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 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…

 

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.

Building a lasting relationship

Quick scan of facebook and my brother posted this one… Great article – purely scientific, looking at the “masters & disasters” of relationships.

There’s a whole load of good stuff in there, but this observation is great (highlighting mine), the first is about respect & appreciation of the partner’s ‘bids’ for connection:

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have … which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment … It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

How often have I fallen into that trap? Not necessarily intentionally, normally out of neglect – not choosing to respond to those points of connection ‘can I have a quick word with you about…’ – “Not now. Busy.” Or something along those lines…

And that’s not just with S. – I have 3 connection-hungry children too!

What about this one – the other important trait is kindness:

Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.

Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger … but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”

Loads of food for thought from these ones!

http://www.businessinsider.com/lasting-relationships-rely-on-traits-2015-11?IR=T

(Photo credit: Reuters / Michelle McLoughlin)

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? (aka. bricks vs. mortar)

What really set the little piggy’s brick home apart from the others – was it the bricks?

Or was it the mortar?

I think this question touches on the real reason why I’m trying to go through this whole exercise of blog writing – I think I’ve been pretty ok over the years at working on the ‘visible building materials’ – the straw, bricks and wood – these materials are all different in quality, but produce a similar result on their own… A substandard home…

What are these in my example? I guess I mean the visible gestures, the birthday presents (just about?), Christmas when it comes around, and all the things I probably have to do in between, plus a bit more when I’m feeling committed – but essentially, ‘keeping up appearances’, keeping her happy, ticking the boxes…

As far as I’m concerned, we have a ‘decent’ marriage – we communicate, we give each other time, we fight, we forgive… But as I wrote here, something still isn’t quite there yet.. I’ve been wracking my brains over the last couple of weeks about how to describe it, or what I can do to ‘fix’ it. (Because that’s what us guys do best, right? Spanner, hammer, saw – it’ll be better, surely? And if I’m not too handy, I’ll call my handyman, give him a few bucks and job done…)

What I’m beginning to see is that to have a truly healthy marriage, it’s like building something that will last. All of the ‘visible gestures’, these are like the building materials – they’re essential – they’re what our joint memories are made of – the happy times, the moments, the dates, the holidays, the gifts – the things we hang on our walls. Sometimes I might do something simple, like straw, sometimes I might splash out on a few bricks…

But have you ever wondered what set this little piggy’s house apart? How did it stand up against the might of the wolf?

piggie

You guessed it…

He used cement.

Take a look at this English country garden wall:

dry-stone-wall

Take this beautiful English country wall, for example – it looks beautiful, but try to put any pressure on it, try to put a roof on it… And it will fall apart.

What about our marriages? I’m pretty sure our marriages are meant to provide ‘shelter & cover’ for each other, for our families, for those that come into our homes, for our community. But a marriage built without mortar will struggle to stand the test of time & pressure.

So what is the mortar?

Good question. Why do you think I’m on this journey? I don’t have the answer fully… yet.

I’m sure there is much more that can be said, but what I am learning at the moment is that all of the ‘less visible’ communication that goes into our marriage creates a picture. The way I talk to my wife, the way that I treat her in front of the kids, the way that I support her choices, her decisions… The way that I  stand up for her in front of our friends (and even my family?).

How do I look at her when she comes in with the shopping? Do I say thanks for a job well done or jump straight to the bill to see if she’s overspent?

Whose side do I take (even if I disagree with how she’s gone about doing something?).

What about the little things? The thank you’s, taking time to actually kiss her goodbye before she leaves the house for the day? The coffee in bed, the flowers for no reason? What about serving without pulling a face? Or helping with the jobs that somehow have become hers for some reason?

This picture, even though it is not always communicated explicitly weaves its way between every single visible gesture, and feeds the bigger picture. She may not be able to put her figure on why, but if we take the time to do this well, one day she will know without question, whatever storm may come:

“I am loved. I am valued. I am honored. I am appreciated. I am respected. I am safe.”

There have been days of my life when I have given a grand gesture and undermined it entirely with every single other bit of communication – this is like laying the most precious stone into the brickwork of your home and cementing it in with acid!

And this is something that takes time – if you (like me) haven’t started very far down this path, it can’t be fixed overnight. It can’t even be subcontracted to a handyman. There needs to be mortar between every single brick in a wall. It needs to be even & consistent.

So here I stand, before a challenge, to get mix cement!

I once told a dear family member on the day of his wedding: ‘God has called you to build a home for your wife and for your family – make sure you build it well.’

I knew back then what I thought the picture should look like. I guess now I feel I’m learning what skills it takes to get the job done excellently.

Am I happy with building a shack that can barely protect us against English drizzle? Or will I actually take the time to invest in crafting a shelter that can open its doors to my piggy brothers when the wolf comes blowing, or even my community when it gets really stormy?

I guess I know what my answer is. But turning that into day to day life is probably something else altogether.

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1 Cor 3:12-14

The Love Book

This one is a tried and tested tip that I just wish I remembered myself most of the time… The Love Book. Yes, it does involve getting in touch with (and communicating) your more sentimental side, but also yes – it does make a difference!

