Sheep racing and the altar

I read this today, and was very ready to dismiss it as irrelevant… I can’t remember the last time I prepared animals for sacrifice and I’m pretty sure my lamb optometry skills are a little rusty these days.

But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 1:6-8

So what on earth do blind lambs have to do with me?

Here’s something else I read today:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 9:24

Now this I can relate to… work hard, run hard, get prize. Simple.

But the more I’ve dwelt on it, there seems to be a connection between these verses somehow.

Paul in his passage is really writing about preaching the gospel – which for Paul was the fulfilment of his calling, and about making the necessary sacrifices to do that calling well.

So what about me – what even is my ‘calling’? What is the race that I should be running as if to win the prize? Is it my walk with God? Is it my family? Is it my “ministry/work”? Is it my service in my community? Or my witness to those around me?

Which one of these comes first?

You may have often heard the following discipleship principle: serve God first, then your spouse, then your family, then your work/ministry…

…but is that even Biblical?!

If I’m supposed to put God and my family first, surely then it would be ok for me to come to work one day and say:

‘sorry, boss – I didn’t come to that important meeting yesterday… I just felt I had to worship and play with my kids all day…’

It may just work once, but long term, it wouldn’t cut it…

Something linear like this just doesn’t seem to reflect the interconnected relationships in our lives, or the need from time to time to lay down the priorities of our immediate families to serve those in our congregations or communities.

In fact, Romans 12-14, Galatians 5-6, Ephesians 4-6, and Colossians 3-4 show life application to ALL of these areas: Personal life, Family, Congregation life, Work, Community life1. And Paul is pretty clear in Corinthians that our witness fits into that race too.

The Pentathlon

A friend once explained this to me using the image of the pentathlon… Just like in a pentathlon, where competitors can ONLY be successful if they can perform in all 5 areas. As believers, if wish to live a balanced life, we must place God first in ALL these 5 areas of our lives:

  • personal life
  • family life
  • congregation life
  • work
  • community life

There may be ebbs and flow across life, but if we are not sowing adequately in all areas, then as whole we are going to suffer.

That got me thinking: how often do I expend all my energy at work, leaving very little emotional energy for family?

Or: am I (and my family) foregoing our ‘felt needs’ from time to time to serve the wider community/congregation?

While ‘single discipline’ athletes can throw everything into that one final race, a quality pentathlete will compete with the full competition in mind – they would not expend too much energy in one competition if they knew it would leave none for the next.

That might mean sacrificing certain results for the sake of others, and it might mean that you don’t run, jump or throw as fast or as far individually than others around you (or even as far as you are able)…

So 5 races not 1?

Apparently so – but all these areas of our life make up one whole… To succeed, all of these disciplines require work, which in Hebrew is synonymous with worship: עבודה

The worship journey, in turn, begins with Sacrifice… and so now we’re back to that blind lamb again…

God is asking me to give my best in every area of life – with my kids, in my home, at work, before His throne, in my community.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:23-24

Each area requires so much effort, but somehow I need to find a way to give my best to all in a way that  is holistic and sustainable, and doing this is worship! Even if I were to give my ‘fatted calf’ during the hours of 9-5, if I only bring my scraggly, lame lamb on behalf of my family or community – He says that the table is still despised!

So here I am mixing 2 entirely unrelated metaphors. Somehow we are both running races and doing eye tests on our sheep to ensure they can see straight, throwing a shot-put and fattening up our calves.

In the midst of this metaphoric confusion, I am beginning to ask myself these questions:

  • Am I bringing God my best offering in each area?
  • Am I running to win just one race? Or have I considered the prize that requires my best across the board?
  • Have I presented any lame lambs on God’s altar?
  • Do I need to slow down in one area to give a boost to another?

It might seem like hard work, but actually the sacrifices I make in any area are more than just that – they are acts of worship.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

1 Credit for Pentathlon: Discipleship Counseling Ministries

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The reset button

The Jewish world is about to start/has begun observing Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement”, a universal, corporate, annual ‘reset’ button on the mistakes of the year gone by.

