Spiritual Stench, Part 2

“Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, ‘Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell because he has been buried four days.’” – John 11:38-39

Bad odors have a purpose, letting us know that something has gone wrong and that something harmful is threatening life. Whether spoiled food, a dead carcass in the yard, or an infected injury. In all of these circumstances, we would not ignore such a thing. We would throw it in the trash, bury it, and have the infection quickly treated.

Yet why when we smell something wretched with another, we run from it? If we love our neighbor, can we dismiss the spoiled food on the counter? If we love others as we should, do we just watch the vultures congregate in front of their door, just hoping the wind direction doesn’t bring any foulness to ours? How can we love one another and not plead with them to visit the physician when we know their concealed infection will ultimately lead to their destruction.

I suspect that it is not a refined righteous nose that causes us to stay away spiritual stenches, because there is only one righteous (Acts 3:14), and He was not deterred by a bad smell. Rather, I propose that it is the rot within our own hearts that we don’t want exposed. It is faithless hearts that protest the removal of the stone—that weighty lie that says it’s better to remain bound (v.44; see Exo 14:13-12).

So God must get us outside ourselves. Like after an extended time away from home, we are confronted with an unpleasant odor upon entry. Or when we sense a peculiar aroma in a neighbor’s house. These things should cause us to seek out problems within.

So God confronts us with the decay of others. He makes the smell of another’s death permeate our nostrils to remind us of our own end without Him (Amos 4:10; Isa 66:24). He allows us to taste the rotten fruit produced from another tree separated from its Root and Source (Luke 6:43-45; John 15:1-4; Rev 22:16). He leads us to situations where the offensive odor of another’s actions demonstrates how repulsive our actions are to Him (Jer 27:13).

So let your heart be humbled by allowing our aversion to the scent of another’s sin cause us to reflect upon our own issues. And may we invite others into our lives to help us detect the death that Christ still needs to remove. Before seeking to correct the odious actions of another when they get too near, consider that God is reminding you of your own abhorrent behavior (Mat 7:3-5).

And in those areas where the sweet fragrance of life is now enjoyed (2Co 2:14), remember who called out what stank and brought to life what was once dead (1Co 6:11). We must remember it is all by His grace (1Co 15:10; Eph 2:8), and that we won’t be completely free of this decaying flesh until we enter glory (2Co 5:4-10).

Only in humility can we truly love our neighbor and be equipped to help them, no longer callously leaving them to perish, nor arrogantly calling from the street that they leave death behind. Rather, a humble heart is a remembering soul, an obedient disciple who gets close to where the dead lie, and do not protest when the Lord asks us to expose what is detestable. We simply obediently role away the obstacles and allow our great and powerful Savior to call dead men to rise!

Billy Neal

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Spiritual Stench, Part 1

“Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb. (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.) Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, ‘Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell because he has been buried four days.’”  –John 11:38-39

Recently, a few brothers and I were blessed to be able to volunteer with Samaritans Purse and help with disaster relief in Louisiana. I was involved in mostly outside roof tarping and limb cleanup, but one house in particular stood out to me. The outside was decently maintained, even though there was a lot of debris from metal work, boat repairs, and bins of empty drink cans spilling from the garage. But as soon as we entered the house, we were meet with an almost tangible odor. We were grateful that the main living area had a front and back door that we could prop open, so that we could work with some fresh airflow.

The homeowner was a kind, old, war veteran. He smoked, but the unpleasant smell of cigarettes only served to partially mask the rotting smell coming from his kitchen. It was a mess, with food decomposing on the counter and in the sink. I had to wonder how his children and grandchildren (he lived alone) allowed him to live in such a mess. I confess, I didn’t want to be the one to work in the interior (even though I did).

But it struck me, is this not the spiritual condition of all our hearts without Christ? In fact, this is the state of any part of our being that has not surrendered itself over to Life? It is dead. And death stinks.

