Am I Really Beautiful?

If I didn’t hate the open letter model of blogging and internet communication so deeply, I would have begun this blog post, “Dear women’s ministry, stop telling us we are beautiful”.  The feminism movement and society at large have undertaken the impossible task of convincing every woman that she is truly beautiful in her own skin and the Church has jumped on this bandwagon in the spiritual sense.  Books have been written about how beautiful we are in the eyes of God, women have been empowered by believing the mantra that God has created us just how He wants us, and women’s groups are seeking to convince us that we are all special; we are all beautiful daughters of God.  The frills and the bows and the tea parties are all just as sweet as pie.

Now, I was an outdoorsy tomboy type growing up and while I love to get dressed up and wear my pearls I still prefer cool tones and minimalist decor and have never in my life been accused of being overly girly.  Thus the traditional mother-daughter, pink and lacy events have always been lost on me.  But this new movement of self-realization and self-empowerment for women is extremely dangerous at best – heretical at worst – and it is more than simple preference.  Here’s why:

We, as human beings, are not fundamentally beautiful and perfect “just the way we are”.  In fact, the entire message of the Gospel is that we are sinful, wicked, and damned without a hope “just the way we are”.  We are all born with a sinful nature and can only sin apart from God (Rom 3.23, 1 John 1.8).  This sin – any sin – is condemnable before God because He is perfect and just and therefore cannot overlook it (Rom 6.23, Ex 34.7).

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

In order to understand God, Jesus and our eternal hope we must first and foremost understand this sobering reality about ourselves.  Yes, it is magnificently and beautifully true that God loves us, but He loves us in spite of this terrible reality and we must confess this reality in order to enter into right relationship with Him.  His love for us is not fundamentally based on who we are or what we have done.  His love for us is based on His goodness, His mercy and His glory.  We cannot earn His love, we do not deserve His love and we cannot make ourselves presentable to Him.  He makes us presentable and that is why we can – and must – come to Him “just as we are”.  We are hopeless and helpless without Him.

Thus when we understand the Gospel
we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at God.

It is not God’s primary objective to give us good self esteem.  It is not God’s primary objective to make us feel beautiful and valuable and warm and fuzzy.  It is, in fact, God’s primary objective to help us die to ourselves in order to look to Him and love Him and serve Him and others selflessly.

[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

 – John 3.30

The fallacy of focusing on “our identity in Christ” is that we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them back on ourselves.

Now, theologically and practically it is extremely important to understand our role and purpose as Christians and in Christ.  Much of the New Testament is geared towards explaining our roles in the body (the Church), in society and as individuals.  It is right and good to understand and receive God’s love and to therefore walk confidently in the identity of a chosen race and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2.9).  But we must always remember the purpose and end of these truths:  to bring glory to God.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not receive mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 – 1 Peter 2.9-10

Am I beautiful?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is good and right to take care of ourselves physically.  Asceticism is not what God calls us to, but we as women should adorn ourselves well both inside and outside.  Sometimes we miss the word “merely” in Peter’s exhortation to women and convince ourselves that our physical appearance does not matter:

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

 – 1 Peter 3.3-4

The Proverbs 31 woman that we all idolize dresses well and takes care of her body:

“She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.”

“She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.”

 – Prov 31.17, 22

We must also remember that God has given us our physical bodies and we must take care of them and be good stewards of them.  But our goal must not and cannot be pride or finding our value in our appearance.  Our goal must be to bring glory and honor to God by how we are presenting ourselves and caring for our bodies and our souls.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

1 Cor 10.31

Therefore, ladies, let us stop clinging to and trying to convince ourselves of the fact that God finds us beautiful.  Because we are only beautiful and lovely insomuch that we are in Christ.  When we are covered by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus, we are indeed beautiful before God but it is not because of our physical appearance and it is not because of who we are.  It is because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  He does not want us to find our value or self worth in ourselves but in Him.  Let us stop looking at ourselves.  Let us get over ourselves.  Let us decrease so that Christ may increase.  Let us focus on Him.  Let us live to bring glory and honor to Him.

