The pain of childbirth – a picture of holiness

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Consider Mary.  Pregnant with God’s glory.  (see Luke passage at the end)

Like some of you, I have given birth to two children.  As each pregnancy advanced, my growing state became more and more of a hindrance to my ‘normal’ pattern of life prior to conception.

And THEN, that final couple of days of growing and UNBELIEVABLY intense, painful contractions – it was far from pleasant.  But effective.  And new life, when fully formed and ready for THIS world, was born.

Both pregnancies acquainted me with the thickness of a normal cervix and the size of an ordinary womb of which I was only vaguely aware each month.

But pregnancy and delivery taught me new things, through suffering.  Were those experiences worth the experiences?  Without a doubt.

How does this relate to holiness?

Picture the Spirit of God who comes to take up residence inside a new believer.  As C.S. Lewis has written, this new inhabitant starts to do major renovations that a baby Christian hasn’t even asked for, let alone heard about.

Adding to Lewis’ illustration, another picture, other than ‘flipper of homes’, came to my mind this morning.  I’ve been reading John Owen and John Calvin about God’s purpose in curating suffering for our growth in sanctification.

(Recall God’s will for our lives IS sanctification – 1 Thess 4:3 and how important He considers holiness, ‘without which no one will see the Lord’ – Hebr 12:14)

These classic Christian authors prompted me to think of expanding holiness WITHIN me, akin to a baby expanding in the womb.  The more I submit to God’s will with humility, patience, and gratitude, the more the Holy Spirit, aka my doula or birthing coach, grows this new spiritual life within me.  I’m reminded of John the Baptist’s statement about Jesus as recorded in John 3:30 –  He must increase but I must decrease.

This new spiritual life IS Christ in us, the promise of future glory. (Col 1:27)  Just as a pregnant mom undergoes a growing baby stretching out her womb, making room for new life, so, too, the Holy Spirit pushes against some of the old self-centered us, crowding it out to create space for His growing presence.  Pain and suffering are part and parcel of pregnancy and childbirth.  And so are they also in our progress toward holiness.

That Holy Spirit-induced ‘new you’ is expanding and pushing against the boundaries and walls of the ‘old you’.  That thick ‘flesh’ is being thinned out, which HURTS like Hades (as my mom used to say).

That image of being ‘pregnant with God’s glory’* resonated with me this morning.  Our Father is not content to let that presence of holiness engrafted in us through the Holy Spirit remain the same size.  You and I must be glad, therefore, of His expansion plans to complete the work, He has pledged to do.  We must learn to accept suffering as from the Hand of God, lovingly intended for our good:  our holiness and thus our happiness.  After all, ‘A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.’ John 16:21

Luke 1:27b-38 (NIV): 

The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

 

*pregnant with God’s glory, like Mary – a phrase I read somewhere but don’t know to whom I can attribute it.

When measuring is a snare

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Get out of jail free

Romans 6:14 uses words to describe our ‘freedom’ card.

The first translation is from the NIV and the second is the Message

 

 

  • For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
  • Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.

I’m reading a book that Graham gave me for Mothers’ Day.   Here’s the link  –  Punch Fear in the Face – Start

Jon Acuff Bk Punch Fear...
One of the author’s premises is that people have these internal voices that authoritatively talk to us in messages that are anything but positive.  And…(here is the kicker)..we BELIEVE them!  They are particularly active anytime we entertain a new direction like:

 

 

  • start an exercise program
  • go back to school
  • research a possible business idea
  • ask for a raise
  • confront another person who has hurt us
  • stop a bad habit
  • ask someone out for a date
  • audition for a part
  • apply for a job
  • dust off a dream
  • change churches

His remedy is to articulate out loud what the voices say, think about the message in the light of day and speak truth back to them, thereby quenching their power……for the time being. I actually had the courage, yesterday, to do just that and it was liberating. woman in the shower       I don’t like washing my hair because it means staying in the shower longer than normal which means I have to confront what I think is a poofy tummy (I know…TMI!).  For the first time, however, I recognized this thought as ONE OF THOSE INSIDIOUS VOICES!!.  So I talked back to it and said – “Wait a second.  A tummy is NOT a shoulder bone.  Shoulders are hard, tummies are round and soft – that’s just how they are made.  So what if it feels poofy?” And that was that – the voice went back into hiding and I was left feeling free!

