This morning, Evie and I continued our reading (okay, just my reading – she was asleep with me) in Ezekiel. But for a change, I decided to read something from the New Testament, too – and randomly decided on Hebrews 10.
This morning, Evie and I continued our reading (okay, just my reading – she was asleep with me) in Ezekiel. But for a change, I decided to read something from the New Testament, too – and randomly decided on Hebrews 10.
There hasn’t been a great deal of peace in our household of late. Although, I suppose a in house with two under three (a very spirited toddler, and a newborn), you might not expect there to be much.
In the period of adjusting to our new family dynamic, all of us have settled in well – except for Nathan, our son. The change in circumstances (understandably) impacted him significantly, and he was no longer reacting to discipline the same as usual, and wasn’t as much of his bubbly, confident self.
So, with a bit of observation, prayer, reading, and trial-and-error, we’ve now implemented a different form of discipline – with great success! We’ve done away with much of the yelling, tension and disconnect which was all too prevalent in this already challenging season. But, it wasn’t merely a new discipline technique which sprouted this newfound relief. That was only the by-product.
We Are Shepherds Of A Flock
In my quiet time yesterday I read through Ezekiel 34 – a prophecy against the shepherds of Israel. He condemns them for their selfish and neglectful ways:
“The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them”
and declares His sovereign care and devotion to His people:
“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them.
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
(v. 11-12, 15b)
Children are God’s gift to parents, and in a sense we are ‘shepherds’ over them – caring for and nurturing them, tending to their needs, providing a home and relationships in which they can flourish and thrive.
In the text, the part about force and harshness hit me particularly hard – I know with Nathan’s ‘adjusting behaviour’ lately (read: exponential disobedience), I’ve found it hard to not become impatient and frustrated, speaking and acting out of that frustration – after all, I’m fallible and sinful, just as he is.
But then I read God’s promises, remembering that although I am an imperfect shepherd over my children, God is perfect – the Almighty shepherd of both our souls. And it is His devotion, His righteousness, upon which I seek to build a parenthood which imitates the way He loves and shepherds me.
And in a remarkably astounding (although not at all surprising) gift of His grace, I find myself with a newfound peace – permeating all of my being, striking down my fighting will, and cooling the temper which flares too easily. With less self-trust and more sight of God and His perfection, by the Holy Spirit’s power and leading I am enabled to give my son the love God gives to me. It is wonderful, it is selfless, and it is full of compassion, laughter and joy. Praise be to God!
“Let your gentleness be evident to all; The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Many people claim the Old Testament features an ‘angry God’ or a ‘different God to the one in the New Testament’, but I think this couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole bible is written by God, about Himself; and when we look at each book, chapter and verse through the lens of “what does this say about God/Jesus?”, our eyes are opened by His Spirit to see, know and enjoy more of Him. My quiet times have been a perfect example of this of late.
I’ve been slowly but surely returning to my readings in Ezekiel for my quiet times, and let me tell you – it’s not a bed-time read. There are few books in the bible like the Prophets: so immensely powerful, direct, and densely packed with stark reminders of who God is.
Ezekiel 16 is such a compelling chapter within this awe-inspiring book. It outlines God’s response to Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness, by comparing her to a prostitute. Not only that, He goes on to say:
“Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered (my) children and sacrificed them to idols.” (v. 20b-21);
“Samaria (and Sodom) did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.” (v. 51)
The picture God paints of the desires, actions and consequences of the sins of Jerusalem is grotesque and shocking. No words are minced here – we see the full evil of sin through the lens of God’s absolute holiness.
And yet, even after centuries of contempt and unfaithfulness on the part of Israel, God still shows mercy!
“‘So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (v. 62-63).
And reading this, I was reminded of some gentle words our Lord and Saviour spoke to a woman found guilty of adultery (and facing death as punishment):
“‘… neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.’”
Notice the title of this post refers to the ‘unfaithful’, not the ‘faithless’ – believers are never completely without faith, but the remnant of sin in us means we are still capable of unfaithfulness.
