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Jo 17I watched my neighbour’s eyes fill with tears as she told me a story about her great-grandson. His grandfather recently passed away and, in order to explain this sad event, his family told him his grandfather had gone to ‘the sky’.

‘I want to go and see him,’ was his natural reply.

‘But we can’t do that,’ he was told.

‘Well, you get him to come here.’

‘We can’t do that either.’

Because this little boy’s parents have separated, he is used to packing his bag and staying for a week with one parent, then the other. So he apparently decided to fetch his bag and head for the front door, ready to find his grandfather himself.

While reflecting on the image of this little boy holding his case at the door, I remembered some words the Apostle Paul wrote, as he warned Timothy about those who see godliness as a way to obtain financial gain:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:7

My neighbour’s great-grandson sadly cannot visit his grandfather or take that little bag of his with him. And neither can we take anything with us, when our own time comes, whatever our particular bag might contain. What a reminder to look at the things we spend most time and effort pursuing in life!

Recently at our church, a lady told us about something that happened to her and her husband while overseas. They were in Rome and had to wait a couple of hours until their B and B accommodation was available. So they parked their hire car at a shopping centre and looked around for a while. When they returned to their car, however, it had been broken into—and everything they owned had gone. All they were left with were the clothes and money and whatever else they had with them.

That evening, the B and B owner kindly contacted the police for them to try to get some of their property back, but to no avail. Yet this lady was calm through it all, because, just that morning, she felt God had told her that, whatever happened that day, he was watching over her. In fact, she was so calm that the B and B owner became quite puzzled.

‘You seem kind of “zen-like”,’ he told her—at which point she explained what she felt God had said to her!

Eventually, this lady and her husband continued their trip, with only a couple of much smaller bags between them. And as she told us this, she commented how free it felt to travel so much lighter!

This story caused me to reflect even more on what baggage I myself am carrying right now through this world. Is it light? Is it something I can let go of without being destroyed? More importantly, am I putting my time and energy into those things that really matter and that Paul goes on to mention to Timothy?

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11

May our bags be packed full to overflowing with all these things when our time comes to meet God face to face!

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BecomingMe-OFC-I will always be grateful I was able to find publishers for my six novels and my first non-fiction book, Soul Friend. Without these publishers, my writing journey would have been severely hampered. But I am also grateful I was able to produce my second non-fiction book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God, myself via Ingram Spark in 2016. This gave me freedom to include everything I wanted to include and also to set my own publishing time frame. Now, two years later, I still receive regular reports from Ingram Spark, detailing e-book and hard copy sales.

I love this company’s efficiency, but I often smile when I receive that professional-looking, emailed monthly report for e-book sales in particular. You see, as time has passed since the release of Becoming Me, I usually discover that just one person, someone somewhere in the world, someone I will probably never meet, has bought an e-book version of Becoming Me. Yes, that means a whole USD$2.40 my little book has earned for me as the publisher—what a fortune!

Yet I never feel disappointed with these reports. In fact, this one sale always touches me, as I try to visualise who this reader might be. I pray for them too. I pray that something in my little book might speak to their hearts and provide the word from God for them that they need. After all, I’m sure this one person matters to God.

But occasionally I receive a different sort of email about Becoming Me—one from a reader I often do not know, commenting on some aspect of the book that has been meaningful to them. Recently, a lady wrote how, while she related to so much of what I wrote, the thing that touched her most was one small paragraph where I describe how, for many years, I wrote weekly letters home to my parents interstate, keeping them up-to-date with all our family events. This lady shared how, for over fifty years, she had done the same, even when her mother became a dementia patient in a nursing home. She told me how some people thought she was strange to keep writing these letters. Yet, as she read my book, she felt she had found a companion, someone who understood. How blessed I felt that God had somehow comforted her through my book, even in this small way!

These people whose lives we touch, the ones and twos, do matter to God, don’t you think? Surely we see this in how Jesus often went out of his way to minister to just one person. Examples that come to mind readily are the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the woman at the well (John 4), the man born blind (John 9), Lazarus (John 11) and Mary Magdalene outside the tomb (John 20).

People matter to God. You and I matter to God. In fact, God seeks each of us out, like that one lost sheep, and, once found, will never let us go. And that comforts me more than any words I may ever write.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand, John 10:27-28

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Jo 23I wake up feeling tired, after a rather restless night. As my mind begins to clear and I work out what day it is, I realise I need to head to our church office for the morning. For four months, my husband and I are helping to support our wonderful ministry team, while our two lead pastors (husband and wife) are on sabbatical leave. It is an honour to do this—yet today, I feel decidedly less than adequate for the task.

I get ready, all the while thinking of the many jobs waiting to be done at home while I am out. So … why am I doing what I am doing? I have more than enough to occupy me, without any added responsibilities. What was I thinking, to say yes when asked? I have moved on. I left a ministry role many years ago and, since then, God has unfolded such a fulfilling writing and speaking journey for me. How could I have agreed to put my current novel aside for these months? Besides, some of my ministry gifts and skills are quite rusty. Surely there are others who could do these things so much better?

