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Jo 17It’s so easy to become consumed with all the things happening in our lives from week to week, isn’t it? Sometimes, we may feel we are only just managing to stay afloat in our own particular fast-flowing, almost overwhelming river of demands and commitments and responsibilities. No wonder then that, in the midst of it all, we so often lose sight of that bigger picture.

Recently, my husband conducted a funeral, during which he reminded us that our life here on earth, when compared with eternity, is like the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface of the water, there is so much more. Then he used a second analogy of the distance covered in a long, overseas trip, as opposed to merely the first centimetre of that trip—and this resonated with me even more. After all, I have gone on quite a few long, overseas trips and can well remember my last flight home from Turkey—a distance of around fifteen thousand kilometres. So what is one centimetre when compared with that? Nothing really. Yet that is how long our life on earth is when compared with eternity.

Perhaps that sort of finite analogy is as close as we will get to understanding the vast difference between the life span we have here on earth and eternity. It’s so hard to imagine something that goes on forever, isn’t it? But whether we can get our heads around it or not, it’s vital we remember eternity—and God—do exist.

The bottom line I need to remind myself about constantly is that nothing I have or am experiencing in this world lasts forever. That applies equally to the people and things that bring me happiness and fulfilment as well as to those situations that cause me pain and difficulty. At times, I know I am in danger of forgetting about God, as I love and care for those close to me. Of course it’s important to love and care for them well. But one day, I won’t be here—and neither will they. At times too, I have put such store by the books I have written and continue to write, that I forget all those words I produce are so temporal. Hopefully, what I write says something of value to others and delights God in the process. But one day, those books will be forgotten, even by those who enjoyed them. Already, many are no doubt hidden away on some dusty shelf or residing in an op shop or perhaps gone long ago into the recycling bin!

As for those difficult things in our lives, how wonderful to remember they too will not last forever! One day, we will have new heavenly bodies, with no sickness or malfunctions. One day we will be whole in every way. One day, ‘God will wipe away every tear from our eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

Whatever is happening in your life right now, whether joyous or challenging or a mixture of both, can I encourage you to remember the bigger picture and keep the same perspective as Paul and his fellow-workers did?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

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Jo 12I wonder if you are like me and consistently put off certain jobs around the house as long as you can because they are way too time-consuming or too messy or too back-breaking or too whatever. There are several I detest for all these reasons, but one is definitely cleaning that grotty oven of ours.

Since moving over a year ago, I have scrubbed the oven shelves and base several times. But I knew the whole oven needed a thorough clean, because one day, to my horror, I discovered black splatter marks everywhere, especially on the top surface where the element is. We suspect the previous occupants used the oven grill often—something I rarely do—so this grime was well and truly baked on.

Now I could still see at least some of this mess, even though our oven light wasn’t working. In fact, I had decided we mustn’t have a light and had complained often about this to my husband. I could see a square piece of metal on one oven wall, but thought it was merely part of either the element or the shelf structure.

Finally the day came when I took the plunge and sprayed some powerful oven cleaner on all that built-up grease and grime. Half an hour later, I began wiping off copious amounts of gunk—and imagine my surprise when I discovered that that square piece of metal I had seen was actually a light! It didn’t work, however, so the next day, our handyman came and fixed the blown bulb. He turned the light on—and lo and behold, just like that, every corner of that oven was illuminated!

What a miracle! I could actually see clearly now whether my cakes were cooking as I hoped they would. But the downside was I could now also see all those parts I hadn’t managed to get clean in my first attack on that oven!

Around the same time, I happened to read some verses in John’s Gospel about, of all things, light and darkness:

This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:19-20

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12

I am well aware it might seem almost sacrilegious to compare Jesus, the Light of the World, to a little old oven light. Yet this whole mundane oven-cleaning event has shown me once again the huge difference between letting Jesus’ light show up the mess that accumulates in my life at times and pretending that mess simply isn’t there—between allowing God to remove that blackness in me and continuing to operate under layers of gunk, unable to see the way ahead or to function as God intended.

What strange creatures we are, to hide from that wonderful Light that can make all the difference in our lives, both now and forever! Let’s stop doing that. Instead, let’s risk exposing that darkness in us to the light of our loving Lord, who sees all things anyway.

Jo 23One evening recently, our four-year-old granddaughter honoured me by inviting me to a special, imaginary event. Soon I found myself immersed in her pretend world and utterly charmed by the magic of the moment.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Maxine asks in her best ladylike voice, as she looks up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes.

‘That would be lovely!’ I respond, stifling a laugh as she carefully arranges her little, metal tea set just how she wants it on the arm of the lounge, while trying to hold up her pyjama pants that insist on falling down.

She selects cups, saucers and plates for us, telling me she will sit next to me while we drink our tea and eat our food. I watch as she pours our imaginary tea into those little cups and wonder what she is doing when she places two small stones on each of our plates. But Maxine’s running commentary on everything soon fills me in.