And yet, we have a God and Saviour so faithful, and at the same time, so holy and willing to save – despite our own imperfection and unfaithfulness! I find this so convicting, and so freeing – because this grace God extends to me, He extends to all people. Through our faith in Christ, our continued fight against sin, and knowing God more, we are conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Praise God!
We tend to think of idolatry as an issue belonging to times long past: the word conjures images of metal or wooden artefacts scattered throughout a home, or shrines laden with candles, incense and pictures. Truth is, idolatry has less to do with what we set in our homes, and more to do with what we set in our hearts.
I’m reading through Ezekiel at the moment – a prophecy-dense book mostly recounting the sins of Israel and her judgement, with occasional glimpses of God’s plan for their redemption. In Chapter 13 we see God condemning the false prophets of Israel: men who proclaimed false divinations and messages, and were hypocrites; and women who practised magic and confessed their own thoughts and words as God’s. In Chapter 14, God addresses the people of Israel directly (v. 4-7, 10a, 11):
“Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself.
And they shall bear their punishment – that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.”
Though we may not be living the same way as the ancient Israelites, there are certainly points of note which ring true for us as Christians today:
Idolatry is the natural, primary inclination of the human heart.
I daresay there isn’t any Christian – living or dead – who has lived an entire day, or even an hour, without finding more comfort, joy, or fulfilment, in something other than God. This is the effect of the curse of sin; we still exist in our fallen bodies, which have corrupted desires (Galatians 5:17, Romans 7:18), and so it is something we fight against day to day.
Setting up idols estranges (separates) us from God.
It’s as true 4000 years ago as it is for us today – when our heart sets its joy and trust in something other than God (physical, mental or conceptual), there is a very real shift in our soul. All of a sudden, our focus is on a new need, a new love, pulling us away from God.
God loves us more than we love ourselves.
In setting up an idol (whether it be looking to convenience, comfort, health, money, a spouse or career, to fulfil us) we are assuming we know ourselves best, and what is best for us. But this is a self-deception: God knew us before He even formed the earth (Ephesians 1:4), and as the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator, He is the one who knows what our greatest good is – ultimately, for us to know and love Him!
The longings and obsessions of our hearts are strong – some may even be based in good, godly things (like marriage), but become idols when we find we cannot be content, or happy in God, without them.
Trusting in God is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day striving – through prayer and faith, accountability and honesty – to love God more than anything else life has to offer.
I had a lot of plans leading up to Nathan’s birth. The kind of mother and parent I’d be, the routines we’d have; I had a crystal clear idea of what was expected of me as a Christian mother, and intended to fit myself and my son into a neat little box with perfect precision.
Or so I thought.
Everyone who is a parent knows how life-shifting and truly shocking the entrance of a newborn is to your life. My husband and I took a big hit – we had no idea what was coming, no real way to prepare but to take things as it came and survived. And we did – we all did. Phew!
My biggest plan for Nathan was that I was going to be the mum who stayed home with him. Not finding fulfillment in any pursuit other than nurturing, discipling, guiding and enjoying my children. Turns out though, Nathan had other plans. From the time he was only a couple of months old, it didn’t take long for him to become a grumpy, cranky, always-crying baby whenever it was just me and him at home. I thought he’d love staying home with me, his mother; but oftentimes he would only calm if friends or family visited.
This caused me so much stress, and grew such tension between Nathan and I. I couldn’t handle him whining and moaning all day, every day any longer, so, at one point we trialed him visiting day care – but only for a few hours, once a week. And my gosh. Did he LOVE that!
He came home, and was QUIET. He was happy. Happy to play with his toys by himself. Happy to just be a bit placid. Happy even to see me when I went to pick him up!
It was such a shift in dynamics for us. And since then, we’ve gradually increased how often he goes (2-3 days a week, with 1 of those being a half-day), which has freed up some time for me to go back to part time work to help support our family (daycare isn’t cheap, after all!). Now, when Nathan and I do have time at home together, instead of being just forced quantity time, it’s truly quality time; we’re both having fun and are able to enjoy ourselves and each other because both he and I are having all of our needs met (his super-extrovertedness is all my fault, I’ll admit).
