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Archive for June, 2011

I never cease to be amazed at the new discoveries I make each time I read the Gospels. Just when I least expect it, God kind of ‘ambushes’ me with some truth that leaves me almost breathless with its profound challenge.

One day this past week, I was happily wending my way through John’s Gospel when I came to the following words:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:2-5)

My mouth fell open as I registered the massive contrast in these words. On the one hand, here is Jesus, knowing full well who he is and that he has all power and authority from his Father God. But on the other, here is the all-powerful Son of God choosing to strip down, wrap a towel around him and undertake the humble task of washing his disciples’ dusty feet. It is almost too shocking to take in, and I can well relate to Peter when he objects strongly (6-10).

Yet even as I am trying to register what this means for me, I find it clearly spelt out by Jesus himself:

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, not is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (15-17)

But this is a slightly bitter pill for me to swallow. I’m not sure I want to negate myself and serve others. I want to do the interesting, exciting things in ministry. And that doesn’t include washing dirty feet or cleaning up after others or helping behind the scenes where my wonderful efforts will not be recognised. Yet Jesus says I will be blessed if I do these things. So how does that work?

And then, as God’s Spirit gently but firmly wrestles with my own rebellious spirit, I begin to understand. Jesus knew who he was, where he had come from and where he was going – no one could take those truths away from him. He also knew he was here to do his Father’s will. And right now, because of Jesus, I can live my life with this same sure knowledge. I know I am God’s precious child, totally loved, forgiven and accepted through Jesus. I know I was created in God’s image and have been recreated through faith in Jesus. And I also know that God has a place prepared for me in heaven that will last for eternity.

Is it really such a problem to choose the humble road, just as Jesus did? How does the highest honour in this world compare with the privilege of spending eternity with God in heaven? I may well, in theory at least, produce the greatest novel ever and be feted as the next Francine Rivers, but if I lose my servant heart, the heart that Jesus had, then it is all pretty meaningless.

So right now, I’m heading off to find that towel to wrap around my waist. How about you?

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I have been interviewed twice for radio in recent times. The first was for Jenny Baxter’s Sunday morning show on FM106Five in Hobart and the second for ‘Sunday Night with Kel Richards’ on 2CH in Sydney. Both were phone interviews and I was given prior warning when they would take place. All I had to do was be available, well prepared and as alert as possible.

My interviewers were wonderful. Jenny was warm and relaxed and quickly put me at my ease. And when I mixed up the date of a speaking engagement, I was reassured that would be edited out anyway. Kel Richards was equally warm and friendly, but I knew I could not mess up my answers, since I understand studio time for his popular show is at a premium and there would be minimal editing, if any. As our phone interview drew near, I spread out ‘prompt sheets’ around me with answers to questions I thought he might ask. I also had my novels nearby – just in case, in the heat of the moment, I forgot what I had written about!

Kel asked me around seven questions. I ‘um-ed’ and ‘ah-ed’ my way through the first couple a little, but there was no time even for a quick glance at my ‘prompt sheets’. This was ‘sudden death’ – and a very public death at that!!  I consoled myself, however, with the thought that at 11.10pm on a cold, wet Sunday evening, perhaps there would not be too many people wide awake enough to witness my demise.

But then I drew a deep breath and realised this was not the moment to be hesitant in any way. I knew what my novels were about. I knew why I wrote what I had and who I hoped would read my novels. I even knew how I would encourage young novelists in their writing journey. These were the sorts of questions that were unfolding as we talked. Besides, I wanted at least one person to phone in and win the copy of my latest novel ‘Helena’s Legacy’ Kel was offering as a prize for the listener who answered his bible quiz question correctly!

After our call finished, I thought about the responses I gave and how differently I would have answered the questions second time around. But in the end, I decided I had done my best – I had responded as honestly and promptly as possible. So all I had to do now was trust God with the outcome.

But the whole experience also made me think about how I need to be equally prepared on a daily basis to answer questions about my faith in God in that same eager, truthful, prompt way. In 1 Peter 3: 15-16 we read:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

We have to be ready and willing at a moment’s notice – chances are there won’t be any prior warning or prompt sheets. But we will have God’s Spirit with us who will give us just the right words to say and all the grace and sensitivity we need.

Now that puts me much more at ease than even the best interviewer possibly could. How about you?

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I wonder how many of you, authors or otherwise, struggle with this whole area of looking for praise for what we produce? I  have been thinking about this in connection with the recent release of my fifth novel Heléna’s Legacy. Of course I want people to like this book. And of course I want it to impact and encourage as many people as possible. After all, I believe in this novel – and I believe it was something God wanted me to write. So I’m happy to get out there and promote it for all it’s worth. And I’m very pleased (and relieved!) when people respond positively – when they congratulate me, when they say they love the cover, when they warm to what I’ve written.