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What if I don’t like our president?

At the end of eight years, the general population is almost always ready for a change.  In the history of our country, it has only happened a couple of times that one political party was able to see their candidate take office after eight years.  We see ourselves getting too progressive and long to return to our heritage and then we feel so stuck in our ways that we need some serious change.  New generations rise up and consider their values earth-shattering and they rock the country, only to get bogged down in the mundane and a new generation rises up.

For the next month and a half we are in a unique situation where we still have an acting president but the next one has already been chosen.  This means something profoundly true:  almost everyone very strongly dislikes one of the two men.  The voting world who chose President Elect Donald Trump is sick and tired of Barack Obama, while many others still consider him to be one of the best presidents our country has known and fear that Trump is going to single handedly destroy our nation and “undo all the progress we have seen” these past eight years.  In short, if you are neutral about both men – or possibly even like both men, you are probably very far removed from politics.

One of the attributes that makes our nation unique and great in many people’s eyes is our first amendment:  our freedom of speech.  We can say whatever we darn well feel like saying and no one can harm us for it – or judge us, as the culture now states.  There are some tricky aspects to that as we can still be legally protected from slander and harassment, but none of us lives in fear that our daily conversation, our social media posts or even our blog posts will land us in jail.  We have an inalienable right to our opinions and we will make them known.

God, however, has a different opinion about all of that.  Slander, gossip and disrespect are all sins – which are fundamentally rooted in pride, arrogance and selfishness.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

– Ps 101.5

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”

– Prov 10.18

“Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

– Titus 3.2

God simply and profoundly commands us to speak evil of no one.  Not only that,  he clearly and profoundly commands us to respect our leaders:

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.17

One might object to this commandment because of how wicked our current or upcoming president is.  We simply cannot respect or honor a man who (fill in the blank).  But Peter was writing to the early church who was being persecuted and murdered.  The people were “scattered” across the known world – they were running for their lives.  And Peter’s command was to honor the king:  the king who would murder them for loving and serving Jesus.  Is Obama murdering us?  Is Trump threatening to murder us?  Are we running for our lives?  Even if this were the case we would still be commanded to honor the president.

One may object further and cite our form of government which allows us a voice in choosing our leadership and laws.  “We must speak out and help others make informed decisions.”  “It is our civic duty to have a strong opinion and to play our role.”  Yes, I whole-heartedly agree that we live in a unique and wonderful country whereby we are granted a part (albeit a very small part) of the decision making process.  This is why presidential candidates spend months and millions of dollars campaigning:  they must win our vote!

I would also argue, however, that there is a good and right way to make informed decisions and even to disagree with the values and positions a candidate would take while still respecting and honoring him (or her).  There is even a godly way to recognize a candidate’s moral failures, sin and perceived lack of qualification without slander, gossip and sin.

The reality is simple.  We live in a fallen world.  We are functioning in a fallen and broken system.  Democracy is not God’s form of government!  We are allowing ourselves to be governed by fallen and broken people.  Even if our president were the most mature and godly man to walk the face of the Earth, he would still be a sinner and a man.  He would make mistakes and we would disagree with him on something.  And each of us are fallen and broken people.  Imperfect people will choose imperfect leaders and mistakes will be made.  Period.  And yet we are commanded to respect and honor one another, and we are commanded to respect and honor our leadership.

Scripture does clearly command us to fight sin and pursue holiness.  Thus we see the example of Jesus, the apostles and many others to disobey the leadership when they would have us sin or not follow God (Acts 4.19. 5.29).  We also have the example of some of the greatest forefathers in our faith standing up against political sin, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abundance of people who fought against the slaughter of the Jews and non-Arians in WWII.  We must never follow blindly, we must always evaluate our own actions and our government by Scripture, and we must refuse to sin even when we would be commanded to by men.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we might be able to make an impact and bring about change!