I also realised that the stereotype-pressure I placed on myself wasn’t from God at all; but a false fulfillment and reliance on my works similar to what the Galatians struggled with. And besides, the Proverbs 31 woman is described as very industrious; working both inside and outside the home, committed to the welfare of her family.
Whether a mother works in employment or works in the home, she’s working for her family; the labour of her heart and hands are the fruit of her devotion and love. I’m so glad I chose to accept who Nathan is and do right by him and what he needs, instead of trying to expect some picture-perfect standard of what I believe we should be doing together.
Praise be to God for directing me unto wisdom, for His everlasting faithfulness and joy in my life, and my son’s. In Christ, I need only obey His command to love my children, to be wise, faithful, diligent in prayer, and showing them an example of the One who frees me from all worldly and ungodly pressure.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.“
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith“
Galatians 1:10, 3:26
In my quiet time this morning I came across a comparison in Matthew 26 I hadn’t noticed before. This is why I’m adamant reading books of the bible multiple times is of such significant benefit to us – as we grow in knowledge and godliness, the Holy Spirit reveals new gems of wisdom to us in holy Scripture.
Jesus has just finished preaching about His second coming, the judgement; and the Passover is two days away. The chief priests and elders are plotting to kill him, and want to do so as soon as possible.
While Jesus was in the town of Bethany, in the home of a man named Simon (the leper), a woman came to Him and, as He reclined at the table, opened a magnificent alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, and anointed Him with it.
As she poured it over His head the disciples openly resented her for it, saying “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor”. But Jesus rebuked them, saying “She has done a beautiful thing to me… When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
Now, the woman probably had no idea she was doing it in preparation for His upcoming burial – but God did. Our work means more in God’s plans than we often realise. And Jesus honours our faithfulness and generosity. Sometimes, what we think might be best in a situation might not actually be; but God always knows what’s best, and will always carry out His plans. Our job is to be as wise and obedient as we can be, doing all things through faith.
After this passage, it is briefly mentioned that Judas approaches the chief priests (who are trying to kill Jesus), and asks, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”. They then proceed to count out a cost that was the equivalent of what a beast of burden (such as a donkey) was often sold for.
Judas was not willing to give up his own life to Christ – instead, he wanted to know, what could I have that would be better? He believed the lie that knowing Jesus Christ was not the best thing one could experience in life, and instead, sought out material riches to fulfill his soul.
What about you? If presented with the option, can you truly say that the glittering and clang of jewels and gold doesn’t appeal to your heart more than the gospel call of Christ?
Or, is this an ongoing struggle for you? Perhaps you find it hard to keep Christ as the Lord of your life, and find your heart competing with other idols for lordship. If this is so, be encouraged – take heart from the great faith of the woman who anointed Jesus. She saw no greater good than to honour her Lord with her best, and so it should be with us.
God has a funny way of inserting important lessons into our lives in the most intriguing ways. I had such an experience recently when I ventured into the wild abyss that is my untamed garden. When we first moved in, our entire yard was a mess; but in my usual overly eager and optimistic attitude, I thought “Sure, I could get that all done in a day!”. After finishing cleaning up and pruning just one tree, a lot of time had passed; it was a hot sunny day, and I needed to rest. Well, my garden sure showed me!
But what was most interesting about my endeavour, was the actual pruning experience itself. The tree has been here a long time. The outer branches and twigs were relatively healthy, but had some dying parts attached to them which were also large. Cutting through them was extremely difficult; it was almost like there was a bit of fight in them. It reminded me of the ‘healthy’ sins in my life – the seemingly little things I sometimes do because it’s convenient, or faster, or serves some ulterior selfish motive.
As I moved on from the outer branches towards the deeper parts, I had quickly developed scratches and grazes on my arms and wrists (I was wearing gloves which covered my hands, thank God). The inner dead branches were small, and so of course I assumed they’d be easy targets for my tools given their long-time wear and tear and small size. But, yet again, I was proved wrong. The branches on the inner parts were very strong, and very hard to cut through. I had to clamp down, twist, pull and basically wrench at the tree to prune it; it was hard work, and my arms bore the marks of my labour.