I grumble to myself as I eat breakfast and leave home, feeling so unsure about the day ahead. I plan to work on some training material for the pastoral team, preparing input I have been asked to give on a topic I myself originally suggested. Yet as I arrive and open up those documents on my laptop, I wonder how what I have already prepared will connect with our team members. I don’t know them very well yet—will they understand where I’m coming from? Will they feel that giving up their precious time in the middle of the day to sit and listen to my input is a big waste? Will they decide it is irrelevant for them in their particular area of ministry?

Eventually, I turn to a sermon I am currently working on. I thought what I have already written was what God wanted me to say. Yet, as I look at it again, I begin to wonder. Today, it seems a little trite—perhaps too simple, too fanciful even. I want to honour God in what I share on the day—and also honour the trust our leadership has shown in asking me to speak. But am I making a huge mistake with all that input I see on the screen before me?

Then I stop and reach for my Bible, turning to some verses I read earlier before heading out. In these, the Apostle Paul lists the many sufferings he has endured in his ministry, then writes:

But he (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   1 Corinthians 12:9-10

Yes, I may be weak—but I am also strong, because I have an amazing God whose grace and power are able to shine through my weaknesses. How wonderfully reassuring is that?

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Jo 12Recently, I watched our young and very intelligent grandson, as he sat at our table, carefully shuffling that double pack of Uno cards. I offered to help, but he declined—so speedily and insistently that I began to suspect a thing or two. Often when we play this particular game, I have noted how, by some strange coincidence, he ends up with a much higher percentage of those wonderful ‘Draw Four’ and ‘Draw Two’ cards than I do, along with all those ‘Skip’, ‘Reverse’ and ‘Wild’ ones! You see, his card shuffling technique involves nonchalantly turning some over to find out what they are—and then ensuring they are strategically placed in that pack so that they end up in his hand and not mine!

Our Zain often has a wily plan like this in mind—until his grandmother succeeds in foiling it. Yes, recently, even though those cards were stacked, I somehow ended up with two ‘Draw Four’ cards as my final ones to play, thus beating him hollow. What a letdown for him. This time at least, his plans came to nothing!

All of us make plans, big and small, each day—plans that are hopefully much nobler than winning at a card game. Perhaps right now you have already planned out the next few days or weeks or months or even years of your life and have decided what you will do when and with whom. Yet it can all fall apart in a split second, can’t it? Someone becomes ill. Something happens at work that puts our job on the line. People change their minds. The bottom falls out of the economy. On and on it goes. And that’s why I have always tried to take to heart the following warning:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. James 4:13-14

This past week, on the actual day when chaos seemed to reign in the government of our country and we were unsure who would end up being prime minister as a result, my husband looked at the daily Bible verse that had appeared on his phone for that particular date and read:

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

What a timely warning, we both felt. We can have very grand plans indeed—not only for our own futures but for the future of our country—yet in the space of a few hours, they can all come crashing down. And yes indeed, there seem to have been many such plans brewing in high places in our nation, some no doubt duplicitous and self-seeking, others noble and altruistic. But whatever the case, in the end, God will have the last word. Some politicians may feel they are omnipotent, but sooner or later, their reign will end. Yet the Lord’s continues on into eternity—and ultimately, no one can stand against it.

So whatever your plans and mine, may we always submit them to God, who understands and sees all things and whose purpose for us and for this whole world will ultimately prevail—forever.

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Jo 23I have discovered we own an extremely polite washing machine. On those rare occasions when I happen to be standing nearby when a wash load finishes, it sends me a sweet, little message via the control panel: ‘Finished! Have a nice day!’ But recently, I found a much more distressing message there. After hearing a little musical summons emanating from our laundry, I went to investigate and found the following: ‘Help! My load is out of balance. Please redistribute load, then press start.’

Of course I did as instructed. I hauled those wet towels around, spread them out more evenly—and my trusty washing machine went spinning on its merry way.

Yet that desperate message my washing machine had sent stayed in my mind long after. Could God perhaps be prompting me to apply this to my own life right now? After all, there have been many times when my ‘load’ has indeed been severely out of balance. Hmm …

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to throw ourselves into all those tasks and responsibilities we have, forgetting key things like rest, like self-care, like close relationships—and like close connectedness with God? Sometimes we need that moment of shuddering to a standstill, as my washing machine did, before we realise we need help to change and somehow redistribute the load in our lives.

For quite a while, I have missed nurturing that more creative side of me that is fed by losing myself for hours in writing my next novel. I know the time will come later this year when I will hopefully find those hours again. But meanwhile, I need some sort of creative outlet. So for that reason, and also to prepare something that could be displayed at our church’s upcoming Art Installation, I decided to create a piece of writing based on John 9. I then used a special bronze metallic pen to handwrite these words on black cardboard and, as I did, I could feel that peace and calm I so desperately needed enfold me once again. God was so wonderfully near, as I recreated that amazing account of how Jesus healed the man who had been born blind.

