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

Why are we so consumed with beauty?

 doors

Last week Dove put out another feel good video about beauty.  The premise was simple.  They took two doors that were side-by-side entrances to buildings in major cities around the world and labeled one door “average” and the other door “beautiful”.  They put stanchions between the two to help people funnel into the door they had chosen, and then they interviewed women about the door choice they made.

Why are we so concerned about convincing ourselves and others that we are beautiful?  Dove continues to make these videos, there are continual facebook ads on the sidebar reading “redefining sexy”, and a push for plus sized models to be called simply “models”. We, as Christians, should not have the end goal of high self esteem, we should have the end goal of confidence in God.  We should not find our value in our appearance, but in our salvation and the transformation of our personalities and character by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible has a few very poignant things to say about beauty:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

– Prov 31.30

Beauty is vain.  Do you know why?  Because we came from ashes and to ashes we will return.  As we grow older, our bodies begin to deteriorate and the beauty of our youth fades away.  In Scripture this is actually considered an honor, but our culture values youth and immaturity.  We run from commitment, we shun the elderly, and we spend millions of dollars on beauty products and surgeries that help us look younger.  But even if we maintain physical beauty for the seventy five years that we have here on earth, when we die, we will become ashes.

“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”

– Gen 3.19

Beauty is vain because it is fleeting, and it is meaningless.  It fades with age and forever vanishes upon our death.

“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”

– 1 Peter 1.24-25

But the word of the Lord endures forever!  What is it about which God is concerned?

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

– 1 Sam 16.7

God has created each one of us uniquely and individually, and He knows us fully.  He knows our physical appearance – counting even the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12.7), He formed our bodies while we were each still in the womb (Ps 139.13), and He chose His own before we were even conceived in the womb (Jer 1.5).  But more importantly, He knows our hearts, and He is concerned with the passions and desires of our hearts.  David, who was a handsome man, had many wives and immeasurable success and wealth was a man after God’s own heart because he loved God and sought to know and please Him.  Physical beauty, wealth and power were gifts from God because of his heart.  Paul, perhaps the most influential New Testament author, lived in poverty, with a malady of the eyes, and of modest stature and appearance.  No one would have considered Paul handsome, but yet he was one of the most dynamic men to serve the Church.

Beauty is a distraction. God has given us bodies, and expects us to be good stewards of them.  The Holy Spirit inhabits our bodies and they are called a “temple” because He resides in us (1 Cor 6.19).  We should well care for these temples that He has given us, eating well, practicing good hygiene, exercising, just general good maintenance.  We do not do that because we are vain and seek affirmation and attention for our appearance, but because our bodies are a gift from God and we want to honor Him with how we steward them.  If we are not faithful in the small things, how will He entrust us with the big things?

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?  And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

– Luke 16.10-12

And if it is our goal to know and honor God, we should try to understand what it is that He finds beautiful.  What does He find beautiful?

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

Notice here that Peter does not say we should not get dressed up and try to look our best.  He says it should not be only that.  Some people take the ascetic route and try to rob God of the glory of the beauty of His creation by purposefully not making themselves beautiful.  But God created the Earth in all of its splendor.  He created the sunsets, the oceans, the snow, the mountains, everything beautiful.  And He created us.  We should make ourselves look beautiful – for His glory and His honor.  Not for man’s approval.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

– Eph 2.10

God created us to know and honor Him.  He created us uniquely, and individually.  We were taught as children that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to be beautiful before God, we must love Him, be humble, take care of that which He has entrusted us (namely, our bodies – amongst everything else), and we must value the inner man.  Beauty is fleeting and beauty is vain.  Charm is deceptive.  But the woman who fears the Lord – she will be praised. Let’s stop focusing on making ourselves feel better by trying to convince ourselves and one another that we are beautiful.  Every woman has body issues.  Every. Single. One.  But our bodies are not the end goal.  They will die and return to ash.  Our souls will not.  Let’s focus on being women and people who love and honor God.  Be beautiful and healthy to the glory of God, but remember that God looks on the heart.

How much time do you spend getting physically ready for each day?

How much time do you spend getting Spiritually ready for each day?

Which do you think God values more?