As I came to the end of the heated struggle, I looked to the ground to see the treasure of my efforts; a huge pile of cut away dead branches and twigs, no longer serving the otherwise healthy tree which now stood more beautifully before me. I remember smiling as I realised this is probably similar to what it’s like for God when He prunes us. The surface, or spiritual issues and sins may not be strong, but we give a lot of fight to them. They’re our preferences which we’d rather justify and hide from God; but He gently and lovingly leads us toward holiness and goodness.
Then there are the sins and struggles which are deeply-rooted; the desires which cause us shame. The struggles with sins which linger from a previous life of ungodliness and debauchery. Set deep within our hearts, in Christ we hate these sins and we desperately need His grace and help to fight with and for us against them. Through obedience, repentance and drawing near to Him, in fulfillment to His own promise He draws near and fills us with peace, as we draw closer to Him in fullness of joy.
And the marks of His labour? Well, Jesus Christ Himself bore those marks for us when He died on the cross for our sins. His death represents for us both our initial forgiveness, and our ongoing rejuvenation into becoming more like Jesus.
I’m extremely thankful God chose to reveal this little lesson to me – it certainly puts a lot into perspective. I hope it encourages you to holiness and godliness as well, as Christ continues to transform you into His own likeness!
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet
resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.'”
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their (physical) needs, what good is it?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
There’s no doubt Christ calls us to a different kind of love than what we’d be comfortable giving. After all, it’s so much easier to see someone in their pain and anguish, offer a short prayer or ‘encouragement’, and go on our merry way. It’s far too much effort for some to extend the arm of grace.
In light of this, I want to share a story with you:
“Recently I shared with some friends about a particular hardship I was going through. I was nervous the entire day, leading right up to the point when all eyes were on me as I began to reveal my heart to the people I cared about most.
I expressed that I had been feeling great fear, shame and pain surrounding the subject, and that it was difficult for me to talk about. That this was an ongoing issue, and I needed help.
In the end though, I managed to get the words out – despite how vulnerable and humble it made me. I was met with some smiles and nods, and a couple of thank you’s for sharing.
Afterwards, one person asked me about it, wanting to know how I was really going. ONE. In the entire group.
I had just done something that was mentally, physically and emotionally so difficult and draining for me, because being genuine with those I love is the sort of person I am, and I believed they, being brothers and sisters in Christ, would care, as they had done for others in the group before.
To say I was disappointed is a massive understatement. I can’t believe I trusted them to see me in my pain and offer more than a mere ‘thanks for sharing’ – is it me? Am I selfish?
And what now? Well, I just go back to suffering – alone, apparently.
Let me give you a different example; and maybe this will help to highlight why I’m angry.
Say my group of friends and I were walking along, all hunky dory – when suddenly, I fall and break my leg. I’m in a lot of pain, and can no longer walk by myself; I need their help.
I call out to them, humiliated and broken; they turn back, smile and say, “cool, thanks for sharing!”… And keep on walking.
I feel heartbroken, and absolutely devastated.”
Stories like this shouldn’t happen – particularly among Christians. When someone has fallen ill, you don’t ‘thank’ them for sharing their pain with you, and then do nothing. You may as well say ‘screw you!’ and slap them in the face. It’ll hurt just as much.”
No. Here’s what you do, if you’re a Christ-imitating Christian.
You ask specifically what you can pray about for them, and then you follow up with them – because you care.
You ask if there’s anything you can do to help – because you’re a genuine friend.
You ask questions like, “what has God been teaching you?”, because you care about their spiritual welfare during trials.
You take the initiative to listen, visit, share, encourage, and do all you can to help that broken person heal – because you want to love like Christ.
Don’t be a lip-service Christian. Love like you mean it.
In looking for a photo to put this post into words, I found one featuring Ronda Rousey, a world-famous American fighter, having her hands bandaged and held by her coach.