But this in no way changes God’s expectation of us that we love all men and that we honor the position of king (or president in our nation).

So let me simply ask you this question:  Are your facebook posts and your political conversations Biblically loving, respecting and honoring the president?  Have you slandered Trump, Hillary or Obama?  Sure, you might do a better job.  Sure, you might know better.  But God does not give us a pass to disrespect or not love someone just because we know better.  He sovereignly and intentionally places every king and president in power.  Do you trust Him for that?  Do you follow His leadership when He gives you an opportunity to make a positive change?  Do you obey Him and respect authority?

You do not have to like your leader.  You do not have to agree with him either.  In fact, you are expected to weigh your actions and obedience against Scripture an never sin in the things that you do – therefore you should intensely evaluate your leadership  But you must love him.  And you must respect him.  Otherwise, we bring the condemnation of God upon ourselves:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

– Rom 13.1-2

Slander is still slander when spoken against our leadership.  Gossip is still gossip when spoken against our leadership.  Whether you distrust or dislike our current president or our future one.  Let us examine ourselves and remember our tongues.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

– James 1.26

What is the answer?

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This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

Does God bring you pleasure?

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There are three ways in which human beings fundamentally respond to our primary problem in the world:  sin.  We either feel shame, guilt or fear.  Some might argue that there are those who enjoy sin or who feel nothing in response to it, and while we understand that sin is indeed pleasurable in the moment, Scripture teaches us that God has given us each a conscience to convict us of sin such that we are without excuse before Him and therefore we know that it is a learned callousness which keeps us from one of those three basic responses (Rom 2.14-16).

We often mirror our response to God with these responses to sin.  God is the judge of sin, after all.  He hates sin and apart from Him we are slaves to sin, therefore we regularly direct our shame, guilt or fear directly at Him.  And this is not a fully bad thing.  Jesus Himself commanded us to fear God (Matt 10.28), and Paul teaches us that it is Godly sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor 7.10).  We should be very concerned if we become hardened and/or oblivious to sin such that it no longer affects our hearts – especially as we approach God in His holiness.

However, it is not God’s primary desire that we fear or are ashamed before Him.  The entire foundation of the Old Testament Law was built on this single commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.5

Jesus affirmed that this is indeed the greatest and first commandment and carried it through to the New Covenant of grace.  Obedience, service, morality, or any form of holiness is are all worthless if we do not love God.

Sometimes, however, it is difficult to understand what exactly it is to love God.  He is not physically present that we would spend time talking back and forth with Him.  We cannot interact with Him in the same way that we interact with and develop relationship with anyone else.  Is our love for God, then, comparable to our love for a person?

We can indeed get to know Him – that is why He has given us His Word.  We can know the heart and mind of God by reading the Scripture.  When we understand and believe the Gospel and repent of our sins, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us so that we can experience the presence of God as well.  We can talk to God through prayer and experience His beauty in creation.  And as we develop these disciplines of getting to know Him, we will find that His Spirit within us establishes the emotion of love and joy.  This is why Scripture actually commands us to enjoy God.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

– Ps 37.4

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

– Phil 4.4

In what do you find pleasure?  Television?  Friends?  Adventures?

Do you take pleasure in Bible study, prayer and worship?  If not, we should examine our hearts.  God is the author of pleasure.  He created our very nature which desires pleasure, He gave us the things or the ability to create the things which give us pleasure, and He desires that we find our joy and satisfaction in Him.  If He is the author of pleasure, He can offer us the truest and most satisfying fulfillment of it.  Have you taken the time to get to know Him and fall in love with Him?  Do you delight in Him?  Do you rejoice in Him?  Or is He just something you do on Sunday mornings…is He just eternal fire insurance?

Spend some time with Him today, and let your soul be enriched.  Delight in Him today.

‘He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.’

