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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian speaker’

One recent cold, blustery Saturday morning, I headed out to drive to our local shops. I had not gone far, however, when I felt compelled to pull over and get out of the car. You see, I had just passed two older men trying their best to chase after piles of advertising brochures that were being blown everywhere, up and down the road. At first, I thought: ‘It’s not really my problem. Maybe they were careless and dropped them while they were supposed to be putting them neatly in people’s letterboxes.’ But I felt so sorry for them as they ran after those windswept papers that I decided I should help.

Can you picture me diving here and there to pick up those errant brochures? Hmm! A few cars slowed down, as I retrieved some that had blown right onto the road, but no one stopped to help. One can only hope all those young people in particular who decided to keep going had a pressing appointment somewhere!

Feeling decidedly windblown, I huffed and puffed my way back to where the two men were busy chasing after their own piles.

‘Are we winnin’?’ one of them yelled out with a grin.

‘I don’t know, but at least it’s good exercise!’ I laughed back.

I soon discovered the men had not been delivering the leaflets. They had merely seen them fall off a truck right in front of them and had decided they created far too much litter to be left lying on the road. This made me doubly glad I had helped them, but as I drove off, the question the man asked kept ringing in my ears: ‘Are we winnin’?’

The two men and I must have looked ridiculous as we picked up those brochures—I think I even saw some drivers laughing at us while they sped past! We did not look like we were ‘winnin’’ at all—and I for one didn’t feel like we were either. And that is how it sometimes feels with our efforts to love and serve God too, doesn’t it? Sometimes, there seems to be little impact when we seek to use the gifts God has given us. At times, after speaking at some secular event, I wonder if anyone present heard my gentle challenges about faith in God. At times too, I wonder if those conversations at my book table will bear any fruit—or if my books themselves will. Yet I know that is when I need to refocus and remember I have done my best to convey what I felt God wanted me to convey. And I need to remind myself too that I belong to the ultimate, all-powerful Victor who has conquered even death for our sakes.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58

Whether we managed to retrieve all those pesky brochures or not on that recent windy morning, I suspect we did win. I at least sensed our actions pleased and honoured God—and in the end, that’s what matters, don’t you think?  

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One day recently, in the middle of writing, I thought of something I needed to do in the kitchen. Yet there was one slight problem. After heading there, I could not remember what that ‘something’ was! Feeling distinctly foolish, I returned to my writing, hoping enlightenment would soon come.

Not long after, my husband charged into my study to tell me two things. He remembered the first, but the second eluded him completely. Later that day, however, he informed me he had remembered what that second thing was—but had forgotten it again! Oh dear.

A day or so later, that pesky piece of information he had forgotten twice finally surfaced. This time, he remembered it long enough to relay it to me—although whether it was worth the effort is another matter, since I cannot now recall what it was!

This phenomenon of forgetting things has nothing to do with old age, of course. My personal excuse is that I have so many writing ideas in my head there is very little room for other pieces of information, particularly mundane ones. That is why I take great care in recording the various details for my speaking engagements on my laptop—and in my paper diary. After all, I do need to remember such things as what topic I have been asked to speak on, what time I need to arrive, where I am able to park and other necessary bits and pieces of information. This helps counteract the feeling of dread I occasionally experience of one day turning up at the wrong venue or at the wrong time or even on the wrong day!

I think God understands how good we are at forgetting, don’t you? In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites various feasts and rituals which enabled them to reflect together on God’s goodness and remember how God wanted them to live. Even then, God often had to encourage them, via strong words from their leaders, to remember where they had come from and who had saved them.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Deuteronomy 24:18

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced … 1 Chronicles 16:12, Psalm 105:5

You have forgotten God your Saviour; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Isaiah 17:10

We cannot judge them, however, because how quickly we too can forget what God has done for us! I for one know how easily I can slip over into thinking I am in charge of my own life and fail to remember who I belong to. No wonder Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for his disciples—and for us—as one tangible way at least of remembering him.  

This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians j11:24-25

We may forget many things, but let’s never forget the Lord. Let’s remember his amazing love and grace and mercy towards us—and be so thankful.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits … Psalm 103:1-2

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Jo 17Recently, I did something I have never done before. Each day for one whole week, I deliberately chose to do some special activity I have wanted to do for some time but always had a reason not to. On top of that, I did not cook dinner any night that week. Instead, we ate out or bought takeaway. You see, the whole thing was a unique birthday present for me—and what fun it all was!

Originally, my husband had wanted me to enjoy a few days away somewhere by myself—to relax, recharge and spend time with God. I thought about this lovely idea and even looked up various venues online but did not feel settled about any of them. Then one night, it came to me. I did not want to go away anywhere. Instead, I wanted to enjoy different, interesting experiences within reach of our own beautiful unit, then come home and not have to cook dinner! A win-win situation, don’t you think?

In the end, we called this wondrous week ‘The Festival of Jo-Anne’ (!)—and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I went shopping, twice over. I went to the movies. I had coffee out. I had a massage. I read. And in between, I had time simply to sit and be and reconnect with God. Yes, it was all very good indeed.

