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Posts Tagged ‘Scripture’

I must admit I like to find a bargain when out shopping. Perhaps it is the way I was brought up to be careful with money that is to blame. Or perhaps I am just a bit of a miser at heart—who knows? Whatever the reason, I can feel quite gleeful when I realise how much I have saved via those specials at the supermarket. And I am not above poking my nose into second-hand shops or ends-of-line clothing stores either!

Recently, I found IMG_20170908_102150034_HDRmyself in bargain hunters’ paradise, after volunteering to help set out items donated for the ‘white elephant’ stall at a Spring Fair. As we unpacked all sorts of interesting pieces of merchandise people no longer wanted and tried to find a spot for them on tables already grossly overflowing, I could not help but shake my head at it all. How could people give this good stuff away? Wouldn’t they miss such lovely and such useful things?

The next day at the fair itself, I soon became caught up in the whirl of excitement, as I hunted through all those bargains on offer. There were so many quality items at rock-bottom prices. I found some things I felt I needed for our kitchen and a picture or two for our walls and some very cheap gift wrapping and … On it went. I had such fun!

I took my precious purchases home, but later went back to see what was still on offer. And as I strolled around, this time in a quieter frame of mind and less bent on acquiring this and that, I began to realise what a wealthy country we live in. No, not all of us have money to spare. But, on the whole, we are well off. If we as a society can throw away so many ‘white elephants’—not only household items and other odds and ends but also an absolute mound of books—then we do not live in the poorest country in the world. At least all the recycling and finding of new owners I could see happening around me that I too had benefited from was a much better outcome than simply wasting these items and sending them to landfill.

As I looked around at all this offloading of possessions and buying and selling, however, I looked within myself as well. How easily I can get into an acquiring mode, thinking I need this and that! Yet what had I heard at church recently and read in Scripture about living in a humble and contented manner?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Will I be content with that? These words, along with all those white elephants I saw, have given me much to think about.

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Jo 23On a recent Saturday night, I fronted up at a church to speak at a special dinner to raise funds for a home for disabled teenagers. I had been invited months earlier and the women organising the event were obviously keen for me to come. But for that, I might well have dropped out since I was still recovering from the flu and also hobbling along in a ‘moon boot’, after injuring my ankle.

By God’s grace, I was able to focus and speak from the heart, forgetting about everything else. Yet, as I sat down afterwards, I wondered if I had struck the right chord. They had all seemed attentive—but I had not expected so many men to be present. Were they happy to have a woman speak to them? Or were they all wondering when I would finish, so they could enjoy their dessert for which they had waited so patiently?

I was not left in doubt for very long. As one old gentleman passed me on his way to select his dessert, he tapped me on the shoulder. What was coming, I wondered. What was he about to say? Had he even heard what I had said? He was rather bent over with age—perhaps he was a little deaf as well. But then he began speaking softly, his face filled with emotion.

‘In my experience,’ he told me, ‘there are some people who know about God—and some people who know God. Now … you are one of the latter. Thank you very much! And you know, God has spoken to me too—many times.’

Ignoring all that wonderful dessert nearby, he began telling me how God had saved him during the war and had warned him about other events in his life. My heart was touched and I felt so honoured and humbled. I had judged this man as perhaps being unable to catch or understand my input. Instead, he had heard every word and had related so much to it all.

Later, I chatted with two other gentlemen, one of whom I discovered was a retired minister. Both thanked me for my input and were obviously touched. I had not expected such feedback at all and again felt so humbled.

The next day, as I reflected on the evening and on other events where I have spoken recently, I began to see yet again how so many people, whatever their backgrounds, seem to long to truly know and hear from God. They want the real thing. They are tired of merely hearing about God—if they hear anything at all. And this opinion seemed to be reinforced when I later turned to my bible and read Jesus’ strong response to the Sadducees who had asked him about some hypothetical situation, twisting Scripture to suit their own ends.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Matt 22:29

What an indictment on them! And what an indictment on those of us too who feel called to speak if we do not come to grips fully with God’s heart in Scripture and then convey this in God’s power and with passion and sincerity! People are waiting, looking for reality. May we let neither God nor them down.

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Do you remember those ‘Choose Your Own’ children’s adventure books from years ago? If you as the reader wanted the story to take a certain twist, then you were instructed to turn to a particular page and follow the thread of your own choosing from there on. If you wanted, you could even go back and follow a different trail to a different outcome. What fun! Multiple possibilities for a satisfactory ending at your fingertips.

But what if a book you were reading had no actual ending? What if you were reading along happily, enjoying the book so much that you couldn’t put it down, only to discover those last few pages holding that crucial final resolution to the story were missing? Imagine how annoying that would be!

This very thing happened to a friend of mine recently. In fact, this friend was reading a copy of my own latest novel, The Inheritance! Worse than that, it was a copy I myself had given her as a thank you gift for her kind hospitality during a recent interstate trip. Picture my dismay, then, when she emailed to tell me what had happened!

