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Posts Tagged ‘eternal life’

Jo 12There I was, busy unpacking the final carton from our move, when the lights in our living area went out. I heard voices outside, went to investigate—and was hailed loudly by a gentleman from upstairs.

‘Hi, my name’s Bill. You’re new, aren’t you?’

‘Yes—my name’s Jo-Anne.’

‘Good to meet you, Jo-Anne. Welcome to this wonderful place where the electricity isn’t working!’

Soon, more folk from neighbouring units appeared.

‘Why are the lights out?’ one lady asked.

‘Oh, we mustn’t have paid our bills!’ another man joked.

We all chatted for a while. Then those lights came back on and everyone disappeared inside again.

Another day, I had walked up to our Village Centre to use the wifi there. Before we moved, we arranged with a certain well-known telecommunications company to have our phone connected at our new address and also the internet. Alas, four weeks later, we are still waiting! During that time, I have realised how much I rely on touching base with author friends and others via email, Facebook and blogs. So there I was, hoping to work quickly and quietly at my laptop in the coffee shop. But soon a man and a lady sat down nearby, obviously wondering who this newcomer might be. I chatted with them for a while, then tried to return to my work. Yet, every few moments, one of them would say, ‘Excuse me, do you know …’, ‘Excuse me, have you seen …’, ‘Excuse me, are you aware …’ and so on. They simply wanted to connect with me and be helpful to someone new. So in the end, I forsook my online friends and opted for the folk seated right in front of me.

On yet another day, I met a lady slowly coming downstairs with some rubbish.

‘Do you need help?’ I asked reluctantly, a little unwilling to stop and chat.

‘No thank you, I’m fine. My name’s Marie.’

‘Oh, that’s my second name,’ I told her—and she was delighted.

Soon I discovered she is ninety and has a twin sister who lives just across the way in another unit.

‘We can wave to each other from our balconies!’ she told me—and I could see how important this connection was for her with the one she has known for all of her ninety years.

As I have reflected on all these recent connections with others and how ready each person was to chat, I sense I have been strongly reminded of God’s heart to connect with me in a meaningful way each day. Yet how often do I momentarily touch base, then scuttle away, as when that electricity came on again in our block?  How many times do I ignore God, as I tried to ignore that couple while answering my emails? How often do I refuse to acknowledge God’s presence at all, as I almost did with ninety-year-old Marie?

It’s about stopping in the midst of our busy lives. It’s about becoming aware God is with us and wants to relate to us. It’s about truly connecting—then listening and responding.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I given them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

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There I was, quietly reading away this morning when, in a trice, I found myself swept back into the past. I was a young girl again, watching my father struggle to his feet, put on his gardening hat and declare in a resigned but relatively cheerful voice, ‘Well, I’d better get going again. No rest for the wicked!’

You see, I had just read Isaiah 57:21—“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” A few days ago, a similar verse in Isaiah had not triggered any strong memory. Yet this morning, I was jolted back so forcefully that I could not only hear my father’s voice but see every detail of how he looked—old blue singlet, checked shirt and all. Now to Dad, these words seemed to mean he needed to keep working hard rather than that there would be no heavenly rest or peace for the wicked. At that time, Dad claimed he rejected the idea of eternal life in any form and used to say with finality, ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead.’

Well, it is many years now since he passed away. I was not present in the last weeks of his life, but it seems he may have changed his mind about God and eternal life. I hope he did—I like to think of him at rest and at peace with God. Because that is really what God is talking about in Isaiah 57. In verses 15 and 19, we read:

For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. … Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

We all need that peace, don’t we? There are often so many competing voices seeking to bring us down and make us feel anxious or hurt or frustrated or inadequate or angry. We may well find things in life that give us great peace and joy—a wonderful partner, an interesting job, a new home, success in some area, good friends. But God’s peace goes beyond all of these.

