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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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…

 

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.

Conditions on love?

Do we put conditions on our affection? When love is freely received by us, why do we struggle to freely give?

Luke 6:32-36

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

If Jesus is asking me to love my enemies freely, how much more should I pour love out on those within my own home?

Matthew 18:32-35

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Romans 5:8

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

He pours His love and forgiveness out on us when we are not worthy.

In my marriage, do I pour out the incredible,  death-defying, generous, merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, unending covenantal love that was poured out on me?

So… God’s told me we’re having another baby…

Today’s topic is one that is close to my heart… Babies. 
They are great! But HARD HARD work… A joy to conceive, an endurance to cook (in the metaphorical oven, of course), a pleasure, joy & trial to raise… We have 3 beautiful children, and haven’t been planning for any more.

Now, S. has yet to read or hear about this latest topic, so I can hear her quivering in her boots (or flip-flops) as she will eventually read this…

I’ll set minds at ease, all is not as it may seem from the title.

Before I begin, the backdrop is quite simple:

Another baby she does not wish for. Unequivocally.

I am personally less worried about the whole thing, but that’s beside the point for now. More importantly, something odd started in me a few months ago.

It started with a rough patch with the kids and especially my patience, which forced me to begin praying for more grace for myself and for grace to fill our home. 

I started praying for abundant grace to be the testimony and story of our home life. 

I started praying that as a couple we would show grace to one another and for that to overflow and pour out over our kids. 

I started praying that through the grace we have for one another at home, they would start showing  grace to other friends and living out grace in their daily lives, at school and beyond, to the point that one day they would eventually set up their own homes filled with grace, and live out callings in whatever sphere of life they are called to be, pouring out God’s grace to whoever they meet…

Sound exciting? I thought so…

But then one day the picture changed. I got a picture in my head. A baby daughter. And her name was Grace.

What do you do with that?

I’ve been brought up in the school of ‘never prophesy about births, deaths or marriages’ – and here I am feeling like I need to be praying for something that if I really loved my wife I wouldn’t ask for in 100 years!

I love kids, and if I am perfectly honest (and decided to completely ignore the practicalities of our current callings and ministries) would love to have more, but I am also fully aware of the limitations of our humanity, and that child-bearing is not really on the agenda at the moment.

I’m also not sure that S. would appreciate the ‘manipulation’ that would come with any prophetic statement that involves bear another child!

So what is this all about? 
Every pause and lull I have had in the last week or two has left me praying for something that is physically and practically impossible at the moment, certainly not in our human thinking, and something that doesn’t seem a wise choice at this juncture at all.

So, I’ve been grappling silently with this all until today in prayer I had a mini-epiphany.

The truth is I am praying for a baby to be born, but it may never actually be born in the flesh. I believe that I have been asked to nurture and labour for a different kind of baby…

As far as I can tell, I have been asked to pray abundant grace into being in our home life. I need grace for S, I need to be speaking grace over her. I need grace for my kids and to be speaking grace in every conversation.

I desire to live in a home that is oozing with fresh and living grace everywhere you look or sit, everything you touch.

Grace needs to be flowing from my home and out into the streets; into the hearts of my kids and into the lives of their friends; into our places of work and beyond through our various ministries.

Simply put, God’s grace needs to invade and change our lives and the lives of those around us.

So it appears that for the first time in our marriage, it is my job to carry a baby, to nurture it, feed it day in and day out, consciously and subconsciously until it one day will be born and released into the world.

I read this today:

Jeremiah 31:2-3

Thus says the Lord:

“The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Even in the wilderness, God’s grace flows freely -directly out of His love – and His love is incredible. 

He loves us just as we are – with a covenantal, faithful, merciful love that endures forever, that is not phased by mistakes, that sees beyond actions and to the very core of our being. His love doesn’t change because we mess up, if anything it shows its strength in our weakness. His grace comes out of THIS love.

By this love the universe hangs together. Do I allow the father’s love to hold my universe together?

Could I learn to love others like that?

Perhaps, if I am going to see this kind of grace born into my home I should start by receiving His grace through this incomparable love for myself…