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Posts Tagged ‘eternity’

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 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 12This week, our oldest grandchild turns fifteen. Fifteen!  How did that happen? Surely there’s been a mistake, I think to myself—she must have skipped out a few years along the way somewhere. Surely it wasn’t fifteen years ago that we rushed to see her in that hospital, just after she was born?

I remember well those growing up years of our little blonde-haired mite with the grey-green eyes. Each Friday during her preschool days, we had many adventures when we minded her until her father picked her up in the afternoon. We became well acquainted with all the nearby parks and soon worked out which had the best play equipment for whatever age our granddaughter was at the time. And we also came to know which shopping centres provided the best spots to have our important morning tea of juice and donuts!

We enjoyed endless games at home too—card games like ‘Donkey’, where somehow Nanna, with great skill, always ended up with that tattered donkey card left in her hand! We played Snap and memory games and later, Uno. We played Snakes and Ladders and others such as Charlie and Lola’s Pink Milk or that aptly named game Trouble. We watched old videos of The Fairies and The Wiggles and Hi5. We made pretend cakes and biscuits with play dough—but we baked yummy, real ones too, always keeping some for Mummy and Daddy.

Recently, I listened as our granddaughter groaned about the many school assignments she currently has to complete. Her life is so full—she is an excellent dancer, with classes and performances consuming many of her spare hours. Right now, she cannot even think much past these school years, with all those assignments and tests. Yet soon they will be over. And soon those university years will be over too. Soon, she will be a young woman, finding her own way in the world.

Will both my husband and I still be around to see her life unfold? I hope so, with all my heart. Yet none of us knows how long we have on this earth—not even our fifteen-year-old granddaughter. We often think we have years ahead of us, but nothing in this world is truly certain, as James warns us:

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. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:13-14

Even if we all live into our nineties, that is such a very, very short time, isn’t it, when compared to eternity? Of course we have to plan and ‘carry on business’ in life, but how easily we can take our eyes off God and allow things that don’t matter in the end to consume us!

When I am about to vanish like that mist, I don’t want to find myself saying, ‘Where has the time gone? How did that happen? I know there were things God had for me to do, yet I chose not to do them.’ Instead, I want to use those God-given gifts each day as best I can—and I hope you do too.

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p1040398I stood at our kitchen bench with our oldest granddaughter. She had come to spend the day with us and wanted to make herself useful, cooking Christmas treats and wrapping Christmas gifts for our family.

‘We could make these Peppermint Creams,’ I told her, as I opened a plastic covered spring binder containing recipes for various sweet treats. Then I noticed most were written in my mother’s rounded handwriting—she had faithfully copied out her favourite recipes for me when I was married almost forty-eight years ago!

‘Or perhaps we could make these again,’ I then suggested, as I pointed to a recipe for Gingerbread Men in an old,  spiral-bound book I own, with its front cover almost torn off. As I did, I realised exactly how old this particular book was too—it was produced by the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia in 1975!

‘Or for a “no-bake” recipe, we could use this one,’ I added, digging out some neatly printed instructions for a yummy chocolate hazelnut slice. At least this recipe was roughly from my granddaughter’s vintage, as it had been emailed to me by a young friend only in the past couple of years.

In the end, our granddaughter opted for creating our chubby gingerbread men once again, so we set to work. Yet, all the while, my head was spinning. Surely it could not be forty-eight years ago that I was given those recipe books? How had all that time passed? And surely this beautiful granddaughter of mine working so deftly beside me could not be thirteen, going on fourteen? On top of that, surely it had not been a whole year since we last stood beside each other, baking a batch of tubby little gingerbread men?

It can be scary, can’t it, the way the years fly by? In no time at all, we realise we are at a different stage of our lives and the past has become just that. Our priorities change—who knows whether, by next Christmas, our granddaughter might feel a little less inclined to spend a whole day baking and wrapping presents with her grandmother?

In James 4:14, our lives are starkly described as ‘a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’. As I reflected on our granddaughter’s visit, I realised all over again the truth of these words. Then the next day, I read the following from 2 Corinthians 4:18: 

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.

Yes, so many things we think are important in this life will not always be with us. Soon those old recipe books of mine will have fallen apart completely. Even now, our children and grandchildren have trouble reading my mother’s handwriting and understanding what some of the more old-fashioned terms mean. Soon all those Christmas presents our granddaughter wrapped so carefully may well have been forgotten or may no longer be needed. And even sooner, all those little gingerbread men we baked will have disappeared forever.

By all means, let’s enjoy the wonderful temporary things around us, especially at Christmas. But let’s not forget that unseen, eternal dimension either—because, after all, that’s what Christmas really is about.

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Not long after my early novels were published, someone said to me: ‘What a wonderful legacy to leave behind for others!’ Such a thought had never occurred to me—I was so focused on the moment, wondering what my current market would be like. Anyway, if my books did survive for another generation, they would probably be tucked away in some dark corner, regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned and not worth reading.

But this week, this idea of touching a generation other than our own was brought home to me in two quite different ways.

The first occurred when I was researching some authors mentioned in my current non-fiction book. There was the English woman mystic, Julian of Norwich, who lived from around 1342 to 1416. At thirty years of age, she had a series of visions or ‘showings’ which she recorded soon after. Then, having reflected on them for twenty years, she wrote an expanded version called Revelations of Divine Love, which is still available and read today, along with many of her sayings such as ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ And there was also Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who lived a little later (1515 – 1582) and founded a Carmelite order. Her sayings are also often quoted, such as ‘Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God’—or, as it is sometimes translated, ‘All things pass away; God never changes.’ Now in no way do I claim to be a Julian or a Teresa (!)—yet I was encouraged to see that all these centuries later, their words still speak to so many people.

