Living Water: Lessons from Esau

When I was reading the excellent Living Water some months ago I’d planned to write blog posts for each chapter. After discovering Kindle didn’t allow chapter-only exports I had to delay my plans. Because of this post #1 on Repentance sat alone for a long time.

Chapter 2 of Living Water is entitled ‘Lessons from Esau’. Months ago I sat looking at this chapter, trying to extract my blog post. It wasn’t coming to me, no matter how hard I tried so I planned to skip writing about the chapter. And yet, now as I see my post for chapter 2. Clearly my heart or mind wasn’t in the right place at the time. This post, therefore, is chapter 2, ‘Lessons from Esau’ (which relates to Genesis 25:29-34).

The chapter starts by quoting Revelations 3:11-13, 19. The first two sentences stand out to me.

“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.”

If Jesus tells us to ‘hold on’ and ‘to overcome’ then there is an adversary who is trying to take ‘our crown’ from us. Satan will do all he can to steal our identity in Christ, to weaken our faith and to make us ineffective spiritually. I don’t think he cares how he does it: it could be through physical distraction, emotional injury or spiritual apathy. We need to realise the tug of war is real, ongoing, and the costs of losing are personally high.

Verse 19 says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Godly rebuke and discipline is given to us because of God’s love for us. But discipline is only beneficial if we accept the correction. I paraphrase that, ‘Listen carefully and respond accordingly.’

When I was first trying to find my ‘post’ I was looking at the chapter too narrowly. I read it as primarily talking about sexual sin, pride and greed and how they’ve derailed so many high-profile Christians. However, that isn’t what Yun’s talking about. He writes, “Satan is an expert at tempting us to fall.” I’ve heard it said before that Satan isn’t all-knowing, but he’s had plenty of experience in working out which buttons to press. Yun recounts from his own life how his pride resulted in him being imprisoned in Myanmar because he stopped listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t matter what our weakness is, we need to guard against the enemy exploiting it. As Yun writes the following (taking Esau’s bowl of stew as a metaphor):

“There may be a bowl of stew in your life as well. If you make a wrong decision and partake of it, it can destroy your life and bring you untold misery and pain.”

Which raises the question, what are the ‘bowls of stew’ in my life? What are the things that are more likely to distract me from the things of God? I think it’s important identify the areas of vulnerability and bring those areas before God in prayer and surrender. It could be rewards (e.g. promotion, money, fame) or pleasures (activities, sports, relationships) or even attitudes (cynicism, independence from God, selfishness). Yun advises,

“This doesn’t mean that we control ourselves, but it means we must submit to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us and who helps us to fear God and hate sin. …it is only the grace of God that can help and train us to overcome temptation.” (italics his)

I know that there are areas which I need to reflect on, and take to God. Two scriptures stand out to me.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This passage does not say that there isn’t a speck in our brother’s eye, but that we first must see clearly before we can reliably help our brother. And also,

“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 minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6,7).

It is all too easy to get tied up in worry, even worrying about ‘good things’. We aren’t supposed to worry; we should take things to God. Worry crushes our spirit, faith that God’s looking after something can give us peace and confidence.

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Distracted

With the rare exception, I have written a blog post every week for a long time. Except it’s been over a month since my last post. So what has happened?

Distraction. Some of what has distracted me has been good-distraction in-and-of-itself. Like maintaining and strengthening relationships, or good stewardship of what I’ve been given (i.e. maintaining the garden), or beneficial long-term (i.e. occupation focused work). Other distraction has been less-good and less productive: gaming, avoidance and other time investments that will never pay dividends.

There’s also been a big block of stress during that period, which mentally constipated me and had me reaching for any mind-numbing procrastination as though it were Valium. And more recently illness that quite literally put me on my back. Thankfully both of those issues have now been resolved.

The truth is the distraction began earlier in the year. At the start of January I was more focused on the things of God and faith. And then like a man heading out for a distant port, I heard the siren’s song of temptation. I started to have more ideas for stories, and my hunger for other hobbies grew too. Now I know that God has given me giftings to use for his glory but that doesn’t mean they should overshadow my desire for him. These were not his blessings, but the enemy’s temptations. I have allowed these other activities to absorb more of my time, thoughts and heart than they had any right to. It’s time for me to re-evaluate my priorities.

I have recently been pondering this passage from Colossians 3:


1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

What does this mean for my life? How does it translate to how I spend my time? On if and what I write? If I am God’s servant, his adopted child, how is my life different in a day to day, hour by hour fashion. My life is not my own, I was bought with an incredible price.

That’s actually a danger that I face as a creative person. My mind can spin a dozen ideas out of thin air – and each of those ideas could easily absorb hundreds of hours of writing time. But I want to make sure that I’m not spending my life on something inconsequential.

All that matters is that which lasts for eternity.

Herding People

Herding people (i.e. getting them to do what you want) is sometimes like the task of herding cats. That is to say, not easy. For just under three years I was running the men’s ministry of my church, and in this blog post I’m going to discuss and share an automated tool I created which helped to organise ‘interest groups’. You may find it helpful in similar endeavours.