– Augustine

When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

Trusting God in Transition

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We can divide the general population into two groups based on any preference, belief or disposition.  There are those who like ketchup and those who do not like ketchup.  There are those who have children and those who do not.  There are those who believe in the Bible and those who do not.  Here is a good one:

There are those who like change and those who do not.

I have experienced a lot of change and transition in my life.  When I was in the third grade my parents sat my sisters and me down to tell us that we were moving from Philadelphia, PA to the middle of a cornfield in Indiana.  They dressed it up to sound amazing – we were going to get horses (my lifelong dream), live in the country and it would be an adventure.  Of course it was hard to move – to leave church, school and friends – but I was excited.  Moving and transitioning has been a big part of my life ever since:  college, grad school, moving overseas, and finding jobs in different states, and finding churches along the way…  And it is always exciting for me.  Sometimes staying in one place for too long causes me to get the itch.  Other people are the exact opposite.  Some people prefer to stay where they know everyone, where they have deep roots, living in one house and having one job.  For them there is nothing appealing about change and they avoid it.

Our relationships with God take on an interesting dynamic based on this preference and worldview.  Those people who do not like change will pray and cry out to God any time something rocks their world or threatens the day-to-day.  Perhaps a friend is moving away or a job ends.  These things break the routine and people become afraid, sad, or insecure.  Those people who thrive on and love change, however, will experience fear, sorrow and insecurity when life settles into a predictable routine with no change.  Such people love to move, to meet new people, to find a new job, and to not be tied down.  The emotions are the same, however they are triggered by the exact opposite circumstance.

Both experiences, both dispositions, however, lead us to a fundamental truth and necessity:  Trust.  We must trust God.  The essence of the Christian life is sanctification.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Sanctification is, by definition, change.  It is the daily fighting of sin, dying to ourselves and learning to submit to God and His will.  This might include a dramatic move to serve as a missionary in a foreign land for some, but for all it will be the daily fighting of temptations, of choosing love and not anger, of putting away bitterness, of honoring other people as more important than ourselves, and of loving and knowing God.  This kind of change is difficult for everyone and is only made possible by the empowering of the Holy Spirit (John 16.8).

But sanctification is built on trusting God.  We cannot be saved unless we trust the promises of God that were purchased by Jesus’ death on the cross.  Salvation is fundamentally believing and trusting God that Jesus purchased our forgiveness and will save us in eternity.  Strangely, however, many of us profess to trust God for our eternity without making the effort to trust Him in our daily lives.  For many God is our safety net for everything that happens after death, but we think we have no need of Him until that point.

And it is this same basic trust that we must learn and practice in seasons of change or routine – whichever causes us distress.  God has promised that He will meet all of our needs:

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 4.19

He has also promised that He will never leave us:

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

– Deut 31.6

He has promised a way of escape from every single temptation to sin, and has promised to enable us to fight every temptation that comes:

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

And most importantly, He has promised to use every single life circumstance to work together for our good (read: our sanctification) and His glory:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

If we trust and believe all of those promises, then we can boldly walk into a new phase of life.  We can move.  We can stay put.  We can remain in a job.  We can take a new job.  Of one thing we can be sure.  God is going to put us in situations that stretch our trust and faith.  Otherwise we would never be sanctified!  Thus, if our comfort zone is change, He may leave us in a situation longer than we prefer.  If our comfort zone is the same-old, same-old, then He might shake up our world.  If He does not put us in a circumstance to change, we should be concerned – because He disciplines and chastens all whom He loves (Heb 12.6).

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

She is not mine.

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I am a new mom.  A “FTM” (First Time Mom) as all the bloggers and texters say.  Most of my friends back home in the midwest are years ahead of me, sending their kids to preschool and gradeschool, but here in Denver we do things a little more slowly and I am 33 with a baby two weeks old today.  These last two weeks have been a whirlwind, including unexpected medical diagnoses, hospital stays, and a three week early adjustment to parenthood – but some of the most amazing moments in my and my husband’s life.  One thing, however, that is rocking my world Spiritually is the new “opportunity” to die to myself.