The Bible and The Newspaper

Is God relevant?  We are in a new and unique situation where much of Western Europe and the developed world is not in what historians are calling a “Post-Chrisitan Culture”.  Many of our core values and morals are based on Biblical principles, but we are no longer accurately identified as Christian as more and more people claim agnosticism or atheism.  There is, no longer, absolute truth and we are all capable of determining our own destiny.

While this era in history may be come to be identified thus, it is not a unique circumstance.  When societies are young, they are looking for a greater good and external power to affirm and assist in their establishment.  But once they achieve sovereignty and greatness, they attribute deity to themselves (Eastern countries, like Japan and China) or they waste away in vain philosophy (Rome and Greece) or they simply become introspective and self glorifying (Babylon, the United States).  

But God is always relevant.  Whatever issue we are facing, whatever moral dilemma, whatever ethical decision, the Scripture speaks to it, at least at the core level.  No, the internet is not mentioned in the canon of Scripture, but God’s will regarding morality, accountability and stewardship are clear and easily applied.  Karl Barth, the great theologian and philosopher said that we should always “read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”.  

Do you compartmentalize?  Is God around for your eternity?  Or is He integral for every part of your life?  Does He speak into your decision making?  Your politics?  Your lifestyle?  Or is He just your “get out of Hell free” card?  Whatever it is about which you find yourself passionate, grab your Bible and stand firmly on what God directs on the issue.  The world needs Godly politicians (like William Wilberforce).  The world needs Godly doctors.  The world needs Godly teachers.  The world needs Godly evangelists and church planters.  Use your passion.  Get out your newspaper.  And take purposeful stands on the foundation of the Scripture.  Let’s change our thinking.  Let’s change our world.  

karl barth

Does Jesus Want Me To Be Poor?

poverty

We’ve all heard the popular teaching of Joel Osteen and the promises of the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Preachers on TV are promising us that God wants us to be happy, healthy and rich.  The level of faith that we have directly parallels our financial and personal success.  The Prayer of Jabez, after all, is an example of praying for our own personal prosperity and God blessed him and called him righteous, right?

The opposite extreme sprinkled throughout evangelicalism today looks at the Church in large.  They consider the Persecuted Church, they examine revivals, history, and the overall nature of the Church to say that no, Jesus is not concerned with making us rich, but that He wants us to give to the poor and to live a simple life.  Ultimately they become various levels of ascetics.

So.  Does Jesus want us to be rich?  Or does Jesus want us to be poor?

We are called to be stewards.  

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

– Luke 12.47-48

This passage is extremely familiar.  Surprisingly, however, it is speaking about actions and not finances.  It is a principle that applies over and onto finances, but God is concerned about our hearts.  Jesus Himself said that all of the Law was summed up in these two: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.37-39).  If we love God above all else, then our talents, our time and our finances will be spent to His glory and honor.  If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we help meet their needs, we put them above ourselves and glorify God with our time, energy and finances.

Paul makes the very clear assessment of our abilities (which again, applies to finances):

For who regards you as superior? 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

But most fundamentally we all know that,

“The Earth is the Lord’s and everything it contains.”

– 1 Cor 10.26

It all belongs to God.  Everything.  Including money.  So whatever you have – gifts, talents, finances, freedom, slavery, jobs, family – it is all God’s.  And He has allowed us to use it for a season.  We are stewards of His belongings.

For my ascetic friends, I would like to point out the fact that many of our forefathers were among the richest men who ever lived.  Solomon was worth, in today’s dollar, approximately 100 billion dollars.  That is substantially more than Bill Gates’ worth.  David, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and many others were granted physical and financial wealth in the roles that God gave them.

For my rich friends, I would like to point out the fact that the very humility exemplified by the creator of the universe was to leave the throne of glory and come to Earth, living without even a place to lay his head.  He kept minimal possessions and when He sent the disciples out to serve Him, they were to rely on the hospitality of others for their sustenance.

Our responsibility is stewardship of what God has given us.  When we consider our finances, let’s ask this simple question, “Is God glorified in this?”  When you stand before God on judgment day, will you be ashamed of how you spent your money?  Or your time?  Will you be proud of the toys, the clothes, the house, the comforts that you bought?  Or will you know that you gave sacrificially to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and put one another’s needs above your own?  Will you look back and find that your finances served God or you?