Leviticus 16:30 decrees:

“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

As believers, we seem to have forgotten the power of this, since through Jesus’ sacrifice we might feel we don’t need to think about this yearly cycle, or at least a yearly event does not seem so necessary when we have access to His grace and sanctification at all times:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Hebrews 10:14

However, while our perfect Messiah has done a great job at perfecting us imperfect beings before the throne of God, last time I checked, this imperfect being still had a pretty imperfect relationship before the ‘throne’ of his marginally less imperfect wife, and the redemptive work of the cross doesn’t always cut the mustard as a cover-all when requesting her forgiveness…

Which got me thinking… Could we do with a reset button for our marriage?

I’ve been making a mess of a few things recently, in how I’ve talked to, appreciated (or not) S. at various points and in various situations. I’m sure this is totally alien to many of you, as I’m sure you’ve never even thought bad thoughts of each other let alone done or said the things I have!

But despite my many failings, somehow we’ve got through – most likely because of S.’s ability to ‘activate’ the reset button and get past my failings, or the failings of those around us. Her birthday this week, for example, somehow (despite my best efforts) turned into a bit of a flop! But by the end of the day, we were able to start again with each other and the kids. Actually, the more times we do it, the easier it seems to let go of our anger/disappointment. I am so grateful to her for showing me this, as I personally have a tendency to wallow in my disappointment. It may take a good deal to upset me, but when I get there, I feel like I need to make the most of the journey! But the longer we hold onto our hurts, for some reason, the harder they are to let go of (maybe from the cramp?)

I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to say sorry, or write a groveling letter explaining my actions, thoughts or harsh words. To make things work, each time, we’ve eventually had to get to that place where we say ‘this far and no further’ to the things that are dragging us down. But like Yom Kippur, this has to cover everything.

So, whether it’s yearly, weekly, daily (or hourly!), pressing ‘reset’ is essential if we’re going to get through in our relationships despite our natural human weakness… Besides, we have a pretty good example set before us:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

What’s next? Now I have to muster up some DIY skills to get that button installed…

reset_button2

My proudest moment

This morning I sat on my sofa feeling good about myself. I mean, really good… That kind of good that has you sitting back, oblivious to all that is around you just grinning, head thrown back, eyes closed… And actually even now as I’m writing this, I’m still carrying this inane grin.

I guess someone, somewhere might be interested to know why?

Because I cracked it. Yup. I cracked the secret to all my problems. One minute I had been sitting and pondering all my failings, and in a single moment I discovered the solution.

Which is…

Wait for it…

Cue drumroll…

And wait a little longer as I have to get this over the fold of the page…

And now a little longer as I’m just having fun here…

Ok last time I promise….

And just one more time because I’m really annoying like that (seriously, just ask my wife)…

Me.

You? Are you sure it isn’t God or something a little holier? 

I hear voices in heads writing me off as a heretic. (But hey, you’re the ones with voices in your heads, so think about that before you wag the finger…)

No, it really is me. 

I am the solution to all of my failings/problems.

I guess I better explain myself before too many of my 4 followers hit the ‘unfollow’ button…

The turning point was when I was reading this paraphrase of 2 Cor:

‘I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.’ Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.

– 2 Cor 12:9-10

So Paul cracked it too… And yes, God is slightly more involved than I originally let on. But Paul was proud of himself too, to the point of boasting about it! 

So to follow Paul’s example, this is my moment, with pride in my heart and tears in my eyes, here is my boast for all to see…

I AM WEAK, and I feel like I totally suck at half the jobs God has asked me to do.

But yet, for some reason God chose weak old me to stand in the places he has put me in and to delight in my weakness so He can show His strength. 

I am the solution to my problems, because until I acknowledge that God chose me to be where He put me, in all my weakness, I’m denying His strength to take that weakness and make something out of it.

