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

North Korea is not funny.

the interview

Unless you have been living in a bubble for the last two days, you have heard the news that Sony Pictures made a movie called “The Interview” whose premise is two guys being hired to kill Kim-Jong-un, the current supreme leader of North Korea, and after the company’s network was hacked, data stolen, and threats made against any movie theater playing the film on its upcoming release date (Christmas day), it has been cancelled.

The primary response to the terrorist threat and Sony’s submission to it is outrage over the loss of freedom of speech.

Ben Stiller called the exchange:  “a threat to freedom of expression”

Oscar Winning screen writer Aaron Sorkin said:  “Today the US succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech.”

Actor Steve Carrell called it:  “a sad day for creative expression”.

So, let’s observe the facts.  There is a country who has remained on the top of the list for most major security and threat lists since the 1950’s, who has successfully hermitized their entire population and kept them alienated from the world, monitoring and barely allowing any outside influence – like the internet – and regularly locking up and sentencing people to prison camps for beliefs and minimal offenses.  They lock up foreigners who follow Jesus, they falsely accuse people and imprison and kill them for Spiritual beliefs.  Sony Entertainment decided to make a comedy about hiring two regular-joe guys to assassinate the actual leader of the country.  This country retaliates with a terrorist threat to expose secrets and blow up movie theaters.

And we are outraged over their successful bullying tactic – which infringes on our freedom of speech.

People are dying.  They have no access to the Gospel.  They have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, even though the largest church in the world is just a few hundred miles away in South Korea.  They have no hope.  They do not have enough to eat.  They suffer injustice and oppression every day.  People who go in to try to tell them about Jesus get locked up and killed.

And yet the atrocity here is an infraction of our freedom of speech?

Our focus is so wrong, folks.  Forget for a minute the fact that our entertainment industry sought to make a comedy based on assassinating one of the most terrible dictators in the world, and consider our response.

It’s all about me.  My rights.  My freedom.  My happiness.  Who cares if a terrorist threatened to blow me up, it is my right to go see whatever movie I want to see.  Because it will entertain me for 90 minutes.  It is funny.  Can you imagine if Sony had released the movie, the theaters played it, and people were blown up?  The law suits would be endless.  Families of every victim, employees and customers alike, would be seeking millions of dollars in reparation.  The risk was simply too high, even though we pride ourselves for not negotiating with terrorists.  The entertainment industry fears us as much as they fear them.  Because it’s all about me.  MY happiness, MY safety and MY entertainment.

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron…

 – 1 Tim 4.1-2

We are in the last day.  We are listening to deceitful spirits that keep us focused on our daily, temporal, physical pleasures.  Our consciences have been seared as with a branding iron to the point that we would laugh at the situation in North Korea and do not grieve – and that we would respond to the situation by focusing on our “freedom” of speech.  Jesus told us to go make disciples of all nations.  He also said,

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

 – Matt 24.14

So as long as North Korea remains closed to the Gospel and the people have not yet heard of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, the end will not come.  Jesus will not return until they have heard.  The greatest need of the people of North Korea is Jesus Christ.  Period.  Yes, they are oppressed and abused and hungry, but so were the Christians of the early Church.  So was Jesus.  So are most Christians around the world today.  America is not the norm.

This threat of terrorism is sobering.  It is sobering because as weapons continue to advance, America will soon not be out of range for our enemies.  In fact, we may already be within their range.  But it is more sobering to see the level of self-absorption we have, and our level of complacency when our desires are being satisfied.  “Don’t you dare step on my freedom of speech, but you go right on ahead and kill and imprison your people, and keep them from hearing about Jesus”.

The world needs Jesus.  Everything else is peripheral.  Everything.  Food, electricity, water, shelter, clothing, safety, rights, jobs, security.  None of those things will get anyone into right relationship with God.  None of those things will save anyone.  Let’s get over ourselves.  Let’s get over our “rights”.  Let’s not mock one of the most tragic situations in the world, and let’s take Jesus to them.

Deal Breakers

Dating.  The wonderful, terrible, emotional, draining, exhilarating ritual in which we here in the United States engage to find our spouse.  Everyone has their own approach to dating, I’m sure, but one thing of which everyone is aware and which everyone sets is our personal standard.  The essentials.  The non-negotiables.  Those things on which we will not waiver when considering another human being as our life-long partner.  The “deal breakers”.  Each person’s list is unique, and I wholeheartedly support the practice of examining one’s self and knowing those things which you value and cherish and hope for in your marital relationship.

I had a wonderful conversation last week with a girlfriend about such things.  As we were talking about the Biblical outlines for marriage, roles for men and women and expectations that we have as women in how we want to be treated, I began to reflect on some of the things on our lists and things the regularly get put on lists.  There are character issues which are important but then there also was a category of things that I would label “The Past”.  There are a multitude of things that one might put on his list of deal breakers that were simply past experiences.  Family of origin, having been arrested, divorce, having children, education…this list is inexhaustible.  But as I thought about those things, those things that are not exemplary of one’s character, I began to grow uneasy with our quickness to condemn and our lack of humility.  Internally, for those standards which I hold.  And externally, for the ways others would consider me unworthy of relationship without knowing my heart.

Here’s the good news.  There are no deal breakers with God.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).  Jesus said that “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9.12), and that He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  If you would come then God would have you.  All who believe, all who repent, all who turn to God are saved and He welcomes.  Period.  No matter what you have done, no matter what was done to you, and no matter from where you have come.  One of the most beautiful pictures in all of Scripture to me is of the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her hair:

“Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’  And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’  ‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  So which of them will love him more?’  Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’  And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’  Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.  For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.‘  Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.'”

– Luke 7.36-48

Our inability to forgive, our pride, our lack of compassion is directly correlated to our lack of understanding of that for which we have been forgiven.  We have all broken the heart of the Almighty God.  We have all spat in his face.  Our sins – from the least to the greatest – are what put Him on the cross.  He died because of your sin.  My sin.  That lie.  That indiscretion.  That outburst of anger.  Do you realize the weight of your sin?  Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit.  One. Little. Sin.  And because of that they were kicked out of the Garden, they incurred a curse, Eve was granted pain in childbirth and ordered under Adam’s headship and Adam was doomed to struggle to provide for his family for the entirety of his life.  And they were cursed with death.  Death!  For eating a piece of fruit.  Did you ever eat that cookie when your mom said don’t eat that cookie?  You deserve to die for that.  Why?  Because God is perfect.  And He does not tolerate sin.  Any sin.  And the weight of a sin is proportionate to the one against whom the sin is committed.

But because of the infinite value of Jesus as God, His death was enough to satiate the wrath of God for your sin, for my sin, no matter how grievous it might be.  Let’s take a look at those who are documented in the “Hall of Faith” – those people who are esteemed by God for their faith:

Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Sarah.  Drunkard, moon worshiper and abandoner of wife, one who chose one child over the other, mocker of God.

Or how about the lineage of Jesus Himself:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz by Rahab, David, Solomon by Bathsheba, and a whole line of ungoldly kings.  Abandoner of wife, theif, harlot, murderer, lover of the world (just to name a few).

The patriarchs of the faith committed the most heinous of crimes and they were chosen, forgiven, accepted, loved and ultimately sanctified.  And it was the realization of the depth of the forgiveness they were granted that gave depth of love for God and for others.  If you have lived a perfect life then by all means, cast the first stone (John 8.7).  Set deal breakers based on the past for your relationships.  But if you have been forgiven, then forgive and accept in the same measure by which you have been forgiven.  Because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little loveth little”.  But he who has been forgiven much loveth much!  “Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love” (1 John 4.7-8).