But one reason I enjoyed it even more was that, two weeks earlier, I had finally finished the first draft of my latest novel that had languished on my laptop for over three years, waiting patiently for me to unfold the rest of the story. This special week of mine then was also for me a time when I came up for air, so to speak, when I allowed my poor brain to rest, when I graced myself a little more than usual—and when I sensed God’s love and grace being showered on me from every angle. It was a lovely, hiatus period—a time to gain clearer perspective, not only on my novel, before I plunged into all that necessary editing, but on my life in general.

At one stage in writing this particular novel, I wondered if I should keep going. Should I be content with the eight books of mine that have already been published? Was that where God wanted me to stop? But one day, I sensed God saying gently to me, ‘Jo-Anne, whether you write this book or don’t write it, remember I’ll be just as delighted with you either way!’ What gracious, loving, freeing words to hear! I did not need to feel pressured to produce in any way. Instead, I had permission to write the sort of novel I have wanted to write for some time and to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Yet I think God was saying more than that too. I think God wanted to remind me that, all the time, whether celebrating the Festival of Jo-Anne or writing or speaking or whatever, I can rest fully in this amazing love of God that accepts me, no matter what.

How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7 New Living Translation

Maybe you too need to hear this reminder right now?

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Jo 17I have discovered that, unless I am vigilant, I can sometimes become a lot more self-focussed and self-serving than I like to think I am. I may gladly agree to do something, but soon those selfish questions I am loath to acknowledge resound in my brain. What will I get out of this? How can I impress others as I complete this task? What if nobody sees all my effort?

Hmm!

One recent Saturday morning, I was ahead of schedule to get to a speaking engagement some distance away, so sat down to check over my input and read my Bible before leaving. I found I was up to the story in John 5 of how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. This takes place on the Sabbath, so the Jews begin to persecute Jesus—and even more so after Jesus refers to God as his Father (5:17). Yet Jesus still proceeds to explain how he does only what he sees the Father doing and how he has received authority as the Son of  God to give life and to judge others (5:19ff).

Then the following words caught my eye:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. John 5:30

Okay, I found myself thinking—Jesus chose to listen to his Father and not step out in his own strength. And he chose to please his Father rather than think only about his own wellbeing. What a challenge! If Jesus had that attitude in his life and ministry, then surely I should aim to do likewise—especially as I set out to speak somewhere.

I read on, admiring Jesus’ boldness as he addressed those Jews seeking to kill him: ‘But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ (5:42) Wow—how confronting that must have been for them to hear! Yet I personally found his next statement even more challenging:

How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? John 5:44

As I drove to my speaking engagement, I found myself hoping I had heard my Father God well and prepared the message God wanted me to give. But then I asked myself: What are my real motives in it all? Is it just to receive praise from others—or is it to hear that ‘Well done!’ from God deep in my spirit and to know that is enough? Usually after I speak, someone will come and say something positive about my input—and I hope I have learnt to accept this with grace and not let it add to my pride. But if I begin to care more about that than about whether I have pleased God in it all, then something is sadly out of balance in my whole approach.

Sometimes our real motives for doing what we do can be well hidden, don’t you think? Let’s bring them into the light of day and check them out with our loving, caring, gracious God, who does not want to see us go astray.

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Jo 12Have you heard of of those loyalty card deals where, if you spend a certain amount for a certain period of time in a certain supermarket chain, you get even more to spend? A few weeks ago, my husband was offered one we felt we could not pass up. It involved receiving a hundred dollars off our grocery bill, if we spent that amount in-store first—as well as spending fifty dollars each week for four weeks in a row prior to this. I was sure I could find enough to buy, so we decided to take part.

What fun it was, buying a hundred dollars worth of goodies! I easily made it to that total—and beyond. In the process, I met some friends who were doing something similar. We congratulated one another—it was as if we were in a conspiracy to wring every last cent out of our windfall. After all, the supermarket chain had done well out of us over the years, so we were entitled to do this.

Later, I reflected further on this experience of getting something for nothing. At least, it wasn’t really for nothing. We still had to spend to get that bonus—we still had to stay loyal to that supermarket chain. Then I remembered how, after speaking somewhere, I have sometimes been given a monetary gift. After one particular women’s event, I received an amount far beyond what I felt I was worth. I was shocked—I actually wondered whether an extra ‘0’ had been added to the amount by mistake! Yes, I had spent hours preparing my input and had put my heart and soul into my message, but I had enjoyed doing it all. They did not need to give me so much—or anything, really. In fact, I felt quite ashamed they had been so generous on my behalf.

These two responses to receiving a gift could not be more different, could they? With the supermarket bonus, we had a sense of entitlement. After all, we had earned it by shopping at that particular store. But with the gift I received for speaking, I felt as if I didn’t deserve it at all. I wonder if these two responses give us a picture of how we can tend to treat the grace and forgiveness God offers us. I have known some people who feel entitled to ending up in heaven with God. After all, haven’t they been to church often enough or lived good lives and not hurt anyone too much? But I have met others too who have great difficulty believing God could love them enough to forgive them and offer them the free gift of eternal life. They don’t deserve it—they feel too unworthy and insignificant—and are unable to accept it.