There are many truths out there that circulate so rapidly that they sound cliche.  “Marriage is a mirror” and such, but in two short weeks I am beginning to learn anew what it means to die to myself and to surrender my selfishness.

The Christian life, the path of salvation, is often called the fight of faith.  We are engaged in a Spiritual battle for holiness.  We are killing our sin so that it will not kill us.  We are pressing on towards the goal, we are dying to ourselves, we are fighting for sanctification.  This is Biblical.  This is right.  This is honoring to God.  And it is indeed God’s plan to sanctify us:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Our sanctification is a process, and God reveals our sin and our depravity in bite-sized pieces.  He asks/commands/enables us to fight our sin one day at a time.  If God were to reveal the depths of our selfishness and pride as well as confronting our sinful habits all at the moment of conversion, we would become overwhelmed and give up.  But graciously He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, empower us to fight it and when we begin to live by His strength and overcome it, He takes us to the next battle front.

My new battlefront is selfishness and possessiveness of this tiny baby girl.  Children are indeed a treasure from the Lord (Ps 123.7).  They are a blessing, a gift, and a joy.  They also provide heartache, pain and uncertainty.  But fundamentally, they are not ours.  They are God’s and He has entrusted parents as stewards of them.

We learn quite quickly, at least on a superficial level, that everything we have is God’s and that lesson is usually focused on finances:

“What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

The church at Corinth was caught up in an internal battle arguing over which teacher was the greatest and factions were forming accordingly.  Paul spoke out against this sin, encouraging even those who claimed to follow him to be humble and remember the Gospel.  Nothing that they had, no Spiritual insight or wisdom was of themselves – he said – but only a gift from God.  This reality is true about everything.  Everything in the world is God’s, and He has given of His abundance to us as stewards to care for and utilize everything unto His glory and honor.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.”

– Ps 24.1

This includes not only our physical possessions, our faith, and our Spiritual gifts and abilities – but children.  My daughter is God’s.  He has given me the remarkable privilege and responsibility to function in the role as her mother, but she is not mine, she is God’s.  He knew her before He formed her in my womb.  He has a perfect plan for her entire life.  He knit her together and He loves her more than I ever can or will.  He knows the hairs on her head, and He knows every single thing she will ever think, feel and experience.  She is His.

That is a difficult thing for a FTM to remember.  Yes, it is good and wise to set up relational and emotional boundaries.  Just because I am a steward and not an “owner” does not mean that everyone has equal say and equal access to my daughter.  I have been charged to protect and care for her, to teach her the truths of God, to love her.  But it also means I die to myself and get up in the middle of the night to feed her – even when I am exhausted – and I allow friends and family to enjoy her and be part of her life.  It means we partner with the Church to commit to raising her up in the ways of the Lord.  It means my husband has parenting rights and together we bring her before God and surrender her to Him and to His plan.  It means we trust God for today and for her future.

Fighting the battle of selfishness and control means fighting the fight of faith.  It means dying to self in order to trust God.  Martin Luther said it well:

“Faith honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . When the soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous, and whatever else should be ascribed to God. The very highest worship of God is this, that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted.”

– Martin Luther

What do you have today over which you boast, or on which you base your confidence?  What do you have today that you claim as your own, that you seek to control, that you hold too tightly?  Let us remember that nothing we have – no financial success, no skill or ability, no wisdom or social status, no relationship and no child – nothing we have was not given to us.  Everything is God’s, and He has given us access and ability to utilize all of those things to glorify Him and to make much of Him.  Let us therefore seek to surrender all of those things to Him.  Let us remember that He is sovereign over all of them.  Let us trust Him and His plan, and fight the fight of faith – thus laying hold of eternal life.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

– 1 Tim 6.12