In the process, I recalled a warning in Isaiah that has often reminded me in the past to stop rushing hither and thither, relying on my own strength, and instead, to listen to God and live and minister the way God sees is best for me:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Isaiah 30:15

Like God’s people back then, I have to own to being obstinate at times and wanting to go my own way, so that I am danger of being left desolate, ‘like a flagstaff on mountaintop’ (30:17). Instead, I need to look to God to find the best balance in my life and to walk humbly in God’s love and grace on a daily basis.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! 30:18

That is God’s amazing heart of love for me—and for you too.

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Jo 17It’s so easy to become consumed with all the things happening in our lives from week to week, isn’t it? Sometimes, we may feel we are only just managing to stay afloat in our own particular fast-flowing, almost overwhelming river of demands and commitments and responsibilities. No wonder then that, in the midst of it all, we so often lose sight of that bigger picture.

Recently, my husband conducted a funeral, during which he reminded us that our life here on earth, when compared with eternity, is like the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface of the water, there is so much more. Then he used a second analogy of the distance covered in a long, overseas trip, as opposed to merely the first centimetre of that trip—and this resonated with me even more. After all, I have gone on quite a few long, overseas trips and can well remember my last flight home from Turkey—a distance of around fifteen thousand kilometres. So what is one centimetre when compared with that? Nothing really. Yet that is how long our life on earth is when compared with eternity.

Perhaps that sort of finite analogy is as close as we will get to understanding the vast difference between the life span we have here on earth and eternity. It’s so hard to imagine something that goes on forever, isn’t it? But whether we can get our heads around it or not, it’s vital we remember eternity—and God—do exist.

The bottom line I need to remind myself about constantly is that nothing I have or am experiencing in this world lasts forever. That applies equally to the people and things that bring me happiness and fulfilment as well as to those situations that cause me pain and difficulty. At times, I know I am in danger of forgetting about God, as I love and care for those close to me. Of course it’s important to love and care for them well. But one day, I won’t be here—and neither will they. At times too, I have put such store by the books I have written and continue to write, that I forget all those words I produce are so temporal. Hopefully, what I write says something of value to others and delights God in the process. But one day, those books will be forgotten, even by those who enjoyed them. Already, many are no doubt hidden away on some dusty shelf or residing in an op shop or perhaps gone long ago into the recycling bin!

As for those difficult things in our lives, how wonderful to remember they too will not last forever! One day, we will have new heavenly bodies, with no sickness or malfunctions. One day we will be whole in every way. One day, ‘God will wipe away every tear from our eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

Whatever is happening in your life right now, whether joyous or challenging or a mixture of both, can I encourage you to remember the bigger picture and keep the same perspective as Paul and his fellow-workers did?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

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Jo 12I wonder if you are like me and consistently put off certain jobs around the house as long as you can because they are way too time-consuming or too messy or too back-breaking or too whatever. There are several I detest for all these reasons, but one is definitely cleaning that grotty oven of ours.

Since moving over a year ago, I have scrubbed the oven shelves and base several times. But I knew the whole oven needed a thorough clean, because one day, to my horror, I discovered black splatter marks everywhere, especially on the top surface where the element is. We suspect the previous occupants used the oven grill often—something I rarely do—so this grime was well and truly baked on.

Now I could still see at least some of this mess, even though our oven light wasn’t working. In fact, I had decided we mustn’t have a light and had complained often about this to my husband. I could see a square piece of metal on one oven wall, but thought it was merely part of either the element or the shelf structure.

Finally the day came when I took the plunge and sprayed some powerful oven cleaner on all that built-up grease and grime. Half an hour later, I began wiping off copious amounts of gunk—and imagine my surprise when I discovered that that square piece of metal I had seen was actually a light! It didn’t work, however, so the next day, our handyman came and fixed the blown bulb. He turned the light on—and lo and behold, just like that, every corner of that oven was illuminated!

What a miracle! I could actually see clearly now whether my cakes were cooking as I hoped they would. But the downside was I could now also see all those parts I hadn’t managed to get clean in my first attack on that oven!

Around the same time, I happened to read some verses in John’s Gospel about, of all things, light and darkness:

This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. John 3:19-20

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

I am well aware it might seem almost sacrilegious to compare Jesus, the Light of the World, to a little old oven light. Yet this whole mundane oven-cleaning event has shown me once again the huge difference between letting Jesus’ light show up the mess that accumulates in my life at times and pretending that mess simply isn’t there—between allowing God to remove that blackness in me and continuing to operate under layers of gunk, unable to see the way ahead or to function as God intended.

What strange creatures we are, to hide from that wonderful Light that can make all the difference in our lives, both now and forever! Let’s stop doing that. Instead, let’s risk exposing that darkness in us to the light of our loving Lord, who sees all things anyway.

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