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Archive for March, 2010

I had a humbling experience this week.  It happened like this.  I was in the middle of a rather heated phone conversation with a business associate when this person, during the course of a prolonged harangue, declared that he and his colleagues were ‘not unintelligent’.  He then proceeded to defend his actions (or lack of them) even further, but at that point I cut in – or tried to.  I wanted with all my heart to strike back, so began telling him, I’m sure in equally heated manner, that that was in fact how I felt he was treating me – as someone quite unintelligent and stupid.

But here’s what happened next.  As I began hurling my own insults back, he spoke over the top of me – even more so than he had already.  But this time he told me he couldn’t hear me clearly because the line was ‘crackly’ – that sometimes it did that, that he was very sorry but would I please repeat what I had just said?  At first, I was unsure I had heard him correctly myself.  The line wasn’t ‘crackly’ my end – except with my own fury!  I could hear perfectly well – so well that it made me very sceptical he was in fact speaking the truth.  At that point, however, I regained a little more sanity.  What was the point of playing ‘tit for tat’?  How would any rude comments of mine help?  With wisdom way beyond my own, I therefore told him, albeit rather curtly, that what I had said didn’t matter.

With the beauty of hindsight, I believe God rescued me.  I believe God stepped in, called a halt, and put a firm hand over my mouth!  Little did this business associate know God was using such lack of self-discipline and possible lack of Christian integrity on his part to shock me into realising I could respond in a much better way.  Indeed I have to, if I am going to take seriously what God says.  Listen to Proverbs 17:27-28, for starters:

A man of knowledge uses words of restraint

                And a man of understanding is even-tempered.

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,

                And discerning if he holds his tongue.

And then there is James 1:26 – and what a punch it pulls!

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

That certainly doesn’t leave me with many excuses.  Neither does Ephesians 4:29:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

I did not feel built up or encouraged at all at the end of this particular phone conversation.  But I would have felt much worse if this person had actually heard all the words I had tried to hurl at him.  I suspect he has lots of needs.  I don’t know what would benefit him most, but hopefully there are those closer to him who do and who will act in love towards him.  In the meantime, I’m so grateful that God reached out to me in love, put his hand over my mouth and reminded me to close it!

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Take a moment to sit and reflect on your life.  Really reflect, I mean.  What drives you and motivates you?  Who or what is at the back of your thoughts, as you go about your day?  Is it your work itself – is that what gives meaning and purpose to your life?  Is it your family or friends?  Is it your hobbies and pastimes perhaps?  All of these are key parts of our lives – but what if one or more were taken away?  Is there something underneath or beyond it all that would still make life worth living?  Who or what holds supremacy in life for you?

You know, sometimes I think we believe we’ve answered this question for ourselves, only to find that over time, our priorities begin to change and the lines somehow become a little blurred.  We embark on a whole new part of our lives – perhaps marriage or children or new career or retirement – fully believing we have everything in the right balance.  But then gradually we experience a vague dissatisfaction or disquiet, even perhaps frustration, as we go about our days.  What has happened?  What have we perhaps lost sight of, even if momentarily?

I say this with feeling, because I have to keep a watchful eye on this myself.  As a writer, I can easily slip into believing that my novels, plus the accompanying speaking and promotional work, are the ‘be all and end all’ for me.  And that can lead me down a rocky path fraught with danger.  For starters, it leaves me open to huge self-doubt when bookstores decide not to stock my books or when the novel I’m working on refuses to come together or when the speaking engagement I hoped would emerge doesn’t.  Don’t get me wrong – I love being an author and all that comes with it, but in the end, that can’t be what I live for.  It can’t have final supremacy in my life, otherwise I will find myself on shaky ground.  Instead, as I was reminded of so powerfully from Scripture this morning, for me Jesus Christ has to be the one who remains supreme.

In Colossians 1:17-18, we find these words:

He [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

In everything.  That means, for me, every part of my life – including my writing.  Once I get that straight, things begin to fall into perspective again.  Then I know who I belong to, I know who I’m really writing for, I know who tells me my true value – and it’s not publishers or booksellers or even my readers!  They are all very important to me – but I can’t stake my life and my wellbeing on their opinion of me, however wonderful it is.  With all my heart, I want Jesus Christ to be Lord of my life, to have supremacy over everything else.  After all, he made me, he knows me through and through, he loves me unconditionally, he died for me – and he is completely trustworthy.

How about you?  Who or what has supremacy in your life?

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I have often heard the comment that being an author is not for the fainthearted – and I would tend to agree.  There is so much uncertainty in the book world at the moment, with the advent of e-books and the recent economic crisis.  And as an Australian Christian novelist, it is a challenge at times to stay positive when bookstores seem to be ordering fewer Australian novels from Australian publishers, opting instead for the cheaper overseas product.  Yet there is a market here for good Australian novels, I believe – everywhere I speak and offer my books for sale, people seem happy to find something different written by a ‘home-grown’ author.