I had read the above verse in Romans the other day and suddenly made the connection.  Anytime I MEASURE myself vis-à-vis others using an imaginary standard in my mind, I EITHER feel superior or inferior.  And what I have done for that moment is to step back INTO the prison cell of the Kingdom of Darkness where Law reigns and sin is the norm.

Measuring and comparing oneself to others is to forget that we have already been sprung from the World’s Way.  We have been transferred into the Kingdom of Light, by Grace.  We didn’t collect enough brownie points to EARN our way into it. We were liberated from our dark prison cell.  The door swung wide and we walked out into the Light where we have

  • value because God chose us and paid for our release
  • an inheritance we don’t have to earn
  • freedom NOT to play the ‘measurement’ game

In essence – we now live in OPEN space in the LIGHT under a completely different system that uses the currency of grace, not merit.

And….we find ourselves frequently running back to that dark prison of measuring ourselves in comparison to others, a system familiar to the point that it’s almost comforting.

prison bars

The good news is that the door stays open and we can turn around (repent) and walk back into the light.

Knowing that is like sticking your hand in your pocket and finding that Get Out of Jail Free card!

How do Christians make decisions?

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Do Christians make decisions differently than non-Christians?

I ask because I think that all of us, pagans and Christians alike, want to make good decisions and have peace.

It seems to me that within the Christian community, there are two approaches.  I have tried both and am now a practitioner of the 2nd kind.

The first decision-crisis I ever lived through was when our oldest son, a new Christian, was faced with a significant intersection in his life.  He was a freshman in college and had applied to a different one for his sophomore year.  When he was accepted in January, he faced a difficult choice.  And as a baby believer, he wanted to trust God.  He explicitly announced that he was going to wait on God to give him an answer.  That got ME worried!

  • what if God didn’t answer him; how would he decide?
  • what would an answer even look like?
  • how might a lack of response impact his fledgling faith?

Graham, himself, didn’t know what to expect, but he plunged ahead with this ‘experiment’ in what he thought was biblical decision-making.  He vacillated for about 2 weeks and finally got mad at God. Then God graciously gave him a consistent FEELING of rightness about staying at the current college and NOT transferring.  After living with the FEELING that staying was the right choice, Graham declined the offer from the other college.

I, too, had a feeling-based decision-making experience.  I decided I wanted to leave a current job.  But on the assumption that I should wait for a sign from God, I did nothing but pray.  What would a sign from God look like?  That was the scary part!  Would I even recognize God’s prompting?

Graciously, God indulged my immature view and gave me a feeling of, “I’ve had it!” at the current school. With my husband’s approval, I told my supervisor that I would not seek a contract for the following year. My Christian friends supported this decision-making method by quoting me the verse from Colossians 3:15…Let the peace of God rule or umpire in your hearts.

It seems like Christians live by feelings and not by faith.  And I was one of them.  But reading Kevin DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something,

on decision-making started to change how I make decisions.     Link to Amazon

His premise is that as we soak in God’s principles from the Bible, we gain wisdom.  And God actually wants us to put that wisdom to use.  We are to grow up as we practice walking by faith in Him and not by sight. If we wait on a sign from Him, then we risk nothing.   But if we make a decision, having prayed and sought counsel, then our acting IS a step of faith. And God promises to guide our ‘ship in motion’ if we head in the wrong direction.

The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord guides his steps. Prov 16:9

Elizabeth Elliott, a godly and mature older Christian, addresses that perennial topic: How do we know God’s will for our life.  Like Kevin DeYoung, she also counsels wise action when she says, DO THE NEXT THING.

Actually God’s will for our life really isn’t about whom we should marry or which job to take.  It’s our growing up in godliness that He’s after.  At some point, the training wheels come off and we walk on our own.  (But Abba-Papa is always near)

Next week, God-willing,  I ‘ll talk about our experiment with the ‘step out in faith’  type of decision-making.  In the mean time, I’d love to hear about YOUR experiences in dealing with decisions as you have grown in Christ.

What if we were enemies of God?

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  1 Pet 1:3

Being a Christian is not just about having eternal life. I don’t mean to minimize that inexpressible gift, but I want to highlight how belonging to the family of God makes a difference while we are in this earthly, natural body.

Imagine for a moment what it would mean in your life and mine if our relationship with God were different.  You do realize that everyone has a relationship with God.  You are either an enemy of God or a friend of God.  This is no ‘either-or fallacy’.  Those truly are the only two choices. Friends of God enjoy significant benefits during their 80 + years.