I’m going to assume a reasonable knowledge of Excel skill. The code works on Office 2016; minor tweaks might be required for other versions. (Note when you open the spreadsheet you will get a “Macro Warning” at the top of Excel, which you have to “Enable” if you want to run the macros).

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A World in Need of Balance

This week there was some pretty disgusting news that in New York the abortion laws were extended. It’s not the first state in the US to allow it, but it’s the first I’d heard about.

The new law allows a child to be killed up to 6 months for any reason. It also allow a child to be killed up until birth, for the nebulous “health reasons” of the mother. Tired of the sore back? That’s a health reason. Stressed your life is going to change? That’s a health reason. Worried about how the budget is going to stretch? Also a health reason.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/foetal-development-worksheet-6257624

The above chart is pretty shocking. Think about it – at 16 weeks the baby can suck it’s thumb.

It makes me sick. It makes no sense that an abortion is legal 1 minute before birth, and considered murder 1 minute after.

Babies are treated with less regard than convicted serial killers; they at least get 20 years in prison. Let’s dispense with the euphemisms and the rare outlier stories which make the law seem more palatable: what we’re actually talking about is personal convenience (or responsibility avoidance) and corporate profit.

As a disabled man my parents could have decided that I wouldn’t have a fulfilling life, or that I might be too much of a burden. Thank God they resisted the doctor’s advice to give me a chance. I was only a helpless babe; I needed someone in my corner.

(I know some who read this, may be confronted and hurt by my words. I honestly don’t want to hurt you, but neither do I want to permit the normalization of abortion or shield you from hard truths. It’s only when we acknowledge our guilt before God that we can be forgiven (1 John 1:9)… and I too have much to confess myself (Rom 3:23). To ignore the guilt we have is to choose not to accept God’s forgiveness).

2018 has Come and Gone

2019 seemed to roll unobtrusively around this year. Not that I’m one for big New Year parties or even resolutions; I’m quite happy to be in bed well before the clock strikes midnight. In fact, I’d be rather annoyed if I was still up at that ungodly hour. Even still, it came and went like a grease-fingered pick-pocket with me barely noting its passing.

Unlike previous years, I don’t even have intentions of what I’d like to achieve in the coming 12 months (well, 11 now). Perhaps that’s because work often has me feeling like a wrung-out rag and I don’t have energy for much else… but it could be more than that. I’ve often written about my ongoing wrestle with how I should be spending my time. As I’ve written in my fictional story, Escape from Hell:

I’d always assumed I’d live into my 70’s or 80’s. I saw myself dying from a heart attack while gardening or, best-case scenario, drifting off to sleep one night and never waking up. Peaceful, placid, timely. I’d never even considered I might die from a long-term illness or in tragic circumstances. I had expected death would be accompanied by a warning, a death-rattle of sorts. There would be gradual signs of declining health as my peers began to die around me. I would live, I would grow old – and then when it was time and I’d lived a full life – then I would die. I now realised those thoughts were nothing more than a hope-filled assumption. I had never expected death would approach me so stealthily or be so instantaneous.

No matter who you are, the limited-time problem is an important question of priorities that we all need to grapple with. We only get to live once, and if we don’t ask ourselves what’s important in life – on a regular basis – and then do that, we’ll find our lives are evaporating away, with little to show for it.

As a Christian, I believe that I’m answerable to God for how I spend my time while here on Earth. It’s not just about fearing a “telling off” when I get to heaven, but a responsibility to make full use of the opportunities that I have. It’s about realising that I’m not living for myself.

As an amateur writer is my spending a huge amount of hours writing good value for time? And if it is, what kind of material should I be writing? I want to write things – do things – which have eternal value. Everything else won’t survive.

In discussing this recently with a friend, he pointed out that the arts can draw people toward God. Even if it only about drawing the creator toward God, there can be value in it. Both statements are true. And yet I want to be confident that it’s what I’m supposed to do. At least I need to listen to God and give him the opportunity to tell me it’s not what I should be doing. It’s all too easy to justify what I want to do if I’m the judge. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s lessons on how to be selfish. If it could be called a skill, I’ve got that one mastered.

One thing I am inspired to do is begin a Word document I’m calling “The Tome of Thankfulness”. I’m going to write down in detail, and categorise all of the things which I have to be thankful for. I expect, over time, that it will grow large. Sometimes in life, I forget to be thankful and I can start to go into a woe-is-me spiral. This document will be invaluable as a source to uplift me, to remind me of the many thousands of things I have to be thankful for.

As an example: I’m thankful that I can see colours. When I’m driving down the road, I love seeing the range of greens in the tree-tops. How wonderful is that – when you consider that it’s possible that we could only see in monochrome?