So how can I and others in similar situations remain positive and hopeful, rather than succumb to gloom and despair and give up?  Well, this week I read some verses in Philippians 4 that challenged me all over again in this regard.  In verses 6-7 we read:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I want to be a person of peace, don’t you?  I want to remain focussed on Jesus, trusting him to use whatever I write for his purposes.  I believe I am doing what he wants me to do, so my role is to write and speak to the best of my ability, but also to surround everything in prayer, constantly bringing my concerns to him rather than allow myself to be consumed with worry and negative thoughts.  And I need to be thankful too for all he has done for me already, not only in regard to my novels, but even more importantly in my whole life. 

There are some ancient words of meditation I often use as I sit at my desk that ground me in God’s peace and remind me of the ‘big picture’ truths about who I am in God.  They go like this:

God is with me now, closer than breathing

And nearer than hands and feet

God has made me for Himself

I come from God

I belong to God

I go to God

God knows me

God loves me

God has a use for me

Now and forever

I can say those words and know they are truth because Jesus came to this world and died for me – and for you.  As I remain in Christ Jesus, God will watch over me and will guard my heart and mind, as Philippians 4:7 says.  Because I belong to a totally wise and loving God, I don’t have to lose heart.  Because God is with me in every way and in everything and has a purpose for my life, I don’t have to live with a mind in turmoil.  God’s peace is there for me to embrace – a peace that defies explanation and is way beyond our understanding.

So I’m going to pray for our Australian Christian publishers and booksellers.  And I will keep on writing my novels and be at peace as I do.  And may the God of peace be with you too, whatever God has called you to do in your life.

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This morning, as I read from Luke’s Gospel, I was bowled over yet again by the amazing grace and patience of Jesus.  He is sitting at the table with his disciples and they have just celebrated the Last Supper together, when a dispute apparently occurs as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  Jesus cuts through all their arguing and tells them that is not to be their attitude.  Instead they are to serve, just as he served them.  But then he goes on to address Simon Peter in particular:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31-32)

What an amazing glimpse into Jesus’ heart for Simon Peter and for us!  Jesus, the Son of God, out of love and concern for this man, puts time and effort into praying for him, that his faith will remain firm.  All this, despite knowing Peter will in fact deny him soon after, as the following verses show.  Jesus obviously loves and believes enough in this passionate disciple of his to forgive, even ahead of time, the hurt and pain of Peter’s denial, so soon after asserting he would be prepared to experience prison and death for Jesus’ sake.  But what’s more, Jesus actively prays in faith that he will repent and return to being the passionate disciple and leader Jesus knows he can be.  Jesus says ‘when you have turned back’, not ‘if you turn back’.  And he also shows his complete trust in Peter’s future willingness and ability to strengthen his ‘brothers’.

How incredibly humbling it must have been for Simon Peter to hear that Jesus, the Son of God, was praying for him!  How incredibly humbling it is for me to sit here today and realise that even now, according to Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, still pleading for me and for each one of us.  However much we have fallen short of the person he wants us to be, however much we have ignored or denied him, he still reaches out to us in love, reminding us that he died for us, that we belong to him, that we can step up yet again and encourage others, as we rely on his strength.

In John 21, we see how Jesus, after his resurrection, meets Simon Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and reinstates him.  He asks him the pointed question three times: ‘Do you love me?’, and three times Simon Peter strongly affirms he does.  May this be our hearts today.  May each one of us realise afresh today that Jesus is ‘for’us, that he loves and believes in us and that he longs for us to remain firm, just as he did as he prayed for Peter.

And may we too extend this same amazing grace and patience to others, knowing we would not be where we are except for Jesus, who pleads even now on our behalf.

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Last week, as I was cruising along the M4 freeway west of Sydney, a large advertisement on an overpass caught my attention.  It was for a well-known chain of stores and said very little really – just two words in bold letters:

EXPECT CHANGE’

Yes, the ad did make me curious as to what sort of changes I might be likely to find in the particular chain of stores mentioned.  But more than that, it made me think whether I needed to hear such a message for my own life as well.  You see, I’m what you might call the archetypal ‘glass half empty’ person most of the time.  I can see possibilities in an idea or venture, but I’m also very good at seeing all the disasters that might occur as a result and the difficulties that might be encountered along the way!  That might well be a good characteristic to have at times, but it can also make one fearful about the future and reluctant to make any changes.  And it can lead to hopelessness and some degree of depression at least.

Yet life is all about change, isn’t it?  And the Christian life even more so.  After all, Jesus himself said:

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

So our Christian journey begins with radical change and continues on that way, since we are urged several times in Scripture to keep on growing in God.  Peter, for example, tells us to be like newborn babies and to ‘crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Pet 2:2).

Yet more than that, we belong to a God with whom nothing is impossible – a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and ever present, a God who hears and answers prayer, a God whose heart for us is just the same as it was towards his people way back in Jeremiah’s time:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)

Our role is to have faith in our amazing God, to expect that things will change and be different as we step out in trust and reliance on him.  Our role is to love God with our whole heart and to believe that his heart is for us, that he knows what is happening to us and is involved in our lives.  Around the same time as seeing the ‘Expect change’ sign on the freeway, I was also very challenged by a simple question Jesus asks in Luke 18:8:

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

I want to be full of faith in God.  While I might ‘count the cost’ carefully and weigh things up, I want also to be someone who is hopeful, expectant, up for any changes God might bring.  And I definitely want to be ready when the Son of Man comes.

How about you?

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