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Archive for May, 2013

As a young child, I loved it when relatives came to visit or when we visited them. These people belonged to us and we belonged to them. We didn’t choose one another—that was decided for us. And yes, as I grew up, I did discover that some relatives were perhaps less enjoyable to be with than others! Come to think of it, they probably thought much the same about me!

I was (and am) fortunate enough to have a great older sister, yet it felt good to have that extended family out there as well. I remember one cousin in particular who was happy to play with my sister and me whenever we visited their family or they us. Together, we would have wonderful, imaginative adventures and plan out special concerts which our longsuffering parents had to endure as we shared our talents with them!

But I am so thankful I belong to another special, extremely extended family. Recently, I took a friend with me to a group some distance from Sydney where I was to speak. This group was from a different church denomination and my friend knew none of the women there. Yet as we drove home, she commented:

‘It’s amazing, isn’t it, how even though I hadn’t met any of these women before, there was an instant connection. It makes a real difference when we are all part of God’s family.’

Since then, I have had cause to think about her statement further as I have spoken at several other venues, inside and outside our own denomination, as well as at one interdenominational group. At the meeting with this latter group, people came to chat to me who remembered me from past connections or who knew one of our children or some mutual friend. One lady, on reading my latest book Soul Friend, had discovered it was about my relationship with my spiritual mentor Joy, whom she had known many, many years ago in another Christian context. She was so delighted to meet me as a result. In this instance in particular, but also in the other connections made that day, I realised again how blessed I am to belong to the huge, multi-faceted family of God. We might have our different ways of worshipping or meeting together. We might even sadly disagree about various issues at times within our own local church family. Yet despite that, something very deep and lasting binds us together in a unique way. And that something—or rather Someone—is the very Spirit of God who lives in each one of us through our faith in Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters. We are family.

I love Paul’s heart for this family of God and for the passionate way he challenges us to care for one another and stay united. In Ephesians 4:3-6, we read:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

It is a precious thing to belong to God’s family. May we never take this lightly but do all we can to continue loving, caring for and building one another up as we are able and as God has gifted us to do.

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I quite enjoy driving long distances by myself. There is something special about being alone in my car in a kind of bubble with God, listening to music or praying aloud or just enjoying God’s presence. And what makes it even more special is the opportunity to gaze out at the beautiful countryside I am driving through, noting the often dramatic changes in the landscape and marvelling at God’s creativity on display all around me.

This past weekend, I found myself heading west from Sydney to the beautiful town of Orange. I have always loved driving up into the Blue Mountains. Yet again, I feasted my eyes on those vistas of tree-covered slopes, of valleys shrouded in blue haze and of old stone settlers’ cottages and holiday venues from a bygone era. But it was as I crested that mountain range and began to descend to the sloping plains beyond, stretching as far as the eye could see, that my mind was blown yet again with the vastness of it all. And as the road wended its way further west, across smaller ranges and down into rich farming valleys, God seemed to be all around me, in and outside that car, overwhelming me with his own vastness.

I am so thankful for that experience. I am in the midst of a very busy month of speaking—and at these times I can often forget the bigger picture and become overwhelmed with all that has to be attended to. I can even lose sight of why I am doing everything I’m doing, until things become more of a chore than a joy. But my journey over those mountains put a dramatic stop to that, ministering to my spirit in several ways.

Firstly, seeing God’s hand of creativity in such an undeniable way around me enabled me to pull back, focus on that bigger picture again and realise God is quite able to use my speaking and writing to encourage others. I am in the hands of a great, great God, after all.

Secondly, at my destination, I met with a body of women who love the Lord and endeavour to serve God where they are. Some face big challenges right now and others are on the brink of changes that will impact them greatly. And again I saw what a privilege I have to speak into others’ lives and encourage them in some way.

Thirdly, I glimpsed again the power of a written story. One lady had travelled some distance to hear me speak because two of my books had touched her so deeply. How could I ignore God’s encouragement via this dear person to hold fast to the vision I have been given and to believe my books can make a difference?

Yes, I journeyed over physical mountains this past weekend with God. But I suspect I surmounted some inner obstacles as well. People, we have a great God—a God who will help us climb those mountains in our lives and stand victorious till the end!