I haven’t fact-checked these data, but this was from spam I received recently:

  • If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep… you’re richer than 75% of this world.
  • If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change somewhere in the house… you are in the top 8% of the world’s wealthy
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness… you’re more blessed than a million people who won’t survive the week.
  • If you have never experienced the dangers of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation… you’re ahead of 500 million people in the world.

It seems to me, whether you ascribe to a loving God or not, if you can read this blog, you have much to be thankful for. And maybe if we are thankful, we can extend more grace and love to those around us and be happier about our lives.

How Faith is the foundation of my Marriage

This month the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. And celebrate we do. We don’t take it or each other for granted.

Marriage has some incredible blessings, but is also hard work no matter how “in love” you are. There will always be days where one or both of us are slightly off-alignment and rub each other the wrong way. No marriage is perfect; neither spouse is perfect, so why should we expect different?

With God’s blessing our friction is occasional and minor (not huge gear-shredding arguments). I remember one particular day when I walked in the door after work and for no reason whatsoever, the first few words out of both of our mouths had a sharp edge to them. It was so odd that I actually said “let me try that again”. I went outside, shut the door behind me and then came back in. It was a reset and we were perfectly fine afterwards. Sometimes you have to recognise the grumps have nothing to do with reality (or rationality).

I believe that marriage is intended to the most intimate and fulfilling relationship that a man and a woman can have. Marriage is an analogy of, and an expression of, God’s love for humanity. It is the strong core of the family unit; the building block of society.

As marriage is such a critical element of individual’s lives and society, no surprise that our enemy Satan would wage war upon marriage at every opportunity and at every level. All who are married should realise they are at war – it’s just not their spouse they should be fighting against. The real enemy of themselves, their spouse and their marriage is Satan. Back-to-back take on the real enemy.

Many people have good marriages; I believe that my Christian faith has been a monumental, irreplaceable, reinforcing strength in my marriage. In today’s blog, I’m going to give you 3 reasons why…

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A Real Miracle

This is a true story of a real-life miracle that happened a month or two ago. While I might paint the scenery around the foreground to make the blog post more interesting, the core of the story is entirely true and without exaggeration.

To comprehend the situation fully you first need to understand something about my wife and for that let me use an analogy: women are like vehicles. Some women are shiny, sleek racing cars; others are reliable SUV mini-people-movers; still others are utility vans. As different as the vehicles are, they all have their good qualities. Notwithstanding my wife’s beauty and lovely personality, she’s definitely an M1A2 Abrams Tank. She probably averages about 0.8 sick days a year. If you cut her arm off she’d stay home only long enough to cauterize the wound with the heated base of a fry pan and only let out a barely audible hiss of discomfort while doing it. Then she’d be at work without delay. Such is my wife; one tough unit.

So about a month or so back I told her I was experiencing some minor back pain. Not too uncommon for me, just enough to let make me uncomfortable and let me know I’d better not overdo it. I’d give it a 1/10 on the pain threshold. She said she too had a bit of back pain. Not unheard of, we’re both aging :). Throughout the week neither of us said much about it but we were both still dealing with it, without much in the way of visible signs.

On the Wednesday night she didn’t play basketball because of her sore back, which clued me in slightly that this was more than just discomfort. (I’m not the most observant man). I suggested we didn’t need to do a food shop this week. She replied we did have to because we were having dinner guests on Friday night. I offered to do the food shopping if she needed me too; she went ahead and did it herself anyway.

At work on the Friday I got an email in which she told me her back was really quite bad, and she’d just cancelled our dinner plans for the evening. Our outing for Saturday (adventure rooms) was also in jeopardy. For her to tell me she was in pain I knew it was bad. I offered to leave work early and catch a bus to her so I could drive her home. I suggested she leave work early. She declined both. Only later did I find out that “bad pain” actually translated to excruciating pain like:

  • I can’t stand up from my seat
  • I’ve been holding back tears all day

That’s my wife – a real unit of strength and tight-jaw suffering. I wasn’t sure what condition she’d be in when I got home. I certainly didn’t expect what I found.

I walked in the door to see her standing in the centre of the lounge room with tears of joy in her eyes and worship music blaring on the stereo. “Watch this,” she said as she lifted her knee up to her chin, and then the other one, followed by other displays of radical flexibility.

As she tells the story, she’d been suffering with the pain all day. As a colleague was leaving for the day she prayed with her for healing. Nothing overly special: just a prayer. A few minutes later my wife was driving in the car and realised she could lean forward without any pain. She tested it, moving around as much as she could and there was no pain. When she was at home she tested it fully: 100% movement, 0% discomfort. A miracle. Praise God.

Some might say it was just a fluke, some movement which cleared the pain. It’s possible, but unlikely. What’s the chances that after a week of pain, and a whole day of excruciating pain, it just happened to go within mere minutes of prayer? It could be a coincidence but once “coincidences” stack up continuously, then you have to believe it is something more.

We have faith and know that God can and does listen to our prayers. Why he answers some times, and not others, who can say… but what a wonderful example of God’s love demonstrated to my wife.