I have always loved Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as he tells his disciples about what lies ahead. I like to imagine the sound of his voice as he spoke out such comforting words—a voice I am sure was filled with authority but also with love:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus’ peace is different from any we might find in this world. It is far, far deeper and more profound. It is eternal. It is not merely the absence of trouble, but rather the presence of the Prince of Peace within us in the person of his Holy Spirit, even in the midst of strife.

So let’s close our ears to the voices that would pull down our faith and call us to look elsewhere to find a peace that satisfies. Instead, let’s choose to be among those who are ‘contrite and lowly in spirit’, who listen intently to that loving voice of God and learn to recognise it as readily as we do the voices of father or mother or others close to us.

Whose voices are you hearing? Do they speak peace into your spirit?

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I wonder how many of you, authors or otherwise, struggle with this whole area of looking for praise for what we produce? I  have been thinking about this in connection with the recent release of my fifth novel Heléna’s Legacy. Of course I want people to like this book. And of course I want it to impact and encourage as many people as possible. After all, I believe in this novel – and I believe it was something God wanted me to write. So I’m happy to get out there and promote it for all it’s worth. And I’m very pleased (and relieved!) when people respond positively – when they congratulate me, when they say they love the cover, when they warm to what I’ve written.

In one sense, I have to ‘pursue’ praise. By that I mean I have to listen to my readers – there is no point in continuing to produce novels no one likes and no one buys. And that includes taking on board praise as well as criticism. But in my uncertainty as to whether my book is ‘good enough’, I find myself on occasions seeking so desperately for that reassuring praise that may never come. I look too eagerly for people’s responses. My wellbeing begins to depend on it. I analyse their words too closely and, if face to face, try to discern if they mean what they’re saying. Perhaps they’re merely trying to be nice and not hurt me. Or perhaps while they compliment me on some aspect of the novel, they’re secretly glad they can find at least something positive to say about it!

So where is the point where I begin to seek praise for praise’s sake only – to make me feel good or to boost my ego – rather than look for it to show me I have written something that will be well-received and hopefully used by God? Where do I step over into self-centredness, caring more about my own honour rather than God’s? Where is the dividing line between humbly and thankfully accepting people’s praise and letting it go to my head?

I guess the real question in my heart is this: Whose praise am I seeking the most – men’s (and women’s!) or God’s? Recently I read the account in John 5 of how Jesus heals a disabled man, telling him to pick up his mat and walk, but is persecuted for this because it is the Sabbath. The persecution then gets worse when Jesus calls God Father, yet this doesn’t deter him from confronting his opponents even more strongly. ‘I know you,’ he tells them (v 42). ‘I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.’ Then he asks a question that pulled me up short: ‘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?’ (v 44)

Yes, I know and am so thankful for the fact that I am fully accepted by God and saved by grace – that none of my works, written or otherwise, will ever ‘earn’ me eternal life. But here Jesus clearly shows the importance of taking God’s opinion of us into account over that of mere mortals, of living in a way that please God above all else. And I’m sure you too look forward to the day when, like the faithful servant in Matthew 25, we ourselves hear our Master’s ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (v 21)

Now that’s definitely some praise worth pursuing, don’t you agree?

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I received some great gifts for Mothers’ Day, among them a fantastic Boston pocket umbrella. Sadly, my precious Liberty umbrella from Harrods in London had finally died, so I wanted one that would be equally noteworthy. And that’s exactly what I got. My new umbrella is a lovely amethyst colour and when folded up in its neat, rectangular carry-case, measures all of seventeen centimetres. I admired its special features and then opened the tiny booklet that came with it to find out more.

Congratulations on your purchase. You are obviously a person of fine judgement’, I read first off. Hmm, I would agree with that – well, at least my daughter is! I continued on. Most of the instructions were serious, but here are some I laughed aloud over:

  • Do not use in the event of storm, hurricane, typhoon or serious climatic disturbance. If you do, your Original Pocket Umbrella may break and then you will be very upset!
  • Please remember this is not a toy and you are not Mary Poppins. Do not use it to fly, float, swing, dance or other bizarre activity for which it is not designed.
  • Do not throw the case away. How would you like it if someone threw your home away?