I thought the image of a woman fighting in a ring was appropriate, because that’s how I often see myself; stubborn, angry, wanting to right wrong by ‘fighting it out’. And seeing the picture, it wasn’t just a woman being cared for by her coach. I saw my Heavenly Father’s hands covering my own with His, tenderly reassuring His love for me. But, there’s a problem – I still want to get in the ring. I want to fight and wrestle with Jesus until He blesses me the way I want to be blessed.
Heavens, who does that sound like?
“Then Jacob was left alone; and the Angel of the Lord wrestled with him until the day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hit was out of joint as they wrestled… and Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
I know many Christians, myself included, struggle to grasp the relationship we have with God as our Heavenly Father. Our fathers here on earth can’t be perfect – and many are far from that ideal – so it’s difficult for us to grasp what a perfect father’s love really is. But something else I’ve always struggled with, is anger.
I have a short fuse; it’s not easy to admit, but it’s true. Sure, I’m easy going and most things slide off my back – I’m sure motherhood did that to me. But for the most part, injustice, inconveniences, and impertinent people boil my blood in seconds. And in those moments when I give in to the fury, give in to the anger rising in me, I choose to forget the peace and blessing I can have from my Father.
What prompted me to write about this was the sermon at church today. A seasoned godly man from within our fellowship spoke about the ‘mystery of Christ’, which is God Himself in us; heaven, the very presence of God, living in us. He leads us through the power of His grace, and our obedience, toward where He would have us go and the person He is growing us into. Picture the prodigal son – God, the Father, stands with arms toward us; do we also reach out in eager love to embrace Him?
My problem is this: I rely on happiness, not joy, to sustain me. Happiness depends on circumstance, whereas joy is based on the foundation of Christ. Through my struggle with mental illness, I have found it physically and mentally draining to even try to seek joy through prayer, bible reading, listening to sermons – even singing worship songs, as well as other non-spiritual things I’ve often enjoyed. In fact, almost everything I usually enjoy is tiring to me. So, I’ve found it easier to fill myself with superficial ‘joys’ – things I do that make me happy, which certainly aren’t bad in and of themselves, but realising I find more fulfillment in creative hobbies or my work than say, my time with God or with loved ones, raises a huge red flag to me.
And yes, a lot of this comes down to the neurophysiological chemistry in my brain – that is to say, not finding enjoyment in things you usually enjoy is a very common symptom for those with depression. But I’m not okay with that. I am so not okay with that. And I’m willing to fight – to fight both God and myself. Let me explain.
Imagine this in your mind. God, our Father, sitting on His throne in a great hall – the floor scattered with broken toys in front of Him. His children approach Him, one by one saying, “God, this toy is broken – give me a new one!” and with that throw their broken toy on the floor. But every once in a while, a particular child comes along who says, “Father, I broke my toy. Can you please fix it for me? Let me watch you while you fix it”. They know their Father, and they know His heart for what He’s given them.
When the time comes and we find ourselves in a tense situation: a trial, a temptation, a tragedy… God does not think so little of our worth and joy as to merely give us a new situation. No, God blesses us in the times we find most hard – even if it’s by our encouragement to others in moments of our greatest pain. God is not Santa – He won’t give us whatever we want. But He does give us whatever is most good.
And He can’t take us to the next step in our journey if we fail at one point – in order to move on, we must learn, we must grow, and most importantly, we must trust and obey. And in doing so, allow ourselves to be conformed to the image of God’s own perfect Son.
And so, I’ll keep striving towards holiness, even if it means God has to put my hip out of joint in the process. Because then I’ll know it’s by His power, His grace, that He has chosen to save me, and continues working in me even while I insist on fighting against Him at times. And, just like Jacob, I’ll be stubborn and relentless in seeking His blessing – not for the things I want, but for that which is most good for me: God Himself. For, the mystery of Christ is this: God Himself, the very presence of heaven, in us right now! And you can have this. I can have this. I just need to keep getting back into the ring; wrestling against my sin for holiness, and wrestling with God for blessing.
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