Who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. Psalm 18:31-33

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A couple of weeks ago, I began preparing two talks for an up-coming teaching morning. The first took many more hours than expected, but, after changing my approach entirely, it seemed I was getting there. The second came together quicker—yet I felt a little uneasy about it. I knew they would still require more work, but at least I now had something substantial on paper.

This week, I began checking the first of these talks again. But as I reached the second page, I became very confused. My notes did not seem to tie in with the accompanying power point presentation I had prepared. What had happened? I seem to have ended up with all these extra points in a strange order. I began crossing out one whole section—how could I have possibly have got it this wrong?

Finally, I stepped back from it all to gain some perspective. Then in a brief moment of clarity, I noticed the heading on the section that seemed so confusing and out of place: ‘The enemy brings doubt and confusion.’ (!)

You see, these two talks are about spiritual warfare and spiritual discernment, about what Scripture says concerning the enemy and what we can learn from this for today. No doubt I should have been ready for the confusion that ensued, but I’m so thankful God graciously opened my eyes to realise what was happening.

Then that night, I had a vivid, disturbing dream. In front of a huge crowd, I was given some music on the spot and asked to play the piano accompaniment as everyone sang. I tried my best, but it all fell apart. Then the master of ceremonies called up someone else from the audience who took my place and played it perfectly, as I stood there in great humiliation.

This time, however, I realised the enemy was up to his old tricks of trying to tap into my pride and my fear of being judged inadequate in some way. I quickly decided that, rather than wallowing in embarrassment, I would ask God to deal with the whole situation.

Later that day, as I again looked over these talks, I began to feel so much doubt sweeping over me. Was what I had prepared really suitable? What if I had completely misunderstood what the women had asked me to do? What if I offended those present with my material? Eventually, I woke up to what the enemy was trying to do. He was heading straight for that self-doubt in me that has been such an issue in the past, trying to make me feel as if I had nothing of worth to share with anyone.

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes forget we are in the midst of a battle each day as we try to stay true to the Lord? In Ephesians 6:12 we read:

Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Yes, the enemy is real. But so is God. Yes, the enemy is strong. But our God is stronger! One day, as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10, every knee will bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord!

I can’t wait. How about you?

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If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny how often what I say when speaking at the various groups or churches where I am invited applies first and foremost to me. There I am, merrily encouraging others to take heed of the things God is saying when a gentle voice somewhere inside me pulls me up short and says, ‘So Jo-Anne, where are you on this matter? What are you going to do about this?’

Last week was an almost too perfect example of one such time, to my shame. I had been invited by a particular group of women to share something of how God has guided and encouraged me in my writing journey. As I prepared my input, I kept coming back to a story from the gospels I have often spoken on in the past—the account from Matthew 14 of Peter walking on water. I love so many things about this story. First off, I love Jesus’ words in verse 27, where, as soon as he notes how terrified his disciples are when they see him walking on the water, he says to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Many times in my writing journey, I have drawn on these words of Jesus in order to keep going.

I love it how Peter then finds the courage to suggest that Jesus actually should invite him to walk on that water too. And as soon as he hears that little word ‘Come’, he takes the risk of stepping out of that boat—and off he trots towards Jesus (29)! But when he notices how the wind is buffeting the waves and begins to sink, Jesus is immediately there, reaching out his hand to rescue him. Yet it is what Jesus says to Peter next that spoke to me the most this past week.

You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt? (31)

You see, I was sharing how, given the fact that I now have five novels published and one non-fiction work, there was no need for me ever to have doubted God’s call to write and the fact that God would bring it about. Likewise, I was urging these women to do all God was calling and had gifted them to do and to trust God in the process. Yet, that very day, I myself had doubted. Not believing I would sell many books at this particular venue, I had brought with me only a small number of my earlier novels in particular. Imagine my surprise then when, before my eyes, every available copy of my first two novels speedily disappeared from my book table—along with a large number of my later books! All up, I sold more than double what I had expected.

It was time to eat my words. I had doubted God big-time. I knew God had given me this speaking engagement—yet that did not translate into having the faith to pack a good number of books in the car to sell afterwards. When it came to showing my trust in a concrete way, I was definitely found wanting on this occasion.

How humbling it was to hear God’s gentle question ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ yet again in my life! Is this a question God often seems to have to ask you too?

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