well for me, those I love, and for my countrymen….but even more, I have faith in the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated.  It’s a higher loyalty.  Here’s how the Apostle John described faith, in more detail:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:1-5)

The original Greek root word used for “believe” and “faith” are the same.  It literally means to “put one’s trust in.”  It’s also the same word translated “trust” in the following passage….what are you putting your trust in today?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)


I can do all things

Have you ever watched a post-game interview and seen a well-meaning Christian athlete give God the credit for his performance or his team’s victory?  I usually have a mixed reaction to that…part of me appreciates the person’s sincerity in wanting to share how much God means to him, but often the declaration is accompanied by a sense of self-centeredness and bad theology that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  One the most MIS-quoted scriptures at times like this is “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”  This verse is cherished by multitudes of those of us who cling to Christ…but unless we read it in the context of what comes before and after, we lose its meaning entirely.

Here’s the whole section:

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

This is an example of how easy it is to make scripture say what we want it to say.  In the end, our relationship with God is not about getting Him to side with our cause…but us getting our own hearts & motives lined-up with His.  I don’t think God cares about helping us become rich or driving nice cars or making our favorite teams win.  He cares about people…our characters, relationships with Him and others, and our willingness to be faithful to His Kingdom in the midst of our short lives in this world.

I’m not so self-inflated as to believe my words will make a difference to any sports heroes, but this was a truth that God impressed on my heart this morning as I was studying Philippians 3 & 4.  I want to allow Christ to transform my heart so entirely that His cause becomes mine, and that my identity & purpose can rise above whatever circumstances I find myself in so that I become part of His work in the world.  I hope this helps you in the same way.