I hastily posted a replacement copy to my friend to ease her frustration. But I also thought of all those people who have already bought a copy. What if this wasn’t a one-off fluke? What if there were others who would discover the story ended abruptly in mid-sentence? Yet, so far, no one else has complained of any missing pages to me or my publisher. I also checked through any open boxes of my own supplies of this novel, but, in the end, decided all I could do was try to check each copy I personally sell in future. As for bookstore sales, I hope anyone who does find those last pages missing will speedily return their copy to the store.

But this whole alarming event caused me to think about other ‘ends of stories’ in our lives. We live with so much uncertainty, don’t we? We don’t know exactly how our day will unfold when we get up in the morning. We don’t know what the week or month or year ahead will contain. We may think we do, but things often have a habit of turning out differently from what we expected. Yet we know for sure who does know the end of the story—both our own personal story and that of the whole world. And our God, with great grace, has also given us glimpses in Scripture of how things will unfold. We know, for example, that one day we will see Jesus face to face (1 Cor 13:12). One day, Jesus will return and take us to live with him forever in the place he has prepared for us (Jn 3:16; 14:3) where there will be no more tears (Rev 7:16-17). And one day, having finished the race and kept the faith, we too will be welcomed into God’s presence.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Tim 4:8

That’s one perfect story ending I’m very much looking forward to. How about you?

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Lately, God seemed to have fallen into the habit of getting my attention in unexpected and very interesting ways.  Last week, I shared how a friend sent me an encouraging poem just for me about resting in God’s love at exactly the same time as I was putting similar thoughts into words in the book I am currently writing. I had hardly had time to get over that when God snuck up on me again and caught me by surprise. I guess some might say these were happy coincidences, but from my perspective, they sure have a lot of the hallmarks of God about them.

It’s my habit to read a psalm each day as well as some other part of Scripture. Whenever I get through all one hundred and fifty of them, I start all over again. It’s never boring – there is always something to encourage or challenge me in each one of them. Recently, I started my psalm journey yet again, just at a point in writing my current book when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. This book deals with some aspects of my own spiritual journey and thus involves checking back in my journals I have kept over many years now. I was up to a spot where I had written some rather doleful entries at a difficult and draining time of my life. It brought back many memories – I could feel those dark emotions I was reading about stirring in me all over again and beginning to take over, just as they had then.

This was not good, I realised. I knew I needed to identify with how I was feeling then in order to write about it well – but not to the extent of taking it all on board again. So I picked up my bible and quickly turned to the Psalms. I found I was up to Psalm Three – and straight away, verse three caught my attention:

But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

Yes, I said to myself – God was my shield at that time and did ‘lift up my head’! And God will do that again for me now as I write this book and protect me from getting too ‘bogged down’ in it all.

Then I resolutely turned to my old journal again. Here were some entries from 2002 when I was on leave for four weeks. I had written out a prayer, part of which read: Lord, I feel like I have been in a ‘far country’, away from the enjoyment of your presence. But I’m on the way home now. … I feel you know my great weakness and understand.  …Turn me around – show me the way forward from here.

I continued reading. The next journal entry was two days later. All I had written was – Psalm 3:3!

 But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

I gasped out loud. God spoke to me then through these words. And now God has spoken to me again – about the very same thing through the very same words.

Anyone would think God knows what is happening in my life at any given point – even what I’m writing about! Anyone would think God is loving and faithful and mighty and comforting and encouraging!

Are you anyone?

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Today I am embarking on a trip to Tasmania – a place I have always wanted to visit. I have been invited to speak at a conference there and a few other places in the next two weeks. And we hope to have a holiday and enjoy some of the beautiful places and scenery as well.

Now we have planned ahead for this trip. I have thought and prayed about my input and I hope I have made the right decisions with all that. I have plenty of my novels on hand to sell too at these venues. And my husband has worked out the routes we will take and printed out copious number so Google maps! I have also made sure my little prayer team who support me so well wherever I speak knows my itinerary and can follow me on my journey as they are able. But there still comes a time, I find, when I look at all the speaking engagements and travel ahead and feel a little overwhelmed. Besides that, for a few weeks now I have struggled with back trouble and sciatica pain – just when I really need to be full of energy and on top of things! So in my weakness, crazy thoughts begin to come into my head. What if I haven’t prepared appropriate material? What if I speak for too long? What if I have my speaking engagements mixed up? What if we can’t find the places on time? What if I’m in too much pain? What if …? And so the list goes on.

It’s then that I pull myself up short, and realise God has been trying to get through to me for a while now. Lately, I have been reading the book of 1 Samuel and taking in all the ups and downs of Saul’s and David’s lives. Somehow I don’t think I would have liked David’s experience of having to flee for his life from Saul, fight endless battles, live in caves and desert strongholds and be in danger on so many fronts. Many times, his heart must have failed him when people betrayed him and tried to deliver him into Saul’s hands, when his motives and loyalty were doubted, when he was forced to live among the Philistines, and certainly when his wives and sons and daughters were taken captive. On that occasion, Scripture tells us that ‘David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep’ (1 Sam 30:4).

