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Archive for February, 2014

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when a truth you have almost come to take for granted hits you smack between the eyes once again? It can be just a tad humbling, in my opinion.

There I was this past weekend, speaking to a great group of women at a church breakfast. Little did I suspect God was going to remind me of a home truth in my own life. I have seen before how the things I pass onto others when speaking at such events are the very things God wants to impress on me as well. I should know this, having spoken many times in connection with my books over these past few years. But I had forgotten. And God knew that.

I reached a point in my talk where I had decided to include part of the story of how God became real in my own life, so I began sharing with the women about the three things that had impacted me most deeply back then. I told them how I was shocked when I realised that the Jesus I had heard about in Sunday School and church was actually real—and further, that he was still alive—in which case, I needed to do something about letting him be Lord of my life. I told them about the awe I felt when I realised I mattered to Jesus—that he knew all about me and loved me. And I told them too how I knew at once that, by believing in Jesus and accepting his love, I had indeed discovered the purpose for my being on this earth—to live for God and bring honour to Jesus, whatever my future career path might turn out to be.

I was right in the moment, sharing from my heart with the women. Then, through some almost joking, ‘throw away’ words of mine, God spoke to me.

‘I hate to say it,’ I laughed as I told the women, ‘but this happened to me over fifty years ago now when I was fifteen—so now you can do the Maths easily!’

No, there was no blinding flash that knocked me off my feet at that point—but I did feel the impact of the following gentle words from God deep in my spirit.

‘Yes, it has been fifty years, Jo-Anne. A long time of journeying together, through so many ups and downs.’

Straight away, I was filled with such thankfulness for that journey that I began all those years ago as a fifteen year old, so full of uncertainties and anxieties. Yes, I thought to myself, even as I stood there and kept speaking to the women, God has been so, so faithful to me through it all—so patient and so forbearing and so understanding and so forgiving and … well, just so plain caring about me. But for God, where would I be? Certainly not where I was right at that point, standing on the platform and speaking to those women present.

Yes, I have kept the faith—but only by God’s amazing love and grace through all those years. That’s all I can say.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I John :1

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One would think I might have had enough of watching sport on TV in recent days. It began with the Ashes cricket tour, followed by the one day matches, with the twenty-twenty ‘Big Bashes’ mixed in as well. The Australian Open tennis complicated things, forcing me to choose between channels at times. But then, just when it all seemed to be over, along comes the Winter Olympics! Yes, I think to myself, I still have the excuse of recovering from a recent back operation. I can watch some parts of it at least. Should be fun, right?

I gasp, as I see athletes squeezing themselves into tiny capsules before hurtling down an icy course to what seems like certain disaster. I watch horrified, as young men and women balance their snowboard on the knife edge of a huge pipe, then plummet down, only to bob up on the other side to perform amazing tricks. I hold my breath, as skiers try to outdo one another via sliding down a metal bar before skiing backwards into one impossible jump after another. I cringe as other skiers fling themselves down a mountain at breakneck speed or alternately hurtle into the air before hopefully landing upright again.

But my biggest heart-in-mouth experience occurs when those figure skaters take to the ice. They all look stunning. They all appear confident. But then I watch as they attempt a triple this or a quadruple that, spinning high and fast in the air. I gasp as some stumble and crash hard on the ice or manage somehow to steady themselves and I will them to keep going. Yet even if their performance looks excellent to me, the commentators almost always seem to find some fault with it. They did only three twists instead of four, I hear them say. They did not complete a particular element. They did not move their feet cleanly. They over-rotated. Their routine was too simple. Their routine was too complex and frenetic. They did not take the music into account or connect with the audience. Even if the skaters don’t stumble and fall, every little mistake is picked up by those judges and commentators. But to me, they have all given their absolute best. They have shown us the results of months and years of hard work, commitment and training.

As I watch, one overriding thought comes to me. I’m so glad I don’t have to perform like that for God. I’m so glad God doesn’t have some complex marking system where he deducts points for this mistake and for that. I’m so glad God doesn’t exclude me from going further in the competition because of this fall or that. I’m so glad life isn’t a competition at all, where God is concerned. I’m so glad, when I fail, that God picks me up, forgives me and strengthens me to do better. I’m so glad, in the end, because of Jesus, it’s all about grace.

