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Archive for July, 2013

Sometimes it’s the simple truths that have the most profound impact on people. I learnt this lesson all over again last week—and I hope I remember it this time.

I had just finished speaking at a meeting when, in response to a question, I decided to share a brief story of something that happened many years ago now. The ladies present had all been patiently listening to my input, but their heartfelt reaction to this story I shared almost as an afterthought opened my eyes again to the simple, powerful truth it demonstrates.

The events in this story took place in a small group during a short ministry training course. There were five women in our group, including our wonderful facilitator, Joy, who counselled and prayed for us with such gentle wisdom and insight. As we took it in turns to share any difficulties we might be facing in applying what we were learning to our lives, Joy listened carefully—to both God and us. This was never more obvious than on the day one older group member told us how she had never felt loved as a child, particularly by her father, and how that had affected her so much throughout her life—and still did. I can’t remember now all the conversation that unfolded in response to what she shared, but I clearly remember what our facilitator suggested we do.

‘Mary, would you like us to hold you and sing to you? Perhaps Jesus loves me, this I know?’

I remember how strange I thought this suggestion was at first, but I soon changed my mind.

‘That would be lovely!’ Mary immediately responded.

As a group, we gathered around her and our facilitator held her close. Then we began singing together—

Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

‘Oh, that’s so wonderful! Sing it again, please!’ our friend cried out, when we finished.

‘Oh, please sing it again—it’s so wonderful!’ she repeated several times over the next few minutes, whenever we stopped singing.

I will never forget the ecstasy in her voice as she begged us to keep going and the joy and delight radiating from her face as we did just that. She almost literally shone, as the love of Jesus and of our perfect Father God was poured into her by the Holy Spirit. How healing it was for her to have us sing this simple little song over and over again to her! I know that she too remembers this event to this day, around twenty years later.

As I recounted this story to the women at the meeting last week, I expected to receive some rather puzzled looks. After all, what I had described was rather unusual and I feared they might not understand. Instead, it was almost as if a gentle, collective sigh spread across the group. Most women responded with warm smiles—and some seemed quite touched and a little emotional. As I stood there, I realised this story was probably the most significant thing I had shared with them that day. It was the simple truth they too needed to hear. God had brought it to my mind, I believe—and I felt very humbled.

Jesus loves me—this I know!

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You’d think at this stage of my life I might settle down a bit. But no—I keep on having such interesting adventures! At times it’s like God is smiling at me and saying, ‘Hmmm, what little challenge can I think up for Jo-Anne next?’ These adventures seem to come in different shapes and sizes and shades of scariness as well. Some I know I will manage fine. But others … well, let’s just say I can feel a tad stre-e-e-e-tched at times!

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to the women from a Probus Club—something I knew I could do. I always value these opportunities outside church-related groups and this group turned out to be particularly receptive. Afterwards, several women came to share their own experiences with me, some very personal. As I signed the books they bought, I asked if I could write ‘God bless’ as well. Then more interesting conversation ensued as I explained how those words represent my little prayer that God will encourage and speak to anyone who reads my book.

I know I will enjoy this week’s little adventure too. How could I not, when I will be speaking to a group called ‘The Cheerful Ladies’ Club’?! This group derives its name from the Club that features in Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ books set in Africa and is run by a good friend of mine through her church. Many of these women have heard me speak already, so what a privilege to go there, knowing already I will be warmly received.

Soon too I will be sharing with a group of women at another church where I feel very much at home. The following week, I travel across town to speak at a singles’ club. Then not long after, I head to a church in Victoria to give two sessions at a special women’s event. Finally that month, I am to present a writing workshop and seminar, thankfully much closer to home. Oh, and somewhere in the mix as well is the launch of my seventh book, The Inheritance!

A very busy month of speaking in Queensland then follows, including input at a church seniors’ group, a writing seminar, speaking in a morning service and co-presenting a mentoring conference—plus a few other events in between! What interesting adventures God has lined up for me in my home state.

I have two ways of approaching all these adventures. I can feel overwhelmed by it all and wish I could curl up in my cosy study here in Sydney and just write! Or I can take a deep breath, choose to trust God, who has been behind my schedule from the beginning anyway, pray, relax and focus on preparing my next lot of input to the best of my ability.

Yes, I’ll admit I regularly veer towards the former rather than the latter of these two options. But God always gently calls me back, reminding me he is in the midst of all my adventures, scary or otherwise, just as Psalm 139 says. No wonder it’s my favourite psalm!

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me … (4-6)

How about you? Is God in all your adventures too?

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I wonder if you’ve ever had some nice plan or scheme all worked out, only to have someone come along and mess the whole thing up! Perhaps this person might ask a simple question or give a suggestion for a better way forward. Yet you don’t want to hear. After all, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this particular project. Or it might be that you finally think you’ve come to grips with some issue and know what you believe. Then someone comes up with a radically different idea that makes your whole concept—or perhaps even your whole world—seem a little wobbly. Maybe it could even cause it to come crashing down! So, however well intentioned this person might be, how dare he or she throw a spanner in the works like that!

If you have, then perhaps you might relate to those Jews in Jesus’ time who, according to John 8, had apparently believed in him to some extent. But then, Jesus started talking about things like knowing the truth and being set free. What was this all about? Weren’t they Abraham’s descendants? They didn’t need to be set from anything. They were fine, thank you very much. More than that, it was very dangerous teaching. Much better to get rid of him if he’s going to keep talking about such rubbish as pleasing his Father and being ‘from above’.