I am the solution because nobody else can stand up for me joyfully rather than holing myself away and getting depressed about my many failings.

I am the solution because there is no other husband in my home to pour out praises, support and encouragement to my wife. There is no other father in my home to bring stability and create an atmosphere of safety and joy, even if none of these things come naturally to me.

I’ve had a tough week learning just how weak I am, learning just how little human reserves I have to do things that other people do so naturally – from having patience with kids to learning when to keep my mouth shut with S. (more about that another day). 

To be blunt, I’ve learnt that in many ways as a husband and dad… I stink. 

But today, with a grin on my face and joy in my heart I realise that when I boast about that horrific stench I have the capacity to make, the Holy Spirit comes along and somehow produces bottles and bottles of fine fragrance. 

But only when I submit my weakness to Him.

Picture a little boy, handing over his lunchbox, knowing full well that it wasn’t enough, utterly gobsmacked when he realises he’s just fed an entire mountainside packed with people.

He takes our little and makes it much. He takes our weakness and makes it strong. 

None of us ‘have it’. If we think we do, we’re kidding ourselves. But we do have Him, and that’s worth an inane grin or two.

– 2 Cor 12, Matt 14

Don’t Promote me…

I’ve spent a good deal of time recently pondering how I can be ‘more visible’ – whether it’s in my church, my work, online or in any other space… Deep down, however much I deny it, there is an inbuilt human desire in me to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and to be heard by others...

In fact, these were the very human sensibilities that Satan played to with Jesus in the desert – the very things from which he was able to resist temptation.

It’s totally natural: when we do a good job – we want someone to say ‘well done!’, when we are faithful at work – we want to be given more responsibility, when we feel we have something to say – we want people to listen…

For me, it has been a frustration in following God’s call to a new country, to go to church in another language, one that I understand but probably can’t quite teach in yet – so from being an ‘up and coming leader’ back at home, for the last 6 years now, I have no ‘public voice’ and therefore no ‘status/recognition’ within the body like I may have done before… (No, I’m not from Russia!)

So now picture the scene… Here I am, vacuuming my house, talking to God (nope, I wasn’t on my face or in any particularly holy place), asking Him to give me room to speak and share what was on my heart in my congregation, asking for space to share the things He was sharing with me, asking Him to give me a platform for ministry, asking Him to let my voice be heard, to give me status & recognition…

And while I may have spun it in ‘Godly’ terms, while I may have thought I had good reasons for it, what I was actually praying was:

God – make me visible!

Validate me through the eyes of other humans!

Give me status!

My security in You isn’t enough – I want to be heard!

Not unsurprisingly, this prayer wasn’t answered, but instead some other words dropped into my heart, a paraphrase of Matt 6:33

Whose Kingdom are you seeking with all those prayers – yours or mine?

This was a tough one to hear. I had to (and daily keep having to) let go of my natural desire to be seen, my human nature, and truly “seek first the Kingdom of God”, and all that this entails… And do you know what?

This was the most releasing prayer I could pray! 

The prayer below has released me to no longer keep one eye on ‘how the situation will serve me’ (when I am disciplined enough!)… I can go to my church and truly ask what the Lord wants of me, who He wants me to befriend or talk to, rather than needing to ‘cosy up’ to those in authority. I can do my job faithfully, and trust that my faithful service will be recognized when it needs to be (and actually it just was!). I can say ‘no’ to work for the sake of my family, as I know that in giving my children and S. time, I am operating according to Kingdom principles… If I place my treasure in His Kingdom, my heart will be there also

In short, with my eyes on God’s Kingdom, my visibility and recognition is in His hands. My security is in Him and Him alone. I trust that He has brought me to where I am for a reason, and if my voice is being ‘muted’ for a time, then I trust that He knows why.

