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Archive for March, 2011

The discussion flowed back and forth in our lounge room. Our son had just maintained to us that he does not fear God. What he meant, he hastily assured us, was that while he does stand in awe of God, he does not ‘fear’ God in the way we usually understand this word. God for him is a loving, forgiving Father and a close Friend whom he can approach at any time.

Also present in our lounge room was our new son-in-law, who comes from Ghana. And Kofi was determined to have his say too. He and our daughter Tina had just returned from a few weeks in Ghana, so the memory of what they had seen there was fresh in their minds. In Kofi’s hometown, all the houses have bars around them to stop people breaking in. And any showers, toilets etc outside the houses have locks on them – otherwise if you go out there at night, people can hide there and attack you. Yet virtually the whole town closes down on Sundays as most people go to church – and there are plenty of churches to choose from.

So what is going on here? Kofi explained that when his people still had their old gods, everyone could leave their houses unlocked and nothing would disappear. You see, the people were really scared of these gods and the power they had to bring down curses on you and punish you if you did wrong. But once they had their ‘new’ God, things changed. This new God was, and is, different – this new God is loving and kind and forgiving and understanding. So it seems the people aren’t scared to do wrong things because they know if they confess them, they will be forgiven. In their new-found freedom, they have forgotten about the fear of the Lord – and they have also overlooked what Paul says in Romans 6:1-2:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

But I suspect it isn’t only some people in Kofi’s hometown who live this way. How often have I myself had thoughts such as ‘Well, I’ll just go ahead and say that cutting comment or pass on that juicy bit of gossip. God won’t mind!’? Of course it’s wonderful that when we do repent and ask for forgiveness, God freely gives it to us. Yet surely it is right for us to remember who God is and that one day we will all stand before this awesome God and be called upon to give account for our lives?

Recently I read a comment written by Australian man working in the Middle East: In the West we’ve largely forgotten God’s wrath and chosen to focus on His love. We’ve created a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out God, who can only have one emotion at a time – and only the emotion we like. Yet the Bible continually reminds us that God is angry with those who rebel against Him. Hmm …  And I am also reminded of Hebrews 12:28-29:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire”.

So may we all continue to live our lives filled with awe of God – but also with the grace of God.  Let’s ‘fear’ – but not fear. And hopefully one day in heaven we will understand fully how God holds both of these in perfect tension.

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Today I am embarking on a trip to Tasmania – a place I have always wanted to visit. I have been invited to speak at a conference there and a few other places in the next two weeks. And we hope to have a holiday and enjoy some of the beautiful places and scenery as well.

Now we have planned ahead for this trip. I have thought and prayed about my input and I hope I have made the right decisions with all that. I have plenty of my novels on hand to sell too at these venues. And my husband has worked out the routes we will take and printed out copious number so Google maps! I have also made sure my little prayer team who support me so well wherever I speak knows my itinerary and can follow me on my journey as they are able. But there still comes a time, I find, when I look at all the speaking engagements and travel ahead and feel a little overwhelmed. Besides that, for a few weeks now I have struggled with back trouble and sciatica pain – just when I really need to be full of energy and on top of things! So in my weakness, crazy thoughts begin to come into my head. What if I haven’t prepared appropriate material? What if I speak for too long? What if I have my speaking engagements mixed up? What if we can’t find the places on time? What if I’m in too much pain? What if …? And so the list goes on.

It’s then that I pull myself up short, and realise God has been trying to get through to me for a while now. Lately, I have been reading the book of 1 Samuel and taking in all the ups and downs of Saul’s and David’s lives. Somehow I don’t think I would have liked David’s experience of having to flee for his life from Saul, fight endless battles, live in caves and desert strongholds and be in danger on so many fronts. Many times, his heart must have failed him when people betrayed him and tried to deliver him into Saul’s hands, when his motives and loyalty were doubted, when he was forced to live among the Philistines, and certainly when his wives and sons and daughters were taken captive. On that occasion, Scripture tells us that ‘David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep’ (1 Sam 30:4).