Sure, we’ll keep the outside manicured, for that’s what our neighbor sees (1Sa 16:7), even though some of our internal trash keeps spilling out. We may allow certain individuals inside, but we keep certain recesses where we know death permeates hidden. Yet bad habits and destructive tendencies are only the scent of deeper decomposition. The problem is, our flesh fatigues (i.e. olfactory fatigue), and so becomes accustom to the filth and oblivious to the stench (Rom 8:5-8).

At least for ourselves.

When it comes to others, we would rather stay away. Oh, we might coldly tell them as we exit that they offend. Or we may politely say nothing and just stay on the door step.

But Jesus did not shy from the smell. He demanded that death be exposed, that the stone hiding it be removed. Because if rotting bodies are not exposed, if breathe (John 20:22) and light (Eph 5:13-14) are not allowed to enter, dead men don’t walk out of graves.

Billy Neal

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Invest Wisely

Invest Wisely

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich…” –Revelation 3:18a

God wants you rich.

And He wants you to invest—wisely. BUT, not in material abundance that is tomorrow’s trash (Mat 6:20), or those fickle businesses on Wall Street that are doomed to all crash (Rev 18:19). No, He wants you to invest in a stock that is guaranteed to make you eternally rich (Mat 19:29; Luke 12:32-34). But know this, every investment has a cost. The coming Kingdom will cost you everything in the immediate (Mat 13:44-46; Luke 14:26-33). But, although it’s continual buy-in is struggle and strife (“fire”), it produces some sweet (and “refined”) dividends: righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness (1Ti 6:11). So investment the rest of your life’s efforts to acquiring Kingdom currency—Faith (Jam 2:5). For there is a lavish inheritance in glory awaiting those who have it (Rom 8:32; Col 3:24; 1Pe 1:4).

“In this with no bed or real estate
I know my reward ain’t no minimum wage
Plagued with the same birth pains
But I know my labor’s ain’t in vain…
But I’m a keep grinding ’til it rain
And when the Boss back I get a raise”
–Trip Lee, “No Days Off”

“Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.” –1 Timothy 6:17-19

Billy Neal

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The Named and Unnamed Storms of Life

hurricane-michaelThe named storms of this life can gain notoriety status. Hurricane Michael struck the people of Western Florida and S. AL and GA this week, with relatively little warning as storms go, and with a vengeance rarely encountered on the Gulf Coast.  On Saturday prior, the threat was almost unknown. On Wednesday afternoon the Cat 4 storm slammed Panama City with winds near 155 mph causing massive damage. Michael will not soon be forgotten by those that lost their home or business in the region. Similarly, Hurricane Florence that struck the east coast in September 2018 will be a named storm that many in Eastern NC will remember for the flooding destruction for decades to come. Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017 will have similar reputation. Collectively we remember the named storms.

But what about the unnamed personal storms? In my life I will always remember the personal financial crisis that impacted my family in 1998. Similarly, I will remember the business crunch crisis that we faced in 2001 after the attack of 9/11 brought the private sector to a halt for a time. I will never forget the land condemnation of 2007. I remember the personal questions of purpose and further and final surrender to the Lord in 2008 and the clarity and joy that followed. I remember the vicious attack of brain cancer that took my father-in-law in less than 3 months in 2016. I will always remember the quick and passing storm of depression that attacked my family in February of 2018, coming for a three week period with no warning but leaving as quick as it came once fully recognized. Life is full of attacks and storms. The stealth and the speed and even the source of the attack will surprise us many times, but the existence of the attack should never surprise us.

In John 16:33, Jesus said clearly, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” This Truth gives us great comfort as we face the named and unnamed storms. And, the worst storms of life do have their positive result. In James 1:2-4, the Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Sometimes the storms seem more than we can bear, but it is times such as this that Jesus can stand up in our boat.  Mark 8:24-27 reads, “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”   He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!”   If you find yourself in a storm, named or unnamed today, take heart, for even today, He is still capable of calling down the winds and waves in your life.

Derek Dougherty

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