Aren’t you?

Because of his great love, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ … it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ … in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus Eph 2:4-7

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I did not know quite what to expect when I fronted up at our local Christian bookstore last Saturday for their first ever Author Expo. What would the next four hours involve? What interesting ‘God conversations’ would I have? I was already looking forward to meeting or renewing acquaintance with the other authors. But I discovered yet again that God has a way of bringing special surprises across our path that touch our hearts in a way that is hard to ignore.

Our individual tables were all set out ready along one of the main aisles. I had barely settled in before the author at the next table introduced herself and we began chatting. Then I noticed another author two tables away.

‘Oh, I must speak to that man,’ I told my new friend. ‘I was in a writers’ group he led in the early eighties. He might be encouraged to see I now have seven books published.’

‘But I was in a writers’ group he ran back then too!’ she gasped.

Had we been in the same group? We could not remember each other. But she had also continued writing and was now celebrating the release of her first novel.

A little later, I managed to speak to this gentleman who had run the writers’ group. How wonderful it was to see his face light up when I pointed out how, thirty years later, here were two authors he had encouraged in their writing journey! And what a wonderful glimpse it was into the faithfulness of God in my life, taking me through so many different experiences during those years that have equipped me to do what I do now.

Then there was the moment when I handed one of my bookmarks to a customer, only to have her smile at me and say:

‘Well, Jo-Anne Berthelsen! I know you many years ago from church. I’m ….’

And on the conversation went. I had not recognised her, which was not surprising, since she was around six years old last time I saw her thirty years ago! Again, I was overwhelmed with the grace of God in bringing me to where I am now and also in keeping this young woman close through all the ups and downs of her own life.

Another precious moment occurred when I noticed a woman smiling at me and began to chat with her. When I commented on her lovely accent, she told me she was from Iraq and again I marvelled at how God puts people in the right place just at the right time. I happened at that point to have a friend with me who has worked in Northern Iraq among Kurdish widows there. How wonderful it was to introduce her to this woman and see them connect at a heart level!

Are you rejoicing like me that we belong to a God of such wonderful surprises—a God who can see the whole picture and whose ways are so much higher than ours?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

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This past weekend, I experienced a reality check. I happened to glance at the calendar on our kitchen wall and noticed it was showing the dates for January. That’s okay, I thought—we’re still in January, aren’t we? But wait! We had Australia Day last weekend—we must be in February!

With a sinking feeling, I reached out and tore off that sheet showing all those January dates, crumpled it up and threw it in the bin. Usually whenever I get rid of the past month’s dates, I pause to reflect on all that has happened during that time—family events, appointments, speaking engagements, writing days. But this time, there was a big blank in my mind about it all. Where had that first month gone? How had I let it slip away like that?

Granted, there have been some extenuating circumstances that need to be taken into account—like a back operation in the middle of the month! Prior to that, I was largely focused on coping with pain and deciding on the best way forward health-wise. And afterwards—well, I’m hanging onto the theory that my brain fuzziness is due to the anaesthetic I had rather than anything else! I’m slowly getting on track again, but realise I have missed out on most of the planning I usually do in January to set up speaking engagements and promotional events. As for my current writing project, I can barely remember what it is about right now! Any wonder I felt a little discouraged, as I tore that first month from our calendar?

I almost laughed out loud, however, when I turned to that well-worn part of my bible, the Psalms, yesterday and discovered I was up to Psalm 18 again. I suspect God has a sense of humour, because there I found the following verses:

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (28-29)

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. (33)

You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. (36)

Now I’m clumsy at the best of times. Somehow I don’t think my feet are anything like those nimble deer’s feet. Right now, I’m not advancing anywhere too confidently. And as for scaling walls—forget it! Yet do you think it was any accident I read those verses? Do you think God was mocking me or trying to give me false hope? That doesn’t sound like God to me.

So I’m choosing to hear God’s positive, encouraging messages to me via this psalm. Right now, I’m choosing to accept God’s help as I step into this year, knowing that help will include strength for what lies ahead and the ability to stand and to overcome any obstacles along the way. With God, I know I will even be able to scale those walls that might look impenetrable. And as I live in God’s light and love, I know my own lamp will not go out but shine brightly.

So I’m looking forward to the year ahead—and I hope you are too. Let’s scale those walls together!

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