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Archive for July, 2022

Sometimes it’s the simple things, the things we can do so easily, that matter most to people, isn’t it? Sometimes it can mean so much to others, for example, when we actually pay attention to them, when we listen with our whole being, when we respect them as human beings created in God’s image.

I was reminded of this last week when I gave a talk in a secular club environment. I began as usual by engaging with those present and making sure everyone felt included. Several times during my talk, I asked for audience responses—and I also continued to ‘read the room’, checking that everyone still seemed interested and awake! Nothing I did seemed special or new to me—in fact, I thought this is what every speaker they invited would naturally do. After all, who wants to drone on to a bored audience for forty-five minutes?!

Imagine my surprise then when two lovely gentlemen sitting right down the front spoke to me afterwards.

‘That was wonderful—thank you so much! You seem to …’ one man said, groping for words to express himself.

‘Yes,’ the other man chimed in. ‘It was excellent. I like how you … well … connected with us. You’re very …’

At that point, I took pity on them.

‘Inclusive?’ I suggested.

‘Yes—that’s the word!’ they agreed, beaming.

I was stunned and felt almost teary at their sincere compliments. But later, as I drove home, I began to think more about their response. At our church, all our preachers speak in a warm, inclusive way. It is what I am used to hearing and seeing, week by week. And it is also how I have always tried to speak myself—it simply seems natural to me. Yet these men, along with others present, had found it somehow different and were touched.

As I realised this, I began to feel both sad and ashamed. I felt sad that these people somehow seem to have missed out on experiencing similar warm, inclusive input. And I felt ashamed that I had taken such warm experiences of my own for granted, along with my God-given ability to speak in an inclusive way.

After my talk that day, one of these two men also told me with tears in his eyes how he does not practise his faith anymore, although he still believes in God in his heart—and my own heart went out to him. What had happened in his life? Had no one truly listened or shared the things of God with him in a loving way? He bought one of my books—and I hope and pray God will speak to him as he reads it.

But I also hope that, from now on, I treasure my own warm experiences of being part of a church family so much more. And I hope I will be much more grateful too for my own God-given gifts that enable me to speak and connect warmly with others. God has graciously given us all so much—let’s always be ready and willing to share whatever gifts we have with others.

Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words … 1 Peter 4:10-11 The Message

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I can still remember a terrifying ride called ‘Space Mountain’ I went on almost forty years ago while visiting Disneyland. Time and again, our carriage would teeter at some high point, then plunge headlong into the darkness below, suddenly veering this way, then that. I remember holding onto my glasses for dear life, in case they flew in one direction as I flew in the other!

I would never want to repeat the experience—yet, this past week, I realised this is exactly what happens in my faith journey at times. One minute, I can be standing firm, full of trust in God—yet the next, I am tossed around, worrying about everything and wondering whether God can indeed help.

This realisation came while reading again the account of how Jesus—and Peter—walked on water (Matthew 14). At first, the disciples are all terrified, not only because of the huge buffeting their boat is experiencing on the lake, but also because they think Jesus is a ghost (25). Straight away, however, Jesus lovingly reassures them:

But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (27)

Peter boldly speaks up then, even though he doesn’t seem completely sure it is indeed Jesus.

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. (28-29)

Peter does just that—yet soon fear takes over and he cries out for Jesus to save him, which Jesus immediately does. One minute, Peter is brave and bold, the next so doubtful and afraid, as he flounders around and begins to sink (30-31).

Yet Peter’s whole journey of faith in Jesus was a similarly huge rollercoaster at times too.  Not long after his walking on water effort, we read how he boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—at which point Jesus commends him for his faith.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church … Matthew 16:18

A few verses later, however, we read how Peter is rebuked for expressing his horror that Jesus will die.

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me …” Matthew 16:23

On it goes for Peter, up and down. Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter declares he will never fall away from Jesus, even if everyone else does (Matthew 26:33). But, just as Jesus predicts, that very night, he disowns Jesus three times—and is utterly devastated. I always feel so relieved, however, when I read how Jesus appears to Peter and the other disciples after his resurrection and fully reinstates him (John 21). Despite Peter’s denials, Jesus shows complete trust in him and lovingly commissions him to take care of his sheep, which Peter then does with great courage, as we see throughout the early chapters of Acts.