So that’s why now, I daily (when I remember) have been asking God NOT to promote me… You heard right, I pray every day that God WON’T promote me, well, not on my terms anyway…

I truly believe that God has said that He will use each of us for His Kingdom as much as we’ll let Him, and for many of us faithful service in our field will lead to promotion and a gradual increase of our voice among men. For others, that will not be the case – His Kingdom might be best served in keeping us right where we are, wherever that might be, and, dare I say it, sometimes that even means moving us to a ‘lower’ place in the eyes of men.

So, whether up or down, high or low, visible or invisible, I have daily committed to praying this prayer:

Lord, don’t promote me until & unless it serves Your Kingdom…

 – Anyone want to pray this with me?

Matt 6:21-22, Matt 6:33

 

The testimony of two

This Sunday was Mother’s Day. So Saturday was a great day to spend undermining S’s ability as a mother with my words and actions…

You can imagine that when I sat down to write a card on Sunday morning, even though words normally flow from my pen quite freely, this time I couldn’t do it. Not because the words weren’t there, but because my words weren’t backed up with my actions.

What’s the point of me writing “You do such a great job at x,y,z…”, when just the day before, everything I did screamed “You’re doing it wrong, my way is better…”

John 8:17 says “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” Why the testimony of two? Well, I can write or say whatever I want, but unless S. bears witness to my words through my actions, that testimony is worthless. Until it is worked out and seen, it is purely words.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

– James 2:18

James is writing here about faith – but I believe this applies to love as well – our written or spoken expressions of love must be backed up by our actions. In fact, if our actions speak loud enough, we sometimes don’t even have to use words!

So here is the question I’m beginning to ask myself: How does she know? and the answer can’t be ‘because I say so’

  • How does she know that she’s valued?
  • How does she know that she is more important than my work?
  • How does she know that I respect her words?
  • How does she know that she is appreciated?
  • How does she know that I trust her words/actions/judgement?
  • How does she know that we’re on the same side?
  • How does she know that she is loved?

And the list could go on… Food for thought? I certainly have plenty of chewing to do…

 

Mary tries to kill the judgement

This is not a statement of a major theological inaccuracy, but rather my 3-year old’s version of a current worship song…

You delight in showing mercy…

…Mary tries to kill the judgement (sic)

This may have become an ongoing joke in our family, but I hope that the real punchline of that verse is not lost for us forever…

Mercy triumphs over judgement

I recently read in this book (emphasis my own):

When you judge one sin in another person you have committed seven sins yourself! You fail to love Him, fail to be merciful, you have judged, you have condemned him in your heart, you have not sought to restore him, you have disobeyed God’s Word, and you are guilty of self-righteousness and pride in raising yourself above the one you have judged. So who is in the a worse state? You need God’s mercy to remove the plank from your own eye!

— Colin Urquhart, The Lord’s Orchard

This is one I have been contemplating in my marriage, as surprise, surprise, neither my wife or I are perfect. I am acutely more and more aware each day of the grace and mercy I need from God, but like the unmerciful ruler I don’t always seem to be able to pass that mercy or grace on to those who I feel wrong me, least of all within my home and marriage (and needless to say, normally about the most mundane of issues).

The truth is that when I judge, when I fight for ‘my point’ to be heard, or when I withhold forgiveness, I am actually putting barriers in the way of reconciliation.

God built in mercy and forgiveness to the very fabric of the Jewish culture through the sacrificial system. Jesus modelled grace to the highest degree when he took death upon Himself without a single fault of His own (Is. 53:7), James said we should ‘consider it pure joy’ when we face trials – even persecution…

So again, I’m left thinking… ‘how much more should I be showing mercy in my own home?!’ if God chose to forgive the worst of sinners, if Jesus took the weight of all of our sins upon Himself, if the apostles could be joyful in the face of persecution.

Which all leads me to one conclusion:

Through God’s grace, reconciliation with mankind was made possible…

…and if mercy opens the door to reconciliation, my prayer is that God blows that door right off!