‘This is our food. Do you like egg? This one here is egg. It’s not the right shape, but it’s still an egg. And this little one is a ‘wadish’ (Maxine has yet to master those initial ‘r’s’). Do you like wadishes?’

‘I haven’t had one for a while, but they look pretty, don’t they, with their pink skin and white on the inside?’

‘Yes, these are very nice. Here you are!’

So together we sit, sipping our pretend tea and enjoying our pretend eggs and radishes. Maxine chatters on—and as I listen, my heart melts and almost hurts for her.

But her imagination—and that of her brother—also serve another purpose. One afternoon a few weeks ago, Maxine asked out of the blue, ‘Nanna, do you know what heaven is like?’ An interesting discussion ensued—almost as interesting as the one we had with Zain on another occasion, when he asked, ‘Granddad, are you older than God?’(!)  Yes, our grandchildren’s vivid imaginations not only enable them to play wonderful, pretend games, but also help them get their heads around such huge concepts as God and heaven. Right now, they may not grasp all the theological ramifications involved—but they sure are adept at imagining what God and heaven look like.

I hope Zain and Maxine never lose their wonderful imaginations. Perhaps they will become the writers or artists or inventors or business innovators of the future—who knows? But I hope and pray God and heaven become firm realities for them and that they never consider them to be mere figments of human imagination. I hope and pray they both come to know Jesus Christ, God become man, and experience the amazing reality of being born again as a child of God. And I hope and pray that one day they will see Jesus face to face—and be in absolute awe of his splendour and majesty that will surely far exceed even their wildest imaginations.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13 New Living Translation

Can you imagine being part of that gathering? I hope you can.

Jo 17One day recently, feeling quite uninventive, I chose to make a good old standby again for dinner—some humble beef rissoles. Not wanting to rush, I started preparing them early. I had time to add a few more things than usual to make them a little tastier—dried mixed herbs, basil, black pepper and also some fresh parsley and thyme my neighbour is always telling me to take from her garden. I added a chopped onion, along with breadcrumbs and an egg, all the while thinking how much tastier these rissoles would be than usual.

As I cooked them, my husband commented how enticing our dinner smelt. We were both looking forward to those rissoles. But alas, even though I had gone that extra mile and added ingredients I usually don’t bother adding, I had forgotten one key item—that very necessary salt! Now I know some people don’t put any salt in their cooking, but that is certainly not what we like to do. As soon as I took that first bite, I realised my mistake. I could not believe it! I had had so much extra time, but still managed to forget that one ingredient that makes such a difference.

Eventually, I managed to laugh at myself, as I hastened to sprinkle table salt all over those poor old rissoles! But this whole episode rankled for a long time afterwards. You see, I would much rather have spent the afternoon writing or preparing for some speaking event than cooking dinner. It was a sacrifice to me to put that time aside. So for the meal not to turn out as I wanted it to was a little annoying, to say the least. However, as I sat thinking about it all, I decided to ask God what lessons I could learn from this episode.

Apart from realising I should focus more on what I am supposed to be doing rather than dream about what to write next in my current novel (!), I felt God highlighted a much more important lesson for me in general. What if I were to forget that ‘salt’ in other areas of my life as well? What if I were to leave it out of my writing and my speaking in particular, so that all those words I labour over became bland and tasteless? Worse still, what if what I thought was ‘salt’ was only some useless, powdery substance left behind after the real salt had gone, as apparently happened in Bible times? If I did, then those words of mine would be mere worthless rubbish. What if I lost sight altogether of those key things God wants me to highlight so others may ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34:8)?

In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says to his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’

I want God’s perfect balance and seasoning to be present in all my creative efforts. I want my words to remain punchy and flavoursome to the end, with just the right amount of salt in them. So Lord, may I never forget that valuable, key ingredient—ever again!

Jo 12My husband and I are entering an extra busy period of our lives this week. Yes, we are yet to discover what that interesting word ‘retirement’ means! Two things are happening simultaneously that should help keep us both out of mischief for the next few months at least.

The first is that, to help our daughter and her husband out, we will be caring for their two young children a little more than we do already. Various things have happened for them in quick succession—the selling of their unit in western Sydney, the buying of a house even further west and also a new accountancy job in the city for our son-in-law, which means he will be unable to pick up our grandchildren from school and day care as much as he has previously.

But the second commitment we have agreed to is to take on a support role at our local church, assisting the ministry team while our two team leaders (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. To do this, we have each promised to be available in our church office one day a week to help with different aspects of our church life, particularly in the pastoral care area.

Obviously, these two commitments, while quite different, will no doubt require a fair amount of energy on our part. I am sure God wants us to undertake both ventures, but at times, I must admit I have allowed more than a little anxiety about what we have taken on to creep in. Will we have the energy and strength to see it all through? Will it be too overwhelming? Will I ever get any time to myself to continue writing that next novel I truly want to complete? What if our church commitment in particular grows out of all proportion to the hours we have available in our busy week?

