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Archive for December, 2012

In case you haven’t heard, we have an adorable grandson who is almost one year old. He has plenty of toys, but what does he want to play with when he comes to our place? Well—anything that isn’t a toy, to put it succinctly!

P1030687Whenever he visits us, our Zain is adept at sizing up all sorts of objects in our lounge room that might be interesting to play with. Our home phone, placed on a low table within easy reach of little hands, is quite a drawcard. If we are in the room, he looks over at us, grins, reaches out and pauses, hand in mid-air, before actually touching the phone. He doesn’t usually pick it up—that can wait until we aren’t looking, at which point he makes a beeline for this precious object.

Then there is the array of remote controls on another low table. Whenever Zain arrives, we remove all these interesting objects to higher ground. And of course there are his grandfather’s puzzle books and computer magazines within easy reach too. What fun!

Our kitchen also provides endless possibilities for exploring and getting into mischief. Take the rubbish bin, for starters. Often Zain heads straight for it and proceeds to lift the lid and peer curiously inside. The empty bottles beside our fridge for recycling are great to knock over and roll around the floor. But most fascinating of all are those round, brown knobs on the cupboards and drawers—just the right size for our Zain to put his hands around and pull open. And then—well, a whole new realm of possibilities opens up in an instant!

We do have an actual toy basket with all sorts of interesting things in it for him to play with—but time and time again, he chooses—wait for it—two recycled plastic bottles, one containing uncooked rice grains and the other, macaroni. As he shakes them, he looks up at us with a smile of sheer delight on his face—and we instantly melt!

I have learnt all over again from our Zain that it’s the simple things in life that matter. Why buy those expensive, complicated toys? Why not just go back to basics and think of things that make interesting noises or open and shut or old household items like remote controls or phones?

This is the same lesson God teaches me over and over each Christmas, as we set up our little nativity scene in our lounge, read our Christmas cards that feature the manger scene, wise men and shepherds, sing those Christmas carols and reflect on the birth of a special child, God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is the bottom line in life, don’t you think? It’s about getting back to basics—to what really matters. It’s about accepting God’s gift of a Saviour. It’s about keeping the main message of Christmas at the very centre of our lives. It’s about not making things too complicated but rather resting in the simple truth that God loves us and accepts us totally because of Jesus—that tiny baby in a manger, sent from heaven, born to be King, born to reign forever and ever.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10b-11)

God bless you all this Christmas and throughout 2013!

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There’s something about the Christmas season, isn’t there, that makes us want to catch up with friends over coffee or a meal. In some cases, it’s about finding out how each other has travelled during the past year. At other times, I find it’s more about letting that person know I value their friendship and am grateful for their presence in my life.

Recently I thought about this a lot as I prepared for my final speaking engagement of the year. In keeping with the theme of my new non-fiction book Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey, I decided to look at the Apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy. And all over again, I discovered how many good reminders there are in 2 Timothy 1 alone about what is involved in a strong mentoring relationship or spiritual friendship.

Firstly, it’s obvious how much sincere love and concern Paul has for Timothy. Straight up, he calls him his ‘dear son’ and goes on to declare: Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy (1:4). There needs to be love and mutual respect in any good friendship, don’t you agree?

Secondly, Paul prays for Timothy with all his heart. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers (1:3). What a gift to give to someone else—to pray for him or her constantly, night and day!

Thirdly, Paul obviously believes in Timothy and affirms him for the strengths he sees in him. He affirms his sincere faith and the gift of God at work in his young friend (1:5-6), urging him to keep fanning these into flame and not let the good that has been deposited in his life be wasted. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you …  (1:13) In my own life, I know how important it has been to hear positive affirmation at times, particularly in my writing journey. It still is.

Fourthly, Paul is not backward in challenging Timothy to hang in there till the end, as he himself is doing. He urges him on, at times perhaps sounding as if he is telling him what to do. Yet it is coming from a heart full of love for Timothy, a heart that knows God will enable and will strengthen him to finish the race.

Finally, Paul writes all this to Timothy with complete honesty and integrity. There is no pretence—his conscience is clear before God and men (1:3).  In 1 Cor 4:16-17, Paul is bold enough to write to them: Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. With Paul, there is no discord between what he says and how he lives—and that’s how I want to live too.