It is really what it says on the tin – a book. It can be any kind of book, big, little, lots of pages, no pages – anything you can write in. And it’s purpose? To write things in! Encouragements, verses, kind words, praise, prayers, thank yous, pictures, art work, love poetry, songs, whatever takes your fancy… We’ve even used ours to deliver the odd surprise present, or start a good old fashioned treasure hunt…

My saddest admission right now is that the book that we started writing in when we got married almost 10 years ago… Has only just been finished. In 10 years. One measly book. Not proud of that.

So – in my new found desire to be a better husband, I went out and bought not one, but two today!

(That’s a double whammy – gifts and words in one. Jackpot)

I even wrote my first entry… My aim is to write in it at least once a week – it shouldn’t be too hard to say something nice that often, should it?!

Couple of nice words, tactically placed book on the pillow, and hopefully Bob’s your uncle and you have one blessed, loved & valued wife.

Simples.

Oh, and word of warning. Don’t. Ever. Use the book to try and give some ‘constructive criticism’. It is NOT the right place for it.

Wake up call

So I was woken up at 4.30am today.

Great, thanks God. Appreciate that.

But instead of the usual lazy social media surfing that I might do in the warmth of my bed, the voice was clear…

Get up! Fight for your family!

Do I have to?

Well, actually, I guess I don’t have to. But if that’s what God wants, then it’s what I want too…

Read this post (in my few mins scanning social media before I obeyed…)

Powerful stuff!!

I guess if that’s my job as a husband & father, and that’s how I’ve got to start my week well… Give me more wake up calls!!

Now I guess I better stop procrastinating and actually get on with some praying…

When is an act of service not an act of service?

Have you ever spent a whole bunch of time doing something that you thought was helping out, and then all you got at the end of it was a bunch of complaints?

I’ve been there – and I’ve been left fuming…

“I did this for you and that for you… I spent X amount of time… I, I, I, I…. Can’t you just acknowledge what I did…”

Now is there something you noticed about my response – I certainly did – the word ‘I’…

I’ve been helping clean up this morning, and like all slightly self-centered human beings, I’ve been thinking all about what a great job, you guessed it, I have been doing.

I’ve been thinking about how many brownie points I’m going to win – the mileage I’m going to get out of it…

So, all of a sudden, the question that started toying around in my mind is – ‘who am I serving here, S, or me?’

And then it dawned on me – it’s not really an act of service – if I’m serving myself!

It’s not really an act of service, if I’m so caught up in what a great job I’m doing bringing her breakfast in bed, and how pleased she’ll be with me – but all the time forgetting that when she actually gets out of bed, she’ll feel obliged to clean up the bombsite I left downstairs in the kitchen!

Is it really an act of service if it creates more work than there was to begin with?

“It’s the thought that counts…” I’ve heard myself say a ton of time, but really – if I’m going to do something, I’ve got to start thinking about who I am serving!

Philippians 2 says:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

True empathy

And I guess now I understand what empathy means – not looking at things my way, but looking at things her way – what will actually bless her? Am I trying to see the things that she sees, or just trying to check a box?

Can I do something that she’ll really appreciate – and would I do it even if she doesn’t notice?

What am I trying to communicate – how great a husband I am? what a wonderful sacrifice I made? Or how much I actually value and love her?

And with that in mind… I better get back to folding clothes.

 

 

Going the extra mile

So today I have a morning at home, and I’ve been tasked with helping out with a few cleaning tasks…

Great opportunity to rest on my laurels and let her know how helpful I was, right?

Until I remember that this is stuff she does week in, week out, normally without praise and often without gratitude…

So today’s step is ‘going the extra mile’ – instead of doing a half-a****d job – I’m going to try and tackle a couple of extra bits


 Namely, the patch of wall and paint tins that have been sitting In our bedroom the last month.
Just trying to remember… The little things go a long way!

Day One – Making a battle plan

So today I’m sick. Useful start! With the family out of the house, I can start making a battle plan.

For anyone into the 5 love languages scene, my wife is a GIFTS person. Gifts Gifts Gifts Gifts Gifts, through and through.

Me? There is almost not a gift-giving-caring-receiving bone in the entirety of my body.

Tension point for marriage? You bet.

One year, I came up with an amazing plan to give my wife one gift a month for her Christmas present – pretty good, right?

Wrong. I lasted until about May – and have been repenting ever since.

So, what is my strategy?

I know my wife is struggling in 2 areas with me: not being loved/romanced/valued (ie. I’ve not done the whole gift-y thang) and not being affirmed/valued in the home – this means that I’ve been undermining the things she says to the kids, treating her as if she’s my daughter and not an equal etc.

My problem is – these things can’t be changed overnight – they need consistency.

So, as forced as it may sound – here’s my first set of solutions (and I’d love to hear any other ideas at this point).

  1. Daily reminder – bless wife.
    1. I can’t imagine how many marriages smartphones have ruined – mine is going to save mine!
  2. Weekly plan
    1. Yup – each day of the week is going to be something else – whether it’s a prayer day, an encouragement day, a gift day -these things don’t come naturally to me, so I’m going to have to start by force
  3. Pray. Pray. Pray.
    1. Fully believe it – every great move of God started with a move of prayer. Someone wise once told me that – if God is going to change my marriage, I better get praying!

So. Off I go and do all of that. I’ll let you know how it goes!