Once God has reconciled us to Him through faith (that is: knowing, believing and relying on His work at the cross), the benefits kick in. To appreciate what they are, let’s look at the life of someone who does not belong to God, someone who has not been born into a living hope.

  • He has no over-arching purpose in life that is bigger than him.  Life is just what he makes it.  He creates his own meaning.  But this imaginary meaning is meaningless because it is not anchored in any reality.  It cannot be anything other than wishful thinking.
  • When troubles, violence, pain come, he has no way of making any sense of them.  He is at the mercy of all that may upset his fragile life and harm those whom he loves.
  • By the time he has launched his family and is on the other side of the career curve, he begins to ask himself, “is this it? …so now I just look forward to retirement and then death?”
  • The above point applies only to those who are honest.  Most people push those hard questions away and fill their lives with  ‘stuff’ or ‘experiences’ or a new relationship, trying to generate some ‘joie de vivre’
  • He has nothing and nobody but himself to rely on in the final analysis.  An honest enemy of God lives with existential loneliness.
  • He has no access to any supernatural power.  He is left to battle sin in his own flesh.  Psalm 16: 3-4 quotes God as saying,

“As for the godly (the saints) who are in the land, they are the excellent, the noble, and the glorious, in whom is all my delight.  Their sorrows shall be multiplied who choose another god; their drink offerings of blood will I not offer or take their names upon my lips.”

I can’t imagine anything worse than to have God deliberately choose to remove himself from my life.

 

As adopted children of God, however, we are blessed more than we realize.  Here are a few privileges of belonging to God’s family:

  • We have access to EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ  (Eph 1:3)
  • We have been given fullness in Christ  ( we don’t lack anything)  (Col 2: 19)
  • All the promises of God are a resounding “Yes!” in Christ (they are available to us)  (2 Cor 1:20)
  • We can ask for wisdom when we need it (James 1:5)
  • We have already been given GRACE, PEACE with God and everything we need for life and for godliness (2 Pet 1: 2, 3)

The list could go on and on.  But what I treasure is an understanding of the purpose of life, how to make sense of life.  Life delivers hard, painful blows (Jesus even promises this) but we know that nothing happens without God allowing it.  His Word tells us that He uses all our experiences, bringing out of them good for us (and others) and glory for Himself.  I can trust God.  I don’t have to understand why things happen, but I know WHO is in charge and that He is trustworthy.

Furthermore, the fact that average earthly life of 3 score and 10 years of is just a blip compared with the REST of unending life with God in a different dimension  both anchors me and fills me with joyful anticipation.  The best is yet to be.

You live where your thoughts go

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Remain in me and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

You live where your thoughts go.  Jesus says that the only condition for having life is to be in Him.  How can we be in Him?  The only interpretation that makes sense to me is that we are in Him to the extent that He occupies our thoughts.  I live in my head, with my thoughts.  Most of the time, my thoughts center on me.  It’s no wonder I get bored, if my thoughts are about Maria.  Where’s the life in that?

But do we have control over our thoughts?   Well, we certainly can exercise will power and thereby replace thoughts that are not life-producing.  God did give us imagination.  If I don’t like a thought I’m having, I can choose to think about something else.  And the more emotion and color I give that replacement thought, the more real and powerful it becomes.  If you’re like me, you do this very naturally when you imagine how good some ice cream or a piece of chocolate will taste. Pretty soon desire builds and you can almost taste it.  I can even start salivating and justifying why I deserve that ice cream.  See? We DO have the skills.

I heard Robert Rayburn from Faith PCA in Tacoma talk about pride in a podcast sermon.  When we’re thinking about ourselves, whether how clever or how sinful we are or how uncomfortable our circumstances are, that is pride.  Our only way out of the incessant pride, is both to focus on and actively love God and our neighbor.  We have got to get away from thinking about ourselves.  Now if I connect that idea with the scripture above, I see that LIFE (i.e. energy, abundance, joy, anticipation, satisfaction, peace) only comes to the degree that my thoughts remain about Jesus.

And here is the bonus – Paul even tells us that if we cast on Him all the self-things that concern us, God is sure to give us His ‘eirene’ (Strongs # 1515)- His peace/bliss/blessedness.

This, dear ones, is a no-brainer:  Think about oneself, get bored  versus Think about Jesus, get life.

God, give us the grace to redirect our thoughts.

May God’s bliss (eirene) and life (zoe – Strong’s # 2222) be with us all.

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