In one sense, I have to ‘pursue’ praise. By that I mean I have to listen to my readers – there is no point in continuing to produce novels no one likes and no one buys. And that includes taking on board praise as well as criticism. But in my uncertainty as to whether my book is ‘good enough’, I find myself on occasions seeking so desperately for that reassuring praise that may never come. I look too eagerly for people’s responses. My wellbeing begins to depend on it. I analyse their words too closely and, if face to face, try to discern if they mean what they’re saying. Perhaps they’re merely trying to be nice and not hurt me. Or perhaps while they compliment me on some aspect of the novel, they’re secretly glad they can find at least something positive to say about it!

So where is the point where I begin to seek praise for praise’s sake only – to make me feel good or to boost my ego – rather than look for it to show me I have written something that will be well-received and hopefully used by God? Where do I step over into self-centredness, caring more about my own honour rather than God’s? Where is the dividing line between humbly and thankfully accepting people’s praise and letting it go to my head?

I guess the real question in my heart is this: Whose praise am I seeking the most – men’s (and women’s!) or God’s? Recently I read the account in John 5 of how Jesus heals a disabled man, telling him to pick up his mat and walk, but is persecuted for this because it is the Sabbath. The persecution then gets worse when Jesus calls God Father, yet this doesn’t deter him from confronting his opponents even more strongly. ‘I know you,’ he tells them (v 42). ‘I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ Then he asks a question that pulled me up short: ‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’ (v 44)

Yes, I know and am so thankful for the fact that I am fully accepted by God and saved by grace – that none of my works, written or otherwise, will ever ‘earn’ me eternal life. But here Jesus clearly shows the importance of taking God’s opinion of us into account over that of mere mortals, of living in a way that please God above all else. And I’m sure you too look forward to the day when, like the faithful servant in Matthew 25, we ourselves hear our Master’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (v 21)

Now that’s definitely some praise worth pursuing, don’t you agree?

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If you’re wondering right now what on earth a croquembouche is, then please check out the photo opposite. This one was a gift from our elder daughter to our younger daughter Tina and her husband Kofi for their recent wedding celebration – and what a work of art it was! It was created by Jean-Francois Perron of ‘Choco Cannelle’ (www.chococannelle.com.au) and is a French celebration cake made from profiteroles filled with crème patissiere. The profiteroles were dipped in toffee and the whole creation liberally decorated with more toffee and a sprinkling of nuts and sugared almonds. Along with some separately baked profiteroles, this croquembouche (literally, ‘crunch in the mouth’) was the dessert for around a hundred guests at the wedding reception.

It was an extremely generous gift from one sister to another, but the journey of obtaining the croquembouche was not without its hiccups. Jane thought she had understood exactly how many profiteroles would be in the croquembouche. However, to our horror, her sister discovered only the day before that there would not be nearly enough to go round our guests. Yet all was not lost. After some panic and tears and a quick visit to the patisserie to pay for extra profiteroles, the problem was solved. And on the night, when everyone had finished oohing and aahing and taking photos, the kitchen staff pulled our croquembouche apart and we proceeded to munch our way through it.

Some days later, for some odd reason it occurred to me that this is how we often treat God’s creation around us. We see or experience an amazing mountaintop view, a breathtaking sunset, the lushness of a rainforest, the clear blue of ocean waters, the delicate fragility of a tiny wildflower, the intricacy displayed in the body of a small insect. We admire it all – then so often, with or without thinking, destroy it. We forget to treasure it and care for it well, as good stewards of God’s creation. Just as with our croquembouche, which was proudly delivered to the venue with extreme care by its maker himself, so, way back in the beginning, God delivered something that was perfect in every way – our created universe that God himself declared in Genesis 1 to be ‘good’, in the full sense of the word. Yet it wasn’t long before that creation was marred. It wasn’t long before we as human beings ignored God’s instructions and took things into our own hands.

The misunderstanding about the size of our croquembouche was not a matter of life and death. It was only a cake, after all – albeit a very special, expensive one! But treating God’s creation as if it’s unimportant is in another league altogether. This truly is a matter of life and death. Who knows how much longer this planet will be able to hold together with the treatment it has received from us?

So I ask myself … how carefully am I treating God’s wonderful gift of creation all around me? In fact, how am I treating God’s greatest and most costly gift of all – Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God? Am I truly treasuring him and honouring him each day in my life as he deserves? Or am I indifferent, even despising and rejecting him, as described in Isaiah 53?

Most of our croquembouche is gone now – just a few pieces of toffee remain. Our world too may not last much longer. But ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And that’s what really matters.

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