Yet it seems to me that David knew exactly where – or who – to go to in order to find the strength he needed. On an earlier occasion when Saul was searching for him day after day, we are told that Saul’s son Jonathan came to him in the desert ‘and helped him find strength in God’ (1 Sam 23:16). Then when David’s family was taken captive, we read how, on top of that, his own men were talking about stoning him since they too had lost their wives and sons and daughters. Yet in the midst of all this grief and turmoil, the next sentence we read says simply this:

But David found strength in the Lord his God. (1 Sam 30:6b)

I think any qualms I might have about our upcoming trip pale into insignificance for sure against David’s dreadful experiences. So yes, Lord – I get the message! And I know as I look to you, I will find all the strength I need for whatever lies ahead.

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I’m very privileged. Every week, I get to play quite a few games with our granddaughter – always an interesting experience. First off this week it was an old card game called ‘Donkey’. In fact, our particular pack has my maiden name on it in my mother’s handwriting – my sister and I used to play with this very same pack as children. The cards themselves are quite thick and worn around the edges. Some have dirty fingerprints on them – and one in particular is quite creased. Yes, you guessed it – it’s the card with the donkey on it!

Now my granddaughter might be only four years old, but she isn’t silly. She has worked out that firstly, if only two of us are playing and she herself doesn’t have the donkey, then chances are her nanna does! Secondly, she’s beginning to know the back of that donkey card and now studiously avoids plucking that particular one out of my hand. So needless to say, I am often left with it at the end, much to Olivia’s delight! This week, she proudly told her father: ‘Nanna’s always the donkey!’

Sometimes, however, Nanna has to put a bit of creative effort into achieving this result. Just as Olivia is good at avoiding the donkey card, I am equally skilled at doing the opposite! I have become adept at groaning in mock horror when I see what card I have chosen, while Olivia grins and looks very pleased with herself! I don’t always ‘let’ her win games – but with this particular one, I figure she enjoys it so much I can afford to pretend to be a little sillier than I really am. It doesn’t matter – I think my ego can handle it.

Yet on other occasions, I cringe at the possibility of making a fool of myself. After all, the stakes are so much higher in real life. What if no one likes my latest novel? What if it dies a lingering death on the bookstore shelves – or more likely on the bargain ‘throw-out’ table? What if when I present that writing workshop, someone there knows so much more than I do and challenges my assertions? What if I speak somewhere and misquote Scripture or just don’t hit the mark?

Well, I am slowly learning it’s not going to kill me to walk the humble road, to be the ‘donkey’ and say or write something that may well be laughed at. God knows my heart, after all. And then I remember how Jesus endured so much more scorn and derision than I ever will, even to the point of death – and all for our sake. Matthew 27 describes how he was ‘set up’ by a whole company of soldiers, stripped, dressed up as a king, complete with crown of thorns, then mockingly ‘worshipped’. Worse still, they spat on him, took the staff they had given him and hit him with it, time and time again. This shameful saga ends with one simple, chilling sentence: Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matt 27:31b)

I want to learn to live my life with that sort of humility. I want to get rid of my pride and not be so concerned about what people think. So perhaps ending up with the donkey as I play with my granddaughter is all part of preparing me for the bigger challenges of life, of showing me that in the end, nothing really matters except what God says about me.

What do you think? Could God speak through old card games?

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Possibly the only thing I am disappointed about with the study I have finally acquired for myself in our home is the fact that when I look out of the window beside my desk, what meets my eye is the ugly fibro wall of the neighbour’s garage and the paling fence between their property and ours.  Yet this morning, when I looked out, my eyes travelled upwards and I realised I could see the tops of the trees growing in the park on the other side of our neighbour’s house.  And high up in the branches of the tallest tree there I saw two birds.  They were perched precariously on two of the topmost slender branches, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that these branches were swaying markedly as the wind blew them and as they bent under the weight of the birds themselves.

I returned to my Scripture reading for the day and a few moments later read these words from Luke 13:18-19:

What is the kingdom of God like?  What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.  It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.

As I reflected on this, I realised that I can choose to view the words I will write in the hours ahead of me this morning – or any day – as mustard seeds.  I ‘sow’ them, if you like, as I carefully choose which word to use and blend them together with others in whole sentences and paragraphs.  I read and re-read, trying to find the right combination that will convey exactly what I feel needs to be conveyed at that particular point and through that particular character.  Often I end up deleting what I have written and begin to ‘re-plant’, this time in a different way.  All the while, I am hoping that the words I write will combine with the whole, each in their own individual and important way, to form a story fashioned under God’s hand – perhaps even a story that will touch people’s hearts and lives and hopefully bear fruit for the kingdom.  And daily, as my story grows, I continue to craft it and fine hone it, shaping it in the way that best conveys the seeds of truth it contains, as far as I am able.  And as I do, I try to stay close to God, so that God’s very Spirit will somehow draw my readers to find their place in the story.  Perhaps they will rest there for a moment, perching on the branches, as it were, regaining strength and being challenged to spread their wings yet again and continue their own journey of being who God intends them to be for the kingdom. 

The wind is still buffeting that tree I can see from my window, even as I look now.  But the birds are gone.  May you too go out into your world today, strengthened by God to sow whatever ‘mustard seeds’ you have been given.  And may you face whatever you need to with peace, hope and joy, as you seek to play your part in God’s kingdom.

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