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Archive for February, 2010

Have you ever had the experience of sensing that the person to whom you are speaking is having trouble working out exactly where you ‘fit’ in the scheme of things, according to how he or she sees the world?  Have you ever seen that slightly confused, glazed expression appear, accompanied by some vague comment that peters out into nothing, as the person disengages from you and retreats to safer ground?

Since embarking on my crazy writing journey, I personally have experienced this many times.  And that’s one of the reasons I love this beautiful poem someone passed onto me recently, written by the fourteenth century Sufi poet Hafiz:

The small man

Builds cages for everyone

He knows,

While the sage,

Who has to duck his head

When the moon is low,

Keeps dropping keys all night long

For the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners.

Some years back now, a friend wrote me an anguished email, when her way of life and of doing things was questioned by those whose role it should have been to encourage and build her up.  Instead, they inferred how wrong it was of her to dare to be different from them and how strange the choice she had made to ‘step out of the box’ was.  Here’s part of what she wrote:  When people are used to thinking in a certain way, it seems so hard for them to think differently or accept something different, or to think it might have merits, or to think that there just might be some faults in the way things are done in the status quo too!!! They only seem to be able to find fault with the attempts that people make to try and think outside the box.  Is it really so comfortable inside the box that it hurts people so much to consider stepping out of it?  What is it about the box that stops people from thinking how it could be outside of it or makes people try to bring the people outside of the box back into the safety of the box, with its familiar hard walls, corners … limits?   

I won’t attempt to answer my friend’s questions here, but like her, I don’t want to be confined to the same old box all my life.  And I don’t want to make people fit into a box that isn’t the right ‘shape’ for them either or cause them to feel too restricted and uncomfortable.  As a Christian, I believe God has much more than that for each one of us.  I believe God’s heart is to bring freedom for us all through Jesus and then to strengthen us to be all we are called and gifted to be in this life, whatever shape or form that might take.  In Luke 4, we read how Jesus claimed that the Spirit of the Lord had sent him ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ – and he is still doing that today. 

So let’s all stand tall in God, letting him tell us who we are.  Who knows – we may even have to duck our heads if the moon is low!  Let’s walk in the true freedom God gives – and let’s not forget too to keep on dropping keys for all the beautiful, rowdy prisoners!

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Possibly the only thing I am disappointed about with the study I have finally acquired for myself in our home is the fact that when I look out of the window beside my desk, what meets my eye is the ugly fibro wall of the neighbour’s garage and the paling fence between their property and ours.  Yet this morning, when I looked out, my eyes travelled upwards and I realised I could see the tops of the trees growing in the park on the other side of our neighbour’s house.  And high up in the branches of the tallest tree there I saw two birds.  They were perched precariously on two of the topmost slender branches, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that these branches were swaying markedly as the wind blew them and as they bent under the weight of the birds themselves.

I returned to my Scripture reading for the day and a few moments later read these words from Luke 13:18-19:

What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.

As I reflected on this, I realised that I can choose to view the words I will write in the hours ahead of me this morning – or any day – as mustard seeds.  I ‘sow’ them, if you like, as I carefully choose which word to use and blend them together with others in whole sentences and paragraphs.  I read and re-read, trying to find the right combination that will convey exactly what I feel needs to be conveyed at that particular point and through that particular character.  Often I end up deleting what I have written and begin to ‘re-plant’, this time in a different way.  All the while, I am hoping that the words I write will combine with the whole, each in their own individual and important way, to form a story fashioned under God’s hand – perhaps even a story that will touch people’s hearts and lives and hopefully bear fruit for the kingdom.  And daily, as my story grows, I continue to craft it and fine hone it, shaping it in the way that best conveys the seeds of truth it contains, as far as I am able.  And as I do, I try to stay close to God, so that God’s very Spirit will somehow draw my readers to find their place in the story.  Perhaps they will rest there for a moment, perching on the branches, as it were, regaining strength and being challenged to spread their wings yet again and continue their own journey of being who God intends them to be for the kingdom. 