So as you catch up with friends and family this Christmas, remember to show them you value them and to thank God for their input into your life. After all, it could mean the difference between someone achieving all God has for them to achieve or letting those sparks and embers die out altogether.

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There I was, sitting quietly as I waited for the meeting to start at which I was to speak. I chatted to a friend nearby, then glanced around to make sure all my books set out on a nearby table for sale later looked neat and inviting. And in that moment, it was like the scales were lifted from my eyes.

In an instant, I saw more clearly than I ever have how gracious God has been to me over these past nine years since I began writing and how thankful I need to be for this. It was as if God had taken a beautiful colour photo of my book table, with its display of my five novels and one non-fiction book, enlarged it and held it before my eyes for a moment so that I could not ignore it. And as I looked, the many opportunities I have been given in these years to speak at different places also flashed into my mind. What rich experiences had come my way in all sorts of shapes and sizes! And what a privilege each one of them had been!

As the enormity of this moment sunk in, I felt almost overwhelmed—and very humbled. Apart from the grace of God at work in my life, none of this would have happened. I would not have written one book in this time, let alone six, with a seventh due out next year! Apart from the absolute faithfulness of God in encouraging me, both directly and through others, I would not have begun my writing journey or persevered through all sorts of discouragement and lasted the distance.

I sat there, wondering how I would be able to get up and speak after such a revelation. But then I decided the best way was to be honest and share what God had shown me—so that’s where I began. And I hope and pray something of the awe I was feeling at God’s grace and faithfulness to me touched those present, causing them to praise God too and to realise that without God, we are nothing.

How much we all need to remember the grace and faithfulness of God to us! King David challenges us to do exactly that in 1 Chron 16:8-13:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.

So … thank you, Lord God, for all you have done for me. As I speak and write of your love and grace to us your children, may I do so with great joy and gladness. Where would I be without you? Help me to stay close to you and to rely on your strength in everything I do. I remember you, Lord, with a heart full of gratitude. I remember what you have done for me. I remember how awesome you are and I honour you—now and forever. Amen

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We have begun a new tradition in our family. Whenever a grandchild turns seven, he or she receives a homemade DVD of themselves, made up of a variety of photos taken and movies made throughout their short lives. Along with these are captions here and there, plus a cute online version of ‘Happy birthday’. And all this is lovingly put together over many hours by Granddad.

It all started when our older granddaughter Amy turned seven. She loved her very own DVD in which she herself was the star and has watched it many times since. She even told her Granddad that her seventh birthday was her favourite, because of this special DVD. So guess what Granddad had to come up with when her younger sister Olivia turned seven? That event took place just this week in our family.

It seems P1040175Olivia loves her very own DVD too, judging by the delighted look on her face as she opened her present and watched it along with us. The photos and movies captured all sorts of events from Olivia’s life—the moment just after she was born; various birthday cakes over the years; special musical performances; times of helping Nanna make cakes and eating the mixture; blowing bubbles and chasing them in our backyard; playing crazy games with her sister; visiting playgrounds with Nanna and Granddad; reading a book about dogs to her own beloved dog Bella, who lay there patiently through it all.

‘She looks so tiny!’ her mum kept exclaiming, as we watched. ‘That’s so cute!’ we all said often.

Now Granddad is preparing for the next special DVD due in our family for our grandson Zain. It’s not needed for a long time, however—our Zain hasn’t even turned one yet! But Granddad is very much keeping it in mind, as he films Zain’s various milestones. Already he has captured that first cuddle at the hospital; that first real smile when Zain’s whole face lit up; the first time he sat up by himself in our lounge; that little mischievous look he has when he reaches out to play with forbidden objects such as the remote control or the phone. And this week his first unaided steps in our home were recorded, as Zain wobbled his way across our lounge room.

Have you ever thought about how God watches each one of his children—how God sees our first staggering steps as new believers and observes us grow and mature as we confront the various challenges in our lives and pass this or that milestone? If we celebrate with our own children and grandchildren and also agonise with them at times, how much more must God be right there in those moments with us? In Isaiah  49:15 we read:

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!

I am picturing God now in the person of Jesus, watching the DVD of my life, clapping his hands in delight at some spots, closing his eyes at others, gazing at me with such love and pride at times, but crying along with me at others. God has been with me through all the milestones that have marked my life and is still with me now, smiling at me and encouraging me as I take each new, staggering step.

I find that hugely comforting. How about you?

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