Both responses are sad, don’t you think? One is full of entitlement, while the other is full of shame. Yes, God has given us something for nothing, something we didn’t deserve, something made possible only through Jesus’ death. We can’t earn this gift of grace. All we can do is come in humility and receive it, then live for God in return, with a heart filled with gratitude.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

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If there were a degree in playground assessment, I reckon my husband would pass it with honours. He well knows the various criteria that must be met as far as playgrounds go, according to which grandchild one is trying to entertain. The equipment has to be suitable for the child’s age—not too adventurous and not too boring. It is preferable for there to be some shade. There has to be good parking nearby. And it also helps if said playground is not too far away.

P1030367AAnother plus is the presence of a particular piece of equipment we call the ‘basket swing’—that is, a shallow, basket-like circle made of some webbed material attached via chains to the apex of a strong support structure that enables it to swing in all sorts of directions. In past years, our two older granddaughters loved swinging together in one of these. Now our grandson lies back just like they did and is happy to be pushed for as long as Granddad has energy to do so. Sometimes he even goes to sleep in the process. Zain, that is—not Granddad!

I thought of this swing recently when I came across some words in Isaiah, which, while spoken to the people of Zion, God’s chosen children, surely also apply to God’s children today:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

What has this verse to do with basket swings, you may well ask. To my mind, lying back in a basket swing is a wonderful picture of what I believe it means to truly rest in God’s unfailing love. Just as our grandchildren relax and enjoy the ride in this swing, trusting Granddad to keep on pushing faithfully and in a way that is safe for them, so I know I can trust the Lord to be there for me and to go on loving me, whatever might lie ahead.

Yet it is one thing to agree God loves us with an unfailing love but quite another to live as if we actually believe it, I have discovered. Why do I sit here, for example, worrying about so many things if I know the Lord has such compassion for me and is able to keep me in a place of peace, even if everything falls apart around me? Why do I so often forget about God’s amazing love for me that will never, ever waver, however much or little people might value me as a writer and speaker?

So … as 2015 begins, once again I choose live my life secure in that basket of God’s unwavering love, knowing God understands me perfectly, values me so much and will provide for me, whatever happens in the coming year and beyond. When those doubts and fears come flooding in, I plan to choose to rest back in those loving ‘basket swing’ arms of God and allow that unshakeable love to consume me once again.

If you find yourself feeling a little shaky as you look to the year ahead, may you too experience that unshakeable love of the Lord once again that will never fail you, whatever happens.

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I wonder if you have experienced how good it is at times to turn from an extremely focused, brain intensive task to a job that requires little thought on your part. We can bemoan how these boring jobs waste our precious time—or at least, that’s what I caught myself doing one day this past week. I had much more important things to do, I grumbled, like preparing for some upcoming talks I’m giving, like cooking, like—well, like actually writing for a change. That would be good, seeing I am a writer!

Still grumbling, I spread out all the paraphernalia for my two easy rote jobs needing to be done, ready to begin my first task—sticking white labels on the back of about three hundred business cards, in order to let customers know about my new website, www.soulfriend.com.au, set up specifically for my new non-fiction book.  I didn’t want to waste the cards I have, so had decided to try this option. Over and over, I removed labels and stuck them on, getting into quite a rhythm in the process.

My second task had a few other components to it. It involved folding five different greeting cards produced by a friend, collecting one of each and placing all five together in a cellophane packet, along with five envelopes, then sealing the packet by ripping off a strip of very light plastic from the top and folding a flap down. Easy really—and again I worked out a kind of system. Except the light plastic strips had a very annoying way of clinging to my fingers and refusing to be shaken off, whatever I did!

But somewhere in the midst of all these mundane tasks, something happened inside me. I began to realise a few things. And I began to suspect they were in fact little lessons my heavenly Father might want me to take note of. Firstly, how thankful I needed to be, I realised, that I actually have a business card and something to advertise! By the grace of God, I now have five published novels and one non-fiction book, plus the ability to speak on a variety of topics. Moreover, how thankful I needed to be for my website itself! One of our daughters had carefully guided me through setting this up—a huge gift and help to me. As well, most of the information on mentoring and spiritual direction/spiritual friendship I was able to include there had come from the many different experiences and resources God has brought my way over the years. I had been given much, I realised—and I needed to share it.

As for my friend’s packs of greeting cards, I began to see again what a privilege it was to do this small task for her. She has gone overseas to a hard place to share the good news with others—what was I doing, sitting in my lounge room complaining? Besides, I have had some lovely conversations with people as I have sold these cards alongside my books in many different venues in recent years. I needed these firm reminders from God, I realised, to set my thinking straight and to gain God’s perspective once again.

Do you perhaps need similar reminders right now too?

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done … Psalm 105:1-5a

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