Yet perhaps we should give them some benefit of the doubt. Maybe they hadn’t heard about the amazing things Jesus had been doing, like changing water into wine, healing people, feeding more than five thousand with a few fish and rolls, not to mention walking on water. Whether they had or not, however, they decided there was no place for this crazy, insulting person in their world and that he was better right out of the picture.

But Jesus saw right through them. He knew they wanted to get rid of him—and he did not beat about the bush. In Jn 8:37 we read:

I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word.

No room for his word? No room to hear what the Son of God was saying? What a sad, sad statement! These Jews seemed to be too full of pride in their heritage and too concerned about their own wellbeing to have any space in their hearts and lives to take Jesus’ words on board. They knew God in a special way—yet Jesus bluntly tells them that ‘the reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’ (Jn 8:47)

Yet … yet what about us today? In fact, what about me? How often in my busy life do I simply have no room for God’s word? Yes, I might get to read it somewhere along the line, but how often does it not really enter my heart? Or worse still, just like these Jews, how often do I decide I simply don’t like what God has said and choose not to make any space for those changes that need to happen in my life?

You have no room for my word.

I still think that’s one of the saddest statements in Scripture, don’t you?

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P1020237I think it began around twenty years ago, although I can’t quite remember how or why. It has waned a little of late, but did not take much to rekindle when I was given a beautiful amethyst one recently. Yes, I will admit it—I love candles. This very moment, I have one burning nearby. Why? Now that’s a good question!

I remember years ago mentioning this love of mine in a training group and receiving some blank stares and incredulous looks, particularly from the male ministers present. What is she on about, they were clearly wondering. Has she lost it altogether? What is so good about having a candle burning when working alone or when counselling or mentoring someone? Is this some superstitious rubbish?

Candles perform several functions for me. Firstly, they serve as a tangible reminder of the presence of God as I sit at my desk and write. Yes, I know God is with me anyway every moment of the day—but I can be forgetful of that at times. And as I acknowledge God’s presence in this way, I remember Jesus who said: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12) How easily I can lose sight of that truth at times and allow the old enemy to let the darkness of discouragement take over!

Secondly, noticing that small, flickering flame, I am reminded of the light I am endeavouring to shine through my writing and speaking. Even though it might be only one small, insignificant flame, it is still burning brightly and has the potential to shine God’s light into someone’s life. And, as Jesus reminded us, each one of us is called to do just that for others:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Matthew 5:14-15

Thirdly, there are aesthetic reasons behind my love of candles. I love their colours—beautiful purples, lilacs, blues and creams. I love the perfume of the scented ones—rose, vanilla, eucalypt. I love the ever-changing shape of the flame as it burns—darker at the centre, then lighter and brighter towards the tip. I love the sense of warmth and comfort candles bring to a room. In 2000, during a trip to Europe, my friend and I stayed with a family in the Netherlands. When evening fell, our hostess would busy herself lighting the many candles dotted around their sitting room. Then we would relax together in this gentle light, chatting and enjoying such warm fellowship, despite my being a stranger from the other side of the world. That warm, welcoming scene is etched forever in my memory.

And finally, as my candle burns, I love to remember the ones who gave it to me—my sister, a good friend, a mentoree, my  daughter, a group of women to whom I spoke. I pray for them, that they too will know the presence of the Saviour, the Light of the World, with them and that their light will continue to shine brightly wherever they are, today and always.

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I watched the man’s earnest face as he talked—and my heart went out to him. At the last minute, just as he and his wife left the bookstore where I was promoting my books, he had rushed back inside to talk with me about his own writing. I had noticed him earlier, quietly standing to one side while his wife bustled about from shelf to shelf, choosing books and dropping them into an almost overflowing basket. It seemed to me he had had plenty of opportunity to chat with me then, but had he been a little embarrassed to put his dream of writing into words? Did he perhaps feel others would laugh?

Whatever his reason, I was determined to answer him as best I could. You see, I remember how hard it was for me to display my ignorance and ask those tentative questions about writing my own first novel. I remember how impossible the whole dream felt. I remember how even I myself had trouble imagining I could create a story others might want to read. Yet I desired to do it—with all my heart.

‘What do you think is the most important thing above all to know in order to write a book?’ he barked at me, staring me straight in the eye.

This gentleman wanted a quick, honest response, I could see. My mind darted this way and that—there were so many things he should know, so many pitfalls he needed to be warned about.

In the end, I told him I have to know it was what God wants me to do. No, that doesn’t mean I announce to one and all that God told me to write this book—which does make it awkward if no one thinks it’s very good! For me, however, I need to be able to sense God’s delight in what I am creating and to be strengthened by the Spirit as I put in the hard yards required to write the best book I can. I don’t want to pour a year of my life into a project that isn’t going to bear fruit for the Kingdom. And I sensed this was where this gentleman was coming from, too.

We talked for a few more minutes before I gave him my card and told him I could supply him with some notes about getting started in writing if he emailed me. Then he was gone.

Will his book ever materialise? I don’t know—but I suspect it will. At least, I think his has much more chance of doing so than those of the two or three other would-be authors who had approached me earlier in the day. I tried to be gentle and encouraging with them all, although I did stifle a sigh at the young woman who seemed rather overconfident about it all and a little unwilling to listen.

But what is the dream or challenge God has put on your heart lately? Whatever it is, whether writing a book or doing something quite different, I hope you can move ahead with your hand in the Lord’s, listening to his voice and looking for his guidance in whatever shape that might come.

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.‘ Prov 3:5-6

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