Yet it seems to me that David knew exactly where – or who – to go to in order to find the strength he needed. On an earlier occasion when Saul was searching for him day after day, we are told that Saul’s son Jonathan came to him in the desert ‘and helped him find strength in God’ (1 Sam 23:16). Then when David’s family was taken captive, we read how, on top of that, his own men were talking about stoning him since they too had lost their wives and sons and daughters. Yet in the midst of all this grief and turmoil, the next sentence we read says simply this:

But David found strength in the Lord his God. (1 Sam 30:6b)

I think any qualms I might have about our upcoming trip pale into insignificance for sure against David’s dreadful experiences. So yes, Lord – I get the message! And I know as I look to you, I will find all the strength I need for whatever lies ahead.

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Next week, I plan to give away something I have hung onto for over thirty years and never used in all that time. It is a Fowler’s Vacola bottling or preserving outfit, complete with large, metal boiler, thermometer, clamps and around three dozen glass jars and lids. My sister is soon to move to a large, country town and hopes to make good use of it there.

I first began bottling when we moved to Victor Harbor, South Australia, thirty-seven years ago. To our delight, we discovered several fruit trees in the backyard of our new home – an apricot tree, a huge nectarine tree and two varieties of peach trees. When summer came, we were inundated with fruit, so I decided to buy a preserving outfit and ask one of the local ladies to show me how to bottle fruit.

It was a very satisfying endeavour. I learnt how to overlap the fruit in the bottles so it would look attractive, how to achieve just the right level of sweetness in the syrup and how to seal those bottles well. It was a lot of work, but it was so wonderful to have a supply of homemade preserves on hand, especially when unexpected visitors arrived. When we moved to Adelaide and then interstate, I thought I would buy fruit and keep on bottling, but it never eventuated. The fruit was too expensive and besides, I no longer had the time. So even though I loved the idea, I gave up on it.

And now as I pack up my old bottling outfit, I see something of a parable of the Christian life in it all. Many times, it seems we taste the sweetness of a close relationship with God and reap the benefits of this in our lives. But then things happen. Our lifestyle changes or we get too busy or Christians disappoint us or we think we know it all – and God is marginalised in our lives, even perhaps packed in a box, put on a high shelf and forgotten about.

But God doesn’t forget us. We might forget God – but God is different. ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’, the Lord says to Joshua in Joshua 1:5. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me’ David writes in Psalm 27:10. And God tells the children of Israel something similar in Isaiah 49:15:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

We can even try to fool ourselves and others and pretend our faith in God is still vital to us, but God sees through it all. Psalm 139:1-4 describes how the Lord knows us intimately – our thoughts, our actions, even the words we haven’t yet said. But God is so faithful to us – and so merciful.

My parable falls down, however, in that I am giving away my preserving outfit – yet I certainly don’t intend to give my faith in God away! I want to remain full of God’s sweetness and flavour until the end, just like that wonderful fruit I used to preserve. And I know God will keep me that way, as I continue to stay close to him and allow his Spirit to permeate my life.

So how about you? Have you put God up on the shelf in your life somewhere?

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I wonder if you have ever tried your hand at selling something you have created or produced? Recently I spent the large part of a day selling my four published novels at a conference – always an interesting experience, to say the least!

I choose to sell my books directly, as well as via my website and through bookstores, for several reasons. For starters, people are more likely to buy books when they can meet the author face to face. I always offer to sign my books too – I tell my customers that when I am very famous they can put their copies on ebay and make their fortunes! After all, one has to remain optimistic in this novel writing and bookselling world.