I used to wrestle with giving money to beggars.  I always wondered for what they would use the money.  But one day I realized that God would hold him accountable for how he used the help that he received.  He would only hold me accountable for my willingness to help.  I am confident that I will not stand before Him and He say, “You should not have given that money to that beggar.  You should have bought a new shirt with it instead.”  Now, if God has given you the mind and ability to help the homeless establish themselves in jobs and fight addictions such that they are able to feed themselves, and all you do is throw a twenty in their cup, there might be something to answer for.  But that is between you and God.

Jesus was comfortable with a woman pouring out extremely expensive perfume on his feet.  There are times for extravagance in the worship of Almighty God.  Jesus does not say that to follow Him we must be poor.  In fact, He says that we are to care for the poor.  So we must be stable enough to be able to give in order to care for the poor.

It’s about our heart.  We must be satisfied in God alone, and consider His provisions as tools to serve and glorify Him.

“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

– Phil 4.11-13

Go, sell your possessions.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

– Matt 19.21

The cost of discipleship is steep.  But yet, salvation is a free gift.  There is an apparent paradox exemplified in the reality that “it is by faith you have been saved, through grace and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no man may boast”, and “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Eph 2.8-9, Luke 9.23).

While it is true that God gives freely His salvation unto all who call upon His name, it is understood then that the calling upon His name is in complete and utter surrender and sacrifice.

Jesus, as fully God, had insight into the hearts of people who would question Him.  He called the twelve disciples.  He went to them and chose them before they even knew who He was, and called them by name.  And they left everything and followed Him!  Then throughout His earthly ministry, others came wanting to follow Jesus, but were unwilling to lay down their lives fully.  A scribe (religious leader of the day) told Jesus he would follow Him wherever He went, but yet turned away because to follow Jesus meant he would have no home; “no place to lay his head” (Matt 8.20).  Another man wanted to follow Jesus after burying his father and receiving his inheritance, yet Jesus said that the one who loves father and mother or son and daughter more than Him is not worthy of Him (Matt 10.37).

And then there is the story of the rich, young ruler.  He had kept the points of forbiddance of the Law, but devoid of the spirit of the Law:

“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 exposed his heart in the command to sell everything that he owned, give it to the poor and come after Him.  Jesus is not making the blanket statement that all who desire to be saved must sell every possession they own, but He is making the heart matter clear that the one who is unwilling to do so has not fully surrendered to God, and therefore is not saved.

Rarely do we see people literally do this.  Even missionaries do not do this, on the whole.  Most of them sell all of their belongings in the states, collect the revenue from the sales and then re-buy everything once they get to their place of service.  It is not super-spiritual to buy things locally in a host country.

Jesus is also not saying that all believers must own nothing.  But Jesus is saying that if there is anything which we are unwilling to give up, we have a god other than Him.  Something is more important to us than Him.  And this can be a material possession, it can be family, it can be a sin or a hobby.  And it is because of the severity of this statement that the disciples were led to ask:

When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”

– Matt 19.25

And Jesus very simply responded:

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

– Matt 19.26

It is impossible for us to generate a true and full surrender of our lives to God in love and unto salvation.  Only God can work that in our lives.

I have moved a lot during my lifetime.  In fact, since I was 18 years old, I have not been in the same house/apartment for more than 3 years.  Much of that was natural transitioning between college, grad school and work, but it also included a move halfway around the world.  Leading up to the age of 26, I knew I was headed overseas, so for the entirety of my independent life pre-moving, I did not collect many material possessions.  I minimally decorated my apartments, kept a cheap car, and saved most of the money that I made.  (Well, what was leftover after paying for school!)  Why?  Because I knew I could not take things with me, and it was worthless to buy fancy furniture that I was going to turn around and sell in a year or two.  This was not a spiritual discipline, it was simple economics.

Much in the same way, Jesus wants us to maintain an eternal perspective.  When we get to the judgment seat of Christ, He is going to require of us an account of how we used the blessings He bestowed upon us.  How did we use His money?  How did we use His house?  How did we treat His children?  And did we cling to any possession, person or sin so much that we were crushed or devastated at its loss?  Or did we so value something that we were unwilling to give it up to follow Christ?  Jesus says it is impossible for us to do this on our own.  But God will do it in and through us, working His will in us unto salvation, if we call upon His name and ask Him for the free gift of salvation.

What do you love?

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.20

treasure