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Archive for December, 2013

For years I drove my family crazy. At regular intervals, I would come out with statements such as the following:

‘I’d like to write a book one day.’

‘Oh, I could write my Great Australian Novel in that beautiful spot!’

‘You’ll see. One day I’ll write my own novel.’

Eventually, our older daughter got tired of hearing me talk like this. For my birthday, she gave me a pile of books on how to write, plus a bookmark she had made herself, with a picture of a steaming cup of tea on it and a little sticker that said ‘Write your own!’

So I did—although it took me over twenty years to get around to it! I still have that little, handmade bookmark and often take it with me when I speak somewhere. I use it to encourage others not to ignore the dreams God has put in their hearts and to step out with courage and do whatever it is they have longed to do.

Recently, I met someone who wants to write and has even planned out her first novel. But as for actually starting on the writing itself—well, that’s another matter. Somehow it’s all just too scary for her. What if she finds she can’t do it? What if she discovers, after months of effort, that she has been wasting her time?

I understand how she feels—as would many writers, I believe. Even now, with seven books published, I find myself a little reluctant to launch into writing that eight book. I want to write it, with all my heart. I believe I have something worthwhile to say in this book. I fully intend to write it and have even begun, but it’s amazing how many other tasks I decide I have to do first! Yet I know from past experience how wonderfully fulfilling it is to give myself over to writing and allow those words to flow out onto that screen, to see those characters and storyline develop or to be carried along as a non-fiction book takes shape.

So what’s to be done?  You may not intend to write a book in 2014. Perhaps it’s the last thing you could imagine yourself doing! But we all have things in our minds that we would like to do—some day.  Sometimes we even know in our hearts it is what God wants us to do, yet still we are reluctant to rise to the challenge and respond to that call on our lives. Maybe we all need to take to heart more Paul’s words in Colossians 3:23-24 during the coming year:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Will 2014 be the year for you, like Peter in Matthew 14, to step out of that boat that represents safety and familiarity and instead walk on the water towards Jesus? Will you listen when Jesus looks straight at you with such love and speaks that one strong, encouraging word, as he did to Peter—‘Come!’?

I hope you do. I hope I do. God is faithful. May we be equally so.

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Just think about it for a moment. This week, we remember an absolutely mind-boggling, earth-shaking event that will never cease to impact our world. As we sing about the Christ child born in a manger, we are acknowledging the fact that our Almighty God, Creator of the universe, chose to come to earth and be born as one of us. As Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, Jesus ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’.

How glibly the words of those Christmas carols can roll off our tongues and how easily we take this huge act of love for granted! Without that baby born in Bethlehem, we would all be lost—literally. ‘She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’, the angel told Joseph (Mt 1:21). Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of the world, became Immanuel—God with us (Mt 1:23).

Out of love for us, God chose to send Jesus to reveal himself to us in human form. Jesus showed us what God the Father is like as he walked this earth, preaching the good news of salvation, healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead, teaching his disciples in word and deed how to live in the light of the new kingdom he came to establish. And when he died for us, he sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. Immanuel—God with us—forever.

One Christmas many years ago now, I was in a place of great indecision in my life, having taken on an exhausting job that did not fit me so well. I read again the beautiful words of Isaiah 9:6—For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. I knew straight away I needed to cry out to God for all the guidance and resources I needed and that I could do that because Jesus had become flesh and understood all my dilemmas. And I knew that Immanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace, would give me the peace I longed for.

Whether you are in a place of indecision or of peace in your life, may the words of Isaiah 9:6 speak to your heart today too, along with the following poem I wrote at that time:

Wonderful Counsellor, surround me with your wisdom.

My mind is tired, with indecision torn.

Where is the path prepared for me to follow?

I need you, Lord, to watch, to guide, to warn.

Almighty God, defend me with your power.

My weakness wins, my courage ebbs away.

O Holy One, great Lord of all creation,

For strength to stand secure I humbly pray.

Everlasting Father, how you love me!

I am your child, forgiven, forever free!

O hold me fast, transform me to your likeness,

Till men in me your face more clearly see.

Prince of Peace, bestow your calm assurance.

My heart is troubled, turmoil takes control.

O send your soothing Spirit to surround me.

Speak, Lord, till I am still within my soul!

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It seems to me that Christmas taps into some deep emotions in us all, one way or another. Some look forward to it and love what it signifies. Some revel in all the trappings it involves. Some find the extra shopping and planning for it irksome and are glad when it’s all over. Some find it a sad and difficult time which reminds them too much of losses in their lives and relationships that are no longer there. And some hate it with a passion and are not backward in letting others know how they feel.

While shopping recently, I overheard two grumpy, old men talking to each other in terms that could only be described as distinctly Scrooge-like:

‘Why do we have to listen to all this stupid Christmas music playing?’ one commented loudly, as they stomped along the cramped aisles of a two dollar shop. ‘It’s so annoying! Why do we have to have all this Christmas stuff everywhere anyway? It’s a joke!’

Their comments made me feel a little sad. Yet, to some degree, I understand where they’re coming from. I too am a little averse to crowded shops, tired people frantically grabbing this and that in the supermarket and inane Christmas music that has nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas blaring out as I try to think what to buy. But don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. And that’s probably why the empty hype and insane busyness that characterise this time of year disturb me so much. I don’t want my Christmas spoilt or distorted by someone else’s idea of what Christmas should be about. But I do want to celebrate Christmas in a deep, joyous and meaningful way.