The wind is still buffeting that tree I can see from my window, even as I look now.  But the birds are gone.  May you too go out into your world today, strengthened by God to sow whatever ‘mustard seeds’ you have been given.  And may you face whatever you need to with peace, hope and joy, as you seek to play your part in God’s kingdom.

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For some reason, I can’t say I always enjoy phoning up people, even if they are well known to me.  Firstly, I don’t like the thought of interrupting them in whatever they are doing, but more importantly, I can’t always tell by the conversation that ensues, exactly how they are feeling.  Over the years, I’ve learnt to look at people’s faces and especially their eyes, to try to discern how they are actually travelling – whether they are tired or sad or worried or whether they are doing well and are at peace with the world.  I might come to the wrong conclusions, but at least it gives me much more of a clue than merely hearing someone’s voice on the phone. 

Of course the tone of our voice does often convey quite a bit  – I may pick up at least some degree of tiredness or discouragement or joy or excitement through a phone conversation.  On the other hand, meeting face to face with someone means we can not only see their expressions and reactions but also take note of actual body language.  And occasionally we can just sense in some way too, irrespective of what we see and hear, whether a person is bothered by something.  But beyond even that, I do believe God can give us insights on occasions into another’s heart so that we can help them move forward into greater wholeness.  I have experienced that in counselling with others and have also been on the receiving end myself of such ‘words of knowledge’ or whatever one might choose to call them.  I remember one occasion when I was sitting with a friend of mine who happens to be blind during a training course.  I was worried about something in the course, but hadn’t said anything.  I was simply sitting near her but not touching.  And of course she couldn’t see me.  Yet suddenly she said to me: It’s okay, Joey – you don’t have to worry about it!  To this day I can’t honestly say whether some sense or intuition, heightened by her blindness, caused her to have that insight, or whether God prompted her and gave her the words to say.  Knowing my friend, I suspect the latter, but either way it was a very comforting moment for me.

God can prompt us in this way because he is all-knowing, all-powerful and ever present.  He sees us ‘face to face’ every day of our lives, as it were – he knows my very thoughts and is ‘familiar with all my ways’, as Psalm 139:3 says.  And one day I too will have the amazing privilege of seeing him face to face and will understand so much more:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

That blows my mind.  How about you?

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I wonder if you’re like me and don’t greatly relish being told what to do at times.  Of course, it depends on who’s doing the telling – and what the context is.  But in general, I like to make my own mind up about things.

I remember my poor mother telling me more than once in an exasperated tone when I questioned why I had to do this or that: ‘Because I said so!’  I vowed I’d never say this to our own children – and yet they tell me I certainly did!  So perhaps it was because of all this that I noticed this same phrase recently in Luke’s Gospel.

In Chapter 5, the picture is painted for us of Jesus getting into Simon’s boat on the Sea of Galilee and asking him to pull out from the shore, so he can teach the word of God more easily from there to the people crowding around him.  Simon does that, but in verse 4 we read that when Jesus had finished speaking, he told him:

Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.

It seems Simon almost baulks at this.  You can hear the resignation in his voice as he replies:

Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.

‘Because you say so’ – that was the clincher for him.  Simon seems to have seen and heard enough from Jesus to know that obeying him might be a good idea.  And sure enough, in the next few verses we read how they caught so many fish that the nets began to break.  They signalled to their partners in another boat to come and help – and as they hauled in all the fish, both boats began to sink! The passage ends with Simon Peter falling down in astonishment and awe before Jesus, as does his partners.  Then they pull their boats up on the shore, leave everything and follow him.

How would it be if we all had that same response to Jesus?  How would it be if I listened carefully every time to what Jesus tells me to do and then hopped straight in and did it?  Sometimes I do.  But sometimes I rationalise or procrastinate or am just plain disobedient too.

So this coming year, obedient to this prompting from God’s word, I’m choosing to say: ‘Lord, because you say so, I will “let down the nets” for another year with my writing and speaking.  I will put myself out there, so others can hear and respond to you, as you have gifted me – and I will leave the results to you.

May you hear God’s word for you too in 2010 – and may your nets be full to overflowing!

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