She is not mine.

Image result for infant

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

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Fruit is not optional

fruit

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience.  Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life.  When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit:  we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways.  Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”.  Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43).  Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:

“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 5.20-21

The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God.  The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:

“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

The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics.  We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them.  When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.

Jesus says that He is our source and our life.  He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine.  We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support.  Without Jesus Christians cannot survive.  He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive.  Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

– John 15.1-2

This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds.  The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil:  the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit.  The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away.  Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit.  They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives.  They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.

Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.

This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit.  Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?”  or  “How can I know if I was born again?”  The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?”  We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives.  Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit.  Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary.  We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all.  Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?

Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin.  Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved.  We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”.  I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men.  We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”.  Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine.  The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection.  We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.

The point is simple.  Fruit is not optional.  A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off.  Let’s check our fruit today.  How would people characterize you?  How would God identify your heart and driving passions?  Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin?  Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok?  Let’s not toy with eternity.

Christian Narcissism

As our society continues to deteriorate by political correctness, tolerance, individualism and self-help-ism, Christianity is taking on a new face.  And it is not Christianity.  Knowing Jesus is about dying to self.

“And [Jesus] was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

– Luke 9.23

We have turned Jesus into our cheerleader.  He accepts us unconditionally, He loves and affirms us no matter what we do, He is on my side.  We sing songs like “I am a friend of God”, we write books about who we are in Christ, and we tell ourselves over and over again that we are loved.  Jesus loves me, this I know.  We use Jesus to help boost our self esteem.  He came to save us, He exists for us, He adores us.

This is a mutilation of one of the most precious truths in the world.  Yes, Jesus does love me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

– John 15.13

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die on the cross and raise again, paying the punishment for our sins so that we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.  But what is the end goal here?  Did Jesus do that because we are so precious and He wants to affirm us and make us happy and comfortable in our own skin?  Or did Jesus do this in spite of us, to make great His own glory?

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

– Rom 5.8

God did not send Jesus to die because of our worth.  He sent Jesus to die in spite of us.  We were His enemies.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

– Rom 5.10

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—

– Col 1.21-22

And this magnifies God’s greatness, His grace and His mercy.  People, in their self-righteousness, might be tempted to lay down their lives for a loved one, a good man, or even a king or nation.  But God sacrificed His only son for wicked people.

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.

– Rom 5.7

In clear, unashamed terms:  God has created us for His glory.  He does not exist for ours.

But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.”

– Is 43.1-7

What does this mean?  It means that our women’s Bible studies should not be focused on looking inward and building ourselves up as adored by God.  It means that we should be looking outward to God.  Being a Christian is not a self-discipline of believing good things about ourselves, it is dying to ourselves and believing great things about God.  Is it true that we are friends of God?  Yes!  By all means:

“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

– John 15.15

But the glory here is not who we are, in being a friend, the glory is that the God of the universe accepts us.  Therefore, we should not boast in our proximity to God, we should boast in God.  It’s not about me, it’s about Him.  John the Baptist stated most clearly our example of how we should react to our salvation:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

– John 3.30

Do you examine the Scriptures looking for promises to boost your self esteem and worth?  Or do you examine the Scriptures to get to know more intimately who God is, and to make much of Him?  Is God on your side, or are you on God’s side?  The “What Would Jesus Do” phenomenon swept youth groups in the late 1990’s, and people began to answer the question by their own perspectives and not Biblical ones.  Jesus would accept everyone, love everyone, affirm everyone, and let us just be ourselves.  Right?  I saw a meme on the internet recently that might shock some:

wwjd

Jesus made a whip and chased people out of the temple who were selling and exchanging money.  Did Jesus accept and affirm them?  Or perhaps most commonly misrepresented is the adulteress:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.3-11

Jesus did not get on her side.  He told her to go and sin no more.  Adultery was not acceptable to Jesus, He told her, I forgive you, now go and change.  He invited her to get on His side.

Let us be careful to remember that this is not about us.  Yes, God promises us peace, rest, and eternal salvation.  Life in the fullest!  But that is all ultimately to His glory.  In order for us to have life in its fullness, we must die to ourselves, we must look to Him.  We must get on His side, join His team, follow Him and make much of Him.  Let’s stop trying to build up our self esteem, because we are sinners and we will fail continually.  But let us glorify the one who saves us in spite of ourselves, and rest in His goodness and mercy.  Let us focus on Jesus today, not on ourselves.

Obey God, and leave the consequences to Him.

decision

Sometimes when we are left looking at our lives at the moment of decision or crisis, we weigh the consequences.  We list the pros, the cons, and we think about where each potential decision could lead us.  Sometimes we are deciding between right and wrong.  Sometimes we are deciding between good and best.  Sometimes we are just deciding.

God has given us a few, very clear, commandments (this list is not exhaustive):

1)  Die to ourselves daily and follow Him (Luke 9.23)
2)  Put away sin  (Rom 6)
3)  Go make disciples of all the nation (Matt 28.18-20)

So when we are making decisions we can ask ourselves things like, “Am I dying to myself by making this decision?”, “Is this sinful?” and “Is this decision helping or hindering me to make disciples?”.  We can always test and gauge ourselves by asking ourselves examination questions in our decision making and lifestyle choices.  God has been clear about what He wants from us and how we are to live.

Last night my dad was reflecting on a missionary family that he has known since early adulthood.  The man took his wife and son to Australia, living by raised support, and has been serving faithfully for over thirty years.  He is now in his late fifties, his wife has many medical issues, they are still serving and the man owns nothing.  My dad asked him if he had plans for retirement, and he said “I will keep working, I have nothing”.  He has no house, he has no money, he has nothing to “fall back on”, as we like to say.  He has given everything to God, and is trusting God to provide.

Charles Stanley encourages us simply:

Obey God and leave the consequences to Him.

God has promised us eternal life, to meet our needs, and to work all things together for His glory and our good.  Even if we do not see radical blessings in our lives as a result of obedience while we are here on the Earth, we know that our treasure and our reward is in Heaven.  So examine yourself, test your life, your decisions and your treasures against Scripture, and trust God for the outcome.  He is in control.  He will work it out.