And as for the one year guarantee, here’s what it says:

The guarantee does not include damage which results from misuse or accident. We strongly recommend that you avoid opening it in a crowded lift, using it to play ‘fetch’ with Fido the dog, or sitting in it while rowing to China. In these cases we are sorry to say your warranty is null and void!

Obviously someone at the Boston Umbrella Company has a sense of humour. But as I later reflected on these fun instructions, it occurred to me that when it comes to God’s instructions, many of us take these with a similar ‘grain of salt’ as the examples above, if not laugh at them outright. Surely Jesus was a little ‘tongue in cheek’ when he declared we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 6:44)? Or surely he didn’t mean that being angry with our brother is just as bad as murdering him (Matt 5:21-22)? What a joke! As for lustful glances being equivalent to committing adultery (Matt 5:27) – don’t be ridiculous! And how can we not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear, as Jesus suggested (Matt 6:25)? Surely, that one’s for the birds! As to becoming great by serving others (Matt 20:25-28), that’s never going to get anyone anywhere in life.

But Jesus wasn’t joking. We can’t merely laugh off his commands as far too naive or impractical – or even unfair. One day we will all find out he meant exactly what he said. And one day we will all see clearly the wisdom and truth of his commands.

Well, I’m not about to risk my life floating to China in my new umbrella – but I am prepared to stake my life on Jesus and his teachings. And when Jesus gives a guarantee that those who believe in him will have eternal life, I know this guarantee will hold good. And I also know God delights to shelter me from the storms of this life and will watch over me forever (Isaiah 25:4; Psalm 91:1).

Now that’s some umbrella – don’t you think?

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Here I was, innocently driving along a busy Sydney road on a boiling hot day, my mind grappling with how to rescue one of the main protagonists in my current novel from the pickle he has managed to get himself into, when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a bright red bus travelling in the opposite direction. At least, it wasn’t so much the bus itself I noticed, but rather the words on the front where the destination is displayed. This bus wasn’t going anywhere though. Instead, its sign read: ‘Sorry – not in service’.

Now the first thing that struck me was what a polite bus it was! Such messages are normally a lot more abrupt, with a simple ‘Not in service’ sufficing. So I reflected for a moment on the vast difference one little word can make – especially the word ‘sorry’.

But the second thought that came to me was much more profound. And I suspect it was one of those blinding reminders I seem to need from God at regular intervals to keep me on track in my life. It occurred to me to wonder how many times God sees this sign written all over us – with or without the word ‘sorry’ attached. How often have I simply chosen to go about my own business as I plan my day or my week or the year ahead, forgetting all about what God might want me to do or whom God might want me to serve? How often has God had to look for another to do what I was being prompted to do or to say those words God had for me to say?

Now I don’t believe God wants to put a big guilt trip on me. Yet on the other hand, if God sent Jesus Christ to die for me, if God has given me eternal life and so much else in my life here and now, surely I need at least to think about how I can love and serve God in return? Surely I need to consider how I can truly be ‘in service’ for the King of Kings, remembering the great love I have received and allowing this love to touch others through me? ‘We love because he first loved us’, we are reminded in 1 John 4:19. ‘Freely you have received, freely give’, Jesus himself tells his disciples in Matthew 10:8.

So I’ve decided that as 2011 begins to get under way for me, I don’t want a ‘Sorry – not in service’ sign over my life, polite as that may be. I want to be ready and willing to do the things God has for me to do. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read:

Each one should use whatever gift he [she] has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

What a privilege to be able to ‘administer God’s grace’ in just the way we have been gifted and created to do! For me right now, I endeavour to do that through my writing and speaking, hopefully passing on God’s love, building others up and encouraging them in turn to be all God has called them to be.

But how about you? How has God gifted you? Are you ‘in service’ too?

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