In the midst of these rather fearful thoughts, I ‘happened’ to come to some interesting verses in one of Paul’s letters where he addresses some quarrelling and jealousy that had emerged among the early Corinthian believers. Apparently there was a good deal of ‘one-upmanship’ going on, where some claimed they followed Paul, while others stated they followed Apollos. Paul rebukes them for their worldly way of thinking and points out that both he and Apollos were simply God’s servants doing the tasks they had been given—he to plant the seed and Apollos to water it. But without God, nothing would have taken place among them.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6

I read on, slowly realising why God had arranged for me to read these words at this strategic point.

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:9

Yes, Lord, I get the message. It is our role simply to cooperate and work hand in hand with you in the tasks you have called us to do. And what a partner we have—the almighty God of the universe! As for those at our church, you will continue to nurture them and build them up in their faith, whatever happens. You are in charge, not us!

Lord, may I always remember that. Amen


Jo 12Have you ever noticed how some English words that have an unpleasant, negative kind of meaning seem to sound unpleasant as well? Take for example the words ‘gloat’, ‘brag’, ‘skite’ and ‘boast’, with their rather hard, guttural consonants. Or does the meaning of these words merely colour how I hear them? Would someone unfamiliar with English still think they sound unpleasant?

A few months ago, I spoke at a meeting in a club. My topic was focussed on the lessons we learn throughout our lives and how, as we grow, we hopefully become more of the person we were created to be. While talking about my own school years, I showed a photo of an old report card of mine and mentioned my determination to come first in every exam in primary school—which I managed to do. But then I heard a lady at a nearby table say in quite a nasty tone, ‘Well, why don’t you skite about it!’ Now I had not meant to boast in any way. In fact, my aim was to point out how foolish I was to try to impress others with my academic achievements and thus make me more popular. That night, that little word ‘skite’ I overheard sounded particularly ugly to me. And, rightly or wrongly, I decided to respond.

‘That’s the very point I’m making,’ I told this lady, who now seemed just a little embarrassed. ‘Why skite about such things? There’s so much more to us than what we can achieve or do well. And it’s foolish to depend on these things to win friends and impress others.’

Maybe I should have let the comment pass, but words like ‘skite’, ‘brag’ and ‘boast’ do not go down well with me! And that might be why some words Paul wrote on the topic caught my eye recently:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the word to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Paul then quotes the prophet Jeremiah:

Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (31)

I then checked out the passage in Jeremiah where these words come from—and what treasure I found there!

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24

Wow—what a wonderful Lord we are privileged to know! Who else could ever treat us with such perfect justice and righteousness or delight to show us such kindness? Only our Lord—and I’m happy to be accused of boasting about him anytime.

Made it!

Jo 17Who would have thought? Way back in July 2009, I started my personal blog journey, wondering whether I would continue to have enough things to write about. Yet here I am, five hundred blogs later, still finding something each week to share with others.  Also during this time, I have written over ninety blogs for various Christian author groups, sharing lessons from my writing journey and encouraging other authors. Phew!

Now that represents a lot of words cobbled together—around 325,000 in fact. If I had decided not to blog and instead shaped all those words into full-length books, I could have produced three and a half more novels in that time, to add to those I did manage to complete and see through to publication. No one made me choose to churn out those blogs each week, but I continued doing it for various reasons.

Firstly on a practical level, committing myself to producing a blog each week—or perhaps several ahead of time, if I planned to be away or had a busy schedule coming up—has kept me writing consistently, even if that meant less time to spend on bigger writing projects. Also, for wordy writers like me, it is good discipline to restrict myself to around 550 words, while attempting to say something worthwhile each week!

But perhaps more importantly, writing my blogs has become a little ministry that seems to suit my particular gifts and personality well and provides a way for me to connect with those I have known in past years, as well as many readers I don’t know personally at all. It is a way I can encourage others via sharing something God has done in my life or some lesson I have taken to heart from God’s Word or perhaps something God seems to highlight in the people, places or events in the world around me. And in the process, I often encourage myself all over again, as I reflect on what I feel God wants me to say and crystallise those thoughts running around in my brain.

Recently, I chatted with a friend who was preparing a eulogy for the funeral of a close relative. I shared with her how some of Jesus’ words as he prays to his heavenly Father, just prior to being arrested, had challenged me that morning:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. John 17:4

How wonderful it would be, we decided, if we, like Jesus, could truly say that at the end of our time here on earth! It is what we both aim for in our lives—to do the work God has given us to do, however big or small that might be. And I feel that my writing, including my little effort with my blogs, has been part of that work God has gifted and enabled me to do.

Recently when I spoke at an event, I mentioned some similar words that the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and that I would like at my own funeral:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I hope I can say that when my time comes. Is that your hope too?