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

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