But there are other advantages to selling in this way. I get to network with a wide variety of people and have some wonderful conversations in the process. I can explain what my books are about and how and why I came to write them. I can sit and observe people as they walk past – it is amazing how this little thing about one person and that little detail about another finds their way into my novels!  I can encourage others who are perhaps dreaming of writing a book one day. I always take the opportunity to write ‘God bless’ alongside my name on each novel I sell – for me these words are a ‘mini-prayer’ that God will truly bless and encourage anyone who reads the book. And when I finally hand over the purchase, I feel as if I am giving away part of me.

Yet I can well understand some authors’ reluctance to spend time personally selling their books. It is quite confronting to have people pick up your books that you have slaved over, browse through them with a bored look on their faces, put them down and walk away. It is even more confronting when you spend time answering all their questions, only to have them still walk away empty-handed.

But one experience that always amuses me is when people openly declare to you, the author, that instead of buying your book, they will simply borrow the copy their friend has just bought! Recently another author told me of an experience she had where there was a line-up of potential customers at her book table. Suddenly the girl at the head of the queue had a bright idea. ‘I know!’ she announced loudly to her friends lined up behind her. ‘Why don’t I buy just the one copy and you can all borrow mine – that would be much better!” At which point, her friends agreed and the queue dissolved. Well yes – it is ‘much better’ in some ways. After all, I myself lend out lots of books I own to others. I understand not everyone has spare cash to spend on books. But … well, from the author’s perspective, let’s just say it might be wiser – and nicer – to decide you will borrow your friend’s copy instead of buying one before you get to that book table, within earshot of the author!

I think the secret is to approach such selling opportunities with an open heart, trusting God will bring to my book table the people I am supposed to touch base with and those whom my novels will truly bless and inspire. And I also think it’s wise always to remember the words of Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

So thank you, Lord, for each sale you bring my way and for all those who will read my books. May they be blessed, encouraged, comforted and challenged – and above all, be drawn closer to you!

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My family will tell you I am not the world’s best patient. There is too much to do to lie still for long – after all, I have my latest novel to edit and speaking engagements to prepare for. And yet I know the severe sciatica in my right leg has a much greater chance of improving if I look after myself, apply heat to the affected area and stay off my feet as much as I can. I know too that pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will help – and yet I am reluctant to take them. I try to remain stoic – and not too grouchy and grumpy!

So what’s to be done? Well, eventually I do rest and take medication – but I also pray. And when I pray, I have two things in mind. Firstly, I ask God to bring healing and relief from the pain – at least enough to enable me to speak where I’m supposed to speak.  I know God can do this, because I have experienced it before. Several years ago, I was about to head to Turkey to visit a friend, when I ended up with excruciating lower back pain. We had planned a holiday together in the mountains near the Black Sea, which I knew would involve carrying a heavy backpack, climbing on and off buses, sleeping in hard beds – plus lots of walking. How would I ever manage? I couldn’t let me friend down – and besides, I really wanted to go. So I finally asked someone to pray for me at church one day for healing. At first, nothing seemed to happen – and I must admit I was slightly sceptical about it all. But later that afternoon, the pain lessened and finally lifted altogether. And during my time in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem doing all the things we had planned to do – praise God!

But the second thing I ask God as I pray is what I can learn through this time of pain. Is it perhaps that I have become a little too self-reliant, thinking I can do everything in my own strength? Is it that I need to learn to empathise more with others who are going through painful times? Or is it merely to develop more patience and perseverance in me? After all, writing novels does need both these qualities in vast measures – especially when it comes to that painstaking editing and re-writing process I have just begun.

And while I wait for God to answer both aspects of my prayer, I try to relax, knowing God is listening and will never forsake me. I am held in God’s loving arms, now and forever. I don’t know how or when God will answer, but I will keep praying and not give up, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18). Jesus ends this story with some words I always find quite sad and challenging:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

I want to be among those who are found to be full of faith. I want to learn to trust God more, whatever the circumstances. And right now, I pray for you too, if you are persevering through pain in any way. May God bring healing to you, just as you need, and the strength to stand firm until the end.

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