All my inmost being

I know this blog is really about discovering what it means to really love my wife, but somehow I am stuck in what it means to really love God. My hope is that one flows out of the other, as I understand that His love is pretty much the model that I am working from…

So, flash back about 20 years, BBC2, Friday evenings – The Fast Show

This week I have been mostly reading the Hallel Psalms
(And the few before them)

“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!

What does that mean? All that is within me?

Is that something we just sing/say/pray? Does all that is within me truly bless the Lord? Does every breath I take go towards Him as worship? Every action? Every thought?

What kind of a God is even worthy of that level of worship?

If I extrapolate this to my marriage – could I be the kind of husband that invokes something even close to that level of response from my wife?

If I truly believe that every action of God speaks of his incredible, covenant-keeping, faithful, steadfast, death-defying, life-creating, awe-inspiring, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, righteous, just, honourable, glorious, awesome love – even in his justice & discipline, then can I capture even a fraction of this in the way I treat S.?

Can I aim to pour out and show love to her with every action I take? Can I seek to serve her daily? To be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?

To ensure that she knows that she is truly loved from the “depth of her being”, so that “all that is within her” has to acknowledge that love, just like David did? And if my love is only a picture of God’s love (however limited a picture that may be, of course), could I seek to love my wife in a way that leads her to praise her heavenly father even more, as she catches glimpses of His love in mine?

May be a bold prayer – but nothing like going large!

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him
Psalm 103

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever
Psalm 111

When things don’t go ‘my’ way…

So my day’s not gone great. Things haven’t gone the way I wanted. In the natural I’m pretty discouraged, to say the least. But I have been reminded of this:

There is nothing He doesn’t have access to, hasn’t seen or hasn’t planned in advance.

Can we trust that He is in control? Can we choose to believe that His plans aren’t just ‘good’ – they are the best!

Despite the way it feels, Today, we haven’t actually experienced a ‘setback’ in any way, shape or form – rather, we have watched the unfolding of God’s AWESOME will in our life!

But can we state this, shout this, sing this and pray this? Despite what we think, what we had planned or how we had understood our ‘needs’ to be?

How many times have I told my kids ‘not now’ when they want something now that I’ve planned for them to receive later?

Why? Because I know my plans for them are good! (Usually) I know that if they receive what they want now they won’t enjoy it as much, or they won’t be ready for it, or it’ll get broken, or [insert any other excruciatingly annoying but true dad-like reasoning here]

How much joy would I feel if in response to my ‘not now’, I heard this: ‘OK. I don’t get it, that’s disappointing, but I trust you and I choose to enjoy myself anyway…’

Sound impossible? Not likely in my home, but that’s what He’s asking of us right now.

God makes no mistakes – just good plans from a good God, prepared for us to DELIGHT in. However much it hurts right now.
– Romans 8:28

God is love… But I am human

God is love. Every action, every story in the Bible shouts that love, even through to his discipline.

The pages of the Bible shout His love. Creation sings of His love. He chose us to show that love with our lives.

How loudly does my life shout about his love?

So what does this mean for me?

God is love and I am human. My frustration generally does not show my love (let alone God’s!), neither does my hurt or my upset…

But yet the same facts are true for me… There is never a moment when I don’t love S., there is never a moment when I don’t love my kids. (Even though that love may be pushed to the limits…)

So, logically – if the above is true, there must be a way I can learn to respond – even my most extreme emotions – in a way that pours out my love (or God’s love)?!

How do I learn from God to show my love at all times despite my humanity?

Can I be angry/ hurt/ frustrated/ disappointed/ [insert negative emotion here] and yet still show love?

Can I be human but learn from my creator? Can I explain my biggest frustrations with S. and have her feeling more loved and affirmed than when we started?

Can I call my kids up on something and have them know that my love is unconditional of their behaviour?

Ephesians 3:17-19 

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I will…

Need I write any more?

Psalms 101:1-4Psalm 101

I Will Walk with Integrity A Psalm of David. 

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.

I will
ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?

I will
walk with integrity of heart within my house;

I will
not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;

I will
know nothing of evil.