I wonder if you, like me, can relate all too easily to Peter and his rollercoaster ride. Yet I am so encouraged that Jesus persevered with him and continued to show faith in him. And I am so grateful we too can experience that same undeserved love and grace today and feel that firm grip of Jesus’ hand as he reaches out and rescues us time and time again, aren’t you?

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There I was, waiting in my car for the lights to change at a busy intersection, when our daughter suddenly started muttering out loud in the passenger seat beside me.

‘Red light. In right hand turn lane. Right indicator on.’

At first, I thought she was telling me I had missed something. I knew she was learning to drive—she has not really had the opportunity to do so until now. But … was she trying to tell me what I should be doing, when I have been driving for well over forty years?

A moment later, however, she explained what was happening.

‘My great driving instructor has me say everything out loud, so she can check I’ve noticed all the things I need to see and do.’

I was impressed. What an excellent idea, I thought—it would probably reinforce everything for our daughter too, even as she spoke those words out loud.

This little scenario at the traffic lights came back to me the next morning, as I sat reading my bible. I had decided to start delving into the Psalms again, my ‘go to’ place when things get a little hectic in my life. I was up to Psalm 18, but paused when I reached verses 28-33:

You, 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.

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
    And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.

After a while, I began to read on, but then felt I needed to return to these same verses. It seemed almost a sacrilege to read them only once—they were too strong to be skimmed over in any way. Then it came to me that, like our daughter, I needed to speak the words out loud—not to let any instructor sitting beside me know I had noticed everything I was supposed to notice in these words, but rather to allow them to impact me even more and stay with me longer, on into my day and beyond.

So I did just that. I sat there, looking out at the grey skies beyond my window, and read each line out loud, with as much emphasis as I could muster. And as I listened to myself do this, I began thinking somewhere else in my mind, ‘Yes, this is so true! Our God is so strong and perfect and wonderful! And yes, this is what God has done for me in the past, so many times. God will rescue and strengthen me again, I’m sure of it.’ It then seemed so natural to continue on, praising God out loud and praying for all the people and situations I was concerned about, as well as for myself.

What a powerful experience listening to myself reading God’s Word and praying out loud turned out to be! I think I should plan to do it much more often, don’t you?

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When I was a Girl Guide in my early teens, we enjoyed a variety of interesting activities, both indoor and outdoor. We also went on hikes and camps, but one thing remained constant, whatever we did. We always wore our Guide uniform, which was a navy-blue dress, with four large pockets. And in those pockets, we carried all sorts of things that might come in handy out in the bush in particular, including a compass, a notebook and pencil, some band-aids, a plastic groundsheet and even a snakebite kit back then! Also, the light-blue tie we wore was made by folding a triangular piece of material in a certain way, so it could double as an arm sling, if needs be. Our Girl Guide motto was, ‘Be Prepared’—and we certainly took that to heart.

This motto came to mind again recently, as I read in Nehemiah how, halfway through rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Jews became discouraged and afraid when they discovered that their enemies planned to attack them. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders prayed (4:9), then stationed the people in strategic positions, with swords, spears and bows ready, urging them to stand firm.

Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious… Nehemiah 4:14 NLT

With God’s help, the enemy’s plot was foiled, but Nehemiah remained vigilant. He organised half the men to protect the people, while the other half kept labouring to finish the wall. He also ordered the builders to work with their swords strapped on, ready to fight at a moment’s notice, and the labourers to carry all their building materials in one hand and a weapon in the other (4:17-18).

But that was not all. Because the workers were scattered, he organised a man to sound the trumpet to warn everyone, should the enemy attack (4:19-20). Yep, Nehemiah was determined to be prepared—and made sure his people were too.

As I pictured all this military activity in my mind, I realised what a powerful image it is for my life today. I may not have human invaders on all sides, plotting to bring me down. Yet I am well aware of the extremely alert, cunning enemy the Apostle Paul warns us about who constantly seeks to discourage, especially when I set out to tackle something I believe God particularly wants me to do.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 NLT

I don’t know about you, but, unlike Nehemiah’s men, I need both hands to work on my writing each day! Yet I can still put on the armour Paul goes on to urge the Ephesians—and us—to wear, including the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). And I can pray constantly, just as Nehemiah did and as Paul taught too (6:18). Even as I keep working, I can hold these amazing weapons in my hands, so to speak. And I can also keep trusting in our ‘great and glorious’ God who watches over us, just as Nehemiah did, and not be afraid.

Let’s stay close to God each day, but let’s be armed and prepared too—always.

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