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!

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

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?

Speak Life.

So words have power.

That’s awesome, isn’t it?!
Well, not when you’re not really aware of what you’re saying (or how you’re saying it!)

Have you sat back and listened to the things you’ve said in a day and thought of your positive:negative ratio?

Let’s put this into some maths terms…


If ((-ve words x10) > +ve)
- Wife = under valued


But if (+ve > (-ve words x10))

Wife = valued

Now clearly this is not the whole picture, but a good place to start!

And I’m being serious – negative words carry a weight far more than the positive ones, because they stick!

Proverbs 18:21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

I’m still learning this one. My ratio still isn’t great… But it is worth fighting for!

You did what?!

So this post goes first in my soon-to-be-growing public catalogue of marital fails…

And what a way to start!!

Let’s set the scene first… Mid-January, I realise how many mistakes I’ve been making as a husband and start writing this blog as an outlet for processing and as a reminder to keep at the simple things…

After a good few weeks of progress I go away for 10 weeks on business, and do quite well on the whole, good contact, good communication, presents for all… Job done!

What a great guy I am.

Plane home. Great. Feeling pretty awesome about myself.

First day with the family. Pretty good. Presents a success. Oh yeah – got this husband/dad thing nailed…

Day 2. Have a few days off planned, to ‘reconnect with family’, but what do I do? 8am. Start decorating my home office… Wait a minute… What’s was that I hear you screaming?
I’ll repeat myself. Day 2. Started decorating my home office…

Yes, I really did embark on a work-based home project within 36 hours of landing home after 10 days away, during the time that I had booked to ‘reconnect with family’.

And yes, even my boss would be disappointed with my priority choice here.

And yes, I realise how high a percentage of readers are banging their hands against their heads in disbelief…

I thought I was doing so well up until then…

Yes, I know, this is one of those fails Homer Simpson would have been proud of.

Now, I had my reasons, and some really good ones too: I have some meetings in a few days that I needed to sort out the room for… Plus we had sick kids so we couldn’t really do much else out of the house… Also I prefer to get this kind of thing done quicker so it’s not hanging over, and it was a full moon on the second Sunday of the month, which everyone knows is the best time to start decorating… You see, really solid case I have here…

But what I realise now is that it makes a difference what I do first.
That is to say:

I need to make my first thing the first thing!

When I’ve been out of the country for the best part of two weeks, the balance needs to be reset: S. has to be shown that I value her over the work that has occupied my life 100% for the last 10 days.

The best way I can do that is to give her the time of day, to hear from her, to actually ask how her time has been, to let her debrief and unload before I launch into my projects, my stories, my my my…

Whatever I do first is going to be understood as my priority, even if it is not and I have perfectly ‘valid’ reasons!

Now, part of me feels that this particular mistake was a one off with extraneous circumstances, but I’d be foolish not to learn from the principle here, otherwise you’ll likely see me writing another sheepish piece in a few months time!

I will get a second chance at doing a ‘re-entry’ well before long (not that I want to go away again!), but I did well and truly blow this one.

Actually, this principle doesn’t just apply to long trips – what do I do after a day out at work? Straight to phone to pick up more emails? What about straight into my world and my hobbies? Or offloading from my day without sparing a thought for hers?

Reminds me of this:

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In short. I need to make sure she knows the value she holds in my eyes. I need to show it with my words, my time and my priorities…

And if you screw up? Don’t forget to say sorry. And sorry I am, because it’s me who starts work tomorrow without having been blessed with much-needed quality time with my other half.

But as for the last few days, other than a lesson learned, I leave you with the wise words of our great modern day sage, Homer (Simpson):

Doh!

It doesn’t take that long…

So I’ve been going for a little while, and to be honest I’ve been dragging my heels about making effort over the past week. I leave notes on my phone to bless S, and for the most part have become immune…

To me, the thought of thinking of something profoundly loving to say makes me put it off – not that I have nothing to say, but just because I like to give it thought and time and effort.

Which 99 times out of means… You guessed it… Nothing happens.

So here’s a crazy idea – how about I just write something, the shortest blessing… As opposed to nothing?!

Tried it this morning, and this is what I got in reply…

  
So that clearly worked – it’s so great to get an encouragement back… Maybe I’m actually on the right track!

So in short, rather than write/say/do nothing – it’s ok to do a little! 

When you’re tired…

So I’ve had a long few days… Nobody’s fault. But I am tired, and ‘doing good’ can be hard work! Especially trying to be, so and say things that don’t come naturally to you…

I was reading about Myers-Briggs personality type testing yesterday – all about how we have different types and what you should (and shouldn’t) expect from each type in a relationship.

I agreed to a point, my personality type means I am ‘naturally disposed’ to find it harder to express my feelings, I might find it ‘naturally easier’ to hole myself away into my work…

But does that make it excusable?!

I may not get it right all the time, but I want to lay down those ‘natural barriers’ to providing what S. needs – just as much as I’d hope she’d do the same to validate my needs!

Philippians 2 puts it like this:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:4

Which is tough. And tiring.

But worth it.

So, for those fighting against some of their ‘natural urges’ to be the best spouse they can be. Good on you. Keep up the good work. Don’t beat yourself up if you stuff up. Look over my catalogue of errors (sorry, blog) and be encouraged!!

These verses are for you:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31