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Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

One morning recently, I heard a soft knock on our front door. And there was our neighbour, holding something out to me.

‘I wanted you to have these’ she explained. ‘They’re my “first fruits”—and I like the whole idea of that!’

green-beans-2707996_1920I glanced down and saw around eight green beans in her hand. Not only does this lady produce a beautiful array of flowers around her unit but also a few vegetables, herbs and even some fruit. Her garden gives her much joy—a joy she was now sharing with us. And because I know my neighbour is very grateful to God for all she has and can still do, I understood her gift was a thanksgiving offering as well.

While those fresh, crunchy beans did not last long in our house, my neighbour’s words stayed with me, causing me to reflect on the whole idea of ‘first fruits’ and research it for myself. And as I did, I discovered that the concept stems from the belief that everything we have originates from God, the Creator of the universe. After all, Psalm 24:1-2 says:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Then, in Deuteronomy 26 in the Old Testament, we find Moses reminding God’s people, as they were at last about to enter the Promised Land, to be sure to give God the first fruits from all their future crops. They were to bring these to the priest on duty, declare out loud how God had delivered them and their forefathers from slavery in Egypt and brought them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ (9), and place their offering before the Lord. Finally, we read in verse 11:

And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

So today, deliberately giving up those first fruits of our earthly endeavours, whether things we grow or other items we produce or money we earn, may still well be a great way of thanking God for all we have received. We may not present them to a priest, as in Old Testament times, although some churches still have a harvest festival which incorporates this idea. But as my neighbour did, perhaps we too can express our thanks to God and our joy in all we have been given, by passing on our own unique version of first fruits, thus blessing someone else as well.

Hmm—now that’s a challenge for me! Yes, I do give away a few copies of any new book I write when they first arrive fresh from the printer. But I also tend to cling onto what is mine because, after all, I worked jolly hard to produce it or earn it!  Yet I know in my heart any gift or ability I have is from God—and it is only by God’s grace that I write anything or have anything published. So why be so stingy?

I think that first fruits idea has a lot going for it, don’t you? And I hope I remember my green beans lesson for a long time to come.

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This past weekend as I looked at my diary, I realised I will be delivering about a dozen different talks over the next three months. I am not complaining. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to giving each one and meeting so many different people along the way. I feel blessed to be able to do this—but it does of course involve a lot of preparation, which means a lot of concentrated time, effort and prayer on my part. To do that, other things need to fall by the wayside if I am not going to fall apart in the process!

I am a writer and a speaker. But sometimes the order of those occupations has to be reversed. Over the next three months, I will definitely be more of a speaker than a writer. But after that, it seems I’ll be more of a writer than a speaker again for a while. Now I love preparing talks for different audiences. I have been trained in this area and naturally enjoy teaching and sharing in a public setting. But I am an introvert at heart, so most of all, I love writing in the quietness of my study. I enjoy the whole process of immersing myself in creating a new manuscript, becoming lost in the story and finding myself in a completely different world.

So what does one do? I have come to the conclusion that I basically need to trust God more—to go with the flow, taking hold of whatever God-given speaking opportunities come to hand and making the most of each one to share God’s love. And when those speaking engagements dry up for a time, then again I go with the flow, retreating to my quiet study with a satisfied sigh as I hopefully lose myself in another storyline.

In all this, I am beginning to realise more and more that God can not only be trusted but also has lots of wonderful bonuses along the way for us! This past week, as I have thrown myself into preparing two somewhat difficult talks to get my head around, I discovered God was there right in the midst of it all, blessing me in an amazing way. As I delved into Scripture to find out more about these topics, I found myself yet again in awe of God’s heart of love for us. I needed to check many parts of the Old Testament as well as the New, from the beginning of Genesis right through to Revelation, and as I did, it opened my eyes to God’s utter grace and amazing loving-kindness to us flowing right down through the centuries to this day.

In Jeremiah 31:3, we read some words the Lord spoke to the people of Israel in past years:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.

This is certainly what I see as I look back over these past few days and note the way God has fed my spirit and strengthened my faith. While in my heart of hearts I might want to be writing, God simply smiles on me and blesses me right where I am.

Who wouldn’t want to go with the flow and enjoy the ride with such a loving God?

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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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Fighting God’s battles

Recently one of our daughters went through a very testing time.  She stood to lose quite a bit of money in a real estate deal if she could not get a loan in time.  As the deadline drew closer, panic began to set in, not only for her, but also her parents.  Disaster was looming.  What would we do?

Well, we tried to remain calm.  And we arranged a back-up plan with another mortgage broker.  And yes, we did pray – but a little weakly, I have to admit.  We definitely fitted into the ‘O you of little faith’ category in this instance.

Then I happened to attend a conference where I heard again the story of King Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles 20 in the Old Testament.  Yes, there really was a king with that name!  He seems to have been a pretty godly and sensible guy – as soon as he discovers that a ‘vast army’ is about to attack Judah, he calls everyone together, proclaims a fast and begins to seek help from the Lord.  After uttering an impassioned prayer in front of his people, Jehoshaphat concludes with this simple yet profound statement to God:

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

Then another guy with an equally unpronounceable name, Jahaziel, gets up and tells the king and his people what God’s Spirit is saying about their situation:

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Fortunately, Jehoshaphat believes him.  He encourages his army to have faith and sends them out to battle praising God.  And here’s where the story takes an interesting – and rather ironic – twist.  In the end, the army of Judah don’t even have to fight.  Instead, the enemy factions turn on one another so that when Jehoshaphat’s men arrive for the battle, all they see are dead bodies everywhere!  No wonder they return joyfully to Jerusalem!

Well, I have to say this story challenged me greatly about how I was handling our daughter’s situation.  I very speedily decided I had better take my eyes off the problem and focus them directly on God.  And I repented of my lack of faith in trying to fight this ‘battle’ in my own strength.  After all, the battle was not ours, but God’s.

And yes, she did receive the loan in time, praise God!

So whose battle are you fighting?  Which battle are you fighting?  Whatever it is, hand it over to God.

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‘Bothering’ God

The other day I heard a radio announcer talking and laughing about a particular group of politicians in our federal parliament he derisively called ‘God-botherers’.  It wasn’t so much what he said, but the tone in which he said it that ‘bothered’ me.  These people were dangerous, he seemed to be implying.  These people should not be allowed to gain the upper hand.  This was some kind of ‘plot’ to force their ideologies on others and to take the majority of Australians in a direction they do not necessarily want to go.

This announcer did not seem to be talking about an actual Christian minority party, but rather politicians across the board who happen to have a genuine faith in God, who want to govern with integrity and in a way that they believe honours God, who actually spend time praying, meeting with other Christians in and outside parliament when they can and even reading the bible.  And there are quite a few of them, apparently – enough to ‘bother’ this announcer anyway.

It isn’t the politics of the matter I’d like to comment on, however.  It’s more the implied criticism of the whole idea that people seriously think they can ‘bother’ God.  Is it that this announcer feels it’s ludicrous to believe in a God who isn’t even there, or for some other reason is unable to listen to our piffling problems?  Or is it that this God might really be out there somewhere, but is obviously uncaring about the world and what goes on in our little lives?

Strange, but this isn’t what I glean from the bible.  In Matthew 6, we see how Jesus himself showed his disciples how to pray by giving them Lord’s prayer.  In Philippians 4:6 we read:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told simply to ‘keep on praying’.  Just as succinctly, James 4:2 tells us: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God’.  And even way back in the Old Testament, God seemed pretty keen on being ‘bothered’.  ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land’, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says.

So I’m into ‘bothering’ God in a big way.  How about you?

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