Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Joy of the Spirit. . .The Pleasure of the Flesh. . .

In the days before I knew the Lord, the only happiness I knew was the pleasure of the flesh.  I was not at all a spiritual person, so obviously I could know nothing of spiritual joy.  I looked for happiness and justification for my life in my career, in money, in food and drink, in sexual satisfaction, in my relationships, in my possessions. . .The pleasure of the flesh requires more, more, more. . .It is never satisfied.  This following verse is so very vivid and so well describes the happiness of fleshly consumption:

James 5:5
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Cattle in the feedlot know no true happiness.  They have abundance of their physical needs beyond their imagination, but it brings no happiness and indeed immediately beyond the exit gate of the feedlot is the door to their death.  What an interesting metaphor.  How like the world.  The feedlot is not ultimately benevolent to the longterm interests of the cattle.  It only seemingly tends to the needs of the cattle, but another deeper and darker agenda lies behind the endless catering to the feeding of the cattle's flesh.   While in the flesh I continued and indeed the  world continues feeding and fattening itself like an ox gorging itself at the feed trough, endlessly feeding the flesh as if in preparation for day of slaughter.

I knew no different.  I could see that living for God meant sacrificing the desires of the flesh.  Most all of the things that I found pleasures in, were pretty obviously to be forgone in living for the Lord.   I could see no replacement for them.  I knew nothing of the joy of the Lord.  Such a concept was nonsense to me and as a result the thought of living for God appeared to me to be a very bland and colorless option. . . again. . . 

I've talked about this over and over. . . but the impact upon me that day when I came to Life Tabernacle (my church) as an atheist for the first time and watched an elder saint, Brother Studt, raising his hands and so fervently worshiping God.  It was clear to me that it was not a dry and dusty relationship that he had with God.  My eyes were opened a mere crack and I saw a glimmer of the joy and beauty of being in the presence of God.

In hindsight I was so very blind to anything spiritual.  My eyes were so oriented to the flesh.  The joy of the Spirit and the pleasures of the flesh are always in opposition to one another.  To cater to the flesh necessarily means denying the Spirit.  The feeding and strengthening of the flesh will inevitably have the result of the diminishing of the Spirit.  I don't think I overstate it.  Our Lord emphasized the dangers of riches:

Matthew 19:21-24
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.  (22)  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.  (23)  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.  (24)  And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

How can we read this and not be convicted that it applies to us?  The young man had lots of things and that was his stumbling block, but do you think this passage is only talking to the millionaires or billionaires of today?  Is the focus of this passage households that have 4 or 5 cars parked in the driveway rather than the 2 or 3 that most of us have?  I moved into my present house in 1995.  It was a huge effort to move, requiring the rental of a large moving truck, a number of trips between our old house and the new place and lots of people to help.  In the 14 years we've lived here our possessions have probably doubled or tripled in volume.  Most people of the world can probably carry all their possessions on their back or maybe in a little cart.  We are an extremely wealthy people. . .Make no mistake, in this country we are rich men and women.  This is a huge spiritual risk for us.

How important are your possessions to you?  Several years ago in the old jail we had had a very powerful service.  One man in particular was greatly touched.  He lingered after the meeting for a few moments.  He had greatly opened his heart to God, very likely for the first time in his life. . .He had no Bible.  He was shortly, probably the next morning, to go downstate to the Indiana Department of Corrections processing facility and I would very probably never see him again.  I only had a few moments with him.  I had just bought a new Bible.  I had no other Bibles with me.  That lovely Bible cost me $30 or $40 and I was greatly infatuated with it.  God clearly spoke to me and told me to give my new Bible to this man.  I heard the voice of God just as clearly as if someone were speaking directly to me.  I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach at the thought of giving up my new Bible.  It was a physical pain.  My flesh was so attached to that new Bible of mine.  That Bible was more important to me than that man needing one and its attraction for me was almost stronger than being obedient to God.  

This little internal battle of mine was over in seconds or fractions of seconds.  That man may have noticed a little flicker in my eyes, maybe a very slight hesitation, but I think that I quite smoothly answered God and his need by handing my Bible to him, but inside I wasn't the joyful giver that I should have been.  I don't think I will be receiving any rewards in heaven for that act of charity.  My heart wasn't right.

Can I take pride in winning that little battle?  That was a mere $40 Bible and I wrestled with the giving of it up. . .What if God told me to give my $1200 Nikon camera to someone?  Am I the owner of my possessions or do they own me?  Do my belongings own my soul?  Or am I in command of them?  What if the Lord told me that in order to be perfect, I needed to go and sell all that I have and give it to the poor. . .

I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .
I love you my God. . .

Thank you my Lord. . .

Dave

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