And the second occurred on Australia Day, which was also my grandfather’s birthday. I remembered how he used to tell us grandchildren that the public holiday was really to commemorate his birthday! But I remembered other things too then—how my grandfather left each grandchild a special letter, written in his beautiful copperplate handwriting, urging us, among other things, to have faith in God. And I also remembered how I loved to sit on the floor near where he was reading and go through all the old things in a nearby cupboard on which a large bookcase rested. I was fascinated by the old hardcover books I found there—books like Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and of course Lorna Doone. You see, R D Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone, was my grandfather’s great-great-uncle! These books seemed so mysterious and almost other worldly—I can still remember their musty smell and how I would turn their pages almost reverently. They impacted me and no doubt fostered my love of books, even though I found them difficult to read at that age.

Yes, my books will get musty and crumble away too and no doubt end their days in some recycling bin. All things do pass away, except God, as Teresa of Avila wrote. And as Jesus himself declared:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt 24:35)

Unlike mine, Jesus’ words will ring out down through eternity and will never lose their impact. But I like to think that one day some young girl will sit in front of a cupboard and find my old books there—and maybe even see in their pages something that draws her closer to her heavenly Father and touches her heart. What a privilege that would be!

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What drives me to keep writing? I ask myself that question quite often these days, as do others from time to time. Surely, with five novels published and a sixth waiting for acceptance, I must have used up all the ideas I have in my head for plots?  Sometimes I look at all the effort involved, not only in writing a novel but actually getting out there and promoting it, and am tempted to think that maybe I’ve written enough. But then something happens—and I’m spurred on yet again to keep at it.

This past week saw my husband heading to Canberra for the funeral of a colleague who has spent many years in ministry. When I saw the order of service my husband brought home, I realised this gentleman was around the same age as I am. There was something quite stark and almost shocking, I quickly discovered, in seeing the same year as I was born printed on this order of service. I am mortal, I found myself thinking. There will be an end to this life I’m living and this writing and speaking and editing – perhaps even sooner than I imagined.

Now I did already have an inkling this was the case, of course. But somehow in being so focused on the tasks at hand, all needing to be done in a certain time frame, I had lost sight a little of the bigger picture. This salutary lesson was then quickly followed by another a few days later—something I find God is very good at when it’s necessary to get my attention. There I was, happily reading through 2 Corinthians 4, when I came across the following verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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 (4:16-18).

Hmm—so all these books I’m spending so much time creating won’t last forever. Yet if God has called me to write them, then they are definitely important.

It seems to be a matter of balance, don’t you think? We are called to work with all our might at what God has given us to do, but at the same time, we are to remember they are not an end in themselves. While we have to deal very much with the ‘seen’ in our lives on a daily basis, we are nevertheless to focus on the ‘unseen’ through it all—even the troubles we have along the way. For me then, this means I am to live and write and speak for God to the best of my ability, knowing it’s for God’s glory and not my own, and also knowing I could step into eternity at any time. I won’t be here forever, but while I am, I am to work for the things that truly will last forever.

So I hope I’ve taken God’s gentle reminders to heart.  Right now, I reckon the gentleman whose funeral my husband attended is enjoying that eternal glory with God in heaven. And that’s where I want my focus to be too. I want to write for eternity.

How about you? Where is your focus?

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I never cease to be amazed at the new discoveries I make each time I read the Gospels. Just when I least expect it, God kind of ‘ambushes’ me with some truth that leaves me almost breathless with its profound challenge.

One day this past week, I was happily wending my way through John’s Gospel when I came to the following words:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:2-5)

My mouth fell open as I registered the massive contrast in these words. On the one hand, here is Jesus, knowing full well who he is and that he has all power and authority from his Father God. But on the other, here is the all-powerful Son of God choosing to strip down, wrap a towel around him and undertake the humble task of washing his disciples’ dusty feet. It is almost too shocking to take in, and I can well relate to Peter when he objects strongly (6-10).

Yet even as I am trying to register what this means for me, I find it clearly spelt out by Jesus himself:

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, not is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (15-17)

But this is a slightly bitter pill for me to swallow. I’m not sure I want to negate myself and serve others. I want to do the interesting, exciting things in ministry. And that doesn’t include washing dirty feet or cleaning up after others or helping behind the scenes where my wonderful efforts will not be recognised. Yet Jesus says I will be blessed if I do these things. So how does that work?

And then, as God’s Spirit gently but firmly wrestles with my own rebellious spirit, I begin to understand. Jesus knew who he was, where he had come from and where he was going – no one could take those truths away from him. He also knew he was here to do his Father’s will. And right now, because of Jesus, I can live my life with this same sure knowledge. I know I am God’s precious child, totally loved, forgiven and accepted through Jesus. I know I was created in God’s image and have been recreated through faith in Jesus. And I also know that God has a place prepared for me in heaven that will last for eternity.

Is it really such a problem to choose the humble road, just as Jesus did? How does the highest honour in this world compare with the privilege of spending eternity with God in heaven? I may well, in theory at least, produce the greatest novel ever and be feted as the next Francine Rivers, but if I lose my servant heart, the heart that Jesus had, then it is all pretty meaningless.

So right now, I’m heading off to find that towel to wrap around my waist. How about you?

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