So how can I stay in that place of peace and joy as I prepare for Christmas and look towards celebrating Jesus’ birth in an authentic way? I think a key is learning the art of mindfulness, a concept that has been around for a long time but is not all that often put into practice in our busy lives. Mindfulness involves intentionally stopping and being aware of who we are and where we are in the present moment. It involves focussing in on what is real and important, recollecting why it is and then retaining that in our mind as we move through our day. So, rather than being swept along by the anxieties of finding the right Christmas gift for someone or of all the cooking that needs to be done, I can discipline myself to stop and be still for a moment, to become aware of God’s Spirit within me and around me, to remember the amazing gift of our Saviour Jesus, given to us that first Christmas day. I allow that thought to fill my mind, replacing all the worries and cares and distractions and pushing them to the periphery. Then I can move forward, undertaking all those time consuming but special Christmas activities with great thankfulness and a deep joy in my heart.

Do not be afraid. 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 2:10-11

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This past week, I met up with an old friend for lunch. As we sat chatting (for over two hours!), we reminisced about our high school years together. At one stage, I shared how I had caught up with a mutual friend while in Queensland recently. I was book signing in the town where this mutual friend lives and she came to find me. Despite the forty-eight years that have elapsed since we were at school together, we recognised each other immediately—and what a joy it was to share our spiritual journeys right there in the middle of the bookstore!

At that same two hour lunch with my friend, I also updated her on another mutual friend I had seen recently. All four of us had been involved in a Christian group at our high school—at least in our final two years. After high school, our lives took different directions. One married a grazier and lived on remote properties, with little opportunity to meet with other Christians. But God watched over her and she would head over to a neighbouring property whenever the pastor from this family’s church came to visit. Another moved overseas with her husband and was reconnected with church via some Americans in Germany. After having one child, she then had triplets, but sadly her husband passed away when the triplets were quite young. Yet God kept his hand on this friend and today, she is a vital part of her local church. The final friend married a minister, as I did, and has served faithfully alongside him in country churches for many years. God has sustained her through times of ill health and challenge and enabled her to serve others with patience and grace.

Yes, God has indeed watched over us, throughout the twists and turns of our lives. As a result, here we are today, still loving and serving the Lord with all our hearts. Yet while God has been so faithful, there is another important aspect here too.  All three of my friends have hung in there through some very tough times. They have reached out to God and the Body of Christ and have continued to grow in their faith. They have chosen to keep following the Lord, despite discouragement from family members, despite deep grief and loss, despite loneliness and disappointment. They have chosen to love and serve others and to remain faithful to the end.

I thought of my three friends as I again read this week the parable of the sower from Luke 8. Through all these years, they did not allow the devil to take away God’s word from their hearts (v 12). They did not fall away, but let this word take root in their lives (v 13). And they were not ‘choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures’ (v 14). Instead they heard the word, retained it, then persevered—and bore wonderful fruit in their lives as a result (v 15).

It’s so true we are saved by grace and not works, but persevering is pretty important too, don’t you think? Surely, in the light of God’s amazing love and grace, this is what we are all called upon to do?

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It’s a funny thing. The older I get (!), the more I seem to see the potential in people I meet and appreciate their individuality. People are interesting. I love hearing their heart and recognising that image of God in them that is in each one of us. And I am thankful for the opportunities that promoting my books and speaking at so many places this past year have given me to do just that.

On the other hand, the older I get, the more introverted I have also become. It’s a puzzle—and I put it down, in some measure at least, to my writing journey of the past ten years. I love being alone. I love those times when, with the whole house to myself, I put on some music on, curl up with my laptop and write away to my heart’s content. What luxury!

In those times, I am never lonely. I agree with actor and screenwriter Dirk Bogarde who once wrote: ‘I have always been told that writing is a lonely, solitary, reclusive job. … But even as a novice writer I have not found that to be true at all. It is neither lonely nor reclusive, and it is solitary only by virtue of the fact that one has to be alone and in silence in order to hear the voices that fill one’s head. It is impossible to be lonely with so much conversation going on. But, apart from the voices of those characters in my head, I know I am not alone. God is always there, already aware of the words I am about to write and so much a part of the whole creative act.

Nevertheless, at times I have found I also need the encouragement of others—friends who value my writing journey and want to see me fulfilled in using my God-given gifts. And this is where contact with other Christian authors, either face to face or via the net, can become so important. We speak the same language. We understand the issues involved in writing and publishing and promotion. We recognise our mutual desire to bring God glory in some way through our writing. And we want to see all our books out there and selling well.

cmas_a5_flierThat’s why I’ve chosen to join together with some other local Christian authors here in Sydney this Thursday 5th December between 4.00pm and 8.00pm to stage our second ‘Meet the Author Christmas Book Market’ At Ryde Presbyterian Church, Cnr Bowden and Squires Sts, Ryde. This is a co-operative effort where we make not only our books but ourselves available so that people can chat with us in a relaxed environment. We have each agreed to promote this event as much as possible through our own networks. And we will all be there, encouraging one another at a variety of levels as we promote our books.

It’s all about encouragement, particularly in the Body of Christ, don’t you think?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

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